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Hinkley: A dramatic turn of events

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Pete Roche

On July 28 the UK Government stunned the energy industry when it announced a further review of the proposed Hinkley Point nuclear power station just a few hours after EDF's Board meeting in Paris agreed to approve the 'Final Investment Decision'. Executives at EDF had been expecting the Government to sign a subsidy deal for the £18 billion (US$23.4b) plant the following day. Greg Clark, the UK Business and Energy secretary, said that he needed until September to study the subsidy contract.

150 VIPs had been invited to Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England on Friday to celebrate the go-ahead for a third nuclear power station on the site. But on Friday morning the marquee was being packed away and the guests were nowhere to be seen. A delegation from the China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) which had already flown into Britain expecting to sign the finalised documents to allow them to invest around one third of the project's cost, turned around and went straight back to China.

We may never know exactly what has gone on behind the scenes but it is clear that EDF had moved its final investment decision forward from September in order to bounce the new UK Government into giving its approval quickly before mounting problems become even more obvious to everyone.1

Stop Hinkley spokesperson Roy Pumfrey said: "Much of the media seems to think this is just a temporary pause and that Hinkley Point C will eventually go ahead, but if Theresa May gives this scheme just a cursory glance she will see that we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke."

According to the Financial Times2 the head of EDF, Jean-Bernard Lévy gave his fellow board members only two days to read 2,500 pages of contracts for a deal which one investment analyst described as "verging on insanity".3

The decision to review the project has been attributed by some to security concerns about Chinese involvement in the sector expressed by Mrs May's chief of staff, Nick Timothy. The Stop Hinkley Campaign has itself expressed concerns in the past about making nuclear deals with a country with such a poor health and safety record.4

Writing on the Conservative Home website last October, Timothy said the Hinkley deal could lead to the Chinese designing and constructing a third nuclear reactor at Bradwell in Essex. Security experts – reportedly inside as well as outside government – are worried that the Chinese could use their role to build weaknesses into computer systems which will allow them to shut down Britain's energy production at will.5 For those who believe that such an eventuality is unlikely, the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation – one of the state-owned companies involved in the plans for the British nuclear plants – says on its website that it is responsible not just for "increasing the value of state assets and developing the society" but the "building of national defence." MI5 believes that "the intelligence services of … China … continue to work against UK interests at home and abroad."

Mandiant, a US company that investigates computer security breaches around the world, looked into the operations of just one Chinese cyber espionage group, believed to be the Second Bureau of the People's Liberation Army of China, or 'Unit 61398'. Mandiant found that Unit 61398 has compromised 141 different companies in 20 major industries. There were 115 victims in the United States and five in the UK. The intellectual property stolen included technology blueprints, manufacturing processes, test results, business plans, pricing documents, partnership agreements, and emails and contact information.6

Timothy said "evidence like this makes it all the more baffling that the British Government has been so welcoming to Chinese state-owned companies in sensitive sectors. The Government, however, seems intent on ignoring the evidence and presumably the advice of the security and intelligence agencies. But no amount of trade and investment should justify allowing a hostile state easy access to the country's critical national infrastructure. Of course we should seek to trade with countries right across the world – but not when doing business comes at the expense of Britain's own national security."6

EDF's future threatened

Perhaps of more immediate concern is that a go-ahead for Hinkley could threaten the future of the company itself. EDF is a company in a very precarious financial situation. The ratings agency, S&P, postponed a decision to downgrade its credit rating when the UK Government announced the review.7 EDF has €37 billion (US$41b) of debt. The collapse in energy prices pushed earnings down 68% in 2015. The company needs to spend €50 billion (US$55.4b) upgrading its network of 58 aging reactors by 2025. It is scrambling to sell €4 billion (US$4.4b) of new shares and €10 billion (US$11.1b) of assets to strengthen its balance sheet. EDF is also expected to participate in the €5 billion (US$5.5b) bailout of Areva, the bankrupt developer of EPR technology, by taking a 75% stake.8 About the last thing it needs is a new €15 billion (US$16.6b) millstone around its neck.9

Roy Pumfrey said: "The EDF Board should take the opportunity presented by this pause to see that its Nuclear SatNav has taken the Company down a dead end; it's only a matter of time before we hear that voice saying "At the next opportunity, turn around!"'

He continues: "Perhaps most disappointing if not unexpected has been the reaction of the big UK Union leaders. Whilst confessing themselves 'baffled' by the government's 'bonkers' decision, they should ask why the French union leaders representing EDF's own workers were (and are) solidly and vocally opposed to HPC. This project involves a reactor which many of EDF's own staff regard as unconstructable, selling off the family silver to fund it and putting EDF and therefore their own livelihoods at risk."

Over recent months several different alternatives to building Hinkley Point C have been detailed.10 Most recently consultancy firm Utilitywise has described the proposed nuclear station as an "unnecessary expense". Energy efficiency measures could save the equivalent amount of electricity along with £12bn.11

Roy Pumfrey said: "This Government review of Hinkley Point C provides us with a wonderful opportunity to turn Somerset into a sustainable energy hub for England. The alternatives would be better for jobs, better for consumers, would reduce the mountain of dangerous waste we don't know how to deal with and save Somerset from a decade of disruption caused by one of the biggest construction projects in the world. The sooner EDF and the UK Government come to their senses the better."

Anti-Hinkley Tories

Perhaps most interesting amongst recent events has been the emergence of Conservative figures calling on the government to call time on the Hinkley proposals. The think-tank Bright Blue, whose advisory board includes former ministers Francis Maude and Nicky Morgan and former energy minister Greg Barker, has said the government needs a new "plan A". The group stresses that its position is not necessarily endorsed by all members of the organisation, which includes more than 100 parliamentarians. "The Government should abandon Hinkley C – pursuing it in light of all the evidence of cost reductions in other technologies would be deeply irresponsible," said Ben Caldecott, associate fellow, Bright Blue. "We need a new 'Plan A'. This must be focused on bringing forward sufficient renewables, electricity storage, and energy efficiency to more than close any gap left in the late 2020s by Hinkley not proceeding. This would be sensible, achievable, and cheap." Zac Goldsmith, also a Bright Blue member, has welcomed the government's rethink.12

Caldecott, writing on the Conservative Home website, said "we seem to be re-entering reality, there is an opportunity to develop a new 'Plan A' … A range of technologies can easily fill the envisioned capacity that Hinkley would have provided in the late 2020s had it been successfully delivered on the current (and already significantly delayed) construction schedule. They can also do this much more cheaply. Cancelling Hinkley would provide greater certainty for investors in other technologies thereby encouraging investment in new capacity today."13

He said the price of onshore wind is already much cheaper than nuclear (£85/MWh today and expected to fall to £60/MWh by 2020), with large-scale PV (expected to fall to £80/MWh by 2020) and offshore wind (expected to fall to £80/MWh by 2025) set to do the same – all well before Hinkley would start to receive its staggeringly high guaranteed and index-linked £92.50/MWh.

He goes on to say that Bright Blue will be publishing specific recommendations on energy efficiency soon, and that small modular nuclear reactors are very unlikely to be commercially available at all, let alone before the 2030s in any scalable, cost-competitive or politically acceptable way. They are too uncertain in terms of likelihood and cost for us to place too much faith in them yet, apart from perhaps investing in more R&D. "Blind faith in new nuclear and shale gas have yielded precisely zero for UK security of supply, despite constant rhetoric to the contrary, and yet more punts in high risk areas would not be prudent."

Take action

Friends of the Earth – Scotland is asking people to write to Theresa May to express opposition to Hinkley Point C going ahead:

Greenpeace UK is asking supporters to sign a petition to Chancellor Philip Hammond to help convince him to abandon the project and back renewable energy instead:

This is an expanded version of an article published in nuClear News No.87, August 2016,


1. Times 30 July 2016

2. FT 1 Aug 2016

3. Guardian 7 March 2016


5. Times 16 October 2015

6. Conservative Home 20 October 2015

7. Reuters 29 July 2016

8. Times 7 May 2016

9. The Street 25 April 2016

10. Stop Hinkley 16 May 2016 See also Environmental Research Web 6 Aug 2016

11. Edie 1 August 2016

12. Solar Portal 29 July 2016

13. Conservative Home 30 July 2016

Hinkley Point-B2

Nuclear power down for the count

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Author: Jim Green – Nuclear Monitor editor

Ten new power reactors began supplying electricity last year (eight of them in China), and eight reactors were permanently shut down.1 Thus nuclear power's 20-year pattern of stagnation continues.

At the end of 1995, there were 434 operable reactors2; now there are 439. Moreover the 439 figure includes 41 reactors in Japan that have been shut-down for several years, and not all of them will be restarted. Current global nuclear capacity of 382 gigawatts (again including those 41 reactors in Japan) is 12% higher than the 1995 figure of 341 GW (an annual growth rate of 0.6%).













Construction began on seven reactors last year, and a total of 67 power reactors are now under construction.1

The nuclear power industry's malaise was all too evident at the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris in December. Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd noted:

"It was entirely predictable that the nuclear industry achieved precisely nothing at the recent Paris COP-21 talks and in the subsequent international agreement. ... Analysis of the submissions of the 196 governments that signed up to the Paris agreement, demonstrating their own individual schemes on how to reduce national carbon emissions, show that nearly all of them exclude nuclear power. The future is likely to repeat the experience of 2015 when 10 new reactors came into operation worldwide but 8 shut down. So as things stand, the industry is essentially running to stand still."3

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, only seven out of 196 countries mentioned nuclear power in their climate change mitigation plans prepared for the COP21 conference: China, India, Japan, Argentina, Turkey, Jordan and Niger.4

China's great leap forward

With 30 operable reactors, 24 under construction, and many more in the pipeline, China remains the only country with significant nuclear expansion plans.5 China is unlikely to meet any of its targets – 58 GW by 2020, 110 GW by 2030 and up to 250 GW by 2050 – but growth will be significant nonetheless. Growth could however be derailed by a serious accident, which is all the more likely because of China's inadequate nuclear safety standards, inadequate regulation, lack of transparency, repression of whistleblowers, world's worst insurance and liability arrangements, security risks, and widespread corruption.

Over the next 10–20 years, global nuclear capacity may increase marginally, with strong growth in China more than masking patterns of stagnation and decline elsewhere. Beyond that, the aging of the global fleet of power reactors will be sharply felt: the International Energy Agency anticipates almost 200 permanent shut-downs by 2040.6 Steve Kidd notes that the industry is running to stand still, and it will have to run faster to stand still as the annual number of shut-downs increases.

Growth elsewhere?

India is the only other country where there is a possibility of significant nuclear growth in the nearish-future. But nuclear growth in India has been modest – six reactor start-ups over the past decade7 – and may remain so. In early 2015, India claimed to have resolved one of the major obstacles to foreign investment by announcing measures to circumvent a liability law which does not completely absolve suppliers of responsibility for accidents.8 But those claims were met with scepticism and a capital strike by most foreign suppliers is still in effect. Strong public opposition – and the Indian state's brutal response to that opposition – will likely continue to slow nuclear expansion.9

In mid-January 2016, the latest auction of solar energy capacity in India achieved a new record low price of 4.34 rupees/kWh (US$0.064; €0.059). Energy minister Piyush Goyal said: "Through transparent auctions with a ready provision of land, transmission and the like, solar tariffs have come down below thermal power cost."10

Russia has 35 operating reactors and eight under construction (including two very low power floating reactors).11 Only six reactors have started up over the past 20 years, and only four over the past decade. The pattern of slow growth will continue.

As for Russia's ambitious nuclear export program, Steve Kidd noted in October 2014 that it "is reasonable to suggest that it is highly unlikely that Russia will succeed in carrying out even half of the projects in which it claims to be closely involved".12

South Korea has 25 operable reactors and three under construction.13 Six reactors have started up over the past decade.

