Union of Concerned Scientists: disaster at Davis-Besse was possible.
(November 28, 2003) The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has released a study with the latest facts and developments on the shutdown Davis-Besse reactor. In 2002, a large hole was detected in the reactor vessel head of this reactor, caused by corrosion from boric acid that leaked from the control rod drive mechanism (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 565.5385: "Millimeters from disaster"). The boric acid had eaten through the metal lid and only a thin stainless steel liner inside the lid had prevented cooling water to escape from the reactor. Testing with two mock-ups of the lid at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently showed that the rupture of the remaining structure was likely. The mock-up lids burst at a lower pressure than predicted by computer studies. In fact, one lid burst at a pressure substantially lower than Davis-Besse's normal operating pressure.
Another problem discovered was a failing 'containment sump' system, a vital system for emergency cooling. Insufficient cooling water can cause a meltdown if too much water escapes from a reactor. In the case of Davis-Besse the loss of coolant would have occurred if the lid had burst. Water escaping from a reactor vessel would end up at the bottom of the containment structure. The containment sump system should pump the water back into the reactor. It has now been discovered that the containment sump in a number of reactors would probably be blocked with debris if an accident occurred and that the capacity of the system is too small to guarantee sufficient cooling of the reactor.
Both problems together pose a high risk to Davis-Besse. If the lid had burst, which was already possible under normal operation as shown by the Oak Ridge experiments, and the containment sump did not function, the reactor could have melted. The hole in Davis-Besse was only found because of similar problems at the Oconee plant (South Carolina). The UCS reconstructed the scenario in which the hole had not been detected and the reactor was online during the 14 August electricity blackout. Such a blackout could have caused an increase in the coolant pressure due to an automatic shutdown of the secondary coolant circuit. The reactor lid would have burst due to this sudden pressure rise inside the reactor vessel and the core melted. UCS has recommended that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission order all reactor owners to repair their impaired containment sump systems. Otherwise, a broken component and subsequent coolant leakage may result in a tragic disaster.
Disaster at Davis-Besse: What Might Have Been, Union of Concerned Scientists, 18 November 2003
France: draft Energy Law. (November 28, 2003) On 7 November, the French industry minister Fontaine introduced a draft energy law. The draft law (or White Paper) is a next step in the development of France's energy and electricity supply policy, following the Energy Debate earlier this year. The draft law does not include real short-term decisions on replacement of its nuclear capacity. Although it states that the nuclear option must be kept open, a decision to replace the current reactors is not necessary before 2012-2015. By that time, France could have decided to replace all or parts of its nuclear fleet. The decision will be influenced by the economics of nuclear and other options, for instance by the price of natural gas, carbon dioxide policies and cost uncertainties associated with nuclear waste management and decommissioning.
To keep the nuclear technology available (until 2012-2015) the draft law "envisages […] soon building a new generation demonstrator". These kinds of investments in technology programs cannot be expected before appendices to the law have been made, and so not before voting in parliament in the second part of 2004. Such a "new generation demonstrator" could be the European Pressurized water Reactor (EPR), although this is never mentioned by name in the draft law. Confusion arose in the media about press statements from Fontaine in which she said she would like to launch an EPR demo unit. However such a strong conclusion was not included in the draft law and can be seen as a political move. Presently, there is no official decision on building an EPR and one cannot be expected before the second part of 2004. Greenpeace France also noted: "Keep in mind that in France nuclear decisions are most of the time totally irrational".
The Draft can be commented on at the end of the year. Afterwards (beginning of 2004 at latest) it will be sent to the council of ministers and eventually introduced and voted by the parliament. That should happen by, or after, the summer.
Press release Minister of Industry, 7 November 2003; Nucleonics Week, 13 November 2003; Email from Greenpeace France, 17 November 2003
Fortum presses ahead with controversial stake in new Finnish reactor. (November 28, 2003) Fortum, Finland's state-controlled energy group, went ahead with a controversial decision to take a 25% stake in Finland's fifth reactor. The Fortum decision has provoked resistance from anti-nuclear groups, and Greenpeace last week called for a demonstration in an effort to stop the move. The Finnish national energy group is a member of TVO, the consortium that won parliamentary approval last year to build the reactor. TVO said that interest in the project had been strong but gave no further details. Finnish forestry and paper giants UPM-Kymmene and Stora-Enso, who both hold indirect stakes in TVO, are believed to be among them, while the City of Helsinki has already said that it will participate in the construction. After the decision Greenpeace said it would start a campaign targeting Fortum's customers in Scandinavia, where resistance against nuclear power remains strong and the firm has marketed its energy as a "green alternative".
AFP, 18 November 2003
Hunt for nuke waste in Australia. (November 28, 2003) Nearly 18 kg of uranium, including 9.7kg of enriched uranium, stored at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor cannot be accounted for. The whereabouts of 61.2 kg of radioactive thorium also remains a mystery after audits at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) failed to pinpoint the material. Australia's nuclear watchdog, the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office (ASNO) reported that batches of nuclear material could not be accounted for on seven occasions during inspections at the reactor since 2000. ASNO believes most of the material is could not be found because of faulty records or failures in accounting for substances that were transferred from waste stocks to inventory storage.
Herald Sun, 24 November 2003
30 years is enough; close Borssele. (November 28, 2003) A coalition of NGOs, political parties and local grassroots protested at the Borssele NPP on 30 October, the day the station celebrated its 30th anniversary. In 1994 it was decided that Borssele would close before 2004 but the government that took power in May has decided to keep it open until at least 2013. The demonstration made clear that 30 years of nuclear power is more than enough - and that we have to take care of the nuclear heritage for the coming 240.000 years. More than 100 people joined in the action, putting together an impressive tableau vivant of 600 yellow radwaste barrels.
