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US government calls on Japan to reduce plutonium stockpiles

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The US government has called on Japan to reduce its stockpiles of separated plutonium. The request was made by the US Department of State and National Security Council ahead of next month's extension of a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, Nikkei Asian Review reported.1

Japan can reprocess spent nuclear fuel under the Japan-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which is expected to be automatically extended beyond its expiration on July 16. If the two countries come to any agreement about Japan's plutonium stockpiling, it is unlikely to be included in the treaty-level Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.

Nikkei Asian Review reported that Japan's nuclear regulator is expected to adopt a policy of capping the plutonium stockpile and delaying the start-up of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant. However the start-up of Rokkasho has been delayed over 20 times and it is unclear whether serious consideration is being given to a further delay to deal with the problem of growing plutonium stockpiles.

Tokyo "will respond in good faith to the [US] request, but this will also require efforts by power companies," said a Japanese government source. "This isn't something that is going to happen overnight."1

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that the Cabinet Office's Japan Atomic Energy Commission will incorporate measures to curb plutonium stockpiling in its five-point basic nuclear policy expected at the end of June; and that a reduction in plutonium stockpiles held by Japan will also be specified in the government's basic energy plan, which will be revised next month.2 The government's draft policy allows for separation of plutonium from spent fuel based on the projected amount to be used in reactors as mixed plutonium-uranium oxide fuel (MOX), Asahi Shimbun reported.

It seems that the government will pressure utilities to operate more reactors using MOX rather than conventional uranium fuel. The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan estimates that MOX fuel should be used at 16‒18 reactors to keep Japan's plutonium stockpile from rising.2 Of the nine reactors that have restarted in the past few years, four can use MOX fuel.2

The prospects for plutonium-fueled fast reactors could hardly be bleaker. Japan has permanently shut down the Monju fast reactor, and Japan's involvement in the planned ASTRID demonstration fast reactor in France is in doubt.3,4

Ending the reprocessing of Japan's spent fuel (currently in Europe, later at Rokkasho) would signal serious intent to address the problems associated with plutonium stockpiling (including the regional tensions and proliferations risks arising from Japan's plutonium program). But the Japanese government seems determined to go ahead with Rokkasho despite the endless delays and the mind-boggling increases in the cost estimates ‒ the latest estimate is ¥2.9 trillion (US$26.4 billion; €22.9 billion).2 Japan's Atomic Energy Commission estimated in 2011 that building Rokkasho and operating it for 40 years will cost ¥11.68 trillion (US$106 billion; €92 billion).5

Costs associated with reprocessing Japan's spent fuel in Europe are also mind-boggling. The Citizens' Nuclear Information Center reported in August 2017 that the cost of reprocessing and transporting back to Japan and managing the high level radioactive waste, which is at present overseas, is estimated at ¥13.9 trillion (US$127 billion; €110 billion) and fabrication of MOX fuel at ¥2.3 trillion (US$20.9 billion; €18.1 billion).6

(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)

1. Nikkei Asian Review, 10 June 2018, 'US demands Japan reduce its plutonium stockpiles',

2. Yusuke Ogawa, Rintaro Sakurai and Shinichi Sekine / Asahi Shimbun, 17 June 2018, 'Japan to cap plutonium stockpile to allay U.S. concerns',

3. Asahi Shimbun, 31 May 2018, 'Scaling back of French reactor a blow for nuke fuel reprocessing',

4. Asahi Shimbun, 18 June 2018, 'EDITORIAL: Japan should disconnect from fast-breeder reactor project',

5. Atomic Energy Commission Bureau, 10 Nov 2011, 'Estimation of Nuclear Fuel Cycle Cost',

6. Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, July/August 2017, 'Project Cost Estimate for the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant', Nuke Info Tokyo No. 179,

The problems with Japan's plutonium: What are they and how do we deal with them?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Caitlin Stronell ‒ Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, Japan

The Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) recently organized a seminar with guest speaker Prof. Frank von Hippel, a nuclear physicist from Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security, presenting alternative ways to dispose of spent fuel instead of reprocessing, as well as options for disposal of separated plutonium. After this presentation of technical solutions, a panel discussion took place. Prof. Eiji Oguma, a historical sociologist from Keio University's Faculty of Policy Management and a well-known commentator on the post-Fukushima anti-nuclear movement in Japan, pointed out the political barriers that must be overcome if any of these technical solutions were to be actually implemented, no matter how much more reasonable they may seem from economic and safety perspectives. CNIC's General Secretary, Hajime Matsukubo was also on the panel and brought into the discussion the international implications of Japan's plutonium policy including the US-Japan Nuclear Agreement.

Prof. von Hippel explained that plutonium disposal is a global problem, with more than half of the existent separated plutonium being produced as a result of civilian reprocessing, the rest produced for military purposes. Disposing of the plutonium that had been produced for weapons during the cold war has been a huge headache for the United States with planned disposal by burning it as MOX fuel in commercial reactors proving hugely expensive.

America has all but abandoned its half-built MOX plant and is now looking towards the 'dilute and dispose' option. This process would use glove boxes to mix 300 grams of plutonium oxide into a can of 'star dust' (a secret ingredient from which plutonium would be difficult to separate again). This can would then be placed in a plastic bag and another 'outer blend can.'

Another way of immobilizing plutonium is the Hot Isostatic Pressing method, which is being developed in the UK and utilizes radiation-resistant, low-solubility ceramic. After plutonium has been immobilized, it is safer to bury it underground than keep it on the surface and Prof. von Hippel mentioned the deep borehole disposal method which uses techniques developed for drilling oil and geothermal wells that can bore five kilometers into the earth. In the US, however, plans for a demonstration project of this method of radioactive waste disposal were rejected by local governments.

Prof. von Hippel stressed that the main lesson for Japan is that separated plutonium is extremely difficult to dispose of and that it is definitely better not to separate any more than is already stockpiled. Instead of sending spent fuel from the nation's nuclear power plants to Rokkasho for reprocessing, it would be safer and much cheaper and more efficient to set up dry cask storage for the spent fuel onsite at the plant. Prof. von Hippel showed us successful examples of this method in the US and suggested that there were moves in this direction in Japan as well.

Prof. von Hippel's detailed technical solutions were very convincing. Yet despite the dangers of holding such a large plutonium stockpile (47 metric tons, enough for approximately 6,000 nuclear weapons), despite the massive costs involved and despite having no concrete viable plans as to how to actually use the separated plutonium, official Japanese government policy is to continue to separate even more plutonium at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which is currently due to commence operations in 2021.

In the panel discussion which followed Prof. von Hippel's presentation, Prof. Oguma agreed that reprocessing was most certainly problematic, but, he pointed out, it will be extremely difficult to just put up onsite storage of spent fuel, no matter how reasonable a technical solution it is. Political consent must be gained from the people in communities, which will not just be hosting the nuclear power plant, but will be asked to store its radioactive waste as well. As Prof. Oguma pointed out, especially post-Fukushima Daiichi, no one trusts the Japanese Government's nuclear policy and the likelihood that they will agree to yet another imposition that can be perceived to be long-term and dangerous, is very low.

Much of the Japanese public also believes that onsite storage is merely an excuse for the nuclear industry to keep afloat. If spent fuel pools fill up, utilities will not be able to operate their plants. For many activists this is one way of closing them down, which is their main aim. Prof. Oguma argued that a minimum requirement for any form of political consent to onsite storage would be a clear commitment by the government to phase out all nuclear power by a fixed date, so that the final amount of waste can be determined and will not just keep growing, along with the burden on local people. 

This is a significant difference in perspective. Prof. von Hippel's main aim is to stop reprocessing and reduce stocks of separated plutonium, even if nuclear power generation continues, but Prof. Oguma claims that without an overall reassessment of the entire nuclear power policy it will be impossible to gain political consent for Prof. von Hippel's proposed onsite storage.

The economics is not as straightforward as it sounds either. While it is undoubtedly cheaper, in a purely mathematical sense, to simply dispose of spent fuel as waste, instead of reprocessing it and fabricating MOX fuel, the accounting systems of utilities make the more efficient alternative of direct disposal very difficult. At the moment, spent fuel is counted as an asset on utility balance sheets under the premise that it will become MOX fuel. If reprocessing is officially abandoned, all of the spent fuel 'assets' will become 'liabilities' and many utilities will be facing possible bankruptcy.

Prof. Oguma suggested that the only way to overcome all these political and economic barriers is for the government to disclose all information on nuclear power and reprocessing and to conduct an open public debate on how to proceed. If a public consensus is reached, based on all the scientific, technical and economic data available, then reprocessing should be stopped.

CNIC's Hajime Matsukubo pointed out that the Japanese government's accountability crisis was not just domestic, but international. Building up such large stocks of plutonium at huge cost and with no credible purpose inevitably makes neighboring countries suspect Japan's intentions. Indeed documents recently revealed show that the present Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has long been an advocate of Japan becoming a nuclear weapons state. Japan's opposition to President Obama's proposal that the US adopt a no first-use of nuclear weapons policy, was reported in the Japanese media. Thus Japan's credibility as a strong advocator of non-proliferation is already failing and the plan to separate even more plutonium at Rokkasho could easily provoke a regional nuclear arms race, destabilizing the region, just as hopes rise that the situation in North Korea may improve.

Mr. Matsukubo also pointed out that Japan is the only non-nuclear weapons state that is permitted to separate plutonium under the US-Japan Nuclear Cooperation (123) Agreement. This creates double standards which weaken the entire global non-proliferation regime. For example, Saudi Arabia is negotiating a 123 Agreement with the US and demands that it also be allowed to reprocess spent fuel 'like Japan.'