South Africa plans 9.6 GW of new nuclear capacity to add to the two Koeberg reactors. But the nuclear program is more theatre than reality. Pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman states:

"South Africa's plans to build 9.6 GW of nuclear power will continue to be embroiled in political controversy and be hobbled by a lack of realistic financial plans to pay for the reactors. Claims by both Rosatom and Chinese state nuclear firms that they have won the business are not credible. Even if written down on paper, these claims of contracts cannot be guaranteed in the long term due to the political twists and turns by South African President Jacob Zuma. Most recently, he burned through three finance minister over differences about whether the country could afford the cost of the reactors said to be at as much as US$100 billion including upgrades to the electrical grid. Additionally, Zuma is distracted by political and personal scandals."14

Brazil's nuclear industry provided some theatre in 2015 with the arrest of Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, the former CEO of Brazil's nuclear power utility Eletronuclear, for allegedly accepting bribes to fix the bidding process for the Angra 3 reactor under construction 100 km from Rio de Janeiro.15 Fourteen other people were also charged as a result of the federal police's Operation Radioactivity. "The arrest is a tragedy for the industry," said former Eletrobras' chief executive Luiz Pinguelli Rosa. "The industry was already in crisis, but now the corruption concerns are bound to delay Angra 3 further and cause costs to rise even more."

Newcomer countries: The World Nuclear Association claims that "over 45 countries are actively considering embarking upon nuclear power programmes."16 There's no truth to the claim. Only two 'newcomer' countries are actually building reactors − Belarus and the United Arab Emirates. Other countries might join the nuclear club but nuclear newcomers will be few and far between. Moreover, some countries are phasing out nuclear power. Countries with nuclear phase-out policies include Germany, Belgium, Taiwan, and Switzerland. Other countries – e.g. Sweden – may phase out nuclear power partly as a result of deliberate government policy and partly because of natural attrition: aging reactors are being shut down without replacement.

Stagnation and decline

Patterns of stagnation or slow decline in north America and western Europe can safely be predicted. In 2014, the European Commission forecast that EU nuclear generating capacity of 131 GW in 2010 will decline to 97 GW in 2025. The European Commission forecasts that nuclear's share of EU electricity generation will decline from 27% in 2010 to 21% in 2050, while the share from renewables will increase from 21% to 51.6%, and fossil fuels' share will decline from 52% to 27%.17

The most important nuclear power story of 2015 was legislation enacted in the French Parliament in July that will reduce nuclear's share of electricity generation to 50% by "around" 2025, and caps nuclear capacity at the current level of 63.2 GW. The legislation also establishes a target of 32% of electricity generation from renewables by 2030, a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 20% reduction in overall energy consumption by 2030.18,19,20

In April 2015, a report by ADEME, a French government agency under the Ministries of Ecology and Research, shows that 100% renewable electricity supply by 2050 in France is feasible and affordable.21

French EPR reactor projects in France and Finland are three times over budget and many years behind schedule. In April 2015 it was revealed that EPRs under construction in France and China may have cracked pressure vessels.22,23

A January 2016 update to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report discusses the miserable state of the French nuclear industry:

"The French state-controlled AREVA, having announced an outlook of a further "heavy loss" in 2015, was downgraded by credit-rating agency Standard & Poor's to B+ ("highly speculative"). On 29 December 2015, the company plunged to a new historic low on the stock market (€5.30 compared to €72.50 eight years ago). On 7 December 2015, Euronext ejected the French heavy weight Électricité de France (EDF), largest nuclear utility in the world and "pillar of the Paris Stock Exchange", from France's key stock market index, known as CAC40. One day later, EDF shares lost another four percent of their value, which led to a new low, a drop of over 85 percent from its 2007 level. ... The French nuclear industry's international competitors are not doing much better. AREVA's Russian counterpart Atomenergoprom as well as the Japanese controlled Toshiba-Westinghouse were both downgraded to "junk" ("speculative") by credit-rating agencies during the year."24

In the United States, utilities announced two more reactor shut-downs in 2015: the FitzPatrick reactor in New York will be shut down in 2016, and the Pilgrim reactor in Massachusetts will be closed between 2017 and 2019. Five reactors are under construction but a greater number have been shut down recently or will be shut down in the next few years. The last reactor to start up was in 1996. In August 2015 the Environmental Protection Agency released its final Clean Power Plan, which failed to give the nuclear industry the subsidies and handouts it was seeking.25

A decade ago, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission was flooded with applications for US$127 billion (€117b) worth of reactor projects. Now, obituaries for the US nuclear power renaissance are being written.26

The situation is broadly similar in the United Kingdom − the nuclear power industry there is scrambling just to stand still. It should be clear by the end of this year whether the extraordinarily expensive Hinkley C EPR project will go ahead. According to the World Nuclear Association, most of the UK's reactors are to be retired by 2023.27 If other projects prove to be as expensive and difficult as Hinkley C, it's unlikely that new nuclear capacity will match retirements.

In Japan, only two of the country's 43 operable reactors are actually operating. Perhaps half or two-thirds of the reactors will eventually restart. Five reactors were permanently shut down in 2015, and the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi have been written off. Before the Fukushima disaster, Tokyo planned to add another 15−20 reactors to the fleet of 55, giving a total of 70−75 reactors. Thus, Japan's nuclear power industry will be around half the size it might have been if not for the Fukushima disaster.

New reactor types to the rescue?

Rhetoric about super-safe, better-than-sliced-bread Generation IV reactors will likely continue unabated. That said, critical reports released by the US and French governments last year may signal a shift away from Generation IV reactor rhetoric.

The report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) − a government authority under the Ministries of Defense, the Environment, Industry, Research, and Health − states: "There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen."28 IRSN is also sceptical about safety claims: "At the present stage of development, IRSN does not notice evidence that leads to conclude that the systems under review are likely to offer a significantly improved level of safety compared with Generation III reactors ... "

The US Government Accountability Office released a report in July 2015 on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other 'advanced' reactor concepts in the US.29 The report concluded:

"While light water SMRs and advanced reactors may provide some benefits, their development and deployment face a number of challenges. Both SMRs and advanced reactors require additional technical and engineering work to demonstrate reactor safety and economics ... Depending on how they are resolved, these technical challenges may result in higher-cost reactors than anticipated, making them less competitive with large LWRs [light water reactors] or power plants using other fuels ... Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs. It is a multi-decade process, with costs up to $1 billion to $2 billion, to design and certify or license the reactor design, and there is an additional construction cost of several billion dollars more per power plant."

According to a US think tank, 48 companies in north America, backed by more than US$1.6 billion (€1.48) in private capital, are developing plans for advanced nuclear reactors.30 Even if all that capital was invested in a single R&D project, it would not suffice to commercialize a new reactor type.

Dan Yurman notes in his review of nuclear developments in 2015: "Efforts by start-up type firms to build advanced reactors will continue to generate a lot of media hype, but questions are abundant as to whether this activity will result in prototypes. For venture capital firms that have invested in advanced designs, cashing out may mean licensing a design to an established reactor vendor rather than building a first-of-a-kind unit."14


1. WNN, 4 Jan 2016, 'World starts up 10, shuts down eight, nuclear reactors in 2015',


3. Steve Kidd, 8 Jan 2016, 'After COP-21 - where does nuclear stand?',
4. Miklos Gaspar, 18 Dec 2015, 'Q&A: What's Next After COP21?',

5. Andrew Topf, 27 Dec 2015, 'China's $1 Trillion Nuclear Plan',

6. International Energy Agency, 2014, 'World Economic Outlook 2014',


8. 30 Jan 2015, 'A breakthrough with India's nuclear liability law?', Nuclear Monitor #797,

9. Kumar Sundaram, 15 Oct 2015, 'Koodankulam nuclear plant in India is not working', Nuclear Monitor #812,

10. Giles Parkinson, 21 Jan 2016, 'India energy minister says solar power now cheaper than coal',


12. Steve Kidd, 6 Oct 2014, "The world nuclear industry – is it in terminal decline?",


14. Dan Yurman, 20 Dec 2015, '2016 Look Ahead for Nuclear Energy',

15. 23 Sept 2015, 'Brazil's nuclear power program in crisis', Nuclear Monitor #811,


17. WNN, 9 Jan 2014, 'Policies hold European nuclear steady',

18. Tara Patel, 23 July 2015, 'France Passes New Energy Law Quadruples Carbon Price',

19. WNN, 23 July 2015, 'French energy transition bill adopted',

20. Michael Stothard, 26 Nov 2015, 'France's nuclear industry on back foot over new energy law',

21. Terje Osmundsen, 20 April 2015,

L'Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie (ADEME), 2015, 'Vers un mix électrique 100% renouvelable en 2050',

22. 15 Oct 2015, 'EPR fiasco unravelling in France and the UK', Nuclear Monitor #812,

23. 7 May 2015, 'European Pressurized Reactors − a negative learning curve on steroids', Nuclear Monitor #803,

24. 4 Jan 2016, 'World Nuclear Industry Status as of 1 January 2016: Mind the China Effect',

25. Tim Judson, 18 Aug 2015, 'US EPA takes nuclear out of the Clean Power Plan', Nuclear Monitor #808,

26. Dan Yurman, 8 Jan 2016, 'What happened to the U.S. nuclear renaissance?',


28. IRSN, 2015, 'Review of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems',

Direct download:

29. U.S. Government Accountability Office, July 2015, 'Nuclear Reactors: Status and challenges in development and deployment of new commercial concepts', GAO-15-652,


Mainstreaming the nuclear exit

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Michael Mariotte − President of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service

It's no great revelation to say that the mainstream media, fractured though it may be these days, holds great power. It's not direct power; the media can't make actual decisions. Rather, the media grabs a theme − a meme if you want − and holds on to it, and repeats it, and provides slight twists to it so it can be repeated again, until it becomes accepted wisdom. While the media, especially the mainstream media, is often behind the curve, behind reality, once it catches up and snares and spreads that meme, it doesn't take long for it to establish itself. And once a concept becomes accepted wisdom, then the actual decisions tend to follow in unison. As a group, politicians rarely stray far from accepted wisdom.

For many years, from the 1950s through the '70s, the accepted wisdom was that nuclear power was safe, advanced, and a great asset to society. Then reality crashed the party with Three Mile Island and the nation's most trusted person Walter Cronkite's terrifying (although incorrect) statement that radiation was coming through the walls of the containment building, and the accepted wisdom began to turn away from nuclear power; Chernobyl was too distant in both distance and political structure to end the industry entirely, but it was icing on the cake. And thus nuclear power began a period of decline that reached a nadir in 2000 when there was not a single reactor under construction anywhere in the western world.

But then, the media − which loves a man bites dog story − latched onto the idea pitched by nuclear PR flacks and backed by a couple dozen (in retrospect, mostly bogus) construction application licenses, that a nuclear "renaissance" was in full swing. Once again, nuclear was not only acceptable, it was a preferred energy source, free of carbon emissions. That notion − and forced payment from ratepayers by Public Service Commissions more supportive of industry than those same ratepayers − was enough to get the construction cranes set up at Vogtle and Summer at least. Limited reactor construction also resumed in Europe, and China joined the pack too.

Reality showed its cruel face again, however, as costs for those reactors spiraled upward and construction schedules indicated that for each month of construction, the utilities gained nothing − they were still the same amount of months away from completion. Adding to the crush of the "renaissance" was Fukushima, which brought the legitimate fears of the nuclear age to a new generation.

While the "renaissance" fizzled, at least the industry could take comfort in the fact that it could continue to rely on, and make money from, its large number of paid-off reactors. Except as those reactors aged and as they confronted new costs from required Fukushima-related upgrades (although those have been extremely modest, especially in the U.S.), their operating and maintenance costs increased. Even more importantly, the costs of competing electricity generation sources plummeted at the same time. The result was an ever-increasing number of existing reactors are either now losing money or on the verge of doing so.

And the mainstream media has finally picked up on that reality: that it's not just that nuclear reactors have safety issues and radioactive waste problems and the like but that nuclear power can no longer compete with the alternatives. Moreover, the changes in energy costs that cause that reality are not only making nuclear power obsolete, they are making the entire utility system and its reliance on baseload power obsolete. And the more that reality is repeated and becomes accepted wisdom, the more real decisions reflect that.

