#393 - June 25, 1993

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Full issue

Chernobyl remains dangerous

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

(June 25, 1993) A report issued by the International Fire Protection Organization (IFPO) says the Chernobyl nuclear power station, as well as other nuclear stations in the Ukraine, are inadequately protected against fire.

(393.3836) WISE Amsterdam - The organization, which inspected the stations this month, said the concrete dome built over Chernobyl unit 4 after it exploded in 1986 had begun to crack, confirming earlier reports by other organizations and scientists both inside and outside the Ukraine. Further, says IFPO, inside the station there are brick walls and glass doors instead of more fire resistant steel panels. Pipes to transport water in the case of a fire do not work and castings are insubstantial.

According to Prof. Ernst Ahilles, who headed the investigating team, "At Chernobyl they don't even train people in safety measures, there is not even enough equipment to put a fire out. But the same situation exists at the stations in Ignalinskaya [in Lithuauiaj and Kozloduy IBulgadal."

IFPO recommended that Ukraine be given grants that would enable the country to stop the reactors, but Ahilles said it was unlikely the government would agree to such an option, as Ukraine exports electricity to Austria for badly needed hard currency. "It is difficult to persuade the government even just to make the repairs, as they would have to stop the reactor and so lose income. A representative of Chernobyl said, 'How can we kill a hen which has just laid a golden egg?' when he heard the results of our investigation," Prof. Ahilles added.

In the meantime, the central fire brigade offices in Ukraine and Russia have called for government support to help them to protect the workers at nuclear stations and the populations in the areas surrounding them. They estimate that they cannot provide protection for the towns and cities around 90% of these stations. One of the concerns they have voiced is over the material used for roof construction - a foamy polymar. Vladimir Dedikov of the Russian Fire Brigade in Moscow said, "The roofs of all nuclear stations and plants are made of this material. We have been telling the government to change it to something better since the seventies. But this takes a lot of money, so nothing has been done." According to a report in Moscow News (11 June 1993), Dedikov says that more than 11,000 workers at the plants are killed every year as a result of fires, "but still there is no reaction."

Sources:

  • Moscow News (Russia), 11 June 1993, pp. 1&2.
  • "Source Book: Soviet-Designed Nuclear Power Plants in the Former Soviet Republics and Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria", US Council of Energy Awareness, Washington, April 1992.

Contact: Andrei Glazovoi, Unicorn Environmental Publishers,
Post Box 64, Kiev 60, Ukraine; tel: (004) 442 31 71; fax: 440 30 17.

Euro-Japanese deals

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

(July 25, 1993) In a response to the Social Democratic fraction in the German parliament, the German federal government in December 1992 answered a few questions concerning Japan and plutonium, showing links between the Japanese Pu program and, among others, the German nuclear industry, including, among other German companies, Siemens.

(393.3833) WISE Amsterdam - A demonstration reprocessing plant is planned at the site of Rokkashamura in the prefecture of Aomori, Japan. Construction is scheduled to begin in the first half of 1993, the German government stated. The plant should start operation in the year 2000.

The government also said that there are negotiations between Japanese operators, British Nuclear Fuel Limited (BNFL) and Siemens to process parts of the Pu that is being recovered from the reprocessing of Japanese spent fuel in Great Britain into MOX fuel rods in Europe (for MOX links between BNFL and Siemens, see also WISE NC 390.3800).

It is also known, said the government, that the Siemens daughter company, the Internationale Natrium-Brutreaktor-Baugesellschaft mbH (INB), has a cooperation agreement with the builders of the Japanese Monju reactor, the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC) and Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC). The deal involves information exchanges concerning Monju and the SNR-300 fast breeder reactor (SNR 300 ["Schneller natriumgekühlter Reaktor 300", fast natrium-cooled reactor 300, fueled by plutonium]), and the German Kalkar reactor (which was never brought into operation). In its time, Kalkar was the most expensive nuclear project in Germany. Accidents with the sensitive natrium had already occurred even before operation was scheduled.)

Greenpeace says that with all these Pu deals, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is being further undermined. In particular, Japan is accumulating huge amounts of the radioactive material, the organization warned. Greenpeace is demanding that the NPT, which will be revised in 1995, should be extended to add the prohibition of Pu deals.

Source: Strahlentelex (FRG), 3 Jun.93.
Contact: Greenpeace International, Keizersgracht 176, 1016 DW Amsterdam; tel: + 3 1-20-523 6555.

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

Operating N-reactors in 1993 total 4%.

(June 25, 1993) In the last year, 4% nuclear reactors were in operation generating electricity worldwide. Seventy-two reactors were under construction, says the IAEA. West fülische Nachrichten (FRG), 5 May 1993.

