Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#772
15/11/2013
Shorts

Switzerland − Mühleberg NPP will be shut down early
Operator BKW FMB Energy will permanently shut down Switzerland's Mühleberg nuclear power plant in 2019 − three years ahead of the planned 2022 shut down. BKW chair Urs Gasche said the main factors behind the decision were "the current market conditions as well as the uncertainty surrounding political and regulatory trends." BKW said it will invest US$223 million to enable continued operation until 2019. The Swiss canton of Bern is the majority shareholder in BKW.[1]

The single 372 MWe boiling water reactor began operating in 1972. In 2009, the Swiss environment ministry issued an unlimited-duration operating licence to the Mühleberg plant. This decision was overturned in March 2012 by the country's Federal Administrative Court (FAC), which said the plant could only operate until June 2013. BKW subsequently lodged an appeal with the Federal Court against the FAC's ruling, winning the case this March and securing an unlimited-duration operating licence.[1]

In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, the Swiss government adopted a nuclear power phase-out policy, with no new reactors to be built and all existing reactors to be permanently shut down by 2034, along with a ban on nuclear reprocessing.[2,3]

[1]www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Political-risks-prompt-early-closure-of-Swi...
[2] www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/CNPP2013_CD/countryprofiles/Switzerland/Switzerland.htm
[3] www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-O-S/Switzerland/

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US−Vietnam nuclear deal − fools' gold standard
A senior Republican senator wrote to the Obama administration in late October voicing concerns about a recently negotiated nuclear trade agreement with Vietnam that does not explicitly prohibit the country from developing weapons-sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technology.[1]

Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee.) wrote: "The administration's acceptance of enrichment and reprocessing [ENR] capabilities in new agreements with countries where no ENR capability currently exists is inconsistent and confusing, potentially compromising our nation's nonproliferation policies and goals. ... The absence of a consistent policy weakens our nuclear nonproliferation efforts, and sends a mixed message to those nations we seek to prevent from gaining or enhancing such capability, and signals to our partners that the ‘gold standard' is no standard at all. The United States must lead with high standards that prevent the proliferation of technologies if we are to have a credible and effective nuclear nonproliferation policy."[2]

Corker is requesting a briefing from the Obama administration prior to the submittal of the US-Vietnam trade agreement to Congress. Once the agreement is submitted, the legislative branch will be required within 90 days of continuous session to decide whether to allow, reject or modify the accord.[1]

Shortly after the October 10 signing of the nuclear trade agreement, a US government official told journalists that Hanoi has promised "not to acquire sensitive nuclear technologies, equipment, and processing". But unidentified US officials told the Wall Street Journal that Vietnam would retain the right to pursue enrichment and reprocessing.[3]

Prior to the October 10 signing, Vietnam repeatedly said it would not accept restrictions on enrichment and reprocessing in a formal agreement with the US. According to Global Security Newswire, Hanoi "may make some effort ... to reassure the nonproliferation community, outside of the agreement text".[4]

In short, the agreement does not meet the 'gold standard' established in the US/UAE agreement of a legally-binding ban on enrichment and reprocessing [5] − notwithstanding contrary claims from US government officials and many media reports. Instead, it applies a fools' gold standard − a non-legally binding 'commitment'. There are many parallels in nuclear politics, such as India's 'moratorium' on nuclear weapons testing while Delhi refuses to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

US labour and human rights groups have urged President Obama to suspend free-trade negotiations with Vietnam because of its treatment of workers and government critics. Analysts say a sharp increase in arrests and convictions of government detractors could complicate the nuclear deal when it is considered by Congress.[9]

Vietnam has also signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, France, China, South Korea, Japan and Canada. Plans call for Vietnam to have a total of eight nuclear power reactors in operation by 2027. Russia and Japan have already agreed to build and finance Vietnam's first four nuclear power units − two Russian-designed VVERs at Ninh Thuan and two Japanese reactors at Vinh Hai − although construction has yet to begin.[7] Vietnam intends to build its first nuclear-power reactor in a province particularly vulnerable to tsunamis.[8]

Progress − albeit slow progress − is being made with an IAEA low-enriched uranium fuel bank in Kazakhstan, which IAEA member countries could turn to if their regular supplies were cut. The fuel bank is designed to stem the spread of enrichment capabilities.[6]

[1] www.nti.org/gsn/article/senior-gop-senator-concerned-us-vietnam-nuclear-...
[2] www.foreign.senate.gov/press/ranking/release/corker-inconsistency-in-civ...
[3] www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-vietnam-announce-new-atomic-trade-deal/
[4] www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-vietnam-could-initial-nuclear-trade-pact-week...
[5] Nuclear Monitor #766, 'Sensitive nuclear technologies and US nuclear export agreements', www.wiseinternational.org/node/4019
[6] www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/02/us-nuclear-fuel-iaea-idUSBRE9910JJ201...
[7] www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-Agreement_opens_US_Vietnam_nuclear_trade-1...
[8] www.nti.org/gsn/article/vietnam-nuclear-power-program/?mgs1=b5a1drpwr4
[9] www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/10/us-signs-nuclear-technology-...

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Thousands protest against Areva in Niger
Thousands of residents of the remote mining town of Arlit in Niger took to the streets on October 12 to protest against French uranium miner Areva and support a government audit of the company's operations.[1]

The Nigerian government announced the audit in September and wants to increase the state's revenues from the Cominak and Somair mines, in which the government holds 31% and 36.4% stakes, respectively. The government is also calling on the company to make infrastructure investments, including resurfacing the road between the town of Tahoua and Arlit, known as the "uranium road".[1]

Around 5,000 demonstrators marched through Arlit chanting slogans against Areva before holding a rally in the city centre. "We're showing Areva that we are fed up and we're demonstrating our support for the government in the contract renewal negotiations," said Azaoua Mamane, an Arlit civil society spokesperson.[1]

Arlit residents complain they have benefited little from the local mining industry. "We don't have enough drinking water while the company pumps 20 million cubic metres of water each year for free. The government must negotiate a win-win partnership," Mamane said. Areva representatives in Niger and Paris declined to comment.[1]

Another resident said: "The population has inherited 50 million tonnes of radioactive residues stocked in Arlit, and Areva continues to freely pump 20 million cubic metres of water each year while the population dies of thirst."[2]

Areva is also developing the Imouraren mine in Niger, where first ore extraction is due in 2015.[3]

Meanwhile, four French nationals from Areva and contractor Vinci have been released after three years in captivity. They were kidnapped by Islamic militants near the Arlit uranium mine. Seven people were kidnapped on 15 September 2010 by what has been described as the Islamic Mahgreb Al-Qaida group; three were released in February 2011. In May 2013, a terrorist car bomb damaged the mine plant at Arlit, killing one employee and injuring 14.[4]

[1] www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/12/niger-areva-protest-idUSL6N0I20H22013...
[2] www.france24.com/en/20131012-thousands-protest-niger-against-french-nucl...
[3] www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-06/areva-urges-clients-to-buy-uranium-as-...
[4] WNN, 30 Oct 2013, www.world-nuclear-news.org/C_Hostage_relief_for_Areva_3010132.html

More information:

  • Nuclear Monitor #769, 10 Oct 2013, 'Niger audits U mines, seeks better deal'
  • Nuclear Monitor #765, 1 Aug 2013, 'Uranium mining in Niger'
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Muehleberg