In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#682
22/01/2009
Shorts

German Nuclear Waste Site in Danger of collapsing.
The Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) had learned late last year that pieces of the ceiling of the 750-meter deep chamber were unstable and could collapse on top of the 6,000 radioactive waste drums below. The information about the Asse nuclear waste site  (an old salt mine) was posted discreetly on the radiation office's Web site late Wednesday, January 14. The BfS said it could not rule out damage to the waste containers should the Asse site ceiling collapse, but gave its reassurances that it would reinforce the seals of the chamber with concrete to stop any radioactive dust or air escaping. The office said the measures were only a precaution and that there was no immediate danger posed by the site. It said the waste inside the chamber contained only low-levels of radioactivity. The site has not been used for fresh radioactive storage since 1978, with environmental groups regularly calling for waste there to be removed and stored in a safer location.

Deutsche Welle, 16 January 2009


Brazil to start enriching uranium at Resende. Industriás Nucleares do Brasil (INB) has been issued a temporary licence by the Brazilian Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN) to start enriching uranium on an industrial scale at its Resende plant.

INB has held an environmental licence to enrich uranium since November 2006, but the plant's operating permit, which is valid for one year, has been now been amended by the CNEN. Production of enriched uranium is expected to begin in February, with some 12 tons of enriched uranium expected to be produced by the end of 2009. The ultra-centrifugation enrichment technology used at the plant was developed by the Naval Technology Centre in Sao Paulo (CTMSP) and the Institute of Energy and Nuclear Research (IPEN). However, the technology is similar to Urenco's technology.

The Resende plant currently has two cascades of centrifuges. The first cascade commenced operation in 2006 and the second was expected to do so in 2008. Stage 1 - eventually to be four modules totalling 115,000 SWU per year and costing US$170 million - was officially opened in 2006. Each module consists of four or five cascades of 5000-6000 SWU per year. It is planned that a further eight cascades are installed by 2012, which will take the capacity to 200,000 SWU. By that time, INB is expected to be able to produce all the enriched uranium used in the Angra 1 reactor and 20% of that used in Angra 2. Those are the country's only operating power units at the moment, although plans to complete Angra 3 are advancing and many more reactors are expected in time.

Up until now, uranium used to fuel Brazil's nuclear power reactors has been sent as uranium concentrate to Cameco in Canada to be converted into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas, which has then been sent to Urenco's enrichment plants in Europe. After enrichment, the gas has been returned to Brazil for INB to reconvert the UF6 gas to powder, which is then used to produce nuclear fuel pellets.

World Nuclear News, 14 January 2009


Australia/UK: Plutonium secretly dumped at sea?
Declassified UK Government files show that 500g of plutonium and about 20 kg of radioactive wastes were secretly removed from the 1950s bomb test site at Maralinga in Australia. The UK Government removed the wastes in 1978 and although there is no official record of what happened to it the suggestion in the files is that it was secretly dumped at sea.

N-base Briefing 596, 7 January 2009


Sellafield privatisation: Rushed liabilities deal
Commercial insurance companies refused to consider any policy regarding liabilities for an accident at Sellafield which might be bought in courts outside the UK which were not party to existing liability conventions. Energy minister Mike O'Brien told the House of Commons the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority approached the nuclear insurance market in 2007 when it was preparing the contract for a private company to run Sellafield. The Government and NDA eventually indemnified the private companies chosen to run Sellafield and the Drigg waste facility against any costs arising from an accident - even if it was shown to be the fault of the commercial company.

Meanwhile, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the lengths ministers and civil servants took to prevent MPs from having the opportunity to discuss the decision to make the contract for running Sellafield more financially attractive to private companies. The Government agreed to take over responsibility for the costs of any accidents at Sellafield after the preferred bidders, Nuclear Management Partners, said it would not sign the contract unless it was indemnified against all costs. Ministers abandoned normal procedures to ensure that by the time MPs learned of the arrangements it would be too late to make any changes.

N-base Briefing 596 & 597, 7 & 14 January 2009


Turkey: AtomStroyExport revises bid.
A consortium led by Russia's AtomStroyExport submitted a revised bid for the tender to build Turkey's first nuclear power plant minutes after the contents of its initial bid were announced. At 21.16 cents per kWh, the initial bid submitted by the consortium is nearly triple the current Turkish average wholesale electricity price of 7.9 cents per kWh. Turkish energy minister Hilmi Guller told a press conference that AtomStroyExport had submitted a revised price "linked to world economic developments". Although it would be unorthodox for a bid to be revised once submitted in the tender process, AtomStroyExport's is the only bid on the table and Guller suggested that there would be room for bargaining. The revised bid would be opened and assessed by Turkish state electricity company TETAS who would assess it before passing it on to the country's cabinet for approval. No details of the revised bid have been released.

Turkish plans call for the country's first nuclear power plant to be operational by 2014, with proposals for 10-12 reactors by 2020 but would-be reactor builders appear to be treading carefully. Although six parties participated in the tendering process for the country's first nuclear reactor, AtomStroyExport's consortium was the only one actually to submit a bid.

World Nuclear news, 20 January 2009


Australia : no nukes to cut carbon emissions.
The Australian government  will not choose for nuclear power to help tackle climate change. The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering - representing engineers and scientists – urged to do so in a report, calling the government to spend A$6 billion on researching ways to slash the carbon emissions from electricity generation. The academy's report says no single technology will solve climate change, and takes a look at everything from nuclear power to clean coal and renewable energy.
Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson responded by saying the government was committed to meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets without turning to nuclear power. "It is the government's view that nuclear power is not needed as part of Australia's energy mix given our country's abundance and diversity of low-cost renewable energy sources," he said. "The government has a clear policy of prohibiting the development of an Australian nuclear power industry." The report's author Dr John Burgess said he was not disappointed by the minister's comments on nuclear power. "I guess what we're slightly concerned about is that without nuclear energy the other technologies have to work," Dr Burgess said.

The statement is important as the world is starting to prepare for the crucial Climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, December this year. If nuclear power will not get the support of major players (ie. financial state aid, subsidies via post-Kyoto flexible mechanisms as CDM and the Carbon Trade schemes) it will be considered and received as a major knock-out to the nuclear industry.

Business Spectator, 16 January 2009


Russian economic crisis decreases nuclear safety.
The nuclear industry in Russia is being negatively affected by the countries economic crisis; and the situation is expected to worsen in 2009. This is according to a recently released annual report by the states nuclear regulatory body. Ongoing job cuts at nuclear facilities include the personnel directly responsible for safety control. Activists call on the Russian government to quickly adopt a plan to insure public safety and nuclear security. The deteriorating social and economic situation in Russia is likely to result in significant drop of nuclear safety' level at many nuclear facilities. Some nuclear facilities have already seen jobs cut because of reduced national income due to declining oil prices and the global recession.  It is possible that further cut jobs in Russians and may bring back the nuclear proliferation problems related to illegal trade of radioactive materials. These radioactive materials can be used for building a "dirty bomb". According to governmental report, obtained by Ecodefense, staff cuts have been underway since 2007.

According to the recently released annual report written by the Russian nuclear regulator, Rostekhnadzor,  there have been "job cuts at facilities responsible for nuclear-fuel cycle of personnel responsible for safety control and maintenance". The report also criticises nuclear facilities management for "not paying enough attention to ensuring nuclear safety". In a disturbing criticism of iteself, Rostekhnadzor reports that it doesn't have enough safety inspectors to do it's own job properly.

Press release Ecodefense, 23 December 2008