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Fukushima Fallout ‒ Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Seven years after the Fukushima disaster, an estimated 50,000 of the 160,000 evacuees remain dislocated. Six reactors are operating (compared to the pre-Fukushima fleet of 54), and 14 reactors have been permanently shut-down since the Fukushima disaster (including the six Fukushima Daiichi reactors). Decontamination of Fukushima Prefecture is slow and partial. Decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi reactor plant will take decades. Official estimates of the clean-up and compensation costs stand at US$202 billion and will rise further.

50,000 Fukushima residents still displaced

Some 73,000 people ‒ two-thirds (50,000) of them former Fukushima Prefecture residents ‒ remain displaced on the seventh anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, according to the Reconstruction Agency. About 53,000 people are living in prefabricated temporary housing, municipality-funded private residences, or welfare facilities. Nearly 20,000 are staying with relatives or friends.

Although roads, railways and homes have been rebuilt in the stricken Tohoku region, the outflow of population continues from devastated areas, particularly from coastal communities. Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures ‒ the three hardest-hit prefectures ‒ saw a combined decline in population of 250,000, compared with pre-disaster levels.

In Fukushima Prefecture, the evacuation order for four municipalities that were exposed to high levels of radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident was lifted about a year ago. But not many residents are returning to live in their hometowns.

Asahi Shimbun, 11 March 2018, 'Over 70,000 still living elsewhere from 2011 quake and tsunami',

NHK, 7 March 2018, 'Evacuees from 2011 disaster number over 73,000',

Japanese government agrees to recommendations on the rights of evacuees

The Japanese government announced in early March that it had accepted all recommendations made at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the rights of evacuees from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. The decision is a victory for the human rights of tens of thousands of evacuees, and civil society that have been working at the UNHRC and demanding that Japan accept and comply with UN principles. The decision means that the Japanese government must immediately change its unacceptable policies, said Greenpeace.

"I cautiously welcome the Japanese government's acceptance of the UN recommendations. The government may believe that an insincere acceptance is sufficient. They are wrong to think so – and we are determined to hold them to account to implement the necessary changes that the UN members states are demanding," said Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer for multiple Fukushima accident lawsuits against TEPCO and the Japanese government.

Greenpeace radiation survey results published recently showed high levels of radiation in Iitate and Namie that make it unsafe for citizens to return before mid-century, and even more severe contamination in the exclusion zone of Namie. High radiation levels in Obori would mean you would reach exposure of 1 millisievert (mSv) in just 16 days.

The lifting of evacuation orders in areas heavily contaminated by the nuclear accident, which far exceed the international standard of 1 mSv/year for the general public, raise multiple human rights issues. Housing support is due to end in March 2019 for survivors from these areas. The Japanese government also ended housing support for so-called 'self evacuees' from other than evacuation order zone in March 2017, and removed as many as 29,000 of these evacuees from official records. This amounts to economic coercion where survivors may be forced to return to the contaminated areas against their wishes due to economic pressure. This clearly contravenes multiple human rights treaties to which Japan is party.

Greenpeace Japan, 8 March 2018, 'Japanese government accepts United Nations Fukushima recommendations - current policies now must change to stop violation of evacuee human rights',

Water worries

A costly "ice wall" is failing to keep groundwater from seeping into the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, data from operator Tokyo Electric Power Co shows. When the ice wall was announced in 2013, TEPCO assured skeptics that it would limit the flow of groundwater into the plant's basements, where it mixes with highly radioactive debris from the site's reactors, to "nearly nothing."

However, since the ice wall became fully operational at the end of August 2017, an average of 141 metric tonnes a day of water has seeped into the reactor and turbine areas, more than the average of 132 metric tonnes a day during the prior nine months, a Reuters analysis of the TEPCO data showed.

A government-commissioned panel offered a mixed assessment of the ice wall, saying it was partially effective but more steps were needed.

The groundwater seepage has delayed TEPCO's clean-up at the site and may undermine the entire decommissioning process for the plant.

Though called an ice wall, TEPCO has attempted to create something more like a frozen soil barrier. Using 34.5 billion yen (US$324 million) in public funds, TEPCO sunk about 1,500 tubes filled with brine to a depth of 30 meters (100 feet) in a 1.5-kilometre (1-mile) perimeter around four of the plant's reactors. It then cools the brine to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit). The aim is to freeze the soil into a solid mass that blocks groundwater flowing from the hills west of the plant to the coast.

Other water control measures have been more successful. TEPCO says a combination of drains, pumps and the ice wall has cut water flows by three-quarters, from 490 tons a day during the December 2015 to February 2016 period to an average of 110 tons a day for December 2017 to February 2018.

The continuing seepage has created vast amounts of toxic water that TEPCO must pump out, decontaminate and store in tanks at Fukushima that now number 1,000, holding 1 million tonnes. TEPCO says it will run out of space by early 2021 and must decide how to cope with the growing volume of water stored on site. The purification process removes 62 radioactive elements from the contaminated water but it leaves tritium, a mildly radioactive element that is difficult to separate from water. A government-commissioned taskforce is examining five options for disposing of the tritium-laced water, including ocean releases, though no decision has been made.

Abridged from: Aaron Sheldrick and Malcolm Foster, 8 March 2018, 'Tepco's 'ice wall' fails to freeze Fukushima's toxic water buildup',

Legal fallout

Legal fallout from the March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station continues, as dozens of lawsuits and injunctions make their way through Japan's judicial system. The final rulings could have a profound impact on the government's energy policy and approach to risk mitigation.

Court cases stemming from the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi can be divided broadly into two categories. In the first are efforts to assign responsibility for the accident, including one high-profile criminal case and numerous civil suits by victims seeking damages from the government and owner-operator Tokyo Electric Power Company. The second group consists of lawsuits and injunctions aimed at blocking or shutting down operations at plants other than Fukushima Daiichi (whose reactors have been decommissioned) on the grounds that they pose a grave safety threat.

Shizume Saiji / Nippon, 12 March 2018, 'Nuclear Power Facing a Tsunami of Litigation',

Firm admits nuclear waste data falsification

Sixteen pieces of data relating to the underground disposal of highly radioactive waste, which scandal-hit Kobe Steel Ltd. and a subsidiary analyzed at the request of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), were falsified, forged or flawed in other ways, the nuclear research organization said.1,2

The tests are designed to examine what happens to metal cladding tubes that had previously contained spent nuclear fuel when they are disposed of deep underground, including possible corrosion and by-products of gas, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). A report the NRA received from the JAEA said that figures in the original data and those in reports submitted by Kobe subsidiary Kobelco did not match. Furthermore, some original data could not be located.

The NRA outsourced the testing to the JAEA in fiscal 2012 through fiscal 2014 at a cost of about 600 million yen (US$5.59 million). Kobelco was subcontracted to undertake some of the tests for about 50 million yen.

Kobe Steel admitted in October 2017 to rewriting inspection certificates for some of its products and other misconduct.3 Deliveries to nuclear power facilities were affected by these scandals. One case involved replacement pipes that were scheduled to be used in a heat exchanger of a residual heat removal system at Fukushima Daini Unit 3. Another involved centrifuge parts that had not yet been used at the Rokkasho uranium enrichment plant.

1. Mainichi Japan, 7 March 2018, 'Kobe Steel also falsified data on analyses of burying radioactive waste',

2. Masanobu Higashiyama, 15 Feb 2018, 'Kobe Steel firm suspected of nuclear waste data falsification',

3. Citizens Nuclear Information Center, Nuke Info Tokyo No.181 Nov./Dec. 2017,

Stop public funds for Japanese nuclear plant in Wales

Horizon Nuclear Power, a wholly owned subsidiary of Japanese electronics giant Hitachi Ltd., is attempting to construct a 2.7 gigawatt nuclear power plant in Wylfa, on the scenic and historic island, Anglesey, Wales, in the UK. The project cannot proceed without public financial support, and the Japanese government is orchestrating an "all-Japan" support system to secure its financing, backed up by public money.

Friends of the Earth Japan is working with local groups in Wales to stop the nuclear project and calls on individuals and organizations around the world to sign the petition posted at

Burning our rivers: the water footprint of electricity

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The availability and use of water is becoming more and more an important issue. Higher water temperatures and reduced river flows in Europe and the U.S. in recent years have resulted in reduced production of thermoelectric power plants, resulting in increased electricity prices. A new research report shows that in the U.S. thermoelectric energy (including coal, nuclear and natural gas) is the fastest growing use of freshwater resources in the country. But there are “waterfriendly” energy options: wind and PV solar technologies have by far the lowest wateruse factors. 

Electricity -as we generate it today- depends heavily on access to free water. The impact to our freshwater resources is an external cost of electrical production. What the market considers “least cost” electricity is often the most water intensive. There are clearly some low water technologies and some water hogs. For example, wind and PV solar technologies have by far the lowest water-use factors and  hydropower, coal and nuclear have the largest water use factors.

It takes water to produce electricity. 

