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How Britain helped the North Korean nuclear weapons program

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#817
4532
27/01/2016
David Lowry
Article

The news that North Korea has successfully tested its first hydrogen nuclear warhead (an assertion which has been seriously questioned by nuclear weapons experts) has set the media and politicians running pronouncing concerns over the impact on global security.

What hasn't been discussed is how British nuclear designs have been purloined by the North Koreans to build production plants for their nuclear explosives. There is significant evidence that the British Magnox nuclear plant design – which was primarily built as a military plutonium production factory – provided the blueprint for the North Korean military plutonium program based in Yongbyon.

Here is what Douglas (now Lord) Hogg, then a Conservative minister, admitted in a written parliamentary reply in 1994: "We do not know whether North Korea has drawn on plans of British reactors in the production of its own reactors. North Korea possesses a graphite moderated reactor which, while much smaller, has generic similarities to the reactors operated by British Nuclear Fuels plc. However, design information of these British reactors is not classified and has appeared in technical journals."1

The uranium enrichment programs of both North Korea and Iran also have a UK connection. The blueprints of this type of plant were stolen by Pakistani scientist, A.Q. Khan, from the URENCO enrichment plant in The Netherlands in the early 1970s.2 This plant was – and remains – one-third owned by the UK government. The Pakistan government subsequently sold the technology to Iran, who later exchanged it for North Korean Nodong missiles.

A technical delegation from the A.Q. Khan Research Labs visited North Korea in 1996. The secret enrichment plant was said to be based in caves near Kumch'ang-ni, 100 miles north of the capital, Pyonyang, where U.S. satellite photos showed tunnel entrances being built. Hwang Jang-yop, a former aid to President Kim Il-sung (the grandfather of the current North Korean President) who defected in 1997, revealed details to Western intelligence investigators.3

Magnox machinations

Magnox is a now obsolete type of nuclear power plant (except in North Korea) which was designed by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) in the early 1950s, and was exported to Italy and Japan. The name magnox comes from the alloy used to clad the fuel rods inside the reactor.

The plutonium production reactors at Calder Hall on the Sellafield site – then called Windscale, operated by the UKAEA – were opened by the young Queen Elizabeth in 1956. But it was never meant as a commercial civilian nuclear plant: the UKAEA official historian Kenneth Jay wrote about Calder Hall, in his short book of the same name, published to coincide with the opening of the plant. He referred to "major plants built for military purposes, such as Calder Hall." Earlier, he wrote: "The plant has been designed as a dual-purpose plant, to produce plutonium for military purposes as well as electric power."

The term magnox also encompasses three North Korean reactors, all based on the open access blueprints of the Calder Hall Magnox reactors, including:

  • A small 5 MWe experimental reactor at Yongbyon4, operated from 1986 to 1994, and restarted in 2003. Plutonium from this reactor's spent fuel has been used in the North Korea nuclear weapons program.
  • A 50 MWe reactor, also at Yongbyon, whose construction commenced in 1985 but was never finished in accord with the 1994 U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework.5
  • A 200 MWe reactor at Taechon, construction of which also halted in 1994.

Why enrich the people when you can enrich uranium?

Olli Heinonen6, senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University in the US, has explained how North Korea obtained its uranium enrichment capability:7

"The pre-eminence of Juche, the political thesis of Kim Il Sung, stresses independence from great powers, a strong military posture, and reliance on national resources. Faced with an impoverished economy, political isolation from the world, and rich uranium deposits, nuclear power – both civilian as well as military – fulfils all three purposes.

"History and hindsight have shown a consistency in North Korea's efforts to develop its own nuclear capability. One of the first steps North Korea took was to assemble a strong national cadre of nuclear technicians and scientists. In 1955, North Korea established its Atomic Energy Research Institute. In 1959, it signed an agreement with the Soviet Union to train North Korean personnel in nuclear related disciplines. The Soviets also helped the North Koreans establish a nuclear research center and built a 2 MW IRT nuclear research reactor at Yongbyon, which began operation in 1969.

"Throughout the 1970s, North Korea continued to develop its nuclear capabilities, pursuing a dual track approach that was consistent with the idea of nuclear self-reliance. While engaging in discussions to obtain Light Water Reactors (LWRs) from the Soviet Union, North Korea proceeded with parallel studies on graphite moderated gas cooled reactors, using publicly available information based on the Magnox reactor design.

"North Korea also carried out plutonium separation experiments at its Isotope Production Laboratory (IPL), and successfully separated plutonium in the same decade. The North Koreans worked on the design of a reprocessing plant for which, the chemical process was modeled after the Eurochemic plant. Eurochemic was a research plant dedicated to the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. It was owned by thirteen countries which shared and widely published technologies developed. The plant, located in Dessel, Belgium, operated from 1966 to 1974.

"When negotiations to acquire four LWRs from the Soviet Union failed, North Korea had already embarked on its indigenous nuclear program. Throughout the 1980s, North Korea constructed a 5MWe reactor, fuel fabrication plant, and a reprocessing plant at Yongbyon, with no known documented external help and with minimal foreign equipment procured. When the joint statement on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was concluded in December 1991, all three facilities had been fully operational for a number of years, with two additional (50 MWe and 200 MWe) graphite moderated gas cooled reactors under construction.

"North Korea's closed society and isolationist position has made it immensely difficult to accurately gauge its nuclear activities. Pyongyang has gone to great lengths to hide much of its nuclear program, including its enrichment route. Nevertheless, there have been indications, including procurement related evidence, that point in the direction that North Korea has been actively pursuing enrichment since the mid-1990s, with likely exploratory attempts made up to a decade earlier.

"It is clear that North Korea received a key boost in its uranium enrichment capability from Pakistan through the A.Q. Khan network. Deliveries of P-1 and P-2 centrifuges, special oils, and other equipment from Pakistan to North Korea in the late 1990s were acknowledged by former Pakistani President General P. Musharraf in his memoirs, "In the Line of Fire." President Musharraf also wrote that, separately, North Korean engineers were provided training at A.Q. Khan's Research Laboratories in Kahuta under the auspices of a government-to-government deal on missile technology that had been established in 1994. In all likelihood, North Korea also received the blue prints for centrifuges and other related process equipment from the Khan network during that period of time.

"In the late 1980s, North Korea acquired vacuum equipment from a German company. While such equipment was primarily meant for North Korea's fuel fabrication plant then under construction, some of the vacuum pumps could have been used for enrichment experiments. But additional attempts made in 2002 to again acquire vacuum technology after the completion of the fuel fabrication plant strongly pointed to its use for enrichment purposes. Evidence of North Korea's procurement activities in the late 1990s to the early 2000s showed its objective to achieve industrial or semi-industrial scale enrichment capacity, based on a more efficient Pakistani P-2 centrifuge design. In 1997, an attempt was made to acquire large amounts of maraging steel suitable for manufacturing centrifuges. In 2002/2003, North Korea successfully procured large quantities of high strength aluminum from Russia and the United Kingdom, another requirement in making centrifuges. A simple tally of the amounts and types of equipment and material sought by North Korea suggests plans to develop a 5000-centrifuge strong enrichment capacity. This appears consistent with a separate earlier enrichment offer A. Q. Khan had made to Libya.

"For North Korea to have embarked on procuring equipment and materials meant for a (semi)industrial scale enrichment facility, it is highly likely that the known Uranium Enrichment Workshop (UEW) at Yongbyon, which in reality approximates a full sized facility, is not the only one that exists. More workshops would have been needed to serve as test beds for pilot cascades of P-1 and P-2 centrifuges prior to (semi)industrial scale enrichment operations. While we have signs of North Korea's enrichment goals, the final picture remains unclear given that the actual amount of items procured remains unknown. This problem is compounded by the fact that the North Koreans have and are continuing to source nuclear material and equipment from several parties. Moreover, there remains a high degree of uncertainty concerning the level of North Korea's enrichment technology development.

"In April 2009, after expelling IAEA inspectors, North Korea publicly announced for the first time that it was proceeding with its own enrichment program. To reinforce its intentions, North Korea followed up with a letter to the UN Security Council on September 3 to confirm that it was embarking on an enrichment phase. In November 2010, the North Koreans unveiled to Siegfried Hecker, a pre-eminent nuclear expert and former director of the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, an enrichment facility in Yongbyon with 2000 centrifuge machines similar to the P-2 version, built with maraging steel rotors. The scale, level of sophistication, and brazenness for the North Koreans to have built a (until then) secret enrichment facility at the same site of a previously IAEA-monitored building, caught international attention. The plant is proof of North Korea's steady pursuit to include uranium enrichment as part of its domestic nuclear fuel cycle. ...

"On March 22, 2011, North Korea's official news agency, KCNA, portrayed Libya's decision to give up its nuclear weapons as a mistake that opened the country to NATO intervention following its domestic Arab Spring uprising. Such conclusions drawn by North Korea make an already difficult case to engage North Korea to give up its nuclear weapon deterrence that much harder. At the same time, the alternative of disengagement will in all likelihood bring about greater problems.

"In engaging North Korea, several key hurdles have to be tackled. First, North Korea shows a poor proliferation record. It was the suspected supply source of UF6 to Libya via the A.Q. Khan network. There is also mounting evidence that North Korea was involved in the construction of a secret nuclear reactor at Dair Alzour in Syria that was subsequently destroyed in 2007. It is plausible that North Korean personnel assisted Syria in building the reactor."

Reprinted from http://drdavidlowry.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/how-britain-helped-north-kore...

References:

1. Douglas Hogg, written parliamentary reply to Labour MP Llew Smith, Hansard, 25 May 1994, http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/written_answers/1994/may/25/korea#col...

2. David Albright, Peddling Peril, 2010, pp 15-28, Free Press, New York.

3. Levy A, Scott-Clark C, 'Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Global Weapons Conspiracy', 2007, p.281, Atlantic Books.

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yongbyon_Nuclear_Scientific_Research_Center

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agreed_Framework

6. http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/experts/2107/olli_heinonen.html

7. Olli Heinonen, 'North Korea's Nuclear Enrichment: Capabilities and Consequences', 22 June 2011, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/21153/north_koreas_nucle...

UK: Will Hinkley C ever be built?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#813
4511
04/11/2015
Oliver Tickell − Editor of The Ecologist
Article

On October 21 the big deal was announced. David Cameron and Chinese President signed their nuclear memorandum. And in a separate deal, EDF, owner of the Hinkley C nuclear power project in Somerset, UK, signed its deal with Chinese state-owned nuclear power company China General Nuclear Power Corporation.1

The government also announced that the terms of its offer to EDF on the Hinkley Plant were finalised. Cue sounds of champagne corks popping, strains of 'for he's a jolly good fellow' ...

But the nuclear deal is not all it seems. In fact it's a veritable dogs' dinner of surprises, quirks and oddities which throw up many more questions than answers. And it still leaves the key question wide open. Will Hinkley C ever actually be built? For all the claims that EDF's 'final investment decision' is a mere formality that will be made in weeks, it is no such thing. In fact, there is more reason that ever to doubt it. The official announcement, speeches and press releases may give the firm impression that it's all a done deal. But look harder and it's all stitched together with paperclips and sellotape and could fall apart at any moment.

First, the money − £6 billion is not enough

The first anomaly is that CGN will pay £6 billion for a 33.5% share in the Hinkley C project, presumably buying into what is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of EDF, the NNB Generation Company (NBB GenCo).

That's on the basis, claimed by EDF, that the project cost will be £18 billion. Now if that were the case, that would leave EDF with another £12 billion to find. Which is still a lot of money. But in fact, it's much worse than that.

But the cost has been reliably estimated by EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia at £24.5 billion − including the considerable costs of financing the construction through to completion.2 In fact, he warned that if the project encountered problems the cost could end up as high as £34 billion, a figure accepted by EDF boss Laurent de Rivaz.

Given the massive problems encountered at the other sites using the same EPR reactor design, it would surprise no one if huge problems were encountered. The Flamanville EPR project in France and the Olkiluoto EPR project in Finland are both running roughly three times over the initial project cost and nine and eight years over time, respectively.3

The Ecologist also understands, following information from a well-placed industry insider, that construction ceased at the 4-reactor EPR project in Taishan, China, in mid-2014. This has not been officially announced. EDF owns 30% of the project, and CGN, EDF's Hinkley C partner 70%.

It would be foolhardy indeed to enter into the Hinkley C EPR project without having a secure funding line for, say, £25 billion lined up. Without that, investors in the project would risk running out of money before completion − with billions of pounds sunk in a doomed project.

Seen in that context, CGN's £6 billion investment is nowhere near enough. So where might the other £19 billion come from?

Raising debt not an option

The obvious answer is debt. You go to the bank, and borrow the money. But then this is a risky business. China Development Bank, Bank of China and Société Générale are already heavily exposed to Taishan and may now have cut off new funding to the project.

But that's alright, isn't it? Because the Hinkley C project has had £17 billion of UK Treasury Construction Finance Guarantees approved by the European Commission. An initial £2 billion was recently announced by Chancellor George Osborne during his recent visit to China.

These guarantees will grant security to bondholders in the project ensuring that their capital and interest are paid no matter what. But there's a catch. Under the deal agreed with the Commission, the Flamanville EPR project must be up and running before the guarantees come into effect. And until that time, the shareholders must provide billions in 'contingent equity' to cover the bondholders' risk, protecting UK taxpayers.

Flamanville was meant to be finished in 2012, but it's running late thanks to severe technical and safety problems, and under the latest project update, EDF does not expect it to be complete until 2020.4 And under the terms of the Commission's approval, if Flamanville is not up and running by the end of 2020, the UK's guarantees expire and bondholders must be repaid from shareholder equity.

What this means is that there is now a near-zero chance of these guarantees ever actually being taken up. Osborne's £2 billion promise in Beijing was a smokescreen. And without those guarantees, who is going to lend their money to the project?

The difficulty has been as good as admitted by EDF, which states, "The project is due to be equity funded by each partner, at least during a first stage."1

So what's left?

That leaves EDF with two options. One is to sell additional equity in the project, and the other is to self-finance. Selling more equity in Hinkley C is certainly possible, even though the only buyer is likely to be CGN or one of its companion Chinese nuclear parastatals.

However EDF insists that it will keep a majority share in the project. So it can only sell a maximum of 15.5% to keep its own 51% − say for around £2 billion. Which still leaves it £17 billion short of the £25 billion it needs to be safe, and £10 billion short of its own cost estimate.

EDF can also self-finance and flog off its assets. And that's exactly what EDF is doing − seeking to raise €10 billion by selling its Italian subsidiary Edison and its share in U.S. nuclear company CEGN, and possibly a Polish coal mine, as reported in the Financial Times.5 But that still leaves it many billions of pounds short.

The company could also take on more corporate debt. Except it's already carrying far too much. According to a Bloomberg report in February this year, "Electricite de France SA's new Chief Executive Officer Jean-Bernard Levy is struggling to control the utility's ballooning debt as Europe's biggest power generator faces an investment peak this year ... Net debt climbed 2.4 percent to 33.4 billion euros (US$38 billion) last year."6

As for selling shares into the market, there may be few takers. EDF's falling share price has given its shareholders a loss of almost 16% over the last year.

Heavy demands on EDF cash

And EDF's problems don't end there. Flamanville problems cost EDF an unscheduled €2 billion last year, with more expected to clock up this year and in years to come. Losses at Taishan have not been declared but are surely running into billions.

And then, there is the Areva problem. Areva, another French parastatal nuclear corporation, is essentially bust thanks to a variety of mishaps including a failed US$2.5 billion uranium mine in Canada and its woes at Flamanville, where it supplied a defective steel reactor vessel which has now been incorporated into the structure. It also has problems at Olkiluoto, and at Taishan as well, where it also supplied the reactor vessels which may suffer from the same defects. It posted an eye-watering €4.8 billion loss for 2014.

The French government's answer is for EDF, which is not quite as bust as Areva, to buy into the company, buying a majority 51% to 75% stake for €1.3 billion to €2 billion.7 But of course the liabilities won't end there − as a basket case company with rising global liabilities Areva is sure to soak up more cash for many years to come.

And then there is the potentially enormous cost that EDF faces going forward in decommissioning its ageing fleet of nuclear power plants in France, the UK and other countries − just as its revenue stream from those reactors is cut off. These and other factor led Moody's to downgrade EDF's credit rating in April with 'negative outlook'.8

Another surprise − a twin EPR for Sizewell

In a footnote to EDF's press release comes another big surprise. The Sizewell C nuclear project in Suffolk is to use a twin EPR design presumably modelled on Hinkley C: "EDF and CGN have signed the Heads of Terms of an agreement in principle to develop Sizewell C in Suffolk to a final investment decision with a view to build and operate two EPR reactors. During the development phase EDF will take an 80% share and CGN will take a 20% share."

It's a surprise because most people have written off the EPR as a dead duck reactor. Following its Olkiluoto experience, for example, Finland has cancelled a second EPR project9 and no new orders are coming in. But also because its hard to conceive how on Earth EDF could finance its 80% share when it's already facing such a flood of liabilities and demands for cash, and no working EPR is likely to materialise for some years to come.

As for the 'Hualong' HPR1000 reactor design that CGN (66.5%) and EDF (33.5%) are to build at Bradwell in Essex, it's an entirely untested 'never built' Chinese reactor type, that represents a fusion of two other 'never-built' reactor designs, China's ACPR1000 and ACP1000.10

The ACP1000 is a purely paper reactor, while 'third generation' ACPR1000s are under construction at the Yangjiang nuclear complex in western Guangdong with a scheduled completion date of 2019.11 Three actual HPR1000s are under construction at Hualong 1 and CGN's Fangchenggang units 3 and 4, the official 'reference plant' for the design of the UK's Bradwell reactor.

What these have in common with the EPR design is that no actual working reactor of the HPR1000 or its two antecedents the ACPR1000 and the ACP1000 has ever been completed.

So where do we go from here?

There is a very real possibility that EDF will be unable to raise the cash to proceed with Hinkley C.

Not helping EDF is the warning from two leading rating agencies, Moody's and Standard & Poor, to further downgrade EDF's credit rating in the event that it pursues the Hinkley C project, because of the dangers of big cost overruns and delays to EDF's untested EPR French reactor technology.12

Huge questions marks must also hang over the Sizewell and Bradwell nuclear projects − the first saddled with a known failed and never-built reactor design, and the second with a never-built reactor design that is a hybrid of two other never-built reactor designs.

China's long term strategic ambitions

But for all the impediments it's likely that the programme can be delivered, eventually, if China is prepared to pump in enough money − and if EDF is prepared to give up enough control and equity. Which raises the question: What's in it for them?

There is one likely answer. Hinkley C and other planned UK nuclear power stations give them a remarkable opportunity to penetrate and occupy not only the UK's nuclear establishment but France's as well.

With no other investor willing to put money into France's failing nuclear companies or the UK's increasingly desperate nuclear ambitions, China's motivations are surely not purely economic, even if there is money to be made.