Thus, you get the EPA's Clean Power Plan dropping its intent to prop up existing reactors. The EPA's Gina McCarthy may still be giving lip service to the nuclear industry1, but where it counted the EPA did what clean energy advocates wanted, not the nuclear industry.

That's one example of a real decision.

So was the Washington DC Public Service Commission's scuttling of the proposed Exelon takeover of Pepco. Behind that decision was sincere concern both about Exelon's reliance on a failing fleet of nuclear reactors and its hostility to renewables. Exelon is now trying to sweeten the deal2 but what it doesn't seem to understand is that its roadblock is Exelon itself − perhaps the epitome of the utility of the past.

Recently there have been a plethora of articles picking up the same theme: alternatives to nuclear are cheaper than existing reactors, and that means big changes ahead for the entire utility industry.

Consider this passage from an article in U.S. News, once the most staid and Republican of the three big weekly news-magazines: "Cheap natural gas, together with plummeting prices for wind and solar, has upended the energy sector – not only making nuclear plants' huge upfront costs, endless regulatory approvals and years-long construction especially prohibitive, but undercutting the very idea of a centralized power system."3

That's exactly the kind of sentence that sparks nightmares in utility suites, especially those most dependent on nuclear and coal power.

The previous accepted wisdom, that if nothing else nuclear reactors are "carbon-free" or nearly so, and that closing them would mean giving up on fighting climate change, is also beginning to bow to reality. Because while cheap and dirty gas is indeed a competitor today, in the longer run (and not much longer), the real competition is clean renewables.

A piece from Politico − about as mainstream as it gets − focused on the perspective of a UBS analyst on Entergy's troubled Fitzpatrick and Ginna reactors. Consider how this article ended:

"The loss of the Ginna plant alone could drive the state's air emissions up 7 percent, that earlier analysis found. Losing another plant, or possibly two, will make it harder to meet tough new federal pollution standards. However, to offset the loss of New York's nuclear facilities, the state could place increasing emphasis on growing the renewable industry. 'If retirements move forward as contemplated, we see a real corresponding uplift to the renewable industry as this becomes the growing source of 'plugging' for any further holes in meeting prospective carbon targets,' he wrote."4

In other words, we don't need to worry that carbon reduction goals can't be met if reactors like Ginna close. Renewables will take their place, and will do so quickly. Indeed, the shutdown of reactors actually opens up the market for a deluge of new renewables.

There were other articles with a similar bent − one from Motley Fool, for example. The mainstream media have finally caught on. It's not just GreenWorld and a few other clean energy blogs anymore. Nuclear power can't compete. Moreover, there is no downside to that. In fact, it's all upside. Closing reactors will hasten the clean energy future and the transformation of electric utilities generally.

The long-sought phase-out of nuclear power began in 2013. It's taken a short break since then, but it's about to resume (indeed it has resumed with Entergy's October 13 announcement that the single-reactor Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts will close by mid-2019). Over the next 18 months or so, state legislatures and regulatory bodies will be making decisions about bailing out a host of troubled reactors. But for the nuclear industry, those decisions are coming too late. Their timing couldn't be much worse. It's not just that bailing out big baseload reactors (and old coal plants for that matter) no longer makes economic sense, it's that the very existence of those obsolete reactors stands in the way of clean energy expansion. Understanding that, and for politicians knowing that it is accepted wisdom, makes the decisions very easy.






Fanciful growth projections from the World Nuclear Association and the IAEA

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

The 17th edition of the World Nuclear Association's biennial 'Nuclear Fuel Report' has been released.1 According to the WNA, the report is "definitive reference source of the world industry" and is available for £870 (US$1340, €1200). Some would say the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report is the definitive source − and it's free!2

"Nuclear electricity output is set to increase at a faster rate over the next five years than we have seen for more than two decades," said WNA director general Agneta Rising.3 The claim is disingenuous given that growth over the past two decades has been negligible − there was 438 operational reactors at the end of 2014 compared to 434 in 1995.4

The WNA provides three scenarios for nuclear power from 2015 (379 gigawatts capacity) to 2035. In the 'reference' and 'upper' scenarios, nuclear reaches 552 GW and 720 GW respectively − growth of 46−90% over 20 years. In the 'lower' scenario, nuclear capacity stagnates until 2030 and then declines with "many" reactor closures in the period to 2035.

The middle 'reference' scenario in such reports is typically promoted as being the most credible − by industry bodies themselves and by the mainstream media. Thus Reuters reported: "The World Nuclear Association Nuclear Fuel report forecasts global nuclear capacity will grow to 552 gigawatts equivalent (GWe) by 2035 from 379 GWe currently, as many countries build new plants as a lower-carbon option and for energy security."3

However, based on long experience, a rule of thumb to apply to projections from nuclear promotional bodies is to ignore the upper and middle/reference scenarios but give some credence to the low scenario. Even the WNA's reference scenario of 46% nuclear capacity growth in 20 years − a compound annual growth rate of 1.9% − is modest and falls well short of matching industry rhetoric about a nuclear 'renaissance'.

The WNA states:

"In both established and potential markets, nuclear power faces an increased competitive challenge from other modes of generation especially in deregulated markets, while continuing to face regulatory and political hurdles. Electricity demand growth is low in most of the countries where nuclear power is well-established, but remains strong in many developing countries and it is in these countries that the great majority of nuclear capacity growth is to be expected."1

The WNA's wishful thinking is at odds with a recent assessment by Steve Kidd, an independent consultant and economist who worked for the WNA for 17 years. Kidd writes:

"Looking forward, despite the many forecasts that point to sustained growth of nuclear, there will be a substantial number of reactor closures. ... Closures for economic reasons are increasingly worrying. Electricity markets are changing rapidly and grids are getting integrated. The incursion of cheap shale gas and lots of renewable power is beginning to cause acute problems for today's operating nuclear units. Loadfollowing, which is economically sub-optimal, will become essential for some reactors to continue. Even where production costs are maintained at low levels, revenues become unstable and reactors can start losing money. Incentives for zero-carbon and reliable operation are found to be insufficient. It is almost certain that further units in the US will close for these reasons. In Europe, the same is likely to happen as the renewable power input surges upwards. ...

"We have learned one thing for certain: it's a lot easier to shut a reactor down than to build a new one. There are alternatives to nuclear for power generation and the competition is getting continuously stiffer. Hence well-researched and articulate critiques against the concept of any nuclear growth ... such as the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report, are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. The combination of aging operating reactors, delayed construction plans combined with escalating costs of new units and competition from renewable power technologies is becoming a compelling story to any lay reader. ...
"Whether the number of reactor start-ups exceeds the number of closures depends on China. Over the next few years, the number of start-ups (five to six per annum) combined with Japanese reactors returning to service should certainly outweigh the number of closures. But in the 2020s things get more unpredictable for both closures and start-ups. Most people's expectations of Chinese growth in nuclear have been cut back substantially. ... Russia's domestic program has also slowed, while many of the claimed reactor export deals are little more than statements of intent. India remains something of an enigma, but it shows few signs of overcoming general problems in completing major infrastructure projects, including local land rights and volatile public opinion."

"The optimistic view that nuclear will eventually take up the substantial place allocated for it in energy scenarios that mitigate climate change (e.g. some of the scenarios in the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook or the main case in the IEA/OECD-NEA Technology Roadmap − Nuclear Energy) holds increasingly little water."

IAEA report

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has produced the 35th edition of its publication, 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050'.5 The report provides estimates of energy, electricity and nuclear power trends up to the years 2030 and 2050. The IAEA has yet again downwardly revised its projections of nuclear power growth, and now projects capacity growth by between 2.4% and 68% from 2014 to 2030 (average annual capacity growth of 0.1−3.3%). Uncertainty related to energy policy, license renewals, shutdowns and future constructions accounts for the wide range, the IAEA states.

The IAEA notes numerous "challenges":

"Over the short term, several factors are weighing on the growth prospects of nuclear power, leading to temporary delays in deployment of some plants, according to the report. These factors include low prices for natural gas, subsidized renewable energy sources, and the global financial crisis, which presents hurdles for capital-intensive projects. Heightened safety requirements as a result of stress tests introduced in the wake of the Fukushima accident and the deployment of advanced technologies have also contributed to delays."6

Effects of the Fukushima accident include "earlier than anticipated retirements, delayed or possibly cancelled new construction, and increased costs owing to changing regulatory requirements".5

For many years the IAEA has indulged in the subterfuge of talking about 'operable' reactors, including those that are not operating but might one day be restarted. In its latest report the IAEA is even more disingenuous − all 'operable' reactors are now described as being 'in operation' even though a good number are not (in particular, 42 reactors in Japan).

The IAEA notes that more than half of the world's 438 power reactors 'in operation' are over 30 years old. Despite the need to replace "scores" of retiring reactors, the IAEA claims that nuclear power is still set to maintain − and possibly increase − its role in electricity generation. "In order to maintain such a role, each retiring reactor would need to be replaced," said David Shropshire, the mathematically-challenged head of the IAEA's Planning and Economic Studies Section.6

In fact, nuclear power accounted for 17.6% of world electricity generation in 1996 but just 11.1% in 2014, and it will not maintain that share unless fanciful growth projections are realized and/or total electricity generation and demand stagnate. According to the IAEA report, nuclear accounted for 11.1% of total world electricity generation in 2014 (in terrawatt-hours) and will account for 8.6−11.3% in 2030 and 4.2−10.8% in 2050.

The report provides regional projections:

  • Middle East and South Asia: current capacity of 6.9 GW projected to reach 25.9−43.8 GW by 2030.
  • Eastern Europe: current capacity of 49.7 GW projected to reach 64.1−93.5 GW by 2030.
  • 'Far East' (including China and South Korea): current capacity of 87.1 GW projected to reach 131.8−219 GW by 2030.
  • Western Europe: current capacity of 113.7 GW to fall to 62.7−112 GW by 2030.
  • North America: current capacity of 112.1 GW, projected capacity in 2030 of 92−139.7 GW.

The IAEA notes that its projections out to 2050 are all but meaningless given the high degree of uncertainty: "Given all the uncertainties, these estimates should be considered as suggestive of the potential outcomes."5

The report states that that nuclear power accounted for 4.6% of the world's total energy requirement in 2014, and estimates that nuclear's contribution will be 4.1−5.3% in 2030 and 2.3−4.8% in 2050.

The IAEA's 'low' scenario − negligible 2.4% growth of global nuclear capacity from 2014−2030 (0.1% annual growth) − is designed to produce "conservative but plausible" estimates, the IAEA states, and assumes a continuation of current market, technology and resource trends with few changes to policies affecting nuclear power.

To its credit, the IAEA has published data demonstrating its habit of overestimating nuclear power growth.7 The IAEA's 'high' forecasts have consistently proven to be ridiculous. For example:

  • In 1985, the IAEA's high estimate was 702 GW capacity in the year 2000, but actual capacity in 2000 was 350 GW (50% of the estimate).
  • In 1990, the IAEA's high estimate was 528 GW capacity in the year 2005, but actual capacity in 2005 was 368 GW (70% of the estimate).

Even the IAEA's 'low' forecasts are too high − by 13% on average. For example:

  • In 1985, the IAEA's 'low' estimate was 502 GW capacity in the year 2000, but actual capacity in 2000 was 350 GW (70% of the estimate).
  • In 1990, the IAEA's 'low' estimate was 450 GW capacity in the year 2005, but actual capacity in 2005 was 368 GW (82% of the estimate).

The data compiled by the IAEA shows that only one of the IAEA's forecasts has proven to be accurate − and that was just a five-year 'low' forecast of growth from 2000 to 2005.

The IAEA's forecasts have been sharply reduced since 2010 as the following table shows.

IAEA series: 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates' (






Low estimate 2030 nuclear capacity (GWe)





High estimate 2030 nuclear capacity (GWe)





Estimate 2030 nuclear share of elec. generation capacity (%)(6.2% in 2014)





Estimate 2050 nuclear share of elec. generation capacity (%)





The IAEA's current 'low' estimate for 2030 (385 GWe) is down 29.5% from the pre-Fukushima, 2010 'low' estimate of 546 GWe. The high estimate (632 GWe) is down 21% from the pre-Fukushima, 2010 high estimate of 803 GWe.


