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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Nuclear Monitor #766, 'Sensitive nuclear technologies and US nuclear export agreements',


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] WNN, 30 Oct 2013,

More information:

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

Sellafield Mox Plant axed by Fukushima fallout - says NDA

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

In what came clearly as a surprise to the gathering of Sellafied stakeholders, the closure of the Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP) was officially announced at West Cumbria Site Stakeholder Group (WCSSG) August 3 meeting. The decision had been made at an NDA Board meeting last week on the grounds that the commercially impotent plant no longer ‘had customers or finance’.

In its press statement, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) says the decision was reached following discussions with Japanese utility customers on the impact on the Japanese nuclear industry of the earthquake in March, including potential delays that would effect SMP’s projected program. The Board concluded that in order to protect the UK taxpayer from a future financial burden, closing SMP at the earliest practical opportunity was the only reasonable course of action.

CORE’s spokesman Martin Forwood said today: “We shed no tears for a white elephant plant that should never have opened in the first place. Had the NDA genuinely wished to save taxpayers money, it should have grasped the many opportunities provided during SMP’s sorry commercial lifetime to put it out of its misery. The NDA has effectively passed the buck to Japan do its dirty work for it and take the blame”.

The prolonged battles to get SMP built and operating, including legal challenges, had already provided ample warning to Sellafield that the commercial prospects for the plant were less than robust. With the first planning application to the Local Authority made in 1992, SMP finally opened with the introduction of the first plutonium in 2002 and only then after five public consultation exercises stretching between 1997 and 2001. Focusing specifically on the economic business case for the plant, the later consultations raised serious doubts as to where the contracts would come from and whether the ‘overly technical and complex plant’ could actually produce the goods to customers’ rigid specifications.

Built to manufacture 120 tons of MOX fuel per year, and with an operating lifespan of 20 years, SMP produced no fuel whatsoever until its third year of operation and a total of just 13 tons in its 9 years of operation which saw a number of contracts having to be sub-contracted to SMP’s arch-rivals in Europe. Despite dire warnings in 2006 and 2007 from Government commissioned consultants Arthur D Little (who had originally provided Government glowing reports of the plant’s prospects) that without further investment the plant would never operate as originally planned, the NDA continued to support its operation and in so doing wasted an estimated BP 1.4 billion (US$ 2.25 bn or 1.6bn euro) of taxpayers money.

A final lifeline was thrown to SMP in 2010 by the NDA involving a prolonged closure for complete refurbishment to be financed at an estimated cost of BP 200 million by Japanese utility customers, with the lead customer for the ‘revamped’ SMP identified as Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka plant. Dubbed in Japan as ‘the most dangerous atomic facility in the quake-prone archipelago’, Hamaoka was forced to close earlier this year by the Japanese Government’s demand for seismic tests and safety improvements. With the postponement of any further use of MOX fuel in Hamaoka’s reactors, SMP’s sole contract and lifeline was lost.

Martin Forwood added: “As widely expected by all but Government and Industry, the ‘cast-iron’ assurances in the late 1990’s from its then owner British Nuclear Fuels that sufficient business would be secured from Japan to warrant the plant’s operation were worthless, with SMP failing to secure even one Japanese contract during its operational lifetime. It is ironic that it should be the very customers it was built to serve who have switched off its life support machine”.

SMP directly employs around 650 workers and the NDA announcement of its closure has drawn the expected outcry on job losses and prophecies of gloom and doom for Sellafield which historically and routinely accompany the slightest threat, genuine or otherwise, to any of the site’s commercial facilities. As compensation, the NDA suggested to the August 3 stakeholder meeting that there was the prospect of a new MOX plant being built and, for their part, the Unions expressed some confidence that the workers could be redeployed elsewhere on site.

SMP’s closure has however opened the proverbial can of worms, particularly in respect of a new MOX plant being built. The current rationale behind the NDA’s thinking appears to be that as long as Japan’s program of MOX use has not completely sunk under the waves of the tsunami and the Fukushima catastrophe, the 13 tons of Japanese plutonium recovered by reprocessing at Sellafield might yet be converted to MOX in the new plant which could also be used to reduce the 110 ton stockpile of UK owned plutonium for use in the UK’s new-build reactors. The cost of a new MOX plant has been put at around BP 1.4 billion.

Martin Forwood further commented: “It beggars belief that the NDA appears hell-bent on repeating its own very recent and taxpayer-costly mistakes on MOX. Whilst they may wish to ‘appease the natives’ with the prospect of a new plant, there is no evidence whatsoever that sufficient MOX demand worldwide exists or will exist – particularly in the UK where many of the proposed new reactors may never get built. This is pie-in-the sky stuff and they should be concentrating instead on putting the dangerous plutonium stockpile permanently out of harm’s way and treat it as a waste by, for example, using SMP and its current workforce to immobilise plutonium in ‘low-spec’ MOX for disposal”.