As many Americans retreat to air-conditioned environments to get out of the heat, the flame increases under our limited freshwater resources. The elec-trical energy used to create our comfort zones requires massive withdrawals of water from our rivers, lakes and aquifers to cool down nuclear, coal and natural gas power plants. Some of this water is evaporated while the majority of this water is warmed up -causing thermal pollution- killing aquatic life, increasing toxic algae blooms and decreasing the sustainability of our water supplies.

Thermoelectric energy (including coal, nuclear and natural gas) is the fastest growing use of freshwater resources in the country. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reports that 53% of all of the fresh, surface water withdrawn from the environment for human use in 2005 went to operating our thirsty electrical grid. Water behind dams is not included in USGS numbers. So, while all other sectors of society are reducing per capita water use and overall water diversion rates, the electrical industry is just getting started.

A newly released report by the River network ('Burning our rivers: The water footprint of electricity') is a snapshot of the current water impacts of electrical production and an introduction to the choices we face as a nation trying to sustain water and energy in a warming world. Many watersheds in the United States are already running out of water to burn -especially in the Southeast, the Great Lakes and in many parts of the West. Over the last several years, Georgia has experienced water stress because Georgia Power’s two nuclear plants require more water than all of the water consumed by residents of downtown Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah combined. In 2011, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) reported that, in at least 120 vulnerable watersheds across the U.S., power plants are a factor contributing to water stress. 

As a nation, we have “water-friendly” energy options. Energy efficiency and water conservation programs are crucial strategies that can help protect our waterways from the impacts of electricity production. Expanding the deployment of wind energy and photovoltaic (PV) solar power could vastly reduce water use conflicts in some regions. And we must change the technologies we use in existing power plants. Energy companies could conserve more water by modernizing “once-through” cooling systems than could be saved by all of our nation’s residential water conservation programs combined.

But instead of moving towards greater water efficiency and use of renewables, we are trending towards an electrical grid that uses more water and is less reliable. Without stronger federal water use standards, thermoelectric plants may continue using water-intensive cooling technologies. At the same time, water uncertainty is causing cities to explore new water sources such as desalinization, deeper wells and longer
pipelines -all of which would increase electrical use. Across the country “nonconventional” drilling for natural gas has raised concerns about water quality. In Colorado, natural gas “fracking” operations have actually begun to compete with farmers for water. The water footprint of coal-fired power plants will only increase with new carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies. 

Based on the available published water-use information, River Network calculates that in 2009 the water footprint (WF) of U.S. electricity was approximately 42 gallons per kilowatt hour (kWh) produced. (1 –US- gallon is 3.785 liters).

An average U.S. household’s monthly energy use (weighted by cooling technology and fuel mix) requires 40,654 gallons of water, or five times more than the direct residential water use of that same household. This estimate does not include major portions of the lifecycle of electrical production for which we could not find documentation. As the world’s largest electrical consumer, the U.S. needs to consider the sustainability of this course before investing in more water-intensive electrical infrastructure.

Today, our thirsty electric grid carries pollutants into our rivers and causes algae-blooms and fish kills. But, there are other paths. According to River Network calculations, eliminating ‘oncethrough’ cooling -by itself- could reduce the water footprint of thermoelectricity by more than 2/3rd. Increasing wind and PV solar energy to 40% of the grid would have a similar effect and reduce consumptive water use by 11%. Taken together, these two actions could reduce the water footprint of thermoelectricity by 82% and consumptive water use by 27%. While there are site-specific limitations and trade-offs to consider, our society stands to benefit from a wider discussion of how water saved in the energy sector might be used to meet future needs, grow food or restore fisheries and water quality.

Source: the report 'Burning our rivers: The water footprint of electricity' is availabe at: 
Contact: River Network, 209 SW Oak, St., Suite 300, Portland, Oregon 97204, USA. 
Tel: +1-503 241-3506

Defer Koodankulam commissioning

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
People's Movement Against Nuclear Power

Much has been written about the protests and the repression by the state of India against the people near Koodankulam. Although many times delayed, current plans are to commission the first two reactors in the coming months. Disconcertingly, India's new coastal reactors are situated in an environment similar to that of Fukushima -a tsunami and earthquake zone, with the addition of karst formations, geothermal irregularities, and a lack of emergency water supplies. But there is more.

It is famously said: "In public domain, truth is not the truth, perception is the truth". This adage could be related to the discourse on the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant. While the arguments in favour of the plant is that it will generate electric power essential for 'development', People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) say that the plant will be 'destructive' to the life and livelihood of the Project Affected People (PAP).

While the touted 'truth' -that the plant is the safest in the world- is couched in utmost secrecy, public 'perception' - serious misgivings on the safety of the Plant is out in the open. As the nuclear establishment is racing towards the commissioning of the plant this percep-tion among the PAP is increasing and not diminishing. And there are several reasons for this.

First and foremost, the project is being commissioned without any legal Envi-ronmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a fact admitted by the Ministry of Environment & Forests in a sworn affidavit filed in the Madras High Court. According to this affidavit, environmental clearance for Units 1 and 2 was given 'as early as 9th May 1989' and renewed on 6th September 2001. Since EIA Notification under Environmental Protection Act came into existence only on 27th January, 1994 and provision for public hea-ring was introduced only on 10th April, 1997 there was no need for KKNPP to go through these critical processes.

Nuclear establishment has taken shelter behind this fig-leaf to ram a 2000 MW nuclear power plant down the throat of over 1.5 million PAP without even going through the most basic process of EIA and public hearing. What is more, Nuclear Power Corporation Limited (NPCL) has been consistently refusing to share the Site Evaluation (SE) and Safety Analysis Report (SAR) with the PAP.

This forced PMANE to appeal to the Central Information Commission who in turn ordered NPCL "to provide an attested photocopy of the SAR and SE Report after severing any proprietary details of designs provided by the suppliers to the appellant before 25 May, 2012." But the NPCIL has refused arguing that SAR 'is a third party docu-ment belonging to a Russian company' and therefore 'cannot be shared with anyone'. NPCIL even threatened to take CIC to court. Obviously NPCL is more interested in protecting a Russian company (third party) than safeguarding the PAP (first party)!

In the face of such persistent stonewalling, the humble PMANE scientists dug deep and did some quality research. Result is the startling revelation that there has been a serious breach of contract and perhaps deceit in that the VVER reactor under commissioning at Koodankulam differs from the one featured in the intergovernmental agreement between Russia and India. 

According to documents published in 2006, there was no weld on the beltline (middle portion) of the reactor pressure vessel (RPV). Now AERB says that there are two welds on the beltline of the RPV installed at Koodankulam exposing it to high failure risk that could lead to offsite radiological contamination. If the reactor is hot commissioned, it will be virtually impossible to subject the vessel to a detailed inspection and remediation. From a safety perspective, the IAEA-mandated study of pressurized thermal shock has to be done before commissioning the reactors at Koodankulam.

Pure fresh water is a critical input for Koodankulam during operation as well as safety of the spent fuel. While approval for the plant was given in 1989, AERB mandated accessing of fresh water -from two reservoirs through pipelines with an on campus reserve of 60,000 cubic meters, sufficient to maintain the spent fuel pool and the reactor cores (under shutdown mode) for 30 days. These sources are not available and have been replaced by four imported seawater desalination plants with a reserve of 12,000 cubic meters of water i.e. just 20% of what was stipula-ted by AERB and that too from artificial source. This is serious breach of safety, because fresh water is the only remedy in the event of a nuclear emergency. 

All these takes us to an essential prerequisite before the plant is commissioned -mock evacuation drills in the 30 km or at least the 16 km radius of the project. This has not been done. On June 9, 2012, the Tirunelveli district administration and the NPCL officials went through some motions in the remote hamlet of Nakkaneri of hardly 300 people and claimed that the 'mock drill' was a great suc-cess. According to a fact-finding team that went to the village subsequently, on that day revenue officials accompanied by a large posse of policemen came to the village, got some papers signed and announced it as 'mock-evacuation drill'. The district administration as well as NPCL has been extremely secretive in the matter!

No EIA, no public hearing, no sharing of Site Evaluation and Safety Analysis, no natural fresh-water, no evacuation drill and to cap it all breach of contract and installation of low quality Pressure Vessel. By all accounts it is 'no-go' for the project. The least the nuclear establishment should do is to defer the commissioning process and undertake a com-prehensive review and analysis of all the fears expressed. While doing so the two cataclysmic events -2004 Tsunami and 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster- that rocked this part of the world since the Koodankulam nuclear power plant was given 'environmental clearance' should be factored in.

Heavens are not going to fall if a few hundred megawatts of nuclear power are not added to the grid in a mad hurry. Much more important is the safety of the plant in the perception of the people affected. 