For all of the above safety, economic and non-proliferation reasons, it would seem that there is plenty of ammunition for the movement against reprocessing. Indeed, Mr. Matsukubo said that in many ways it should be easier to stop reprocessing than stop nuclear power generation. Why hasn't this happened? As well as the difficulties mentioned by Prof. Oguma, there is also the factor that the movement against reprocessing in Japan has not been as strong as the movement against nuclear power. Reprocessing seems like a more convoluted, more removed issue, perhaps difficult for people to grasp and focus on.

All speakers agreed that the movement against reprocessing must be strengthened. The first thing that must be done to achieve this is to raise awareness and understanding regarding this issue within the broader anti-nuclear movement (both power generation and weapons) and the general public. Providing accurate information on the nuclear fuel cycle in a format that people can understand is the vital first step. As many people as possible must be informed about the costs, the dangers and the alternatives. The movement must be strong enough to demand that governments and utilities disclose all data, engage in an open debate and commit to implementing the consensus which emerges.

Prof. Oguma said that he and many other activists in Japan were committed to conveying the messages of Fukushima to the larger world, and to contributing to international solidarity on ending nuclear power. This also includes understanding how other countries see Japan. The plutonium issue is one that has particularly strong international impacts and implications and by pursuing this present policy the Japanese government is only damaging Japan's international credibility, especially regarding non-proliferation.

The seminar concluded that, whether on an international level or a domestic one, the Japanese government must restore accountability and democracy, it must formulate a responsible nuclear policy that is demonstrably safe, economic and realistic and which has the consent of the people. Viable technical alternatives to reprocessing spent fuel are available but can only be implemented through raising awareness and a change in political will, which as a movement, we must focus on with added strength.

Originally published in Citizens Nuclear Information Center, Nuke Info Tokyo, No. 184, May/June 2018,

Reactor-grade plutonium and nuclear weapons: exploding the myths

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Many Nuclear Monitor readers will have heard the argument before: reactor-grade plutonium (RGPu) produced in the normal course of operation of a reactor cannot be used for weapons production and thus claims about the connections between peaceful and military nuclear programs amount to anti-nuclear scuttlebutt.

The premise is false − RGPu can be used in weapons, and has been used in weapons ‒ and in any case the connections between peaceful and military nuclear programs are manifold.

The debate over the weapons-usability of RGPu has been going on for decades and has been covered in Nuclear Monitor (e.g. #787, 6 June 2014). It has essentially been solved: there is no doubt that RGPu can be used in weapons ‒ yet some nuclear industry insiders and lobbyists persist with the fiction that it cannot.

Gregory S. Jones has written a 170-page on the book on the topic, published by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and available online at no cost. Jones is a defense policy analyst with 44 years experience. He was part of the research team whose findings prompted the US government in 1976 to reveal, for the first time, the weapons-usability of RGPu.

Jones' book ought to be the last word on the matter; but of course the nuclear lobby will keep lying. For example, Jones' detective work proved beyond any reasonable doubt that a much-debated 1962 US weapon test did indeed use RGPu. That research was published in 2013 yet it has been largely ignored and many still claim the 1962 test used weapon-grade or fuel-grade plutonium.

Likewise, one prominent advocate of the nuclear industry's line of argument claims that a British weapon test in South Australia in 1953 used RGPu and it must have been unsuccessful (or at least underwhelming) since the UK subsequently used weapon grade plutonium in its bombs. But in fact there is compelling evidence that weapon grade plutonium was used in the 1953 test.

The book covers the technical debates in detail, and Jones explains the issues in simple terms. Take for example the most glaringly stupid aspect of the pro-nuclear position ‒ even if we accepted the fiction that RGPu cannot be used in weapons, reactors can nonetheless produce weapon-grade or near-weapon-grade plutonium simply by shortening the irradiation time. Jones writes:

"In late 2012, Iran abruptly discharged all of the fuel from its Bushehr PWR. After some months the fuel was reinserted, but the reason for this discharge was never explained. As I have written elsewhere, Iran (or any country with a LWR) has the option of producing near weapon-grade plutonium by simply discharging the fuel in the outermost part of the reactor core after just one irradiation cycle instead of the normal three. The country could cite safety concerns as the reason for the early discharge. Since countries such as Iran plan to produce their own reactor fuel, it would not be hard for them to deliberately introduce flaws into the fuel that they produce so that early discharge would be required.

"It is sometimes said that to use a power reactor in this manner would be uneconomical but there is no prohibition against operating a nuclear power reactor in an uneconomical fashion. After all, it is universally acknowledged that the use of plutonium containing fuels in LWRs (mixed oxide fuel, MOX) is uneconomic but the practice continues in countries such as France and Japan. Therefore, even if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were to detect the production of low burnup fuel at a nuclear power reactor, it would have no basis for taking any action to prevent it."

The list of chapters gives some indication of the breadth of the book:

1. Why Countries Might Choose Reactor-Grade Plutonium for Their First Weapon

2. A Short History of Reactor-Grade Plutonium and Why the Nuclear Industry Is Wrong to Downplay Its Dangers

3. The Different Kinds of Plutonium

4. Predetonation and Reactor-Grade Plutonium: No Impediment to Powerful, Reliable Nuclear Weapons

5. Heat from Reactor-Grade Plutonium: An Outdated Worry

6. Radiation and Critical Mass: No Barriers to Reactor-Grade Plutonium Use in Nuclear Weapons

7. How Sweden and Pakistan Planned and India May Be Planning to Use Reactor-Grade Plutonium to Make Weapons

8. Did the U.S. and the British Test Reactor-Grade Plutonium in Nuclear Weapons?

9. Conclusions

Appendix: How Much Pu-240 Has the U.S. Used in Nuclear Weapons: A History

Jones' book concludes:

"All things being equal, weapon-grade plutonium is preferred over reactor-grade plutonium for the production of nuclear weapons. However, today, unlike the 1940s and 1950s, all things are not equal. A non-nuclear weapon state would find it difficult to build a plutonium production reactor without being subjected to enormous international pressure and, as Syria found out in 2007, the reactor could be bombed before it even began operation. In contrast, nuclear power reactors are readily available and, as part of the continuing legacy of the myth of denatured plutonium, half a dozen non-nuclear weapon states have large quantities of separated plutonium. Japan currently has several metric tons of plutonium in the form of pure plutonium nitrate solution or pure plutonium dioxide. In 13 years, after the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action expires, Iran will be permitted to reprocess spent fuel to obtain pure plutonium nitrate.

"For countries today, the choice is not between weapon-grade plutonium and reactor-grade plutonium for nuclear weapons but rather between reactor-grade plutonium and no nuclear weapons at all. In the past, both Sweden and Pakistan at one time based their nuclear weapon programs on reactor-grade plutonium when weapon-grade plutonium was unavailable. That neither country would eventually produce reactor-grade based nuclear weapons does not change these facts. In the case of Pakistan, its failure to produce nuclear weapons using reactor-grade plutonium had nothing to do with the properties of such weapons. Rather, the United States recognized the dangers of reactor-grade plutonium and applied pressure to France to block the sale of the reprocessing plant needed to produce separated reactor-grade plutonium. Today, India may have deployed nuclear weapons using reactor-grade plutonium.

"It has been claimed that nuclear weapons manufactured using reactor-grade plutonium would be "unreliable," "unpredictable," "bulky," and "hazardous to bomb makers." None of this is true. The entire 270 metric ton current world stockpile of separated plutonium can be used to produce nuclear weapons by simply using a reduced amount of plutonium that is only 60% of a critical mass and coating the core with a half a centimeter of uranium. Employing early 1950s U.S. unboosted implosion technology and modern high explosives, these weapons would have the same predetonation probability as that of the same type of weapon using weapon-grade plutonium and a near critical core. The weapons would be the same exact size and weight as ones using weapon-grade plutonium, and they would require no special cooling. The gamma radiation from the core would be significantly less than that of an unshielded weapon-grade plutonium core. The only difference would be that while the weapon-grade plutonium weapon would produce a yield of 20 kilotons, the reactor-grade plutonium weapon would produce a yield of only 5 kilotons, though its destructive area would still be about 40% that of the 20 kiloton weapon. Further, boosting technology appears to be becoming more readily available to early nuclear weapon states. Boosted weapons produce the same yield regardless of whether weapon-grade or reactor-grade plutonium is used.

"Many claims about so-called denatured plutonium relate to reactor-grade plutonium produced by spiking reactor fuel with either neptunium or americium. However, this spiking has not been done nor is it likely to ever be done since this would greatly increase the costs and technical difficulty of using plutonium as nuclear reactor fuel. Even then, the plutonium could be used to produce nuclear weapons though in this case some special effort would be needed to cool the core by expanding the size of the core to improve heat dissipation and using thermal bridges to conduct the heat away from the core.

"The obvious solution to the nuclear weapon dangers posed by reactor-grade plutonium is to deny non-nuclear weapons states easy access to this material by banning all reprocessing and plutonium recycling, including unirradiated MOX fuel, from such countries. This was the conclusion of the analysis that I participated in at Pan Heuristics over 40 years ago. Our conclusion led to the Carter Administration to end commercial reprocessing in the United States and to try to prevent it in non-nuclear weapon states as well. The intervening years have only reinforced the wisdom of this recommendation. In the 1970s, those in the nuclear industry objected that such a policy would retard the growth of nuclear power which they believed was destined to be a major if not the main source of electricity generation. The nuclear industry expected that uranium resources would be insufficient to support such a large nuclear industry and only plutonium fuel in breeder reactors could power the large number of reactors that they expected.

"Today there are no commercial breeder reactors and none are in sight. Nuclear power did not grow to become anywhere as important as was predicted and uranium resources have proven to be no constraint on nuclear power. The use of plutonium based reactor fuels is universally acknowledged to be uneconomic. Nuclear energy faces stiff competition from natural gas and renewable energy sources.

"Though plutonium reprocessing in nuclear weapon states poses little proliferation risk, it is clearly uneconomic and unnecessary given the 270 metric ton stockpile of separated plutonium that already exists. Reprocessing should be ended in these countries as well to prevent this unnecessary plutonium stockpile from growing even larger."

