You are here

Greenpeace

Belgium and the END of nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#800
4453
19/03/2015
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

Belgium is a microcosm of the ageing nuclear power industry. The International Energy Agency predicts a "wave of retirements"1 − almost 200 reactor shut downs by 2040 − and Oilprice.com argues that it is unclear whether new build will offset the "tidal wave" of reactor shut downs over the next 20 years.2 Belgium is at the sharp edge of this new nuclear era: the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning, the END.

Belgium's seven reactors − all pressurized water reactors − are all operated by Electrabel, a GDF Suez subsidiary. Electrabel owns 100% of two reactors, 89.8% of four reactors and 50% of one reactor. EDF and SPE are the other companies with ownership stakes.3

When all seven reactors were operating, they supplied about half of Belgium's electricity. All are due to be shut down by the end of 2025. Belgium's nuclear phase-out law mandates the shut down of six reactors when they have operated for 40 years − with the exception of Tihange 1, which is due to be shut down in 2025 when it has operated for 50 years.

All seven reactors have been in the news over the past year:

  • Doel 1: Shut down when its 40-year licence expired in February 2015.
  • Doel 2: Now operating but due to be shut down in December 2015. GDF Suez / Electrabel is negotiating a possible licence extension for Doel 1 and 2 to operate for another 10 years, and seeking regulatory approval.
  • Doel 3 and Tihange 2: Offline since March 2014 due to concerns about the integrity of reactor pressure vessels; future uncertain.
  • Doel 4: Offline for more than four months in 2014 due to suspected sabotage of the high-pressure turbine. Now operating.
  • Tihange 1: Now in its fortieth year of operation but licensed to operate for another 10 years. Greenpeace has initiated a legal challenge against the licence extension, because of the failure to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment and cross-boundary consultation in line with Belgium's obligations under the Espoo Convention (the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context). Court hearings are scheduled for March 24 and the judge is expected to present his verdict soon after.
  • Tihange 3: Briefly shut down following a fire in December 2014. Now operating.

Policies and politics

Nuclear power policies and laws have been in flux over the past two decades:3

  • In 1999, the government announced that reactor lifetimes would be limited to 40 years, and banned further reprocessing.
  • In 2003, the Belgian Parliament passed legislation banning the building of new power reactors and limited the operating lives of existing reactors to 40 years.
  • In 2009, the government decided to postpone the phase-out by 10 years, so that it would not begin before 2025. This would allow the licensing of reactor life extensions. Reactor operators agreed to pay a special tax of €215−245 million (US$227−259m) per year from 2010−14, and more thereafter. GDF Suez also agreed to subsidise renewables and demand-side management by paying at least €500 million (US$528m) for both, and it maintaining 13,000 jobs in energy efficiency and recycling.

However, an election in April 2010 occurred before the agreed proposals were passed by parliament and thus the nuclear phase-out law remains in place. In July 2012 Belgium's Council of Ministers announced that Doel 1 and 2 were to close in 2015 after 40 years of operation, but Tihange 1 would be permitted to operate to 2025. This was written into law in December 2013. The government said that it had rewritten the 2003 law so that its current stance could not be changed by decree, and therefore the timing of the phase-out "is now final."3,4

In December 2014 the Council of Ministers from the new ruling coalition government agreed that Doel 1 and 2 could continue operating for a further 10 years, to 2025. Energy minister Marie-Christine Marghem said that it was an "unconditional prerequisite" that the Belgian nuclear regulator − the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) − approve licence extensions for the two reactors. She noted that Belgium's planned nuclear phase-out by the end of 2025 remains in place.4

The government decision to allow Doel 1 and 2 to continue to operate for a further 10 years was partly a result of problems with other reactors − in particular the outages of Tihange 2 and Doel 3 and uncertainty about their future. GDF Suez / Electrabel is in negotiation with the Belgian government over the Doel 1 and 2 licence extensions but an agreement has not yet been reached − hence the shut down of Doel 1 in February in accordance with the nuclear phase-out law. Further, the regulator FANC has not yet approved licence extensions for Doel 1 and 2.4

GDF Suez / Electrabel is unwilling to invest up to €600−700 million (US$634−740m) in necessary upgrades to Doel 1 and 2 unless the government provides a "clear legal and economic framework" to justify the investment. Negotiations include removal of the nuclear generation tax introduced by a previous government − according to the World Nuclear Association, that tax cost the company €397 million (US$419m) in 2014.5

As Rianne Teule, campaign director for Greenpeace Belgium, put it: "In order to agree to such a large investment, Electrabel demands 'a clear legal and economic framework'. Read: 'a good deal to reduce the investment risks'. It's the Belgian people who will pay the price, one way or another. If not through increased taxes, when Electrabel's payments to the state decrease, then through increased electricity prices when Electrabel passes on their investments to their clients."6

In 2012 the government passed laws increasing the tax on nuclear operators. The government set a total contribution from nuclear operators for 2012 of €550 million (US$581m), of which Electrabel had to pay €479 million (US$506m). In June 2013 Electrabel filed an appeal to Belgium's Constitutional Court, claiming the tax violated a protocol signed by the company and the federal government in 2009, which included a lower tax, and took no account of declining revenue from nuclear power generation. In April 2014 the Court of First Instance in Brussels rejected Electrabel's claim. The company appealed, but the appeal was rejected in July 2014. Electrabel said it would continue "to examine all potential legal means in order to defend its interests" and "examine all options concerning the future of its nuclear activities in Belgium."3,7

According to Greenpeace, nuclear power is part of the energy security problem, not part of the solution: "The reason for the potential electricity supply problem is Belgium's excessive dependency (55%) on unreliable nuclear power. A political decision to extend the lifetime of two old reactors will not mitigate this acute supply problem. It will take at least a year to implement the necessary safety upgrades, and to order and fabricate new fuel for them. Extending the legally fixed phase-out calendar will undermine investment in real climate solutions such as energy efficiency and renewables."8

Tihange 2 and Doel 3 − compromised reactor pressure vessels

Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were taken offline in 2012 when ultrasound testing suggested the presence of cracks in their reactor vessels. Further investigations indicated that the defects are so-called hydrogen 'flakes'. FANC allowed Electrabel to restart the reactors in May 2013. However the reactors were again taken offline in March 2014 after Electrabel reported that tests to investigate the mechanical strength of irradiated specimens of similar material "did not deliver results in line with experts' expectations".9 FANC said that "a fracture toughness test revealed unexpected results, which suggested that the mechanical properties of the material were more strongly influenced by radiation than experts had expected."10

In January 2015, FANC said the process to restart the reactors had been extended from April to July so that Electrabel could answer further questions. In February, FANC announced that additional inspections revealed more extensive flaking within the pressure vessels of the two reactors than previously identified. FANC said 13,047 flaw indications have now been found in the vessel of Doel 3 and 3,149 in that of Tihange 2. Further test results are expected by April.1,9

FANC Director General Jans Bens said: "This may be a global problem for the entire nuclear industry. The solution is to implement worldwide, accurate inspections of all 430 nuclear power plants."11

Shortly after approving the restart of Doel 3 and Tihange 2 in May 2013 − a decision that was contested at the time and seems unwise in hindsight − Bens was seriously downplaying nuclear risks: "The harbour of Antwerp is being filled with windmills, and the chemical industry is next to it. If there is an accident like a break in one of the wings, that is a guillotine. If that goes through a chloride pipe somewhere, it will be a problem of a bigger magnitude than what can happen at Doel. Windmills are more dangerous than nuclear power plants."12

Two materials scientists have said the unexpected flaws in Doel 3 and Tihange 2 could be related to corrosion from normal operation, with potential implications for reactors worldwide. Prof. Digby MacDonald said: "The consequences could be very severe ... like fracturing the pressure vessel. Loss of coolant accident. This would be a leak before break scenario. ... My advice is that all reactor operators, under the guidance of the regulatory commissions should be required to do an ultrasonic survey of the pressure vessels. All of them." Prof. Walter Bogaerts said: "If I had to estimate, I would really be surprised if it ... had occurred nowhere else.13,14

Electrabel reacted to the latest news by saying that it may be willing to "sacrifice" one of the two reactors to allow destructive testing to learn more about the problem.15

Doel 3 and 4: Fire and sabotage

On 1 December 2014 at 10:30am, a fire began in the electrical substation transformer building at Doel and led to an emergency shutdown of reactor #3. The fire was put out by the local fire service and the reactor was restarted at 5am the following day.16 Fires at nuclear power plants pose significant risks to reactor safety due to the potential disruption of the electrical supply to vital reactor safety functions. The risks in Belgium are all the greater because of the high population density and the concentration of seven reactors at just two sites.17

Sabotage at Doel 4

The Belgium nuclear industry was shaken on 5 August 2014 when it was revealed that sabotage had caused, in Electrabel's words, "significant damage" at Doel 4. Lubricant had been discharged from the high-pressure turbine through a valve which had probably been opened deliberately by a worker. Some 6,000 professionals from 15 companies participated in the repair of the turbine. The repair involved the manufacture of 2500 blades at four plants in China, Croatia, Italy and Switzerland.18 The reactor was restarted on December 19.19

The END of nuclear power

When the last reactor is shut down in 2025, that won't be the end of Belgium's nuclear program but the beginning of the END − the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning.

In addition to the decommissioning of seven reactors, Belgians will somehow have to manage: high-level nuclear waste currently stored at Dessel and at reactor plants; larger volumes of low- and intermediate-level waste; and other nuclear facilities now in various stages of decommissioning including a MOX fuel fabrication plant and the Eurochemic reprocessing plant at Dessel.