Source: M.G.Devasahayam, Convener of PMANE Expert Team, 20 June 2012
Contact: Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), Idinthakarai & P. O. 627 104, Tirunelveli District, Tamil Nadu, India

Chinese inland provinces: Nuclear power at the crossroads

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Wen Bo − Policy and Media Advisor, National Geographic Society

NM790.4410 In the hope of becoming China's first inland nuclear power project, Pengze Nuclear Power Project (owned by China Power Investment Group) in Jiangxi Province has begun pre-construction work. However, the project has met resistance from the government and residents of the downstream Wangjiang prefecture in neighbouring Anhui Province. The Wangjiang government has publicly accused Pengze Project of falsifying its EIA report. Such confrontation shows Wangjiang's deep concern over the close proximity of a nuclear power plant.

Nuclear power requires large volumes of water for cooling. Adequate water supply is the key factor for identifying potential plant sites. Pengze was chosen due to its proximity to the Taipo Lake and the Yangtze River. However, unlike inland nuclear project areas in the United States, which often have few people downstream, China is relatively densely populated. China's vast river network and dense population distribution mean inland nuclear power stations have many inherent risks.

If radioactive liquid materials are not safely disposed of, large amounts of water used for cooling could be polluted, and the element boron from the pressurized reactor will be released into the environment along with waste-water. The polluted rivers provide drinking water and irrigation sources for many people living downstream.

Although the Pengze project in Jiangxi was opposed by Anhui province, Anhui itself has also started developing its own nuclear power projects. Wuhu Project is the first of them. It is being developed by China General Nuclear Power Group, which owns several nuclear projects, and is located in Fanchang County along the Yangtze River, upstream of Wuhu City.

Electricity generated by the Wuhu project will be delivered to the Eastern China Power Grid. In addition to satisfying its own needs, it will be exported to Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shanghai. Huge investment and construction costs will inevitably be reflected in the electricity price. It is expected that Anhui will either become an inland nuclear power exporting province or face rising energy costs, especially in the southern part, including Wuhu city. If not, the investment costs in the Wuhu project will not be able to be recovered and thereby might become a burden on taxpayers and the provincial government.

China's nuclear power capacity growth

The National Energy Administration's 2013 Energy Statistical Report states that nuclear power currently accounts for 1.2% of China's domestic energy production. According to the 'Nuclear Power Mid to Long-Term Development Plan (2005-2020)', officially approved by the State Council in October 2007, the installed capacity of nuclear power in operation by 2020 is expected to reach 40 gigawatts (GW), and its portion of the energy mix will rise to 4%. By 2010, a new plan for 2010−2020 was drafted by the National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC), aiming to double the previous 2020 target to 80 GW.

Due to the controversy raised by this new goal, the plan was not approved by the State Council. However, since information related to this new plan had already been circulated, it raised expectations from the nuclear power industry and also helped its performance on various financing platforms including stock markets. Regardless, after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster in March 2011, approvals for nuclear power projects, including for all pre-project work, were suspended.

By October 2012, the State Council approved the 'Nuclear Power Safety Plan (2011-2020)' and the 'Nuclear Power Mid to Long-Term Development Plan (2011-2020)'. It should be noted that the newly approved plan only allows nuclear power build-up in specifically approved zones along the coast, and does not allow any inland projects during the 12th Five Year Plan. However, no specific target was given. Subsequently, in January 2013, the State Council's Energy 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015) states that the installed capacity of nuclear power in operation by 2015 will reach 40 GW and the installed capacity under construction will reach 18 GW.

According to Mr. Zhang Huazhu, Director of China Nuclear Energy Association, by the end of 2020, China's installed capacity of existing and under-construction nuclear power may reach 88 GW.

As of the end of March 2014, China had completed or started construction of a total installed nuclear capacity of nearly 48.7 GW. In May and June 2014, NDRC approved an additional six new nuclear power projects in four provinces totaling 15.2 GW:

* Liaoning: Dalian Hongyanhe Phase II (2.5 GW) & Huludao Xudabao Phase I (2.5 GW);

* Shandong: Haiyang Phase II (2.5 GW) & Rongcheng Pilot (0.2 GW)

* Zhejiang: Sanmen Phase II (5 GW); and

* Guangdong: Lufeng Phase I (2.5 GW)

Water requirements

Two out of three of China's planned 28 inland nuclear plants are in medium and extremely water-scarce regions. Prior to the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, 28 inland nuclear power projects (including previously mentioned Pengze) with 59 pre-selected plant sites were submitted by provincial governments to Beijing (pre-August 2007). These projects were classified according to the abundance of water resources. If we adopt the climate type classification of wet/dry regions: three projects are in arid and semi-arid regions and 25 projects are in wet and semi-wet regions. However, if we use the level of water scarcity, more than 17 planned projects fall in medium and extremely water-scarce regions.

A 5 GW nuclear power plant uses nearly 500,000 cubic metres of water per day. At present, China's inland nuclear power stations mainly use AP1000 units. During normal operation, four AP1000 units require a maximum of 498,600 cubic metres of fresh water per day and 156 million cubic metres per year.

By the end of July 2014, China had 19 units in operation, 29 units under construction, and 225 units being planned. To ensure safe operation, the plants will need enough water to cool the reactors for a minimum of 30 days under all circumstances. The increasing number of nuclear power projects will inevitably lead to competition for water between nuclear power plants and other energy producers.

Apart from the largest water use in "conventional islands" of the plant, the workers living within the plant site, as well as the circulation pump shaft seal and nuclear island also require lots of water. In addition, washing and sealing also require water.

The water demand during the repair period will also be much higher than that during normal operation period. Moreover, the water reuse rates among China's nuclear power plants are also very low: for example, the reuse rate of Lingao Phase I is only 3.75%.

Inland Nuclear Power Projects Planned Prior to August 2007




















































Source: Huang Bensheng, Qiu Jing, Liu Da and Ma Rui. Study on the Impacts of Inland Nuclear Power Plants on Water Security and Mitigations Measures. Proceedings of 2013 Annual Conference of Chinese Hydraulic Engineering Society, 2013

Power struggle: water authorities and nuclear developers

Nuclear power operators rely on a sufficient water supply. However, in China, water resources are managed by the water conservancy and hydropower authorities, who hold a negative view toward nuclear power. The battle between hydropower and nuclear power is fierce, and the competition exists in many areas outside of water, including lobbying for preferential policies and central investment funds, and securing bank and capital financing. The politics also differ.

The Ministry of Water Resources is trying to choke nuclear growth to protect China's limited water resources, while the nuclear power developers are requesting more water allocation for the sake of public safety. In the end, all problems, be they investment losses or threats to the environment, will be ultimately borne by the state and the people.

Flooding of nuclear plants

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The risks associated with flooding of nuclear plants are as follows [1,2]:

  • The presence of water in many areas may be a common cause of failure for safety related systems, such as the emergency power supply systems or the electric switchyard, with the associated possibility of losing the external connection to the electrical power grid, the decay heat removal system and other vital systems.
  • Considerable damage can be caused to safety related structures, systems and components by the infiltration of water into internal areas of the plant. Water pressure on walls and foundations may challenge their structural capacity.
  • The dynamic effect of the water can be damaging to the structure and the foundations of the plant as well as the many systems and components located outside the plant.
  • A flood may transport ice floes in very cold weather or debris of all types which may physically damage structures, obstruct water intakes or damage the water drainage system.
  • Flooding may affect the communication and transport networks around the plant site. The effects may jeopardise the implementation of safety related measures and emergency planning by making escape routes impassable and isolating the plant site in a possible emergency, with consequent difficulties in communication and supply.
  • Flooding can contribute to the dispersion of radioactive material to the environment.


A 2005 Greenpeace International report lists examples of flooding of nuclear plants[1]:

  • India, 2004: Kalpakkam-2, also known as Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS), was operating at nominal power when the December 2004 tsunami sent seawater into its pump house. Operators brought the unit to safe shut-down. The tsunami swept away 59 people from Kalpakkam town, including five employees of the nuclear plant.
  • France, 2003: EDF shut down two reactors at Cruas in December 2003 in response to torrential rainfall along the lower Rhone River, prompting French nuclear safety authority DGSNR to activate its emergency response centre. Filters on heat exchangers between the component cooling system and the essential service water system at Cruas 3 and 4 were clogged, hindering operation of the residual heat removal system. At the nearby Tricastin site, clogging of filters on the conventional site caused two more power reactors, Tricastin 3 and 4, to scram.
  • Ukraine, 2000: reactor 3 at Chernobyl was shut down due to flooding caused by a storm. Workers had to pump water out of the reactor building.
  • France, 1999: The electricity grid was hit hard by storms on December 27. One of many problems was the loss of auxiliary power for the four reactors at Blayais as well as a loss of the 400 kV power grid at Blayais units 2 and 4. The load shedding design that allows the units to self-supply with electrical power after disconnection from the grid failed. This led to an automatic shut-down of these two units. The diesel generators were started and functioned until the connection to the 400 kV power grid was restored, after about three hours. Furthermore, a flood resulted in the partial submergence of the Blayais site. Invading the site through underground service tunnels, water flooded the pumps of the essential service water system to unit 1, and one of the two trains (with two essential service water system pumps each) was lost because the motors were flooded. Other facilities were also flooded, including rooms containing outgoing electrical feeders (indirectly leading to the unavailability of certain electrical switchboards); the bottom of the fuel building of units 1 and 2 leading to the unavailability of safety-critical pumps (arising from a breach of French safety standards).
  • In July 1993, the operator of the Cooper nuclear power plant on the Missouri River, Nebraska, was forced to shut down the reactor as dykes and levees collapsed around the site closing many emergency escape routes in the region. Below grade rooms in the reactor and turbine buildings had extensive in-leakage with rising water levels. The NRC inspectors noted that plant personnel "had not established measures to divert the water away from important components".


