In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Belgium cancels reprocessing contract!

(December 18, 1998) The Belgian government has cancelled a contract with the French firm Cogema to reprocess spent fuel after 2000. About 25% of Belgian spent fuel had been sent to Cogema's plant at La Hague, under a contract signed in the late 1970s. A second contract was signed in 1991 and suspended for five years in 1993. During that period an examination was to be made of spent fuel management options. A conclusion on it has now been postponed for one year. But the suspended reprocessing contract has now been cancelled rather than extended.
Because the contract is cancelled before December 23, no penalties have to be paid to Cogema, said a spokesman of the Defense Ministry, which is also involved in energy issues.
Pierre Goldschmidt of the Belgian nuclear fuel cycle company Synatom said the cancellation was not a surprise, but that the national spent fuel policy would be decided on at the end of 1999 and that the reprocessing option remained alive. The Belgian defense ministry did not fully support his comment. A defense spokesperson described the present decision to cancel reprocessing as a "signal of the way we are going to go".
The decision was greeted by environmentalists as a victory and as a "potentially fatal blow" to reprocessing in Europe. Environment News Service (ENS), 9 December 1998

Only operating Chernobyl reactor shuts down during accident. A fuel rod in the Cernobyl-3 reactor, the only nuclear reactor currently in operation at Chernobyl, automatically shut down on December 10, after a malfunction, ITAR-TASS reported. The Ukrainian Environment Ministry said no radiation was leaked during the incident. Maintenance work at the plant has been postponed twice owing to severe energy shortages in Ukraine. MDBs CEE List, 13 December 1998

Nuclear plant owner silences whistleblower. The removal of a shift foreman who questioned plant safety at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California prompted the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) to file a petition last week with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requesting an independent review. The USC wants to ensure that the Pacific Gas and Electric, owner of the Diablo Canyon plant, allows employees to openly voice safety concerns. Neil Aiken, who has had two decades of experience and holds a senior reactor operator's license, raised concerns about the safe operation of the plant at a stockholder's meeting.
The plant owner's response was to order a psychiatric evaluation of Aiken. Company doctors diagnosed him as suffering from a mental health problem. Aiken was then removed from his duties at the plant and has filed a complaint with the US Department of Labor. "The plant's action against Aiken is a clear example to other employees of the treatment accorded those raising safety issues," said Dave Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer for UCS. ENS AmeriScan: 1 December 1998

Dounreay: the costs of nuclear power. The decommissoning and radioactive cleanup at Dounreay (Scotland) will cost BP4.5 billion (US$ 7.58 billion)--that's 90 pounds from every man woman and child in Britain. The true cost was revealed on November 30 by Dounreay director Dr. Roy Nelson. The operator of the plant, UKAEA, published its response to the damning regulators' report earlier this year which listed over 140 specific areas of concern about the management and operation of the nuclear complex (see WISE News Communique 498.4924:'Dounreay contaminated with plutonium: Mea Culpa').
The first time cleaning up Dounreay was mentioned was in 1986--when it was put at BP1.4 billion. By 1990 it had risen to BP1.75 billion. In 1994, a new overall estimate was made at BP3 billion. And in 1997 estimated cleanup costs had risen to BP3.6 billion. The new BP4.5-billion figure comes after more detailed investigations into how difficult it would be to remove the nuclear waste from the Dounreay site.
Outside observers esitmate that the Dounreay bill could eventually run as high as BP10 billion! But this figure was waived aside by UKAEA.
The planned period for the cleanup has been brought back from 100 years (which was seen as being too long) to 40-60 years. The Mirror, 1 December Nucleonics Week, 3 December 1998 & N-Base 159, 6 December 1998

Accident Golfech. On November 27, the failure of a ventilator system at Golfech, France, allowed contamination to escape into the reactor building where 90 people were replacing the reactor vessel closure head. Golfech-2 had been down since November 13. The filters of the ventilation system were "inadequate" for the job. One of the workers had internal contamination by cobalt-60 of 2,000 Bequerel, two of a few hundred bequerel, and 30 more had lower contamination levels.
Alarm went off at around 1:15 p.m. but evacuation was ordered only by 4:30 p.m., when the presence of cobalt-59 and -60 was verified. French nuclear safety authority DSIN and radiological protection agency OPRI were displeased by managements' slowness in evacuating. Management also delayed informing authorities of the incident. OPRI director Pasquier asked the Golfech director to explain his decisions. Pasquier said the precaution principle, normal prudence and the concern to hold exposure as low as possible should have led to evacuation as soon as contamination was evident. This was the second time this year that Golfech was too late in reporting. Nucleonics Week, 3 December 1998

DSIN: revised license for La Hague unacceptable.DSIN, the French nuclear regulator, has declared Cogema's applications for revised licenses for La Hague unacceptable, largely because Cogema had failed to commit to lower liquid and gaseous emissions in line with the new OSPAR strategy of close-to- zero emissions agreed upon last summer. NuclearFuel, 30 November 1998