 

Death of Japanese N-worker sparks evelations. The parents of Nobuyuki Shimahashi, a nuclear plant maintenance worker in Japan who died at the age of 29, have applied for compensation. The request has been submitted to the Iwate Labor Standards Inspection Office in Shizuoka Prefecture. As a sub-contract worker, Shimahashi worked at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant from March 1981 until December 1989 conducting checkups of the measuring facilities during the annual inspections. In Oct. 1989 he was diagnosed as suffering from chronic myelogenic leukemia. He died from the disease two years later, on 22 Oct. 1991. According to his radiation control pocketbook, he was exposed to 50.63 millisieverts of radiation. According to the Labor Ministry, the conditions for certifying leukemia as a result of exposure to radiation on the job are:
1) exposure to rather high levels of ionizing radiation (more than 0.5 rem times the number of years engaged in work involving exposure to radiation)
2) the disease has to be contracted by the person at least one year after the first exposure to radiation, and
3) it has to be either myelogenic leukemia or lymphatic leukemia.
In Nobuyuki Shimahashi's case, the conditions were all fulfilled. The case has led the Labor Ministry to admit for the first time that it has previously recognized compensation for the death of a former nuclear plant worker due to exposure to radiation. The worker was employed for 11 months in 1979 at the No. 1 Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and was exposed to 40 milli-sieverts. This case was recognized as a death caused by exposure to radiation in 1991, but has never been made public until now. Besides these two cases, two more applications have already been submitted in Hyogo Prefecture and more are being prepared for application. Nuke Info Tokyo (Japan), May/June 1993, p. 6

 

Spanish activists take measures. To celebrate Earth Day 1993 and the 7th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, RedRad (Red de Vigilancio Radiológica or, in English, the Network for Radioactivity Control), carried out an action in which people simultaneously measured the levels of radioactivity across Spain. Thirty-seven stations participated in the April 22 action. The action was made in order to break the monopoly that the state has over information on radioactivity in Spain and also gives local activists a base to work from so that any changes in radiation levels can be noted. For more information, contact: RedRad, Apartado de Correos %.106, 08080 Barcelona, Spain. Integral (Spain), 162:16

 

Australia asks compensation from Britain on Maralinga. Australia is asking Britain to pay a "substantial contribution" to the A$75 million price tag for cleaning up Maralinga in South Australia where British atomic weapons were tested in the 1950s and early 1960s. Australia is also demanding A$45 million compensation for the Maralinga Tjarutja, Aborigines whose traditional lands were used for the tests. Australia is claiming it was misled by the British about the level of radioactive contamination at Maralinga when it signed a document in 1%8 releasing Britain from its responsibilities. According to Australian experts, recently declassified documents suggest that Britain should have known that plutonium had spread 150 kilometers or more from the test site, and was not locked in disposal pits as claimed. New Scientist (UK), 12 June 1993

 

US utility lays off employees to recover N-plant construction costs. pg&e in California, the largest utility in the US, is laying off thousands of employees and has agreed to freeze its rates for two years so it can reduce both operating costs and energy prices. The reason, according to a long-time PG&E employee as well as many critics of the giant utility, is the need to recover its huge investment in the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo. The layoffs - up to 2,600 workers by the end of this year - and the rate freeze come amid widespread criticism that customers are paying higher bills at a time when surplus power is available at a fraction of the cost. Diablo Canyon generates expensive electricity - 11 cents a kilowatt hour, as compared to 3-4 cents for alternative power - and the utility is making hundreds of millions of dollars off the plant, but it wants to increase profits even more by reducing expenses. It paid more than US$5 billion to build the plant - a high price which was compounded by a variety of design errors, shoddy workmanship and unforeseen earth-quake-proofing expenses for a facility located just three miles from an offshore fault line. The plant began operating in the mid-1980s, and in 1989 the state allowed the utility to increase the price for the power generated there by 11% a year for five years - way above the US annual inflation rate - which is one reason PG&E has been enjoying a substantial return. The PG&E employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said the reductions will adversely affect services. One department involved in energy efficiency programs, for example, has lost 30 of 42 workers. Contact: ECONEWS, 879 9th St., Arcata CA 95521, USA; e-mail: nec@igc.apc.org. -ECONEWS, Newsletter of the Northcoast Environmental Center (US) (GreenNet, gn:gn.nuclear, 10 June 1993)

 