References:

1. International Energy Agency, 2014, 'World Economic Outlook 2014', www.worldenergyoutlook.org
2. Nick Cunningham, 19 Feb 2015, 'Is There Any Hope Left For Nuclear Energy?', http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Nuclear-Power/Is-There-Any-Hope-L...
3. World Nuclear Association, 17 Feb 2015, 'Nuclear Power in Belgium', www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-A-F/Belgium/
4. WNN, 12 Feb 2015, 'Belgian reactor shutdown imminent', www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Belgian-reactor-shutdown-imminent-1202156.html
5. WNA Weekly Digest, 27 Feb 2015, http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=140c559a3b34d23ff7c6b48b9&id=b933e03098
6. Rianne Teule, 22 Dec 2014, 'Belgium's government is Electrabel's slave', www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/belgiums...
7. World Nuclear News, 18 July 2014, 'Belgian court rejects nuclear tax complaint', www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Belgian-court-rejects-nuclear-tax-complaint...
8. Eloi Glorieux, 13 Sept 2014, 'Belgium's nuclear reactors are phasing themselves out', www.greenpeace.org/international/en/high/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/bel...
9. WNN, 17 Feb 2015, 'Further flaws found in Belgian reactor vessels', www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-Further-flaws-found-in-Belgian-reactor-ves...
10. FANC, 13 Feb 2015, 'Doel 3/Tihange 2: new update',
www.fanc.be/nl/news/doel-3/tihange-2-new-update/745.aspx
11. 13 Feb 2015, 'Veel meer scheuren in kerncentrales dan gedacht', http://deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws/binnenland/1.2238955
12. Justin McKeating, 23 May 2013, 'Fact not fiction: Renewable energy is safer than nuclear power', www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/fact-not...
13. Greenpeace, 17 Feb 2015, 'Thousands more cracks found in Belgian nuclear reactors, Belgian regulatory head warns of global implications', www.greenpeace.org/international/en/press/releases/Thousands-more-cracks...
14. Greenpeace, 15 Feb 2015, 'Nuclear Reactor Pressure Vessel Crisis', www.beyondnuclear.org/storage/kk-links/Briefing_cracking_RPV_Greenpeace_...
15. Greenpeace, 17 Feb 2015, 'Thousands of cracks in Belgian reactors, potentially a global nuclear problem', www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/cracks-i...
16. Greenpeace, 3 Dec 2014, www.greenpeace.org/international/en/high/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/bel...
17. Bart Martens, December 2014, 'De Economische Impact van een Kernramp In Doel', study commissioned by Greenpeace Belgium, www.greenpeace.org/belgium/Global/belgium/report/2014/RapportNL.pdf
18. WNN, 5 Dec 2014, 'Doel 4 restart approaches', www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Doel-4-restart-approaches-0512145.html
19. 19 Dec 2014, 'Doel 4 reactor reopens', http://deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws.english/News/1.2186676

South Africa's nuclear soap opera

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#799
4447
05/03/2015
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

South Africa's nuclear power program has become a soap opera over the past month. President Jacob Zuma said in his annual State of the Nation address on February 12 that the US, South Korea, Russia, France and China "will be engaged in a fair, transparent, and competitive procurement process to select a strategic partner or partners to undertake the nuclear build programme."

But the National Treasury said on February 1 that it has no idea where the money will come from, and a treasury spokesperson issued a statement saying "the government will not make a financial commitment it cannot afford." Zuma said details on financing would be released in the March budget, but in response the treasury insisted that the "nuclear build is so far not part of those decisions."1

Zuma is promoting the construction of 9.6 gigawatts of nuclear capacity in addition to the two existing Koeberg reactors (1.8 GW). He said on February 12 that the first new reactor would begin operation in 2023. The following day, Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa managing director Knox Msebenzi said the start date had been pushed back by two years: "The first plant was due in 2023, but it's been very delayed. Part of the delay has to do with politics. The latest date is 2025, but there may be other delays. Maybe we're perceived by government as not read."2

Russia's BOO boys

The September 2014 South Africa−Russia nuclear cooperation agreement has been published by the Mail & Guardian newspaper despite the South African government's refusal to release it. It appears that the agreement was leaked but was later found to be publicly available on the website of the legal department of the Russian foreign ministry.3

The agreement − which is not binding until and unless it is ratified by the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces − goes well beyond comparable agreements concluded between South Africa and Korea in 2011 and the US in 2009. It creates an expectation that Russian nuclear technology will be used in favour of alternative vendors − and may breach a constitutional requirement for open and competitive tendering. The agreement would indemnify Russian vendors from any liability arising from nuclear accidents. It would provide Russian vendors with regulatory concessions and "special favourable treatment" in tax and other financial matters.3

Officials in the department of energy, international relations, trade and industry, as well as in the treasury and the chief state law adviser, raised concerns about clauses in the draft agreement − but those concerns were largely ignored.3,4

The Mail & Guardian editorialised: "The way the Russian nuclear deal was handled can only be to ensure a politically driven process, unhampered by technical or financial considerations. ... [I]t is a lopsided, murky and legally fraught arrangement that hands most of the aces to Russia's state-owned nuclear company and carries significant risks for South Africa."5

On February 20, the Mail & Guardian reported on a "top secret" presentation by South Africa's energy department, proposing a closed government-to-government procurement of new nuclear power stations instead of a transparent and competitive tender.4

'National security' is put forward by a state law adviser as a possible justification to sidestep the constitutional requirement for open and competitive tendering.4 Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel and 'national security' is the last refuge of the nuclear industry.

There is one obvious reason why South Africa might favour Russian reactors − an expectation that Russia will provide capital funding under Rosatom's Build-Own-Operate (BOO) model. A draft of the agreement suggested that reactors would be vendor financed, but the final version defers any decision on funding.5

It is doubtful whether Russia can afford to employ the BOO model in South Africa given its heavy BOO commitments elsewhere and Russia's broader economic problems.6

Spy stories

On February 24 The Guardian newspaper reported on the contents of a cache of secret intelligence documents and cables. A December 2009 file says that foreign agencies had been "working frantically to influence" South Africa's nuclear power program, identifying US and French intelligence as the main players.7

The documents also discuss the 2007 break-in at the Pelindaba nuclear research centre. Previously believed to be a failed attempt to steal highly enriched uranium, the documents raise the possibility that the would-be thieves were acting on behalf of China and were seeking to steal design information about South Africa's Pebble Bed Modular Reactor R&D program.7 That claim has been met with scepticism.8 In any case South Africa abandoned its pebble bed program and it is a low priority project in China.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace Africa announced on February 27 that it had filed papers in the Pretoria High Court to compel the energy minister to update the country’s inadequate nuclear liability regulations. Greenpeace Africa executive director Michael O’Brien Onyeka said: "Shockingly, the levels of financial security for nuclear license holders have not been amended, updated or revised in more than 10 years. This means there is no lawfully applicable determination for the levels of financial security as required by the Act, and what is currently contained in the regulations is both out of date, and completely inadequate, which is in contravention of South Africa’s constitution.”9

References:

1. 9 Feb 2015, 'Nuclear News Roundup for February 9, 2015', http://neutronbytes.com/2015/02/08/nuclear-news-roundup-for-february-9-2...
2. 13 Feb 2015, 'Nuclear reactor now delayed until 2025', www.iol.co.za/scitech/technology/news/nuclear-reactor-now-delayed-until-...
3. Lionel Faull, 13 Feb 2015, 'Exposed: Scary details of SA's secret Russian nuke deal', http://mg.co.za/article/2015-02-12-exposed-scary-details-of-secret-russi...
4. 20 Feb 2015, 'Top secret' nuclear plan ducks scrutiny, http://mg.co.za/article/2015-02-19-top-secret-nuclear-plan-ducks-scrutiny
5. 13 Feb 2015, 'Editorial: 'Atomic Tina' blows SA away', http://mg.co.za/article/2015-02-12-atomic-tina-blows-sa-away
6. Lisa Steyn, 20 Feb 2015, 'SA's nuclear deal with Russia is far from done', http://mg.co.za/article/2015-02-19-sas-nuclear-deal-with-russia-is-far-f...
7. Seumas Milne and Ewen MacAskill, 24 Feb 2015, 'Africa is new 'El Dorado of espionage’, leaked intelligence files reveal', www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/24/africa-el-dorado-espionage-leaked-...
8. 1 March 2015, 'Ghosts of Pelindaba nuclear site break-in return to haunt South Africa', http://neutronbytes.com/2015/03/01/ghosts-of-pelindaba-nuclear-site-brea...
9. 27 Feb 2015, 'We’re taking the Energy Minister to court: Greenpeace', http://mybroadband.co.za/news/energy/120560-were-taking-the-energy-minis...

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...

The European Commission's nuclear decision threatens our clean energy future

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#793
4426
30/10/2014
Jan Haverkamp, nuclear expert consultant at Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe.
Article

The authorisation by the European Commission of massive subsidies for the UK's Hinkley Point C nuclear project is an enormous set-back for the country's development of a sustainable and clean energy future. Not only that, it may well stall the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency in large parts of Europe for the next decade.

Strong nuclear lobbies in countries like Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia are pinning their hopes for survival on the Hinkley project. The chance to funnel large sums from state coffers and consumers' pockets to these megalomaniac pet projects will cause frantic activity in those countries where old, centralised energy systems are still popular with politicians.