Case Study: Fort Calhoun
A flood assessment performed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 2010 indicated that the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska "did not have adequate procedures to protect the intake structure and auxiliary building against external flooding events."[3]

In June 2011, Missouri River floodwaters surrounded the Fort Calhoun plant. The reactor had been shut down in April 2011 for scheduled refueling, and has remained shut down ever since for a variety of reasons.

A fire on June 7 caused electricity to shut off in the spent fuel pools resulting in 90 minutes without cooling, and resulting in a partial evacuation. NRC inspectors were concerned that faulty design and faulty maintenance contributed to the fire; workers were unable to quickly get into the electrical room; and plant operator Omaha Public Power District was slow to notify emergency officials.[4,5]

This was followed by allegations that an NRC manager tried to override inspectors' conclusions about the fire and that he misrepresented their findings, and further allegations that senior NRC management made only token efforts to address NRC staff concerns.[6]

On June 23, a helicopter contracted by Omaha Public Power District to survey transmission lines made an unplanned landing 2.4 kms from the plant; reports described it as an unplanned landing but photos showed it on its side in a field.[7]

On June 26, a water-filled rubber flood berm surrounding part of the plant was punctured by a small earth mover and collapsed, allowing flood waters to surround the auxiliary and containment buildings at the plant, and forcing the temporary transfer of power from the external electricity grid to backup generators.[8,9]

On June 30 one of the pumps used to remove seepage caught fire when a worker was refilling it with gasoline. The worker put the fire out with a fire extinguisher but was burned on his arms and face.[10]

NRC whistleblowers
Beyond Nuclear summarises several examples of NRC whistleblower revelations about inadequate protection against flood risks.[11]

In July 2011, with flood waters along the Missouri River rising around Nebraska's Fort Calhoun nuclear power station, David Loveless, a NRC Senior Reactor Analyst, concluded that the reactor would not survive the gross failure of the Oahe dam. Loveless cited analysis that a dam break would hit the reactor with a wall of water knocking out electrical power systems and water pumps vital for reactor cooling.[11]

In September 2012, Richard Perkins, an NRC engineer, accused the NRC of deliberately covering up information relating to the vulnerability of US nuclear power facilities that sit downstream from large dams and reservoirs, and failing to act to correct the vulnerabilities despite being aware of the risks for years.[11,12,13]

Perkins asked the NRC's Office of Inspector General to investigate his allegations that NRC "staff intentionally mischaracterized relevant and noteworthy safety information as sensitive, security information in an effort to conceal the information from the public" where "agency records that show the NRC has been in possession of relevant, notable, and derogatory safety information for an extended period but failed to properly act on it. Concurrently, the NRC concealed the information from the public."

Perkins, along with at least one other NRC engineer, suggested that the real motive for redacting information was to prevent the public from learning the full extent of the vulnerabilities and to obscure how much the NRC has known about the problems and for how long.[12]

Perkins was the lead author of July 2011 report, "Flooding of U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Following Upstream Dam Failure". The report concluded that the failure of one or more dams sitting upstream from several nuclear power plants "may result in flood levels at a site that render essential safety systems inoperable." Floodwaters could undermine all power sources including grid power, backup generators, and battery backups. The report concluded: "The totality of information analyzed in this report suggests that external flooding due to upstream dam failure poses a larger than expected risk to plants and public safety."[12]

"My estimation," Perkins told The Huffington Post, "is that if people saw the information that we have, and if they knew for how long we've had it, some might be disappointed at how long it's taken to act, and some might be disappointed that, to date, we haven't really acted at all."[12]

Another NRC engineer told The Huffington Post that the Department of Homeland Security had signed-off on releasing the July 2011 report without redactions, undermining arguments made by some NRC officials that certain information should be withheld because upstream dam vulnerability could be exploited by terrorists.[12]

Several nuclear experts have expressed concern about the three-reactor Oconee nuclear plant in South Carolina, which sits on Lake Keowee, downstream from the Jocassee Reservoir. The plant would almost certainly suffer core damage if the Jocassee dam were to fail, according to redacted findings in the July 2011 report. "The probability of Jocassee Dam catastrophically failing is hundreds of times greater than a 51 foot wall of water hitting Fukushima Daiichi," an NRC engineer said.[12]

Nuclear engineer Dave Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists notes that improvements have been made at some US plants in the aftermath of the flooding of the Fukushima plant in March 2011.[14] However he questions why the steps were not taken sooner:

"For decades, these design deficiencies left these reactors more vulnerable to floods than necessary. The Fukushima disaster prompted reactions in the United States that found and fix these longstanding impairments. That's good. But what if these reactors had experienced the flood prior to March 2011 that it was supposed to be protected against, but was not? ...

"Why weren't these design problems found in the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, or 1970s? Lots of people spent lots of time allegedly looking for them. For example, the NRC has inspection procedure 71111.06 titled "Flood Protection Measures" that requires two plant areas to be examined each year. The procedure explicitly guides NRC inspectors to give priority to "Sealing of equipment below the floodline, such as electrical conduits" in "areas that can be affected by internal flooding, including water intake facilities." ...

"Again, why didn't these or other NRC inspections find at least some of these design problems in the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, or 1970s? It's not a case of one NRC inspector having a bad week – it's a case of a regulatory agency having four bad decades. The NRC should review its inspection efforts in light of all these reports and make changes necessary to improve their effectiveness.

"And the NRC could take a complementary approach. ... The NRC has the authority to fine owners for violating federal safety regulations. The NRC should take its federal safety regulations seriously by sanctioning owners who have violated them for decades."

UK: 12 of 19 nuclear sites at risk of flooding
As many as 12 of Britain's 19 civil nuclear sites are at risk of flooding and coastal erosion because of climate change, according to an unpublished analysis by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs obtained by the Guardian. Nine of the sites are vulnerable now, while others are at risk from rising sea levels and storms in the future. The sites include all of the eight coastal sites proposed for new nuclear power reactors, and numerous radioactive waste stores, operating reactors and defunct nuclear facilities.[15]

A 2007 study by the UK Met Office, commissioned by nuclear firm British Energy, said that "increases in future surge heights of potentially more than a metre could, when combined with wind speed increases, threaten some sites unless existing defences are enhanced."[16]

[1] Hirsch, Helmut, Oda Becker, Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt, April 2005, 'Nuclear Reactor Hazards: Ongoing Dangers of Operating Nuclear Technology in the 21st Century', Report prepared for Greenpeace International,
[2] IAEA, 2004, 'Flood Hazard for Nuclear Power Plants on Coastal and River Sites Safety Guide',
[3] NRC, 16 May 2011, 'Licensee Event Report 2011-003, Revision 1, for the Fort Calhoun Station',
[4] Nancy Gaarder, 11 May 2012, 'NRC staff criticizes official's handling of Fort Calhoun',
[5] Ryan Tracy, 8 June 2011, 'Nebraska nuclear plant lost cooling system after fire',
[6] Ryan Tracy and Keith Johnson, 9 May 2012, 'NRC Manager Blocked Safety Concerns, Letter Says',
[7] Jodi Baker, 23 June 2011, 'No One Hurt In Emergency Helicopter Landing',
[8] Matthew Wald, 27 June 2011, 'Nebraska Nuclear Plant's Vital Equipment Remains Dry, Officials Say',
[9] NRC, 'Event Notification Report for June 27, 2011',
[10] KETV, 30 June 2011, 'Worker Burned At Nuclear Plant',
[11] Beyond Nuclear, 11 Oct 2012, 'NRC whistleblowers warn of nuclear accidents caused by dam failures and effort to suppress disclosure',
[12] Tom Zeller, 14 Sept 2012, 'Flood Threat To Nuclear Plants Covered Up By Regulators, NRC Whistleblower Claims',
[13] Richard Perkins, 14 Sept 2012, Letter to the NRC Office of the Inspector General: Concealment of Significant Nuclear Safety Information by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
[14] Dave Lochbaum, 19 February 2013, 'Fission Stories #130: Fukushima's Dividends or Mea Culpas',
[15] Rob Edwards, 7 March 2012, 'UK nuclear sites at risk of flooding, report shows',
[16] Nick Mathiason, 13 January 2008, 'Nuclear plants 'need better flood protection'', The Observer,

'Hot Water' documentary

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(Abridged from, 8 July 2013.)

Hot Water is an 80-minute documentary exposing the long-term devastation wrought by uranium mining and the nuclear industry. It follows the investigative journey of Liz Rogers, the 'Erin Brockovich of Uranium', as she travels around the US exploring the impact of uranium mining, atomic testing and nuclear plants on the drinking water of 38 million people.