US weapons plant poses extra danger to surrounding area. EG&G, a private company operating the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver, Colorado for the US Department of Energy (DOE) admit-ted that it has neglected to carry out required inspections of potentially flammable plutonium bomb parts for more than three years. Rocky Flats officials explained that the plutonium weapons components were in different stages of production when the plant shut down all radioactive operations in November, 1989, because of wide-spread safety and environmental problems. As a result of the shut-down, EG&G. put the inspection program on hold while waiting for government approval to resume bomb manufacturing operations. That approval never came. Even after former President Bush announced a permanent shutdown of Rocky Flat's plutonium operations in 1992, EG&G did not resume the inspection program. EG&G's original agreement with the US government called for the regular inspection of bomb parts and their cleaning if they exhibited "surface oxide build-up", a powdery substance containing partially oxidized plutonium that can spontaneously ignite when exposed to oxygen in the air. CCNS RadioActive Hotline (US) (GreenNet, gn:gn.nuclear, 9 June 93)

 

US superfund a bust. Twelve years after the creation of a US$1.6 billion, five-year program to clean up the worst toxic waste dumps in the US, the Superfund, as it came to be known, has spent $13 billion in tax money and $7 billion in funds from polluters, and cleaned up only about 60 of the 1275 sites listed. The eventual clean-up costs of the remaining Superfund sites is estimated at $700 billion. If the Defense Department and Department of Energy sites are included, the costs soar to more than $1 trillion. Congress has begun holding hearings on whether and how to reauthorize and refund the Superfund program. CCNS Radioactive Hotline (GreenNet, gn:gn.nuclear, 9 Jun.93)

 

"Indigenous nations in North American 1993: Mohawk, Dene, Western Shoshone - fact finding and contact voyage to Canada and the United States from April 25th to May 6th, 1993", a 34-page report by Dr. Dieter Rogalla, MEP from Germany. He submitted the report to European Parliament Delegations for the Relations with Canada and for Relations with the US, as well as to the President of the European Parliament and President of the Socialist Group. The section on recommendations reads, "First and foremost the issue of sovereignty of Indigenous Nations has to be reconsidered... Our delegation for the relations with Canada should.., investigate commercial schemes of the NGO-type, promoting regional products with direct market access and take up a campaign to reconsider fur trade of Indigenous peoples of the North. This kind of trade is much more appropriate to needs of Indian Nations than uranium mining on their land with its dangers and pretended chances. It can hardly be accepted to promote a 'business as usual' attitude concerning uramum mining knowing that health and environmental aspects are still unresolved." Copies may be ordered from: Dr. Dieter Rogalla, MEP, SPD-Europa Office, Harpener Hellweg 152, 4630 Bochum 1, FRG; tel: 0234-23 38 97; fax: 0234-23 12 54.

 

The US General Accounting Office has recently released the following two reports:"OPERATION DESERT STORM: Army Not Adequately Prepared to Deal with Depleted Uranium Contamination" (NSIAD-93-90) and "NUCLEAR waste: Yucca Mountain Project Behind Schedule and Facing Major Scientific Uncertainties" (RCED-93-124). Single copies of reports are free and are available by contacting the GAO at P.O. Box 6015 Gaithersburg MD 20884-6015, USA or by calling + 1 (202) 512-6000.

 

"Covering the map: A Survey of Military Pollution Sites in the United States," recently released by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and the Military Toxics Project. The report documents radioactive and toxic pollution at both Department of Defense and Department of Energy facilities around the US. To obtain a copy of the report, contact: Peter Tyler, PSR, 1000 - 16th St. NW, Suite 810, Washington DC 20036, US; tel: +1 (202) 785-3777.

International anxiety over Russian nuclear waste plans

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

(June 25, 1993) According to reports this week in the leading Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, Russian authorities have decided to construct new storage sites for nuclear waste on the arctic island of Novaya Zemlya.

(393.3828) WISE Amsterdam - The idea is to clean up the growing nuclear night-- mare on the Kola Peninsula in north westernmost Russia where nuclear waste and old reactors have been dumped since the 1950s with total disregard for safeguards. However, Norwegian ecological groups fighting to protect the Barents Sea environ- ment fear the Kola Peninsula's problems will merely be shifted to the more remote Novaya Zemlya.

At the end of March 1993 the Russian government published a shocking report in which it disclosed data on how much radioactive waste Russia has dumped into the ocean since 1959. The report is titled, "Facts and Problems Related to the Dumping of R-Waste in Russian Territorial Waters." It was compiled by a team of 46 experts headed by Alexei V. Yablokov, top environmental adviser to Russian President Yeltsin.

According to the report, the Soviet Union dumped 2.5 million curies of radioactive waste, including both liquid and solid waste, and 18 nuclear reactors from submarines and an ice-breaker. The waste even included spent nuclear fuel. The total 2.5 million curies of radioactive waste is twice the combined total of waste dumped by 12 other nuclear nations.