Plans for 19 new nuclear reactors in Europe are based in the east of the European Union. Excluding the 12 reactors planned in the UK, there are none so far in Western Europe. It's hard to believe that even multi-billion euro hand-outs could change the atmosphere in countries like Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, who are all phasing out their nuclear fleets.

There is a small risk that this will lead to new operating nuclear reactors. Nuclear power has priced itself out of the market in Europe with massive construction costs (5000 € / kWe or more). It's simply impossible to find sufficient financial backing unless countries are willing to sell themselves out completely to Russia's Rosatom and Vladimir Putin's financial and energy moguls, as Hungary and Finland are currently doing.

More disturbing is the threat of the discussion about energy efficiency and clean (and cheaper) renewable energy sources being pushed into the margins again. Europe needs to start urgently harvesting its abundant reserves of clean energy and plans for new nuclear reactors stand in the way.

The one non-nuclear country in the midst of it all, Austria, has announced it will fight the Commission decision in the European Court. It stands a good chance, because this deal breaks too many EU rules. As my colleague, Greenpeace EU legal adviser Andrea Carta, says: "It's such a distortion of competition rules that the Commission has left itself exposed to legal challenges. There is absolutely no legal, moral or environmental justification in turning taxes into guaranteed profits for a nuclear power company whose only legacy will be a pile of radioactive waste."

Reprinted from: www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/the-euro...

New Swedish government aims for sustainability, nuclear energy in question

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#793
4422
30/10/2014
Charly Hultén, WISE Sweden
Article

On September 14, Swedish voters threw out a Right-centrist coalition that had been in power for eight years. The Social Democrats (31.0%) find themselves in a weak coalition with the Greens (6.9%), having chosen to exclude the Left (5.7%) from the government. Green Party leader Åsa Romson is Minister for Climate and the Environment and Deputy Prime Minister.

With less than 40% of the votes in Parliament, the new government faces the prospect of having to negotiate ad hoc majorities from issue to issue. The first hurdle, of course, was reaching agreement within the coalition. Non-socialist commentators touted energy policy as 'Mission Impossible' in this regard, even before the election. But to their – and perhaps even many Social Democrats' – surprise, on October 1 the parties announced that they had reached an agreement.

Up to then, the Greens were very clear on nuclear energy, urging a prompt phase-out – taking as many reactors off-line as possible, as soon as possible. The Social Democrats, however, have been of two minds regarding nuclear. For decades. Especially the party leader, now Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who formerly headed up Sweden's most powerful union, IF Metall, has been hesitant about any move that might endanger investment in Swedish industry or Swedish jobs. Which, to his mind, a phase-out would do.

Meanwhile, the Social Democratic party congress has taken a stand for sustainability in the energy sector, favoring investment in renewable energy sources and aiming for a phase-out of nuclear when renewables and energy saving measures fill the gap nuclear would leave behind.

The new Social-Democratic Minister for Industry, Mikael Damberg, will head a red-green panel of ministers that will oversee the management of Vattenfall. Damberg has long spoken for the 'sustainability' wing of the party, but in recent weeks he has also characterised Vattenfall's demands on the German government as "reasonable".

The compromise reached between the two parties rests on the "as soon as possible" that unites all three groups, but does not specify either the number of reactors that can be taken off-line or when. Nor does it forbid future 'new build'. What it does contain is this:

  • Nuclear energy shall "assume a greater share of its costs to society".
  • Reactor safety shall be improved – e.g., cooling mechanisms that are independent of the reactor's status – lessons from Fukushima that are being acted out throughout the EU.
  • The surcharge on electricity use, levied to cover the costs of waste management and storage, will be increased (albeit not enough to actually cover costs).
  • State-owned Vattenfall has been instructed to suspend immediately all planning for new nuclear reactors − reputed to have cost well over 100 million SEK (US$13.7m; €10.8m) to date. Instead, the company shall focus on developing renewable energy sources.
  • Alongside energy savings, offshore wind and solar power will be stimulated.

There is no parliamentary majority for phasing out nuclear energy. The new government is using its prerogative as owner of Vattenfall to issue a directive to the company. Vattenfall was the only actor in Sweden that actually had plans for 'new build'. Does this mean The End for nuclear power?

It is the first point above that is open to widely ranging interpretations. Put another way, it means an end to at least some of the de facto subsidies that nuclear power enjoys. But how far-reaching is the goal? Does it mean, for example, that reactor operators will have to take out liability insurance, like any other risky business? At present they do not.

The compromise has been applauded for its political sophistication. Other than the directive to Vattenfall, there is no fiat, no explicit prohibition of either R&D or investment in nuclear reactors. The 'how many' and 'when' is left to two extraparliamentary insitutions: the market, on the one hand, and a new Energy Commission, to be composed of major energy users, providers, authorities and politicians, that will be asked to discuss Sweden's path toward sustainability in the energy sector after 2020.

The principal motive for convening the Energy Commission is the PM's desire to assure the long-term stability of the new energy policy. Uncertainty has been perceived to be the Number One threat to the health of the economy, and a major deterrent to investments in energy saving technologies and a shift to renewable sources.

The glut

The truth is that Swedish nuclear energy is no longer the 'cash cow' that it once was. Sweden produces more electricity that it can use, and the export market is not what it used to be. The glut has depressed prices. The expected expansion of renewables, in combination with energy saving technologies, has dampened enthusiasm for investment in nuclear energy. Just when an ageing reactor park requires massive investment.

Some weeks before the election, Mikael Odenberg, CEO for Svenska Kraftnät (the state-owned power distribution utility), published his view, that there is currently no rational basis for investing in new nuclear capacity. Then, only days before the election, Oskarshamns Kraftgrupp (OKG) reported an operating loss of 2.5 billion krona (US$343m; €271m) for their two oldest reactors over the past two years. (Two additional reactors at Ringhals are equally small and old, but their owner, Vattenfall, has not publicly discussed their profitability.)

As for the proposed Energy Commission, the Prime Minister has stated the government's "position at entry" into the discussions: "Nuclear power will be replaced by renewable energy sources and energy savings." The immediate reaction from the most pro-nuclear parties and organisations has been one of shock. Vattenfall's new CEO among them. Energy-intensive industry and IF Metall are up in arms − but will no doubt take part in the discussions once their shock subsides. The Liberal Party leader complains that the outcome of the talks has already been decided and seems disinclined to take part. But the smaller former coalition parties are still in 'campaign mode'. Hopefully, they will get back down to the business of Parliament soon.

So, the situation at present is not entirely clear. The new government has signalled a change of course in the energy sector. Sustainability is the goal. But how long it will take to get the ship on course remains to be seen. The composition of the Energy Commission and its members' willingness to think outside their accustomed boxes will be decisive.

Energy Commission

In connection with the publication of a comprehensive progress report on the attainment of Sweden's sustainability goals, Erik Brandsma, Director-General of the Swedish Energy Agency, urges broad participation in the planned Energy Commission. In Dagens Industri on October 2, Brandsma wrote:

"As for the attainment of our goals, here is where we will stand in 2020:

  • The goal of 50% renewable energy: We'll be at 55%.
  • The goal of 10% renewable energy in the transport sector: It will actually be 26%, thanks to the use of bio-fuel additives.
  • The goal of 20% lower energy intensity (energy efficiency measures) since 2008: 19%, but the figure is sensitive to GNP growth and the possible shutdown of a nuclear power reactor before 2020.
  • The goal of 40% less CO2-emissions (since 1990) – we'll reach this goal, too, with the help of emissions reductions of 40 million tons outside Sweden's borders. ...

"Energy is decisive for our competitive strength and quality of life. The challenges will come after 2020. But to ensure that we can meet these challenges we need, now, to engage in a constructuve dialogue on energy systems of the future. We need to move on from a for-or-against debate over individual energy sources [a reference to the bitter legacy of Sweden's referendum on nuclear energy in 1980] and instead consider the whole.

"'The whole' implies a program of action that tackles energy efficiency, energy production, storage and distribution (the grid). And all this in an international context. Different groups having an interest in energy – industry, interest groups and politicians – have a lot of ideas about "what others should do", and they voice these ideas in seminars, studies and articles in the media. Now it is time for a constructive dialogue, in which all the participants shoulder a responsibility.

"A new Energy Commission may be a good vehicle for such a discussion. We have the data, but facts and documentation mean nothing unless they are used in constructive dialogue. We all have a common goal: a sustainable energy system for Sweden. This means competitive strength, security and minimal impacts on human beings, the environment and the climate."

Swedish Radiation Safety Authority: Second-rate safety good enough for old reactors

After the multiple meltdowns at Fukushima Dai-ichi in 2011, nuclear safety authorities throughout Europe have reviewed nuclear power plants' ability to withstand "extreme external conditions". In Sweden, the Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) has focused particularly on the need to have independent core cooling systems, i.e., systems that can supply cooling water to the core when existing cooling systems fail and the electricity supply has been cut off. The systems shall have a capacity to operate at least 72 hours and be designed to operate under highly improbable, up to one-in-a-million, conditions. So far, so good.

A memorandum circulated to operators on October 9 requires fully functional independent systems to have been installed in every reactor by 2017. But the memorandum also notes that, in the interval to 2020, SSM will accept so-called "intermediate solutions" which, they admit, may not provide the same level of safety as mandated. They mention mobile on-site backup systemsequipment that can be moved between reactors as needed – as one such solution. (Advantage: they are cheaper. The main drawbacks are three: the time it takes to get them on-site and set up, whether they can be moved under emergency conditions; and they can only serve one reactor at a time.)