It is rather that China has perceived a vulnerability and has decided to exploit it for its own long term strategic, industrial and geopolitical advantage. Remember here that the UK and France are both nuclear weapons states and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council increasingly seen as punching above their weight.

Deliberate under-financing is the oldest trick in the book for rapacious venture capitalists. You find a company in trouble, inject some cash, but not enough, and some more cash, but still not enough, and a few years down the line you're either running the company or winding it up and making off with its assets.

It may be that Chinese money will see the Hinkley C, Sizewell and Bradwell nuclear projects carried though to completion, probably accompanied by big Chinese buy-in to Areva and EDF. But China's help will come at a very high price. 

Abridged from The Ecologist, 22 Oct 2015, www.theecologist.org

References:

1. http://media.edfenergy.com/r/960/agreements_in_place_for_construction_of...

2. www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/11148193/Hinkley-Point-n...

3. www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2985972/ukchina_nuc...

4. https://uk.news.yahoo.com/frances-edf-seeks-deadline-epr-171032486.html

5. www.ft.com/cms/s/0/fcd6a462-7578-11e5-a95a-27d368e1ddf7.html?siteedition=uk

6. www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-12/edf-2014-profit-rises-as-powe...

7. www.ft.com/cms/s/0/fcd6a462-7578-11e5-a95a-27d368e1ddf7.html

8. www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-downgrades-EDF-to-A1-negative-outlook--PR...

9. www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2859924/finland_cancels_olkiluot...

10. www.world-nuclear-news.org/E-Chinas-new-nuclear-baby-0209141.html

11. www.worldnuclearreport.org/Construction-Start-on-Unit-6-at.html

12. www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/industries/utilities/article4574734.ece

Hinkley Point C mothballed

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#810
4495
09/09/2015
Article

More delays are being predicted for the Hinkley Point C nuclear project − originally expected to be generating electricity by Christmas 2017. As revelations emerge that the site has been effectively mothballed since July 1 this year, the Stop Hinkley Campaign is calling for the project to be cancelled now, rather than waiting for its slow death.

Hinkley C is now delayed by more than five years, and will probably be delayed further according to Alan Whitehead MP. The Government wants 35% of UK electricity to be supplied from nuclear by 2028, so all the other sites will have to be magically completed by then. "Not a snowballs chance in hell that all this will happen", Whitehead says.

Instead of a complete nuclear programme by 2025, the likelihood is that there will be one plant and maybe not even that operational at that point. Time, you might think, for a plan B. What about filling the low carbon generation gap with much more easily deployable, speedily buildable, better financeable renewables? Oh, we've just taken most of those programmes out and shot them. Bit of a mess then, really.1

Recently the media was predicting that David Cameron and China's president, Xi Jinping, would sign a deal at a meeting in the UK in October which would signify that a Final Investment Decision on Hinkley Point C had been made. The Chinese are expected to fund two thirds of the scheme.2

However there has been a chorus of voices calling for Hinkley C to be cancelled, or at least re-examined.3 Paul Massara, Chief Executive of RWE nPower said nuclear was "an expensive mistake".4 A Daily Telegraph editorial said "there is a risk of being lumbered with a white elephant under current plans. Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, needs to reassess them before committing taxpayers to what may be an unsustainable project at Hinkley Point."5

Peter Atherton of Jefferies Investment Bank calculated that we could build around 15 gas-fired power stations replacing the whole thermal generation fleet for the same price.6 HSBC Energy Analysts said Hinkley is becoming harder to justify and there is ample reason to cancel the project.

And the Chancellor's father-in-law, former Conservative Energy Secretary Lord Howell of Guildford, described Hinkley as "one of the worst deals ever for British households and British industry". He told the House of Lords that while he was personally "very pro-nuclear", he would "shed no tears" if the "elephantine" scheme was to be abandoned "in favour of smaller and possibly cheaper nuclear plants a bit later on".7

Perhaps all of this had something to do with Amber Rudd launching a project to examine the actual cost of electricity generation − including not just the cost of constructing offshore wind farms, for instance, but also of connecting them to the national grid. It will also examine nuclear power and conventional energy. The study is being conducted by Frontier Economics, the consultancy chaired by former Cabinet Secretary Lord O'Donnell.8 Although this might also have more to do with the Tories ongoing attack on renewables. One source told the Daily Mail: "We might conclude we need less renewable energy than we thought because there are other ways of doing it cheaper – by using technology to reduce consumer demand, for instance".9

Now the Construction Products Association (CPA) is predicting that the start of the main works on the nuclear site will be delayed until 2018.10

Mothballed

Two recent articles in Click Green and Professional Engineer indicate that Hinkley Point C is now officially mothballed. We already knew that site preparation work at Hinkley Point C was stopped in April 2015, up to 400 construction workers were laid off, and the Final Investment Decision was delayed until the autumn.11 What wasn't clear at the time was that NNB Genco – the consortium planning to build the reactors which consists of EDF Energy, China General Nuclear Corp and other investors − put a cap on future spending on the project.12

On July 1 the site entered Care and Maintenance which means that activity at the site is limited to the management of material stockpiles and water management zones, remediation of asbestos contaminated land and archaeological surveys.13

The budget cap seems to have been more severe than the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) was expecting. ONR charges NNB Genco for all the work it carries out to regulate its activities.

ONR says it has taken the decision to suspend the production of future inspection reports until a Final Investment Decision is made. It has also suspended attendance at the local liaison committee – the Community Forum. These suspensions are most likely because NNB Genco no longer has the budget to pay for them, so the consortium will have asked ONR to stop visiting the site to do inspections and stop attending the forum because it can't afford to pay.

In retaliation ONR says it is "monitoring the impact of the budget constraint upon NNB Genco's competency and capability". In other words NNB Genco had better watch out or it will lose its status as an organisation competent and capable of holding a nuclear license.

ONR says its inspectors "continue to engage with the programme of design and safety case activities" related to the start of nuclear safety related construction. Its August newsletter said that further submissions are expected in September this year and the Pre Construction Safety Case related to nuclear island construction was ready for ONR to begin initial engagement at the end of July this year.14

So while some desk work appears to be continuing all major work on-site appears to have stopped and NNB Genco is so uncertain that the final investment decision will be positive it has asked ONR to stop as much work as possible to save money – even to the point of threatening its own status as a nuclear capable organisation.

Stop Hinkley Spokesperson Roy Pumfrey said:

"With the Chinese stock market in turmoil it is hardly surprising that the construction industry is predicting yet more delays to this £24.5 billion project. But we think the CPA is being overly optimistic. By 2018 the renewable industry will have had another 2 or 3 years of falling costs and innovation, whereas nuclear costs just keep rising and technical problems mount up. Somerset should kick EDF out now so that we can get on with building the sustainable industries we need to tackle climate change, capture the jobs required and transform our energy and transport system into one over which communities have more control."

Alternative view

The Western Daily Press (August 26) gave an alternative view. It said EDF Energy played down the ONR's decision to suspend work on future inspection reports. And they reported some analysts who felt the Chinese financial turmoil would actually make an investment in Hinkley more likely. The newspaper reports that the Final Investment Decision is likely to be made in Paris after the August holidays are over, and then an announcement will be made during Chinese President, Xi Jinping, visit in October. The announcement could even see the President visit Hinkley.

The Ecologist reports that there has probably been some heavy EDF spinning in recent weeks in response to the negative coverage about the HSBC report and other bad news afflicting the Hinkley C project. As part of its media offensive, EDF has also put the word out that it is placing £1.3 billion in contracts to the mainly UK based contractors, and that a deal with China should be finalised within weeks.

So what's the real situation? For a start, says The Ecologist, it would be extremely unwise for the UK to commit any serious money to the Hinkley C project until there is a single example of a working reactor of the EPR design and legal challenges in the European Court have been safely dealt with. So until both of those major obstructions are out of the way, it's hard to imagine any meaningful deal being signed.

Now maybe the government itself has turned against the project altogether. The mood in government is increasingly towards bypassing the Hinkley C project and its failed EPR design altogether, and going straight for the more affordable AP1000 design (which has problems of its own). And EDF is desperately fighting back.

The Ecologist concludes very possibly David Cameron and Xi Xinping will sign a piece of paper in October, but will Hinkley C ever be built? The smart money says no.15 The Western Morning News said there's a big elephant in the room – Hinkley Point C − and some say the big creature in the room is actually a vast, unaffordable white elephant. When it comes to something as vast and vital as future energy generation, we can't have any elephants stalking around the room.16

Meanwhile EDF-Areva has confirmed that it will bear the cost of any over-runs associated with the Hinkley Point C nuclear power project. After Olkiluoto, Flamanville and Taishan this represents a big risk for the newly merged French state-owned company as all three of those projects have experienced costly delays.17

References:

1. Alan Whitehead MP 5th Aug 2015 https://alansenergyblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/the-chinese-nuclear-fai...

2. Guardian 4th August 2015 www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/aug/04/deal-to-build-uk-nuclear-pla...

3. See Stop Hinkley Press Release 13th August 2015 www.stophinkley.org/PressReleases/pr150813.pdf

4. Sunday Times 9th August 2015 www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/business/Industry/article1591057.ece

5. Telegraph 12th August 2015 www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/11796778/Nuclear-warnings.html

6. Guardian 9th August 2015 www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/aug/09/planned-hinkley-point-nuclea...

7. Independent 4th August 2015 www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/government-under-pressure-to-aba...

8. H&V News 24th Aug 2015 www.hvnplus.co.uk/news/government-to-calculate-cost-of-generating-electr...

9. Mail on Sunday 22nd Aug 2015 www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-3207201/Energy-review-spells-en...

10. Construction Products Association Press Release 24th August 2015 www.constructionproducts.org.uk/news/press-releases/display/view/cpa-for...

11. Gloucestershire Echo 2nd April 2015 www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/400-jobs-lost-Barnwood-based-EDF-stops-sit...

12. Click Green 20th Aug 2015 www.clickgreen.org.uk/news/national-news/126381-exclusive-edf-mothballs-...

13. Professional Engineering 20th Aug 2015 www.power-eng.com/articles/2015/08/construction-halted-at-hinkley-point-...

14. See page 7 ONR Regulation Matters August 2015 www.onr.org.uk/documents/2015/regulation-matters-issue-1.pdf

15. Ecologist 6th Aug 2015 www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2977744/hinkley_point_c_is_it_al...

16. Western Morning News 18th Aug 2015 www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Comment-New-nuclear-reactor-Somerset-hugely...

17. Power Engineering 20th Aug 2015 www.powerengineeringint.com/articles/2015/08/edf-areva-to-take-on-the-co...

Reprinted from nuClear news, No.77, September 2015, www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo77.pdf

About: 
Hinkley Point-B2

Diminishing prospects for MOX and integral fast reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#810
4494
09/09/2015
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

A non-existent reactor type called the 'integral fast reactor' (IFR) has some prominent champions, including climate scientist James Hansen. Supporters are beguiled by the prospect of nuclear waste and weapons-usable material being used as fuel to generate low-carbon power − helping to address three problems at once.

The theoretical attractiveness fades away when the real-world history of fast reactors is considered: they have proven to be accident-prone, expensive white elephants, and they have contributed to weapons proliferation.

Both the US and the UK governments have been considering building IFRs. The primary purpose in both countries would be to provide a degree of proliferation resistance to stockpiles of separated plutonium. For Hansen and other IFR supporters, the significance of the US and UK proposals is that the construction of IFRs in those countries could kick-start a much greater worldwide deployment.

However, it seems increasingly unlikely that IFRs will be built in the US or the UK ... and no other country is seriously considering building them.

The latest report on US plutonium disposition options signals a shift away from using mixed uranium/plutonium (MOX) fuel in favor of disposal − and it didn't consider IFRs to be worthy of detailed consideration. The study − commissioned by the Department of Energy (DoE) and produced by a 'Red Team' of experts from US nuclear laboratories, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the commercial nuclear power industry − was leaked to the Union of Concerned Scientists and has been posted on the UCS website.1,2

The plutonium in question is 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium from the US nuclear weapons program (with Russia having also agreed to remove the same amount of plutonium from its military stockpile). The partially built MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina has proven to be an expensive white elephant. The DoE Red Team report details the "difficult, downward spiraling circumstances" that have plagued the MOX program and contributed to the delays and massive cost overruns at the MOX facility.

The UCS notes that the estimated life-cycle cost of the MOX facility has ballooned from US$1.6 billion (€1.43b) to more than US$30 billion (€26.9b), and the DoE report notes that the cost of the MOX approach for plutonium disposition has "increased dramatically".

The World Nuclear Association has crunched the numbers: "Despite being 60% built, the MOX plant still needs some 15 years of construction work, said the leaked report, and then about three years of commissioning. Once in operation the plant would work through the plutonium over about 10 years with this 28-year program to cost $700-800 million per year − a total of $19.6−22.4 billion on top of what has already been spent."3

The DoE Red Team report states that it may not be possible to get sufficient reactors to use MOX fuel to make the approach viable − and that it may struggle get utilities to use MOX fuel even if it is given away for free (!) and even in markets where additional costs (e.g. licensing costs to enable the use of MOX fuel) can be passed directly on to consumers.

The DoE Red Team report promotes a 'Dilute and Dispose' option − downblending or diluting plutonium with adulterating material and then disposing of it. The DoE has already used that method to dispose of several tons of plutonium. DoE proposes disposal of the 34 metric tons of downblended plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico.

WIPP would also be required if the MOX approach is pursued. WIPP has been closed since a February 2014 underground chemical explosion but the Red Team anticipates that it will re-open in the coming years and could be available for downblended waste (or MOX waste).

Don Hancock from the Albuquerque-based Southwest Information and Research Center opposes the MOX project but is sceptical about disposal at WIPP, saying the DoE should review other options including storing the plutonium at the Savannah River Site or the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, where thousands of plutonium pits are already warehoused. Hancock said: "The Red Team or the Union of Concerned Scientists may be confident that WIPP will reopen in a few years, but I don't see any real basis for that. Going from one bad idea to another bad idea is not the solution to this problem."4

Integral fast reactors

IFRs − also called PRISM or Advanced Disposition Reactors (ADR) − have been considered for plutonium disposition in the US. The ADR concept is similar to General Electric Hitachi's PRISM according to the DoE.

Last year a DoE Working Group concluded that the ADR approach would be more than twice as expensive as all the other options under consideration for plutonium disposition; that it would take 18 years to construct an ADR and associated facilities; and that the ADR option is associated with "significant technical risk".5

The 2014 DoE Working Group report stated:

"Irradiation of plutonium fuel in fast reactors ... faces two major technical challenges: the first involves the design, construction, start-up, and licensing of a multi-billion dollar prototype modular, pool-type advanced fast-spectrum burner reactor; and the second involves the design and construction of the metal fuel fabrication in an existing facility. As with any initial design and construction of a first-of-a-kind prototype, significant challenges are endemic to the endeavor, however DoE has thirty years of experience with metal fuel fabrication and irradiation. The metal fuel fabrication facility challenges include: scale-up of the metal fuel fabrication process that has been operated only at a pilot scale, and performing modifications to an existing, aging, secure facility ... Potential new problems also may arise during the engineering and procurement of the fuel fabrication process to meet NRC's stringent Quality Assurance requirements for Nuclear Power Plants and Fuel Reprocessing Plants."

In short, the ADR option is associated with "significant technical risk" according to the 2014 DoE report, and metal fuel fabrication faces "significant technical challenges" and has only been operated at the pilot scale.

If the August 2015 DoE Red Team report is any guide, the IFR/ADR option is dead and buried in the US. The Red Team didn't even consider IFR/ADR worthy of detailed consideration:1

"The ADR option involves a capital investment similar in magnitude to the MFFF [Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility] but with all of the risks associated with first of-a kind new reactor construction (e.g., liquid metal fast reactor), and this complex nuclear facility construction has not even been proposed yet for a Critical Decision (CD)-0. Choosing the ADR option would be akin to choosing to do the MOX approach all over again, but without a directly relevant and easily accessible reference facility/operation (such as exists for MOX in France) to provide a leg up on experience and design. Consequently, the remainder of this Red Team report focuses exclusively on the MOX approach and the Dilute and Dispose option, and enhancements thereof."

The DoE Red Team report states that the IFR/ADR option has "large uncertainties in siting, licensing, cost, technology demonstration, and other factors". It states that the IFR/ADR option "could become more viable in the future" if fast reactors were to become part of the overall U.S. nuclear energy strategy.

IFR/PRISM/ADR advocates argued in 2011 that the first PRISM could be built in the US by 2016.6 However the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to receive a licensing submission from General Electric Hitachi and there are no concrete plans for PRISMs in the US let alone any concrete pours.

IFRs in the UK?

The UK government is also considering building IFRs for plutonium disposition. Specifically, General Electric Hitachi (GEH) is promoting 'Power Reactor Innovative Small Module' (PRISM) fast reactors.7

The UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) released a position paper in January 2014 outlining potential options for future management of separated plutonium stockpiles.8 The NDA report stated that reuse in Candu reactors "remains a credible option", that MOX is a "credible and technically mature option", while PRISM "should also be considered credible, although further investigation may change this view."

The NDA report stated that the facilities required by the PRISM approach have not been industrially demonstrated, so further development work needs to be undertaken with the cost and time to complete this work yet to be defined in detail. GEH estimates that licensing these first of a kind PRISM reactors would take around six years. GEH envisages first irradiation (following development, licensing and construction) in 14−18 years but the NDA considers that timeframe "ambitious considering delivery performance norms currently seen in the UK and European nuclear landscape".

As in the US, the likelihood of IFR/ADR/PRISM reactors being built in the UK seems to be diminishing. An August 2015 report states that the Canadian Candu option seems to be emerging as a favorite for plutonium disposition in the UK, and that GEH is 'hedging its bets' by working with Candu Energy to develop the Candu approach.9,10

References:

1. Thom Mason et al., 13 August 2015, 'Final Report of the Plutonium Disposition Red Team', for the US Department of Energy, www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/08/final-pu-disposition-r...

2. UCS, 20 Aug 2015, 'DOE Study Concludes MOX Facility More Expensive, Much Riskier than Disposing of Surplus Plutonium at New Mexico Repository', www.ucsusa.org/new/press_release/doe-mox-study-0521

3. World Nuclear News, 21 Aug 2015, 'Disposal beats MOX in US comparison', www.world-nuclear-news.org/WR-Disposal-beats-MOX-in-US-comparison-210815...

4. Patrick Malone and Douglas Birch, 22 Aug 2015, Sante Fe New Mexican, www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/report-pressures-congress-to-k...

5. US Department of Energy, April 2014, 'Report of the Plutonium Disposition Working Group: Analysis of Surplus Weapon Grade Plutonium Disposition Options', www.nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/04-14-inlinefiles/SurplusPu...

6. 'Disposal of UK plutonium stocks with a climate change focus', http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/06/04/uk-pu-cc/

7. http://gehitachiprism.com

8. UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Jan 2014, 'Progress on approaches to the management of separated plutonium – Position Paper', www.nda.gov.uk/publication/progress-on-approaches-to-the-management-of-s...