The Japanese too are greatly concerned. While most of the waste was dumped in the Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean, two reactors and a total of nearly 20,000 curies of liquid and solid waste were dumped off the far east of Russia, causing alarm throughout Japan, which relies on the area for marine products.

Also of concern is that the report reveals there was a major runaway accident at a nuclear reactor on board a submarine in Chazhma Bay (Promorskii Region) in 1985. The explosion, and a fire which raged for four hours, contaminated the vicinity with burning materials, fission products and unburned fuel in the form of small particles and dust. The area of intense radioactive contamination is concentrated at the site of the accident and the radiation level is 20-40 milli R/h. A maximum 117 milli R/h was still being registered in 1992.

It was further revealed that on 14 May, a helicopter carrying 350,000 curies of strontium-90 crashed in the Sea of Okhotsk east of Sakhalin in 1987. The accident released 19 times as much as had already been dumped in the Far East Region. However, according to the Russian government, there is no sign of radioactive contamination in the area.

After reviewing the report, the Japanese government immediately issued a statement that there was no danger to the Japanese public, but it was clearly alarmed and strongly criticized the Russian government for illegally dumping radioactive waste. Japan's Radio-activity Countermeasures Committee (made up of representatives from 11 governmental ministries and agencies) met for the first time in four years to study the case. They have decided to conduct a full survey of the ocean environment from 18 April, and to demand that the Russian government supply more detailed information on the dumping. Further, Japan plans to take up the issue with other world governments at the G-7 summit in July.

The Japanese government has also offered to cooperate with Russia in a joint survey of ocean contamination and the effects of marine life at the dumping sites. However, the survey is still- at the negotiating stage, and there is a long way to go before the full extent of ocean dumping is revealed.

 

The third reactor at Kola nuclear power station was shut down on 27 May when an emergency safety system was activated following a fall in pressure. A worker was overexposed in the incident.

An accident at Kola has been anticipated for some time, say InterPress Service's Mclvor and Perera. "The reactors - four VVER-440 pressurized water reactors - are some of the oldest of their kind. Two are first generation reactors commissioned in the early 1970s and nearing the end of their operating life. And there is also a problem of finance to keep them running. Last month the management of the Kola nuclear power plant warned that all four reactors may have to be closed down because customers were not paying for electricity. So far this year only nine percent of the power generated by the plant had been paid for...One major debtor is Tekso, which controls Murmansk's heating network and owes the plant 500 million rubles. Because of the debts the Kola plant was now unable to pay for nuclear fuel, or pay its workers their wages and safety procedures were also being affected." Plant management says that unless payments are made soon, the plant will be closed. This will mean the Kola peninsula will lose 65% of its power.

The replacement of the two older units by newer models was specified in the new Russian nuclear energy program announced at the end of last year (See WISE NC 385.3763). The addition of a third unit will bring total capacity to 2770 MW. Kola is one of the few places in Russia where there is little local hostility to nuclear power. This is partly because the harsh climate which makes a reliable source of electricity essential. In addition, the population of Kandalaksh, where the plant is sited, has been promised all sorts of benefits when the new plants are built from better social facilities to, of course, cheap electricity.

Japanese environmental groups point out that it is essential that coastal nations organize an international surveillance team to monitor radioactivity levels. It is equally vital to provide international aid and exert pressure to make the Russian government halt the ocean dumping of radioactive waste. The ocean, they say, is already contaminated irrevocably.

Much of the waste has been either dumped in the sea or stored in totally inadequate conditions, often near to human habitation. The problem of what to do with the nuclear waste that is accumulating on Kola is a major problem for scientists and environmentalists. Bellona, a Norwegian ecological group, estimates there are 25,000 used nuclear fuel rods on Kola. "At the current rate this number will quadruple by 2003 and that is very worrying," said Bellona's Thomas Nilsen. "The need for storage facilities is absolutely urgent."

Fredrik Theisen, of the Norwegian Society for Nature Conservation, also agrees there is no question that there is a pressing need for storage depots but insisted they should be built on Kola itself, home to 1.3 million people. Then, he said, the storage process could be monitored by environmental groups and the authorities in Murmansk, the major city. By contrast, independent regulation of nuclear waste disposal on Novaya Zemlya would be impossible.

Novaja Zemlja has been closed to the public since the 1950s when the local Nenets people were forcibly removed and it was radwaste dumping area in kola peninsulataken over by the Soviet military to he used as a nuclear testing ground. Radioactive waste has already been dumped unprotected on its coast, near the southern tip. Ecologists fear this could be just the beginning to far greater contamination.