Ironically, SSM finds such second-rate solutions appropriate for reactors that have been in operation longer than they were designed to be and may be expected to be taken offline "shortly after 2020".

This assessment drew immediate fire from Greenpeace Sweden. The organisation has long studied the problems of over-age reactors, and the statistics clearly show aged reactors to be risky business. Sweden has four reactors that are 40+ − two at Oskarshamn, two at Ringhals.

Rather than trying to save reactor owners' money, Greenpeace argues, the regulator should focus on safety. If their owners don't think the old reactors are worth the expense, maybe it's time to shut them down. Moreover, Greenpeace continues, the determination violates the Environmental Code, which requires use of "best available technology" in all aspects of nuclear safety. It is this last point that may well force SSM to think again.

Fukushima Fallout − Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#773
21/11/2013
Article

Dodging responsibility for nuclear disasters

Greenpeace reports that the US is offering to provide assistance with ongoing work at Fukushima, in particular the multiple problems with contaminated water, but only if Japan first signs the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC).[1]

According to Dr Rianne Teule, a radiation expert with Greenpeace International: "This is an international treaty that supposedly provides an international regime on nuclear liability − the who-should-pay-for-a-nuclear-accident issue. But the real aim of the CSC, along with other international conventions on nuclear liability, is to protect the nuclear industry. It caps the total compensation available after a nuclear accident at a level much lower than the actual costs. The companies that supply nuclear reactors and other material are exempt, they don't have to pay anything if there is an accident. The operators of nuclear plants are the only ones accountable for paying damages but the CSC protects them too by not requiring them to have enough money or financial security to cover the costs of an accident."[1]

Japan signing the CSC would have two important benefits for the US: it would reduce the chances that General Electric can be sued for damages for the Fukushima accident; and it could secure future business opportunities in Japan for US nuclear suppliers. Dr Teule writes: "The US is not offering help to Japan out of the kindness of its heart, but to give a lifeline to its dying nuclear business. The US has been pushing ratification of the CSC in other countries where they hope to expand their nuclear business, such as India, Canada, Korea."[1]

In September, a freedom of information request lodged by Greenpeace turned up documents from 1960 revealing that nuclear companies pressured the Japan Atomic Energy Commission to make sure they were exempted from all responsibility for a nuclear accident, except in the case of a deliberate act. Greenpeace states: "GE, Hitachi and Toshiba, the big companies that all built reactors at Fukushima based on a flawed GE reactor design, have not paid a cent to help TEPCO and have done little to nothing to help the victims of the disaster. So, Japan's taxpayers have to step in to pay the billions upon billions of yen needed to deal with the industry's gross negligence."[2]

[1] Greenpeace, 5 Nov 2013, www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/cynical-...
[2] Justin McKeating, 10 Sept 2013, 'Proof that the nuclear industry has been dodging its responsibilities for over 50 years', www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/proof-th...

 

Draft legislation targets whistleblowers, media

Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe is planning a new State Secrets Act that could suppress publication and dissemination of information about the Fukushima nuclear disaster and other contentious issues. The Act is being referred to by campaigners as the Fuk-hush-ima Law. A draft of the new law was approved by Cabinet in late October and is likely to be passed in the current Parliamentary session, which ends on December 6, since Abe's Liberal Democratic Party enjoys a majority in both houses of parliament. The law would impose harsh penalties on those who leak secrets, or even try to obtain them. Journalists found to be breaking the law could be sent to prison for five years while government employees releasing secret information could be imprisoned for a decade.[1,2]

Media and legal experts say the law is both broad and vague, giving the Japanese government enormous scope to determine what would actually qualify as a state secret. Furthermore the law makes no provision for any independent review process. The proposed law names four categories of 'special secrets', which would be covered by protection − defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.[1]

Under the new legislation a ministry may classify information for a five-year term with a possibility of prolongation up to 30 years. Extension beyond 30 years would require Cabinet approval. Cabinet added a provision to the draft which gives "utmost considerations" to citizens' right to know and freedom of the press, but critics have dismissed those as window dressing.[3]

Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano said: "This may very well be Abe's true intention − cover-up of mistaken state actions regarding the Fukushima disaster and/or the necessity of nuclear power."[4]

In early 2013, Japan fell from 22nd to 53rd place in the Reporters Without Borders' ranking of media freedom. This was attributed to a single factor − the lack of access to information related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Many reporters have met with restricted access, lack of transparency and even lawsuits while TEPCO has consistently barred access to documents and to people.[5]

[1] Oliver Tickell, 30 Oct 2013, 'State Secrets Act to supress Fukushima information', www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2139614/state_secrets_act_to_sup...
[2] Kiyoshi Takenaka, 24 Oct 2013, 'Factbox: Japan prepares for new law to protect national secrets', www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/25/us-japan-secrecy-bill-factbox-idUSBRE...
[3] 25 Oct 2013, 'Fuk-'hush'-ima: Japan's new state secrets law gags whistleblowers, raises press freedom fears', http://rt.com/news/japan-state-secrets-law-712/
[4] Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka, 24 Oct 2013, 'Japan secrecy act stirs fears about press freedom, right to know', www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/25/us-japan-secrecy-idUSBRE99N1EC20131025
[5] Reporters Without Borders 2013 World Press Freedom Index, http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html

Uranium Mining in Niger (Jim Green)

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#765
01/08/2013
Jim Green, Friends of the Earth, Australia (and editor of the Nuclear Monitor)
Article

In the latest unrest at Niger's uranium mines, one person was killed and 14 wounded in a car bomb attack at Areva's uranium mine at Arlit, northern Niger, on May 23. Two suicide bombers were also killed. On the same day, military barracks in the northern town of Agadez were attacked, resulting in the deaths of 18 soldiers and one civilian.

The Arlit attack caused sufficient damage to force a halt to mining operations, which were partially restarted on June 18.

The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) claimed responsibility for the attacks, in retaliation for military involvement in neighbouring Mali. MUJAO was one of three Islamist groups that seized control of northern Mali last year before French-led troops drove them out.

Moktar Belmoktar, whose brigade calls itself 'Those Who Sign In Blood', also claimed responsibility for the Arlit attack and is believed to be responsible for an attack on a gas plant in Algeria in January which resulted in 80 deaths including 37 foreign hostages.

Areva and uranium mining in Niger
Areva has been mining uranium in Niger for more than 40 years and operates two mines in the north of the country through affiliated companies Somair (Arlit mine) and Cominak (the nearby Akokan mine). Areva is also working to start up a third uranium mine in Niger, at Imouraren.

In July 2007, rebels attacked the compound of an electricity company that powers the area's towns and the Arlit and Akokan uranium mines, but government troops fought them off. Around the same time, rebels made a series of attacks on government and mining interests, killing 15 government soldiers and abducting over 70 more.

Four French workers were kidnapped in 2008 by Tuareg-led rebels and released several days later. The rebel Niger Justice Movement (MNJ) said the French were seized to demonstrate to foreign mining companies that the Niger government could not guarantee the security of their operations.

In August 2008, gunmen killed one civilian and wounded another in an attack on a lorry used for transporting uranium from north Niger to a port in Benin.

In 2010 in Arlit, seven employees of Areva and one of its contractors were kidnapped. Four of them, all French nationals, are still being held. The group has repeatedly threatened to execute them in retaliation for the French-led intervention in Mali.

After the 2010 kidnapping, the French government sent special military forces to protect Areva's uranium mines in Niger, supplementing private security companies which mostly employ former military personnel. The use of French military forces to protect commercial interests led to renewed criticisms of French colonialism in Africa. (France ruled Nigeria as a colony for 60 years, ending in 1960.) In any case, French military forces and Nigerien counter-terrorism units failed to prevent the May 23 attack.

An Areva employee said questions were still being asked as to how the May 23 attack could have happened considering "the impressive military and security apparatus" that was in place. Agoumou Idi, a worker at the mine site, said: "We saw a car enter the factory and immediately it exploded. The terrorists, probably from MUJAO, took advantage of the fact that the entrance gate was open in order to let in a truck carrying the next shift of workers. They used that opening to enter the heart of our factory and explode their vehicle."

In addition to attacks and kidnappings, the Arlit mine has been subject to worker disputes. Workers began an open-ended strike on August 20, 2012 over labour conditions, but the strike ended the following day as negotiations resumed with management over conditions at the mine.

There have also been workers strikes at the nearby Akokan uranium mine. About 1,200 workers began a 72-hour strike on July 9, 2012 to demand higher wages. A 48-hour strike began on April 18, 2013 to demand the payment of a bonus on the mine's 2012 financial results. In May 2012, the social security tribunal of Melun (France) condemned Areva for the lung cancer death of a former employee of the Akokan mine. The court ordered Areva to pay 200,000 Euros plus interest in damages, and to double the widow's pension. Serge Venel died of lung cancer in July 2009 at the age of 59, after working at the Akokan mine from 1978 to 1985.

Ethnic and regional tensions
Areva's operations have exacerbated ethnic and regional tensions within Niger. Uranium production is concentrated in the northern homeland of the nomadic Tuareg minority, who have repeatedly risen in revolt, charging that whatever resources do accrue from the mining operations go primarily to the southern capital of Niamey.

According to the UN human development index, Niger is the third poorest country on the planet, with 70% of the population continuing to live on less than US$1 a day and life expectancy reaching only 45.