9. Newswire 29th June 2015 http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1563539/ge-hitachi-nuclear-energy-canada...

10. August 2015, 'Slow Progress on Plutonium Stockpiles', nuClear news No.76, www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo76.pdf

Small modular reactors: a chicken-and-egg situation

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#800
4452
19/03/2015
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

According to James Conca, a nuclear enthusiast who writes for Forbes, the nuclear industry in the US is "abuzz" with the potential of small modular reactors (SMRs).1

Conca promotes pseudo-research from the 'Small Modular Reactor Research and Education Consortium', according to which a single SMR has the potential to result in US$892 million (€844m) in "direct economic benefits". In other words, the capital cost estimate is US$892 million. The Consortium estimates that the potential economic benefits from the establishment of an SMR construction business in the US could range from US$34−250 billion (€32.2−236.7b) or more.

Better grounded in reality is a report produced by Nuclear Energy Insider, drawing on interviews with more than 50 "leading specialists and decision makers". The report attempts to put a positive spin on the future development of SMRs, but an air of pessimism is all too apparent, even in the report's title: 'Small Modular Reactors: An industry in terminal decline or on the brink of a comeback?'2

Pessimism is also apparent in comments by the report's lead author, Kerr Jeferies: "From the outside it will seem that SMR development has hit a brick wall, but to lump the sector's difficulties together with the death of the so-called nuclear renaissance would be missing the point."3

In the US4:

  • Babcock & Wilcox has greatly reduced its investment in SMR development, despite receiving US$111 million (€105m) from the Department of Energy. B&W CEO Jim Ferland said that he sees the future of SMRS as "still being up in the air."
  • Westinghouse abandoned its SMR development program in February 2014.
  • Warren Buffet's MidAmerican Energy abandoned plans to build an SMR in Iowa after consumer groups prevailed in a legislative battle over 'construction work in progress' legislation that allows utilities to charge higher rates to cover reactor construction costs, even if the reactor is never built.
  • NuScale is the only company in the US with any forward momentum − it is aiming to submit documentation to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2016 for design review.

Glenn George from KPMG recently discussed SMR development in the US with Nuclear Energy Insider: "I think that investors are in a wait-and-see mode regarding development of the SMR market. ... Investors will want to see SMR learning-curve effects, but a chicken-and-egg situation is at work: Decreased cost comes from production of multiple units over time, yet such production requires investment in the first place. So it's not surprising that, in the absence of commercial orders, Westinghouse and Babcock & Wilcox have slowed SMR development."5

Outside the US, just a few first-of-a-kind SMR projects are under construction − in Argentina (CAREM-25), Russia (KLT-40S) and China (HTR-PM).

The Nuclear Energy Insider report restates the familiar SMR rationale about mass production and streamlined supply chains bringing down costs. But it also calls into question the underlying logic: "SMR concepts face a real challenge in ensuring cost and energy efficiency. Making a power unit smaller also increases the need to have five, ten or even twelve modular reactors working in unison to create the same level of base load electricity as the large PWR's and fossil fuel plants they will replace. In reducing the size of reactor modules you also reduce the amount of thermal energy produced, if an SMR only has an energy efficiency of 30−40% then you require even further units to make up the shortfall."

The report also qualifies the usual SMR rhetoric about economies derived from mass factory production: "Factory assembly of small reactors is one of the core benefits of SMR's. They can be built off site in 'bulk', easily transported and then plugged into an infrastructure network promising a far quicker and cheaper alternative to large PWR's. However, in order to ensure a smooth transition from the drawing board to the construction site there are key questions to be faced in separating the expertise held in a reactor factory and the expertise required to install an SMR when it arrives on site. For an effective SMR supply chain to be developed it will need to be localized − despite the reactors being built off site, a great amount of the on-site infrastructure and materials will still require precision assembly."

If there was any remaining doubt that SMRs are not the 'game changer' they are so often portrayed to be, the report concludes: "Six decades of nuclear development have shown that nuclear energy can only be progressed if 'long-term' strategies are employed across the industry. In an economic climate where there are alternative energies offering far quicker returns on investment, clear questions need to raised and frank discussions held in order to ensure that SMR's do remain a realistic alternative for energy provision."

The report states that notwithstanding the "pervasive sense of pessimism" resulting from abandoned and scaled-back SMR programs, "we believe a more accurate picture is that 2014 has been a teething year, and that the SMR story hasn't even really begun."

Therein lies the problem − the story hasn't begun: no supply chains, no factories churning out identical reactors, and precious few customers. And another familiar problem that has long plagued the nuclear industry: a bewildering array of proposed designs.

SMR push in the UK

The UK has been bitten by the SMR bug. The National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) has produced a feasibility study which argues that SMRs might eventually prove cheaper than large reactors, while also noting unresolved 'detailed technical challenges'. The House of Commons Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change has urged the government to spend public money to develop a demonstration SMR.6

Academics Gordon MacKerron and Philip Johnstone from the Sussex Energy Group write: "It [NNL] then suggests a potential UK market of between 7GW and 21GW in 2015, the latter number being frankly not credible under any conceivable circumstances. These hoped-for UK markets are also linked to the idea that the UK could become a major technological player in SMR technology, a view that seems tinged almost with fantasy, given that all significant SMR development to date has been outside the UK."6

South Korea's SMART reactor

South Korea may have found a model to unlock the potential of SMRs: collaboration with a repressive Middle Eastern state, extensive technology transfer, and if that fans proliferation risks and tensions in a volatile region, so be it.

On March 3, the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) to carry out a three-year study to assess the feasibility of building two first-of-a-kind 'System Integrated Modular Advanced ReacTor' (SMART) reactors.7

SMART is a 100 MWe pressurized water reactor design which could be used for electricity generation and desalinization. The cost of building the first SMART reactor in Saudi Arabia is estimated at US$1 billion (€947m).7

Among other obstacles, the development of SMART technology has only lukewarm support from the South Korean government; it is no longer financially backed by Korea Electric Power Co. (Kepco); there is no intention to deploy SMART reactors in South Korea; and plans to build a demonstration plant in South Korea stalled.

South Korea launched 'SMART Power' on January 29 − an organisation tasked with marketing SMART technology overseas, conducting joint feasibility studies with interested customers, and continuing design work to make the reactor technology "more economically feasible".

KACARE says that SMART intellectual property rights will be co-owned and that, in addition to the construction of SMART reactors in Saudi Arabia, the two countries aim to commercialise the technology and to promote it world-wide.8

KACARE states: "Undisputedly, human capacity building for the production of nuclear power within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a national pursuit of paramount importance as it will essentially contribute to the sincerely devoted endeavors to devise a sustainable development future for Saudi generations."8

Failing that, the joint partnership − and the extensive technology transfer and training it entails − will take Saudi Arabia a long way down the path towards developing a latent nuclear weapons capability. Saudi officials have made no secret of the Kingdom's intention to pursue a weapons program if Iran's nuclear program is not constrained.9

Wall Street Journal reporters noted on March 11: "As U.S. and Iranian diplomats inched toward progress on Tehran's nuclear program last week, Saudi Arabia quietly signed its own nuclear-cooperation agreement with South Korea. That agreement, along with recent comments from Saudi officials and royals, is raising concerns on Capitol Hill and among U.S. allies that a deal with Iran, rather than stanching the spread of nuclear technologies, risks fueling it."10

A bilateral nuclear trade agreement between the US and Saudi Arabia has stalled because of the Kingdom's refusal to rule out developing enrichment or reprocessing technology. "We've been pressing them to agree not to pursue a civilian fuel cycle, but the Saudis refuse," said Gary Samore, a US government official working on nuclear issues during President Obama's first term.10

References:

1. James Conca, 16 Feb 2015, 'Can SMRs Lead The U.S. Into A Clean Energy Future?', www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2015/02/16/can-smrs-lead-the-u-s-into-a-...
2. Nuclear Energy Insider, 2014, "Small Modular Reactors: An industry in terminal decline or on the brink of a comeback?", http://bit.ly/smrscomeback
3. March 2015, 'SMRs "back on the agenda next year", says new report by Nuclear Energy Insider', www.prweb.com/releases/2015/03/prweb12549421.htm
4. Dan Yurman, 1 March 2015, 'Be careful about rose colored glasses when viewing the future of SMRs', http://neutronbytes.com/2015/03/01/be-careful-about-rose-colored-glasses...
5. Peter Taberner, 3 March 2015, 'SMRs: private investors call for track record and big government orders', http://analysis.nuclearenergyinsider.com/small-modular-reactors/smrs-pri...
6. Gordon MacKerron and Philip Johnstone, 2 March 2015, 'Small modular reactors – the future of nuclear power?', http://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/sussexenergygroup/2015/03/02/small-modular-rea...
7. WNN, 4 March 2015, 'Saudi Arabia teams up with Korea on SMART', www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Saudi-Arabia-teams-up-with-Korea-on-SMART-...
8. KACARE, 3 March 2015, 'MOU's Signature', www.kacare.gov.sa/en/?p=1667
9. 18 Sept 2014, 'Saudi Arabia's nuclear power program and its weapons ambitions', Nuclear Monitor, Issue #791, www.wiseinternational.org/node/4195
10. Jay Solomon and Ahmed Al Omran, 11 March 2015, 'Saudi Nuclear Deal Raises Stakes for Iran Talks', www.wsj.com/articles/saudi-nuclear-deal-raises-stakes-for-iran-talks-142...

UK uses bullying tactics to save Hinkley

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#799
4451
05/03/2015
Article

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has threatened to retaliate over Austria's plans to mount a legal challenge to the Hinkley Point nuclear project, according to a document written by Vienna's ambassador to London. Britain's concerns are highlighted in Mr Eichtinger's account of a meeting with Vijay Rangarajan, a senior official at the Foreign Office. According to the letter, the UK has said that it could retaliate in several ways, with officials working on a "systematic creation of countermeasures" against the country.1

Austria confirmed that it would launch a legal challenge against the European Union's (EU) decision to allow billions of pounds of subsidies for Hinkley on 21st January.2

The UK could retaliate by mounting a legal challenge to Austria's electricity (source) labelling on the basis that this breaches common market rules. It could also apply pressure on Austria to shoulder a higher burden in EU "internal effort-sharing" in the bloc's transition to a low-carbon economy. Britain could also begin an investigation into whether Austria's suit violated the Euratom treaty on nuclear power.

Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace, criticised the government for bullying the Austrians for daring to question the "huge and wasteful energy project", which would raise bills for British consumers. Thankfully the Austrian Government has said it won't be intimidated by threats.3

A spokeswoman for Mr Cameron said he believed that Britain had the right to choose its own energy mix. The UK government said it had no reason to believe that Austria was preparing a legal case that had any merit.4 On the other hand Dr Dörte Fouquet, a lawyer for the Brussels-based law firm Becker Büttner, which specialises in energy and competition law, said she thought that Austria's chances of success were "pretty high."5 And as the Nuclear Free Local Authorities pointed out in letters to the Guardian and Independent, if Hinkley Point goes ahead, with a £17 billion state aid package between the UK Government and EDF Energy, it could see other EU states like the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia − all close to Austria − seek to replicate such contractual operations for their own new nuclear ambitions.

It is important to note in 2006 the then Chancellor Alasdair Darling said it will be up to the private sector to "initiate, fund, construct and operate" the nuclear plants. And the UK Coalition Agreement between the Tories and Liberal Democrats allowed the Government to promote the construction of new nuclear reactors provided they receive "no public subsidy".

Councillor Mark Hackett for the NFLA says the UK Government's churlish response is mainly due to it knowing that the writing is on the wall − Hinkley Point will be subject to another long delay, and this makes it ever less likely to be built. Austria should be commended for bringing us to our senses and forcing us to see the necessity of a quite different low carbon strategy; where renewables, energy efficiency and decentralised energy can become the norm.

Investment decision delayed

The Times reported on February 7 that an investment decision would be delayed until several months after the general election because the project's Chinese backers have demanded that the French government protect them if it goes bust.6 The Chinese were reported to have serious concerns about the EPR reactor design and are refusing to invest unless the French government promises to bail out Areva, if necessary, and cover their share of any cost overruns.

Complex negotiations involving British ministers, their opposite numbers in Paris, EDF Energy and the Chinese have been complicated still further by the legal challenge brought by Austria against Hinkley Point. Now EDF Energy is seeking assurances from the UK Government that if Austria wins the case and the project has to be abandoned halfway through, the company will receive compensation for the money invested up to that point.

At first, according to the Burnham-on-sea.com website, EDF Energy denied reports that an investment decision would be delayed until the Autumn. And the Stop Hinkley Campaign pointed out that if EDF Energy or the Chinese demanded any new financial guarantees these would require approval from the European Competition Commissioner.7

Just two days later, The Telegraph reported that EDF Energy appears to have abandoned its March 2015 deadline for making an investment decision and has warned that talks on the project may still take a "considerable" time. EDF described finalising agreement on Hinkley as a "major challenge" facing the company in 2015. EDF said that before it could take a decision it needed to sign deals with co-investors, gain European Commission and UK government approval of waste transfer contract arrangements, finalise a £10 billion loan guarantee from the Treasury and finalise a subsidy contract that was provisionally agreed with the UK Government in 2013.8

Earlier the Financial Times reported that several potential investors have backed away from the project despite the promise of a 35-year index-linked price guarantee backed by the UK taxpayer.9 The Kuwaitis, the Qataris, the Saudi Electric Company and even Hermes, the UK based investment fund, have all been mentioned as possible investors but none has signed up.

On top of all this Areva, the French, mainly State-owned company which would be the main equipment supplier, will have difficulty funding its expected 10% share of the project. Areva is struggling to survive the ongoing mess of the Olkiluoto nuclear plant in Finland, which is years behind schedule and billions over budget. Areva's losses in Finland are currently estimated at €3.9bn. The loss of Areva's share of Nuclear Management Partners Consortium's contract to decommission the Sellafield will not have helped.

Areva's share price has collapsed. It ended its market year with a decline of 52% as a result of financial difficulties caused by mismanagement, hazardous speculations and acquisitions, repeated technical fiascos (i.e. the EPRs in Finland and France), the regression of global nuclear market, and especially the cessation of the Japanese market since the Fukushima nuclear disaster.10

Chinese investment

Meanwhile, the government is refusing to say whether it has followed its own rules in allowing the Chinese to invest in Hinkley, citing questions of national security. Chinese involvement in UK energy schemes remains controversial, not least because of the historical links between its industry and the military. The National Security Council (NSC) is supposed to review critical projects. But ministers have consistently refused to say whether this has been the case. The BBC requested information, under Freedom of Information laws, about whether the NSC had discussed China's investment in Hinkley and if it had, whether it had been approved.

In a delayed response, the government confirmed the information was held by the Cabinet Office but refused to say whether the NSC had approved or even discussed China's expected 30−40% stake. Labour MP Dr Alan Whitehead, a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, said the government's refusal to say whether it had followed its own rules was "not acceptable".11

 

Abridged from NuClear News, No.71, February 2015, www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo71.pdf

 

References:

1. FT, 11 Feb 2015, www.ft.com/cms/s/0/905342fa-b214-11e4-80af-00144feab7de.html
2. Guardian, 21 Jan 2015, www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/21/austria-to-launch-lawsuit-hi...
3. Bloomberg 12 Feb 2015 www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-12/austria-says-it-won-t-be-inti...
4. FT 11 Feb 2015 www.ft.com/cms/s/0/905342fa-b214-11e4-80af-00144feab7de.html
5. Guardian, 22 Jan 2015, www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/22/uk-nuclear-ambitions-dealt-f...
6. Times, 7 Feb 2015, www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/industries/utilities/article4346816.ece
7. Burnham-on-sea.com, 10 Feb 2015, www.burnham-on-sea.com/news/2015/hinkley-point-delay-10-02-15.php
8. Telegraph, 12 Feb 2015, www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/11407745/Hinkley-Point-n...
9. FT, 11 Jan 2015, http://blogs.ft.com/nick-butler/2015/01/11/new-nuclear-2015-is-the-criti...
10. Co-ordination Antinucleaire Sudest, 1 Jan 2015, http://coordination-antinucleaire-sudest.net/2012/index.php?post/2015/01...
11. BBC, 15 Jan 2015, www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30778427

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#796
19/06/2015
Shorts

UK: Report outlines unreliability of aging nuclear reactors

The UK Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) published a report on December 9 which details the unreliability of the UK's aging nuclear power stations.
The report, written by NFLA Policy Advisor Pete Roche, found that in the three years from 2012−2014, 62 outages were reported, over three-quarters of which were unplanned. These reported outages do not include routine refuelling closures. The list of outages is not comprehensive as EDF Energy does not provide comprehensive data on reactor performance.

At its lowest point, on 20 November 2014, less than half (43%) of UK nuclear power capacity was available due to shutdowns. Seven out of 15 reactors were offline.

Unplanned shutdowns cause serious problems for electricity supply regulation and planning. A major likely reason for poor performance is that most reactors are over 30 years old and past their use-by dates, some by considerable margins. The increasingly decrepit state of UK nuclear power stations also presents a serious safety issue. UK nuclear regulatory agencies are aware of the continual reduction in safety margins resulting from graphite loss and crumbling in the moderators of AGR reactors.

Nuclear Free Local Authorities, 9 Dec 2014, 'NFLA concerns over the reliability of aging nuclear reactors in the UK', www.nuclearpolicy.info/publications/briefings.php
www.nuclearpolicy.info/docs/briefings/A241_%28NB127%29_Aging_nuclear_rea...

                                                                                

International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Human Weapons

On December 8−9, over 1000 people flocked into the grand ballroom of Holfsburg Palace, Vienna, to consider the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. Delegations representing 158 nations were present, as well as nuclear survivors, civil society, media, and researchers.

This was the third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Human Weapons − the first was in Norway in 2013, the second in Mexico in February 2014. The latest conference is intended to 'jump-start' the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) deliberations at the UN in May 2015 with a call to proceed with complete disarmament in a global, legally binding form.

The meeting resulted in a vehicle for nations to "sign on" to the Austrian Pledge. This document calls on parties to the NPT to renew their commitments under that treaty and to close any gaps that undermines prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

The Austrian Pledge contains this remarkable provision: "Austria calls on all nuclear weapons possessor states to take concrete interim measures to reduce the risk of nuclear weapon detonations, including reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons and moving nuclear weapons away from deployment into storage, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines and rapid reductions of all types of nuclear weapons ..."

This provision was all the more remarkable since, for the first time, nuclear weapons states were present: the US and Britain, both of which made statements to the assembly confirming that they were not listening.

Invited to speak during the session on the Medical Consequences of Using Nuclear Weapons, I originally declined since my work has focused on energy and the environment, not the military side of nuclear. The invite was made more precise by Ambassador Alexander Kmentt: please speak on the disproportionate impact of radiation on girls and women. Such a direct invitation offered an opportunity to share information that is under-reported.

