You are here

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

South-Africa: PBMR Ltd. in trouble.

 According to a PBMR Ltd press release, the global financial crisis and related impact on funding – particularly on the South African electricity utility Eskom – has prompted the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor company to "consider near-term market opportunities based on customer requirements  to service both the electricity and process heat markets", as they call it. Basically it wil be a shift towards non-power options. One of the considerations is the modification of the design planned for the Demonstration Power Plant project at Koeberg near Cape Town to also service potential customers such as the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) project in the US, which is funded by the US Department of Energy, oil sands producers in Canada (to produce the temperature and associated pressure needed to extract bitumen from oil sands) and the South African petro-chemical company Sasol (to either produce process steam and/or hydrogen to upgrade coal products). Another potential application is the use of the PBMR’s waste heat for desalination.

According to Jaco Kriek, CEO of PBMR (Pty) Ltd, discussions are underway with suppliers to put certain contracts on hold "to prevent unnecessary spending", although he emphasises that no contracts have been cancelled. But is is clear that business is not running smoothly (nothing new one can argue). The development of the PBMR is way behind schedule and in December Eskom cancelled the construction of pressurized water reactors (see Nuclear Monitor 681, 18 December 2008).

Press release PBMR Ltd, 5 February 2009

Japan: Nuclear industry rebuked for misleading advertising.

On 25 November 2008 the Japan Advertising Review Organization (JARO)  sent a letter to the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan  (FEPCO) regarding a complaint concerning an advertisement placed by  FEPCO in a Japanese magazine in April 2008.

The complaint claimed that the following words in FEPCO's advertisement  were incorrect and inappropriate: "Nuclear power ... is a "clean way of producing electricity", which  does not release CO2 when generating electricity." The complaint pointed out that these words could mislead consumers.

JARO judged that the word "clean" does not fit well with nuclear   energy. It said that many consumers would have misgivings about the  claim that nuclear energy is "clean", on the sole grounds that it does  not emit CO2 during electricity generation, when there is no  accompanying explanation about safety or radioactive waste. JARO  recommended that claims that nuclear energy is "clean", without  adequate explanation of safety and the effect of nuclear energy on the  environment, should not be made in future.

For most people JARO's conclusion is plain common sense, but it is   refreshing to see the nuclear industry rebuked by an advertising watch  dog for misleading advertising. JARO's letter was supposed to be confidential, but it was reported in  the media.

CNIC, 6 February 2009

Asian Development Bank Energy Policy Paper.

The Asian Development Bank will maintain its current policy of non-involvement in the financing of nuclear power generation. That is the conclusion in the Banks's Energy Policy Paper, published in January 2009. ADB writes (page 30/31):  "Nevertheless, in spite of its sustainable and operational benefits, nuclear power development faces a number of barriers, such as public concerns related to nuclear proliferation, waste management, safety issues, high investment costs, long lead times, and commercial acceptability of new technologies. Overcoming these barriers is  difficult and open public debate will be required to convince the public about the benefits of nuclear power. MDBs have traditionally avoided financing nuclear power plants. In the context of the former Soviet Union states, the EBRD¹s current energy policy includes financing safety measures of nuclear plants, decommissioning and environmental rehabilitation, and promoting an efficient nuclear regulatory framework. In view of concerns related to nuclear technology, procurement limitations, proliferation risks, fuel availability, and environmental and safety concerns, ADB will maintain its current policy of non-involvement in the financing of nuclear power generation."

Pakistan: Khan released from house-arrest.

On February 6, a Pakistani court freed Abdul Qadeer Khan from house arrest, lifting the restrictions imposed on him since 2004 when he publicly confessed to running an illicit nuclear network. Khan, 73, considered in the West as a rogue scientist and a pariah who sold technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran, is revered as a national hero in Pakistan for his role in transforming the country into a nuclear power.

The ruling to set him free seemed as much a political decision as a legal one, intended to shore up support for the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, which has been derided in the Pakistani press as being too close to the U.S. The government has been under intense domestic pressure to free Mr. Khan, and that outweighed the backlash that Mr. Zardari knew the action would cause in Washington. The ruling was accompanied by a secret agreement between Mr. Khan and the civilian government, the contents of which were not disclosed, which may continue to place restrictions on him. It was not entirely clear whether Mr. Khan would be free to leave the country.