A 2010 Green Left Weekly article notes: "The military domination of Niger's politics has its roots in the discovery of uranium in the then-French colony shortly before independence in 1960. Independence was conditional on secret agreements giving France preferential access to mineral resources and continued military influence. Nigerien units of the French colonial army became the armed forces of the nominally independent republic and continued to be trained, armed and financed by France. French troops remained in Niger. ... The neocolonial secret agreements giving Areva below-market prices mean that very little of the wealth from Niger's uranium remains in the country. What little wealth is left over is pocketed by the military-based elite."

Likewise, Khadija Sharife wrote in a 2010 Pambazuka article: "French interests on the continent were realised through France's postcolonial Africa policy, known as Françafrique, extending to the diplomatic and political echelons of the Elysée from the days of de Gaulle. The policy comprised corporate and intelligence lobbies, multinationals intimately connected to the State such as Elf and Areva, French-backed dictators, and shadow networks named in honour of its masterminds such as Jacques Foccart, de Gaulle's chief Africa advisor who was called out of retirement at age 81 by French President Jacques Chirac to resume activities. Chirac himself would declare in the early 1990s that the continent 'was not yet ready for democracy.' ... Currently, the Niger's 12,000 armed forces are guided by 15 French military advisors, with Nigerien personnel largely trained, armed and financed by France, protecting five critical defence zones – namely geostrategic routes and mines."

In 2008, international transparency campaigners meeting under the umbrella of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative condemned the opaqueness surrounding Nigerien mining contracts and demanded their "full publication in the official gazette and the elimination of confidentiality clauses." Nigerien environmental and civil society groups have also denounced the 'vagueness' of local authorities over numerous uranium and oil prospecting licences granted to foreign firms, including Areva. In May 2008 the Nigerien parliament rejected the creation of a commission of inquiry into mining contracts.

Environmental and health impacts
Areva was one of three companies receiving the Prix Pinocchio awards in 2012, in the category "Dirty Hands, Pockets Full" (prix-pinocchio.org). Friends of the Earth France said Areva "refuses to recognise its responsibility for the deterioration of the living conditions of people living near its uranium mines in Africa", a charge that was denied by Areva.

In 2008, Areva received a Public Eye Award as one of "the world's most irresponsible companies" for its uranium mining operations in Niger (publiceye.ch). NGOs the Berne Declaration and Pro Natura alleged: "Uranium mining in Niger: mine workers are not sufficiently informed about health risks, open-air storage of radioactive materials. Workers with cancer are deliberately given a false diagnosis at the company hospital."

Niger's uranium mines have been the subject of many environmental and health controversies including leaks; contamination of water, air and soil; the sale of radioactive scrap metal; the use of radioactive ore to build roads; and poorly managed radioactive tailings dumps.

In November 2009, Greenpeace − in collaboration with the French independent laboratory CRIIRAD (Commission for Independent Research and Information about Radioactivity − criirad.org) and the Nigerien NGO network ROTAB (Network of Organizations for Transparency and Budget Analysis − rotabniger.org) − carried out a brief scientific study of the areas around the Areva mining towns Arlit and Akokan. The groups found:

  • In 40 years of operation, a total of 270 billion litres of water have been used, contaminating the water and draining the aquifer, which will take millions of years to be replaced.
  • In four of the five water samples that Greenpeace collected in the Arlit region, the uranium concentration was above the WHO recommended limit for drinking water. Historical data indicate a gradual increase in uranium concentration over the last 20 years. Some of the water samples contained dissolved radioactive gas radon.
  • A measurement performed at the police station in Akokan showed a radon concentration in the air three to seven times higher than normal levels in the area.
  • Fine (dust) fractions showed an increased radioactivity concentration reaching two or three times higher than the coarse fraction. Increased levels of uranium and decay products in small particles that easily spread as dust would point to increased risks of inhalation or ingestion.
  • The concentration of uranium and other radioactive materials in a soil sample collected near the underground mine was found to be about 100 times higher than normal levels in the region, and higher than the international exemption limits.
  • On the streets of Akokan, radiation dose rate levels were found to be up to almost 500 times higher than normal background levels. A person spending less than one hour a day at that location would be exposed to more than the maximum allowable annual dose.
  • Although Areva claims no contaminated material gets out of the mines anymore, Greenpeace found several pieces of radioactive scrap metal on the local market in Arlit, with radiation dose rates reaching up to 50 times more than the normal background levels. Locals use these materials to build their homes.

2008 CRIIRAD report
A 2008 report by CRIIRAD found that dispersal and re-use of contaminated scrap metal from the mines has been a common practice. CRIIRAD also raised concerns about the storage of tens of millions of tonnes of radioactive tailings in the open air, just a few kilometres away from Arlit and Akokan. CRIIRAD noted that radon gas and radioactive dust can be scattered by the powerful desert winds.

Bruno Chareyron, a physicist and laboratory manager with CRIIRAD, said: "When we released the results to the press, Areva organised a press trip to the Niger and paid for a plane to take a team of 30 journalists to the country – but there was no Geiger counter, no real or tangible way to discern the levels of radiation. They could have been standing on radioactive rocks built into the street and not known differently."

Niger's National Centre for Radiation Protection (CNRP) was found to be idle when visited by CRIIRAD. Chareyron said: "CNRP could not carry out analysis due to the fact that their only Gamma spectrometer was broken – a wire had been out of place since the machine was initially delivered to them."

According to CRIIRAD, analyses of water distributed by Areva in Arlit from 2003−2005 showed total alpha radioactivity of between 10 and 100 times above the WHO guidance value. Following these reports, Areva closed several of the identified wells, but never admitted this was due to uranium in the water. However, internal Areva documents showed that Somair had known for several years about the uranium levels in the drinking water they supply.

The pattern seems to be weak environmental and public health standards which are only addressed − partially − when local or international NGO scrutiny embarrasses Areva, or in response to local worker and citizen protests such as the 5,000-strong demonstration in May 2006.

Some 2,000 students held a protest in Niger's capital Niamey on April 5, 2013 against Areva to demand their country get a bigger slice of its uranium mining revenues. Marchers held placards saying "No to exploitation and neo-colonialism" and "No to Areva". Mahamadou Djibo Samaila, secretary general of the Union of Niamey University Students, said: "The partnership in the mining of uranium is very unbalanced to the detriment of our country."

The Niger Movement for Justice, a largely Tuareg-armed militia active since 2007, has demanded a more equitable distribution of uranium revenue, protection from ecological degradation and access to constitutional rights such as water and waste sanitation, education and electricity.

The government has dismissed the armed civil society movement as anti-democratic 'drug smugglers'. Yet the government has also complained about Areva's behaviour. In 2007, the government expelled Dominique Pin, head of Areva Niger, from the country. In February 2013, President Mahamadou Issoufou said the government intends to renegotiate its partnership with Areva for the exploitation of uranium resources. Mining yields "only 100 million Euros per year", Issoufou said. "It represents only 5% of our budget, that is not permissible. This is why I asked for a balanced partnership between Areva and Niger."

Areva's Imouraren uranium project
Development of the large Imouraren uranium deposit, 80 kms south of Arlit and Akokan, is slowly proceeding. The Imouraren SA joint venture is 57% owned by Areva, 33% by Sopamin, and South Korean utility Kepco holds 10%.
Production was scheduled to begin in 2012 but has been repeatedly delayed, and is currently scheduled for mid-2015. In March 2013, Areva agreed to pay the Nigerien government 35 million euros compensation for the delays. A number of factors have delayed the project − issues arising from the kidnapping of seven Areva workers in Niger's north in 2010, labour disputes, and the depressed state of the uranium market post-Fukushima. Workers held a week-long strike over labour conditions in April 2012, halting construction at the site.
Heavily-armed men attacked a camp of uranium prospectors at Imouraren on April 20, 2007, killing a security guard and wounding three other people. Some 20-30 men demanding a better deal for local Tuareg people raided the camp operated by Areva housing around 250 people and made off with six vehicles and a large number of mobile phones. The gunmen said they belonged to the Niger Movement for Justice, which emerged in February 2007. They called for the proper implementation of a 1995 accord which ended a Tuareg rebellion by promising the tribespeople priority in jobs with local mining companies.

In August 2012, the independent French radiation laboratory CRIIRAD (criirad.org) and the Nigerien NGO Aghir in'Man (aghirinman.blogspot.fr) expressed concerns that the mine will lead to the drying up and contamination of water resources and the disappearance of pasture in an area covering hundreds of square kilometres. The mine will also have impacts on fauna and flora, according to the NGO's president Almoustapha Alhacen.

CRIIRAD's Bruno Chareyron noted that the ore grade at Imouraren is very low, necessitating the excavation of 3.8 billion tonnes of rock to get at that uranium. Consequently, the open pit mine will have a length of 8 kms and a width of 2.5 kms. The pit will be surrounded by piles of waste rock with uranium concentrations too low for processing. Dust and seepage from these piles will have impacts on the health of the residents and on groundwater. CRIIRAD and Aghir in'Man demanded that Areva prepare a new Environmental Impact Assessment and provide precise answers regarding the hydrogeological impact, the long-term disposal of radioactive wastes, and compensation for affected people.

