They have been talking about this for months, mostly behind closed doors; the French Parti Socialiste (social-democrats) and the French Greens have agreed upon a joint positionon the future of nuclear power. The Greens will support the PS candidate in return for his promise to cut France’s reliance on nuclear energy for its electricity from about 75 per cent to just half by 2025. If François Hollande, the socialist candidate wins over current President Sarkozy in the next spring’s presidential elections it will have profound implications for state-owned EDF, now making two-thirds of its operating profit domestically, mostly from its 58 atomic reactors.
EDF is in trouble anyway; the Fukushma disaster has lead to newly to-be implemented safety measures for the French nuclear fleet, with soaring costs as a to-be expected result. The shares have lost 35 per cent of their value in a year, even though profits were healthy and management won praise for cutting its net debt from 34.4 billion euro (US$46 bn) at the end of 2010 to 29.2 billion euro (US$ 39.2 bn) by June 30 of this year. EDF, the world’s leading supplier of nuclear power, has not officially responded to Mr Hollande’s plans for reasons of political propriety. But their lobby machinery was in full-swing, warning for instance that a cut to 50 per cent supply would create additional costs of 60 bn euro and that “1 million jobs are in peril” should the country abandon atomic power completely.
Of course there is always still a chance that Mr Sarkozy, a skilled campaigner, wins the elections or that Mr Hollande waters down his policy once confronted with the realities of office. The two opposition parties agreed to campaign for the shutdown of 24 nuclear reactors by 2025 and the immediate halt of the oldest plant at Fessenheim. The Greens favor a complete halt of France’s nuclear reactors, while the PS called for the lowering of France’s dependence on atomic power to 50 percent by 2025. Dispute between the parties is still ongoing over the question of the future of the reprocessing- and MOX fabrication plant in La Hague and the question whether the new EPR in Flamanville, currently under construction.
Anti-nuclear organizations criticized the accord as not going far enough. But considering the French history of massive support for nuclear power, also or even especially in for instance social-democratic and communist left-wing circles, the development can be seen as a serious breakthrough in the French political interrelations
Financial Times, 15 November 2011 / Bloomberg, 16 November 2011
Sellafield’s ‘Reassurance’ Monitoring.
Some road drains located on the main approach road to the village centre of Seascale (near Sellafield) have shown a significant rise in levels of Caesium-137 (Cs-137) and Americium 241 (Am-241) in 2010 compared to previous years. In 1988, following the cull of an estimated 2000 feral pigeons at Seascale that were found to be highly contaminated after roosting in Sellafield buildings overnight, radioactivity in the sediment of 18 Seascale road drains was assessed by Copeland Borough Council and the National Radiological Board. Since the cull and the wholescale removal of gardens and driveways to reduce contamination levels, subsequent annual reassurance monitoring of sediment in drains has been carried out by the Environment Agency and has shown a decline and levelling off of radioactivity levels – until last year.
For 2010, it is reported that in one drain on the Drigg Road, levels of Cs-137 have risen from 310 Becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) in 2009 to 1800 Bq/kg, and an increase in Am-241 from 31 Bq/kg to 130 Bq/kg. Elevated levels of Strontium 90 (Sr-90) and plutonium were also present in the drain sediment – with a second drain on the Drigg Road also showing raised concentrations of radioactivity.
An urgent explanation of this unprecedented hike in radioactive concentrations is required from Sellafield and the Environment Agency. Until then, there can be little public reassurance on the sudden appearance of these high levels being found in Seascale some 13 years after the effects of the Seascale pigeon saga were supposed to have been remediated. Put in context, the 2010 levels of Cs-137 in drain SS233 are some 500% higher than those reported for river estuary sediment around Ravenglass – an area known to be heavily contaminated by decades of Sellafield’s reprocessing discharges.
CORE Briefing, 20 November 2011
Japanese gov't reform body: cancel Monju and ITER.
A government body tasked with reforming public policy began a four-day review session Sunday, with ruling party lawmakers and private-sector experts proposing a sweeping review of long-running nuclear research programs in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. The review process conducted by the Government Revitalization Unit of the Cabinet Office is aimed at identifying government policies for medium- and long-term reforms and will cover 10 areas including science, education and telecommunications.
In the first such screening sessions under Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, all seven members engaged in reviewing energy policy told an open-door screening session that a program to develop the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor needs radical revision. They recommended the cancellation of 2.2 billion yen (US$ 28.6 million, 21 million euro) of Monju-related spending included in the fiscal 2012 national budget request. According to press reports in September, the science ministry effectively froze research related to Monju by cutting 70 to 80 percent of its current 10 billion yen budget for the next fiscal year from April.
The reactor project, on which the country has so far spent about 900 billion yen (US$ 11.7 billion or 8.6 billion euro), has been hobbled by a series of problems. The reactor first achieved criticality in 1994 but was shut down because of sodium coolant leakage and a resulting fire in 1995. On May 6 2010, Monju was restarted, after being shut down for over 14 years, but on August 26, 2010 when a 3-ton relay device used during replacement of fuel was being removed, it dropped back into the reactor vessel. Since then the reactor is closed again.
The screening body also urged the government to either halt, delay or cut spending for an international project known as ITER to build an experimental fusion reactor in southern France by holding negotiations with participating countries. ITER is a joint project being conducted by China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States.
Mainichi Daily News, 26 Septemebr 2011 and 20 November 2011 / CNIC file on Monju
Areva: jobcuts in Germany.
Things are not going well with Areva, as mentioned in the last Nuclear Monitor. According to German weekly Der Spiegel on November 20, Areva will cut 1,300 jobs in Germany and close down two of its sites. The firm will slash its workforce by around 20 percent at its main site in Erlangen in central Germany, as well as making cuts at other sites across the country. The extent of the job cuts would be nearly twice as high as the 800 redundancies cited in the French press. Extra jobcuts in Germany could well be seen as a kind of 'revenge' for it's decision to abandon nuclear power. The company is expected to announce the move on December 13 in Paris.
Der Spiegel, 20 November 2011
Vietnam to lend 9 bn from Russia to buy Russian reactor.
Russia agreed to lend Vietnam as much as US$9 billion (6.7 bn euro) to fund the construction of the nation’s first nuclear power plant. The lending period will be as long as 28 years, but the interest rate has not been disclosed. Vietnam said last year it plans to build as many as 13 nuclear power stations with a capacity totalling 16,000 megawatts over the next two decades. The announcement attracted interest from nuclear plant builders including Russia's Rosatom and China’s Guangdong Nuclear Power Group. Construction of the two 1,000 MW advanced light-water reactors (called Ninh Thuan 1) is said to start in 2014. It is very likely that Rosatom sings the contract for construction, if the project will develop, and in that case Vietnam is lending money from Russia to buy a Russian reactor.
Bloomberg, 22 November 2011
Axpo says no to uranium from Mayak. Swiss nuclear utility Axpo has instructed Areva, its fuel supplier, to exclude uranium processed at Russia's Mayak plant from its supply chain pending the completion of environmental investigations.
Axpo owns the Beznau nuclear power station as well as stakes in the Gösgen and Leibstadt plants. It has been carrying out investigations into the quality and safety credentials of the Mayak processing plant near Chelyabinsk and at the Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC) in Seversk following criticisms from environmental groups. In the process of its investigations, Axpo was given access to Seversk by the plant's operators and had been due to visit Mayak in June, but was denied access to the plant, which is in a military area, at the last minute.
The company now says it has been able to complete enough work to enable it to conclude that current production at both plants meets statutory requirements and does not pose an environmental threat. However, its failure to gain access to Mayak means that it has now instructed its fuel supplier Areva, to exclude uranium from Mayak from its supply chain until such time as the chain can be fully monitored. Instead, it will use fuel from the SCC plant in Seversk. Greenpeace Switzerland welcomed Axpo's move towards greater transparency but questioned its decision to continue to source uranium from Seversk.
World Nuclear News, 14 November 2011