The documentary is described as a "powerful film that exposes the truths behind how the ground water, air and soil of the American Southwest came to be contaminated with some of the most toxic substances and heavy metals known to man due to the mining of uranium and the health and environmental impacts that followed."

Film-makers Liz Rogers and Kevin Flint begin in South Dakota witnessing communities exposed to uranium from local mining interests. They take samples showing that radioactive material is seeping toward the nation's breadbasket.

Rogers and Flint follow the story to Oklahoma to explain the economic model of the industry. Private companies mine the uranium for a massive profit. Local workers and residents are made promises, but when finally forced to admit the environmental and health impact of the mining, the companies take their profits, declare bankruptcy and saddle the American taxpayer with hundreds of billions of dollars in clean-up costs, according to the documentary.

"I don't know who started calling me the Erin Brockovich of uranium. Maybe I am the old and fat Erin Brockovich with a trucker mouth," said Rogers. "I took this journey because I was pissed off. I felt like an idiot because I believed the lies. I believed we were safe. I made this film because people need to know the truth."

The producers of Hot Water are completing a distribution agreement and will soon have the film on NetFlix and other VOD streams.

Youtube trailer:
Email: Liz Rogers liz[at]
Twitter: @ZeroHotWater

Other stages of the nuclear fuel cycle

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The Union of Concerned Scientists summarises water issues associated with uranium fuel fabrication [1]:

Processing uranium requires mining, milling, enrichment, and fuel fabrication, all of which use significant quantities of water.

  • Mining − Uranium mining consumes one to six gallons (3.8−22.7 litres) of water per million Btus of thermal energy output, depending on the mining method. Mining uranium also produces waste that can contaminate local water sources, and which can be especially dangerous given the radioactivity of some of the materials involved. (A Btu or British Thermal Unit is a measure of energy content, usually used to describe the energy content of fuels. One kilowatt hour is the rough equivalent of 3,400 Btus.)
  • Processing − Uranium processing consumes seven to eight gallons (26.5−30.3 l) of water for every million Btus of thermal output.
  • Milling − The milling process uses a mix of liquid chemicals to increase the fuel's uranium content; milling leaves behind uranium-depleted ore that must be placed in settling ponds to evaporate the milling liquids.
  • Enrichment − The next step, enriching the gaseous uranium to make it more effective as a fuel accounts for about half of the water consumed in uranium processing. The conventional enrichment method in the US is gas diffusion, which uses significantly more water than the gas centrifuge approach popular in Europe.
  • Fuel Fabrication − Fabrication involves bundling the enriched uranium into fuel rods in preparation for the nuclear reactor. 

At the 'back end' of the nuclear fuel cycle, the large commercial reprocessing plants in France and the UK are major sources of radioactive marine pollution. Cogema's reprocessing plant at La Hague in France, and the Sellafield reprocessing plant in the UK, are the largest sources of radioactive pollution in the European environment.[2]

[1] Union of Concerned Scientists, 'Water for Nuclear',
[2] WISE-Paris, Study on Sellafield and La Hague commissioned by STOA,

More information:
Friends of the Earth, Australia, 'Impacts of Nuclear Power and Uranium Mining on Water Resources',

How much water does a nuclear power plant consume?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

First, a definition and some generalisations. Consumption is the net water loss from evaporation and equals the amount of water withdrawn from the source minus the amount returned to the source. With cooling towers, the amount of water withdrawn from the source is similar to consumption. With once through cooling, withdrawal is vastly greater than consumption. But overall consumption is greater with cooling towers than with once through cooling. Generally, cooling towers reduce the impacts on aquatic life but increase water consumption. For coastal sites, the loss (consumption) of water is rarely if ever a problem but the impacts on marine life (and other environmental impacts) can be significant.

Woods [1] gives figures of 1,514 to 2,725 litres of water consumption per megawatt-hour (MWh) for nuclear power reactors and the Nuclear Energy Institute gives identical figures.[2] For a 1 GW reactor, that equates to daily water consumption of 36.3 to 65.4 million litres. The lower figure is for once-through cooling, the higher figure is for systems using cooling towers (a.k.a. closed-loop, recirculating).

A 2009 World Economic Forum (WEF) paper gives a near-identical figure for closed-loop cooling (2,700 l/MWh) − plus 170−570 l/MWh for uranium mining and fuel production, giving a total of 2,870 to 3,270 l/MWh (68.9 to 78.5 million litres daily) .[3]

For coal, the WEF paper gives figures of 1,220 to 2,270 l/MWh (including mining).

For gas, the WEF paper gives figures of 700 to 1,200 l/MWh, and the Nuclear Energy Institute gives figures of zero (dry cooling) to 380 l/MWh (once through cooling) to 1,400 l/MWh (cooling towers).

The Nuclear Energy Institute claims that hydro plants consume 17,000 l/MWh, largely due to evaporation from reservoirs. The Nuclear Energy Institute further states that "renewable energy sources such as geothermal and solar thermal consume two to four times more water than nuclear power plants", without providing any details or references, and without noting that some renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar PV) use negligible water.

Some nuclear advocates promote the potential role of nuclear power in addressing some water problems, e.g. low-carbon desalination. But such proposals raise familiar problems − for example Syria's pursuit of a nuclear-powered desalination plant may have masked weapons ambitions and is believed to have been abandoned because of US pressure. Nuclear advocates are on stronger ground when they note that there is no need for nuclear plants to be located adjacent to their fuel source (typically 180 tonnes of low enriched uranium fuel annually for a 1 GW reactor); thus for example inland coal-fired power plants adjacent to coal mines can be replaced by coastal nuclear plants.

The Union of Concerned Scientists gives the following figures for water withdrawal (as opposed to consumption)[4]:

  • with closed-loop recirculating cooling, water withdrawal ranges from 3,000−9,800 l/MWh (72−235 million litres daily for a 1GW reactor);
  • with once through cooling, withdrawal is far greater at 95,000−227,000 l/MWh (2.3−5.4 billion litres daily for a 1 GW reactor; 0.84−1.97 trillion litres annually).


The Nuclear Information and Resource Service notes that a typical once-through cooling system draws into each reactor unit more than one billion gallons (3.8 billion litres) of water daily, 500,000 gallons (1.9 million litres) per minute.[5]

[1] Guy Woods, Australian Commonwealth Department of Parliamentary Services, 2006, 'Water requirements of nuclear power stations',
[2] World Economic Forum in partnership with Cambridge Energy Research Associates, 2009, 'Energy Vision Update 2009, Thirsty Energy: Water and Energy in the 21st Century',
[3] Nuclear Energy Institute, November 2012, Water Use and Nuclear Power Plants,
[4] Union of Concerned Scientists, July 2013, 'Water-Smart Power: Strengthening the U.S. Electricity System in a Warming World', or
[5] Nuclear Information and Resource Service, 'Licensed to Kill',


Licensed to Kill

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Water outflows from nuclear plants expel relatively warm water which can have adverse local impacts in bays and gulfs, as can heavy metal and salt pollutants. The US Environmental Protection Agency states: "Nuclear power plants use large quantities of water for steam production and for cooling. Some nuclear power plants remove large quantities of water from a lake or river, which could affect fish and other aquatic life. Heavy metals and salts build up in the water used in all power plant systems, including nuclear ones. These water pollutants, as well as the higher temperature of the water discharged from the power plant, can negatively affect water quality and aquatic life. Nuclear power plants sometimes discharge small amounts of tritium and other radioactive elements as allowed by their individual wastewater permits."[1]

A report by the by the US Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), US Humane Society and other groups, 'Licensed to Kill: How the Nuclear Power Industry Destroys Endangered Marine Wildlife and Ocean Habitat to Save Money', details the nuclear industry's destruction of delicate marine ecosystems and large numbers of animals, including endangered species. Most of the damage is done by water inflow pipes, while there are further adverse impacts from the expulsion of warm water. Another problem is 'cold stunning' – fish acclimatise to warm water but die when the reactor is taken off-line and warm water is no longer expelled. For example, in New Jersey, local fishers estimated that 4,000 fish died from cold stunning when a reactor was shut down. (See the report and 6-minute video at and the video is also posted at

Case Study: Close to one million fish and 62 million fish eggs and larvae died each year when sucked into the water intake channel in Lake Ontario, which the Pickering nuclear plant uses to cool steam condensers. Fish are killed when trapped on intake screens or suffer cold water shock after leaving warmer water that is discharged into the lake. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission told Ontario Power Generation to reduce fish mortality by 80% and asked for annual public reports on fish mortality.[2]

Case Study: The Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey, US, has killed 80 million pounds (36,300 tonnes) of aquatic organisms in the Barnegat Bay over the past 40 years, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.[3]

[1] US Environmental Protection Agency, 'Nuclear Energy',
[2] Carola Vyhnak, 6 July 2010, 'Pickering nuclear plant ordered to quit killing fish', 'Millions of adults, eggs and larvae perish when sucked into intakes or shocked by cold water',
[3] Todd Bates, 22 March 2012, 'Oyster Creek nuclear plant kills 1,000 tons of sea life a year, agency says',

NIRSPickering-1Pickering-2Pickering-3Pickering-4Pickering-5Pickering-6Pickering-7Pickering-8Oyster Creek

Water and Power Plants

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

This is a summary of a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report released in July 2013 − 'Water-Smart Power: Strengthening the U.S. Electricity System in a Warming World'. The report is posted at or use this shortcut:

The power sector is built for a water-rich world. Conventional fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants require water to cool the steam they generate to make electricity. At some power plants, a lot of the water they withdraw gets evaporated in the cooling process; at others, much of the water is discharged back to its source (albeit hotter). The bottom line: Most power plants need a huge, steady supply of water to operate, and in hot dry summers, that water can become hard to secure. 