1. WNA, 2015, 'The Nuclear Fuel Report: Global Scenarios for Demand and Supply Availability 2015-2035', 17th edition,


3. Nina Chestney, 10 Sept 2015, 'World nuclear capacity set to grow by 45 percent by 2035',

4. IAEA, 'Nuclear Power Capacity Trend',

5. IAEA, 2015, 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050',,

6. Jeffrey Donovan / IAEA, 8 Sept 2015, 'IAEA Sees Global Nuclear Power Capacity Expanding in Decades to Come',

7. IAEA, 2007, Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power: Developments and Projections − 25 Years Past and Future', tables 33 and 34, p.56,

New Swedish government aims for sustainability, nuclear energy in question

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén, WISE Sweden

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.

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

From WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor #785, 24 April 2014

To subscribe to Nuclear Monitor, click here.

US NRC issues uranium license on Lakota Indian land

On April 8, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued an operating license to the Powertech Uranium Corp for its proposed in-situ leach (ISL) uranium mine in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. The move came four months ahead of a public hearing scheduled to hear from opponents of the project. The proposed mine still needs final approval from the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment, the South Dakota Water Management Board, and the US Environmental Protection Agency before it can began operations.

At least eight other uranium companies are known to be targeting the Black Hills. Lilias Jarding of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance told The Ecologist: "We're afraid that if this project goes through ... we'll end up with a ring of uranium mines around the Black Hills.

Activists say that Powertech is working to minimise oversight of its operations. In 2011, Powertech secured the passage of legislation effectively barring South Dakota's Department of Environment and Natural Resources from regulating ISL projects, leaving the state with direct oversight only of water-use and waste-disposal issues. The company has also defeated several measures aimed at increasing oversight, including, a bill that would have required Powertech to demonstrate its ability to restore groundwater quality before opening the new mine.

Over a period of two decades beginning in the early 1950s, about a thousand open-cut uranium mines were opened in and around the Black Hills region. The last mine closed in 1973, but the region remains littered with radioactive debris.

He Sapa, the Black Hills, is a sacred site to the Lakota and numerous other Western Tribes who have long gone to the area for ceremony, hunting game, harvesting medicines and for spiritual renewal. Despite the 1980 Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Sioux Nation, that ruled the US illegally stole the Black Hills from the Lakota, the government has refused to return the lands to the Lakota and it remains a continued central source of conflict between the Lakota and the U.S. government.

The proposed uranium mine is opposed by Indian groups, ranchers, environmentalists and the Rapid City Council. Debra White Plume, an Oglala Lakota activist, said: "We're all standing together. This ain't just a handful of little Indians out on the prairies that you can run over ... this is a broad array of resistance to uranium mining. If they close every door to us, then the only door open to us is direct action. You've got to walk through that door if you're serious about protecting yourself and Mother Earth."

Lakota activists fought off a similar uranium-mining project in 2007, and Debra White Plume says she's determined to see off Powertech.

More information:
The Black Hills Clean Water Alliance
Defenders of the Black Hills
Dakota Rural Action

Protecting against insider nuclear threats

Matthew Bunn and Scott Sagan have written a useful paper on insider nuclear threats − 'A Worst Practices Guide to Insider Threats: Lessons from Past Mistakes'. The paper is part of a larger project on insider threats under the Global Nuclear Future project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A recent example was the apparent insider sabotage of a diesel generator at the San Onofre nuclear plant in the United States in 2012; the most spectacular was a 1982 incident in which an insider placed explosives directly on the steel pressure vessel head of a nuclear reactor in South Africa and detonated them − thankfully the plant had yet to begin operating. All known thefts of plutonium or highly enriched uranium appear to have been perpetrated by insiders or with the help of insiders. Similarly, most of the sabotage incidents that have occurred at nuclear facilities were perpetrated by insiders.

Bunn and Sagan look at past disasters caused by insiders and draw from them 10 lessons about what not to do. The lessons are as follows:

#1: Don't assume that serious insider problems are NIMO (Not In My Organization)

#2: Don't assume that background checks will solve the insider problem

#3: Don't assume that red flags will be read properly

#4: Don't assume that insider conspiracies are impossible

#5: Don't rely on single protection measures

#6: Don't assume that organizational culture and employee disgruntlement don't matter

#7: Don't forget that insiders may know about security measures and how to work around them

#8: Don't assume that security rules are followed

#9: Don't assume that only consciously malicious insider actions matter

#10: Don't focus only on prevention and miss opportunities for mitigation

Matthew Bunn and Scott Sagan, April 2014, 'A Worst Practices Guide to Insider Threats: Lessons from Past Mistakes', Occasional Paper, American Academy of Arts & Sciences,

Small reactor prospects diminishing

World Nuclear News reported on April 14 that Babcock & Wilcox will slash its spending on the 'mPower' small modular reactor project, having failed to find customers or investors. B&W's mPower design was prioritised for deployment under a five-year cost-matching agreement with the US Department of Energy (DoE), and with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) named as the lead customer. The three of them supplied a budget of US$150 million [€109m] per year to develop mPower, hoping to build the first unit by 2022. Six units had been pencilled in for TVA's Clinch River site at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

With the DoE arrangement now one year old, B&W hoped to have secured a number of utility customers for the small reactor as well as investors keen to take a majority share in its development. Spokesperson Aimee Mills said: "There was interest from customers and interest from investors, but none have signed on the dotted line." B&W President E. James Ferland said: "While we have made notable progress in developing a world-class technology, there is still significant work involved in bringing this climate-friendly technology to reality."

B&W has decided to reduce its spending on mPower to a maximum of US$15 million [€10.9m] per year and has begun negotiating with TVA and the DoE to find a workable way to restructure and continue the project.

POWER Magazine notes that "air seems to be leaking out of the SMR balloon lately." In February, Westinghouse announced it would end its 225 MWe Small Modular Reactor project, after a decade of development and many millions of dollars of investment. Westinghouse failed to secure R&D funding from the DoE. CEO Danny Roderick said" "The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it's not the deployment − it's that there's no customers."

In the US, DoE-subsidised R&D continues into the 45 MWe NuScale reactor concept. Elsewhere in the world, construction is underway on the 27 MWe CAREM reactor in Argentina, though claims that small reactors will reduce costs are looking increasingly fanciful − the CAREM reactor equates to US$17.84 billion (€13.0 billion) per 1000 MWe. Work continues on two 105 MWe HTR units at Shidaowan in China; and in Russia, plans are in train for a floating nuclear power plant with two 35 MWe reactors mounted on a barge.

Rio Tinto under fire

The Labour Resource and Research Institute and Earthlife Namibia have released a report on the health of workers at Rio Tinto's Rössing uranium mine in Namibia.1 The report was produced as part of the project Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade ( The study is based on 44 questionnaires carried out with current and former mine workers. The recommendations are:

* Rio Tinto should perform a large-scale epidemiology study with independent medical experts to examine those workers who started working in the 1970s or early 1980s.

* The Ministry of Health and Social Services must get unrestricted access to all medical reports of all workers employed by Rössing.

* All mine workers should be able to have access to their own medical reports.

Historically, the Rössing mine supplied uranium for US and UK nuclear weapons. Workers faced dangerous conditions, poor regulations, and high levels of dust. During the early years of operation, Rössing operated with a migrant labor system which the International Commission of Jurists declared illegal and said was similar to slavery.

The Rössing mine was in the news last year because of the December 3 collapse of one of the 12 leach tanks in the mine's processing plant. Just days later, a similar spill occurred at Rio Tinto's Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory of Australia.

The company is also being criticised for failing to guarantee the rehabilitation of Ranger unless its plans to expand operations at the site are approved. The latest annual report of Energy Resources of Australia (majority owned by Rio Tinto) states that "... if the Ranger 3 Deeps mine is not developed, in the absence of any other successful development, ERA may require an additional source of funding to fully fund the rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area."2 And at Rio Tinto's London AGM on April 15, executive Sam Walsh distanced the parent company from responsibility for rehabilitation, saying: "This is a public Australian company and clearly that is an issue for them."

Justin O'Brien from the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirarr Traditional Owners, said: "The attitude of Rio and ERA demonstrates little has changed in the more than three decades since Galarrwuy Yunupingu described talks over the Ranger mine as 'like negotiating with a gun to my head'. The mining giants have made enormous profits at the expense of Mirarr traditional lands and are now holding the Word Heritage listed area to ransom. It is inconceivably thoughtless and arrogant of any mining company to manage its corporate social responsibilities in this way and regrettably brings to mind the comment made by Mirarr Senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula in 2003: 'The promises never last, but the problems always do'."2

Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation said: "Only hours after the complete collapse of the tank ERA − owned by the UK based mining giant Rio Tinto − released a statement high on bravado but low on evidence claiming all contaminants had been contained and that 'there is no impact to the environment'. This predictable and premature assurance highlighted ERA's desire to at least retain control over its perception, if not its pollution. A subsequent site review commissioned by ERA recently confirmed the long held concerns of many stakeholders that the aging plant is at full stretch and raised serious questions about the adequacy of both infrastructure and management systems at Ranger, finding that the mine had 35 other failed or at risk pieces of critical plant infrastructure or equipment with the potential for major human safety or environmental impacts in operation at the time of the tank collapse. The report recommended that processing not resume processing until these items have been repaired or retired while a further 48 critical assets were recommended to be serviced, repaired or retired within 6-12 months of any future plant restart."3

On the day of the London AGM, IndustriALL Global Union released a report, 'Unsustainable: The Ugly Truth about Rio Tinto', highlighting the multinational's global practices.4 The report exposes Rio Tinto's poor performance in relation to environmental, economic, social and governance issues. Workers from numerous countries staged a protest outside the AGM. Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL, said: "Rio Tinto's blind pursuit of profit at any cost has caused disputes with numerous unions as well as environmental, community and indigenous groups. IndustriALL has launched a campaign working with civil society organizations to defend against Rio Tinto's abuses. Through demonstrating that Rio Tinto does not operate in a sustainable manner, we aim to force the company to live by its own claims."4

1. Bertchen Kohrs and Patrick Kafuka, April 2014, 'Study on low-level radiation of Rio Tinto's Rössing Uranium mine workers',




Eroding nuclear safeguards

The April 16 edition of Canada's 'Embassy' newspaper discusses the gradual erosion of safeguards requirements associated with uranium exports.1 Previously, Canada required that nuclear material exported to China could only be held in facilities in China named in a 'Voluntary Offer' list that Beijing had agreed to with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Such facilities can be inspected by the IAEA − albeit the case that IAEA inspections in nuclear weapons states are few and far between.

Under Canada's revised policy, uranium oxide can be (and has been) exported to a conversion plant in China that has not been placed on the Voluntary Offer list. Instead, if material is transferred to a facility that is not on the IAEA list, an "administrative arrangement" kicks in, requiring China to "provide additional reporting to Canada on the uranium." But the administrative arrangement, and others like it, "are considered protected documents and are not available publicly" according to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Shawn-Patrick Stensil from Greenpeace Canada drew a parallel with Canada's nuclear exports to India: "We've now been moving to selling uranium to markets that have bomb programs, and our non-proliferation policy is dying a death by a thousand cuts. I think this will eventually come back to bite us."

Reuters reported on April 14 that the US, UK, Czech Republic and the Netherlands submitted a paper to a meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) calling on the NSG − a voluntary, 48-country group − to relax its rules to allow nuclear exports to countries such as Israel.2 The paper, seen by Reuters, is a masterpiece of obfuscation. Instead of talking about nuclear exports (to a nuclear weapons state outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), it talks about "facilitated export arrangements".

