Killing the competition: US nuclear front groups exposed
A new report released by the Nuclear Information & Resource Service details US industry plans to subvert clean energy programs, rig energy markets and climate regulations to subsidize aging nuclear reactors.
A coalition of five organizations was joined by renowned energy economist Dr Mark Cooper to release the report, titled 'Killing the Competition: The Nuclear Power Agenda to Block Climate Action, Stop Renewable Energy, and Subsidize Old Reactors'.
The report details the industry's attacks on clean energy and climate solutions and the key battlegrounds in this new fight over the US's energy future. With large political war chests and armies of lobbyists, the power companies have opened up aggressive fights across the country this year:
* Blocking tax breaks for renewable energy in Congress.
* Killing renewable energy legislation in Illinois by threatening to close nuclear plants.
* Passing a resolution calling for nuclear subsidies and emissions-trading schemes in Illinois.
* Suspending renewable energy and efficiency standards in Ohio for two years.
* Ending energy efficiency programs in Indiana.
* Demanding above-market contracts for nuclear and coal plants in Ohio and New York.
Last year, the closure of several reactors highlighted the worsening economics of nuclear energy. Five reactor shutdowns were announced, and eight new reactors cancelled. The industry's rising costs − with new plants too expensive to build and old plants more and more costly to maintain − came head to head with a brewing energy revolution: low natural gas prices, rising energy efficiency, and affordable wind and solar power. As a result, Wall Street firms reassessed the industry, discovering an industry at risk and predicting more shuttered reactors in the coming years.
Energy economist Dr. Mark Cooper, of Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment, published a paper outlining the factors contributing to nuclear energy's poor prospects and highlighting the vulnerability of dozens of reactors. Dr Cooper said: "Nuclear power simply cannot compete with efficiency and renewable resources and it does not fit in the emerging electricity system that uses intelligent management of supply and demand response to meet the need for electricity. Doubling down on nuclear power as the solution to climate change, as proposed by nuclear advocates, is a bad bet since nuclear power is one of the most expensive ways available to cut carbon emissions in the electricity sector. The nuclear war against clean energy is a last ditch effort to stop the transformation of the electricity sector and prevent nuclear power from becoming obsolete."
NIRS, 2014, "Killing the Competition: The Nuclear Power Agenda to Block Climate Action , Stop Renewable Energy, and Subsidize Old Reactors", www.nirs.org/neconomics/killingthecompetition914.pdf
Oldest Indian reactor will not restart
After 10 years in long-term outage, it was reported on September 6 that there will be no restart for the first unit of Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS-1), located at Rawatbata, 64 km southwest of Kota in the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan. The 100 MW Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor, which was supplied to India under a 1963 agreement with Canada, operated from 1972 to 2004, though with multiple extended shutdowns. Cooperation with Canada was suspended following India's 1974 nuclear weapons test; however design details for the reactor had already been transferred to India.
Czech Republic: March against uranium in Brzkov
A march against planned uranium mining on September 7 was attended by approximately 200 people. The march was organised by the association 'Our Future Without Uranium', which expresses the disapproval of the Brzkov population with the government's intention to resume uranium mining. During the day citizens signed the petition by the civic association called "NO to Uranium Mining in the Highlands".
What went wrong with small modular reactors?
Thomas W. Overton, associate editor of POWER magazine, writes: "At the graveyard wherein resides the "nuclear renaissance" of the 2000s, a new occupant appears to be moving in: the small modular reactor (SMR). ... Over the past year, the SMR industry has been bumping up against an uncomfortable and not-entirely-unpredictable problem: It appears that no one actually wants to buy one."
Overton notes that in 2013, MidAmerican Energy scuttled plans to build an SMR-based plant in Iowa. This year, Babcock & Wilcox scaled back much of its SMR program and sacked 100 workers in its SMR division. Westinghouse has abandoned its SMR program.
Overton explains: "The problem has really been lurking in the idea behind SMRs all along. The reason conventional nuclear plants are built so large is the economies of scale: Big plants can produce power less expensively per kilowatt-hour than smaller ones. The SMR concept disdains those economies of scale in favor of others: large-scale standardized manufacturing that will churn out dozens, if not hundreds, of identical plants, each of which would ultimately produce cheaper kilowatt-hours than large one-off designs. It's an attractive idea. But it's also one that depends on someone building that massive supply chain, since none of it currently exists. ... That money would presumably come from customer orders − if there were any. Unfortunately, the SMR "market" doesn't exist in a vacuum. SMRs must compete with cheap natural gas, renewables that continue to decline in cost, and storage options that are rapidly becoming competitive. Worse, those options are available for delivery now, not at the end of a long, uncertain process that still lacks NRC approval."
India's new uranium enrichment plant in Karnataka
David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini write in an Institute for Science and International Security report: "India is in the early stages of building a large uranium enrichment centrifuge complex, the Special Material Enrichment Facility (SMEF), in Karnataka. This new facility will significantly increase India's ability to produce enriched uranium for both civil and military purposes, including nuclear weapons. India should announce that the SMEF will be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, committed only to peaceful uses, and built only after ensuring it is in compliance with environmental laws in a process that fully incorporates stakeholders. Other governments and suppliers of nuclear and nuclear-related dual use goods throughout the world must be vigilant to prevent efforts by Indian trading and manufacturing companies to acquire such goods for this new enrichment facility as well as for India's operational gas centrifuge plant, the Rare Materials Plant, near Mysore."
Iran planning two more power reactors
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) plans to build two new nuclear power reactors, Bushehr Governor General Mostafa Salari announced on September 7. The previous week, AEOI chief Ali Akbar Salehi said that Tehran would sign a contract with Russia in the near future to build the two reactors in Bushehr. The AEOI states that the agreement with Russia will also include the construction of two desalination units.1
One Russian-supplied power reactor is already operating at Bushehr. Fuel is supplied by Russia until 2021 and perhaps beyond. Plans for new reactors may be used by Tehran to justify its enrichment program.