The fact that atomic bombs were dropped on two cities in Japan almost 80 years ago is no longer being widely taught. Most people don't know that a long-term study was initiated by the US to count the cancers in the survivors. Among those who were under five years old in 1945, for every boy who got cancer at some point in their lives, two girls got cancer.

The room was full of people, including Hibakusha from Japan, survivors from the US tests in the Marshall Islands, from the British tests in Australia, and from Utah (downwind of the Nevada Test Site). It was a great place to share this information.

Information on Atomic Radiation and Harm to Women is posted at:

www.nirs.org/radiation/radhealth/radhealthhome.htm

− Mary Olson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (US)

 

Sweden: Regulator calls for hike in nuclear waste fees

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) has recommended yet another increase in the per kWh-fee on nuclear power to cover predicted costs of decommissioning reactors and the processing and storage of nuclear waste. The proposal raises the fee from an average SEK 0.022/kWh to around 0.040/kWh (US 0.5 c/kWh).

Swedish law requires the industry-owned nuclear waste management company SKB to submit an estimate of projected costs to SSM at three-year intervals. After examining the estimate and consulting other sources, SSM submits its recommendation to the government, which then sets the fee for the next period, in this case 2015−2017.

Over the past couple of terms, SSM's estimates have differed substantially from those of the industry's nuclear waste company. This time, SSM finds that SKB's estimate is short by at least SEK 11 billion (US$1.44, €1.16b). SSM bases its conclusion on a study commissioned from the National Institute of Economic Research (a state body). The conclusion is also seconded by the National Council for Nuclear Waste, an academic reference group, and the National Debt Office, whose comments call for greater transparency as to how SKB arrived at its estimates.

Principal differences concern the estimated future cost of goods and services relating to decommissioning and waste storage, and the cost of necessary reinvestments in existing waste management facilities. SSM states that SKB underestimates cost rises by as much as 12%. Sagging financial returns accruing to the Nuclear Waste Fund – a consequence of the broader economic downturn – also contribute to the gap.

Another discrepancy is that SKB bases its calculations on reactor lifetimes of 50-60 years, yet the Financing Ordinance stipulates that a lifetime of 40 years be used. The advantage from the industry's point of view is obvious: positing a 20−50% longer period of production raises the total sum deposited into the Waste Fund, thereby permitting a lower fee.

The law provides that SSM may, "should circumstances so demand," reject the industry's prognosis and fix an interim fee until satisfactory estimates are on the table. SSM is doing just that. The current recommendation will be for 2015 only, and SKB has been instructed to produce a revised estimate within the next few months.

Shortly after the general election in September 2014, the new government stated as an overall principle that nuclear energy should cover a greater share of its costs to society – which suggests that SSM's proposals would be favourably received.

But there is a catch. The government – a minority coalition – failed to gain parliamentary approval of its budget in December and has announced new elections for March 2015. A change of government before the proposal can be considered is likely, and no one can say what the political constellation after the elections will be.

− Charly Hultén / WISE Sweden

 

Greenland: Pro-uranium coalition forms government

The Inuit Ataqatigiit party was expected to win Greenland's November 28 election, after which it would call a referendum on the controversial issue of uranium mining.

However the pro-uranium Siumut party narrowly won the most votes and has formed a coalition with two other pro-uranium parties − Atassut and Demokraatic. The three parties hold a combined 17 seats in the new parliament while two anti-uranium parties − Inuit Ataqatigiit and Partii Naleraq − hold 14 seats.

Just before the election, a poll showed that 71% of Greenlanders want a national referendum on whether to reinstate the uranium ban. Inuit Ataqatigiit and Partii Naleraq had called for a referendum.

Before the election, former Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond announced in Parliament that if a mining permit was issued to the Australian mining company Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd. for the Kvanefjeld uranium / rare earths project, a referendum on the project would be held in southern Greenland. That promise might still be kept ... or it might not.

The only uranium project that might be developed in the foreseeable future is the Kvanefjeld project. A feasibility study is due for completion in 2015. It could take 2−3 years before environmental assessment processes are complete.

 

US blocks international nuclear safety initiatives

The US was exposed at an international meeting of parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety on December 4.1 A European proposal would have led to greater efforts to prevent accidents and, should they occur, mitigate the effects of radioactive contamination. The proposal would likely have forced upgrades at existing plants.

Russia scaled back its opposition to European proposals, leaving the US as the main dissenter. Russia was prepared to endorse some of the European proposals though it balked at accepting proposals that would require retrofits of old reactors.

Defending their indefensible position, US diplomats said their opposition to the European initiative was driven by concern that an attempt to amend the convention could weaken it, because some governments would be slow to ratify changes.

Former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Victor Gilinsky told Bloomberg: "People in the U.S. don't realize that in many ways our nuclear safety standards lag behind those in Europe. The German and French containment structures are generally more formidable than ours and those reactors generally have more protection systems."1

Created in response to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the Convention on Nuclear Safety has struggled to improve safety standards. The group's secrecy has often undermined its objectives. A former French envoy, Jean-Pierre Clausner, said that the opacity of the organisation was "shocking" according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request.2

1. www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-10/russian-concessions-on-nuclear-safety-...
http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/575834/20141213/u-s-convention-nuclear-sa...
2. www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-01/russia-u-s-face-off-against-europe-on-...

 

South Africa and Russia: 'Pay More for Nuclear' reports

Earthlife Africa has commissioned and released four significant reports in the second half of 2014 in a series titled 'Pay More for Nuclear'. The first report is titled 'Nuclear Technology Options for South Africa'. Prof. Steve Thomas writes: "South Africa's call for tenders for nuclear power plants [in 2008] failed because the costs were high and because the requirements to obtain funding were not politically acceptable. The response to this failure seemed to be that pursuing a wider range of technical options and partners would produce a cheaper and more readily financed offer. The new options mooted include reactors from Korea, China and Russia. The perception that these options will be cheaper is likely to be an illusion. In addition, the designs are unproven and raise serious issues of verifying that they meet the required safety standards."

The second report is titled 'Funding Nuclear Decommissioning – Lessons for South Africa'. Thomas writes: "Current policy and practice on funding nuclear power plant decommissioning in South Africa lags far behind international best practice. It risks bequeathing future generations with a hazardous and expensive task that will have to be paid for by future taxpayers."

The third report is titled 'What Does It Take To Finance New Nuclear Power Plants?'. Thomas writes: "Unless the South African government is prepared to require electricity consumers to sign what will effectively be a blank cheque to the developers of a nuclear power the current attempt to order nuclear power plants for South Africa will fail again and several more years will have been wasted pursuing an option, nuclear power, that is not financeable."

The fourth report is titled 'Russian Nuclear Industry Overview'. Report author Vladimir Slivyak covers problems with ageing reactors, planned new reactors, Russia's fast breeder program, its reactor export program, and inadequate nuclear waste and decommissioning programs. Of particular interest is the section on corruption in the Russian nuclear industry, and the role of NGOs Ecodefense and Transparency International in exposing that corruption.

The four 'Pay More for Nuclear' reports are posted at: http://earthlife.org.za/2014/12/pay-more-with-nuclear-report-4/

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#795
05/12/2014
Shorts

Spain: We are all the Cofrentes 17

Celia Ojeda from Greenpeace Spain writes:

Seventeen people face trial in Spain on charges of public disorder, damage and injury. The punishment being demanded is nearly three years in prison. In addition, Greenpeace may have to pay a fine of 360,000 euros. Why? Because on February 15, 2011, 16 Greenpeace activists and a freelance photojournalist entered Spain's Cofrentes nuclear power plant, climbed one of the cooling towers and painted "Nuclear Danger" on it. Greenpeace's protests are peaceful actions. Is punishing the painting of a cooling tower with jail fair and proportionate? Defending the environment should not carry a cost that is higher than for destroying it.

In a time when peaceful protest is being questioned, Greenpeace points to Article 45 of Spain's constitution that establishes the right of everyone to "enjoy an environment suitable for the development of the individual as well as the duty to preserve it ". That is what Greenpeace does and it is a right our people exercised on February 15, 2011. So we have launched a campaign: COFRENTES MISSION: ARTICLE 45. Because when you have exhausted all other avenues, all you have left is peaceful protest. Three years ago we expected this trial to be held on 4 December, 2014. Today [November 19] we begin a campaign that will last 17 days. During these days we will be proposing 17 missions to make bring attention to the injustice the Cofrentes 17 are facing.

Abridged from www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/we-are-a...

In a separate post, Raquel Montón, nuclear and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Spain, lists 17 nuclear power plants that ought to be shut down immediately − one for each of the 17 Cofrentes activists. Most of the plants are ageing: Fessenheim (France), Doel 3 (Belgium), Borssele (Netherlands), Gundremmingen B and C (Germany), Tarapur 1 and 2 (India), Dukovany (Czech Republic), Paks 2 (Hungary), Krsko (Slovenia), Forsmark 1 (Sweden), Cofrentes (Spain), Rivne 1 and 2 (Ukraine), Fukushima (Japan), Santa María de Garoña (Spain).

www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/17-nucle...

Australia: Kakadu Traditional Owner just wants a house on his country

Kirsten Blair, Community and International Liaison officer with the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, writes:

Jeffrey Lee spoke powerfully about his work to protect Koongarra from mining at the closing plenary of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia on November 18. Kakadu, in the tropical Top End of the Northern Territory, is Australia's largest National Park and is dual World Heritage listed for both its natural and cultural values. Encompassing tropical wetlands, extensive savannah and soaring sandstone escarpments and waterfalls this region has been sculptured and shaped by people and nature for many tens of thousands of years. Jeffrey Lee, the Senior Traditional Owner of the Djok clan in Kakadu fought for many years to see his country at Koongarra protected from the threat of uranium mining. In 2011 he made the long journey from Kakadu to Paris to see the World Heritage Committee include Koongarra in the World Heritage estate and in 2013 the area was formally included within Kakadu National Park and permanently protected from uranium mining. [Areva is understood to be planning legal action against the Australian government over its 2013 decision to veto mining at Koongarra.]

For decades Jeffrey was pressured to allow uranium mining on his land at Koongarra and for decades he resisted – refusing millions of dollars in promised mining payments. Now he is seeking something. After generously allowing his land to be included in Kakadu National Park Jeffrey has a modest ask of the Australian Government in return: please build a house on his country. Jeffrey spoke to thousands of delegates at the closing plenary of the World Parks Congress in Sydney and told the story of his long fight to protect Koongarra. He concluded by calling on the Australian Government to come good on their promise to build him a house on his country. "I have said no to uranium mining at Koongarra because I believe that the land and my cultural beliefs are more important than mining and money. Money comes and goes, but the land is always here, it always stays if we look after it and it will look after us," he said. "While I'm down here at this Congress, I want to tell people about Koongarra and remind the Government that I did all that work to protect that country. All I'm asking is for a place to live on my country. I don't want to wait until I've passed away, I want to live on my county now. "I don't want the Government to forget me, they came to visit me, they congratulated me on my hard work and said they will support me in this. The Government knows how hard I worked, they gave me an Order of Australia and I'm happy for that. Now I just want a commitment from them for a house so I can live on that country that I fought for."

www.mirarr.net

Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade reports

Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT), a collaboration between 23 universities and civil society organisations, published two significant reports on nuclear and uranium issues in November.

'Expanded nuclear power capacity in Europe, impact of uranium mining and alternatives' tackles the myths that nuclear energy is clean, reliable, cheap and climate friendly. In reality, nuclear energy capacity in Eastern Europe is characterised by hidden externalised costs, technical problems and covered-up dangers. At the same time, alternative options for energy production and measures for managing energy demand already exist. The report focuses on Bulgaria and Slovenia, where the full range of issues with nuclear energy are exposed: from zombie mines to badly managed radioactive waste. Slovenia plans one new nuclear power plant and prolongs one other, while Bulgaria is planning two new nuclear power plants. The report concludes that projected Bulgarian and Slovenian energy demand is deliberately exaggerated by competent authorities, while nuclear costs are underestimated. This is despite the existence of an economically justifiable potential for renewable energy solutions, at lower cost per kWh.

Raeva, D., et al., 2014, Expanded nuclear power capacity in Europe, impact of uranium mining and alternatives. EJOLT Report No. 12, 129p., www.ejolt.org/2014/10/expanded-nuclear-power-capacity-in-europe-impact-o...

'Uranium mining. Unveiling the impacts of the nuclear industry' argues that the EU should improve legislation and practices to limit the environmental and health impacts of uranium mining. Lead author Bruno Chareyron states: "Uranium mining is increasing the amount of radioactive substances in the biosphere and produces hundreds of millions of tonnes of long lived radioactive waste. The companies have no solutions for the confinement of this waste and for the appropriate management of contaminated water flowing from the mine sites, even decades after mine closure." The cost of remediation should be properly estimated and paid by the mining companies. Field studies done for this report reveal how zombie mines keep affecting the lives of thousands, even decades after the mines are closed.

The report draws from on-site studies performed in Bulgaria, Brazil, Namibia and Malawi in the course of the EJOLT project and from previous studies in France and Africa over the past 20 years. It gives examples of the various impacts of uranium mining and milling activities on the environment (air, soil, water) and provides recommendations to limit these impacts.

Chareyron, B., et al., 2014, Uranium mining. Unveiling the impacts of the nuclear industry. EJOLT Report No. 15, 116p., www.ejolt.org/2014/11/uranium-mining-unveiling-impacts-nuclear-industry/

UK reactor plans face obstacles

Paul Brown writes:

Plans to build two giant nuclear reactors in south-west England are being reviewed as French energy companies now seek financial backing from China and Saudi Arabia − while the British government considers whether it has offered vast subsidies for a white elephant. A long-delayed final decision on whether the French electricity utility company EDF will build two 1.6 gigawatt European Pressurised water Reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset − in what would be the biggest construction project in Europe − was due in the new year, but is likely to drift again. Construction estimates have already escalated to £25 billion (US$39.3b, €31.5b), which is £9 billion more than a year ago, and four times the cost of putting on the London Olympics last year. Two prototypes being built in Olikuoto, Finland, and Flamanville, France, were long ago expected to be finished and operational, but are years late and costs continue to escalate. Until at least one of these is shown to work as designed, it would seem a gamble to start building more, but neither of them is expected to produce power until 2017.

British experts, politicians and businessmen have begun to doubt that the new nuclear stations are a viable proposition. Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, London, said: "The project is at very serious risk of collapse at the moment. Only four of those reactors have ever been ordered. Two of them are in Europe, and both of those are about three times over budget. One is about five or six years late and the other is nine years late. Two more are in China and are doing a bit better, but are also running late." Tom Greatrex, the British Labour party opposition's energy spokesman, called on the National Audit Office to investigate whether the nuclear reactors were value for money for British consumers. Peter Atherton, of financial experts Liberum Capital, believes the enormous cost and appalling track record in the nuclear industry of doing things on time mean that ministers should scrap the Hinkley plans. Billionaire businessman Jim Ratcliffe, who wants to invest £640 million in shale gas extraction in the UK, said that the subsidy that the British government would pay for nuclear electricity is "outrageous". Finding the vast sums of capital needed to finance the project is proving a problem. Both EDF and its French partner company, Areva, which designed the European Pressurised water Reactor (EPR), have money troubles. In November, Areva suspended future profit predictions and shares fell by 20%.

Chinese power companies have offered to back the project, but want many of the jobs to go to supply companies back home − something the French are alarmed about because they need to support their own ailing nuclear industry. Saudi Arabia is offering to help too, but this may not go down well in Britain. On the surface, all is well. Preparation of the site is already under way on the south-west coast of England, with millions being spent on earthworks and new roads. ... But leaks from civil servants in Whitehall suggest that the government may be getting cold feet about its open-ended guarantees. ... The Treasury is having a review because of fears that, once this project begins, so much money will have been invested that the government will have to bail it out with billions more of taxpayers' money to finish it − or write off huge sums.

− Abridged from Climate News Network, www.climatenewsnetwork.net/europes-nuclear-giants-are-close-to-collapse

Belgium: Fire takes another reactor offline

Electrabel closed the Tihange 3 power reactor on November 30 after an electrical fire, leaving only three of the Belgian firm's seven nuclear plants in action. Several electrical cables outside the reactor caught fire. Electrabel operates seven nuclear reactors − four in Doel and three in Tihange − producing about half of Belgium's electricity demand.Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were off-line for almost a year in 2012−13, due to the discovery of thousands of cracks in the reactors' steel containment vessels, and they were shut down again in March 2014. Sabotage on August 5 by an unidentified staff member damaged the steam turbine of Doel 4, causing its automatic shut down.2

1. www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/30/belgium-nuclear-idUSL6N0TK0LV20141130
2. www.wiseinternational.org/node/4202

Uranium mine sludge discharge permit threatens Lake Malawi

Paladin Africa Ltd, which mines uranium ore in Malawi's northern district of Karonga, has come under fire from a coalition of Malawian civil society groups and chiefs over its proposal to discharge mining sludge into the Sere and North Rukuru rivers. The toxic substances that would flow from the tailings pond at the Kayelekera Uranium Mine into Lake Malawi 50 kms downstream include waste uranium rock, acids, arsenic and other chemicals used in processing the uranium ore, the coalition fears. A statement issued by the Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN), a coalition of 33 civil society organisations active in the extractive industry sector, expressed grave concerns about a recommendation by the National Water Development and Management Technical Committee in the Ministry of Agriculture that the minister issue a discharge permit to Paladin Africa.

Officials from Paladin Africa at a November 4 meeting told participants, according to NRJN members present, "Paladin fears that if the water from the tailings dam is not released into Rukuru River then there is a high risk that the contaminated water from the dam would overflow as a result of the impending rains." The NRJN says it is "shocking and inhumane" for Paladin to put the lives of millions of Malawians at risk as a result of the company's failure to plan properly. "We therefore ask Paladin to build a second tailings dam as was the initial plan and consequently refrain from this malicious practice of discharging radioactive effluents into the river systems, which would subject lives of innocent Malawians to a series of acute and chronic health effects," the NRJN said in its statement. The coalition is calling for an independent team of chemists to conduct studies of the lake to ascertain whether effluents proposed for discharge from the mine are indeed safe. Paladin Africa issued a statement in February that due to the sustained low uranium price, processing would cease at Kayelekera and that the site would be placed on care and maintenance. Following a period of reagent run-down, processing was completed in early May.

Abridged from Environmental News Service, http://ens-newswire.com/2014/11/25/uranium-mine-sludge-discharge-permit-...

USA: Mismanagement at nuclear weapons bases

Problems at nuclear weapons bases continue to attract widespread media commentary. Typical of this is a BloombergView editorial which states: "The shenanigans that have been going on at U.S. nuclear bases are almost too clownish to believe: officers running a drug ring across six facilities, widespread cheating on monthly proficiency tests, blast doors on missile silos too rusty to properly seal, six nuclear-armed missiles accidentally loaded onto a plane that then flew across the country, and a curious story of crews at three bases FedExing one another an apparently magical wrench used to connect warheads to intercontinental ballistic missiles."

www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-11-24/the-pentagons-nuclear-disaster

See also:

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/atomic-anxieties-tough-choices-ahead...
www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/old-nukes-and-old-thinkin...
www.nytimes.com/2014/11/14/us/politics/pentagon-studies-reveal-major-nuc...