And this is the indecipherable rationale for weakening nuclear export norms: "With technology progressing at an ever increasing rate, globalised supply chains, and more and more countries developing nuclear and dual use capabilities, the possibility of trade in nuclear related goods between governments not participating in the NSG is becoming more and more likely. ... In order to stay ahead of the curve, the NSG's goals − to control the export of nuclear sensitive goods − might be best served by an open-minded approach aimed at cooperation with non-NSG members and promoting transparency of the NSG guidelines."

A former Israeli nuclear official told Reuters that Israel for years had tried to get the NSG to recognise it as a so-called adherent country "on the strength of the justified truth that Israel is a responsible state", but a number of NSG member states have objected.

There is an ongoing push from the US, UK and others to include India as a member of the NSG. India was granted a "clean waiver" by the NSG in 2008, an important step towards opening up nuclear trade despite India's status as a rogue nuclear weapons states that refuses to sign the NPT or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and is expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Islamabad is also lobbying to be included in the NSG and for an end to prohibitions on nuclear trade with Pakistan.3 China is already using the US−India precedent to expand nuclear exports to Pakistan.




Kazakhstan nuclear company head arrested for corruption

Valery Shevelyov, the executive director of Kazakhstan's major uranium producer and nuclear-fuel cycle operator KazAtomProm, was arrested on April 1 on corruption charges. An investigation regarding the construction of new KazAtomProm facilities named Shevelyov as a suspect in the embezzling US$710 million [€514m], according to Kazakh State Anti-corruption Agency. Shevelyov's predecessor Muhtar Dzhakishev has been in prison since 2009 on similar charges.

European Parliament calls for action on depleted uranium

The European Parliament has called on the EU's Council of Ministers to ensure that all member states support an upcoming UN General Assembly resolution on depleted uranium (DU). The resolution will be tabled in October. Each year the European Parliament provides recommendations to the EU's Council of Ministers on positions that EU member states should take during voting. This year the parliament has called on member states to develop a common EU position that better reflects the overwhelming and repeated calls by the parliament for a global moratorium on the weapons.

At present the EU is split on the topic, with DU users the UK and France opposed during UN votes − two of only four states worldwide to oppose the resolutions, along with the US and Israel − while the rest of the EU votes in favour or abstains. While the number of EU states abstaining each time has been decreasing, continued abstentions by the likes of Sweden and Denmark have been a source of frustration for national campaigns. Globally, 155 states supported the most recent UN resolution on DU in 2012, and the split position within the EU is something of an anomaly in the face of an emerging global consensus.

Renewable energy potential in Europe

An analysis for Greenpeace suggests that it is possible to get 77% of Europe's electricity from renewable sources by 2030 with the help of smart grids, demand management, gas backup and big changes in how the power grid works. The model suggests that by taking a European approach (rather than planning by country) and using a (relatively) new type of power cable the cost of integrating new renewables into the grid can be significantly cut. The report suggests that by 2030 Europe's grid will be able to absorb a renewable share of 77% with some countries, such as Spain, getting all their power from renewable sources. The UK would be on 70%. Around half of Europe's power (53%) would come from wind and solar PV panels.

Nuclear-free Austria stops import of nuclear electricity

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Reinhard Uhrig

Austria’s people decided in a national referendum in 1978 against the start-up of the nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf, which resulted in a constitutional law (Bundesverfassungsgesetz Atomfreies Österreich, 1998). On the other hand, Austrian utilities recently imported large amounts of “dirty” electricity, in particular from the Czech Republic as well as from Germany – including at least 5 % of nuclear electricity.

Electricity in the EU can be traded separately from its guarantee of origin. On the first impression, this system sounds complicated as it makes the process of trading much more complex (issue of certificate, trading of certificate and cancellation of certificate as well as de-labelling the original source of the certificate). On second thoughts the system is simply not working – the general idea of electricity certificates was that by making certificates (guarantees of origin) tradeable separately from the electricity itself, extra revenue would be generated for renewable electricity and hence the investment in renewable energy sources would be supported. As the experiences with renewable electricity certificate systems show not just in the EU, but also in the US, there is no noticeable extra support for “new renewables” through this system, rather customers who are willing to pay a premium buy the renewable parts of the electricity mix, and in particular industry customers buy just anything they can get cheap, including nuclear electricity (as long as it is still heavily subsidized). Electricity certificates are mostly issued for renewable sources, but also for nuclear and fossil generation.

We started off from the position of thinking that electricity certificate systems in general are a stupid and not functioning system, but as there is no major overhaul to the system on the EU-level in sight, we thought it better to reform the system (on a national level) than to carry on lamenting, at the same time closing the worst loophole in the electricity certificate law for the import of nuclear electricity:

Legal aspects of (nuclear) electricity certificates
The Renewables Directive of the EU (2009/28/EC) defines in Article 15 that electricity certificates can be traded separately from the electricity itself. The Electricity Internal Market Directive (2009/28/EC) regulates in Chapter II, Article 9 consumers’ rights for fuel mix disclosure – it is the right of customers to know what sources of electricity they consume (and hence pay for / support).

There is, however, a major snag to this: as electricity can be traded separately from its certificate, electricity bought from an electricity exchange does not as such have a certificate / guarantee of origin with it. (The electricity exchanges account for small amounts of total trade, in the case of the German exchange 17 %, in the case of the Austrian exchange 7 % – most electricity is traded in direct, Over The Counter (OTC)-contracts.)

For electricity bought from the exchanges, the Electricity Internal Market Directive allows suppliers to use aggregated figures for the electricity exchange – an average value, an assumption about the average mix rather than precise figures. This of course contradicts the right of customers for full disclosure of fuel sources.

On the national level of the member states, it got worse: The Austrian Electricity law (Elektrizitätswirtschafts- und Organisationsgesetz 2010) provided in § 79.3 a major loophole for hiding unwanted amounts of electricity: If suppliers were unable (or unwilling) to purchase certificates for electricity, as is the case of electricity bought from the electricity exchanges without buying accompanying certificates, the suppliers could still sell this electricity and label it according to average European values, assumed from data for the previous year / statistics of the European Transmission System Operators (excluding electricity generated from renewable sources, as it was rightly assumed that this would not be sold at the electricity exchanges, but rather for a premium in direct Over The Counter-contracts).

The situation in Austria
With the advent of electricity market reform, Austrian utilities exported more and more “green” electricity (or green electricity certificates) to countries where consumers were willing to pay a premium for this – and selling electricity generated from fossil, nuclear or unknown sources to the Austrian industry (that consumes 57 % of electricity).

Most recent data (2010) show that 14,7 % of Austria's total electricity consumption was either bought from the electricity exchanges without any electricity certificate, or its certificate was sold separately (mostly hydro certificates to Germany). There was no legal requirement for suppliers to provide electricity certificates for all electricity, amounts without certificate were simply called "Strom unbekannter Herkunft" (electricity with unknown origin) in § 79.3 of the Electricity law.

This meant that traders could easily hide the fossil and nuclear parts of their fuel mix behind the smokescreen of "Strom unbekannter Herkunft" – they could even buy electricity from known (dirty) sources, sell it at the exchange and buy it back – whereby it lost its certificate.

The campaign
GLOBAL 2000 and Greenpeace CEE had been campaigning on this issue / “hidden” nuclear electricity in Austria for years. When the majority state-controlled utility “Verbund” started a massive advertising campaign in 2010 positioning itself as “100 % hydro”, GLOBAL 2000 started a campaign outlining that a 100 % subsidiary of Verbund sold almost entirely dirty electricity to the industry. After the Fukushima-events in March 2011, the campaign gained momentum and the Austrian government, eager to demonstrate change, agreed to ban nuclear electricity at a first summit with the two NGOs in June 2011. Quite predictably, some utilities opposed these moves, so the NGOs had to provide detailed legal and financial expertise that a) the proposed legal changes are sound on basis of European and WTO law and b) electricity prices would not skyrocket – the average price increase for labelling all electricity in Austria without nuclear certificates would be in a very modest range from € 0.13–1.95 per average household per year.

We were lobbying for a legally binding prohibition to import nuclear electricity or certificates, but this stalled as the ministry of economics was fiercely opposed to this: The minister argued this would be an infringement to Art 34 TFEU (Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, Free movement of goods) – we argued: yes it would, but this can be justified by Art 194.2 TFEU – the right of member states of the EU to choose their energy sources, that came into force with the Lisbon treaties.

The NGO campaign was backed by Austrian anti-nuclear initiatives, the Austrian Chamber of Labour and the major tabloid in Austria, Kronenzeitung – this helped a lot. When finally even the Catholic Church (in the person of the Klagenfurt bishop) signalled that nuclear electricity imports should be stopped, on April 16th we finally managed to achieve at least a compromise as follows:

1) Labelling: legally binding obligation for disclosure of all electricity that is consumed in Austria -- this includes households and industry as well as pumped-storage hydro (which consumes large amounts of electricity in Austria). The legal changes to the national electricity law will make it mandatory that the entire electricity supplied is labelled, i. e. that electricity can only be sold together with an electricity certificate, and “Strom unbekannter Herkunft” is not applicable any more for fuel disclosure. These changes to § 79.3 are to be drafted this year and come into force by 2015.

2) Nuclear certificates & electricity: Austrian utilities voluntarily exclude certificates and direct contracts from nuclear generation from their portfolio immediately (it would be economic suicide to market explicitly labelled nuclear electricity in Austria anyway). Österreichs Energie (representing the largest utilities in Austria) also agreed that on a voluntary basis they will already start labelling their entire electricity supply by 1.1.2013 for household consumers and the – much larger amounts – for industry by 1.1.2015.

3) Label: there will be a certification label by the (federal) Issuing Body E-Control, developed together with the NGOs, that guarantees that the utility does not use any nuclear electricity or nuclear electricity certificates.

4) Transit: as electricity labelling is consumer/disclosure-oriented, the proposed changes do not affect the transit of electricity through Austria.

Regarding electricity certificates: The Austrian issuing body only acknowledges four types of electricity certificates, three national certificates under RES-law and one international – the EECS-GO (European Energy Certificate System-Guarantee of Origin), where the issuing body is nominated by the state and conforms to fairly tight rules (to prevent double counting of certificates). This excludes systems (RECS, TÜV, ...) that are not as strict, are set up by market players or cannot exclude double counting, which of course immediately perverts the entire system.

The above is a compromise, but a reliable disclosure of all electricity sources is a big victory for the campaign. Lots of people were involved in this campaign, on the NGO-side Friends of the Earth Austria/GLOBAL 2000 & Greenpeace CEE as well as the ÖKOBÜRO legal experts.

If – as we hope – this campaign can be copied to other European countries, full disclosure can give consumers more power in choosing the clean electricity sources they want to consume – and avoiding the ones they do not wish to pay for any more, namely nuclear electricity.

Source and contact: Reinhard Uhrig, anti-nuclear campaigner, GLOBAL 2000 / Friends of the Earth Austria. Neustiftgasse 36, 1070 Wien, Austria
Tel: +43 699 14 2000 18
Mail: reinhard.uhrig[at]

Global 2000

Stop import of nuclear electricity from Russia

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Green World

Russian and Norwegian environmental NGOs oppose increased electricity trade between Russia and western countries, as long as common environmental and safety standards are absent. They urge the Finnish government to stop future import of nuclear electricity from the new Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant-2 (LNPP-2) in Russia. This import will be facilitated by the new power cable between Sosnovy Bor (St. Petersburg region, Russia) and Vyborg (Russia).

The Russian company JSC Edinaya Energeticheskaya Sistema (Unified Energy System of Russia), in cooperation with the State Corporation on Nuclear Energy (Rosatom), is laying an underwater 1000 MW power cable from the  new Leningrad nuclear reactor -2 (LNPP-2, under construction) on the south shore of the Gulf of Finland, to a point south of the city of Vyborg on the north shore. A public hearing of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the cable project was held in Sosnovy Bor in December 2011.