Meanwhile, construction licenses have been issued for the next two nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates by the country's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation plans to begin construction of Barakah 3 and 4 in 2014 and 2015 respectively with all four of the site's reactors becoming operational by 2020.2
2. World Nuclear News, 15 Sept 2014
Depleted uranium as a carcinogen and genotoxin
The International Campaign to Ban Uranium Weapons has produced a new report outlining the growing weight of evidence relating to how depleted uranium (DU) can damage DNA, interfere with cellular processes and contribute to the development of cancer.1 The report uses peer-reviewed studies, many of which have been published during the last decade and, wherever possible, has sought to simplify the scientific language to make it accessible to the lay reader.
The report concludes: "The users of DU have shown themselves unwilling to be bound by the consequences of their actions. The failure to disclose targeting data or follow their own targeting guidelines has placed civilians at unacceptable risk. The recommendations of international and expert agencies have been adopted selectively or ignored. At times, users have actively opposed or blocked efforts to evaluate the risks associated with contamination. History suggests it is unlikely that DU use will be stopped voluntarily: an international agreement banning the use of uranium in conventional weapons is therefore required."
A report released by Dutch peace organisation PAX in June found that the lack of obligations on Coalition Forces to help clean-up after using DU weapons in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 has resulted in civilians and workers continuing to be exposed to the radioactive and toxic heavy metal years after the war.2 The health risk posed by the inadequate management of Iraq's DU contamination is unclear − neither Coalition Forces nor the Iraqi government have supported health research into civilian DU exposure. High risk groups include people living near, or working on, the dozens of scrap metal sites where the thousands of military vehicles destroyed in 1991 and 2003 are stored or processed. Waste sites often lack official oversight and in places it has taken more than a decade to clean-up heavily contaminated military wreckage from residential neighbourhoods. Hundreds of locations targeted by the weapons, many of which are in populated areas, remain undocumented and concern among Iraqi civilians over the potential health effects from exposure is widespread.
The Iraqi government has recently prepared a five year environment plan together with the World Health Organisation and UN Environment Programme but the PAX report finds that it is unclear how this will be accomplished without international assistance.
Clean-up of former Saskatchewan uranium mill
More than 50 years after the closure of the Lorado uranium mill in Saskatchewan, workers are cleaning up a massive pile of radioactive, acidic tailings that has poisoned a lake and threatened the health of wildlife and hunters for decades. The mill is near Uranium City, where uranium mining once supported a community of up to 5,000 people. Lorado only operated from 1957 to 1961, but during that time it produced about 227,000 cubic metres of tailings that were dumped beside Nero Lake. Windblown dust from the top of the tailings presents a gamma radiation and radon concern. Workers will cover the tailings with a layer of specially engineered sand to prevent water from running over them and into the lake. In addition, a lime mixture is to be added to the lake to counteract the acidity.
In 1982, the last of the mines near Uranium City closed, but tailings from the Lorado site and the Gunnar mine were left untouched. Uranium City has about 100 residents now.
Clean-up work also includes sealing off and cleaning up 35 mine exploration sites. Later, the Saskatchewan Research Council is to begin a cleanup of the Gunnar mine. That project is in the environmental assessment stage. Four million tonnes of tailings were produced at Gunnar during its operation from 1955 to 1963.
The clean-up project is controversial. The Prince Albert Grand Council, which represents a dozen First Nations in central and northern Saskatchewan, said in a written submission for the Lorado and Gunnar projects that many residents favour removal of the tailings rather than covering them up. The Saskatchewan Environmental Society says more investigation should have been done on the feasibility of removing the tailings. It questions how the covering will stand up as climate change delivers more severe weather, and whether government will continue to monitor the sites.
France: Greenpeace activists given suspended sentences
A French court has issued two-month suspended prison sentences to 55 Greenpeace activists involved in a break-in at France's Fessenheim nuclear power plant in March. Fessenheim is France's oldest nuclear plant. About 20 Greenpeace activists managed to climb on top of the dome of a reactor in Fessenheim. The activists, mostly from Germany but also from Italy, France, Turkey, Austria, Hungary, Australia and Israel, were all convicted of trespassing and causing wilful damage.
Greenpeace has identified Fessenheim's reactors as two of the most dangerous in Europe and argues that they should be shut down immediately. The area around the plant is vulnerable to earthquakes and flooding. Fessenheim lies in the heart of Europe, between France, Germany and Switzerland, with seven million people living with 100 kms of the reactors.
USA: Missouri fire may be moving closer to radioactive waste
A new report suggests an underground fire at the Bridgeton Landfill may be moving closer to radioactive waste buried nearby. The information comes just days after it was announced construction of a barrier between the fire and the waste will be delayed 18 months. The South Quarry of the Bridgeton Landfill has been smouldering underground for three years. A number of gas interceptor wells are designed to keep the fire from moving north and reaching the radioactive waste buried at the West Lake Landfill. However the wells may have failed according to landfill consultant Todd Thalhamer, who is calling for more tests to determine exactly how far the fire is from the radioactive material.
Britain's nuclear clean-up cost explosion
The cost of cleaning up Britain's toxic nuclear sites has shot up by £6bn (US$9.7b, €7.5b), with the government and regulators accused of "incompetence" in their efforts to manage the country's legacy of radioactive waste. The estimated cost for decommissioning over the next century went up from a £63.8bn estimate in 2011−12 to £69.8bn in 2012−13, with more increases expected in the coming years. This increase is nearly all due to the troubled clean-up of the Sellafield nuclear facility in Cumbria.