According to Greg Mclvor and Judith Perera, writing for the InterPress Service, whether dumped on the Kola peninsula or elsewhere, nuclear waste is an insidious threat to the Barents Sea's rich environment. There are around 5,000 polar bears in the region and enormous sea bird colonies con-taining an estimated 15 million birds. Cod fishing in the area plays an integral role in both the Norwegian and Russian domestic economies. "Even the faintest rumors of radio-activity in the cod stocks would decimate the industry," said Theisen.

At present only background levels of radiation have been recorded in the Barents Sea, far lower than in many other waters such as the Baltic and Irish seas. However, this could change rapidly. Nuclear fuel containers across Kola are said by Norwegian scientists to be poorly constructed and many are already leaking.

Sources:

  • InterPress Service (Amsterdam), (APC networks, ips.english, 8 June 1993)
  • Nuke Info Tokyo (Japan), May/June 1993, p.1

Contacts: Bellona,Box 4483, Torshoy, 0403 Oslo, Norway.
Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, 302 Daini Take Bldg., 159-14 Higashi-nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo 164 Japan; tel: + 81-3-5330-9520; fax: + 81-3-5330- 9530.

 

Japanese agency fights back as N-program comes under attack

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

(June 25, 1993) Generating plant construction plans are released by Japanese electric utilities each April. This year they contain plans to build five nuclear power plants. All of the newly planned units are proposed as additions to existing facilities, which makes them easier to build than plants requiring new sites. [Japan already has 42 reactors currently connected to the grid, with another 10 under construction.]

(393.3832) WISE Amsterdam - This is the first time in seven years that new nuclear power plants have been included in Japanese utility construction plans. At the same time, however, all existing plans have been postponed for one to three years. In fact, these plans have been put off every year, thereby continually widening the gap between actual capacity and the government's long-term fore-cast of energy supply and demand. It appears that, in order to bring supply more in line with the government's forecast, the utilities have rushed into new plans for generating stations that will commence operating before those in the already existing plans.

Meanwhile, with no real solid promises of orders for new nuclear plants, manufacturers are anguishing over their overstaffed nuclear power divisions. For this reason, Hitachi, Ltd. recently decided to transfer about 300 employees, including those at subsidiaries, from its nuclear power division to its thermal power division. Hitachi explained the move as designed not merely to reduce its nuclear power division staff, but also to maintain the level of its employees' technical expertise by having them work on actual construction in the thermal power division.

The government, too, is anguishing over Japan's nuclear program. Due to mounting protests and criticism of Japanese plutonium policy both within and abroad, the government has become increasingly desperate to get general public support for its policy. How desperate was revealed on 6 April when it became public that the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy at the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) had called on Japan's five major national newspapers to place advertisements on their behalf in the guise of 'editorials' which did not reveal that they were in fact advertisements paid for by the government. Of the five newspapers,Yomiuri, Sankei, and Mainichi accepted the offer, whereas Asahi and Nikkei (The Economic Journal) refused.

The three papers accepting the offer featured full-page 'articles' between 27 and 31 March which presented a completely one-sided view of how 'plutonium is safe and necessary'. The 'articles' took the form of round-table discussions with a member of the editorial staff as chairperson and a panel made up of academics and pro-nuclear researchers and at least one representative of the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy.

Representatives from several citizens' groups visited MITI and the three newspaper companies on 8 April to submit a declaration of protest against the violations of Japanese newspaper advertising standards (which "prohibit carrying advertisements which are not clearly identified as such and which do not clearly identify the organization responsible for the ad"). MITI, say members of the group, was mighty unfriendly, and talked to them for only 10 minutes, saying the newspaper companies were to blame for any violations that occurred because they accepted the offers.

The Consumers Union of Japan, Greenpeace Japan and the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center later visited the Japan Advertisement Review Organization, Inc. and filed a claim. The claim will be formally proposed at their business committee meeting.

Source: Nuke Info Tokyo (Japan), May/June 1993, pp. 4 & 9.
Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, 302 Daini Take Bldg., 1-59-14 Higashi-nakano,
Nakano-ku, Tokyo 164 Japan; tel: + 81-3-5330-9520; fax: 5330-9530.

Lies and manipulation in the nuclear discussion

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

(June 25, 1993) A new report concerned with the opinions and discussion-methods of nuclear energy experts in the Netherlands shows that a purely scientific discussion about facts is not possible with this issue.