Source: Press release CORE, 4 August 2011
Contact: Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment. Dry Hall, Broughton Mills, Broughton-In-Furness, Cumbria LA20 6AZ, UK.
Tel/Fax: +44 (0)1229 716523

Vermont Senate shocks industry with 26-4 vote to close Vermont Yankee

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Michael Mariotte at NIRS

In a move that sent shock waves through the nuclear power industry, the Vermont State Senate voted overwhelmingly February 24 to close the Vermont Yankee reactor when its current operating license expires in 2012. Coming just a week after President Obama’s announcement of an US$8.3 billion loan for construction of two new reactors in Georgia, the 26-4 vote carried a message -bolstered later by two new public opinion polls- that the public is not sold on the notion that nuclear power is either safe or clean.

The Vermont Senate vote followed weeks of revelations about growing radioactive tritium leaks at the site -culminating in a February 6 measurement of 2.45 million picocuries per liter of water, nearly the amount found in reactor process water. Federal limits of tritium concentrations in drinking water -often criticized as far too lax- are 20,000 picocuries per liter. At this point, Vermont Yankee’s owner, Entergy Corp., says that the tritium contamination has not migrated offsite.


But Entergy’s claims are taken with a grain of salt, since another major factor in Vermont’s disillusionment with Vermont Yankee was the fact that Entergy officials had told the legislature last summer that there were no buried pipes at all on the site. In fact, it was exactly such a buried pipe found to be leaking the tritium.

And Entergy, which is in the process of attempting to put all of its nuclear reactors into a new limited liability holding company called Enexus, also lost points with Vermont lawmakers because the reactor’s decommissioning fund is far short of what is needed, and Entergy’s plans to add to the fund rely solely on running the reactor as long and hard as it can. But lawmakers pointed out that Enexus would be undercapitalized, would more likely take money out of the decommissioning fund than put it in, and that it appeared the entire corporate structure of Enexus is to keep Entergy from being liable for future decommissioning obligations.

Already, Vermont’s action has caused New York State regulators, where Entergy owns the Indian Point reactors, to consider placing new restrictions on Enexus, perhaps forcing Enexus to drop Vermont Yankee from its holdings and possibly even scuttling the deal entirely. The State is currently involved in litigation before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and asking for a denial of Indian Point’s request for a license extension.

Still, nuclear power issues drag on and on, and Vermont Yankee is no exception, despite the surprising margin of the Senate vote. The reactor is licensed until 2012, and Entergy says it plans to continue operating it until then. State legislative elections will be held this November, and Entergy is clearly hoping that if it can clean up its act a little -and it has fired or reassigned several top Vermont Yankee officials- it can reverse the vote in a new legislature next year.

Even if that doesn’t work, Entergy may try to challenge the vote on pre-emption grounds. In the U.S., the federal government has sole authority over all safety and radiation issues -the states cannot close, or prevent construction of- a reactor for those reasons. But it also clear that the states do have the power to regulate on economic grounds, as well as lack of access to a radioactive waste site, which is the basis for several state laws prohibiting new reactor construction. And indeed, while the radioactive tritium releases sparked growing public opposition to the reactor (which in Vermont is overwhelmingly in favor of shutdown), the vote was based on reliability and economic issues, especially related to the decommissioning shortfall.

Vermont was already in a unique situation, in that the state had negotiated a deal with Entergy some years back that it would have the power to approve or deny a license renewal for the reactor. Although that deal was in contract form, rather than legislative, it appears likely that deal will hold up in court if necessary.

At this point, Entergy is still seeking a 20-year license extension from the NRC, and the agency seems likely to grant it despite the tritium leaks and other problems with the reactor (in 2007, for example, a cooling tower simply collapsed due to inadequate maintenance). But the state still could find itself defending its position in court if Entergy chooses to do so, and could be in the awkward position of seeking to close a reactor that the NRC has agreed to relicense.

Grassroots groups are well aware of the potential pitfalls ahead, and are continuing their efforts to assure this victory is not overturned. Two groups, the Conservation Law Foundation and New England Coalition, already have petitioned to close the reactor now and not wait until 2012.

Meanwhile, two new public opinion polls released in March indicate that a nuclear revival is not as popular as some politicians seem to believe. A UPI poll found that new reactor construction is supported by less than a majority (48%) of the public, although only 31% were listed as opposed -the rest didn’t know. But that same poll found that more than 70% of the public is concerned about nuclear accidents and routine radiation releases from reactors, and nearly 80% is concerned about radioactive waste. A Pew poll found 52% support new reactors with 41% opposed, but that was still the least popular choice for new energy development -behind even offshore oil drilling. The vast majority -by a 78-17% margin- support renewable energy and energy efficiency development, just as the public has for the past two decades. While nuclear power remains controversial and highly divisive, genuinely safe, clean, sustainable energy has retains vast support. Are you listening, Mr. President?

Source and contact: Michael Mariotte at NIRS

Legislatures in West Virginia and Arizona defeat pro-nuclear measures. West Virginia’s official ban on the construction of nuclear power plants is staying put. A bill to repeal that state's ban on new nuclear construction was defeated in the state legislature on February 25. Although the bill had already passed the Senate's Energy and Mining Committee, it received only one vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee and is now dead for the year.
On the same day in Arizona, a bill to classify nuclear power as renewable energy was withdrawn following heavy lobbying from the solar power industry and environmental community.
Democracy in 25 February 2020

Vermont YankeeNIRS