U.S.: Secretive Radioactive Reactor Vessel Shipment.
(October 24, 2003) "Midnight dumping" came to mind when the dismantled reactor vessel of the closed Big Rock Point reactor began its surprise and secretive 1,000 mile (1,600 kilometers) journey from northern Michigan to South Carolina on 7 October. Only through the work of a reporter of the Gaylord Herald Times was NIRS even notified, so that it could spread word to the news media and concerned citizens along the route through 8 states. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations did not require advance notification to state governments or emergency responders, nor security precautions. The heavy haul truck holding the 290 ton radioactive cargo broke an axle on a bridge over the Boyne River. The reactor then spent the night at a gas station (What about an accident or attack? What about all that flammable/explosive gasoline?) which is also a bus stop for school children.
Since Consumers Energy claimed to the press that the public faced zero radiation dose, residents of Gaylord lined the streets to watch the reactor go by and be loaded onto a train. Actually, NRC allows a chest x-ray (10 mRem) per hour to persons 2 meters (6.6 feet) away. In an accident, persons 1 meter (3.3 feet) away are allowed to receive 1 Rem (100 x-rays) per hour. When two concerned citizens tried to take an independent radiation reading of the transport near Toledo, Ohio they were arrested by railroad police for "trespassing". Two days after the reactor passed through Grand Blanc, MI another train on the same tracks suffered a 30-car derailment; the local fire chief speculated it was due to the reactor's heavy weight degrading the tracks. The reactor will be buried in an unlined hole in the ground at Barnwell, South Carolina, a "low" level radioactive waste dump that is already leaking. It will arrive at the end of the month.
(NIRS, 23 October 2003)
Dismantled reactor vessel will be shipped aroud the tip of South America.
(October 24, 2003) Utility Southern California Edison has arranged a route to ship its dismantled reactor vessel of the San Onofre-1 reactor to the South Carolina disposal site. The three month long trip could begin within weeks. The 668-ton reactor vessel will be driven from San Onofre in California (west coast) to Camp Pendleton, and will be shipped about 11,000 miles (17,700 kilometers) by barge around the tip of South America to South Carolina (east coast). Earlier this year, the Panama Canal Authority refused to grant a weight waiver to ship the reactor vessel through the 50-mile waterway. The Port of Charleston, South Carolina, said in February it would deny entry of the reactor due to terrorism concerns. Since the effort to move the vessel began in 1999, Edison had also faced disputes with railroad and state Department of Transportation officials, as well as opposition from environmentalists.
The State (Associated Press), 15 October 2003
Finland's fifth reactor most likely of EPR design and built at Olkiluoto NPP.
(October 24, 2003) Finland's fifth reactor will be built at the Olkiluoto NPP (now two reactors) in Eurajoki. The reactor will most likely be built by the French-German company Framatome ANP - Siemens AG, based on their offer for the European Pressurized water Reactor (EPR) with a capacity of 1,600 MW. A contract has not yet been signed, but power company TVO (Teollisuuden Voima Oy) has announced that it has ended negotiations with other bidders like General Electric and Russian company Atomstroyexport. Main details such as price and technical conditions were agreed with all bidders but for detailed specifics the talks now continue with Framatome/Siemens. TVO was not able to continue negotiations in detail with all bidders and has chosen one. Sources said that General Electric had come in with a too high bid and that the Russian design could face too much political and public opposition. Besides, TVO would have chosen the largest reactor it could get because it has no guarantee it may build another one in the near future.
According to TVO, financial aspects were decisive in the choice of location and manufacturer. TVO compared the price of electricity production to the costs of the investment. The total value of the investment will be 3 billion Euros (US$ 3.55 billion), including nuclear waste management expenses, according to TVO. That investment is in fact the largest private industrial investment in Finnish history. On 16 October TVO stated that all key issues have already been agreed upon with Framatome, but that in theory it is possible that the manufacturer of the reactor will still change if some disputes should arise. Observers close to the negotiations believe however the deal has been closed in practice. A contract is expected to be signed by the end of this year. The new reactor should be in commercial operation by 2009. If the EPR will be built (there is still much opposition), it will be the first of this new design in the world.
Nucleonics Week Special, 16 October 2003; Press release TVO, 16 October 2003; Helsingin Sanomat, 17 October 2003
U.K. Ministry agonizes over fate of nuclear subs.
(October 24, 2003) The British Ministry of Defense is searching for a publicly acceptable solution for disposing of 27 highly radioactive submarine reactors. In a clear acknowledgement that it is running out of time and space to moor the redundant submarines, the Ministry consulted the residents of two dockyard towns about what to do with the rusting hulks. Seven hulks are at Rosyth dockyard in Fife and four at Devonport in Plymouth. They have had the fuel rods taken out but remain highly radioactive. The urgency is that the 16 nuclear submarines still at sea are coming to the end of their lives and by 2012 there will be no mooring space left. There are three possibilities to solve the problem of the rusting nuke subs.
One is to cut off the front and back of the submarines, encase the 800 tons reactors in metal and store them temporarily in a giant trench. This however postpones the problem of final dismantling to future generations. Second solution is to cut the reactors up into small pieces to be packed in concrete for storage in bunkers until a national repository is opened (not expected before 2050). There are fears that this choice will expose workers to radioactivity but it is favored by BNFL, Babcock Engineering and DML, three companies who put forward proposals to deal with the submarines. A third and controversial idea is to move the subs to a site where they could be hauled up on land and put in a "grave". This is intended as storage until the radioactivity has decayed sufficiently to dismantle them. There may still be other possibilities and a decision must be made in about two years time.
Greenpeace has congratulated the Ministry for running the consultation but added that the company-proposals mostly involve cutting up reactor compartments, thus dispersing radioactivity in the environment. Meanwhile dockyard operator DML may use the Dounreay plant in Scotland to store reactors from redundant subs. DML wants the Ministry of Defense to explore the possibility of extending the site.
The Guardian, 18 October 2003; Evening Herald, The Voice of Plymouth, 21 October 2003
Flaw is found in plan to bury nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.
(October 24, 2003) The U.S. Energy Department of Energy's (DOE) design for burying nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, could be unsafe because of rapid corrosion of waste casks, according to the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. The expert panel, that in January 2002 called evidence supporting Yucca Mountain "weak to moderate", strongly urges DOE to reexamine the current repository design and proposed operation. Nuclear waste gives off heat as well as radiation, and DOE is considering taking advantage of that, by spacing the waste containers closely. That would heat the tunnels to nearly 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius) in the first few decades. According to DOE, this will keep the metal casks dry and thus prevent corrosion. But the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, a panel created by Congress to advise DOE, believes something else. According to a draft letter sent to DOE, two new sets of laboratory tests "cast doubt on the extent to which the waste package will be an effective barrier under the repository conditions that have been presented to the board". One board member, Thure E. Cerling, a professor of biology and of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah, said that the problem was that "most reactions take place faster at higher temperatures", and that this included rust. Any available water would be mixed with salt, present in the tunnels' dust, the experts said. And just as salt prevents water from freezing, it also makes it harder to boil and evaporate. The salty water could lead to pitting and perforation, according to the experts. The board letter can be found at www.nwtrb.gov/corr/mlc014016.pdf.
The New York Times, 21 October 2003; Letter of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board to DOE, 21 October 2003
Air crash risks at Yucca Mountain.
(October 24, 2003) Another concern arose when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) told DOE that the department needed to present more up-to-date information on air crash risks near Yucca Mountain. An assessment on the air crash risk is necessary before DOE can make a license application to NRC in December 2004. According to the NRC, DOE has not used recent data on flights above the proposed site. Besides, DOE had not provided any basis for its assertion that even under accident conditions a pilot would be able to avert a crash into the repository. NRC has now asked to DOE to provide an air crash frequency analysis and an updated map of air crash sites near Yucca Mountain. The Yucca Mountain area is flanked by flight paths for Air Force jets on their way to the Nellis gunnery range and live ordnance is sometimes used in exercises. There are totally 28 airports (mostly small) within a 100 mile (160 kilometers) radius.
NuclearFuel, 13 October 2003
NIRS opposes MOX test at U.S. Duke Power's NPP.
(October 24, 2003) NIRS filed five objections with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission against Duke Power's plan to test MOX fuel at its Catawba NPP on Lake Wylie. Duke wants to test four MOX assemblies beginning in 2005, and begin full scale use at its Catawba and McGuire reactors in 2008. A licensing panel will hear the objections in Charlotte on 3 and 4 December. According to NIRS Duke hasn't proven that the test material is the same as the surplus plutonium to be used in full production, or that it will be manufactured the same way. The program is intended to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus weapons plutonium. The test fuel will be made in France (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 593.5543: "U.S. MOX to be fabricated at unsafe French Cadarache plant"). Furthermore no plan exists for special disposal of spent MOX fuel, according to NIRS.
The Charlotte Observer, 22 October 2003
Barsebäck-2 gets approval to restart.
(October 24, 2003) The Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate (SKI) has approved the restart of the Barsebäck-2 reactor. The reactor was shut down on 15 January to repair broken "thermal mixers" in the feed water system. After repairs the reactor was restarted on 7 March but shut down again this summer for routine maintenance. It was long before January known that there was a problem with the system but the operators refused to shut down the reactor at an earlier stage. Because of this the SKI had filed a criminal complaint against the operator on 19 August (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 592: "In brief") and refused a restart permit. Now, SKI has given permission for restart, but requires written status reports every four months and a repair of a leakage from its containment. Besides, it wants a plan for independent safety inspections.
Nucleonics Week, 23 October 2003
GAO wants tighter lock on radioactive sources.
(October 24, 2003) Securing radioactive sources is a significant security concern in Arizona and other U.S. states, despite increased safeguards put in place since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. This conclusion is made in a recent study by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). The GAO investigation concluded that the federal government and private sector need to improve security related to sealed sources as well as the tracking of it. According to the report, there are 20,289 organizations and businesses in the U.S. that have licenses for the use of radioactive sources. The federal report raises concerns about the ability of state agencies to keep track of them. Since 1998, there have been 1,300 incidents of lost or abandoned radioactive waste nationwide.
Website GAO (www.gao.gov; The Business Journal Phoenix, 13 October 2003