(393.3834) WISE Amsterdam - The report, "Het kernenergie conflict: een wetenschappelijk onoplosbaar probleem?" (The nuclear energy conflict: a scientifically unsolvable problem?) by F. Arts of the Rijks University in Utrecht, investigated the discussion techniques and the use of 'scientific facts' by experts. Although the advocates of nuclear energy play an important role in the discussion and claim that the facts speak for themselves, they are using those 'facts' subjectively, to put it mildly. Arts even noted that some of the pro-nuclear experts told plain lies and manipulated the facts. One of the experts interviewed told him, "You could actually say that they are paid liars; those people bend themselves to help the powerful by not telling what they know: the truth about the facts...I never met a scientific pro-nuclear expert who ever said that he wasn't sure about something."

For the report, Arts questioned 87 experts (two-thirds of them showed to be pro-nuclear: 80% of the Dutch population is opposing nuclear energy) and interviewed 17 of them personally. He found, among other things, that the average pro-nuclear expert is religious, votes on the Christian Democrats (CDA) or Liberals (VVD), is usually born before 1948, mostly firstborn and had a quiet career. Being religious plays a very important role.
Arts concludes that a purely scientific discussion can not solve the nuclear energy discussion.

Source: Het Parool (NL), 3 June '93.

New problems with BWRs revealed

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

(June 25, 1993) Instruments used to measure water levels in Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) may produce readings that are off by as much as 27 feet, according to new tests. Stunned by the revelation, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ordered US utilities to improve their monitoring abilities by 15 June, and to begin implementing permanent modifications during their first outages after 30 July.

(393.3837) WISE Amsterdam - To no one's surprise, though, says the Nuclear Information& Resource Service (NIRS), the NRC stopped short of closing the plants until the instruments are functional.

NIRS, a Washington-based public interest group, says the problem is that condensate pots used with the monitors become blocked by gas bubbles. The monitors then read the information incorrectly, resulting in readings that may show the reactor vessel is full of water, when in fact it is emptying. The misreadings could cause problems both for automatic safety systems and for plant operators.

Earlier, when the problem was first noticed, utilities and the BWR Owners Group (BWROG) claimed that the instruments would be off only by a few inches and that would not be enough to affect safety systems or operator performance. But recent tests - which the BWROG and the General Electric Corp. (manufacturer of BWRs) tried to have declared "proprietary" - revealed that the instruments could be wrong by 324 inches, or 27 feet.

In January, instruments failed to detect a water-level drop during a routine shutdown at the WPPSS-2 BWR in Washington State, heightening safety concerns. But existence of the problem had been revealed earlier by Paul Blanch, a former Northeast Utilities executive. Blanch had been asked by the NRC to investigate an incident at the Pilgrim reactor last May. He quickly realized the problem was generic and significant, and just as quickly ran into a brick wall trying to solve it:

After he made the problem public knowledge, Blanch was intimidated and harassed by Northeast Utilities; the NRC issued a violation to North-east for the problem even though, be-cause of Blanch, it was the only utility actually working to address the issue; and an NRC official publicly said that "Blanch violated Commission rules."

Ultimately, Blanch resigned from Northeast after working more than 20 years for the utility, and his complaints of harassment and intimidation were upheld by the NRC, which fined the utility. In June, in testimony on behalf of himself and We the People, a group that works to support "whistleblowers" (employees who report company wrongdoing), Blanch told the NRC commissioners that "a reasonable individual could conclude a less than open atmosphere exists between the public and the NRC, and that a very cozy relationship still exists between the NRC and the nuclear industry. This cozy relationship is hindering the free flow of significant safety information between the NRC, interested public and possibly other licensees." He noted, for example, that General Electric's and the BWROG's attempt to keep the damaging test results proprietary "with the only apparent intent being to keep this information from the public."

Blanch added that the NRC's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) met with the BWROG in closed session to discuss the results and it was "only because an ACRS member mentioned after the closed session the error was 27 feet [that I was] able to determine the significance of this potential level error."

Source: The Nuclear Monitor (US), 7 June 1993, p.1.
Contact: NIRS, 1424 - 16th Street NW, Suite 601, Washington DC 20036, USA
tel: + 1-202-328-0002.

Paris commission strikes blow against UK reprocessing plans

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

(June 25, 1993) The Paris Commission, at its recent meeting in Berlin, Germany, has given a clear message to the UK government that any increases in radio-active discharges into the northeast Atlantic resulting from its plans to open the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) in Cumbria are unacceptable.

(393.3831) WISE Amsterdam - The commission agreed:
(i) to adopt further measures including the application of Best Available Techniques for the reduction or elimination of inputs of radioactive substances to the maritime area;

(ii) that a new or revised discharge authorization for radioactive discharges from nuclear reprocessing installations should only be issued by national authorities if special consideration is given to:

(a) information on the need for spent fuel reprocessing and on other options;
(b) a full environmental impact assessment;
(c) the demonstration that the planned discharges are based upon the use of the Best Available Techniques and observes the precautionary principle; and
(d) a consultation with the Paris Commission on the basis of (a), (b) and (c) above.