The cable will have a capacity of 1000 MW, and is capable of transporting electricity directly from 1 out of 4 units of VVER-1200 nuclear reactors of the New Leningrad NPP-2. The cable will bypass the limitations in the transmission lines around St Petersburg, and allow a more direct access to the international electricity market via Finland.  In the last years Russian-Finnish transfer of electricity has been about 10-11 TWh/year. This is about the equivalent of the electricity production of the 2 oldest Chernobyl type reactors of Leningrad NPP. These reactors have received a license for the prolonged operation after reaching their 30 years design limit. This political decision was adopted without public participation and EIA.

The High Voltage Direct Current power link-project will decrease environmental safety in the Baltic part of Russia by promoting the prolongation of old and unsafe nuclear reactors and the accumulation of nuclear and radioactive waste on the coastline of our common Baltic Sea. It will lead to environmental dumping, due to lower safety and environmental standards in Russia.

The transport of nuclear electricity is not solely a bilateral decision between Russia and Finland. Also other Nordic and EU countries will be influenced, as electricity imported to Finland will reach the common Nordic and EU market.

1. The new cable leads to environmental dumping

- Electricity import from Russia represents the dumping of cheaper electricity produced with lower environmental and safety standards, on the Nordic market.
Northwest Russia has excess electric generating capacity because of prolonged operation of the first generation nuclear reactors. The reactors have not only passed their 30 year of designed lifetime, but they are also built with serious safety design deficits that make it impossible to meet European safety standards. For instance, EU told Lithuania to close down Ignalina nuclear power plant for safety reasons, although its reactors were newer and better than the two oldest reactors at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant.  

- A common market should have common standards.
EU’s position in the energy dialogue with Russia has been that a common EU and Russia electricity market should have common environmental standards. Therefore EU has shown reluctance to import Russian electricity before environmental and safety conditions are improved. As members of EU, Finland should not act in a way that contradicts this position. 

- Environmental dumping is bad both for the environment and for competition.
The prolonged operation of Russia’s first generation nuclear power reactors will decrease the level of environmental safety in the whole Baltic Region populated by more than 90 million people. In addition to harming the environment by decreasing the level of environmental safety, different standards in the same market is unfair competition.

2. The new cable helps prolongation of old and unsafe nuclear reactors

- Electricity import provides money for the Russian nuclear industry.
Russia’s nuclear operator RosEnergoAtom is one of the companies that will receive increased income from the electricity export. Earning money from electricity export, the operator of the old reactors will be more likely to continue operation. Even though there is surplus capacity of electricity generation in North West Russia, old nuclear reactors that have reached the end of their planned lifetime have received permission for prolongation of operations. This is done without public debate or necessary environmental impact assessments (EIA).

- Electricity import from Russia results in prolongation of old reactors.
Thus the proposed cable will decrease the level of environmental safety in the whole Baltic Region populated by more than 90 million people.

- Electricity import makes the work for decommissioning even more difficult.
Environmental NGOs in Russia work for decommissioning of old reactors, but face a tough challenge in today’s Russia, where organisational freedom is limited. The court system is also not working in our favour. Electricity import from Russia will counteract their efforts.

- The Russian courts have denied the right of NGOs to stop unlawful lifetime extension
Russian NGOs have attempted to use the legal system to stop the unlawful lifetime extension of the old reactors at the Leningrad nuclear power plant, but the effort has not been successful. The courts have so far blocked any discussion of this problem with Russian NPP operators and regulators of nuclear safety.

- Setting conditions for electricity import is a way to help decommissioning.
The Nordic countries, EBRD (The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development) and others have given financial and technical support for safety measures at the old reactors, on the condition that they close at the end of their designed lifetime. Nevertheless, RosEnergoAtom has chosen to prolong their operation. By unconditionally buying the power from RosEnergoAtom, the Nordic countries undermine their own possibilities for actual influence on Russian authorities on this issue. 

NGO's involved in this campaign are Green World, Sosnovy Bor, Kola Environmental Center, Murmansk, Za Priodu, Chelyabinsk and Norges Naturvernforbund / FOE Norway, Oslo.

Source and contact: Green World, Sosnovy Bor, St. Petersburg region, Russia
Tel: +7 921 74 52 631
Email: Bodrov[at]

Energy security for what? For whom?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
The Corner House

Nuclear power is necessary for the energy security of nations, nuclear advocates often declare. But many people who hear the term “energy security” are rightly suspicious of the word “security”. It seems to mean so many things. What kind of security is being talked about? Whose security? Over what time scale? Does “energy security” mean having secure contracts to buy fossil fuels or uranium? Being able to project military force to defend trading routes? Protecting vulnerable centralized energy systems against guerrilla attacks? Or does it mean having enough heat in the winter? Or reducing demand? Or developing renewable energy?

A newly report written by Nicholas Hildyard, Larry Lohmann and Sarah Sexton and published by the Corner House, called "Energy security for what? For whom?" tries to explores the pitfalls of “energy security” as rhetoric and as policy.

Energy is never far from the headlines these days. Conflicts of all kinds – political, economic, social, military – seem to be proliferating over oil, coal, gas, nuclear and biomass. While some interests struggle to keep cheap fossil fuels circulating worldwide, a growing number of communities are resisting their extraction and use. While an increasingly urbanized populace experiences fuel poverty and many people in rural areas have no access whatsoever to electricity, large commercial enterprises enjoy subsidized supplies. As increasingly globalized manufacturing and transport systems spew out ever more carbon dioxide, environmentalists warn that the current era of profligate use of coal, oil and gas is a historical anomaly that has to come to an end as soon as possible, and that neither nuclear energy, agrofuels or renewables (even supposing they could be delivered in an environmentally sustainable and safe manner) will ever constitute effective substitutes for them. For progressive activists, all this raises an unavoidable yet unresolved question: how to keep fossil fuels and uranium in the ground and agrofuels off the land in a way that does not inflict suffering on millions? What analytic and political tools are available to formulate democratic policies regarding “energy” that reflect these realities?

Mainstream policy responses to such issues are largely framed in terms of “energy security”. The focus is on “securing” new and continued supplies of oil, coal and gas, building nuclear plants and even translating renewables into a massive export system; energy efficiency is accorded a lower priority, but transition away from fossil fuels is nowhere to be seen at all. Climate change objectives, though once at the forefront of policy responses, are increasingly relegated as concerns about “keeping the lights on” predominate.

Yet, instead of making energy supplies more secure, such policies are triggering a cascade of new insecurities for millions of people – whether as a result of the everyday violence that frequently accompanies the development of frontier oil and gas reserves, or because the pursuit of “energy security” through market-based policies denies many people access to the energy produced. Indeed, the more that the term “energy security” is invoked, the less clear it is just what is being “secured”.

Like many other political buzzwords, “energy security” has become a plastic phrase used by a range of different interest groups to signify many often contradictory goals. For many individuals, energy security may simply mean being able to afford heating in the depths of a cold winter or having access to a means of cooking – a “logic of subsistence”. For political parties in government, it may mean ensuring that a nation’s most important corporations have reliable contracts with guaranteed fuel suppliers until the next election. For exporting countries, it may mean making certain that their customers maintain their demand for their oil or gas via long-term contracts.

The multiple meanings of “energy security” have become an obstacle to clear thinking and good policymaking. They are also an open invitation for deception and demagoguery, making it easy for politicians and their advisers to use fear to push regressive, militaristic social and environmental programs:

“Energy security is a concept notorious for its vague and slippery nature, no less so because it is bound to mean different things at different times to different actors within the international energy system.” (*1)

This multi-faceted nature makes it difficult, if not impossible, to come up with a definition that is accepted by all, which is hardly surprising given that no single term can capture realities on the ground involving different histories and materialities.

Both the word “energy” and the word “security” have in fact become so detached from their vernacular meaning that they are themselves problems. “Energy”, usually treated today as an abstract concept from physics, makes no distinction among energies derived from wood, muscles, coal, oil, gas, nuclear materials, falling water or moving air. It ignores the diversity of things that different groups want energy for – cooking food for your family? extracting more surplus from workers? – and the different types of political struggle connected with each. It hides the different ways in which energies are bought and sold, and the differing politics of class, race, gender and nation that characterize each energy source. Measuring “energy” and “energy sources” cannot by itself help decide which types, amounts or uses of energy are more important for humanity’s future. It may even get in the way. “Security” is just as problematic. “What kind of “security”? For whom? Which kinds of security are connected with which energy sources? What kinds of strategies are required for each kind of security? How do they conflict or overlap? The word abstracts from all these questions.

By concealing differences and conflicts that have to be acknowledged and brought out into the open, it hinders effective, democratic policymaking related to agriculture, electricity, trade, aid, transport, manufacturing, housing, banking, national development and the role of the military in society.

This Corner House report explores the pitfalls of “energy security” as rhetoric and as policy. Instead of illuminating possible ways forward, the phrase (and the policies that are framed by it) obscures increasing inequality, diverts attention from the need to slow global warming and nurtures underlying conflicts. In sum, it gets in the way of effective discussion about, and organization for, a democratic, fossil-free future. A critical examination is needed to find ways to talk about poverty, climate and other issues connected with “energy” that are more coherent and analytically fruitful as well as better attuned to progressive goals. Putting the collective security and survival of all above the individual short term gain of a few, and acknowledging the deep political, economic, social – and even psychological – entrenchment of today’s locked-in dependence on coal, oil and gas, it would be wise to start now to make transitions in how we produce and transport food and goods – how we live and organize our livelihoods, societies and economies around the world.

*1. Paul Isbell, “Security of Supply”, Oxford Energy Forum, Issue 71, November 2007, pp.3-6 [p.3].

"Energy security for what? For whom?" is published on 16 February 2012, by The Corner House in collaboration with Hnuti DUHA– Friends of the Earth Czech Republic, CEE Bankwatch Network, Les Amis de la Terre-Friends of the Earth France, Campagna per la riforma della Banca Mondiale and urgewald e.V..

It is available at:

Source and contact: The Corner House, Station Road, Sturminster Newton, Dorset DT10 1BB, UK.
Tel: +44 1258 473795
Email: enquiries[at]

Prospects for nuclear power in 2012

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Platts Energy Economist

A surprisingly pessimistic view about the prospects of nuclear energy has been published by Platts, traditionally very close to the nuclear industry, with magazines like Nuclear Fuel and Nucleonics Week. Platts concludes episodic nuclear disasters, like Fukushima, aren't the only challenges to the nuclear industry's future: The industry faces a number of hurdles including financing and new safe-technology construction.

Even before the Fukushima disaster, the long-awaited nuclear renaissance in the West seemed to be running out of steam. There were two main factors behind this failure; the new Generation III+ reactors produced to take account of the lessons of Chernobyl that would spearhead the revival were not living up to their promises, and, more importantly, banks were proving unwilling to provide finance.

The key markets for the renaissance were the US and the UK. As pioneers of nuclear power, potentially large markets and countries that seemed to have abandoned plans for new nuclear plants, a successful revival in these countries would have been a powerful endorsement for these new technologies. Following on, the expected reversal of nuclear phase-outs in Germany and Italy would have provided two more large, high-prestige markets.

These follow-on markets are now clearly off the agenda. However, the US and UK governments seem oblivious to the idea that Fukushima might have any implications for new build plants. The incentives in terms of loan guarantees in the US and long-term Power Purchase Agreements at non-market prices in the UK are still in place. Government commitment appears undiminished.

Yet turning a blind eye to Fukushima is clearly not sustainable. The hope that the disaster can be written off as having relevance only to earthquake and tsunami prone countries with Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactors is no more credible than the hope that Chernobyl would have relevance only to a particular Soviet design operated in an inexplicable way.

Gen III+ claims
The nuclear industry would probably like to forget the claims it made for Generation III+ designs. In short, Gen III+ reactors would achieve the dream combination of being both safer and simpler, making them cheaper and easier to build. The expected overnight (excluding finance charges) construction cost was forecast to be no more than $1,000/kW so that a typical 1,500 MW nuclear power plant would cost $1.5 billion. This was much less than the few plants completed in the  1990s and, not by coincidence, a figure that meant power from new nuclear reactors would be competitive with power from gas-fired plants.

