UK: Report outlines unreliability of aging nuclear reactors
The UK Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) published a report on December 9 which details the unreliability of the UK's aging nuclear power stations.
The report, written by NFLA Policy Advisor Pete Roche, found that in the three years from 2012−2014, 62 outages were reported, over three-quarters of which were unplanned. These reported outages do not include routine refuelling closures. The list of outages is not comprehensive as EDF Energy does not provide comprehensive data on reactor performance.
At its lowest point, on 20 November 2014, less than half (43%) of UK nuclear power capacity was available due to shutdowns. Seven out of 15 reactors were offline.
Unplanned shutdowns cause serious problems for electricity supply regulation and planning. A major likely reason for poor performance is that most reactors are over 30 years old and past their use-by dates, some by considerable margins. The increasingly decrepit state of UK nuclear power stations also presents a serious safety issue. UK nuclear regulatory agencies are aware of the continual reduction in safety margins resulting from graphite loss and crumbling in the moderators of AGR reactors.
Nuclear Free Local Authorities, 9 Dec 2014, 'NFLA concerns over the reliability of aging nuclear reactors in the UK', www.nuclearpolicy.info/publications/briefings.php
International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Human Weapons
On December 8−9, over 1000 people flocked into the grand ballroom of Holfsburg Palace, Vienna, to consider the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. Delegations representing 158 nations were present, as well as nuclear survivors, civil society, media, and researchers.
This was the third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Human Weapons − the first was in Norway in 2013, the second in Mexico in February 2014. The latest conference is intended to 'jump-start' the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) deliberations at the UN in May 2015 with a call to proceed with complete disarmament in a global, legally binding form.
The meeting resulted in a vehicle for nations to "sign on" to the Austrian Pledge. This document calls on parties to the NPT to renew their commitments under that treaty and to close any gaps that undermines prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.
The Austrian Pledge contains this remarkable provision: "Austria calls on all nuclear weapons possessor states to take concrete interim measures to reduce the risk of nuclear weapon detonations, including reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons and moving nuclear weapons away from deployment into storage, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines and rapid reductions of all types of nuclear weapons ..."
This provision was all the more remarkable since, for the first time, nuclear weapons states were present: the US and Britain, both of which made statements to the assembly confirming that they were not listening.
Invited to speak during the session on the Medical Consequences of Using Nuclear Weapons, I originally declined since my work has focused on energy and the environment, not the military side of nuclear. The invite was made more precise by Ambassador Alexander Kmentt: please speak on the disproportionate impact of radiation on girls and women. Such a direct invitation offered an opportunity to share information that is under-reported.
The fact that atomic bombs were dropped on two cities in Japan almost 80 years ago is no longer being widely taught. Most people don't know that a long-term study was initiated by the US to count the cancers in the survivors. Among those who were under five years old in 1945, for every boy who got cancer at some point in their lives, two girls got cancer.
The room was full of people, including Hibakusha from Japan, survivors from the US tests in the Marshall Islands, from the British tests in Australia, and from Utah (downwind of the Nevada Test Site). It was a great place to share this information.
Information on Atomic Radiation and Harm to Women is posted at:
− Mary Olson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (US)
Sweden: Regulator calls for hike in nuclear waste fees
The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) has recommended yet another increase in the per kWh-fee on nuclear power to cover predicted costs of decommissioning reactors and the processing and storage of nuclear waste. The proposal raises the fee from an average SEK 0.022/kWh to around 0.040/kWh (US 0.5 c/kWh).
Swedish law requires the industry-owned nuclear waste management company SKB to submit an estimate of projected costs to SSM at three-year intervals. After examining the estimate and consulting other sources, SSM submits its recommendation to the government, which then sets the fee for the next period, in this case 2015−2017.
Over the past couple of terms, SSM's estimates have differed substantially from those of the industry's nuclear waste company. This time, SSM finds that SKB's estimate is short by at least SEK 11 billion (US$1.44, €1.16b). SSM bases its conclusion on a study commissioned from the National Institute of Economic Research (a state body). The conclusion is also seconded by the National Council for Nuclear Waste, an academic reference group, and the National Debt Office, whose comments call for greater transparency as to how SKB arrived at its estimates.
Principal differences concern the estimated future cost of goods and services relating to decommissioning and waste storage, and the cost of necessary reinvestments in existing waste management facilities. SSM states that SKB underestimates cost rises by as much as 12%. Sagging financial returns accruing to the Nuclear Waste Fund – a consequence of the broader economic downturn – also contribute to the gap.
Another discrepancy is that SKB bases its calculations on reactor lifetimes of 50-60 years, yet the Financing Ordinance stipulates that a lifetime of 40 years be used. The advantage from the industry's point of view is obvious: positing a 20−50% longer period of production raises the total sum deposited into the Waste Fund, thereby permitting a lower fee.