As climate change brings extreme heat and longer, more severe droughts that dry up − and heat up − freshwater supplies, the US electricity system faces a real threat. Shifting to less water-intensive power can reduce the risk of power failures and take pressure off our lakes, rivers, and aquifers.

The phrase "energy-water collision" refers to the range of issues that can crop up where our water resources and the power sector interact. The UCS report provides some recent examples of each type of collision:

  • Not enough water: Heat and drought in Texas in 2011 caused water levels in Martin Creek Lake to drop so low that Martin Creek Power Plant had to import water from the Sabine River to cool its coal-fired plant and keep it operating.
  • Incoming water too warm: During a 2006 heat wave, incoming Mississippi River water became too hot to cool the two-unit Prairie Island nuclear plant in Minnesota, forcing the plant to reduce output by more than 50%. In the first such case in northern New England, the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant was forced to reduce its power production by as much as 17% over the course of a week in the Summer of 2012 due to high water temperatures and low flow in the Connecticut River. One of the two reactors at the Millstone nuclear plant, Connecticut, was shut down for 11 days in mid-July 2012 as its water source, Long Island Sound, got too warm − this was the first open-water collision on record and signals that even plants on large bodies of water are at risk as temperatures increase.
  • Outgoing water too warm: To prevent hot water from doing harm to fish and other wildlife, power plants typically aren't allowed to discharge cooling water above a certain temperature. When power plants bump up against those limits, they can be forced to dial back power production or shut down. Alabama's Browns Ferry nuclear plant, on the Tennessee River, has done that on several occasions in recent years − cutting its output during three of the past five summers, for example, and for five consecutive weeks in one of those years (2010). In the Summer of 2012, four coal plants and four nuclear plants in Illinois each sought and received "thermal variances" from the state to let them discharge hotter water than their permits allow, even amidst extensive heat-related fish kills and tens of millions of dollars in fisheries-related losses.


Nuclear power cycle

The nuclear power cycle uses water in three major ways: extracting and processing uranium fuel, producing electricity, and controlling wastes and risks. Reactors in the US fall into two main categories: boiling water reactors (BWRs) and pressurised water reactors (PWRs). Both systems boil water to make steam (BWRs within the reactor and PWRs outside the reactor); in both cases, this steam must be cooled after it runs through a turbine to produce electricity.

Like other thermoelectric power plants, nuclear reactors use once-through and/or recirculating cooling systems. Once-through systems withdraw enormous amounts of water, use it once, and return it to the source. Recirculating (or closed-loop) systems circulate water between the power plant and a cooling tower. About 40% of nuclear reactors in the US use recirculating cooling systems; 46% use once through cooling. Recirculating cooling systems withdraw much less water than once through systems but they consume much of what they do withdraw, typically operate less fuel-efficiently, and cost more to install. Dry (air) cooling is not currently used in nuclear power generation due to high costs (although World Nuclear News reported on 17 April 2013 that an air cooling system is to be constructed for Loviisa's two pressurised water reactors in Finland.)

Boiling water reactors and pressurised water reactors use comparable amounts of water to produce a unit of electricity. Nuclear plants as a whole withdraw and consume more water per unit of electricity produced than coal plants using similar cooling technologies because nuclear plants operate at a lower temperature and lower turbine efficiency, and do not lose heat via smokestacks.

In addition to cooling the steam, nuclear power plants also use water in a way that no other plant does: to keep the reactor core and used fuel rods cool. To avoid potentially catastrophic failure, these systems need to be kept running at all times, even when the plant is closed for refueling.

During an accident, 10,000 to 30,000 gallons (38,000−114,000 litres) of water per minute may be required for emergency cooling.

Low-carbon power is not necessarily water-smart. Electricity mixes that emphasise carbon capture and storage for coal plants, nuclear energy, or even water-cooled renewables such as some geothermal, biomass, or concentrating solar could worsen rather than lessen the sector's effects on water. That said, renewables and energy efficiency can be a winning combination. This scenario would be most effective in reducing carbon emissions, pressure on water resources, and electricity bills. Energy efficiency efforts could more than meet growth in demand for electricity in the US, and renewable energy could supply 80% of the remaining demand.

Further reading:

  • Synapse Energy Economics, paper prepared for the Civil Society Institute, Sept 2013, 'Water Constraints on Energy Production: Altering our Current Collision Course',
  • Benjamin Sovacool, January 2009, 'Running On Empty: The Electricity-Water Nexus and the U.S. Electric Utility Sector', Energy Law Journal, Vol.30:11, pp.11-51.
  • Benjamin Sovacool and Kelly Sovacool, 2009, 'Identifying future electricity–water tradeoffs in the United States', Energy Policy, 37, pp.2763–2773.

Fukushima leaks, lies, cover-ups, Whac-A-Mole

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor

A huge storage tank from which about 300 tons of highly radioactive water leaked at Fukushima may have deteriorated as a result of being moved and reassembled, TEPCO says. The tank was first installed at a different location in June 2011 but, after its foundation was found to have cracked after the tank sank in the ground, it was dismantled and reassembled at its current location where the leak occurred.[1,2]

The leak was rated Level 3 on the International Nuclear Events Scale by Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) − making it the most serious incident since the March 2011 disaster in the NRA's view. Level 3 can be assigned when there is "severe contamination in an area not expected by design, with a low probability of significant public exposure."

Between July 2012 and June 2013, the NRA made recommendations or issued instructions around 10 times to increase patrols and to install more observation cameras and water gauges, among other measures. TEPCO only upped its patrols from once a day to twice a day, and installed more cameras while still leaving blind spots. Since the revelation of the 300-ton leak, TEPCO has said it will increase patrol staff from 10 to 60 people, boost the number of daily patrols to four, and install water gauges in the tanks.[3]

Previously, TEPCO assigned only two workers to inspect 1,000 water tanks, during twice-daily patrols of two hours each. That meant that each worker took only 15 seconds to inspect each tank, and radiation levels were not measured unless a worker suspected something was wrong. Although workers sometimes saw puddles of water, they generally assumed that they were rainwater, which tends to collect near the bases of the tanks.[4,5]

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi visited Fukushima on August 26 and said: "The major problem lies in that TEPCO failed to manage the tanks properly. ... The urgency of the situation is very high, from here on the government will take charge."[6] He said TEPCO "has been playing a game of Whac-a-Mole with problems at the site."[7]

More than 300,000 tons of contaminated water are being stored at the Fukushima plant, in around 1,000 tanks, with around 400 tons being added every day as water is still being used to cool reactors.

In early September, TEPCO said workers had discovered high levels of radioactivity on three tanks and one pipe. One reading was 1,800 millisieverts per hour (compared to typical background radiation levels of 2−3 millisieverts per year) and another reading was 2,200 millisieverts per hour. It is believed that at least five of the tanks holding contaminated water may have leaked. Officials said that water levels have not dropped in any of the five tanks (whereas the 300-ton leak markedly reduced the level). The tanks were constructed by bolting together sheets of metal, rather than welding them. Welded tanks are more secure but TEPCO chose the bolted type because they are cheaper and faster to construct.[4,10,11,28]

A subcontractor who worked on constructing the tanks said workers were concerned about the integrity of the tanks even as they were constructing them: "We were required to build tanks in succession. We gave priority to making the tanks, rather than quality control. There were fears that toxic water may leak." The life-span of the tanks is only around five years, the subcontractors added, and more contaminated water may leak as they deteriorate.[12,13]

The head of the NRA, Shinichi Tanaka, said there may be no choice but to pump radioactive water from tanks − which are nearing capacity − into the sea but most of the contamination would first be removed. "The situation at Fukushima is changing every day," he said. "Fukushima Daiichi has various risks. The accident has yet to be settled down."[8,9]

Meanwhile, the NRA is urging TEPCO to increase monitoring of seawater to better assess the effects on ocean water as well as fish and other marine life. Shunichi Tanaka said TEPCO's efforts to monitor oceanic radiation levels have been insufficient.[14]