However, the $1,000/kW promise quickly began to unravel when the first order for a Gen III+ design, Olkiluoto in Finland, was priced in 2004 at more than double that level. Construction of the European Pressurized Reactor supplied by French company Areva and its only successor so far in the West, Flamanville in France, has descended into farce. Both plants are now five years over their expected construction time and the latest cost estimates are about double the level forecast at construction start. Most recent serious cost estimates and bids in the past few years for Gen III+ designs have been of the order of $6,000/kW.

However, finance is only partly about build cost. The main issue is risk and comes from the poor record of nuclear plants being built to time and cost, a reputation only worsened by Olkiluoto and Flamanville. The banks have signalled that they are unwilling to bear this risk, leaving three sets of interests that might be able to take it on: the utilities, the vendor or the consumer in some form via the state.

In the past, nuclear power plants have been built with the assumption that consumers would bear the risk because electricity tariffs would recover whatever costs were incurred. When US regulators became unwilling to pass on all these costs in the late 1970s, under pressure from the financial community, ordering there came to an abrupt halt and many plants already ordered and under construction were abandoned. A decade later, as competitive electricity markets began to replace monopolies in Western Europe, nuclear mainly ceased to be a financeable option there too. Although Finland is part of a competitive electricity market, Olkiluoto was fully insulated from it by PPAs lasting the life-time of the plant priced at whatever costs were incurred. Similarly, while France is theoretically an open electricity market, EDF, the builder of Flamanville, remains a de facto monopoly supplier.

The attempted US revival dating back to 2002 was based on shifting the risk from the banks to taxpayers by granting loan guarantees for nuclear projects. Even in today's economic situation, sovereign debt is good enough to convince most banks to lend, allowing borrowing at not much more than base rate. However, there are other problems with loan guarantees in addition to the likely reluctance of vendor countries to add to their debts.

First, according to international agreements, there should be a premium on the loan cost, either a fee or a higher interest rate that reflects this risk. If the size of this premium accurately reflects the risk, logically, the cost of this premium should be the same as if the private sector was taking the risk. So if loan guarantees are economically priced, they may offer no financial advantage. Second, if the project does go wrong and costs escalate, the utility will have to go to the market to borrow more money to support a failing project, a situation unlikely to impress shareholders. The possibility that the plant vendor will shoulder the risk no longer exists following Olkiluoto. When the project started to go badly wrong, Areva quickly refused to honor its 'turnkey' contract and the issue of who will pay the extra billions of euro costs will be settled in a court of arbitration. No vendor is now likely to offer a turnkey contract and, even if they did, banks are unlikely to place any value on such a contract.

This brings the issue of shifting the risk from the banks back to convincing consumers that they must bear the risk. The most likely project in the US to go ahead, the Vogtle project for two AP1000 reactors supplied by Toshiba/Westinghouse is in a state (Georgia) where the regulator is already allowing cost recovery even before the start of serious construction. The other project with a reasonable chance of success, the Summer project, also for two AP1000s, is also in a state (South Carolina) with a compliant regulator. It is unlikely there will be many more states with regulators willing and able to commit consumers to repay all the costs, especially if things go wrong at these sites. The two US projects that were in states with competitive electricity markets were quickly abandoned.

In the UK, despite the political rhetoric that a new nuclear program would receive no public subsidies, what is now likely to be on offer are Feed-in-Tariffs and longterm Contracts for Differences. These effectively ensure that all power from nuclear plants is guaranteed to be sold at a predictable price set outside the market.

EDF is the most likely developer in the UK. Whether it will go ahead with an EPR in the UK is likely to depend on whether the design can survive the problems at Olkiluoto and Flamanville and on how fully the CfDs are guaranteed to cover costs. Since the terms of these contracts will be regarded as commercially sensitive, the public will never know what it has signed up to. But, if construction goes ahead, it can be assumed strong cost-recovery guarantees are in place. How the European Commission will view such contracts, which are blatantly unfair state aid and therefore presumably illegal, remains to be seen.

BRICs + South Korea
China has dominated new nuclear plant orders in the past few years, accounting for 25 out of the 38 reactors on which construction started worldwide between 2008-2010. Six of these units were for Gen III+ designs, four AP1000s and two EPRs. Almost all the others used a design imported from France in the 1980s, which in turn had been licensed from Westinghouse in the early 1970s. This design, the CPR1000, is showing its age and there was an expectation, even before Fukushima, that the AP1000 would replace it. This would have been a huge boost to the AP1000, giving it the volume of orders that might have allowed costs to come down and for teething problems to be solved. The EPR, by contrast, appears to have no prospect of further orders in China.

However, there were signs that the strain of the rapid pace of construction was beginning to show. In 2011, no new starts were made, compared with ten in 2010. Fukusima explains this to a degree, but some might have been expected in the first three months of 2011 before disaster struck. The reason behind the slowdown is the high cost of the AP1000. The large Chinese utilities appear to be looking at other options.

There is now talk of pursuing indigenous advanced designs developed from the CPR1000 as well as Small Modular Reactors. China has always been adept at convincing nuclear suppliers that there was a great future for their particular technology in China. It is unclear whether talk of SMRs and new advanced designs will go any further. China is looking much less committed to nuclear power than it was a year ago.

There is also speculation that China may enter the export market on the entirely unsupported assumptions that its reactors will be cheap and that it can successfully build them away from home soil. South Africa is particularly enthusiastic about Chinese designs, but whether this enthusiasm can be turned into orders remains to be seen.

The reality is that China needs nuclear power much less than the nuclear industry needs China. For its part, Russia did not order any reactors for its home market for more than two decades after Chernobyl. Six plants, started before Chernobyl, remained under construction for well into the 21st century. All except one (the only one using the Chernobyl design) are now finally on-line. The last was commissioned in 2011 after 25 years under construction.

In 2008, Russia began ordering again with a new design, which it claimed was Gen III+. In 2008-10, the government started construction on two reactors per year. It also reported export orders to Turkey, Vietnam, India and Bulgaria, although serious work has not started on any of these projects as yet. It also brought on line the reactor in Iran started in 1975, a curious mixture that appears to be a Russian reactor inside a Siemens containment.

Whether the new Russian design would satisfy Western regulators is not known, but the Russian vendor, Rosatom, does seem willing to do deals no other vendor would, and not just in Iran. For Turkey, it is contracted to build and operate four reactors, selling much of the power in a fixed price range, reported to be about euro 100-120/MWh ($126.87-152.32/MWh).

For India, it has nearly completed two reactors at Kudankulam and is reported to have agreed to supply ten more, despite Indian law allowing some limited liability for vendors in the case of an accident, a liability that is proscribed by international treaty elsewhere. The question marks against Russia are whether it can penetrate the larger developed country markets, whether it can continue to offer the sort of deals it has recently signed up to, and whether the technology would stand up to Western regulatory scrutiny

India, meanwhile, has always been a country where there would be a huge nuclear market tomorrow. In part, orders have not materialized because of the proliferation issues raised by the country's 1975 nuclear weapons test and New Delhi's refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. However, there are also problems of finance and the country's record on construction time and cost. India's nuclear plants probably have the worst reliability record of any nation in the world. Nearly all the country's existing plants are based on the Canadian CANDU design imported before India's nuclear test explosion in 1975.

The deal in 2007 to get round NPT restrictions has opened the way for a flood of reported orders with Areva (EPRs), Toshiba/Westinghouse (AP1000s) and GE-Hitachi (ABWRs). Each has claimed orders for six reactors on top of the ten reactors ordered from Rosatom. India also plans to build six more of its CANDU design. However, none of these deals looks secure and problems of vendor liability as well as finance - vendors are asking for very strong support from sovereign loan guarantees - may mean few will actually go ahead.

South Korea has established a good reputation for building nuclear plants to cost and time, as well as operating them reliably. However, it was not until 2009 that it entered the international market, selling four reactors to the UAE, undercutting bids by Areva and Toshiba by more than 20%. This caused much soul searching in France and Japan, where the nuclear industry was mortified at being beaten so comprehensively by what they would see as their technological inferiors. The design South Korea offered is based on a US one, the Combustion Engineering System 80+, which was given safety approval in the US in 1997, but which would now require significant upgrades to be licensable in Europe and the US. Work has yet to start in the UAE and it remains to be seen whether South Korea's bid was realistic, or whether it was seriously under-priced, failing to taking into account the issues of building away from home soil. If things go wrong, Korea's entry to the nuclear export market could be short-lived.

Lifetime extensions
Before Fukushima, there was a strong trend to obtain lifetime extensions for existing plants. Particularly in the US and France, there was an expectation that plant life would be extended from 40 to 60 years (and perhaps 80 years). In France, this has worsened Areva's problems because France already has more than enough nuclear capacity. Extending existing plants' life to 60 years would mean that the first replacements would not be needed till nearly 2040, leaving Areva dependent on exports in the meantime.

Nevertheless, if the renaissance is indeed still-born, life extensions would mean vendors would continue to have a strong, safe business for a further 20-30 years, providing services, replacement equipment and fuel. That is how the world nuclear industry has survived the past two decades.

However, while life extensions in the US do not seem to have been affected by Fukushima, very surprisingly, in France, they have. EU-mandated 'stress test' at nuclear plants were widely seen as not being likely to uncover much. Essentially it seemed that safety authorities were being asked to assess whether the reactors they had licensed were indeed safe.

Yet it was the French authorities, not known for their aggressive handling of EDF, that have provided the most significant criticisms of existing plants. In its initial review in September 2011, France's nuclear regulator seemed to be following up on the issues of subcontracting it had identified as causing problems at Flamanville. In January 2012, the regulator signalled that life-extension was not going to be the license to print money it is often seen as. In short, life-extension would cost about euro 1 billion per plant, about the cost projected originally for a brand new plant.

Technological cul-de-sac
If plant life extensions can be achieved in France and the US and Gen III+ does prove a blind alley, it raises the question of what options are open to the nuclear sector. Ten years ago, the industry answer would have been Generation IV designs. Unlike Gen III+, which evolved from existing Pressurised and Boiling Water Reactors, these would be based on radical new technologies. Six technologies were selected by the major nuclear countries as the most promising.

However, ten years on, they seem no closer to commercial deployment. These designs were a mix of designs already pursued, such as sodium cooled fast reactors and helium/graphite high temperature reactors and totally untested options such a lead-cooled fast reactors. The more familiar reactors have a very poor record so far, despite all major nuclear nations trying to develop them over the past 50 years. Demonstration fast reactors like Superphenix, Monju and Dounreay and high temperature reactors like THTR-300 and Fort St Vrain had highly problematic, often short lives.

How the nuclear industry is going to solve problems it has failed to solve over the past 50 years is not clear. The radical new designs require major technological development and progress and it is hard to see who will fund that.

Small Modular Reactors, the latest 'rabbit out the nuclear hat' are generally based on scaled down BWR or PWR technology and illustrate the nuclear industry's schizophrenic attitude to reactor size. This is well illustrated by the history of the AP1000 and the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor. Around 1990, Westinghouse claimed that they had looked for the scale economies of building ever bigger reactors and found they were not there. They therefore developed the AP600 design, half the size of the reactors they had previously been offering. This received regulatory approval from the US authorities in 1997.

However, by then, it was clear that the AP600 was hopelessly uneconomic, so Westinghouse nearly doubled its output in the AP1000, which received final regulatory approval in December 2011. The AP1000 is still proving far too expensive and China is now examining the possibility of scaling it up to 1800 MW to reduce cost.

The PBMR was meant to be a small modular reactor that would fit more easily into small electricity systems. The capacity of sites could be expanded in small steps. The idea was that it could also be upgraded by increasing the coolant temperature from about 850° C to more than 1000° C making it one of the Gen IV designs, the Very High Temperature Reactor. If such temperatures could have been achieved, efficient production of hydrogen from water using a catalytic process would have been feasible.