References and Sources

 

Azelik Uranium Mine in Niger
The Azelik uranium mine, 160 kms south-west of Arlit, began production at the end of 2010. It is operated by the Societe des Mines d'Azelik SA (SOMINA), a consortium with major China National Nuclear Corp (SinoU) equity.
The Christian Science Monitor reported on controversies surrounding the mine:
"The sun-wizened Tuareg women of Azalik have declared war on China. Like their ancestors, they once eked out a living selling dried salts from an ancestral well. Everything changed last year, when the government leased their land to the China Nuclear International Uranium Corporation (Sino-U) for uranium exploration. Left with no livelihood and no compensation, a hundred women gathered to launch stones at mining machinery. "Now it is eternal war," says Tinatina Salah, their 50-year-old leader, who still seeks compensation for the loss of her salt.
"Tuareg rebels accuse deposed president Tandja's administration and mining companies of neglecting development in the north, which is a Tuareg stronghold. Last month Nigerien workers – many of whom are Tuareg – denounced in a written statement conditions at SOMINA, claiming it resembled "a Chinese colony." Nigerien laborers sleep in dorms, separately from Chinese workers. The rooms are located in illegal proximity to open pit uranium mines, and the Nigeriens suffer chronic diarrhea on account of an unsanitary water supply, the document charged."

In March 2013, 680 workers at the Azelik mine went on a 72-hour strike, later extended, demanding better wages and bonus payments.

Lessons from Fukushima

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#743
6232
05/03/2012
Greenpeace International
Article

It has been almost 12 months since the Fukushima nuclear disaster began. Although the Great East Japan earthquake and the following tsunami triggered it, the key causes of the nuclear accident lie in the institutional failures of political influence and industry-led regulation. It was a failure of human institutions to acknowledge real reactor risks, a failure to establish and enforce appropriate nuclear safety standards and a failure to ultimately protect the public and the environment.

Greenpeace International commissioned the "Lessons from Fukushima" report that addresses what lessons can be taken away from this catastrophe. The one-year memorial of the Fukushima accident offers a unique opportunity to ask ourselves what the tragedy – which is far from being over for hundreds of thousands of Japanese people – has taught us. And it also raises the question, are we prepared to learn?

There are broader issues and essential questions that still deserve our attention:

  • How it is possible that – despite all assurances – a major nuclear accident on the scale of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 happened again, in one of the world’s most industrially advanced countries?
  • Why did emergency and evacuation plans not work to protect people from excessive exposure to the radioactive fallout and resulting contamination? Why is the government still failing to better protect its citizens from radiation one year later?
  • Why are the over 100,000 people who suffer the most from the impacts of the nuclear accident still not receiving adequate financial and social support to help them rebuild their homes, lives and communities?

These are the fundamental questions that we need to ask to be able to learn from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The just released Greenpeace report  looks into them and draws some important conclusions:

  1. The Fukushima nuclear accident marks the end of the ‘nuclear safety’ paradigm.
  2. The Fukushima nuclear accident exposes the deep and systemic failure of the very institutions that are supposed to control nuclear power and protect people from its accidents.

End of nuclear safety paradigm
Why do we talk about the end of a paradigm? After what we have seen of the failures in Fukushima, we can conclude that ‘nuclear safety’ does not exist in reality. There are only nuclear risks, inherent to every reactor, and these risks are unpredictable. At any time, an unforeseen combination of technological failures, human errors or natural disasters at any one of the world’s reactors could lead to a reactor quickly getting out of control.

In Fukushima, the multiple barriers that were engineered to keep radiation away from the environment and people failed rapidly. In less than 24 hours following the loss of cooling at the first Fukushima reactor, a major hydrogen explosion blew apart the last remaining barrier between massive amounts of radiation and the open air.

Probabilistic Safety Assessments
At the heart of claims of nuclear safety is an assumption that accidents, which lead to significant releases of radiation, have a very low probability of occurring. International safety regulators have adopted a nuclear safety paradigm under which, for accidents that are categorised as ‘design basis’ events, the design of a plant must guarantee no significant radioactive releases will occur. These events are also often referred to as ‘credible’ accidents. Accidents involving significant radiation releases, like those at Fukushima Daiichi are called ‘incredible’ or ‘beyond design basis’ events.  These are claimed to be of an extraordinary low probability. These numbers are the results of PSA (probabilistic safety assessment) studies. However, PSAs cannot provide meaningful estimates for accident frequencies (probabilities), since they cannot take into account all relevant factors (e.g. they cannot cover inadequate regulatory oversight) and the factors that are included are beset with huge uncertainties (e.g. regarding earthquakes).

The designs for all reactors in operation, including the Fukushima Daiichi units, were established in the 1960s. The ‘design basis’ of reactors was based upon ‘reasonably foreseeable’ accidents, i.e. accidents that, according to industry experts, could be expected. Also the designs applied the antiquated engineering modelling and methodology available during that time period more than 40 years ago.

In the following decades, accidents involving significant radiation releases that were initially deemed as ‘incredible’ began to occur, such as Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986). Despite some development in nuclear assessments, e.g. in terms of the kind of accidents taken into account, the nuclear sector did not question the safety paradigm but carried on using the model, i.e. the probabilistic risk assessments, to justify the allowance of certain reactor weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Regulators and the industry call nuclear power ‘safe’, because their calculational methodology depicts events that could cause a significant accident, like the one that occurred at Fukushima Daiichi, as extremely unlikely. Reactors were allowed to be constructed in ways that do not allow them to withstand such events. According to probabilistic risk assessments, the chance of a ‘beyond design basis’ accident, which causes a core melt and a significant radioactive release, is less than once in a million years of reactor operation. The Fukushima Daiichi disaster, however, has shown this theory of nuclear safety to be false.

By 2011, the world had accumulated just over 14,000 years of reactor operating experience. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety guidelines state that the frequency of actual core damage should be less than once in 100,000 years. Hence, with more than 400 reactors operating worldwide, a significant reactor accident would be expected to occur approximately once every 250 years.

Culminating with the Fukushima Daiichi accidents in 2011 there have been five major accidents involving significant fuel melt during the past 33 years: Three Mile Island (a Pressurised Water Reactor) in 1979, Chernobyl (a RBMK design) in 1986, and the three Fukushima Daiichi units (Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactors) in 2011. Based upon these five meltdowns, the probability of significant accidents is in fact one core-melt for every 2,900 years of reactor operation. Put another way, based upon observed experience with more than 400 reactors operating worldwide, a significant nuclear accident has occurred approximately every seven years.

The theory of nuclear safety espoused by the nuclear power sector has given regulators, reactor operators, and the public a false sense of security. For industries that require a high level of reliability, such as aviation and nuclear generation, institutional failures are the major contributor to real-world accidents. Surveys of nuclear and other high-reliability industries show that 70% of real accident rates are caused by institutional failures. Despite this, the probabilistic risk studies produced by reactor operators to predict the frequency of component failures leading to radioactivity releases do not take into account failures of operators and regulators overseeing the plant. The empirical evidence shows that reactor accidents are more than one order of magnitude more likely than predicted by the nuclear industry’s modelling. This historical record clearly contradicts the industry’s claim of nuclear safety. Instead of being low-probability events as asserted by the nuclear industry, reactor meltdowns are regular events with significant consequences.

Failure of human institutions
In Japan, the failure of the human institutions inevitably led to the Fukushima disaster. The risks of earthquakes and tsunamis were well known years before the disaster. The industry and its regulators reassured the public about the safety of the reactors in the case of a natural disaster for so long that they started to believe it themselves. This is sometimes called the Echo Chamber effect: the tendency for beliefs to be amplified in an environment where a limited number of similarly interested actors fail to challenge each other’s ideas. The tight links between the promotion and regulation of the nuclear sector created a ‘self-regulatory’ environment that is a key cause of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

It is symptomatic of this complacent attitude that the first concerns voiced by many of the decision makers and regulators after the accident were about how to restore public confidence in nuclear power – instead of how to protect people from the radiation risks. This has also been the case with the UN’s IAEA, which failed to prioritise protection of people over the political interests of the Japanese government, or over its own mission to promote nuclear power. The IAEA has systematically praised Japan for its robust regulatory regime and for best practices in its preparedness for major accidents in its findings from missions to Japan as recently as 2007 and 2008.

Lessons to be learned
The institutional failures in Japan are a warning to the rest of the world. These failures are the main cause of all past nuclear accidents, including the accident at Three Mile Island in the US and the disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine. There are a number of similarities between the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters: the amounts of released radiation, the number of relocated people, and the long-term contamination of vast areas of land. Also the root causes of the accident are similar: concerned institutions systematically underestimated risks, other interests (political and economic) were prioritised over safety, and both industry and decision makers were not only fatally unprepared, but were allowed to establish an environment in which they existed and operated without any accountability.

Governments, regulators and the nuclear industry have stated they have learnt big lessons from the past. Yet, once again they failed to deliver. How confident can we be that the same will not happen again?