Gregory S. Jones, April 2018, 'Reactor-Grade Plutonium and Nuclear Weapons: Exploding the Myths', Nonproliferation Policy Education Center,

Full book (PDF):

(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)

Japan's plutonium puzzle

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

We reported in Nuclear Monitor in October that Japan has abandoned plans to restart the ill-fated Monju fast reactor.1 That decision calls into question the rationale for Japan's ongoing development of reprocessing (in particular the partially-built Rokkasho plant). In the absence of a fast-reactor rationale, the only use for plutonium separated at Rokkasho would be incorporation into mixed uranium‒plutonium MOX fuel (or, of course, incorporation into nuclear weapons). MOX fuel makes no sense since uranium is plentiful and cheaper than MOX fuel.

Hideyuki Ban, Co-Director of the Tokyo-based Citizens Nuclear Information Center, takes up this story in the latest edition of Nuke Info Tokyo:2

"On September 21, 2016, the Ministerial Committee on Nuclear Power, which consists of the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and other relevant cabinet members, adopted a policy entitled "Procedure for Future Fast Reactor Development." This policy included a drastic review of Monju, including its decommissioning, but the continued promotion of the nuclear fuel cycle. Based on the adoption of this policy, the Fast Reactor Development Committee has been established under the initiative of the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. The new policy states that the committee is scheduled to reach a conclusion on future development before the end of 2016.

"However, the decision to decommission Monju will not be overturned by the committee. This is because "The committee will not discuss whether Monju should be continued or discontinued" (Toshio Kodama, President of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency). Thus the committee has been set up and will conduct deliberations on the premise that Monju will be decommissioned.

"The specific actions the Ministerial Committee on Nuclear Power plans to promote for the nuclear fuel cycle are to restart the experimental reactor Jōyō and to cooperate with fast reactor development in France. The fast reactor Jōyō was first started in 1977, and was operated as a non-breeding reactor after its breeding function was evaluated. Its operation has been suspended since an accident occurred in 2008. It is currently under investigation for compatibility with the new regulatory standards.

"France plans to build a demonstration fast reactor named ASTRID (Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration). The cooperation between Japan and France began in 2014. ... The ASTRID project is still at the basic design stage and it has not yet been decided whether construction will go ahead or not. Koji Okamoto (Professor, Nuclear Professional School, University of Tokyo) who has been a strong advocate of nuclear energy in Japan, clearly states in an article contributed to Energy Review, a Japanese industrial monthly, that the ASTRID project is close to coming off the tracks.

"The new Japanese governmental policy states that one purpose of the ASTRID development is to lower the toxicity of radioactive wastes. However, a study (called the OMEGA Project) to reduce the toxicity of radioactive wastes has been ongoing for more than 30 years in Japan, resulting in no practical achievements. Presenting a new aim does not necessarily mean that practical achievements have become more obtainable.

"The construction cost of ASTRID is estimated to be 570 billion yen, of which Japan has been asked to provide 290 billion yen, according to a media report. However, the construction cost is considered likely to increase, and if Japan continues to cooperate, it is certain that the cost shouldered by Japan will increase each time construction budgets are reviewed.

"Even if cooperation with the French project results in some achievements, Japan has no way of taking advantage of them. After the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPS accident, the demonstration reactor project that would follow Monju has been shelved, and has, in fact, been returned to the drawing board, with even the site for construction as yet undetermined. Under such circumstances, it is unimaginable for an area of this country to accept the construction of a fast reactor, which is far more dangerous than a light-water reactor. If a fast reactor cannot be built, the achievements of the cooperation with France cannot be used. Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policy will, it seems, fade away in the not-too-distant future."

Commitment to reprocessing

Yet while the prospects for the development of fast reactor technology in Japan are bleak, there is no sign of any weakening of the commitment to complete and operate the Rokkasho reprocessing plant. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) established the Nuclear Reprocessing Organization (NRO) on 3 October 2016 to pursue reprocessing under the Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Implementation Act, which was approved on 11 May 2016. The NRO's operations are entrusted to Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., funded by obligatory contributions from each electric power utility.3

Perhaps this financial burden imposed on the power utilities will help to slowly unravel the so-far rock-solid commitment to reprocessing.

Abandoning Rokkasho would mean giving up on the sunk costs ‒ the estimated total cost is ¥2.2 trillion (US$18.6 bn; €17.8 bn) and much of that has already been spent ‒ but continuing with Rokkasho means wasting billions more dollars.

If Rokkasho is abandoned, MOX fuel will sooner or later be abandoned. That said, if for some unfathomable reason Tokyo was determined to pursue the use of MOX fuel, existing plutonium stockpiles could be used to produce MOX fuel far into the future ‒ all the more so since it's unlikely that any more than a handful of reactors will be MOX-fuelled in the foreseeable future (of the 26 reactors either approved and under review for restart by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, only five use MOX fuel).

If fast reactors and reprocessing are abandoned, spent nuclear fuel will be managed as waste ‒ it will be destined for deep underground disposal.

International conference

Given the fluid nature of Japan's policies on fast-reactor R&D ‒ and the potential to unravel the government's illogical commitments to reprocessing and MOX ‒ the Citizens Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) and the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists are jointly organizing an international conference on 23-24 February next year at the United Nations University, Tokyo.4

The conference will focus on Japan's plutonium policy and the US-Japan 123 Agreement, which provides the basis for Japan's reprocessing program. The present Agreement came into effect in 1988 and is valid for 30 years. Thus it is due to expire in 2018. The Agreement is subject to automatic renewal unless either party notifies that it would like to negotiate changes. While it is likely that the Agreement will be automatically renewed in 2018, CNIC is planning to use this opportunity to draw attention to the serious problems with Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policy and the growing plutonium stockpile.

Issues to be considered at the conference include the international repercussions ‒ how do countries in the region react to Japan's massive stockpile of plutonium? How do they see the planned Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which will produce a further eight tons of plutonium per year? What is the real stance of the US on Japan's plutonium policy?

Organizers plan to include speakers from South Korea, China and Taiwan as well as several US experts. Japanese experts and government officials, both bureaucrats and members of parliament, will be invited to speak, as will speakers from local communities in Aomori Prefecture, host of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant.

Vitrified high-level nuclear waste shipments

One of the problematic aspects of Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policies has been the many shipments of spent fuel, MOX, separated plutonium and high-level nuclear waste between Europe (France and the UK) and Japan. These shipments are slowly coming to an end.

The Pacific Grebe, laden with 132 canisters of vitrified high-level waste (HLW) being returned from the UK, arrived on October 20 at Japan Nuclear Fuel, Ltd.'s High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Center in Rokkasho-mura.5

From 1969-90 there were more than 160 shipments of spent fuel from Japan to Europe.6 The first shipment of vitrified HLW from France to Japan took place in 1995 and the final shipment was in 2007 ‒ in total, 1,310 HLW canisters were transported. Shipment of vitrified HLW from the UK to Japan commenced early in 2010 and will require about 11 shipments over 8‒10 years to move about 900 canisters. To date, 520 canisters have been sent to Japan from the UK.


1. 5 Oct 2016, 'The slow death of fast reactors', Nuclear Monitor #831,

2. Hideyuki Ban, 5 Dec 2016, 'Planned Monju Decommissioning ‒ The Changed Future of Japan's Nuclear Fuel Cycle', Nuke Info Tokyo No. 175 (Nov/Dec 2016),

3. CNIC, 5 Dec 2016, 'Nuclear Reprocessing Organization Inaugurated',

4. CNIC, 5 Dec 2016, 'International Conference on US-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and Japan's Plutonium Policy 2017',

5. CNIC, 5 Dec 2016, 'Vitrified HLW Returning from UK Arrives in Japan',

6. World Nuclear Association, Nov 2016, 'Japanese Waste and MOX Shipments From Europe',

Sellafield's German PU 'cut and pasted' to France by UK government

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

In a move that overturns one of the major contractual obligations of Sellafield’s overseas reprocessing customers, the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced a deal that will see German-owned plutonium already stored at Sellafield transferred into the UK stockpile rather than being repatriated to German utilities as required under the original contracts.

These contracts, in which customers committed to having their spent nuclear fuel reprocessed in the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP), specifically required the physical repatriation of recovered plutonium to the country of origin. Such contracts, until now, have been robustly defended by Government as being sacrosanct with no leeway for renegotiation.

In what many will see as a significant U-turn by Government on customers’ obligations, the new deal will inevitably raise questions as to why, with a click of a computer mouse, similar arrangements cannot now be made for other foreign owned materials stockpiled at Sellafield, thus eliminating the need for further contentious shipments of highly radioactive materials to be undertaken to overseas customers. These stockpiled materials include the vitrified high level waste (HLW) scheduled for repatriation to Germany and at least 12 tons of Japanese-owned plutonium.

The 13th July 2012 announcement by DECC’s Minister of State for Energy Charles Hendry refers to ‘around 4 tons’ of German plutonium being involved in the deal, some of which had previously been earmarked for conversion to mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in the now defunct Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP). For commercial and security reasons, details of the ‘financial benefits’ to the UK under the new arrangement are not disclosed but are considered by the Government to be sufficient to pay for the estimated costs of managing the plutonium long-term in the UK.

The commercial arrangements of the deal – agreed between the Nuclear De-commissioning Authority (NDA), Fran-ce’s Areva and the German utilities – will allow the utilities to take ownership of an equivalent tonnage of plutonium held at French reprocessing facilities, and to have MOX fuel fabricated in France for their reactors in advance of Germany’s approaching national reactor shut-down. In a move that clearly recognizes the political, security and logistical problems of physically transporting prime terrorist material to Europe, this paper-swap of German plutonium holdings to the UK stockpile also fits conveniently into the Government and NDA’s ‘prefer-red option’ of reusing plutonium in the form of MOX fuel, even though the NDA appears to be having second thoughts with its belated appraisal of GE Hitachi’s PRISM fast breeder reactor to consume the plutonium as an alternative to its reuse as MOX fuel.