Nuclear News

20/11/2014
Shorts

Lifetime Achievement Award for Michael Mariotte

Michael Mariotte, President of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), was honoured on November 10 by 14 environmental organisations in recognition of his three decades of work to educate the public and lawmakers about the dangers of nuclear power. The award was presented by Ralph Nader.

Among his many achievements over 30 years, Michael led the successful fight to block the Calvert Cliffs-3 reactor project in Maryland. In the 1990s, he initiated a program to support fledgling anti-nuclear groups across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union with tens of thousands of dollars in grants and visits by U.S. energy experts to Ukraine, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Hungary. Drawing upon public awareness of the 1986 Chernobyl reactor disaster, Michael played a major role in the fight to defeat federal 'Mobile Chernobyl' legislation that would have permitted the mass transportation nationwide of nuclear fuel waste, with the outcome hinging on a one-vote margin of victory in the US Senate in 2000.

Michael influenced an entire generation of anti-nuclear activists by bringing the idea of "anti-nuclear action camps" from Europe to the US and helped organise six of them − three in New England and three in Midwest. The Vermont Yankee reactor shutdown announcement came 15 years to the day after the arrests of members of the first New England action camp.

The 14 groups supporting the award are Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Beyond Nuclear, Center for Study of Responsive Law, Clean Water Action, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, The Guacamole Fund, Greenpeace, Independent Council for Safe Energy Fund, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen, Sierra Club and World Information Service on Energy.

Former NIRS board chair Paxus Calta said: "MM was a visionary with respect to Eastern Europe, which is how we met. He was one of the few people in the US who saw what was completely apparent in Czechoslovakia, that without orders for new reactors in the 1990s in the west, the newly liberated former communist countries were the place nuclear engineering infrastructure could be maintained. And just as Westinghouse and GE's focus moved to eastern Europe. MM designed (with me) and implemented the east European small grant program, he got money from Ted Turner and others, recognizing that relatively small contributions from the west could have tremendous impact in the east. We gave out 40 grants, funding everything from bike tours, to direct action camps, micro anti-nuclear university and east/west internships. Some of the most important reactors in the world in this fight were the pair of units affectionately called K2R4, which were in Khmelnitsky and Rivne in the Ukraine.

"One of the most important interns to come to the micro anti-nuclear university was Tanya Murza also from Rivne. We stopped the western funding for the reactors at K2R4 and basically knocked the east European development bank (the EBRD) out of the business of paying western companies to complete 25 unfinished Russian reactors. And Tanya stayed and she an MM had two charming kids. MM has been a hero and inspiration to a whole bunch of people including me."

www.nirs.org/about/mmlifetimeachievementawardpr111014.pdf
http://funologist.org/2014/11/11/a-cardboard-hero-of-the-revolution-button/
http://safeenergy.org/2014/11/12/on-awards-and-elections/

UK: Waste transport ship fire

A ship carrying intermediate-level radioactive waste from Dounreay to Belgium which caught fire and began drifting in the Moray Firth, near Scotland, has raised new concerns about plans to move waste and fuel from Dounreay to Sellafield by sea. The MV Parida was transporting a cargo of cemented radioactive waste when a fire broke out in a funnel. The blaze was extinguished, but 52 workers were taken from the Beatrice oil platform by helicopter as a precaution. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said the platform was evacuated because the ship may have crashed into it, but not out of any concerns about radioactive contamination.(1)

Questions were asked about why this ship set out given the severe weather warnings. Highlands Against Nuclear Transport said the incident was a warning about transporting radioactive cargoes by sea, and called for proposals to move other nuclear waste from Dounreay to Sellafield by sea to be scrapped. Angus Campbell, the leader of the Western Isles Council, said the Parida incident highlighted the need for a second coastguard tug in the Minch. "A ship in similar circumstances on the west coast would be reliant on the Northern Isles-based ETV [emergency towing vessel] which would take a considerable amount of time to get to an incident in these waters."(2) Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE) say the contentious plans to ship some 26 tonnes of 'exotic' nuclear materials (irradiated and unirradiated plutonium and highly enriched uranium fuels) from Dounreay to Sellafield have moved a major step closer following recent sea and port trials in Scottish waters undertaken by the NDA's ship Oceanic Pintail which is based at Barrow-in-Furness.(3)

− Reprinted from nuClear news No.68, Nov 2014, www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo68.pdf

1. West Highland Free Press, 26 July 2014, www.whfp.com/2014/07/25/concern-over-nuclear-waste-shipments/
Stornoway Gazette, 3 Aug 2014, www.stornowaygazette.co.uk/news/local-headlines/concerns-raised-about-ra...
2. Herald, 30 July 2014, www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/plans-for-radioactive-waste-by-sea...
3. CORE, 8 Oct 2014, www.corecumbria.co.uk/newsapp/pressreleases/pressmain.asp?StrNewsID=346

UK: Leaked Sellafield photos reveal radioactive threat

The Ecologist has published a set of leaked images from an anonymous source showing decrepit nuclear waste storage facilities at the Sellafield nuclear plant. The images show the state of spent nuclear fuel storage ponds that were commissioned in 1952 and used until the mid-1970s to store spent fuel until it could be reprocessed. They were abandoned in the mid-1970s and have been left derelict for almost 40 years. The ponds are now undergoing decommissioning but the process is fraught with danger. Nuclear expert John Large warned that if the ponds drain, the Magnox fuel will ignite and that would lead to a massive release of radioactive material.

Oliver Tickell, 27 Oct 2014, 'Leaked Sellafield photos reveal 'massive radioactive release' threat', www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2611216/leaked_sellafield_photos...

143 states support UN call for DU clean-up assistance

143 states voted in favour of a fifth UN General Assembly First Committee resolution on DU weapons, which calls for states to provide assistance to countries affected by the weapons. Four states opposed the resolution, and 26 abstained (including Germany, which has previously supported similar resolutions). The resolution, which built on previous texts with the addition of a call for 'Member States in a position to do so to provide assistance to States affected by the use of arms and ammunition containing depleted uranium, in particular in identifying and managing contaminated sites and material' was submitted by Indonesia on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. The resolution also recognised the need for more research on DU in conflict situations. Predictably, the UK, US, France and Israel voted against the resolution. It has recently emerged that the US may again use DU in Iraq. International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons coordinator Doug Weir said: "The reasons given for abstaining have become increasingly feeble, and now seem to revolve around paradoxical arguments calling for more research while opposing a text that calls for exactly that. The people of Iraq and other affected states deserve far better."

www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/143-states-support-call-du-vote-at-un-1comm
www.counterpunch.org/2014/11/06/inside-the-un-resolution-on-depleted-ura...

Activists hold up uranium train in Hamburg

Anti-nuclear activists stopped a trainload of "yellow cake" uranium in Hamburg harbour, Germany, for more than seven hours earlier this month.1 The train was taking 15 containers of the ore from Kazakhstan to Malvési in southern France for processing, a frequent run. While two activists suspended themselves over the railway track, eight were temporarily arrested on the ground. Activists have demanded that Mayor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, close Hamburg harbour to nuclear shipments, as the city of Bremen has done. From November 28−30, an international meeting to oppose uranium transportation will be held in Münster, hosted by SOFA Münster (www.sofa-ms.de/home.html).

Meanwhile, an alliance of German environment activists plans to try to prevent the export of CASTOR containers with highly radioactive fuel pebbles to the USA from Jülich and Ahaus. When the supervisory board of the Jülich research centre met on November 19 to discuss what to do with the CASTORS there, activists mounted a protest outside. The catchcry of the anti-nuclear movement, "Nothing in, nothing out!" is the basic tenet of the new alliance, currently comprising 13 groups, with more likely to come on board.

1. http://nuclear-news.net/2014/11/12/activists-hold-up-uranium-train-in-ha...

German authorities stuff up nuclear exercise

A secret large-scale simulation of an atomic disaster at a German nuclear power plant in Lingen ended poorly on 17 September because crisis managers at national and state levels fought over responsibilities. The outcome was revealed by the investigative newspaper Taz in October, citing 1,000 pages of internal ministerial protocols and files. In a real situation a radioactive cloud would have moved southeast from Lingen across Osnabrück, Steinfurt, Warendorf, Gütersloh and Bielefeld before authorities had alerted people to the danger. Only because of the assumed wind direction, cities like Münster and Hamm were spared the first atomic cloud; had a different wind been assumed they, too, would have been hit by the fallout unprepared. Taz reported that despite this disaster the federal environment ministry had drawn no conclusions from the failure of the emergency exercise by time it published its story.

Willi Hesters of the Aktionsbündnis Münsterland gegen Atomanlagen (Münsterland Alliance Against Atomic Installations) said: "This exceeds the worst fears. It appears that in a real situation the German authorities appear to be unable to adequately inform and protect the population in case of a maximum credible accident. Why was this exercise kept secret? Why have no consequences been drawn yet? If the authorities are unable to protect the population in case of grave atomic accidents, the federal environment ministry must immediately close down all atomic installations." The simulated worst case scenario in Lingen, where there is also a nuclear fuel factory, is particularly controversial because earlier this year the precautionary areas for atomic accidents were drastically enlarged. Under the new rules, all areas within a 20 km radius of nuclear power stations would have to be evacuated within 24 hours; within a radius of 100 kilometres people would have to stay indoors and take iodine tablets. Matthias Eickhoff from the activist group SOFA (Immediate Atomic Shutdown Münster) said: "If communication doesn't work at the highest level between federal and state governments, how is it supposed to work at lower level between the states, counties and municipalities? A disaster beyond all expectations is unmanageable at administrative level."

www.taz.de/Geheime-Uebung-von-Bund-und-Laendern/!148295/
https://linksunten.indymedia.org/en/node/127362

Nuclear power trumps democracy

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#793
4425
30/10/2014
Donnachadh McCarthy − former Deputy Chair of the Liberal Democrats (UK) and founder of the environmental consultancy 3 Acorns Eco-audits
Article

Why is our democracy failing to tackle the horrific urgency of the climate crisis and the decimation of our eco-systems? And why are all the main political parties betting the farm on nuclear power in spite of its madhouse economics − and against all their promises to either oppose nuclear power altogether, or to refuse subsidies for it?

In my new book, 'The Prostitute State − How Britain's Democracy Has Been Bought', I set out my view that there is a single problem at the root of our nation's difficulties. A corporate elite have hijacked the pillars of Britain's democracy. The production of thought, the dissemination of thought, the implementation of thought and the wealth arising from those thoughts, are now controlled by a tiny, staggeringly rich elite. As a result the UK is no longer a functioning democracy but has become a 'Prostitute State' built on four pillars: a corrupted political system, a prostituted media, a perverted academia and a thieving tax-haven system. This has disastrously resulted in a flood of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the top 1%. This stolen wealth is built on the destruction of the planet's ecosystems, which are essential for humanity's survival.

Nuclear power defeats democracy
The reversal of government policy on nuclear power is a classic example of how the Prostitute State trumps democracy. Betrayed environmental activists must understand that − notwithstanding the noble form of democratic structures − what they are really up against is a corrupt corporate state.
The concept of lobbying is reasonably well known, but few of us understand how far lobbying has penetrated and hijacked the political parties themselves. For example, most people are perplexed at how the nuclear industry managed to persuade the UK's previous Labour government to build a fleet of hugely expensive experimental nuclear power stations on land prone to flooding from rising sea levels. They also struggle to comprehend and why Labour's shadow energy and climate change minister, Caroline Flint MP, having stated that she would only support nuclear power if built without public subsidies, now supports the £15−20 billion subsidy package for Hinkley C nuclear power station. Labour managed this policy U-Turn despite the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear catastrophes; the failure to find safe waste-disposal sites capable of protecting radioactive waste for over 100,000 years; and insurance companies' point blank refusal to provide nuclear accident insurance.

It's the money, stupid
My simple answer is that the nuclear industry has poured millions of pounds year after year into a massive political lobbying campaign. They bought a whole swathe of senior ex-politicians to work as nuclear lobbyists, spent a fortune on trying to manipulate public opinion through media and advertising, and even funded school trips to their nuclear plants. As they managed to persuade a Labour government to abandon their 1997 election manifesto commitment to oppose new nuclear power stations, it is crucial to understand how deeply the nuclear lobby is embedded in the Labour party. My personal belief is that a complex web of financial interests ensured that the Labour government served the nuclear industry − no matter what Labour party members or the British public wanted.

Just consider for example the following list of Labour Party politicians:

  • Former Energy Minister Brian Wilson became a non-executive director of Amec Nuclear, a client of BNFL, a nuclear operator.
  • Former Energy Minister Helen Liddell was hired to provide "strategic advice" by the nuclear corporation British Energy.
  • Former Secretary of State John Hutton, who as Business Secretary published the government White Paper announcing government plans to build new nuclear stations, was appointed Chair of the Nuclear Industry Association in 2011. He also joined the advisory board of US nuclear corporation Hyperion Power Generation in July 2010.
  • Colin Byrne, the Labour Party's former chief press officer, headed up lobbying giant Weber Shandwick's UK arm, which BNFL hired to lobby for new nuclear plants.
  • Gordon Brown's brother, Andrew, was nuclear giant EdF's head of media relations in the UK.
  • Yvette Cooper was the Planning Minister who introduced fast-track planning for nuclear power stations. Her father was chair of nuclear lobbyists The Nuclear Industry Association and is director of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
  • Alan Donnelly, former leader of the Labour MEPs, runs the lobbying company Sovereign Strategy, which represented US nuclear engineering giant Fluor. His website promised "pathways to the decision makers in national governments".
  • Former Labour Minister Jack Cunningham was legislative chair of the Transatlantic Nuclear Energy Forum, an organisation founded by lobbyist Alan Donnelly to foster "strong relationships" between nuclear power companies and governments.
  • The Tory Peer Lady Maitland was a paid member of Sovereign Strategy's board.
  • Donnelly funded Labour leadership contender David Miliband's constituency office refurbishment.
  • David Sainsbury, Labour Minister for Science from 1998 to 2006 told the House of Lords that he regarded nuclear power as a form of renewable energy.
  • Ed Miliband's barrister wife Justine Thornton advised EdF Energy on its Development Consent Order for a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point.

Of course I cannot say that the financial links of any individual with the nuclear industry had any bearing on the party's change in policy. However this wholesale hiring of senior Labour Party figures by the nuclear lobby may have been influential in the fact that a number of key aims were achieved over the last ten years:

  • the reversal of Labour's commitment to rule out new nuclear power stations.
  • Labour ministers' introduction of a fast-track planning process for new nuclear plants without lengthy inquiries.

The saintly Lib Dems
It is also noteworthy that whilst governments across the world were abandoning nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, the new Tory / Lib Dem coalition abandoned their manifesto commitments to provide no public subsidy for new nuclear, by guaranteeing multi-billion pound annual subsidies. The Tory / Lib Dem government also made the taxpayer liable for nuclear disaster costs, after the private insurers refused to do so − as just one catastrophic accident would bankrupt most global insurance companies. To understand the comparative power of political lobbying versus voting at elections, you need to realise that the final two aims above were achieved despite the Lib Dems having for decades supposedly opposed nuclear power and the Tories having opposed nuclear subsidies in the 2010 general election. I was never convinced by the Lib Dem leadership's opposition to nuclear power after it successfully, in the late '90s, squashed the adoption in policy papers of the phrase "a renewable energy economy" that I had proposed to replace "a low carbon economy" which they favoured.

The latter of course allowed the switch to a pro-nuclear policy once the Lib Dems were in government. The prominent Lib Dem MP Ed Davey stood for election opposing nuclear energy, but as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, he became nuclear power's chief cheerleader − announcing that the government's entire industrial strategy was now based on new nuclear! The UK government is already spending the equivalent of 93% of the Department of Energy and Climate Change's entire annual budget on nuclear subsidies! This was achieved despite polls indicating overwhelming support by the public for renewable energy over nuclear power.

Lib Dem nuclear links
Ed Davey's brother, Henry Davey, works for the global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills which has advised EdF on its purchase of nuclear plants and the development application for a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point. Also Lib Dem peer Tim Clement-Jones, Nick Clegg's Party Treasurer at the last general election and the Party's spokesman on culture and sport in the House of Lords, is founder and chairman of Global Government Relations, the lobbying arm of the huge multinational law firm DLA Piper, and serves as DLA Piper's London Managing Partner. DLA Piper is listed as a member of the Nuclear Industry Association, and boasts of its widespread experience with many nuclear industry companies. According to its website it:

  • advised AREVA SA on their investment in New Nuclear Build at Hinkley Point C including the new Contract for Difference regime, waste management strategy and HM Treasury Infrastructure Guarantee Scheme.
  • advised Sellafield Limited on all aspects of their waste management and decommissioning programme covering annual capital spend of £1billion.
  • is advising the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority on the application of the International Nuclear Liability Conventions in respect of the marine transport of high level radioactive waste from Europe to Japan.
  • is advising nuclear supply chain on tendering exercises in support of new nuclear build in the UK.
  • is advising Westinghouse, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Magnox Limited and International Nuclear Services Limited on all aspects of fuel supply contracts, enrichment, waste management and radioactive transportation in support of activities in UK and globally.

Of course this could all be complete coincidence and we cannot conclude that Lord Clement-Jones had any influence on Lib Dem policy changes as regards nuclear power. But what we do know is that Davey won the battle at the European Commission to overthrow the Commission's previous ban on state aid for new nuclear power, following intense political and industry lobbying of the 28 Commissioners. Thus the Lib Dems' legacy will be to have thrown open the floodgates to new nuclear power right across Europe, despite their election manifesto having promised to oppose it.

This article is based on an extract from Donnachadh McCarthy's new book 'The Prostitute State − How Britain's Democracy Has Been Bought'. The book is available from:
Printed copies: www.theprostitutestate.co.uk/buy.html
Ebook: Lulu.com http://goo.gl/5vUs92

NUCLEAR NEWS

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#775
13/12/2013
Shorts

Namibia: Leach tank failure

All milling operations at the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia ground to a halt after a structural failure at one of twelve leach tanks in the processing plant on December 3. A statement from Rossing said that a leak was detected and it was decided to pump out the tank for fixing, and during that process the leach tank experienced a "catastrophic structural failure". Rossing said the slurry was "channeled in trenches and contained in a holding tank". The area was evacuated.

Ben De Vries, General Manager of Operations, said: "This is obviously a very serious incident which is currently under investigation. I can assure you that we are applying a rigorous and structured approach to determine the cause of this failure and ensure that we safely return the plant to normal operations as soon as possible. At the moment the milling operation had been stopped, but is expected to restart once the failed tank has been isolated from the production process. Production in the other areas of the mine has not been affected and continues as usual."

www.namibtimes.net/forum/topics/rossing-shuts-operations-after-catastrop...