Fishers south of Fukushima Daiichi have not been able to fish commercially since the disaster, while those north of the plant can catch only octopus and whelks. They planned a trial catch in the hope that radiation levels would be low enough to begin sales soon after − but that plan has been aborted in the wake of the recent spills and leaks. Hiroshi Kishi, chair of the Japan Fisheries Co-operative, said: "This has dealt an immeasurable blow to the future of Japan's fishing industry, and we are extremely concerned." Nobuyuki Hatta, director of the Fukushima Prefecture Fisheries Research Centre, said: "People in the fishing business have no choice but to give up. Many have mostly given up already."[15,16,17]


In addition to problems with water tanks, there are ongoing problems with contaminated water in, around and beneath the reactor buildings. On July 10, the NRA announced it "highly suspected" that the plant was leaking contaminated water into the ocean. TEPCO didn't acknowledge what was happening until July 22; a month after initial suspicions were raised.[18,19] The NRA's Shunichi Tanaka said he believed contamination of the sea had been continuing since the March 2011 catastrophe.[20]

In response to the July revelations, Dale Klein, a member of TEPCO's Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee and former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told TEPCO: "It ... appears that you are not keeping the people of Japan informed. These actions indicate that you don't know what you are doing ... you do not have a plan and that you are not doing all you can to protect the environment and the people." [21]

Barbara Judge, a member of the Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee and former chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said she was "disappointed and distressed" over the company's lack of disclosure: "I hope that there will be lessons learned from the mishandling of this issue and the next time an issue arises − which inevitably it will because decommissioning is a complicated and difficult process − that the public will be immediately informed about the situation and what TEPCO is planning to do in order to remedy it."[21]

Atsushi Kasai, a former researcher at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, said: "They let people know about the good things and hide the bad things. This culture of cover up hasn't changed since the disaster."[22]

Journalist Mark Willacy described the recurring pattern: "At first TEPCO denies there's a problem at the crippled Fukushima plant. Then it becomes obvious to everyone that there is a problem, so the company then acknowledges the problem and makes it public. And finally one of its hapless officials is sent out to apologise to the cameras."[23]

Still more problems surfaced in August. Three months earlier, TEPCO realised that contaminants apparently leaking from a maze of conduits near the reactors were responsible for a spike in radiation levels in groundwater elsewhere in the plant. TEPCO began to build an underground "wall" created by injected hardening chemicals into the soil but the barrier created a dam and water pooled behind it eventually began to flow over. In August, government officials said they believed 300 tons of the contaminated water was entering the ocean daily.[24] Shinji Kinjo, head of an taskforce, described the situation as an "emergency" and said the discharges exceeded legal limits of radioactivity.[25]

In early September, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government would allocate 47 billion yen (US$470 million) towards dealing with the contaminated water problems, including funding for a massive underground wall of frozen earth around the damaged reactors to contain groundwater flows, and funding to improve a water treatment system meant to reduce radiation levels in the contaminated water.[26]

Mayors from Futaba, Okuma, Tomioka, and Naraha have joined Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato in formally demanding the decommissioning of all 10 nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, not just those that were damaged in the 2011 nuclear disaster.[27]

Reactor #3 at Kansai Electric's Oi power plant in Fukui Prefecture has been taken offline for routine maintenance, leaving just one reactor operating in all of Japan: reactor #4 at the same facility. That reactor will go offline on September 15. For the first time in 14 months and only the second time since 1966, Japan will be entirely nuclear free.


Fukushima Tourism Proposal
A group of authors, scholars, academics and architects has put forward a proposal for a new community on the edge of the Fukushima exclusion zone. Tourists would be able to check into hotels constructed to protect guests from elevated levels of radiation. The village would also have restaurants and souvenir shops, as well as a museum dedicated to the impact the disaster has had on local people. Visitors would be taken on a tour of "ground zero" dressed in protective suits and wearing respirators. The group said they got the idea from the growth in so-called "dark tourism" such as Ground Zero in New York or the "killing fields" of Cambodia.
− Julian Ryall, 19 August 2013, The Telegraph,



Water supply - a limiting factor in energy production

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Higher water temperatures and reduced river flows in Europe and the United States in recent years have resulted in reduced production, or temporary shutdown, of several thermoelectric power plants, resulting in increased electricity prices and raising concerns about future energy security in a changing climate. Thermoelectric (nuclear or fossil-fuelled) power plants, supply 91% and 78% of total electricity in the US and Europe respectively, thus disruption to their operation is a significant concern for the energy sector.

A study published June 3, 2012 in Nature Climate Change projects further disruption to supply, with a likely decrease in thermoelectric power generating capacity of between 6-19% in Europe and 4-16% in the United States for the period 2031-2060, due to lack of cooling-water. The likelihood of extreme (>90%) reductions in thermoelectric power generation will, on average, increase by a factor of three.

Compared to other water use sectors (e.g. industry, agriculture, domestic use), the thermoelectric power sector is one of the largest water users in the US (at 40%) and in Europe (43% of total surface water withdrawals). While much of this water is 'recycled' the power plants rely on consistent volumes of water, at a particular temperature, to prevent overheating of power plants. Reduced water availability and higher water temperatures - caused by increasing ambient air temperatures associated with climate change - are therefore significant issues for electricity supply.

According to the authors, while recirculation (cooling) towers will be affected, power plants that rely on 'once-through cooling' are the most vulnerable. These plants pump water direct from rivers, lakes, or the sea, to cool the turbine condensers, water is then returned to its source, often at temperatures significantly higher than when the water entered the plant, causing yet another problem, that of downstream thermal pollution.

"Higher electricity prices and disruption to supply are significant concerns for the energy sector and consumers, but another growing concern is the environmental impact of increasing water temperatures on river ecosystems, affecting, for example, life cycles of aquatic organisms," says Michelle van Vliet, from Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands.

Both the US and Europe have strict environmental standards with regard to the volume of water withdrawn and the temperature of the water discharged from power plants. Thus warm periods coupled with low river flows can lead to conflicts between environmental objectives and energy production. Additionally, given the substantial investments and the long-life expectancy (50-60 years) of thermoelectric power plants, such projections are important for the electricity sector such that it can adapt to changes in cooling water availability and plan infrastructure investments accordingly.

One adaptation strategy is to reduce reliance on freshwater sources and replace with saltwater, according to co-author Pavel Kabat, Director/CEO of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). "However given the life expectancy of power plants and the inability to relocate them to an alternative water source, this is not an immediate solution but should be factored into infrastructure planning. Another option is to switch to new gas-fired power plants that are both more efficient than nuclear- or fossil fuel- power plants and that also use less water."

The study focused on 61 power plants in central and eastern U.S. and 35 power plants in Europe, both nuclear and coal-fired power plants with different cooling systems were included. Considering the projected increase in demand for electricity in these regions and globally, the study reinforces the need for improved climate adaptation strategies in the thermoelectric power sector to ensure future energy security and environmental objectives are not compromised.

The projections are based on new research that combines hydrological and water temperature models over the twenty-first century with an electricity production model. The models consider two contrasting scenarios for the energy sector - one of low levels of technological change in the energy sector and one that assumes environmental sustainability and a rapid transition to renewable energy.

The peer reviewed full report is available at:

The research was undertaken by an international team of scientists from the Earth System Science and Climate Change Group, Wageningen University and Research Centre; The Netherlands, The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, USA; Forschungszentrum Jülich, Institute of Energy and Clmate Research–System Analyses and Technology Evaluation, Jülich, Germany; and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria.

Reference: Vulnerability of US and European electricity supply to climate change. Michelle T. H. van Vliet, John R. Yearsley, Fulco Ludwig, Stefan Vögele, Dennis P. Lettenmaier and Pavel Kabat. Nature Climate Change, 10.1038/NCLIMATE1546, June 3 2012
Contact: Leane Regan, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg, Austria.
Tel: +43 664 443 0368
Email:  regan[at]

Fukushima 1 reactor: water level low

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

In last Nuclear Monitor the unstable situation of Fukushima Daiichi unit 4 fuel pool was mentioned, this time’s bad news is about water level at reactor 1. Former Prime Minister Kan repeated that the nuclear lobby was to blame for the Fukushima disaster, and 70% of Japanese companies support abandoning nuclear power.

An analysis by the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization has shown that the level of water filling the number 1 reactor may be far lower than estimated by plant operator Tepco, officials of JNES said on May 22. JNES estimated that the water in the primary containment vessel is only 40 centimeters deep. TEPCO has estimated the water level to be about 1.9 meters. Not disputed is the fact coolant water injected into the reactor is leaking. JNES thinks that the water injected into the reactor may be leaking from a hole (of about 2 cm in diameter) located in a section connecting the primary container and the suppression pool, leaving the container with water just 40 cm in depth. Tepco spokesperson Matsumoto declined to comment, but said that what is important is that the nuclear fuel, which has melted through the pressure vessel and accumulated at the bottom of the outer primary container, is covered with water and kept cool.

TEPCO hopes to insert an endoscope into the reactor by the end of the year to determine the actual water level. Although JNES officials noted there are "uncertainties" in their analysis, the track record of Tepco is not very good (to put it mildly). Tepco has already inserted an endoscope into the crippled No. 2 reactor and found the water level at a much-lower-than-expected 60 cm deep.