The new deal hastens the end the German utilities’ less than happy ex-perience of dealing with Sellafield and THORP. When the plant opened in 1994, Sellafield had secured over 1400 tons of spent fuel reprocessing business from Germany – the plant’s second largest overseas customer.

By 2005 however, when the ban on spent fuel transports from Europe came into force and with some contracts al-ready cancelled, a total of just 850 tons of German spent fuel had actually been delivered to Sellafield. Originally scheduled for completion by 2010, some of this spent fuel still awaits reprocessing today. With other European customers, German utilities have in the past voiced their frustration at Sellafield’s inability to make THORP work properly and vented their anger at the additional reproces-sing costs they consider to have been unfairly passed on to them over the years. 

Whilst DECC’s announcement does not make it clear whether the ‘around 4 tons’ swapped under the new deal accounts for Sellafield’s total holdings of German plutonium, figures from international sources suggests that it does not. They show, for example, that the reprocessing at THORP of 850 tons of German spent nuclear fuel would have resulted in a total of just over 7 tons of plutonium being recovered - including at least 4.5 tons of fissile material. Of this 7-ton total, a small quantity will already have been returned to German customers via a shipment of 4 MOX fuel assemblies from Sellafield in 1996 containing 120kg plutonium, and a further shipment of 16 MOX fuel assemblies - expected to be made in the near future - containing around 450kg of plutonium. The former MOX was fabricated at Sellafield’s MOX Demonstration Facility (MDF – the forerunner to SMP) and the latter at SMP.

Further, in May 2008, an estimated 300kg of plutonium (in dioxide powder form) was shipped from Sellafield to France as repayment for French plutonium used in making MOX fuel orders that had been subcontracted to France by the failing SMP. Of these subcontracted orders a number are confirmed to have been for German utilities and this 2008 shipment is likely therefore to account for a further amount of plutonium having been repatriated to Germany. At most, this shipment together with the 2 MOX shipments would account for a total of up to 875kg of plutonium having been exported from Sellafield’s 7-ton German stockpile. With a further 4 tons now ’exported’ under the new deal, there would appear to be at least 2 tons of German-owned plutonium still remaining at Sellafield.

Source: CORE Briefing 2/12, 15 July 2012
Contact: Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE), Dry Hall, Broughton Mills, Broughton-in-Furness, Cumbria LA20 6AZ, U.K.
Tel: +44 1229 716523
Email: info[at]

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Legal challenges against nuclear power projects in Slovakia and UK

Slovakia's nuclear watchdog violated the law when it issued a building permit for ENEL's 3.7 billion-euro nuclear reactor project, the Supreme Court has ruled. The Italian utility's local unit, Slovenske Elektrarne AS, began building two new reactors at the Mochovce nuclear power plant in 2009 after receiving a permit by the Office for Nuclear Supervision. The Supreme Court has directed the regulator to reopen the public consultation process.[1] The battle continues − the Slovak nuclear regulator UJD said it would order a new round of public consultation but that ENEL can continue with construction.

Greenpeace, along with Ireland's heritage group An Taisce (the National Trust for Ireland), have launched two independent legal challenges to the UK government plans for new nuclear power plants at Hinkley Point, Somerset. The reactor plan is being challenged on the basis of the EU's Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, which requires that affected EU members states are informed and consulted during the planning stage of infrastructure projects that "could have a significant impact on the environment". Irish people were not properly consulted on the proposals.[2]

In a separate case, Greenpeace is challenging the UK Government's decision to grant planning permission for the reactors because it hasn't found a site to store the new nuclear waste, following Cumbria's resounding rejection of a national nuclear waste site in the area.[2]



Greenland uranium ban may be lifted

The ban on uranium mining in the Danish realm is expected to be lifted in the Greenlandic parliament in the coming months. The first reading of the new uranium bill will be on October 1, the second on October 24 and the third in Spring 2014. The decision will then have to be confirmed in the Danish parliament. The Greenlandic government decision will be preceded by publication of two reports – one scientific and independent and one political – on the consequences of lifting the ban. The scientific report has already been written, but the government has so far refused to make it public, a fact that has caused outrage among the opposition parties.

The Greenlandic Minister of Industry and Labour has also stated that a comprehensive public debate on uranium mining is unnecessary, before the ban is lifted, because the government was given a clear mandate to do so during the recent elections.

Abolishment of the uranium zero tolerance policy is not only a hot topic in Greenland, but also in Denmark. Even though the Danish government has given notice that it favours the bill, it could still be voted down in the Parliament. The Danish government is a minority government and even within the government itself there is opposition to lifting the ban.

Avataq, the Danish Ecological Council and NOAH FoE Denmark have weighed in on the debate and last month they published a feature article in Politiken, one of the biggest Danish dailies. The article has been translated into English:
− Niels Hooge


Uranium smuggling arrest at JFK airport. Patrick Campbell of Sierra Leone was recently caught at Kennedy Airport with uranium hidden in his shoes and luggage. He was charged with plotting to sell 1,000 tons of uranium to an FBI agent posing as a broker for Iranian buyers. He had allegedly responded to an advertisement in May 2012 on the website Campbell claimed to represent a mining company in Sierra Leone that sold diamonds, gold and uranium, and is accused of seeking to arrange the export of uranium from Sierra Leone to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, packed in drums and disguised as the mineral chromite.


Plutonium and enriched uranium removed from nuclear test site in Kazakhstan. Working in top secret over a period of 17 years, Russian and US scientists collaborated to remove hundreds of pounds of plutonium and highly enriched uranium — enough to construct at least a dozen nuclear weapons — from a remote Soviet-era nuclear test site in Kazakhstan that had been overrun by impoverished metal scavengers, according to a report released in August by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. The report sheds light on a mysterious US$150 million cleanup operation paid for in large part by the US, whose nuclear scientists feared that terrorists would discover the fissile material and use it to build a dirty bomb.


UK − Heysham shut down after electrical fault. Heysham 1 Power Station shut down both of its nuclear reactors after an electrical fault in a gas turbine generator. Firefighters were called to the plant on August 22. EDF Energy, which operates the plant, said it had been shut down as a precaution. In May, a reactor was shut down after smoke was seen coming from a turbine due to smouldering lagging on a turbine.


Lithuania opposes new reactor in Belarus. The Lithuanian government has made known its deep concerns about Belarus's nuclear power project near Ostroverts, and is demanding work be halted until safety issues are addressed and international treaties are complied with. Two diplomatic notes have been sent to Belarus over the past month to protest earth-moving and other initial work for the plant. "We have many concerns about safety and information we've asked for hasn't been provided," Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said. A UN committee said in April that Belarus wasn't abiding by the terms of the Espoo Convention on cross-border environmental issues.
ESPOO Convention:


Quotable quotes − reprocessing, proliferation and reactor-grade plutonium

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

"The three practical skill sets common to both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons research programmes are nuclear physics, radiochemistry and metallurgy. High performance computing and fluid dynamics mathemat-ical modelling skills are also useful from a design standpoint. In particular, the same practical metallurgical and radiochemical expertise needed to fabricate and reprocess nuclear fuel rods can be readily applied to the extraction, purification, alloying and shaping of the plutonium component of a nuclear warhead."
− Ian Jackson, 2009, 'Nuclear energy and proliferation risks: myths and realities in the Persian Gulf', International Affairs, 85:6, pp.1157–1172,

"Under NPT rules, there is nothing illegal about any State having enrichment or reprocessing technology − processes that are basic to the production and recycling of nuclear reactor fuel − even though these operations can also produce the high enriched uranium or separated plutonium that can be used in a nuclear weapon. An increasing number of countries have sought to master these parts of the "nuclear fuel cycle", both for economic reasons and, in some cases, as a good insurance policy for a rainy day − a situation that would enable them to develop at least a crude nuclear weapon in a short span of time, should their security outlook change."
− Then IAEA Director-General Dr Mohamed El Baradei, 25 March 2006,

"Reprocessing provides the strongest link between commercial nuclear power and proliferation."
– US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 'Nuclear proliferation and safeguards', June 1977, p.12.

"As we see it, however, the world is not now safe for a rapid global expansion of nuclear energy. Such an expansion carries with it a high risk of misusing uranium enrichment plants and separated plutonium to create bombs.'"
– Editorial - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 14 January 2010,

"All nuclear fuel cycles involve fuels that contain weapon-usable materials that can be obtained through a relatively straightforward chemical separation process. ... In fact, any group that could make a nuclear explosive with weapon-grade plutonium would be able to make an effective device with reactor-grade plutonium. ... The main alternative to the once-through cycle involves the separation and recycling of the plutonium and uranium in the spent fuel. Not only is separation and recycle more expensive, it increases greatly the opportunities for theft and diversion of plutonium."
− Steve Fetter, Stanford University's Centre for International Security and Cooperation, 1999, 'Climate Change and the Transformation of World Energy Supply',

"At the lowest level of sophistication, a potential proliferating state or subnational group using designs and technologies no more sophisticated than those used in first-generation nuclear weapons could build a nuclear weapon from reactor-grade plutonium that would have an assured, reliable yield of one or a few kilotons (and a probable yield significantly higher than that). ... In short, reactor-grade plutonium is weapons-usable, whether by unsophisticated proliferators or by advanced nuclear weapon states."
− US Department of Energy, 1997, Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 'Final Nonproliferation and Arms Control Assessment of Weapons-Usable Fissile Material Storage and Excess Plutonium Disposition Alternatives',

"On the basis of advice provided to it by its Member States and by the Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation (SAGSI), the Agency considers high burn-up reactor-grade plutonium and in general plutonium of any isotopic composition with the exception of plutonium containing more than 80 percent Pu-238 to be capable of use in a nuclear explosive device. There is no debate on the matter in the Agency's Department of Safeguards."
− Hans Blix, then IAEA Director General, 1 November 1990, Letter to the Nuclear Control Institute, Washington DC. See also Nuclear Fuel, 12 November 1990, 'Blix Says IAEA Does Not Dispute Utility of Reactor-Grade Pu for Weapons'.

"There is clear scientific evidence behind the assertion that nuclear weapons can be made from weapons-grade and reactor-grade plutonium."
− US Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation, US Department of Energy, quoted in Steven Dolley, 28 March 1997, 'Using warhead plutonium as reactor fuel does not make it unusable in nuclear bombs',

UK Plutonium and MOX Experience

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Martin Forwood

Since the production of plutonium (via the Windscale Pile reactors) for use by the UK's nuclear weapons program of the 1950's, Sellafield's flirtation with the civil use of plutonium has seen little progress and led to technical failure and international embarrassment.

From its military origins, plans to permanently deal with the country's ever-growing plutonium stockpile – currently at 118 tonnes, the largest in the world − have remained largely in the background until 2010 when the UK Government launched a Public Consultation on a range of management options. These included its re-use as mixed oxide fuel (MOX), its sale to third parties or its classification as nuclear waste. Given successive Governments' record of unbridled support for the industry, it is unsurprising that the re-use of plutonium in MOX fuel was chosen as the preferred option. Clearly ignoring recent experiences – as the record shows − both Government and industry appear to have fallen into the trap of actually believing their own propaganda.

Sellafield first turned its hand in the 1960s to the 'civil' use of plutonium which was being recovered in increasing amounts through the site's B204 and B205 reprocessing plant – the latter dealing with the spent from the UK's first generation Magnox reactors. The first of these, the Calder Hall reactors, retaining a dual civil/military role until the 1990s.

This new civil era saw the production of 18 tonnes of plutonium fuel for the Prototype Fast Reactor at Dounreay in Scotland, and some 3 tonnes of light-water reactor MOX fuel. Despite this limited experience, but sensing the growing MOX market being tapped into by European fabricators, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) launched its plans for a MOX Demonstration Facility (MDF) that would 'demonstrate BNFL's ability to produce quality MOX fuel'.

With an 8 tonne per year capacity, MDF operated from 1993 to 1999, producing 44 MOX assemblies for pressurised water reactors (around 660 kgs plutonium) for Japanese and European customers. The facility was closed down in 1999 after the quality assurance data for the only fuel to be produced by MDF for Japan was found, on delivery to Takahama, to have been falsified by MDF workers. Returned to the UK in 2002, the falsified fuel has been pond-stored at Sellafield and is scheduled for transport in 2014/15 to France's La Hague for plutonium recovery.

Despite the scandal bringing the resignation of BNFL's Chief Executive and a compensation payment to Japan (whose utilities called a temporary ban on further dealings with BNFL), the embarrassing event made little impression on BNFL's determination to pursue the MOX fuel market. Plans to enter the market – based on 'the wealth of experience gained within BNFL' − had been laid in 1992 (pre MDF operations) with a planning application for the Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP) whose viability rested on winning major business from Japan.

Sellafield MOX Plant
Surviving legal challenges and 5 rounds of public consultation which focussed largely on the plant's increasingly dodgy economic case, the first plutonium was introduced into SMP in 2002. With small orders secured from German, Swiss and Swedish utilities, the expected business from Japan was conspicuous by its absence. The technical complexity of SMP, largely responsible for its eventual downfall, caused problems from the first days of operation.

Using a 'short binderless' powder mixing process unique to BNFL, the production line consisted of pellet production, rod filling and assembly of the rods into a MOX fuel assembly. Early failures in one section of the production line lead to bottlenecks in other sections and after 3 years of operation only one MOX fuel assembly had been produced. With its design production capacity cut from 120 tonnes per year to 72 – and then 40 tonnes − SMP was forced to sub-contract some orders to rival fabricators in Belgium and France.

Against this background, and taking ownership of Sellafield and SMP in 2005, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) almost immediately commissioned independent reports on SMP from consultants Arthur D Little, whose 2006 report exposed the extent of SMP's problems and concluded that 'looked at pessimistically, improvement plans will fail to live up to expectations leading eventually to an irrevocable collapse in the business case and closure'.

By 2009, with an overall total of just nine assemblies produced in seven years of operation, it was clear that a major engineering rescue package was needed, with an NDA technical assessment concluding that SMP could provide neither the capacity nor longevity to be used for the UK civil stockpile.

In a surprise announcement in 2010, Japanese utilities agreed to pay an undisclosed sum for the refurbishment with a promise of trial orders with a revamped SMP. Fate intervened however in the form of the Fukushima meltdowns which resulted in the interest in SMP by Japanese utilities being abandoned.

In August 2011, the NDA announced the closure of SMP – the blame being laid conveniently on Japanese problems. In reality, the over-complex plant which cost the UK taxpayer £1.34 billion and had produced just 13 tonnes of MOX fuel (32 fuel assemblies incorporating around 800 kgs of plutonium) in its 9-year life, was clearly beyond salvation − with or without Japanese help.

SMP's closure rekindled official interest in managing the plutonium stockpile. The Government's public consultation, already launched in 2010, had assessed a number of management options. Ruling out fast-breeder reactors and immobilisation of plutonium as a waste as options that were either technically immature, impractical or too costly, the Government concluded that the re-use of plutonium in MOX fuel remained its preferred option.

Growing plutonium stockpile
The latest official figures show Sellafield's stockpile amounting to 118 tonnes of separated plutonium which includes 24 tonnes of overseas-owned plutonium. Whilst a majority of the 94 tonnes of UK-owned material has arisen from Magnox reprocessing, the overseas-owned plutonium has been recovered largely in the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) and, under the terms of the original reprocessing contracts, is destined for return to customers in the form of MOX fuel.

However, in a recent Government U-turn on those contractual requirements, title transfers ('paper swaps') of some overseas plutonium has already seen 7 tonnes taken into UK ownership − 3 tonnes of plutonium of German and Dutch origin being transferred in April 2013 (the German material as repayment to France's manufacture of orders sub-contracted by SMP) and a title transfer of 4 tonnes of German plutonium made in 2012 (to allow MOX fuel for Germany to be produced in France in advance of the German nuclear phase-out).

As it stands, owners of the 24 tonnes of foreign plutonium are Japan (16 tonnes), Germany (3 tonnes), and the balance of around 5 tonnes owned between Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Sweden. Given officialdom's tacit acceptance that exporting weapons-useable plutonium − in dioxide powder form – from Sellafield is no longer an accepted option, more title transfers are likely as overseas customers increasingly seek to rid themselves of plutonium ownership. Indeed, the fate of the Japanese plutonium has already been under discussion between NDA and Japan.

For the stock of UK-owned plutonium, which will continue to rise until the 2020 scheduled end of reprocessing, its conversion to MOX as preferred by Government/NDA would require a new MOX plant to be built. Estimated at £6 billion, it remains unclear who would take on such a financially risky project, especially in the absence of any viable market for the fuel and the recent SMP debacle.

Seemingly impervious to these obstacles, the UK Government sees MOX fuel being used either in the UK's fleet of new-build reactors or in Candu 6 reactors overseas. Whilst the latter is an option belatedly suggested by Candu Energy − and still under consideration by the NDA − the former looks increasingly suspect with the UK new-build 'renaissance' in increasing disarray. Further, both reactor types scrutinised so far under the regulatory Generic Design Assessment (GDA) licensing process – the EPR and Westinghouse AP1000 − were assessed on their use of conventional uranium fuel only, with MOX use specifically excluded. A late addition, Hitachi-GE's ABWR reactor, began its expected four-year GDA process only in April this year.

Raising further doubts on the Government's preferred re-use option, the NDA revealed in June 2012 that it had opened talks not only with Candu Energy but also with GE-Hitachi who had submitted a feasibility proposal for the use of its liquid metal-cooled 'Power Reactive Innovative Small Module' (PRISM) fast-breeder reactor (a.k.a. 'integral fast reactor') as an alternative to MOX.

The PRISM proposal, which involves a 60-year program at Sellafield that would see the UK-owned stockpile of plutonium converted to the spent fuel standard of self-protection and proliferation resistance within the first 5 years, is still being assessed by the NDA with a decision expected this summer.

PRISM sceptics rightly point to the earlier rejection of fast-breeders by Government, and the complexity of an immature technology that is still at design stage and would require not only the construction/operation of PRISM itself but also a conversion plant to convert plutonium dioxide to a metal fuel and a pyroprocessing system to process the spent fuel from PRISM for re-use in the fast reactor.

So the jury is still out. Should the decision to approve the PRISM proposal be taken later this year, it would almost certainly mean the end of any future MOX plans at Sellafield. Meanwhile, the UK-owned stockpile of plutonium will remain in storage at a cost of £80 million per year.


'Pizza Cumbriana'
Eight years after it was produced from material gathered from the West Cumbrian coast near Waberthwaite, a radioactive 'Pizza Cumbriana' was delivered to the Low Level Waste (LLW) facility at Drigg on April 29 for disposal as LLW.

Originally presented by Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment in March 2005 to the Italian Embassy in London as evidence of the environmental contamination caused by the reprocessing of Italian and other foreign spent fuel at Sellafield, the condemned pizza has languished with other LLW at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell until 22 February 2013 when it was transported by road to its rightful resting place at Drigg.

In advance of its presentation to the Italian Embassy in 2005, analysis of the pizza by Manchester University's Department of Chemistry revealed levels of radioactivity in the pizza topping − comprised of estuary sediment, sea samphire, seaweed and shells − that classified the material as LLW. The levels of radioactivity included 25,000 Bq/kg of Caesium 137, 25,000 Bq/kg of Americium 241 and levels of plutonium up to 15,000 Bq/kg.

Placed in a traditional takeaway pizza box, it was marked with the nuclear waste danger sign and listed its 'traditional Italian ingredients' as 'Caesium, Americium and Plutonium'. The pizza is still 24,392 years within its sell-by date. (, 29 April 2013)

Cold shutdown reached at Fukushima?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

September 28, 2011 marked a milestone of sorts for the Fukushima Daiichi reactors: some six-and-a-half months after the onset of the accident, temperature levels at all of the reactors and fuel pools fell below the boiling point (100 degrees Celsius) for the first time since March 11. But there are some caveats to that statement. Meanwhile, hydrogen detected in a pipe will cause no explosion "in the immediate future". Plutonium has been found as far as 45 km from the plant.

The temperature at Unit 2 fell only to 99.4 degrees Celsius, and has been going up and down in recent days, so could quickly return to the boiling point. Moreover, while the reactor temperatures are measured at the bottom of the pressure vessel, it’s not clear that is where the hottest temperatures are. Since fuel melted and containments failed, allowing fuel to go below the pressure vessel, temperatures below the vessel where the molten fuel has collected may remain higher than the boiling point.

Meanwhile, the cooling system that has brought down temperatures is a jerry-rigged system nothing akin to the normal cooling systems found in reactors, and its long-term reliability is in serious question. This is especially so because the region continues to suffer earthquakes (a 5.6 earthquake struck the region on September 29), not to mention typhoons and other problems.

In other words, there remains some time before cold shutdown of the reactors can be proclaimed. And in the meantime, radiation releases continue, although they are reported to be a small fraction of earlier releases. They’re now on the order of one million becquerels/hour (as opposed to a trillion/hour a few months ago and thousands of times more than that in March). Although, a caveat to that too: Tepco has admitted that it doesn’t really know how much radiation is being emitted--it’s estimating.

On Oct 2, Tepco announced that it had estimated that the interruption for about 38 hours of water injection into the cores would prompt their nuclear fuels to melt again. Unless water injection is restarted about 18 hours after being stopped, a massive amount of radioactive substances would be released into the environment. In the estimate for the No. 1 to No. 3 reactors at the March disaster-ravaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, TEPCO assumed that their pressure vessels would have no water to cool nuclear fuels when water

injection stops. The temperate of the nuclear fuels would rise by about 50 degrees Celsius every hour from 300 degrees at the time of the coolant loss and reach 2,200 degrees about 38 hours later, the power utility estimated. At that time, the nuclear fuel would start melting, and some would break through the pressure vessel to fall into the containment structure, according to the company.

A couple of reports have struck us recently. One widely reported is that Tepco seriously considering abandoning the Fukushima facility in mid-March when it reduced its on-site workforce to 50 people. Another, also widely reported, is that then-Prime Minister Kan was actively considering ordering an evacuation of Tokyo in mid-March as conditions deteriorated and foresaw a potential end to Japan as a functioning nation. It may go without saying that if Tepco actually had abandoned its efforts at the time, that’s exactly what would have happened.

On September 23,Tepco said that hydrogen has been detected in a pipe at the No. 1 reactor, but there is no possibility it will cause an explosion "in the immediate future". According to Tokyo Electric Power Co., hydrogen of at least 10,000 parts per million was detected at two spots in a pipe passing through the containment vessel on the reactor building's first floor. This concentration was higher than Tepco had anticipated. Although Tepco is not certain how much hydrogen is still inside the vessel, the utility believes it is possible the concentration of the highly flammable gas is higher than had been assumed.

In air and liquid, 10,000 ppm is equivalent to 1 percent. Air containing at least 4 percent hydrogen and 5 percent oxygen is at risk of causing explosion. Tepco has been injecting nitrogen into the containment vessel since April so it is assumed there is virtually no oxygen. As a result, the utility ruled out the possibility of an explosion "in the immediate future."

Japanese officials said they have found, for the first time, small amounts of plutonium from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant as far as 28 miles (45 kilometers) away. At a  October 2, Tokyo news conference, federal officials announced the first discovery plutonium outside the immediate vicinity of the power plant, as well as radioactive strontium in 45 spots as far as 50 miles (80km) from the reactors, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Meanwhile, Tepco is fighting to keep its pre-disaster emergency-response procedures a secret from politicians and the public, arguing they contain valuable trade information. In September the company angered members of a parliamentary committee when it handed over manuals outlining steps that its nuclear plant operators are meant to follow in the case of accidents. All but a few words of the texts were redacted with black ink.

The storm of controversy that followed – one newspaper columnist compared it to wartime censorship – seems not to have softened the company’s stance. Early October it asked Japan’s nuclear safety regulator, which had ordered it to resubmit the manuals without redaction, to allow it to keep much of the material secret. So far only the regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (Nisa), has seen the originals, which run to thousands of pages. It has not passed them on to the lawmakers who originally requested them. 

Tepco has told Nisa that if the manuals are to be made public, 90 per cent of the content related to “severe accidents” such as that at Fukushima should be kept under black ink. “The manuals contain knowhow that we have built up over a long period of operation,” a company spokesman said. “There are also issues of national security.”

Largest trade union changes policy on nuclear power. The leadership of Rengo, Japan's largest trade union organization will rethink the body's energy policy in light of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, with a view to shifting from its stance of promoting nuclear power to one that aims for a society not reliant on atomic energy, according to Rengo sources on October 3. Since Rengo is the largest supporter of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the turnaround is expected to have an impact on the energy policy of the DPJ-led government. Rengo, which counts labor unions of power utilities among its members, has struggled to reconcile differences within the organization over nuclear energy policy. But its leadership has decided on the policy turnaround by taking into account the seriousness of damage brought by the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, they said. In August 2010, Rengo decided for the first time to promote nuclear power generation and back construction of new nuclear power plants.
Japan Times, 5 October 2011

Sources: The Yomiuri Shimbun, 24 September 2011 /  NIRS Fukushima Update, 29 September 2011 / Jiji Press, 2 October 2011 /  UPI, 2 October 2011 / Financial Times (UK), 5 October 2011

Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC). Akebonobashi Co-op 2F-B, 8-5 Sumiyoshi-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0065, Japan
Tel: +81-3-3357-3800


Next plutonium space launch set

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Bruce K. Gagnon, coordinator GNAW & NPS

The next plutonium enabled space mission, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), is scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida between November 25 and December 18 of this year. The MSL rover, known as "Curiosity," will be fueled with 4.8 kilograms (10.56 pounds) of plutonium dioxide. It will be, NASA says, "the largest, most capable rover ever sent to another planet."

Fifty years ago, on June 29, 1961, an electrical generator driven by nuclear energy was launched into space for the first time. NASA sadly appears committed to maintaining their dangerous alliance with the nuclear industry. Both entities view space as a new market for the deadly plutonium fuel.

Back in 1997 the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space organized an international campaign against NASA and the Department of Energy's launch of 72 pounds of plutonium on the Cassini mission. A man by the name of Alan Kohn volunteered to help GNAW&NPS with that campaign. Kohn had been the Emergency Preparedness Officer at NASA during the Galileo (1989) and Ulysses (1990) plutonium launches at the space center in Florida.

By the time Cassini was to be launched Kohn had retired from NASA and felt free to speak out. He told the New York Times, just prior to the launch, that NASA had no plan to contain and clean-up after an accident on or near the launch pad that released plutonium into the environment. He said the operating plan he had worked with during the two previous nuclear launches was a joke and was only intended to serve as a reassurance to the public. Kohn told that a long-time family friend, working in the White House, had informed him that more people contacted Washington opposing Cassini than any other issue in U.S. history.

While NASA maintains that they are "searching for the origins of life" on Mars, in reality they are mapping the red planet and doing soil sampling which is all intended to serve the ultimate goal of establishing a nuclear powered mining colony there in the future. The Haliburton Corporation, known for their connections to the Bush-Cheney administration and fraud in Iraq, has been working on a drilling mechanism for Mars exploration for some time.

The taxpayers are being asked once again to pay for nuclear missions that could endanger the life of all the people on the planet. As we saw in Louisiana, following the Hurricane Katrina debacle, the federal government is not prepared to do disaster relief and clean-up. A plutonium release over Florida could devastate a 60-mile radius - from the space center to Disney World.

It would only take one pound of plutonium-238 released as dust in the atmosphere to give everyone on the Earth a lethal dose of the toxic fuel. Have we not learned anything from Chernobyl and Fukushima? The Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space believes we don't need to be launching nukes into space. It's not a gamble we can afford to take.

You can send NASA a message opposing the plutonium Mars rover mission using the NASA contact page at:

Source and contact: Bruce K. Gagnon. Coordinator Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, PO Box 652, Brunswick, ME 04011, USA
Tel: +1 207 443-9502

Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space

More plutonium destined for WIPP?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The Department of Energy (DOE) Savannah River Site in South Carolina is proposing to ship up to six metric tons of surplus plutonium from nuclear bombs to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico.

Before making the decision to ship surplus plutonium to the WIPP, DOE must provide detailed information about the proposal and consider reasonable alternatives in an environmental impact statement. Public meetings will be held in Carlsbad and Santa Fe late August. The draft statement might be published in 2011 and released for public review, comment and hearings.

In the 1990s, DOE completed two environmental impact statements, but neither of them proposed that any of the surplus plutonium would be destined for WIPP. They proposed a two-track solution where the plutonium would be immobilized or made into nuclear reactor fuel.

DOE now plans to supplement those statements in order to reconsider what to do with 13 metric tons of surplus plutonium. DOE is proposing that approximately six metric tons could be prepared for disposal at WIPP and is considering how to handle the other seven metric tons, including through immobilization.

Activists agree that the scope of the new statement must address whether the plutonium will fit into WIPP, which has a capacity for about seven metric tons. Further, it must address why the plutonium should be transported again. Much of the six metric tons was already shipped from the DOE sites at Hanford, Livermore, and Los Alamos to the Savannah River Site.  DOE claims that the waste is similar to that at WIPP. Activists question why the plutonium was not shipped directly to WIPP in the first place. 

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), managed by the Carlsbad Field Office of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is an underground repository for transuranic radioactive waste, or TRU waste, left over from the production of nuclear weapons. WIPP began operations on March 26, 1999 and is located in the remote Chihuahuan Desert of southeastern New Mexico, about 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad. TRU waste is currently stored at 23 locations nationwide. Over WIPP’s life cycle, it is expected to receive about 37,000 shipments.

Tom Clements, with Friends of the Earth, based in South Carolina, said that they support immobilization. One option in the current statement is to fill small cans with plutonium that is mixed with molten glass and high-level waste. When the small cans are cooled, they are then placed inside a much larger canister that is then filled with the molten high-level waste mixture. He said “For safety, security, non-proliferation and cost reasons, DOE should abandon the option of making surplus plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel and instead vigorously pursue the immobilization option of mixing it back into the high-level waste from which it came.”

Sources: Factsheet WIPP at / CCNS news update 20 August 2010
Contact: Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, 107 Cienega Street,Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA.
Tel: +1 505 986-1973

Analysis triples US plutonium waste figures

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

The amount of plutonium buried at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State is nearly three times what the federal government previously reported, a new analysis indicates, suggesting that a cleanup to protect future generations will be far more challenging than planners had assumed.

Plutonium waste is much more prevalent around nuclear weapons sites nationwide than the Energy Department’s (DOE) official accounting indicates, but the problem is most severe at Hanford, a 560-square-mile tract in south-central Washington that was taken over by the federal government as part of the Manhattan Project

The plutonium does not pose a major radiation hazard now, largely because it is, according to DOE, under “institutional controls” like guards, weapons and gates. But because it takes 24,000 years to lose half its radioactivity, it is certain to last longer than the controls and the gates.

The fear is that in a few hundred years, the plutonium could reach an underground area called the saturated zone, where water flows, and from there enter the Columbia River. Because the area is now arid, contaminants move extremely slowly, but over the millennia the climate is expected to change, experts say.

The finding on the extent of plutonium waste signals that the cleanup, still in its early stages, will be more complex, perhaps requiring technologies that do not yet exist. But more than 20 years after the Energy Department vowed to embark on a cleanup, it still has not “characterized,” or determined the exact nature of, the contaminated soil.

In 1996, the department released an official inventory of plutonium production and disposal. But Mr. Alvarez analyzed later Energy Department reports and concluded that there was substantially more plutonium in waste tanks and in the environment. The biggest issue is the amount of plutonium that has leaked from the tanks, was intentionally dumped in the dirt or was pumped into the ground.

Gerry Pollet, executive director of the environmental group Heart of America Northwest, said the government should embrace a cleanup plan that assures that even thousands of years into the future, an unsuspecting public will not be overexposed.  “What is reasonably foreseeable is that there are people who will be drinking the water in the ground at Hanford at some point in the next few hundred years,” Mr. Pollet said. “We’re going to be killing people, pure and simple.” 

The new analysis indicates that the chemical plutonium separation process was not nearly as efficient as the government claimed and that a lot of the plutonium was left behind in various stages. It also suggests that estimates of plutonium production by the Energy Department and its predecessors, including the Atomic Energy Commission and the Manhattan Project, were not nearly as accurate as scientists and bureaucrats said they were.

A preliminary estimate based on waste characterization data indicates that from 1944 to 2009 about 12.7 metric tons of plutonium was discarded at U.S. nuclear weapon production facilities. This is more than three times than the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) last official estimate of waste losses (3.4 tons) made in 1996. Of the 12.7 tons, about:

  • 2.7 tons in high-level radioactive wastes are stored as liquids in tanks and as granulated material in bins on the sites of former U.S. military reprocessing plants;
  • 7.9 tons are in solid waste, which DOE plans to dispose at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) a geological repository in New Mexico for transuranic wastes. About half is already emplaced; and
  • 2.1 tons are in solid and liquid wastes buried in soil prior to 1970 or held up in facilities at several DOE sites. The DOE considers most of this plutonium to be permanently disposed.

Sources: Plutonium Wastes from the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex by Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, D.C. July 7, 2010; available at: / New York Times, 11 July 2010
Contact: Heart of America Northwest


Plutonium in breathable form found near Rocky Flats

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Activists questioning the thoroughness of the cleanup at the old Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant northwest of Denver say they have found particles of weapons-grade plutonium in air samples taken near the site. Part of the site is a national wildlife refuge that is slated to open for public recreation.

The federal Department of Energy declared in 2005 that its decontamination of the Rocky Flats facility was complete, after a 10-year effort that cost US$7 billion (although the DOE originally thought the project would take 65 years and US$37 billion). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to allow public recreation at a national wildlife refuge established in 2007 on part of the site.

The samples were collected in April by the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, which has criticized the quality of the cleanup and called for increased testing and other safeguards. Plutonium in breathable form was found at two locations near the site of the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant. Their sampling effort responded to repeated refusals of government agencies to sample surface dust at Rocky Flats for plutonium content. What the citizens found with their unofficial project counters U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service plans to open a big portion of the Rocky Flats site – the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge – to public recreation.

The plutonium contained in a sample collected in open space across the street from the Rocky Flats site was delivered by wind to this location. "The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge should be managed as open space that is closed to the public," Colorado state Rep. Wes McKinley told AOL News. "This is not a good place for our school kids to go on field trips. At the very least, there should be a warning that you may be exposing yourself to plutonium."

“The plutonium found at the open space location was probably deposited there quite recently,“ observed environmentalist LeRoy Moore, who organized the sampling project. “Burrowing animals on the site bring buried plutonium to the surface, and the winds that scour Rocky Flats scatter plutonium particles near and far, with the risk of sending some of it into the lungs of people using Rocky Flats for recreation.”

At least equally significant, according to Moore, is the indoor sample. Hot particles with high concentrations of plutonium were found in dust collected in a crawl space under a house where it had accumulated for 50 years. Specialist Marco Kaltofen of the Boston Chemical Data Corp., who did the technical analysis of the samples, pointed out that this plutonium laden dust certainly endangered the health of anyone who spent much time in this crawl space.

Moore thinks that within the contaminated area plutonium-laden dust could be present in any indoor space where dust collects, such as in refrigerator coils, ventilation systems, ceiling fans, etc. “Its presence poses a risk to people who occupy, use or work in these indoor spaces,” he stated. “So far as I know, sampling indoor dust for its possible plutonium content has never been previously done in offsite areas around Rocky Flats.”

Kaltofen pointed out that the plutonium present in the two samples was in the form of very tiny particles. Such particles can be inhaled, ingested or taken into the body through an open wound, such as a child’s scraped knee or elbow. For as long as the plutonium is lodged in the body, it continues to bombard surrounding tissue with radiation. This may result in cancer, harm to the immune system or genetic defects that can be passed on to future generations.

“This small sampling project,” Moore observed, “indicates that Rocky Flats is a local hazard forever.”

Sources: Pressconference RMPJC, 4 August 2010 / AOL News, 4 August.
Contact: LeRoy Moore, PhD, environmentalist and consultant with the Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center,

Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Flamanville-3 two years behind schedule. The construction of the second EPR at Flamville (France) faces the  same problems as the first in Olkiluoto (Finland). Flamanville-3 is now two years behind schedule and at least 1 billion euro (US$ 1.3 billion) over budget, EDF Group announced on 30 July. The company said “the target for beginning marketable output” from the French utility’s first Areva EPR “is now set at 2014, with construction costs now re-estimated at around 5 billion euro. The original date for operation was June 2012 and the most recent cost estimate was 4 billion euro, although the original estimate was 3.3 billion euro.

The delay at Flamanville-3 was confirmed as part of the release of information on EDF’s first-half 2010 financial results. EDF reported that first-half net income of 1.659 billion euro was down 46.9% from 3.123 billion the same time last year. First-half 2010 earnings before interest and taxes were 5.289 billion euro, down from 6.784 billion in first-half 2009, although revenues rose, EDF said.
Nucleonics Week, 5 August 2010

Canada: contaminated turbines to Sweden? Bruce Power plans to ship 16 radioactive steam generators through the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence River, and across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden, later this year. Each generator weighs 110 metric tons and contains over 50 trillion becquerels of long-lived man-made radioactive materials, including five isotopes of plutonium. In Sweden, Studsvik plans to melt up to 90 percent of the radiation-laced metal and sell it as 'clean' scrap intended for unrestricted use. In this way, some of the radioactivity will be dispersed into the air (atmospheric emissions), some will be dispersed into the Baltic Sea (liquid effluents), and some will be incorporated into consumer products of all kinds -- razor blades, hair dryers, paper clips, you name it. The remaining 10 percent will be shipped back to Bruce Power for storage as radioactive waste.

Bowing to public pressure, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission recently agreed to a one-day public hearing in Ottawa on September 29 on this issue.
Gordon Edwards, CCNR, 6 August 2010 / Press release Great Lakes United, 18 August 2010

China: Criticality for fast reactor. The Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) achieved sustained fission for the first time on July 21, according to the owner the China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIEA). The reactor will go on to reach a thermal capacity of 60 MW and produce 20 MW in electrical power for the grid. The first sodium-cooled fast reactor in the country, it was built by Russia's OKBM Afrikantov in collaboration with OKB Gidropress, NIKIET and Kurchatov Institute.