The UK government, which was faced with a storm of protest from neighboring countries over its reprocessing plans when the meeting opened, was the only government to vote against the motion. While the 13-member commission (which includes Germany, France, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland) prefers to work by consensus rather than take decision to a vote, a three quarters majority can pass a motion.

For a long time now, the Nordic countries and Ireland have been concerned about the increased radioactive contamination of the marine environment caused by the plutonium factory at Sellafield in Cumbria, UK. They are also annoyed about the negative effects on their fisheries. What especially outrages them now are plans by the UK government to increase radioactive discharges by 900% into the sea, and 1100% into the air, by expanding its Sellafield reprocessing operations and opening the newly-built THORP.

 

The Paris Commission delegations were greeted on the first day of the Berlin meeting by Green-peace members with banners, a 2.5 meter high hourglass ("No time to Waste!") and four barrels containing radioactively contami-nated sand from the Sellafield area. Loudspeakers played the ticking noise of radioactive decay and every delegation was handed a specially prepared lead container filled with radioactive sand. "This sand," said Roland Hipp of Greenpeace, "comes from publicly accessible places, from beaches where children play and families go to for picnics. It is so highly contaminated that it has been classified as nuclear waste under German law."

In June 1992, scientists at the University of Manchester made analyses of sand samples taken from the Sellafield area and found activity concentrations per kilogram of as much as 13,000 becquerels of cesium-137, 27,000 becquerels of amencium-241 and 10,800 becquerels of plutonium-239/240. If THORP goes into operation, radioactive emissions from the whole Sellafield complex will total 27.5 million curies of radioactivity every year. (For comparison, official figures put the amount released at Chernobyl in 1986 at 50 million curies.) The governments of Ireland and Denmark therefore put forward a resolution at the Paris Commission meeting in order to prevent an increase in radioactive discharges.

The Berlin meeting did little to convince other Paris Commission members that THORP is either safe or necessary, despite the fact that some of them - Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden - have contracts with THORP to send waste there for reprocessing.

THORP was built to reprocess European and Japanese nuclear waste. German utilities have already made contracts with Sellafield for the reprocessing of a total of 885 tonnes of spent fuel rods. The VEBA power station Unterweser has already delivered 100 tonnes to the facility. This, it would appear, violates the German Nuclear Act, which stipulates in Part 9a that nuclear waste must be "harmlessly reutilized". This is obviously not the case in Sellafield and with THORP.

Sources: Greenpeace press releases (GreenNet, gn:gp.press, 4 June, 9 June, 14 June and 17 June 1993).

Contacts: Rick Le Coyte, Greenpeace, tel: 0831 656123. NENIG, Bain's Beach, Commercial Street, Lerwick, Shetland; tel: + 44-595-4099; fax: 595-4082. CORE, 98 Church St., Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, LA14 2HT, UK; tel: + 44-229-833 851; fax: 812 239.

 

Sellafield dump under fire

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

(June 25, 1993) THORP is not the only facility in the Sellafield area to come under attack (see next article). Criticism is mounting over the deep repository for nuclear waste planned there.

(393.3830) WISE Amsterdam - Geologists from the University of Glasgow have added their voices to doubts expressed in May by UK government advisors. The government's Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RWMAC) found that patterns of water flow underground are more complex than the repository's builders, Nirex, first supposed. The RWMAC, and now the Glasgow group as well, are warning that these currents could bring radioactive material to the surface sooner than expected.

A report published by Nirex on the geology and hydrology of the Sellafield area reveals key information from boreholes drilled into the Borrowdale volcanic group, the rocks that will contain the repository. At the bottom of the boreholes, Nirex found fluid at higher pressures than anticipated. It was also salty, making it denser than fresh water.

The RWMAC, in its annual report, says water could flow up through the repo-sitory. The committee is concerned that the salty water may drive the circulation of less-dense fresh water in ways that are not understood. But their report says the main problem is uncertainty - that there is not yet enough data on flow patterns - while the Glasgow university geologists take the debate further. One of them, Stuart Haszeldine, states unequivocally, "Water from the Lake District flows downwards, along and up through site of the repository." He adds, "If we take 10,000 years as the safety limit, then the permeabilities that Nirex measured are forty times too great to meet that target."

Source: New Scientist (UK), 22 May 1993, p.9.
Contact: CORE, 98 Church St., Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria LA14 2NT; tel: + 44-229-833851.