The law provides that SSM may, "should circumstances so demand," reject the industry's prognosis and fix an interim fee until satisfactory estimates are on the table. SSM is doing just that. The current recommendation will be for 2015 only, and SKB has been instructed to produce a revised estimate within the next few months.
Shortly after the general election in September 2014, the new government stated as an overall principle that nuclear energy should cover a greater share of its costs to society – which suggests that SSM's proposals would be favourably received.
But there is a catch. The government – a minority coalition – failed to gain parliamentary approval of its budget in December and has announced new elections for March 2015. A change of government before the proposal can be considered is likely, and no one can say what the political constellation after the elections will be.
− Charly Hultén / WISE Sweden
Greenland: Pro-uranium coalition forms government
The Inuit Ataqatigiit party was expected to win Greenland's November 28 election, after which it would call a referendum on the controversial issue of uranium mining.
However the pro-uranium Siumut party narrowly won the most votes and has formed a coalition with two other pro-uranium parties − Atassut and Demokraatic. The three parties hold a combined 17 seats in the new parliament while two anti-uranium parties − Inuit Ataqatigiit and Partii Naleraq − hold 14 seats.
Just before the election, a poll showed that 71% of Greenlanders want a national referendum on whether to reinstate the uranium ban. Inuit Ataqatigiit and Partii Naleraq had called for a referendum.
Before the election, former Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond announced in Parliament that if a mining permit was issued to the Australian mining company Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd. for the Kvanefjeld uranium / rare earths project, a referendum on the project would be held in southern Greenland. That promise might still be kept ... or it might not.
The only uranium project that might be developed in the foreseeable future is the Kvanefjeld project. A feasibility study is due for completion in 2015. It could take 2−3 years before environmental assessment processes are complete.
US blocks international nuclear safety initiatives
The US was exposed at an international meeting of parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety on December 4.1 A European proposal would have led to greater efforts to prevent accidents and, should they occur, mitigate the effects of radioactive contamination. The proposal would likely have forced upgrades at existing plants.
Russia scaled back its opposition to European proposals, leaving the US as the main dissenter. Russia was prepared to endorse some of the European proposals though it balked at accepting proposals that would require retrofits of old reactors.
Defending their indefensible position, US diplomats said their opposition to the European initiative was driven by concern that an attempt to amend the convention could weaken it, because some governments would be slow to ratify changes.
Former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Victor Gilinsky told Bloomberg: "People in the U.S. don't realize that in many ways our nuclear safety standards lag behind those in Europe. The German and French containment structures are generally more formidable than ours and those reactors generally have more protection systems."1
Created in response to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the Convention on Nuclear Safety has struggled to improve safety standards. The group's secrecy has often undermined its objectives. A former French envoy, Jean-Pierre Clausner, said that the opacity of the organisation was "shocking" according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request.2
South Africa and Russia: 'Pay More for Nuclear' reports
Earthlife Africa has commissioned and released four significant reports in the second half of 2014 in a series titled 'Pay More for Nuclear'. The first report is titled 'Nuclear Technology Options for South Africa'. Prof. Steve Thomas writes: "South Africa's call for tenders for nuclear power plants [in 2008] failed because the costs were high and because the requirements to obtain funding were not politically acceptable. The response to this failure seemed to be that pursuing a wider range of technical options and partners would produce a cheaper and more readily financed offer. The new options mooted include reactors from Korea, China and Russia. The perception that these options will be cheaper is likely to be an illusion. In addition, the designs are unproven and raise serious issues of verifying that they meet the required safety standards."
The second report is titled 'Funding Nuclear Decommissioning – Lessons for South Africa'. Thomas writes: "Current policy and practice on funding nuclear power plant decommissioning in South Africa lags far behind international best practice. It risks bequeathing future generations with a hazardous and expensive task that will have to be paid for by future taxpayers."
The third report is titled 'What Does It Take To Finance New Nuclear Power Plants?'. Thomas writes: "Unless the South African government is prepared to require electricity consumers to sign what will effectively be a blank cheque to the developers of a nuclear power the current attempt to order nuclear power plants for South Africa will fail again and several more years will have been wasted pursuing an option, nuclear power, that is not financeable."
The fourth report is titled 'Russian Nuclear Industry Overview'. Report author Vladimir Slivyak covers problems with ageing reactors, planned new reactors, Russia's fast breeder program, its reactor export program, and inadequate nuclear waste and decommissioning programs. Of particular interest is the section on corruption in the Russian nuclear industry, and the role of NGOs Ecodefense and Transparency International in exposing that corruption.
The four 'Pay More for Nuclear' reports are posted at: http://earthlife.org.za/2014/12/pay-more-with-nuclear-report-4/