As the nuclear circles are very much into 'open communication' representatives of WISE and other NGOs were invited to take part in the official program inside the NPP. There we learned that - according to almost all nuclear industry people having their drinks - it is just a matter of time before they can openly start talking about new-build, even in the Netherlands.
Germany: Stade NPP permanently shut down.
(November 28, 2003) On 14 November, the 640 MW Stade reactor was closed. The Pressurized Water Reactor had been in commercial operation since May 1972. In 2000, Stade operator E.On announced that the reactor would close by 2003 for economic reasons. Nevertheless, media reports stated that the closure would be the consequence of the agreement between industry and government regarding the lifetimes of German reactors (see WISE News Communique 532.5186: "Germany: government and utilities reach agreement on phaseout"). Although this "consensus agreement" has set electricity amounts to be produced for each reactor, Stade had not yet reached that limit and could have operated until mid-2004. Under the consensus agreement, the remaining amount of Stade (about 5 GigaWatthours) will now be transferred to the Burnsbüttel and Brokdorf NPPs.
Although the minister of environment Jürgen Trittin (Green Party) claimed the closure as a victory, anti nuclear organizations were less optimistic. The Bund for Environment and Nature Protection criticized the transfer of the residual electricity amounts to other NPPs. The Citizens' Initiative (BI) Lüchow-Dannenberg said, "no gram of nuclear waste to be less produced now, but only at another place". The BI was in the recent weeks actively involved against the transport of 12 casks of high level waste from France to Gorleben. In reaction to an invitation by Trittin to join him in a special dinner, many NGOs refused to do so. As Greenpeace Germany said "we will only celebrate a big party when the last reactor is disconnected from the grid".
The next expected closure should be the Obrigheim reactor, which has been in operation since 1968. This reactor will reach its lifetime by November 2005 and was initially planned to be closed in 2003, but it gained electricity 'credits' from the Philippsburg-I reactor and was allowed to operate for two more years (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 575.5450: "Germany: closure of Obrigheim delayed by two years"). Critics fear that no reactor will be closed before the next parliamentary elections. After the elections in 2006, a change of government could occur that would end the phase out politics.
Press release BUND and BI Environment protection, 14 November 2003; Tageszeitung, 14 November 2003; WNA News Briefing, 12-18 November 2003
Germany: radiation victim Michael Weber died.
(November 28, 2003) On 17 September, the founder of the German Association for Radiation Victims has died after a long period of illness. His disease was a consequence of an accident at the uranium fuel fabrication plant at Hanau in 1971. In the accident, he was covered with uranium powder and inhaled it because he was not given respiratory protection. Ten years later he developed serious lung problems. In 2000, he sued Siemens AG for DM3 million (at that time US$1.4 million) compensation (see WISE News Communique 531: "In brief:"). He was never able to finish the legal procedure due to the high costs. Siemens always denied liability in the case.
Strahlentelex, November 2003
Australian spent fuel to France.
(November 28, 2003) 344 spent fuel elements from the Lucas Heights research reactor in Sydney was sent to the La Hague reprocessing plant on 27 October. The shipment is to arrive at La Hague early December and the amount of fuel is equal to nine years of operation. It is the sixth transport of spent fuel to a destination outside Australia since 1963.
Reuters, 27 October 2003; BBC news, 28 October 2003
French secret defense regulation adapted.
(November 28, 2003) Following numerous protests by NGOs and journalist federations, the French government has announced that it will revise proposed regulation on the release of information concerning nuclear transports. The decree was published in August and sought to forbid the release of any information on transports of nuclear materials for reasons of national defense (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 595.5551: "New French regulation makes nuclear industry as secret as military activities"). Even parts of the nuclear establishment itself are worried about the consequences in relation to their strategy of communicating with the public. The government is now planning to specify the decree to "information whose divulgation is such that it could negatively affect nuclear materials physical protection". But anti nuclear organizations still consider a revised decree as in conflict with the right of public access to information.
NuclearFuel, 10 November 2003
Russian spent fuel import panel meets.
(November 28, 2003) A special commission of the Russian government to examine contracts for the import of foreign spent fuel held its first meeting on 16 October. The commission was established after the Russian parliament, the Duma, passed laws on the import of foreign spent fuel for long term storage (see WISE News Communique 550.5287-b: "Russia wants foreign nuclear waste; lack of exporters"). In its first meeting no specific proposals were discussed because no concrete projects have been realized. According to the ministry of atomic energy (Minatom) the preparation of technical, economic and legal aspects had been an extremely long and painstaking process. Minatom conceded that the delays were caused by protests of anti nuclear organizations that fear that Russia might become the world's nuclear waste dump. Russian origin spent fuel is imported from countries such as Bulgaria, but is covered by older agreements.
NuclearFuel, 10 November 2003
Russian activists protest nuclear waste imports
(November 28, 2003) On 25 & 26 November, some 2, 000 activists in 30 cities across Russia protested to raise public awareness on the issue of nuclear waste imports on the eve of the country's parliamentary elections. Anti-nuclear group Ecodefense organized the action days with groups from all around Russia to ensure that voters were informed about parliamentarian's position on the issue. Opinion poll results showed that up to 82% of respondents are opposed to nuclear waste imports and nearly 63% would vote against Duma (parliament) members who supported waste imports. The State Duma had ignored mass public opinion against nuclear waste imports in 2001 when the legislation was approved. These action days should serve as a warning to Duma members to listen to the voters and act responsibly. Ecodefense said, "Through effective public pressure we need to force the new parliament to disapprove the nuclear waste legislation as amoral and anti-democratic"
Ecodefense press release, 26 November 2003