The report "Lessons from Fukushima" is available at: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/Campaign-reports/Nuclear-reports/Lessons-from-Fukushima/


Sixty centimeters of cement on seabed off Fukushima. Tepco is to cover a large swathe of seabed near the battered reactors with cement in a bid to halt the spread of radiation, the company announced on 22 February 2012. A clay-cement compound will be laid over 73,000 square meters (equivalent to around 10 soccer pitches) of the floor of the Pacific Ocean in front of the Fukushima Daiichi plant on the nation’s northeast coast. The cover will be 60 centimeters thick, with 10 centimeters expected to be eaten away by seawater every 50 years, the Tepco official said. “This is meant to prevent further contamination of the ocean… as sample tests have shown a relatively high concentration of radioactive substances in the sea soil in the bay,” a company spokeswoman said. 'Relatively high'? sounds not worth 60 cm of cement… So, relatively high compared to what?
Japan Today, 22 February 2012


11,000,000,000,000 yen for Tepco bailout. Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power) is set to receive a government bailout that may cost as much as 11 trillion yen (US $137 billion or 102 bn euro) after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the largest in Japan since the rescue of the banking industry in the 1990s. Japan’s government included 2 trillion yen in this year’s budget for the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund, the bailout vehicle for  Tepco. The government plans to budget 4 trillion yen in the next fiscal year and has issued 5 trillion yen of so called delivery bonds, which the state fund can cash in for financial aid to Tepco. The funds redeemed can only be used to compensate those affected by the disaster.
Bloomberg, 24 February 2012


Source and Contact: Greenpeace International, Ottho Heldringstraat 5, 1066 AZ Amsterdam,The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 718 20 00
Web: www.greenpeace.org

EDF convicted of spying on Greenpeace

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#737
6199
28/11/2011
WISE Amsterdam
Article

On November 10, a French court convicted the French state electricity company, Electricité de France SA (EDF), on charges of spying on Greenpeace, fined the company 1.5 million euro, and ordered it to pay 500,000 euros in damages to the environmental organisation for non-material loss.

EDF, Europe’s largest producer of electricity, was charged with complicity in concealing stolen documents and complicity to intrude in a computer network. In 2006, EDF hired a hacker and a private investigator in a “cloak-and-dagger” undercover effort to spy on Greenpeace France’s operations. The spying operation monitored Greenpeace while it challenged plans by the UK government to work with EDF to expand its nuclear operations. The hacking caused the theft of more than 1,400 documents from the computer of the Greenpeace France programme director.

EDF's spying operation monitored Greenpeace while they challenged plans by the UK government to work with EDF to expand its nuclear operations. Clearly worried about this - and losing the nuclear debate in France, EDF somehow decided a cloak and dagger espionage operation was the way to go. In 2006, the company hired private investigation company Kargus Consultants to spy on Greenpeace France. Kargus went too far, and hacked into, then stole 1,400 documents from the computer of Greenpeace France's program director. But they got caught.

The men prosecuted were Pascal Durieux, head of EDF's nuclear safety at EDF in 2006, Pierre-Paul Francois, EDF's second in command of nuclear safety security during the same period; Thierry Lorho, the boss of Kargus, and Alain Quiros, Kargus computer scientist.

This spying scandal and verdict against EDF couldn't have come at a worse time for the global nuclear industry which is reeling from the fallout of the Fukushima disaster. In recent weeks and months countries like Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium have turned their backs on nuclear power. The new generation of nuclear reactors (with which EDF are heavily involved) is years behind schedule, billions over budget, and beset by construction defects and safety concerns.

“The fine against EDF, and the damages awarded to Greenpeace send a strong signal to the nuclear industry that no one is above the law”, said Adélaïde Colin, Greenpeace France communications director. “In the run up to the next presidential elections, this verdict shows that the nuclear industry is not compatible with French democracy. Voters should keep this scandal in mind and try to ensure that the energy issue in France is not taken hostage by the nuclear industry and politicians.”

At present, the four French European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) are being built in Finland, France and China are well behind schedule, hampered by significant construction problems and billions over budget, in the case of EDF’s reactors in Finland, and France.

Source: Greenpeace Press release, 10 November 2011 / Greenpeace blogpost by Justin McKeating, 10 November 2011
Contact: Adélaïde Colin, Greenpeace France Communications Director, Tel: +33 6 84250825

About: 
WISE

Greenpeace tells BNP-Paribas 'stop dangerous radioactive investments'

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#718
6095
29/10/2010
Article

On October 21, Greenpeace activists in a number of European countries (Russia, Luxemburg, Turkey and France) called on the international bank BNP Paribas to “stop radioactive investments”, including its plans to fund an obsolete, dangerous nuclear reactor in Brazil. 

In Paris, Greenpeace activists used a BNP decorated armoured truck to deliver millions of fake ‘radioactive BNP-Paribas notes’ to AREVA’s, headquarters, the company that is building Angra 3, exposing the nuclear link between the two.  The banking group, which provides more finance to nuclear industry than any other bank in the world: BNP invested €13.5 billion (US$ 18.7 billion) in nuclear energy projects from 2000-2009. Profundo, independent investments consultancy research. Summary of the findings, as well as full report, available at www.nuclearbanks.org.  BNP is planning to provide crucial financing for the construction of the nuclear reactor Angra 3, just 150 kilomet-rers from Rio de Janeiro, as part of a French banking consortium. The total amount that is reported to be negotiated is €1.1billion.  

"Angra 3 must be cancelled. It uses technology that pre-dates the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and that would not be permitted for use in the countries that are financing it. There has been no proper safety analysis and the legality of the project is in doubt. It will not benefit the people of Brazil,” said Jan Beránek Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner. 

“BNP’s customers have the right to know that their bank is misusing their money. Brazil does not need more nuclear electricity, it has abundant wind, hydro and biomass resources for energy – all of which provide cheaper options without creating environmental and health hazards,” he continued. 

The construction of Angra 3 started in 1984 and stopped in 1986 following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, when banks withdrew their funding. Most of the equipment that will be used to build the reactor pre-dates Chernobyl and has been left on the site for the last 25 years. It is now dangerously obsolete. 

Angra 3 falls far behind current generation of reactor technologies, which themselves suffer safety problems, construction delays and skyrocketing costs. Any large-scale upgrades and adaptations required to integrate new safety requirements will lead not only to higher construction costs, but also increase the risk of unplanned outages during its operation. There are additional safety concerns, such as, in its planning, there was no risk-analysis carried out, in clear violation of international standards: International Atomic Energy Agency Safety Requirements stipulate that the probabilistic safety assessment is performed and evaluated prior to construction. This has not been done for Angra 3 as is pointed out in both the official license from Brazil’s nuclear regulator CNEN (Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear)as well as from ISTEC German report. Angra 3 is accessible only via one road, which frequently is blocked due landslides. As is the reality for all nuclear reactors, there is still no permanent or safe solution for storing hazardous nuclear waste, which remains lethal for millennia.  

"The financial players have been telling us for too long they are not responsible for the direction of energy, it is a political problem. In reality, it is they as well as manufacturers who allow these dangerous nuclear projects to see the light of day,"said Sophia Majnoni d’Intignano, Greenpeace France nuclear campaigner.  

"It is high time that the banks fulfil their responsibilities. Greenpeace calls on BNP Paribas to announce its immediate withdrawal from Angra 3 and allow full transparency on its radioactive investments.”  

Greenpeace launched this campaign on 16 October, when volunteers began putting posters up around BNP branches and stickers on its ATM machines asking the public: "Do you know what your bank does with your money? " 

For more information check:  http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/BNP-Paribas-and-dangers-of-financing-nuclear-power/    
Source: Greenpeace Press release, 21 October 2010

About: 
Angra-3

EIA Mochovce 3, 4 accepted - GP will go to court

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#709
6054
12/05/2010
Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace energy campaigner
Article

On May 4, Ministry of Environment in Slovakia accepted the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Mochovce 3 and 4 nuclear power project. Greenpeace will appeal this decision in court. The two nuclear reactors that are under construction in Mochovce in South Slovakia are of the 1970s VVER 440/213 design and received a building permit in 1986. Among others, this outdated design misses a so called secondary containment and therefore crucial protection against leakage of nuclear material after a large accident as well as against malevolent attack from outside.

Originally, the Slovak government and Mochovce operator Slovenske Elektrarne, which is 67% owned by the Italian electricity giant ENEL, did not want to do an EIA at all. In 2008 they conceded to pressure from environmental organisations, the neighbouring countries Hungary and Austria as well as the European Commission. An EIA is to build the basis for the environmental justification of the project - it has to assess which impacts the project will have on the environment and whether these impacts can be justified in comparison with alternatives.

The Aarhus Convention, which delivers the legal basis for Environmental Impact Assessments, stipulates that public participation processes like the EIA have to be carried out when all options are still open. Only in that way, conclusions from the EIA procedure can be reflected in the project and only in that way information and opinions on the project can be assessed without pressure of possible loss of investments. Still, SE / ENEL started construction of Mochovce 3,4 in November 2008 in spite of the EIA procedure only just having started. With this, the EIA procedure is in breach with the Slovak law on EIA, the EU Directive on EIAs and the Aarhus Convention.

The EIA report furthermore lacks crucial information to enable the above mentioned justification. SE / ENEL refused to include alternatives, the environmental impacts of fuel production and radioactive wastes, as well as infrastructure projects involved in securing cooling water. Beyond design accidents were not analysed and a part from Hungary that lies within the 30 km emergency zone was conveniently excluded as well.

Greenpeace will appeal the decision of the Ministry of Environment in court. There is already a complaint against the EIA procedure running for the Aarhus Compliance Committee in Geneva, which is expected to come with a verdict before summer. Also the European Commission is investigating the process.

Greenpeace is furthermore already in court because of a conflict of interest of the auditor of the final EIA report. The Ministry of Environment had hired the DECOM consultancy for that task, which is 100% owned by the main construction contractor for Mochovce, VUJE.

The Slovak Parliament changed recently the law on access to information as well as the nuclear law, preventing the public access to any nuclear information - again in breach with EU Directives and the Aarhus Convention.

Jana Burdova, spokes person of Mochovce, said today that "this is the last step in the EIA process". Unlikely so. The court case will take several  months at least. In Bulgaria, a comparible court case took more than four years.