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Australia: major spill at Ranger

A tank in the processing area of the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory failed on December 7, spilling around 1.4 million litres of radioactive and acidic slurry. It is understood the radioactive liquid then flowed outside the ''bunded area'', or nearby containment banks, onto grassed areas and into the mine's stormwater and drainage system.

Workers were evacuated. All processing operations have been suspended (mining has already ceased as the open-pit ore body has been depleted). The federal environment minister has ordered an immediate clean-up and investigation − but still plans to devolve federal uranium mine approval and assessment powers to states and territories despite their demonstrated incompetence.

More than A$80 million (US$73 million ) was wiped off the value of Rio Tinto subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) as a result of the spill, with shares down nearly 13%.

The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), which represents the Mirarr Traditional Owners, has called for an audit of the site's facilities. "People living just a few kilometres downstream from the mine don't feel safe," GAC chief executive Justin O'Brien said. "How can we trust the assurances of a company which has repeatedly failed to safely manage this highly toxic material? It's a catastrophic failure on the part of not only the operator but also the government regulators in the Northern Territory and Canberra. ... This is nothing but a hillbilly operation, run by a hillbilly miner with hillbilly regulators."

About 60 Mirarr people live at Mudginberri, on Magela Creek, just 7 kms downstream from the mine. ''It's the wet now; it rains every day,'' O'Brien said. ''That creek is flowing right past the mine and into the community, where they fish and hunt, get barramundi, catfish, mussels. They drink the water. They play in it. People are worried sick.''

Monash University academic Dr Gavin Mudd said: ''ERA has form with this. The company has a history of delaying infrastructure maintenance in order to maximise profits.''

The Australian Conservation Foundation and the Environment Centre NT are calling for a halt to operations and an independent safety audit of the site and infrastructure; a review of the cumulative impacts of the Ranger operation and the adequacy of the regulatory regime; an independent assessment of the costs and consequences of the wider Australian uranium trade; a halt to any approvals or advance on the planned Ranger 3 Deeps underground uranium mining operation; and no devolving of federal powers to assess/approve uranium mining projects to state or territory governments

The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union is calling for all operations to be suspended until a full audit and inquiry into the infrastructure on the site has been conducted. AMWU Regional Organiser Bryan Wilkins said: "This mine site has a history of not dealing with safety issues – this was an accident waiting to happen. This incident occurred after parent company Rio Tinto boasted they cut costs by $2 billion this year. They may be saving money but they are putting people's lives at risk in the process. This tank was about 20 years old and it was an accident waiting to happen – they are lucky no one was hurt this time."

www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-07/spill-at-nt-uranium-mine-near-kakadu/5142148
www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2013/12/09/3907874.htm?site=darwin
www.theage.com.au/comment/another-million-reasons-to-probe-uranium-minin...
http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/content/speeches-parliament/taking-...
www.theage.com.au/environment/radioactive-spill-in-kakadu-stirs-rage-201...

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British bomb factory "played down" seriousness of fire

AWE, the private consortium that runs nuclear weapons plants at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire for the Ministry of Defence, "played down" a fire that could have caused "numerous fatalities" according to an internal investigation by the government's Health and Safety Executive (HSE). AWE was guilty of a "disturbing" catalogue of safety blunders in the handling of explosives, the HSE said, and its actions "fell far below the standard expected in an explosives manufacturing company." HSE released the report of its 10-month investigation into the fire at Aldermaston under freedom of information laws.

www.robedwards.com/2013/12/nuclear-bomb-factory-played-down-fire-says-sa...

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World Bank says no money for nukes, Goldman Sachs to sell uranium unit

The World Bank and United Nations have appealed for billions of dollars to provide electricity for the poorest nations. Announcing the 'Sustainable Energy for All' initiative, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said US$600−800 billion a year will be needed to meet the campaign target of universal access to electricity, doubling energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewable energy by 2030.[1,2,3]

"We don't do nuclear energy," Kim said as he and UN leader Ban Ki-moon outlined efforts to make sure all people have access to electricity by 2030. Kim said: "Nuclear power from country to country is an extremely political issue. The World Bank Group does not engage in providing support for nuclear power. We think that this is an extremely difficult conversation that every country is continuing to have. And because we are really not in that business our focus is on finding ways of working in hydro electric power in geo-thermal, in solar, in wind. We are really focusing on increasing investment in those modalities and we don't do nuclear energy."[1]

Kim added that it had been difficult to find long term capital for poorer countries but insisted: "We will show investors that sustainable energy is an opportunity they cannot afford to miss."[1]

In July, the World Bank adopted a policy of providing "financial support for greenfield coal power generation projects only in rare circumstances," such as where there are "no feasible alternatives to coal."[4]

Meanwhile, US bank Goldman Sachs Group has reportedly put its uranium trading business up for sale. Goldman's two-person uranium desk was inherited with the purchase of US utility Constellation Energy's London-based trading operation in 2009.[5]

[1] AFP, 27 Nov 2013, 'World Bank says no money for nuclear power', www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131127/world-bank-says-no-money-nuc...
[2] World Bank media release, 27 Nov 2013, http://tinyurl.com/wb-no-nukes
[3] Sustainable Energy for All: www.se4all.org
[4] John Upton, 18 July 2013, 'World Bank joins war on coal', http://grist.org/news/world-bank-joins-war-on-coal/
[5] Scott Disavino and David Sheppard, 25 Nov 2013, 'Goldman Sachs to sell uranium unit', www.bdlive.co.za/world/americas/2013/11/25/goldman-sachs-to-sell-uranium...

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Nuclear decline in OECD

The amount of nuclear-generated electricity in the OECD area declined by 5.2% between 2011 and 2012, according to the Brown Book of nuclear energy data published by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. Total OECD nuclear generation amounted to 1884 TWh in 2012, a 5.2% fall from 1988 TWh in 2011. Total electricity generation fell 0.1% over the same period. There were 331 operational reactors in the OECD as of 31 December 2012 − 133 in Europe, 125 in the Americas (US, Canada and Mexico) and 73 in the Pacific region (South Korea and Japan).

The Brown Book states: "The share of electricity production from nuclear power plants also decreased from 19.9% in 2011 to 18.9% in 2012. This decline reflects the permanent shutdown of three reactors that had reached the end of their operational lifetime (two in the United Kingdom and one in Canada), operational issues at some facilities and suspended operation at all but two reactors in Japan. Record electricity production at nuclear power plants in the Czech Republic and Hungary, combined with increased production in Canada, France, Spain and Sweden balanced, to some extent, declining production in Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States."

www.oecd-nea.org/ndd/pubs/2013/7162-bb-2013.pdf
www.modernpowersystems.com/news/newsnuclear-generation-fell-5-in-2012-41...
www.nucnet.org/all-the-news/2013/12/03/shutdowns-hit-nuclear-generation-...

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Brazil cools on nuclear power plans; favours wind

Brazil will probably scale down its plans for new nuclear plants due to safety concerns following the Fukushima disaster and pick up some of the slack with a "revolution" in wind power, the head of the government's energy planning agency said. Mauricio Tolmasquim, chief of the Energy Research Company, told Reuters it was "unlikely" the government would stick to its plans to build four new nuclear plants by 2030. He declined to specify how many might be built instead.[1]

"After Japan, things got put on standby," Tolmasquim told Reuters. "We haven't abandoned (the plans) ... but they haven't been resumed yet either. It's not a priority for us right now."

Tolmasquim added: "This is wind power's moment. There's been a revolution in terms of cost."

Nevertheless, Brazil is proceeding with the Angra 3 nuclear power project. In November, Areva signed a contract worth 1.25 billion euros (US$1.67 billion) with the Brazilian utility Eletrobras Eletronuclear for the completion of the Angra 3 reactor, located in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The Angra 3 project has a long history. Construction started in 1984 but faltered two years later. A return to construction was approved in 2007.[2]

[1] www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/15/us-brazil-nuclear-idUSBRE98E06U20130915
[2] http://online.wsj.com/article/PR-CO-20131107-914400.html

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Switzerland can reach 98% renewable electricity

Switzerland already gets more than half of its electricity from renewable sources. Now, German researchers say that the country could have 98% renewable power by 2050, up from the current 57%. Germany's GLR has published the country edition of its Energy evolution study for Switzerland (currently only available in German). Written on behalf of Greenpeace, the study finds that Switzerland can increase the share of renewables by quickly expanding photovoltaics, while the growth of biomass, wind power, hydropower, and geothermal would be more moderate. The Swiss plan to shut down their last nuclear plant in 2025.

Renewables International, 4 Dec 2013, www.renewablesinternational.net/swiss-energiewende-investigated/150/537/...
Energy[R]evolution Schweiz, www.greenpeace.org/switzerland/de/Themen/Stromzukunft-Schweiz/EnergyRevo...

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South Africa puts nuclear on hold ... again

The South African Department of Energy has reported that new nuclear power will not be required until after 2025 or even later. The country is likely to take on other power sources, according to the updated version of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity, such as hydro and shale gas. The IRP is a 20-year plan that models demand and supply of electricity and plans for generation needs. Nuclear was seen as highly expensive compared to other available resources, however less-than-expected power demand is also playing a role in the latest projections. The National Planning Commission had cautioned against committing to an "expensive and irreversible" nuclear program, particularly when electricity demand has not grown in line with expectations.[1]

Earlier plans to build up to 20 GW of nuclear capacity were shelved in 2008, and more recent plans to build up to 10 GW by 2023 have now been dealt a blow. In addition, the devepment of Pebble Bed Modular Reactor technology consumed a great deal of R&D funding in South Africa before being abandoned in 2010.[2]

Two power reactors are in operation at the Koeberg Power Station near Cape Town, in the south-west of the country − the only power reactors in Africa.

[1] K. Steiner-Dicks, 4 Dec 2013, 'South Africa puts nuclear on hold', http://analysis.nuclearenergyinsider.com/new-build/south-africa-puts-nuc...
[2] Steve Kidd, 4 Dec 2013, 'South Africa: can it go further in nuclear?', www.neimagazine.com/opinion/opinionsouth-africa-can-it-go-further-in-nuc...

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Germany's 'Grand Coalition' committed to nuclear phase-out

The new German 'grand coalition' between Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, the Christian Social Union and the Social Democratic Party will remain committed to the nuclear phase-out and the energy transition, the coalition contract between the three parties says. "No later than 2022, the last nuclear power plant in Germany will be shut down," says the coalition contract.

The coalition government will continue the implementation of a law, adopted in July 2013, for choosing a site for deep geological long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste.

The coalition contract is available online (in German only): www.cdu.de/sites/default/files/media/dokumente/koalitionsvertrag.pdf

NucNet, 28 Nov 2013, 'Germany's 'Grand Coalition' Remains Committed To Energy Transition', www.nucnet.org/all-the-news/2013/11/28/germany-s-grand-coalition-remains...

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Nuclear power to stay in France

The French government won't shut any more nuclear reactors after the country's oldest plant at Fessenheim is shut down, industry minister Arnaud Montebourg said. "My answer is no, my answer is clear," Montebourg said in an interview in Paris. Nuclear power will always provide at least half of France's electricity, he said. Montebourg's comments undercut President Francois Hollande's promise, made in last year's election campaign, to cut France's atomic output from 75% to 50% of electricity production by about 2025.[1,2]

Meanwhile, Thomas Houdre from the regulator Autorite de Surete Nucleaire said that "significant safety improvements have to be made" at spent fuel pools at French nuclear power plants. "There is no way of managing an accident in a spent-fuel pool. We want the possibility of this happening to be practically eliminated," he said. Last year, EDF declared a "major safety event" after it was discovered that fuel storage pools at the Cattenom plant were vulnerable to leaks.[3]

[1] Tara Patel, 12 Nov 2013, 'France Won't Shut Any More Atomic Reactors, Minister Says', www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-12/france-won-t-shut-down-any-more-nuclea...
[2] 8 Dec 2013, 'French nuclear power here to stay, says industry minister', http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/12/08/uk-france-nuclear-share-idUKBRE...
[3] Tara Patel, 4 Dec 2013, 'France's 58 Nuclear Pools Must Be Safer, Watchdog Says', www.businessweek.com/news/2013-12-03/france-s-58-nuclear-pools-must-be-s...

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South Korea: Nuclear power policy

Nuclear power should account for up to 29% of South Korean generation capacity by 2035, according to draft long-term energy plans submitted to the government. Previous plans called for 41% nuclear by 2035. The draft plan has been submitted to the parliament by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy prior to a public hearing. In it, the government "recognises" the role of nuclear power but also says it plans to reduce power demand over the period to 2035. Korea's 23 nuclear reactors currently account for 22% of the country's generation capacity, and 29% of its electricity output. The South Korean nuclear power industry is in crisis because of a corruption and forgery scandal (see Nuclear Monitor #771 and #765).

WNN, 10 Dec 2013, 'Nuclear to remain Korean mainstay', www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-Nuclear-to-remain-Korean-mainstay-1012137....

About: 
Ranger Mine

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#791
18/09/2014
Article

Killing the competition: US nuclear front groups exposed

A new report released by the Nuclear Information & Resource Service details US industry plans to subvert clean energy programs, rig energy markets and climate regulations to subsidize aging nuclear reactors.

A coalition of five organizations was joined by renowned energy economist Dr Mark Cooper to release the report, titled 'Killing the Competition: The Nuclear Power Agenda to Block Climate Action, Stop Renewable Energy, and Subsidize Old Reactors'.

The report details the industry's attacks on clean energy and climate solutions and the key battlegrounds in this new fight over the US's energy future. With large political war chests and armies of lobbyists, the power companies have opened up aggressive fights across the country this year:

* Blocking tax breaks for renewable energy in Congress.

* Killing renewable energy legislation in Illinois by threatening to close nuclear plants.

* Passing a resolution calling for nuclear subsidies and emissions-trading schemes in Illinois.

* Suspending renewable energy and efficiency standards in Ohio for two years.

* Ending energy efficiency programs in Indiana.

* Demanding above-market contracts for nuclear and coal plants in Ohio and New York.

Last year, the closure of several reactors highlighted the worsening economics of nuclear energy. Five reactor shutdowns were announced, and eight new reactors cancelled. The industry's rising costs − with new plants too expensive to build and old plants more and more costly to maintain − came head to head with a brewing energy revolution: low natural gas prices, rising energy efficiency, and affordable wind and solar power. As a result, Wall Street firms reassessed the industry, discovering an industry at risk and predicting more shuttered reactors in the coming years.

Energy economist Dr. Mark Cooper, of Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment, published a paper outlining the factors contributing to nuclear energy's poor prospects and highlighting the vulnerability of dozens of reactors. Dr Cooper said: "Nuclear power simply cannot compete with efficiency and renewable resources and it does not fit in the emerging electricity system that uses intelligent management of supply and demand response to meet the need for electricity. Doubling down on nuclear power as the solution to climate change, as proposed by nuclear advocates, is a bad bet since nuclear power is one of the most expensive ways available to cut carbon emissions in the electricity sector. The nuclear war against clean energy is a last ditch effort to stop the transformation of the electricity sector and prevent nuclear power from becoming obsolete."

NIRS, 2014, "Killing the Competition: The Nuclear Power Agenda to Block Climate Action , Stop Renewable Energy, and Subsidize Old Reactors", www.nirs.org/neconomics/killingthecompetition914.pdf

Oldest Indian reactor will not restart

After 10 years in long-term outage, it was reported on September 6 that there will be no restart for the first unit of Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS-1), located at Rawatbata, 64 km southwest of Kota in the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan. The 100 MW Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor, which was supplied to India under a 1963 agreement with Canada, operated from 1972 to 2004, though with multiple extended shutdowns. Cooperation with Canada was suspended following India's 1974 nuclear weapons test; however design details for the reactor had already been transferred to India.

www.worldnuclearreport.org/Oldest-Indian-Reactor-Will-Not.html

www.deccanherald.com/content/429550/end-road-raps-1.html

Czech Republic: March against uranium in Brzkov

A march against planned uranium mining on September 7 was attended by approximately 200 people. The march was organised by the association 'Our Future Without Uranium', which expresses the disapproval of the Brzkov population with the government's intention to resume uranium mining. During the day citizens signed the petition by the civic association called "NO to Uranium Mining in the Highlands".

www.nuclear-heritage.net/index.php/March_against_uranium_in_Brzkov

What went wrong with small modular reactors?

Thomas W. Overton, associate editor of POWER magazine, writes: "At the graveyard wherein resides the "nuclear renaissance" of the 2000s, a new occupant appears to be moving in: the small modular reactor (SMR). ... Over the past year, the SMR industry has been bumping up against an uncomfortable and not-entirely-unpredictable problem: It appears that no one actually wants to buy one."

Overton notes that in 2013, MidAmerican Energy scuttled plans to build an SMR-based plant in Iowa. This year, Babcock & Wilcox scaled back much of its SMR program and sacked 100 workers in its SMR division. Westinghouse has abandoned its SMR program.

Overton explains: "The problem has really been lurking in the idea behind SMRs all along. The reason conventional nuclear plants are built so large is the economies of scale: Big plants can produce power less expensively per kilowatt-hour than smaller ones. The SMR concept disdains those economies of scale in favor of others: large-scale standardized manufacturing that will churn out dozens, if not hundreds, of identical plants, each of which would ultimately produce cheaper kilowatt-hours than large one-off designs. It's an attractive idea. But it's also one that depends on someone building that massive supply chain, since none of it currently exists. ... That money would presumably come from customer orders − if there were any. Unfortunately, the SMR "market" doesn't exist in a vacuum. SMRs must compete with cheap natural gas, renewables that continue to decline in cost, and storage options that are rapidly becoming competitive. Worse, those options are available for delivery now, not at the end of a long, uncertain process that still lacks NRC approval."

www.powermag.com/what-went-wrong-with-smrs/

India's new uranium enrichment plant in Karnataka

David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini write in an Institute for Science and International Security report: "India is in the early stages of building a large uranium enrichment centrifuge complex, the Special Material Enrichment Facility (SMEF), in Karnataka. This new facility will significantly increase India's ability to produce enriched uranium for both civil and military purposes, including nuclear weapons. India should announce that the SMEF will be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, committed only to peaceful uses, and built only after ensuring it is in compliance with environmental laws in a process that fully incorporates stakeholders. Other governments and suppliers of nuclear and nuclear-related dual use goods throughout the world must be vigilant to prevent efforts by Indian trading and manufacturing companies to acquire such goods for this new enrichment facility as well as for India's operational gas centrifuge plant, the Rare Materials Plant, near Mysore."

http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/indias-new-uranium-enrichment...

Iran planning two more power reactors

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) plans to build two new nuclear power reactors, Bushehr Governor General Mostafa Salari announced on September 7. The previous week, AEOI chief Ali Akbar Salehi said that Tehran would sign a contract with Russia in the near future to build the two reactors in Bushehr. The AEOI states that the agreement with Russia will also include the construction of two desalination units.1

One Russian-supplied power reactor is already operating at Bushehr. Fuel is supplied by Russia until 2021 and perhaps beyond. Plans for new reactors may be used by Tehran to justify its enrichment program.

