US embassy cable on Belene.
A US diplomatic cable, originating from the WikiLeaks organisation and published in the Guardian newspaper just before Christmas, relates the serious misgivings of US Ambassador in Bulgaria, Nancy McEldowney, over the planned Belene nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. Commenting in 2009, McEldowney notes that the controversial nuke project, slated for construction in an earthquake zone, “is dogged by cost overruns, financing woes, construction delays, and now serious safety and quality assurance concerns. Belene may end up costing Bulgaria more than money in the long run.”
The high-level revelations thus confirm the concerns consistently raised in recent years by campaign NGOs such as the BeleNE! Coalition, CEE Bankwatch Network, Greenpeace, Urgewald, BankTrack and many others in Bulgaria and across Europe. The project-related information described by the US Embassy in Sofia is derived from various sources, including project experts and Bulgarian governmental officials.
The cable also presents the problems experienced by RWE, the German energy utility giant that was involved in Belene as a strategic investor throughout 2007-2009. “RWE is clearly feeling 'buyer's remorse' about its participation in Belene. Belene experts said that RWE remains 'in the dark' on most on-site day-to-day and technical issues. During a late May 2009 Belene project meeting, RWE asked numerous basic questions, indicating that they have not seen any of the on-site safety and environmental reports.”
This confirmation about the project's serious shortcomings comes during a period of renewed pressure from the Russian government to speed up Belene's construction. Meanwhile, the British-based bank HSBC has been recently selected as the financial consultant to organise financing for the Bulgarian nuke. In 2009 French bank BNP Paribas pulled out of a similar role following its own fruitless attempts to convince private and public European investors to put up money for Belene.
In parallel, and following invitations from Bulgaria's prime minister Boyko Borisov to invest in Belene, none of the other countries in the region has as yet confirmed their participation. Croatia has already declared no interest, while Serbia and Macedonia await more documents before taking their decisions. The most damning – and credible – Belene documentation looks already to have been delivered.
Source: The Guardian (UK), 20 December 2010
Extended operation for Paducah enrichment plant?
US uranium enrichment company USEC said that it is working to extend the operation of its Paducah plant in Kentucky beyond May 2012, when the old and inefficient gaseous diffusion plant had been expected to shut down. The company said that it will "base its decision to extend operations upon economic considerations and the ability of the plant to operate profitably." The Paducah plant – currently the only operating uranium enrichment facility in the USA - is set to be replaced by USEC's planned American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) project in Piketon, Ohio.
The full ACP plant was originally expected to commence commercial operation in early 2010 and achieve full annual capacity at the end of 2012. However, early in 2009 the whole project was slowed pending funding through the Department of Energy (DoE) loan guarantee program, and in July 2009 it was suspended due to the DoE refusing to award a US$2 billion (1.5 billion euro) loan guarantee, and asking USEC to withdraw its application. USEC refused to do this, and in July 2010, it submitted an updated loan guarantee application to the DoE. In October 2010, DoE informed USEC that it has largely completed its initial technical review of USEC's application and is proceeding to the next stage of the loan guarantee process.
Although USEC earlier secured investment of U$200 million from Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox to support the ACP, the company maintains that additional financing is needed to complete plant construction.
Source: World Nuclear News, 12 January 2011
USA: another huge victory.
More than 15,000 letters were sent to Congress in December and many, many phone calls made to stop US$8 billion (6 billion euro) in taxpayer loans for new nuclear reactor construction. And the final government funding bill, signed by President Obama, contains not one dime for new nukes! The Senate was forced to pull the "Omnibus" funding bill it had proposed, which included the US$8 billion in taxpayer loans for the nuclear industry, and instead a "Continuing Resolution" was passed that funds the government through mid-March.
That makes at least seven major efforts over the past two years by nuclear industry backers to increase taxpayer loans for new reactors -and every one of those efforts has been blocked! Grassroots people power works! Michael Mariotte: "Take a moment to celebrate … and get ready to do it all over again early in the new year -because the nuclear industry will surely be back, hat-in-hand, looking for your money again. We will, of course, keep you informed."
NIRS, firstname.lastname@example.org, 23 December 2010
Monju: accident delays startup with 3 more years.
The task of removing a device that accidentally fell into the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju in August will delay its full startup about a year to 2014 or later.
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of the 280 MW Monju reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, is expected to remove the device next summer or later and then conduct checkups, delaying the test operation initially scheduled to start next spring and subsequent full-fledged run. Removing the 3.3-ton device, which was used for fuel exchange before it fell into the reactor vessel in the Aug. 26 accident, requires special equipment, approval from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and a followup inspection.
Monju resumed operations with limited power output in May 2010 after 14 years and five months(!) of suspension due to a sodium coolant leak and a resultant fire and coverup attempt in 1995.
Kyodo, 17 December 2010
Italy: referendum on relaunching nuclear power.
Italy's constitutional court ruled on January 12, a national referendum could be held against the construction of nuclear power plants, dealing a potential blow to government plans to relaunch the sector. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wants nuclear plants to generate a quarter of the country's electricity in the future. The court allowed a request by opposition politician Antonio Di Pietro for a referendum, which will take place between on a Sunday between April 15 and June 15.
Antonio Di Pietro is leader of Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values) a centrist political party and an outspoken opponent of nuclear power. An April 2010 petition by the party successfully gathered the 500,000 signatures of Italian voters needed for the referendum to proceed through the Italian legislative system. This was presented to the Constitutional Court for it's final ruling on the admissibility of the proposed referendum.
Public opinion in Italy has been generally hostile to nuclear energy, and a 1987 referendum following the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986 closed all plants and phased out production.
Reuters, 12 January 2011, Rete Nazionale Antinucleare (RNA) International, 13 January 2011
UK: more no-subsidies.
The government's Green Investment Bank could fund the building of new nuclear reactors, it has emerged. It is the latest form of public financial support on offer to the industry from the government which continues to insist that the industry will not receive any more subsidies. The Conservatives' pre-election manifesto promised that the Green Investment Bank - which was also in the coalition agreement - would finance "new green technology start-ups". But documents issued before Christmas by Vince Cable's business department list new reactors, along with offshore wind farms and new electricity grids, as one of the three proposed "target sectors" on which the bank would initially focus.
Guardian (UK), 13 January 2011
Israel: Founders antinuclear information network died.
Shirley Rose Benyamin died late last year and Herschell Benyamin died early January in Jerusalem. After the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, Shirley Benyamin "decided to do something to stop Israel from going down the nuclear power pathway," as environmentalist Alon Tal recounted in his book Pollution in a Promised Land. In addition to her husband, she enlisted the late Dr. Dvora Ben-Shaul, a journalist and scientist. The group founded the Israel Agency for Nuclear Information, but in the post-Vanunu affair atmosphere, the Interior Ministry refused to register the non-profit. The group reconstituted itself with broader environmental goals as EcoNet and was approved. The establishment was suspicious of the couple, but Shirley was undeterred. Funds she raised made it possible to examine the state of health of employees of the Dimona reactor, for which EcoNet won the Israel Prize in 1994. Donations she solicited also helped provide seed money for the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, Green Action and others.
Haaretz.com, 7 January 2011