Sillamäe: Studies on the waste depository

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

(June 25, 1993) The Swedish Radiation Protection Institute (SSI) commissioned a report on the Sillamäe Plant in Estonia (see WISE NC 391.3812). The 10-page report was issued 15 March 1993. It is titled, "Studies on the Waste Depository of the Sillamäe Plant, State of the Art Report from the project group.

(393.3829) WISE Amsterdam - The summary reads, "The studies on the waste material in the Sillamäe depository indicate that the wall material of the depository is typical mill tailing from chemical enrichment of uranium ore. The results from the sea sampling show that the impact from the depository on the marine environment is obviously close to the shore-line. However, the concent-rations of radioactive elements decrease very rapidly as the distance from the shore increases. The farthest distance where elevated radionuclide concentrations were observed was 300 meters from the shore-line. The results on the ground water used as tap water in Sillamäe indicate that the waste depository does not contaminate the local ground waters."

The report states that the facility, now run by the Estonian government, is operating at about 20% of its capacity (though this number is not given). The plant is processing loparite, which is a mineral shale from the Kola Peninsula rich in niobium, tantalium and other rare earth metals. In addition, the loparite contains 0.03% uranium. This a level which is mined in many parts of the world. Even worse, is that 0.6% thorium is also present. The report notes that no uranium has been processed there since 1977.

The recommendation of SSI is, "In order to perform remedial actions, the present deposition of waste must be changed and localized to some other area in order not to stop production. The group therefore proposes that a special project for the waste management for the facility is established."

Contact: The report may be ordered from: SSI, Box 60204, S-10401 Stockholm, Sweden; tel: + 46-8-729 71 00.

Solar development in Argentina

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

(June 25, 1993) In Villa Guillermina (Santa Fe, Argentina) a school has been opened with solar energy facilities. This is the first of 300 promised by Santa Fe's governor, C. Reutermann. In 1991 Santa Fe was declared a Nuclear Free Zone and its governor is looking for alternatives.

(383.3838) WISE Amsterdam - For this first school, the economic support comes from the proceeds of a TV program, "Histories of the Secret Argentina". Though the first of 300 promised by the governor, it is actually the 6th such school in the region. The other five were built as part of the provincial energy plan and were made possible due to an international loan for 70% of the costs. (The solar facilities for each school cost Us$6000.) Where the funding for the other 299 schools will come from, however, is as yet unclear.

There are more solar projects running in Argentina, such as a complete solar village in Mendoza, schools in Neuquen, and water pump stations in Catamarca and La Rioja.

Source and contact: Taller Ecologista, Casilla 56 suc.8, 2000 Rosario, Argentina; fax: + 54-41-560179.

US air force involved in radiation experiments on Inuits

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#393
25/06/1993
Article

(June 25, 1993) According to a report from the US-based TV station CNN, during the 1950s the US Air Force dispensed radioactive iodine to healthy Inuits (Eskimos) in Alaska. The human experiments were carried out by doctors on orders from Air Force officials. The purpose of the experiments were to find out if there were possibilities to increase the resistance of US soldiers to arctic cold.

(393.3835) WISE-Amsterdam - CNN came into possession of docu-ments that say that 102 Inuits received pills containing low-radioactive iodine. After that, the effects of the substance on their thyroid glands were observed. Air Force scientists supposed that the thyroid gland plays an immense role in the Inuits' ability to survive the hard arctic winters without detriment.

According to CNN, Senator Frank Murkowski (Republican), who represents the State of Alaska in the US Congress, is demanding an investigation. Murkowski explained that the documents do not say whether the affected people knew what the Air Force gave them or whether they would have been taken care of.

Kaare Rodahl, the doctor who was at that time responsible for the experi-ments, lives today in Norway. He claims that the tests were absolutely harmless. He insists that the radiation coming from Soviet nuclear weapons testing was likely to be much more intense. Furthermore, he justified himself by adding that in those days, at the peak of the cold war, airplanes carrying nuclear bombs were permanently in the air and the Air Force was anxious about what would happen with a crew in the case of an emergency landing.

Affected Inuits and Indians told the TV station they were cheated. One of them, Bob Ahgook from Anaktuvuk, reported he had believed that the doctors from the US Air Force wanted to study their eating habits. "I cannot remember them informing me about anything", said he. "If I had been fully informed, I might have refused to participate".

Sources:

  • Die Tageszeitung (FRG), 4 May 1993
  • Strahlentelex, (FRG), 3 June 1993

Contact: The Inupiat People of Point Hope Alaska,US, tel: + 1-907-368 2330.