Beyond this pilot plant, China once planned a 600 MWe commercial scale version by 2020 and a 1500 MWe version in 2030 but these ambitious ideas have been overtaken by the import of ready-developed Russian designs. In October last year an agreement was signed by CIAE and China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC) with AtomStroyExport to start pre-project and design works for a commercial nuclear power plant with two BN-800 reactors with construction to start in August 2011, probably at a coastal site.
World Nuclear News, 22 July 2010

Funny. Or not…? From a local Cumbrian (U.K.) newspaper: "The issue of councilors declaring an interest during debates about the nuclear industry is again causing concern due to the amount of time it takes. At August 17th full council meeting at Millom, numerous members of Copeland Council were obliged to stand and declare a prejudicial interest in an agenda item about nuclear new builds. Coun Henry Wormstrup, who has become increasingly frustrated by the practice, said the current system needed reform due to the number of councilors employed by or linked to the industry."
Whitehaven News, 18 August 2010

Danger of tritium underestimated. The health risks of tritium may be undervalued because its possible damage to DNA may lead to genetic mutations, says an expert who participated in a White Paper published by the French Institute of Radiation Protection and Nuclear Monitoring (IRSN) on nuclear safety. This radioactive isotope of hydrogen was released in the past by atmospheric testing of atomic weapons and is now produced by nuclear reactors and the reprocessing of nuclear fuels. Its radiotoxicity is low and the impact of its waste, gaseous or liquid, is considered unimportant. However, the IRSN is calling for "further studies" including on "possible hereditary effects". The IRSN added that further research was necessary which was "representative of the actual conditions of exposure."
Le Monde (Fra.) 8 July 2010

Any plutonium in the basement? In Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet Republic Georgia, a container with plutonium was found at a depot of the now defunct Isotope Institute. The plutonium had not been registered with any state entity. Employees of the former institute told the Georgian Public Broadcaster that they had no idea that plutonium was stored at the depot. The plutonium-beryllium was discovered inside a “special container stored in wax and lead, which was quite safe and presented no danger for the environment,” according to Giorgi Nabakhtiani, a nuclear expert with Georgia's Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Ministry.

"Georgia plans to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency about the unregistered plutonium." Not mentioned is how many plutonium is in the container, although Nabakhtiani said that the laboratory did not contain enough plutonium-beryllium for use in a radiological "dirty bomb."; 30 July 2010 / Bloomberg, 2 August 2010

Energy Solutions opts not to store Italian nuclear waste in Utah, US. U.S. company Energy Solutions will no longer pursue agreements to dispose of Italian nuclear waste in the state of Utah. The Salt Lake City based company told Utah US Representatives of their plans not to store the imported material at the Clive Facility, 75 miles west of metropolitan Salt Lake City in the Tooele Valley. The company maintains it is not bowing to public pressure, but is making a solid business decision. Environmentalists are calling this a huge victory for the people of Utah.

Energy Solutions was hoping to import 20,000 tons of low level waste from Italy that would have been processed in Tennessee, and then the remaining 1,600 tons would have been held in storage in Utah. The company is hoping to consult with Italian nuclear power authorities to reach an agreement on opening a facility in Italy instead.
Fox13News, Salt Lake Tribune, Associated Press, 14 July 2010

Dangerous censorship. Russian authorities removed information on forest fires in radioactive contaminated regions from internet. Removing of important information may help officials to escape from responsibilities, but can not help to improve situation with forest fire.

On Augusts 13, the head of Russian Emergency Ministry Sergey Shoigu publicly demanded to stop the rumours about radiation danger as a result of forest fires in the region of Bryansk. Immediately after this statement, the governmental organization "Roslesozaschita", responsible for protecting forests, removed information about forest fire in radioactively contaminated zones in the west of Russia from its website. A week earlier, on August 6, "Roslesozaschita" officially announced that since June it registered 507 forest fires in regions partly radioactive contaminated. Moreover, the organization strongly recommended the authorities to inform local population about radiation danger. Also, "Roslesozaschita" it published a list of radioactively contaminated forests on fire (for instance 401 fires in the Chelyabinsk region)

"The Emergency Ministry and "Rosalesozaschita" are acting against Russian Constitution when removing information on fires in radioactively contaminated zones from public use. It is very well known that many fires already happened there and that radiation could be re-distributed into new areas. Instead of censorship, authorities must fully inform Russian citizens and other countries about radioactive danger in Chelyabinsk, Bryansk and other regions," said Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman for the Russian environmental group Ecodefense.
Press-release Ecodefense, 14 August 2010

Sutyagin Freed in "Spy" Swap. After serving more than ten years of a 15 year sentence for espionage, Russian arms researcher Igor Sutyagin was freed on July 9 in what is being reported as the largest spy swap between the United States and Russia since the end of the Cold War. Sutyagin was not a spy, but reportedly shared sensitive information about Russian nuclear weapons from public sources with a London firm. His research drew the unwelcome attention of the FSB, Russia¹s secret police successor to the Soviet KGB. His case was taken up by human rights organizations, and the U.S. State Department declared he was a political prisoner. As part of the deal for his release, Sutyagin signed a confession. The Guardian (UK) reports that "Sutyagin's family said he maintained his innocence but agreed to the deal rather than face another four and half years in the 'harsh regime' of the penal colony at Kholmogory near Arkhangelsk." Sutyagin, a father of two girls, had been in prison since in arrest on October 27, 1999.
Nuclear Resister, 9 July 2010

Global Day of Action on Radioactive Waste.
US groups are calling for a radioactive waste action day on September 29, and would like it to be an international day of action! Aim is to push-back on new proposals that would expand radioactive waste production in both the civilian and military sectors

September 29 is the anniversary date for the worst radioactive waste accident (that we know of). In 1957 a tank of liquid, highly radioactive waste left from reprocessing nuclear fuel, exploded in a region of the Soviet Union called Kyshtym in the Ural Mountains of Siberia. The accident was kept secret for several decades, but we now know that it was at a secret nuclear reprocessing site called Mayak. This accident resulted in a regional disaster and a radioactive cloud that contaminated more than 300  square miles…many people received very high radiation exposures, some suffered acute radiation syndrome. Because of secrecy in the nuclear establishment it is not clear what exactly happened but estimates are at least 200 people died of “excess” cancer and scores of villages and towns were permanently abandoned due to the sever radioactive contamination.

Please sign up if you plan to participate so we can have a “master list” of coordinated action – and we can send you any materials we generate…

Contact: Mary Olson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service Southeast Office, PO Box 7586, Asheville, North Carolina  28802  USA.
Or: Kevin Kamps. Radioactive Waste Watchdog, Beyond Nuclear. 6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 400, Takoma Park, Maryland 20912, USA

Obama brings back space nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Karl Grossman

The Obama administration is seeking to renew the use of nuclear power in space. It is calling for revived production by the US of plutonium-238 for use in space devices -despite solar energy having become a substitute for plutonium power in space. And the Obama administration appears to also want to revive the decade-sold and long-discredited scheme of nuclear-powered rockets -despite strides made in new ways of propelling spacecraft.

In May, Japan launched what it called its space yacht which is now heading to Venus propelled by solar sails utilizing ionized particles emitted by the sun. "Because of the frictionless environment, such a craft should be able to speed up until it is traveling many times faster than a conventional rocket-powered craft," wrote Agence France-Presse about this spacecraft launched May 21.

But the Obama administration would return to using nuclear power in space despite its enormous dangers.

A cheerleader for this is the space industry publication Space News. "Going Nuclear" was the headline of its editorial on March 1 praising the administration for its space nuclear thrust. Space News declared that "for the second year in a row, the Obama administration is asking Congress for at least US$30 million to begin a multiyear effort to restart domestic production of plutonium-238, the essential ingredient in long-lasting spacecraft batteries."

The Space News editorial also noted "President Obama's NASA budget [for 2011] also includes support for nuclear thermal propulsion and nuclear electric propulsion research under a US$650 million Exploration Technology and Demonstration funding line projected to triple by 2013."

Space News declared: "Nuclear propulsion research experienced a brief revival seven years ago when then-NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe established Project Prometheus to design reactor-powered spacecraft. Mr. O'Keefe's successor, Mike Griffin, wasted little time pulling the plug on NASA's nuclear ambitions."

Being referred to by Space News, as "spacecraft batteries" are what are called radioisotope thermoelectric generators or RTGs, power systems using plutonium- 238 to provide on board electricity on various space devices including, originally, on satellites.

But this came to an end when in 1964 a U.S. Navy navigational satellite with a SNAP-9A (SNAP for Systems Nuclear Auxiliary Power) RTG on-board failed to achieve orbit and fell to the Earth, disintegrating upon hitting the atmosphere. The 2.1 pounds (1 pound is 453.6 grams) of plutonium fuel dispersed widely. A study by a group of European health and radiation protection agencies subsequently reported that "a worldwide soil sampling program carried out in 1970 showed SNAP-9A debris present at all continents and at all latitudes." Long linking the SNAP-9A accident to an increase of lung cancer in people on Earth was Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, who was involved in isolating plutonium for the Manhattan Project.

The SNAP-9A accident caused NASA to turn to using solar photovoltaic panels on satellites. All U.S. satellites are now solar-powered.

But NASA persisted in using RTGs on space probes -claiming there was no choice. This was a false claim. Although NASA, for instance, insisted -including in sworn court depositions- that it had no alternative but to use RTGs on its 1989, documents I subsequently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act from NASA included a study done by its Jet Propulsion Laboratory stating that solar photovoltaic panels could have substituted for plutonium-fueled RTGs.

And right now, the Juno space probe which will get its on board electricity only from solar photovoltaic panels is being readied by NASA for a launch next year to Jupiter. It's to make 32 orbits around Jupiter and perform a variety of scientific missions.

Meanwhile, in recent years facilities in the U.S. to produce plutonium-238 -hotspots for worker contamination and environmental pollution- have been closed and the US has been obtaining the radionuclide from Russia. Under the Obama 2011 budget, US production would be restarted. Last year, Congress refused to go along with this Obama request.

Source and contact: Karl Grossman