Meanwhile, construction licenses have been issued for the next two nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates by the country's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation plans to begin construction of Barakah 3 and 4 in 2014 and 2015 respectively with all four of the site's reactors becoming operational by 2020.2

1. http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13930616001123

2. World Nuclear News, 15 Sept 2014

Depleted uranium as a carcinogen and genotoxin

The International Campaign to Ban Uranium Weapons has produced a new report outlining the growing weight of evidence relating to how depleted uranium (DU) can damage DNA, interfere with cellular processes and contribute to the development of cancer.1 The report uses peer-reviewed studies, many of which have been published during the last decade and, wherever possible, has sought to simplify the scientific language to make it accessible to the lay reader.

The report concludes: "The users of DU have shown themselves unwilling to be bound by the consequences of their actions. The failure to disclose targeting data or follow their own targeting guidelines has placed civilians at unacceptable risk. The recommendations of international and expert agencies have been adopted selectively or ignored. At times, users have actively opposed or blocked efforts to evaluate the risks associated with contamination. History suggests it is unlikely that DU use will be stopped voluntarily: an international agreement banning the use of uranium in conventional weapons is therefore required."

A report released by Dutch peace organisation PAX in June found that the lack of obligations on Coalition Forces to help clean-up after using DU weapons in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 has resulted in civilians and workers continuing to be exposed to the radioactive and toxic heavy metal years after the war.2 The health risk posed by the inadequate management of Iraq's DU contamination is unclear − neither Coalition Forces nor the Iraqi government have supported health research into civilian DU exposure. High risk groups include people living near, or working on, the dozens of scrap metal sites where the thousands of military vehicles destroyed in 1991 and 2003 are stored or processed. Waste sites often lack official oversight and in places it has taken more than a decade to clean-up heavily contaminated military wreckage from residential neighbourhoods. Hundreds of locations targeted by the weapons, many of which are in populated areas, remain undocumented and concern among Iraqi civilians over the potential health effects from exposure is widespread.

The Iraqi government has recently prepared a five year environment plan together with the World Health Organisation and UN Environment Programme but the PAX report finds that it is unclear how this will be accomplished without international assistance.

1. www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/malignant-effects

2. www.paxvoorvrede.nl/media/files/pax-rapport-iraq-final-lowres-spread.pdf

www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/no-solution-in-sight-for-iraqs-radioactive...

Clean-up of former Saskatchewan uranium mill

More than 50 years after the closure of the Lorado uranium mill in Saskatchewan, workers are cleaning up a massive pile of radioactive, acidic tailings that has poisoned a lake and threatened the health of wildlife and hunters for decades. The mill is near Uranium City, where uranium mining once supported a community of up to 5,000 people. Lorado only operated from 1957 to 1961, but during that time it produced about 227,000 cubic metres of tailings that were dumped beside Nero Lake. Windblown dust from the top of the tailings presents a gamma radiation and radon concern. Workers will cover the tailings with a layer of specially engineered sand to prevent water from running over them and into the lake. In addition, a lime mixture is to be added to the lake to counteract the acidity.

In 1982, the last of the mines near Uranium City closed, but tailings from the Lorado site and the Gunnar mine were left untouched. Uranium City has about 100 residents now.

Clean-up work also includes sealing off and cleaning up 35 mine exploration sites. Later, the Saskatchewan Research Council is to begin a cleanup of the Gunnar mine. That project is in the environmental assessment stage. Four million tonnes of tailings were produced at Gunnar during its operation from 1955 to 1963.

The clean-up project is controversial. The Prince Albert Grand Council, which represents a dozen First Nations in central and northern Saskatchewan, said in a written submission for the Lorado and Gunnar projects that many residents favour removal of the tailings rather than covering them up. The Saskatchewan Environmental Society says more investigation should have been done on the feasibility of removing the tailings. It questions how the covering will stand up as climate change delivers more severe weather, and whether government will continue to monitor the sites.

http://lethbridgeherald.com/news/national-news/2014/08/31/tough-conditio...

France: Greenpeace activists given suspended sentences

A French court has issued two-month suspended prison sentences to 55 Greenpeace activists involved in a break-in at France's Fessenheim nuclear power plant in March. Fessenheim is France's oldest nuclear plant. About 20 Greenpeace activists managed to climb on top of the dome of a reactor in Fessenheim. The activists, mostly from Germany but also from Italy, France, Turkey, Austria, Hungary, Australia and Israel, were all convicted of trespassing and causing wilful damage.

Greenpeace has identified Fessenheim's reactors as two of the most dangerous in Europe and argues that they should be shut down immediately. The area around the plant is vulnerable to earthquakes and flooding. Fessenheim lies in the heart of Europe, between France, Germany and Switzerland, with seven million people living with 100 kms of the reactors.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-29060086

www.english.rfi.fr/economy/20140905-greenpeace-activists-given-suspended...

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/g...

USA: Missouri fire may be moving closer to radioactive waste

A new report suggests an underground fire at the Bridgeton Landfill may be moving closer to radioactive waste buried nearby. The information comes just days after it was announced construction of a barrier between the fire and the waste will be delayed 18 months. The South Quarry of the Bridgeton Landfill has been smouldering underground for three years. A number of gas interceptor wells are designed to keep the fire from moving north and reaching the radioactive waste buried at the West Lake Landfill. However the wells may have failed according to landfill consultant Todd Thalhamer, who is calling for more tests to determine exactly how far the fire is from the radioactive material.

www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/2014/09/05/report-landfill-fire-may-be-mov...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Lake_Landfill

Britain's nuclear clean-up cost explosion

The cost of cleaning up Britain's toxic nuclear sites has shot up by £6bn (US$9.7b, €7.5b), with the government and regulators accused of "incompetence" in their efforts to manage the country's legacy of radioactive waste. The estimated cost for decommissioning over the next century went up from a £63.8bn estimate in 2011−12 to £69.8bn in 2012−13, with more increases expected in the coming years. This increase is nearly all due to the troubled clean-up of the Sellafield nuclear facility in Cumbria.

www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/sellafield-nuclear-cleanup-bill-w...

Friends of the Earth UK's position on nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#791
18/09/2014
Jim Green (Nuclear Monitor editor; national nuclear campaigner − Friends of the Earth Australia) and Peer de Rijk (WISE Amsterdam)
Article

Recent media reports have claimed that Friends of the Earth UK (FoE-UK) has changed its position on nuclear power. The reports followed a September 10 BBC interview with FoE-UK's campaigns director Craig Bennett.1

The BBC's Roger Harrabin reported: "Today a [FoE-UK] spokesman revealed the group's new stance – it's no longer against nuclear power in principle although it still opposes new nuclear power stations because they're too expensive and, intriguingly, take too long to build." Harrabin called it "a huge and controversial shift."2

Bennett said on the BBC: "The biggest risk of nuclear power is that it takes far too long to build, it's far too costly, and distorts the national grid by creating an old model of centralised power generation." Asked about the "risks from radiation", Bennett responded: "Of course, there are real concerns about radiation, particularly around nuclear waste… but I think it is important how this debate has shifted down the years. The real concern now is how we get on fast with de-carbonising our electricity supply. It's very clear that nuclear can't deliver big changes fast. That's a huge risk if we're trying to tackle climate change. With renewable technologies and with energy efficiency we could be making a difference within three or four years."1,3

The BBC's claims were in large part a beat-up. Bennett said FoE-UK had always deployed a suite of arguments against nuclear power, with the emphasis shifting over time.3 Big deal.

The BBC and some other contributors to the debate juxtaposed 'in principle' or 'ideological' opposition to nuclear power with 'evidence based' or 'pragmatic' or 'functional' opposition, with the implication that in-principle or ideological opposition is evidence-free. It's not clear how or why anyone could or should oppose nuclear power without supporting evidence.

FoE-UK executive director Andy Atkins responded with a press release: "Friends of the Earth has not changed its position on nuclear power. We remain firmly opposed to it and continue to strongly promote a transition to an energy system based on energy efficiency and our abundant resource of renewable energy, which is getting cheaper to exploit by the day."4

Academic Dr David Toke said: "Today's BBC4 report that Friends of the Earth has become pro-nuclear has been quickly denounced by FOE themselves. But this reflects a growing recent trend to target green groups to get them at least to be neutral on the subject of investments or new research into nuclear power if not outrightly pro-nuclear. The Green Party of England and Wales was the target of a well prepared effort to shift their position last Saturday [September 6], although of course the pro-nuclear amendment to the Party's policy was rejected by an overwhelming majority."5

The BBC's beat-up regarding FoE-UK is not the first time an environment group's position on nuclear power has been misrepresented. For example in 2009−10 the World Nuclear Association heavily promoted a dishonest article claiming that Greenpeace UK had changed its stance on nuclear power.6

Notwithstanding the BBC's beat-up, it should be said that FoE-UK does not have an active anti-nuclear campaign (although some local groups may campaign on nuclear issues). Moreover, the organisation's position on nuclear power could be considered half-pregnant − opposing new nuclear power reactors but not calling for the closure of existing reactors. Thus FoE-UK (presumably) favours a transition to a nuclear-free UK over a period of several decades as operating reactors are gradually closed.

Bennett later said: "Our position has now been "refreshed". We don't want to close down the UK nuclear industry right away – that would create far too many problems for energy supply over coming decades. But we still very much oppose nuclear new-build. The biggest issue is cost."3

In response to a query from the World Information Service on Energy, FoE-UK said: "With regard to existing nuclear power stations, we oppose the provision of subsidies to the industry, as it is a mature technology that has already received decades of subsidy. Subsidies should be used to support the development of new technologies, not to prop up old technologies. However, we do not call for the premature closure of existing nuclear power plants. Friends of the Earth has done its own modelling using a model developed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the 2050 Pathways calculator. This shows that Britain can meet its greenhouse gas emissions target and the 2030 decarbonisation goal recommended by the Committee on Climate Change without building new nuclear plants, as well as deliver high levels of energy security."

Neil Crumpton writes in The Ecologist: "Harrabin goes on to say, and make something out of, a change in FOE's stance on closing existing nuclear reactors. ... I never made any such calls in all the years I worked for FOE. I was FOE Cymru's specialist energy campaigner in Wales from about the mid 1990's and then the main anti-nuclear campaigner (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) between about 2005-2010. We had a pragmatic attitude and focussed our limited energy and funding on more winnable campaigns. So any shift regarding 'closure calls' would have been at least two decades ago and could not be portrayed as a recent shift or part of a refreshed 'less strongly anti-nuclear' stance. And if FOE had made any significant 'shift' or change in policy on nuclear power (or any other campaign area) the proposed change would have had to be submitted as a written motion to the annual conference, won the Local Groups' vote and received the agreement of the Board."7

Crumpton says the BBC should refresh its policy on corporate links – two BBC Trust figureheads are paid advisers to EdF: acting chair Diane Coyle and former chair Lord Patten.      

References:

1. BBC interview: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04g8lng

2. Adam Vaughan, 10 Sept 2014, 'Friends of the Earth denies dropping nuclear power opposition',

www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/10/friends-of-the-earth-nuclear...

3. Roger Harrabin, 12 Sept 2014, 'Friends of the Earth's shift on nuclear should be celebrated, not denied', www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2014/sep/12/friends-of-the-earths-s...

4. FoE-UK, 10 Sept 2014, 'Radio 4 report on nuclear power',

www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/radio-4-report-nuclear-power_10092014

5. http://realfeed-intariffs.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/is-there-disinformation...

6. www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP_Greenpeace_change_the_politics_1310091.html

7. www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2557652/the_bbc_fri...

More information:

FoE-UK detailed briefing paper, August 2013, 'Why Friends of the Earth opposes plans for new nuclear reactors',

www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/nuclear_power_friends_of_t.pdf

Mike Childs (FoE-UK), 2 Aug 2013, 'A hard-headed look at nuclear power', www.foe.co.uk/news/nuclear_40884

Yellowcake submarines

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#771
02/11/2013
Article

The UK Office for Nuclear Regulation has issued an improvement notice on the Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth after a report revealed lapses. The naval base is operated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and government engineering contractors Babcock Marine. On 29 July 2012, the electric-power source for coolant to submarine reactors failed and then the diesel back-up generators also failed, according to a heavily redacted report from the MoD's Site Event Report Committee.[1]

Babcock launched an internal investigation after the incident, blaming the complete loss of power on a defect in the central switchboard and acknowledging that the event had "potential nuclear implications". Among a number of "areas of concern" uncovered by Babcock was what was described as an "inability to learn from previous incidents and to implement the recommendations from previous event reports".[1]

The Office for Nuclear Regulation issued an improvement notice for three alleged breaches of health and safety legislation, and of Section 24 of the Nuclear Installations Act – regarding "operating instructions".[1]

The MoD's Site Event Report Committee report notes that there had been two previous electrical failures at Devonport − the loss of primary and alternative shore supply to nuclear submarine HMS Talent in 2009, and the loss of "AC shore supply" to the nuclear submarine HMS Trafalgar in 2011.[1]

Regarding the July 2012 loss of power incident, independent nuclear consultant John Large said: "It is unbelievable that this happened. It could have been very serious. Things like this shouldn't happen. It is a fundamental that these fail-safe requirements work. It had all the seriousness of a major meltdown – a major radioactive release." Large warned that if a submarine had recently entered the base when the failure occurred the situation could have been "dire" because of high heat levels in its reactor.[1]

The loss of power incident is one of 11 incidents in the past five years at two nuclear submarine bases, the MoD has revealed. Radioactive waste has been spilled, workers exposed to radiation, power supplies lost, safety valves wrongly operated and a bag of waste mistakenly dropped overboard. Six of the incidents happened at Faslane in Scotland, five at Devonport. The incidents have been admitted by UK defence minister, Philip Dunne, in response to a parliamentary question.[2]

According to the MoD, six incidents since 2008 at Faslane have been defined as "category B", the second-worst rating, involving "actual or high potential for a contained release within building or submarine or unplanned exposure to radiation". In 2008, valves on board a submarine were shut "in error" at Faslane, causing a loss of power. In 2009, there were two problems with cranes at Faslane being used more often than they should be without authorisation. In 2010, the melting of an ice plug caused by the failure of a liquid nitrogen supply resulted in radioactive coolant leaking into a submarine reactor compartment at Faslane. In the same year, a bag of potentially contaminated clothing fell overboard. Last year, maintenance workers entered an area next to a reactor compartment "without the proper radiological controls in place and hence received an unplanned exposure to a radiological dose," the MoD said.[2]

The five incidents at Devonport include a spillage of reactor coolant "into the environment" in 2008, the operation of two submarines without key safety valves in 2010 and an overflowing radioactive waste tank in 2011. The July 2012 loss of power incident is also included in the list. Although the MoD described what happened in 10 instances, it refused to give details of one event at Devonport because "disclosure would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the armed forces".[2]

UK Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator report

The 2012−13 report of the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR) revealed:[4,5,6]

  • Cracks in reactors and nuclear discharges, directly attributable to the Royal Navy's oldest Trafalgar Class SSNs (Ship Submarine Nuclear) remaining in service beyond their design date.
  • Faults with the new Astute Class submarines that will delay their entry into service, forcing the Navy to continue sailing the ageing and potentially dangerous Trafalgars.
  • The Atomic Weapons Establishment failed to notice or rectify corrosion to a nuclear missile treatment plant in Berkshire.
  • Nuclear-qualified engineers are quitting the Navy in droves over poor pay and conditions, creating a skills crisis.

 

DNSR head Richard Savage wrote: "Significant and sustained attention is required to ensure maintenance of adequate safety performance and the rating [Red] reflects the potential impact if changes are ill-conceived or implemented. The inability to sustain a sufficient number of nuclear suitably competent personnel is the principal threat to safety. Vulnerabilities exist in core skill areas, including safety, propulsion, power and naval architects."[4]

In March 2007, two sailors were killed on HMS Tireless when an oxygen generator exploded during an Arctic exercise. An inquest heard that there was a significant possibility the generator was salvaged from a hazardous waste depot in a cost-cutting bid by the MoD. HMS Tireless leaked radioactive coolant from its reactor for eight days in February 2013 including six days at the Devonport dockyard in Plymouth.[4,6]

The DNSR report states: "Inspection programmes have not been as comprehensive as regulators would expect. As an example, corrosion in the structural supports of a building was not identified as early as would be expected which resulted in the Office for Nuclear Regulation issuing a Safety Improvement Notice." AWE admitted corrosion had affected its uranium component manufacturing facility.[4]

Meanwhile, there are fears that two major naval bases (Devonport and Rosyth, Fife) sited near large British cities could become nuclear waste storage facilities by default after it was revealed the MoD proposes to remove low-level radioactive waste from the UK's nuclear submarine fleet. The first of Britain's fleet of 27 nuclear submarines is due to be dismantled within five years. But according to minutes of the Submarine Dismantling Project Advisory Group, there is "uncertainty running to several decades" over a long-term storage solution for radioactive waste. There are seven retired subs at Rosyth and eight at Devonport.[3]

Russia

A fire broke out on a Russian nuclear submarine undergoing repairs, according to news reports in September, but no injuries or radiation leaks were reported. Russian news reports said the fire on the Tomsk submarine at repair yards in the Pacific coast city of Bolshoi Kamen had been extinguished with foam on September 16. The Tomsk, capable of firing cruise missiles, has been undergoing repairs since 2010. Reports said all its weaponry had been removed and the reactor was shut down, although it was not clear if any nuclear material remained in the reactor.[7]

Large-scale Soviet nuclear tests, dumping of spent fuel and two scuttled nuclear-powered submarines are a major source of pollution in the Arctic ocean. There are 17,000 containers and 19 vessels holding radioactive waste submerged in the Kara Sea, as well as 14 nuclear reactors including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel, and 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery. In addition, the Soviet nuclear submarine K-27 was scuttled in 1981 in the Kara Sea. The K-27, equipped with two nuclear reactors (and their irradiated fuel), was filled with bitumen and concrete before being sunk, to ensure that it would lie safely on the ocean floor for 50 years.[8,9,10]

As the Arctic thaws under the influence of global warming, oceanic currents in the region could hasten the spread of radioactive materials. But according to Bellona's Igor Kurdrik, an expert on Russian naval nuclear waste, the Russian state has another interest: "We know that the Russians have an interest in oil exploration in this area. They therefore want to know were the radioactive waste is so they can clean it up before they begin oil recovery operations."[10]

USA

The US Navy has decided to scrap the USS Miami instead of fixing the nuclear submarine, which a civilian shipyard worker set fire to in 2012. The submarine was commissioned in 1990 at a cost of US$900 million. It sustained US$450 million in damages after Casey James Fury, a shipyard worker, set the 23 May 2012 blaze.[11]

The fire damaged forward compartments including living quarters, a command and control centre and the torpedo room. Weapons had been removed prior to the fire, and the fire never reached the rear of the submarine, where the nuclear propulsion components are located. Fury said he was suffering from anxiety and having problems with his ex-girlfriend and set the fire in order to get out of work early. It took 12 hours and the efforts of more than 100 firefighters to extinguish the fire. Seven people were hurt. Fury is serving 17 years in federal prison.[11]

References:
[1] www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/nuclear-scare-at-navy-submarine-...
[2] www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/workers-exposed-to-radiation-at-fa...
[3] www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/naval-bases-could-become-nuclear...
[4] www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2384224/Revealed-Shock-Code-Red-safety-...
[5] www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/04/ageing-nuclear-submarines-sailor...
[6] DNSR Annual Report 2012−13, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...
[7] www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/16/fire-russian-nuclear-submarine-tomsk
[8] www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/nuclear-waste-lurks-beneath-arct...
[9] www.bellona.org/articles/articles_2012/rosatom_seminar
[10] http://earthfirstnews.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/russia-dumped-17-nuclear-...
[11] www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2386909/Nuclear-submarine-USS-Miami-set...