Source and contact: Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace energy campaigner expert on energy issues in Central Europe.
Tel: +32 2 27419 21
Email: [email protected]

 

About: 
Mochovce-3Mochovce-4

EPR-waste seven times more hazardous

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#683
5926
12/02/2009
Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner
Article

Greenpeace has uncovered evidence that nuclear waste from the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), the flagship of the nuclear industry, will be up to seven times more hazardous than waste produced by existing nuclear reactors, increasing costs and the danger to health and the environment. This was revealed –one day after French President Sarkozy's decision to build a second EPR in France- in an exclusive story in International Herald Tribune (IHT).

The alarming evidence was buried in the environmental impact assessment report from Posiva, the company responsible for managing waste at the world's first EPR under construction at Olkiluoto in Finland ("Posiva's Expansion of the Repository for Spent Nuclear Fuel, Environmental Impact Assessment Report", 2008), and in EU-funded research (Nagra Technical report 04-08: "Estimates of the Instant Release Fraction for UO2 and MOX-fuel at t = 0").

This means that not only will spent nuclear fuel produced by the EPR be more dangerous than is acknowledged by the French nuclear industry, but also storage and disposal will be more expensive than the industry and governments proclaim, and will increase the overall cost of nuclear energy. The French nuclear companies Areva and EDF, which aggressively market the EPR as safe and cheap, have completely ignored the implications of the increased hazards," explained John Large, an independent nuclear consultant.

No appropriate waste facilities exist or are being planned in Finland, France, or any of the countries considering buying the EPR, including the UK, the US, Canada and India. In Finland the plans awaiting approval for burying the nuclear waste are inadequate for preventing interim and long-term health risks and will pass on huge financial liabilities to future generations.

"Nuclear energy is fast becoming the most expensive way to produce electricity and its highly radioactive waste poses an ever-increasing problem. Despite the French government's global marketing of the EPR as cheap and safe, the evidence proves otherwise," stressed Dr. Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner.

The EPR is designed to extract more energy from nuclear fuel than any commercially operating reactor (high burn-up), in order to maximise electricity output. This causes the amount of readily released radioactive substances in spent fuel to increase disproportionately. The storage of the hazardous waste will be more costly for a range of reasons including required greater distances between canisters increasing the repository size, more extensive and longer-term monitoring and increased security.

Another aspect of the high burn-up of the fuel was published by the British daily Independent on Sunday. The revelations –based also on the documents by the nuclear industry itself – calls into doubt repeated assertions that the new EPRs will be safer than the old nuclear power stations they replace. Instead those documents suggest that a reactor or nuclear waste accident, although less likely to happen, could have even more devastating consequences in future; one study suggests that nearly twice as many people could die.

Information in the documents shows that the EPRs produce very much more of the radioactive isotopes technically known as the "immediate release fraction" of the nuclear waste, because they could get out rapidly after an accident. Data in one report, produced by EDF, suggests that they would produce four times as much radioactive bromine, rubidium, iodine and caesium as a present-day reactor. Information in another – by Posiva Oy – indicates that seven times as much iodine 129 is produced. And material in a third, by the Swiss National Co-operative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste (Nagra), implies that they will give rise to 11 times as much caesium 135 and 137.

This happens because the reactors are designed to burn their nuclear fuel almost twice as thoroughly as normal ones. Independent nuclear consultant, John Large, says that this "changes the physical characteristics of the fuel" and increases the immediate danger if the radiation should escape. After comparing the consequences of an accident at the new EPR being built at Flamanville, Normandy with one at an existing reactor nearby, he found that, in the worst case, it would increase the number of deaths from 16,000 to over 28,000.

(See also "Too hot to handle: The truth of high burn-up fuel", Nuclear Monitor 671, 17 April 2008)

Sources: Greenpeace Press release, 31 January 2009 / Independent on Sunday, 8 February 2009
Contact: Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner, Van Walbeeckstraat 17, 1058 CG Amsterdam, The Netherlands

NETHERLANDS: DISCUSSION ON BORSSELE CLOSURE DATE

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#628
27/05/2005
Article

(May 27, 2005) On May 18, activists from Greenpeace occupied the site of Borssele, the sole remaining nuclear power reactor in The Netherlands as a result of the renewed debate on its future, which re-started when members of the government again put the official closure date into question.

(628.5690) WISE Amsterdam - On February 16, when most NGOs involved in energy issues were celebrating the entering into force of the Kyoto protocol, the Dutch Secretary of State for the Environment (The Netherlands no longer has a Minister for Environmental Affairs) announced that the government is seeking ways to keep the Borssele nuclear power plant open for 20 more years. The coalition government (three parties of right-wing Conservatives), in 2002, agreed upon the closure of the last Dutch commercial nuclear power station in 2013, at the end of its natural lifetime (40 years).

However, the government has so far failed to come up with a comprehensive and/or inspiring plan for more renewables, energy efficiency or even new investments in cleaner power stations or wind farms. The Dutch will probably only be able to meet the Kyoto targets because half of the savings on CO2-emission are to be met with projects in other countries via the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

And as the Dutch energy market has gradually been liberalized and left to the market, the owners of the Borssele nuclear reactor can successfully claim that it is not up to the government to decide when the reactor should close. The Dutch system allows a plant that fulfills safety requirements to be awarded an open-ended license; Borssele has one. The utility, EPZ, has stated that it should receive between 700 and 1200 million Euros in compensation from the government if 'forced' to close in 2013. This claim has led the Dutch NGO world and communities at large to re-start their opposition for the first time in maybe 15 years. Groups are increasing efforts to put pressure on parliament and the government to stick to the original closure date of 2013.

The State Secretary for the Environment hired two consultants to initiate talks with the main stakeholders, behind closed doors, to identify possibilities for making a dirty deal; if the environmental movement would accept the postponement of closure to 2033 then the 'saved' money (from not compensating the utility) would then be spent on renewable energy projects and investments.

Divide and rule
In the first round of this tense and highly political game all the environmental NGOs refused to participate, not wanting to "…bargain on nuclear energy". The offer of such a deal has served to galvanize the Dutch anti-nuclear movement and in response to the political war games, a coalition of eight environmental groups responded with an action. Greenpeace Netherlands and WISE have been increasing the number of its actions against nuclear energy and earlier this year, 200 drums with 'radioactive waste' were placed in front of parliamentary buildings. On May 18, Greenpeace managed to occupy the Borssele site and some activists even climbed onto the reactor dome. This was a major embarrassment for both the government and the utility as just a few months ago, the entire nation was shaken by the news that a would-be Muslim terrorist had been arrested with detailed maps of the nuclear power station. Greenpeace easily walked onto the site with 40 people and 12 of them occupied the dome for a day, painting a huge crack to symbolize the expected problems of ageing reactors.

Other players (opinion makers, civil servants, environmental and energy consultants, etc) in the debate are much more open to the idea of a deal (postponed closure in exchange for money for renewables). The consultants are now attempting to play the divide-and-rule game by trying to expose supporters of a deal.

Although not written in stone yet, it seems that the government wants to keep Borssele open until at least 2033. This has far reaching consequences for the discussion on radwaste and reprocessing. In a new report ("Ontwikkelingen met betrekking tot eindverwerking van gebruikte brandstof", NRG, April 2005), the government published new details on the status of Dutch plutonium stocks; in the last 15 years, despite almost annual parliamentary debate on reprocessing, no details were ever published on the exact status of Dutch reprocessing contracts. The government has decided that there are still no relevant developments to stop reprocessing (despite, for instance, the 'new' terrorism threat).

The State Secretary and his staff have, of course in confidentiality, been allowed to view the reprocessing contracts with Cogema for the first time ever. After some discussions both Cogema and Borssele agreed to reveal the following information on Dutch plutonium:

 

  • EPZ claims that ownership of Dutch plutonium (Pu) stocks is transferred, or will be transferred, to others for recycling as MOX fuel. Borssele itself does not and will not use MOX. This counts for both the already produced (separated) Pu as well as the Pu still to be produced
  •  

  •  
  • Of the 2,5 tons Pu already produced, 23% was sold to the Kalkar and Superphenix fast breeder projects, 31% was sold for recycling in MOX, 31% is still in storage with the aim to be used in MOX later, as is the remaining 15%. The total amount of separated plutonium owned by The Netherlands is 2.3 tons (Dec. 31, 2004): 0.4 tons from Dodewaard and 1.9 tons from the Borssele reactor.
  •  

  •  
  • Of the 280 tons of reprocessed uranium produced till now, 126 tons has already been re-enriched and used for re-loading into Borssele and 139 tons has been transferred to others. EPZ "expects to find a solution" for the remaining 15 tons.

     

    In February when the future of Borssele was debated, a Dutch businessman announced his intention to build a small (25 Mw) Pebble Bed nuclear reactor in the Netherlands, to be used as a stand-alone energy source for high-energy consuming industry in the Rotterdam harbor area. As he put it, "the question whether I will go to the Ministry and start the process for a license depends largely on how much resistance I meet in society".

    The large utilities active in the Dutch energy market are also reviewing their positions on nuclear power. Although none are expected to announce plans to build a large reactor, it is clear that there is a rapid change in thinking occurring, not only within the general public (polls show support for nuclear growing steadily) but, and more importantly in the short term, also within the circles of decision makers.

    Source and contact: WISE Amsterdam.

About: 
BorsseleGKN DodewaardWISE