UK defense systems not yet millennium-proof.Reports that something can happen on New Year's Day of the year 2000 are mounting. A spokesperson for the government appointed millenium-platform advised people to buy much food in tins for the first few weeks in the year 2000. She said it was unclear if people would be able to buy food (and other things) because of the so- called "millennium bug", which is expected to make many computers malfunction on January 1, 2000. The millenium-platform comes with this advice so early, to "avoid panic" in the last weeks of 1999. The government was not amused with the advice; they claim everything is under control.
But a few days earlier, a Ministry of Defense review paper on the "millennium bug" was leaked. It said that 90% of the British navy's vital computer system have not yet been protected against it. These systems include those that control nuclear missiles. Reuters, 8 December, & Trouw (Nl), 14 December 1998

Third anniversary of Monju accident. To commemorate the third anniversary of the Monju accident, some 400 antinuclear protesters held a rally near the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, Japan. After the rally, participants paraded to the gate of the Monju plant to submit petitions urging the government and the state-run Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute to give up resuming the reactor's operation. The institute was inaugurated in October to replace the accident-prone Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. (Donen).
The reactor has been shut down since December 8, 1995, when some 700 kilograms of sodium coolant leaked from the facility's secondary cooling system after a rupture in a thermometer cover, causing extensive damage to steel plates on the floor of the facility. Monju was operating at 40% of its capacity at the time of the accident. The nuclear power plant started operations in August 1995 and has a capacity to generate 280 megawatts of electricity. After the accident, false reports where filed and invetigators committed suicide.
There has been no indication it would be starting up again anytime soon (see also WISE News Communique 445.4402: 'The Monju accident fall-out'] Kyodo, 6 December 1998

Kuchma blasts energy minister after n-reactor goes down. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma criticized Energy Minister Oleksiy Shebertsov and his ministry on December 7, after a nuclear reactor was shut down for safety reasons, AP reported. Kuchma said he would hold energy sector leaders personally responsible for continued problems. Reactor No. 2 at the Pivdeno-Ukrainskaya (south Ukraine) nuclear power station was automatically shut down by its safety system, said a spokeswoman for the state-run nuclear energy company
Energoatom. She said no radiation was released. The station, which is located about 300 kilometers south of Kiev, had been running only for two days after undergoing nearly five months of repairs.MDBs CEE List, 8 December 1998,

Accident at Ulchin-1. A Framatome 950-MW reactor in South Korea, Ulchin-1, has been leaking since late 1997. Owner Kepco decided to shut the unit down on December 15 for two months of repairs. Increased leaking of steam generator tubes had already led to a power reduction of 25% end of November. Repair work was originally planned by Kepco for the next refueling in January. However, when the rate of leaking from the three steam generators increased from four liters to 7 liters per hour in early November, it was decided to close the plant in mid-December. At a leak rate of 10 l/h, Korean safety rules require a shutdown. Over the last five years the number of leaking tubes increased by 20% annually (each steam generator has 3,300 tubes). The tubes are to be sleeved, because the extent of tube damage plugging is not a satisfactory remedy. The cause of leaking is said to be primary water-stress corrosion cracking, which apparently starts at an early age: Ulchin-1 is 10 years old. Leaking tubes at Ulchin unit 2 were successfully plugged, which is an easier way of repairing than sleeving.
Another reactor, Yonggwang-2, was closed this summer for repair of intensive tube leaking, which was due to loose parts left in the tubes. Steam generators at Ulchin 1 and 2 were made by Framatome, whereas those at Yonggwang were made by Westinghouse/Hanjung. Kepco plans to replace steam generators at Ulchin-1 and 2 "sometime during the next 10 to 20 years".
Three reactors at Kori (units 2,3,4) are also plagued by steam generator tube cracking. The steam generators at Kori-1 were replaced earlier this year. Nucleonics Week, 3 December 1998

New nuclear policy in South Korea: no reprocessing, no FBRs and less NPPs. The new head of nuclear utility Kepco, Mr. Chang, will soon revise plans for nuclear expansion up to 2015. That will be the second time since 1997 economic crisis that nuclear plans are to be revised. Chang, who was appointed this spring by Prime Minister Kim Dae Jung, is to cut back the number of new reactors. According to the last revision of September, Kepco would build 16 reactors until 2015. Chang however wants to increase the share of coal-fired plants from the present 28% to 40% by 2015 instead of remaining steady at the present level. Chang finds present plans to expand nuclear's share from 27.5% now to 35% by 2015 too "much". He believes Kepco is too much in favor of nuclear power. Chang also shook up Korea's nuclear establishment by deciding not to reprocess any spent fuel.
As a consequence, the research budget for developing and using of MOX fuel is to be slashed. Chang also opposes the development and construction of new reactor types, such as the 1,300-MW Korean next generation reactor or fast breeder reactors: he only wants to build established reactor types like the 1,000-MW PWRs based on the System-80 design from ABB-Combustion Engineering. The chances of the new Candu-9, which is promoted fiercely by the Canadian government and nuclear industry, to be built in Korea are therefore also small.
Completely new is the policy to hold public hearings on licensing new reactor sites, which has never been done before. The Bonggil site near Wolsung where four new reactors are planned has not yet been licensed. Bonggil is in the territory of Kyongju, the cultural capital of Korea, where antinuclear forces are growing and local politicians are playing an important role. Nucleonics Week, 19 & 26 November 1998