South Africa licensed pebble bed technology from Germany in 1998, the 80 MW Modul 80 design, and immediately uprated it to 110 MW. What happened over the next decade is not well reported by the South Africans, but after a decade, the project was running about 25 years behind its original schedule, the estimated cost of a demonstration plant had increased 30-fold and a design fit to submit to the regulator had still not been completed. It appears economics were a serious problem because the design was successively uprated from 110 MW to 125 MW, then 137 MW and finally 165 MW. In 2010, the South Africans belatedly admitted defeat. SMRs may turn out to be the latest in a long lineof nuclear designs that looked good on paper, but could not make the transition to commercial technology.

Nuclear prospects
Despite attempts by some governments and the nuclear industry to pretend that the Fukushima disaster is not relevant to future investments, it will be decades before the full impact of Fukushima is understood. Chernobyl was a nuclear power plant of dubious design, operated in an inexplicable way in a decaying Soviet Republic, yet 25 years later, no design that was produced to take account of Chernobyl's lessons has entered service.

Fukushima's technology is much closer to the designs that dominate existing capacity and Gen III+ designs. It was also installed in probably the most technologically sophisticated country in the world and the country that taught the world quality control.

The reality the nuclear industry may have to face is the one that has been around since Three Mile Island, that designing a PWR or BWR that can survive a loss of coolant and loss of site power and still be economic is simply not feasible. Fukushima may therefore mark the effective end of the nuclear renaissance in the West.

Nevertheless, the UK and the US will probably build some new units proving only that if enough public money is thrown at nuclear power, new reactors can be built, but the scale of support needed will limit the number to no more than a handful and, as the lessons from Fukushima emerge, the designs available now may need significant and expensive modification. The prospects are somewhat better in the rest of the world, led by the BRICs, but even there, the question marks over costs and technology may mean that nuclear optimism in those countries proves short-lived.

To emphasise the importance of life-time extension of existing nuclear reactors for the nuclear industry to survive, now new build is not even close to projected numbers, a new research program headed by the US Department of Energy will begin to investigate the case for reactor lifespans of greater than 60 years.

United States
The US system sees reactors originally licensed for a period of 40 years, with the possibility of a one-off 20 year licence renewal. The majority of operating US reactors have already received this and the remainder are expected to eventually apply.

The Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) program will look to clarify "risks by investigating technical foundations for ensuring the safe and economic operation of reactors in any second life extension period." In an 'integrated program plan' released on 1 February, four distinct research and development pathways were outlined, including materials aging and degradation, advanced light water reactor nuclear fuels, advanced instrumentation, and information and control systems technologies.

The oldest of the 104 operating power reactors in the USA passed the 40 year mark in 2009 and have renewed licences due to expire in 2029. The program report notes that "without further extending reactor lifespans and adding new reactors", nuclear generation in the US will begin to fall off rapidly after 2030 and possibly much sooner.

France "has no option but to extend the lifespan of its nuclear power plants as any investments to renew its nuclear capacity or to increase its reliance on other forms of energy would be too costly and come too late", the French Court of Audit said in a report published 31 January 2012. "...In the absence of investment decisions an implicit decision has already been made which commits France either to prolong the reactors' lifespan beyond 40 years or to quickly change the energy mix, which implies more investments," said the report on the costs of the French nuclear power sector.

The Court recommended that the choice of the future of the energy mix should not be made in an implicit manner but that a strategy should be explicitly elaborated, debated and adopted.

The report, commissioned by Prime Minister Francois Fillon in May 2011, comes as France's reliance on nuclear power has become, for the first time ever, part of the country's presidential campaign in the aftermath of Fukushima. While the ruling UMP party plans to maintain the country's nuclear share of 75 percent in the electricity mix, the highest in the world, socialist candidate Francois Hollande said he would bring down that share to 50 percent by 2025.

(Written by WISE Amsterdam)
Sources: World Nuclear News, 3 February 2012 / Reuters, 31 January 2012

Source: February 2012 issue of Platts Energy Economist. Platts is a leading global provider of energy, metals and petrochemicals information.


Prolonging nuclear power will hinder renewables

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

A new report has outlined why ending the use of nuclear energy matters for the development of renewable energy infrastructure. Electricity needs can entirely be met through renewable energy sources by 2050. The report states the last nuclear power plant can be removed from the grid in 2023 and the last coal-fired power plant in 2046. Extending the lifespans of nuclear power plants would damage vital investment interests and set back the switch to renewable energy by decades.

The study, "2050. Die Zukunft der Energie" (2050. The future of Energy, only available in German), concludes that nuclear is incompatible with renewable energy sources (RES) and that nuclear power plant lifetime-extension will seriously hamper RES-development. With a quick phase-out of nuclear and coal, Germany's electricity consumption could be covered 100 percent by RES by 2030. If coal and nuclear is phased out slowly, it will take until 2050.

The author of the study, Professor Dr. Olav Hohmeyer, is member of the German Expert Council for the Environment (SRU), who advises the German Government, and also vice-chairman of IPCCs working group on climate change mitigation. SRU has recently published an analysis, in which it concludes that the potential of renewable energy outweighs the current and future need for electricity in Europe many times.

In the midst of the ongoing debate over whether to extend the lifespan of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition has said it will raise 2.3 billion euro annually from the fuel-rod tax from 2011 as part of its austerity measures for the coming years. The nuclear tax plan is tied to an ongoing debate about extending the operating lives of nuclear reactors. Above that Merkel said she is in favor of the plant operators making further financial contributions in return for longer reactor operating lives to promote RES.

Germany's nuclear reactor operators -E.ON, RWE, EnBW AG and Vattenfall Europe AG- have warned that the government's plan to tax the fuel could make reactors unprofitable and they were forced to close he power plants (proponents of nuclear power thought that was a stupid threat).

During 2009 four of the 17 nuclear power plants in Germany were out of commission for more than 10 months, and that at times as many as eight of them were out of commission.

On August 30, Angela Merkel, coming off a recent tour of energy facilities around Germany, said in an interview with public broadcaster ARD that "on technical grounds, [an additional] 10 to 15 years is reasonable."

In a statement two days earlier, Merkel said renewable energies should supply half of all energy needs by 2050 and that nuclear and coal power would continue until supplies could be met entirely by clean energy. But that, many say, is a false argument: What is needed is more competition in the field of energy and that will happen if nuclear is phased out and allow investors to install new production capacity.

Electricity in Germany isn’t particularly cheap. In theory, the German power market has been liberalized since 1998, but there is little true competition. The four large nuclear energy firms produce around 80 percent of Germany’s power. This market dominance keeps consumers from profiting from economically produced nuclear power.

If the lifespan of reactors is extended, it will merely cement this dominance – likely leading to higher prices. On the other hand, systematically taking nuclear power plants off the grid would provide openings for potential competitors. Many municipal utilities have already prepared for the nuclear phase-out by investing in renewable energy. Keeping reactors running longer will snuff out their chances before they even get started.

A rapid conversion to renewable energy would have the added benefit of hindering a market-dominating concentration of power production. In the future, electricity creation will be more decentralized and there will be a greater number of providers. Proper competition ensures lower prices and hinders companies from developing a market monopoly.

The ‘2050. Future of Energy’ report claims extending operational life of nuclear power stations will not be as profitable as expected after all, because energy from renewable sources enjoys legal priority over nuclear and coal power. It is fed into the grid before electricity from non-renewable sources.

"Renewable energies are feeding into the system in a flexible way, depending on weather conditions for example," Bjoern Klusmann, director of Germany's Renewable Energy Association told Deutsche Welle. "Because of the priority given to renewables in the German grid, the conventional power stations, so coal and nuclear and other fossil power stations, have to react in a flexible way to the production from renewables. Nuclear energy is not as flexible as is needed for this future concept of renewable energy being the dominant part in our grid."

As the capacity of electricity from wind or solar sources increases, conventional electricity sources will only be needed to fill in gaps when there is a lack of wind or sun. But it takes about 50 hours to restart a nuclear power plant that has been completely shut down, meaning it would be necessary to keep the plant running at 50 or 60 percent capacity. Gas powered turbines, however, can be turned on within 20 minutes and can also be run on biogas. Other possibilities to bridge fluctuations in renewable electricity output include the decentralized approach of using micro-power stations or accessing the batteries of electric cars.

It was calculated that if the lifespan of the power plants were increased by 28 years, energy companies will have to come to terms with turning the reactors off some 15,800 times between 2020 and the date when the last plant is shut down. That would cost the operators between 21 and 80 billion euros (US$26.7 billion to US$101.7 billion).

So it is clear that the nuclear operators will try very hard lobby vehemently to reverse the law giving electricity from RES priority on the grid. And that would be very bad consequence of lifetime extension and hinder the development of RES enormously. That is one of the reasons for the fact that with a quick phase-out of nuclear and coal, Germany's electricity consumption could be covered 100 percent by RES by 2030. If coal and nuclear is phased out slowly, it will take until 2050.

The debate over extending the running time of Germany's nuclear plants has sparked a deep debate in the German parliament. Merkel said any extension would come in a form that circumvents Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat.

However, doubts have been raised by the interior and justice ministries that an extension of more than 10 years could be illegal if it were not approved by the Bundesrat, which is made up of the governments of Germany's 16 states. And the Bundesrat has a SPD/Green Party majority after the May election in North Rhine-Westphalia.

The government now faces resistance to its plans to postpone the phase-out schedule with nine out of 16 German states opposed to them, including Hamburg, Thuringia and Saarland which are led by Merkel's own Christian Democrats. Ministers from both North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate have said that they will press for a judicial review in Germany's Constitutional Court, if the government goes ahead without Bundesrat approval.

A decision on the policy is expected late September.

Sources: FOX Business, 26 August / Deutsche Welle, 26, 28 & 30 August 2010 /  Die Zeit, 27 August 2010 / '2050. Die Energie der Zukunft', University of Flensburg, August 2010, available at


Stop Nuclear Power - Join the Baltic Sea info tour

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Nuclear Heritage Network

The Baltic Sea Info Tour will inform about nuclear power and its risks as well as about the renewable alternatives. The Tour group will travel around the Baltic Sea in summer 2010, informing and emancipating young people and calling citizens of all ages to raise awareness of the challenges of nuclear industry and current development surrounding the Baltic Sea area.

The Baltic Sea Info Tour is arranged by different groups, organisations and individuals who share the concern of radioactive pollution. The Tour topics will be arranged by local people. Everyone can take part and join the Tour by informing, arranging local action, joining the network meetings, spreading information about nuclear issues or just showing up in the events. Every step counts!

The Baltic Sea is one of the most radioactively polluted sea compared to other water bodies in the world. This has happened mainly because of the radioactive releases of nuclear power plants in the Baltic Sea area (mostly due Swedish and Finnish power plants), the radioactive particles distributed from the Tschernobyl accident, nuclear bomb tests in the atmosphere and Sellafield’s discharges.

Also the Russian and Lithuanian reactors increased the amount of radioactivity in the Baltic Sea. Additionally the proposed uranium mining projects and final disposal sites as well as nuclear transports are strengthening the risk of pollution for the vital sea between Finland, Russia, Baltic States, Poland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

Including the impacts of uranium mining, processing of the ore to produce nuclear fuel and the disposal of the created long-life nuclear waste, the operation of nuclear power plants has an immense impact to the global warming. Nuclear power is expensive and dangerous and the resources used in the nuclear industry would be more beneficial for present and future generations if spent in renewable energy systems.

The Info Tour has started as an action of concerned people of the Baltic Sea community. The tour will inform people about the facts of uranium energy and radioactive pollution of the Baltic Sea. The tour will activate and emancipate people to take part in the events of the local stops. The Tour will advance active courage both locally and in large social and ecological systems.

The tour is an informative event, dedicated to the Baltic Sea, embracing the communities surrounding the Baltic Sea. We want to discuss the challenges with people living across the Baltic Sea and to give more information about certain issues connected to radioactivity, nuclear power and renewable alternatives.

The Baltic Sea Info Tour will consist of different kinds of activities: street actions, information events, workshops, performances, discussions, local gatherings, spreading of flyers and posters. The Tour will include several stops in the Baltic Sea countries. It will start from Finland in June and end in Finland in August 2010 visiting: Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

Contact: Baltic Sea Info Tour.
Tel. +358 41 7243254