The Foreign Ministry said Pakistan had investigated Khan's past proliferation, shared its findings with the IAEA, and put in tight controls to prevent anything similar from happening again. "A. Q. Khan is history." The US State Department condemned the move: “He’s still a proliferation threat. We’re very troubled by this.”

The civilian government had eased the restrictions placed on the scientist in 2004. Right from the time of Khan's confession, the US has been persistently demanding permission to question him on his alleged proliferation activities. Pakistan has been equally consistent in denying this permission.

New York Times, 6 February 2009 / AP, 8 February 2009 / The Hindu, 9 February 2009

ITER could cost twice as much as budgeted.

According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the experimental ITER fusion reactor could cost twice as much as governments had planned for. The project, which absorbs almost half of Britain's energy research budget (!), will test complex machinery needed to make the world's first operational fusion power plants. ITER was originally planned to cost €10bn, but the rising price of raw materials and changes to the initial design are likely to see that bill soar. The warning came as scientists gathered in Finland to unveil the first component of the reactor, which will effectively act as its exhaust pipe. The reactor is currently expected to take nearly 10 years to build and is scheduled to be switched on in 2018.

The Guardian (UK), 29 January 2009

Ukraine to join International Uranium Center.

The Russian government has approved a request by the Rosatom corporation for Ukraine to join the international uranium enrichment project set up by Russia and Kazakhstan. The International Uranium Enrichment Centre would see uranium from member countries enriched at Angarsk in Russia under international supervision. The scheme is not yet finalised, but in theory it would offer member countries assured supplies of nuclear fuel under some sort of arbitration by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). An additional possibility is that such a scheme would take back highly-radioactive used nuclear fuel from client countries for reprocessing and recycling or for permanent storage.

The concept of an international fuel cycle has come to the fore in recent years partly due to suspicions that Iran's uranium enrichment facilities were once part of an undeclared nuclear weapons program. Countries that agree to abide by the global non-proliferation regime and within which the IAEA is confident nuclear power is only used peacefully would be guaranteed supplies of uranium fuel. The theory is that those countries would never need to develop their own uranium enrichment or reprocessing facilities, which otherwise could potentially be misused for weapons production.

The international uranioum project is only one of the several Multilateral approaches, the US GNEP (Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) and the IAEA Fuel Bank, being two other initiatives.

World Nuclear News, 10 February 2009

Spain: no new reactors. 

On January 21 Spain reaffirmed its policy of not commissioning new nuclear power plants a day after its biggest utility unveiled plans to build them in Britain, while repeating pledges to boost renewables and save energy.  "There will be no new nuclear plants," Spain Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian told journalists when asked to comment on Iberdrola's joint venture with British companies to build nuclear power stations.  Sebastian noted that Spanish energy consumption per head was 20 percent above the European average. "Saving 20 percent would be the equivalent of doubling the number of nuclear power plants. It seems easier and cheaper to me," he said. "Furthermore, it (saving) is immediate, whereas nuclear plants take 15 years. There is no controversy, no waste or security problems, nothing," he added.

Spain's government has said it may extend the working lives of the country's eight ageing nuclear power plants. Operating permits for seven of the plants are up for renewal between this year and 2011, or well within the mandate of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government. Spain's nuclear power plants supply about 7,300 megawatts and wind farms now have the capacity to generate more than 16,000 MW due to a boom in renewable energy, (but in practice provide less).

Reuters, 21 January 2009

New Nuclear madness in Britain.

The UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has  announced that it expects to nominate land near Sellafield, Wylfa, Oldbury and Bradwell, for  consideration under the Government’s Strategic Siting Assessment (SSA) process to identify sites suitable for nuclear new build. Whilst the NDA is not proposing to develop new nuclear plants itself and will not seek planning permission, it expects to nominate land into the SSA process in order to enhance the value of its land and in turn generate income which will help fund the decommissioning programme.

NDA, 23 January 2009