UK nuclear power deal − much ado about nothing?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#771
02/11/2013
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

The UK Government and French utility EDF have reached initial agreement on terms of a proposed contract for the Hinkley Point C (HPC) nuclear power station in Somerset, paving the way for the construction of the first new nuclear plant in the UK since Sizewell B began operation in 1995. Operation of the first of two 1.6 gigawatt (GW) HPC reactors is scheduled to commence in 2023. The government's October 21 announcement says HPC will "begin the process of replacing the existing fleet of nuclear stations, most of which are due to close in the 2020s."[1]

However the HPC project faces many hurdles and potential delays. The government said the agreement with EDF is not legally binding.[1] EDF said it will not give the go-ahead for construction until and unless the European Commission clears the government/EDF agreement under state aid rules designed to prevent the distortion of Europe's electricity market. EDF said it would make its final investment decision by July 2014, but the European Commission examination may take longer.

Stop Hinkley spokesperson Nikki Clark said the "announcement was much ado over nothing and despite all the fanfare and visits of the rich and famous to Hinkley, there is no legally binding agreement, nor will there be until the government get their plans past the European Commission which, according to various media outlets, would be summer 2014 at the earliest."[2]

Labour MP Alan Whitehead said "it's not much of a deal, more a kind of semi crayoned-in statement of intent and a very expensive one at that. ... At the moment there seem to be a lot more things that we don't know than things we do know about this deal." Whitehead notes that in 2009, EDF said it planned to start producing power at Hinkley C in 2017.[3] So with the current 2023 start-up date, the project is already six years behind schedule.

It may be that economics, along with the myriad implications of the Fukushima disaster, kill off the current HPC project just as Margaret Thatcher's plans for HPC were killed off by economics and Chernobyl.[4]

The government's October 21 announcement states that project partners would be required to start putting money into a fund from the first day of electricity generation to pay for decommissioning and waste management costs associated with HPC.[1] However it is silent on where the waste might be disposed of. Martin Forwood from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment said: "The Government's fetish for nuclear power, which has seen Ministers scraping the world's barrel for investors to support its craving, is only matched by its determination to see the industry's nuclear wastes dumped in suspect geology in Cumbria."[5]

EPRs

EDF plans to build EPRs (European Pressurized Reactor) at Hinkley and Sizewell. No EPRs are operating − or have ever operated − anywhere in the world. The construction of two EPRs in China appears to be on schedule and largely untroubled [6] − though of course the Chinese state is not known for its transparency.

The other two EPR projects − one reactor each in Finland and France − have been disastrous. When the contract was signed in 2003 for a new EPR in Finland, completion was anticipated in 2009. Now, commercial operation is not anticipated until 2015 — six years behind schedule.[7] And utility TVO recently announced that it is "prepared for the possibility" that the plant may not start up until 2016 − seven years behind schedule.[8] The estimated cost has ballooned from 3 billion euros to 8 billion.[9] Project partners Areva and TVO have been engaged in extensive, ongoing litigation regarding cost overruns.[10]

EDF's Flamanville 3 EPR reactor in France is behind schedule — it was originally meant to enter service in 2012 but that date has been pushed back to 2016.[11] Its estimated cost has grown from 3.3 billion euros to 8.5 billion.[12]

The Daily Mail characterised the French EPR project as one "beset by financial mismanagement with rocketing costs, the deaths of workers, an appalling inability to meet construction deadlines, industrial chaos, and huge environmental concerns", and notes that "it continues to be plagued by delays, soaring costs, and litigation in both the criminal and civil courts." A report by France's nuclear safety authority in 2011 found 13 incidents of below-standard safety measures. In 2011, two former EDF employees were jailed for spying on anti-nuclear campaigners and the company was fined £1.2 million for the crime.[13] Italian utility Enel pulled out of the project last December.[14]

Chinese partners

The EDF Group has announced the intent of two Chinese companies, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN), to invest in HPC as minority shareholders, following the signing earlier in October of a Memorandum of Understanding on nuclear energy cooperation between the UK and Chinese governments.[1]

EDF has been working as a partner with CGN and CNNC for 30 years, including a joint venture to build two EPRs in Taishan, China.[15]

According to Nuclear Energy Insider, EDF will have between a 45% and 50% stake in the project, CNNC and CGN will take 30-40% between them, Areva will take 10%, and EDF is discussing with interested companies about the remaining 15%.[16] The sovereign wealth funds of Kuwait or Qatar are rumoured to be in the running; in 2010 the Kuwait Investment Authority paid 600 million euros for a 4.8% stake in Areva.[17]

Of the four major partners − EDF, Areva, CNNC and CGN − three are 100% state-owned and one is 85% state-owned; two are French and two Chinese.[18]

No UK firms are involved after Centrica pulled out of the HPC project earlier this year. Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw said that since its initial investment the "anticipated project costs in new nuclear have increased" while the construction timetable "has extended by a number of years".[19] Other utilities have also given up on the UK nuclear program; for example German utilities E.on and RWE reneged on their promise to invest in new nuclear at Anglesey.[20]

Former Labour Party chancellor Alistair Darling said the government should look at publicly funding new nuclear plants: "It will be the next generation that pay for these very high wholesale prices of electricity and the point is, you need to ask yourself would it be better for the state to do it as opposed to what looks like quite an expensive deal?"[21]

Chinese investment in the UK nuclear program has generated some consternation. Consultant John Large said: "We can see that even with the French operatorship of UK nuclear power stations [through EDF] that there are differences in the regulatory regimes in France and the UK. But these problems would be much more profound with the Chinese, who like the Russians, are rooted in a government system without independent [safety] regulators."[22]

A GMB union leader said it was "almost Orwellian" to allow a country like China, which has been linked to allegations of corporate hacking, to be allowed access to highly sensitive energy infrastructure. A survey of 75 companies in major emerging economies by Transparency International found that Chinese companies were the least likely to publish financial information and vital details about corporate structure that allows them to be held to account.[22]

China's domestic nuclear power program certainly leaves much to be desired. He Zuoxiu, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said earlier this year that "to reduce costs, Chinese designs often cut back on safety".[24]

Li Yulun, a former vice-president of CNNC, said in October that Chinese "state leaders have put a high priority on [nuclear safety] but companies executing projects do not seem to have the same level of understanding." Li Yulun noted that Westinghouse has yet to receive approval from British authorities for a modified version of the AP1000 reactor design, while Chinese nuclear safety regulators approved it several years earlier.[25]

In August 2009, the Chinese government dismissed and arrested CNNC president Kang Rixin in a US$260 million corruption case involving allegations of bid-rigging in nuclear power plant construction.[26]

The first reactor designed and built entirely by the Chinese — in 1990 at Qinshan — had to be torn down and rebuilt because of faults in the foundation and the welding of the steel vessel that contained the reactor itself.[27]

In 2011, Chinese physicist He Zuoxiu warned that "we're seriously underprepared, especially on the safety front" for a rapid expansion of nuclear power. Qiang Wang and his colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences noted in April 2011 that China "still lacks a fully independent nuclear safety regulatory agency."[27] They also noted that China's nuclear administrative systems are fragmented among multiple agencies; and China also lags behind the US, France, and Japan when it comes to staff and budget to oversee operational reactors.[28]

Cables released by WikiLeaks in 2011 highlight the secrecy of the bidding process for nuclear power plant contracts in China, the influence of government lobbying, and potential weaknesses in the management and regulatory oversight. Westinghouse representative Gavin Liu was quoted in a cable as saying: "The biggest potential bottleneck is human resources – coming up with enough trained personnel to build and operate all of these new plants, as well as regulate the industry."[29]

The UK government / EDF agreement has reinvigorated cross-channel rivalries. The Daily Mail explained "why we can't trust the French with Britain's nuclear future" and complained that "huge profits are expected to be milked from British consumers to go to the French."[13]

Economic jiggery-pokery

Most reports estimate a total construction cost of £16 billion for the two 1.6 GW reactors at Hinkley Point, while World Nuclear News gives a cost estimate of £14 billion.[30] The £16 billion estimate equates to £5 billion / GW (US$8.1 b / GW).

EDF (and its partners) will be guaranteed a minimum price − a 'strike price' − for the electricity generated by HPC. If wholesale market prices are below the strike price, the government makes up the difference; if market prices are higher, EDF will have to pay back to government. The government announcement nominates a strike price of £89.50 / megawatt-hour (MWh), fully indexed to the Consumer Price Index, or £92.50/MWh if EDF does not take a final investment decision on proposed new reactors at Sizewell, Suffolk.[1] Those figures are around twice the current wholesale price.

The government announcement flags various circumstances which would lead to upwards or downwards movement of the strike price. The guaranteed minimum price will apply for 35 years.[1]

Paul Dorfman from University College London's Energy Institute says the deal ties consumers into subsidising one energy source for a whole generation − potentially at a very high level. In contrast, renewable energy sources' shorter contracts mean the subsidy can be cut if the costs of building wind turbines or solar panels fall. Dorfman predicts that the cost of nuclear "will flatline or hike, while renewables will do nothing but go down".[31]

Dorfman said the government/EDF agreement "is essentially a subsidy of what we calculate to be £800 million to £1billion a year that the UK taxpayer and energy consumer will be putting into the deep pockets of Chinese and French corporations, which are essentially their governments."[32]

In addition to the strike price deal, the government has offered to provide a loan guarantee for HPC of up to £10 billion under a scheme whereby the government uses its balance sheet to provide guarantees for major infrastructure projects.[19]

Previous promises that nuclear power would not be subsidised have clearly been breached, notwithstanding disingenuous government claims that the strike price deal and the loan guarantee do not represent subsidies. A number of expert witnesses voiced scepticism at a recent hearing of the UK Environmental Audit Committee. "This is a huge public contribution towards yesterday's energy thinking," said Alan Simpson, a former Labour MP. "I just wonder what we are inhaling."[33]

The government has been indulging in creative accounting and jiggery-pokery. The October 21 announcement asserts that the HPC project "will ... reduce consumer bills over the long-term" [1] but on the same day turncoat LibDem minister Ed Davey said: "I can't guarantee that. There are huge uncertainties here. It would be absurd to say we can guarantee everything in the 2020s."[32]

Since the 2010 promise that there would be "no public subsidy" of new nuclear, ministers have bundled up nuclear with green energy sources to claim that there would be no "unfair" subsidies for nuclear compared to other green sources. That intellectual contortion will need to be unravelled in the coming months as Prime Minister Cameron plans to reduce green levies ... without reducing subsidies available to the nuclear program.

Government claims about job creation have been equally disingenuous. Nuclear critic Tom Burke said: "The Prime Minister proudly boasted that this would create 25,000 jobs. He forgot to mention that only 900 of them will be permanent and that most of the high value jobs will be abroad. He also forgot to mention that the cost per job is over £600,000. This compares rather badly with the 320,000 jobs that could be created spending the same amount on really delivering energy efficiency improvements for British energy consumers."[34]

The government/EDF agreement "is another disgraceful example of profit being privatised and risk being socialised," Burke said.

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: "Hinkley C fails every test – economic, consumer, and environmental. It will lock a generation of consumers into higher energy bills, via a strike price that's nearly double the current price of electricity, and it will distort energy policy by displacing newer, cleaner, technologies that are dropping dramatically in price."[35]

A Greenpeace briefing paper states that the HPC strike price is not only almost double the current market price for electricity, but also well over twice the Department of Energy and Climate Change's original cost estimate for nuclear power of £38/MWh.[36]

Antony Froggatt from the Chatham House think-tank noted that in 2006, EDF's submission to a government energy review said that EPR-produced electricity would cost £28.80 / MWh in 2013 values. "This more than threefold increase [to £92.50], over eight years, puts the cost of nuclear electricity at about double the current market rate – higher than that produced by both gas and coal-fired power stations, and more costly than many renewable energy options," Froggatt said.[37]

Even nuclear convert George Monbiot weighed in with sharp criticisms: "Seven years ago, I collected all the available cost estimates for nuclear power. ... 8.3 pence was so far beyond what anyone else forecast that I treated it as scarcely credible. It falls a penny short of the price now agreed by the British government. I still support nuclear power. But none of this means that we should accept nuclear power at any cost. And at Hinkley Point the cost is too high."[38]

Monbiot adds: "That's not the only respect in which the price is too high. A fundamental principle of all development is that we should know how the story ends. In this case no one has the faintest idea. Cumbria – the only local authority which seemed prepared to accept a dump for the nuclear waste from past and future schemes – rejected the proposal in January. No one should commission a mess without a plan for clearing it up."

Monbiot's solution is nothing if not quixotic − non-existent liquid thorium reactors and non-existent integral fast reactors.

References:
[1] Edward Davey and David Cameron, 21 October 2013, 'Initial agreement reached on new nuclear power station at Hinkley', https://www.gov.uk/government/news/initial-agreement-reached-on-new-nucl...
[2] Stop Hinkley, 22 Oct 2013, www.stophinkley.org/PressReleases/pr131022.htm
[3] Alan Whitehead, 24 Oct 2013, http://alansenergyblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/the-knowns-the-unknowns-...
[4] Allan Jeffery, 31 July 2013, 'The Hinkley nuclear power station will never be built', www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/Hinkley-nuclear-power-station-built/story-19591...
[5] Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, 21 Oct 2013, 'Nothing welcome about Government's new build deal', www.corecumbria.co.uk/newsapp/pressreleases/pressmain.asp?StrNewsID=326
[6] Francois de Beaupuy and Tara Patel, 25 Nov 2010, 'China Builds Nuclear Reactor for 40% Less Than Cost in France, Areva Says', www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-24/china-builds-french-designed-nuclear-r...
[7] WNN, www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Olkiluoto_3_delayed_beyond_2014-1707124.html
[8] WNN, 24 Oct 2013, 'Symbolic milestone for Finnish EPR', www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Symbolic_milestone_for_Finnish_EPR-2410134...
[9] http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20121213-703038.html
[10] WNN, 11 Feb 2013, 'TVO prepares for further Olkiluoto 3 delay', www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-TVO_prepares_for_further_Olkiluoto_3_delay...
[11] www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/5f849de4-dbf8-11e1-86f8-00144feab49a.html
[12] http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/12/04/enel-edf-idUKL5E8N4DIJ20121204
[13] Steve Bird, 26 Oct 2013, 'Deaths, chilling safety lapses, lawsuits, huge cost over-runs and delays: Why we can't trust the French with Britain's nuclear future', www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2477202/Deaths-chilling-safety-lapses-l...
[14] Reuters, 26 Feb 2013, www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/25/areva-nuclear-idUSL6N0BPK4820130225
[15] Aaron Larson, 23 Oct 2013, 'Agreement Sets Stage for Construction of New Nuclear Plant in UK', www.powermag.com/agreement-sets-stage-for-construction-of-new-nuclear-pl...
[16] K. Steiner-Dicks, 23 Oct 2013, 'Hinkley Point C strikes a price', http://analysis.nuclearenergyinsider.com/new-build/hinkley-point-c-strik...
[17] Reuters, 23 Oct 2013, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/10/23/uk-edf-gulf-britain-idUKBRE99M0...
[18]Wales Online, 26 Oct 2013, www.walesonline.co.uk/news/news-opinion/rhodri-morgan-beware-price-promi...
[19] Tom Fitzpatrick, 8 Feb 2013, 'Treasury willing to back Hinkley nuclear plant with UK Guarantee', Construction News, www.cnplus.co.uk/sectors/energy/treasury-willing-to-back-hinkley-nuclear...
[20] Alex Brummer, 21 Oct 2013, 'Nuclear deal is a devastating indictment of the muddled approach of successive governments', www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2471115/Nuclear-deal-means-giving-overs...
[21] Construction News, 28 Oct 2013, http://www.cnplus.co.uk/8654752.article
[22] Terry Macalister and Jennifer Rankin, 18 Oct 2013, 'Nuclear expert raises concerns about Chinese role in UK's new nuclear plants', www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/17/nuclear-expert-warning-chine...
[24] He Zuoxiu, 19 March 2013, 'Chinese nuclear disaster "highly probable" by 2030', www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5808-Chinese-nuclear-di
[25] South China Morning Post, 7 Oct 2013, 'China nuclear plant delay raises safety concern', www.scmp.com/business/china-business/article/1325973/china-nuclear-plant...
[26] Keith Bradsher, 15 Dec 2009, 'Nuclear Power Expansion in China Stirs Concerns', www.nytimes.com/2009/12/16/business/global/16chinanuke.html?_r=2&
[27] David Biello, 16 Aug 2011, 'China's nuclear ambition powers on', www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2011/08/16/3293802.htm
[28] 'China needs improved administrative system for nuclear power safety', 22 June 2011, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-06/acs-cni062211.php
[29] Jonathan Watts, 25 Aug 2011, 'WikiLeaks cables reveal fears over China's nuclear safety', www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/aug/25/wikileaks-fears-china-nuclear...
[30]WNN, 28 June 2013, 'Loan guarantee for Hinkley Point C', www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Loan_guarantee_for_Hinkley_Point_C-280613S...
[31] 'An Overview of the New Nuclear Deal in the UK', 21 Oct 2013, www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2013/10/an-overview-of-the-new-nuclear-deal/
[32] Tamara Cohen, 21 Oct 2013, 'Nuclear plant may NOT cut bills, minister admits', www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2471071/Nuclear-plant-NOT-cut-bills-adm...
[33] Michael Klimes, 23 Oct 2013, 'Subsidy-Free Nuclear Deal Questioned by Environmental Audit Committee', www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/515440/20131021/caroline-flint-generation-dav...
[34] Tom Burke, 25 Oct 2013, http://tomburke.co.uk/2013/10/25/third-or-fourth-time-lucky/
[35] Business Green, 21 Oct 2013, www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2301810/government-hails-historic-nuclear-...
[36] Greenpeace, Hinkley Strike Price Briefing, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZLhBTXYpiiUMtB1e7gWQjtjVVhinLaE-ulBi...
[37] Guardian, 21 Oct 2013, www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/21/uk-nuclear-power-plant-contr...
[38] George Monbiot, 22 Oct 2013, 'The farce of the Hinkley C nuclear reactor will haunt Britain for decades', www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/21/farce-hinckley-nuclear-rea...

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(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)

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