On May 25, a Reuters poll showed that nearly three-quarters of Japanese companies support abandoning nuclear power after last year's Fukushima disaster, although a majority set the condition that alternative energy resources must be secured. Highlighting public mistrust of Japan's regional monopoly power companies, only 11 percent of those surveyed approved of utilities' efforts to secure power supply and just 12 percent trusted their projections for electricity demand. Forty percent saw efforts by power companies as "insufficient" and 29 percent saw their power demand projections as unreliable. Critics accuse utilities of exaggerating potential power shortages in order to win public support to restart off-line reactors, beginning with two at the Ohi plant. The poll also showed 70 percent of firms are prepared to cooperate on power saving to the same degree as last summer, with 24 percent willing to cooperate to a lesser extent.

Naoto Kan, the former Prime Minister, has admitted that his office was "overwhelmed" during the Fukushima nuclear meltdown last year, and he recommended that Japan scrap all its reactors to avoid a repeat. On May 28, he told a parliamentary committee that the bulk of the blame for the disaster lay with the nuclear lobby, which he said had acted like the nation's out-of-control military during the Second World War, with "a grip on actual political power".

Sources: Mainichi, 23 May 2012 / Reuters, 25 May 2012 / Independent (UK), 29 May 2012
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
Email: cnic[at]


Uranium mining and water

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

For Australia especially, global warming means water shortage -drought over wide areas, more evaporation. Uranium mining is water intensive. Already outback communities in Australia are being hit by water shortage, as water is being extracted from the Great Arterial Basin faster than it is being replenished.

Water use in a typical uranium mine is approximately 200 to 300 gallons per minute. In water-short Australia, BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam uranium mine has been for years taking 35 million litres of water each day from the underground aquifer, at no cost whatever. When BHP digs its new biggest hole in the world, it will pay a small fixed price for removing even greater amounts, exceeding 42 million litres.

BHP Billiton Olympic Dam mine expansion in South Australia has received a go ahead on 10 October 2011. This will create the world's largest open pit mine, over 1km deep, 4.5km long and 3km wide. Olympic Dam already consumes an inordinate amount of ground water extracted from the Great Artesian Basin every day - for free. The mine expansion will entail BHP Billiton expanding groundwater extraction and building a desalination plant at Point Lowly which will impact the only known breeding ground of the giant Australian cuttlefish, prawn fisheries and the sensitive marine environment.

BHP Billiton proposes to increase its water consumption by an additional 200 million litres per day. Water intake from the Great Artesian Basin will increase from 35 million litres per day to up to  42 million litres per day, with the remainder to come from the proposed coastal desalination plant at Point Lowly. That’s over 100,000 litres every minute – in the driest state on the driest continent on earth. The water intake from the Great Artesian Basin has already had adverse impacts on the unique Mound Springs found near Lake Eyre, which are fed by the underlying Artesian Basin, and are sacred to the Arabunna people, the traditional owners of the area. Under the Indenture Act, BHP Billiton pays nothing for its massive water intake for the Olympic Dam mine, despite recording a total net profit of US$23. 95 billion in 2011, nearly double its 2010 figure of US$13.01 billion.

Out of sight, out of mind
Groundwater is a major resource, but one that has been taken for granted for decades. In the past, groundwater supplies were treated as an infinite resource, and subject to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude. But that’s changing. There’s now an enormous interest in the way our groundwater resources are measured, managed and utilised. There are also concerns over issues such as over-extraction of water, pollution, wastage, allocation and licensing issues, water pricing and groundwater salinisation.

The most well-known and important groundwater source in Australia is the Great Artesian Basin, or GAB. This is a vast groundwater source that underlies 22 per cent of Australia – extending beneath the arid and semi-arid regions of Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales. It covers about 1.7 million square kilometres, and contains an estimated 8700 million megalitres (1 megaliter = 1 million liters) of water. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the largest artesian water basins in the world……

The sustainable yield of a groundwater source depends on balancing the use or discharge against recharge rates. Normally discharge of groundwater occurs through vegetation, into streams and lakes, or through evaporation into the atmosphere. Sustainable yield cannot simply be determined by a measure of the recharge rate. If water is extracted for human use at the recharge rate, discharge to other areas can be affected…..

Extraction of groundwater can also lead to salinity problems and have a negative impact on native vegetation with roots that tap into groundwater, as well as wetlands, rivers and streams. The full impact of using these aquifers as planned is not known, but is likely to reduce the rate of water flowing to support rivers and wetlands and other groundwater dependent ecosystems.

Water from the Great Artesian Basin in Central Australia is being depleted to keep residual radioactive dust from uranium mining wet in order to keep it from blowing across the continent. Seven million gallons of water is being extracted from the basin per day to keep the radioactive dust in place, according to Kerrieann Garlick, a member of Footprints for Peace from Perth, Australia.

Despite its profits more than tripling in the last three years, BHP has never paid a cent for the vast amounts of water used by the Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine near Roxby Downs. Under the Roxby Downs Indenture Act BHP is not required to pay for this water usage. The Indenture Act applies specifically to the Olympic Dam mine, and provides for wide-ranging legal exemptions and overrides from environmental and Aboriginal heritage protection laws that apply elsewhere in the state, including the Environmental Protection Act and the Natural Resources Act (which incorporates water management issues).

“The Indenture Act means that the Olympic Dam mine is not subject to the same environmental regulatory framework as other industrial projects in the state,’ explained Nectaria Calan of Friends of the Earth Adelaide. “Additionally, by allowing BHP to take water from the Great Artesian Basin for free, the South Australian government is essentially providing BHP with a massive subsidy,” she continued.

The water intake from the Great Artesian Basin has already had adverse impacts on the unique Mound Springs found near Lake Eyre, which are fed by the underlying Artesian Basin, and are sacred to the Arabunna people, the traditional owners of the area.

As time goes by,  it is growing harder for the nuclear industry to hide the toxic effects and legacy of uranium mining. But, uranium mining still disproportionately affects people who can be marginalized in some way by governments. The case against uranium mining is not only a public health and environmental issue, it is also a human rights issue.

Sources: Indymedia Australia, 12 October 2011 /
Contact: Australian Conservation Foundation, First Floor 60 Leicester St Carlton VIC 3053, Australia
Tel:  +61 3 9345 1111
Email: afc[at]


Nuclear power and water consumption

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The amount of water used in uranium mining is similar to that used in coal mining, and the problems of water pollution are also similar. However, uranium requires much more processing than coal to become a usable fuel for electricity production. The process of converting uranium ore to finished reactor fuel involves several steps that use water, including milling, enrichment and fuel fabrication. These additional processing steps make uranium a much more water intensive fuel than coal, per unit of electricity produced.

The above citation is from a newly released report in which it is stated that nuclear power needs large amounts of water: for example four times as much water compared to a combined cycle gas plant. Table 1 (on page 23 of the report) shows the Water Consumption in Thermoelectric Power Plants, which tells us that nuclear power plants need 2,700 liters per MWh. Conclusion of the report in short: increasing pressure on Freshwater resources will require more efficient water use in the extraction, transformation and delivery of energy.

Water is increasingly moving from an operational issue to one of strategic significance, according to Thirsty Energy: Water and Energy in the 21st Century, a new report by the World Economic Forum and Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA). The report warns, “Energy’s share of water is likely to be squeezed in the future in many parts of the world.” According to Climate of Hope (a documentary produced in 2007 by Scott Ludlam and Jose Garcia for the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia) the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia consumes 33 thousand tons of water a day, making it one of the largest water users in the country.

’Thirsty Energy’ offers a broad perspective on water’s role in energy production, the energy used in water provision, and the new risks and opportunities inherent in the “ancient relationship” between energy and water. The report illustrates water-related challenges and potential solutions with perspectives from distinguished leaders in energy, water provision, engineering, and academia, concluding that local solutions must be found to optimize the use of both of these resources around the world. “Water availability and water stress are local issues, and the possible impact of water scarcity on the energy industry is similarly local,” according to the report.

Accidentally, water use of nuclear power is one of the arguments opposing the proposed new nuclear reactor which the government of Jordan is pushing hard for. Jordan is the 4th most water poor country in the world, "we do not have the luxury of wasting our precious resource on cooling the reactor", writes the Jordan Royal Marine Conservation Society (JREDS).

The JREDS is asking for assistance in trying to develop and launch a campaign to oppose the nuclear plans by the government of Jordan. Since Jordan has a huge potential for renewable energy production (wind & solar) there really is no justification for nuclear, writes Princess Basma bint Ali.

Although the report is commissioned by the World Economic Forum (not the most progressive forum, to put it mildly) it offers some interesting figures. Another very interested (not-nuclear related) figure on page 27 (‘Efficiency loss due to Carbon Capture and Storage at Typical Power Plant’) says that “Capturing and sequestering CO2 emissions can cost a power plant about 30% of its power.”

The report ‘Thirsty Energy: Water and Energy in the 21st Century’ is available at

Contact: Laka Foundation at

HRHP Basma bint Ali at the Jordan Royal Marine Conservation Society (JREDS) can be reached at: