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Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #834 - 24 November 2016

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

US: Please act to stop EPA's new radiation guidance for drinking water

Diane D'Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, writes:

In July, thousands took action to stop dangerous new radiation guidance for drinking water. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refused to listen, and now this guidance could be approved anytime ‒ unless we act now!

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is on the verge of approving radiation levels hundreds and thousands of times higher than currently allowed in drinking water and at cleaned-up Superfund sites. These mis-named "Protective" Action Guides for Drinking Water (Water PAGs) dramatically increase allowable radioactivity in water. Enormous levels of radioactive contamination would be permitted in drinking water for weeks, months or even years after a nuclear accident or "incident."

The PAGs are not for the immediate phase after a radioactive release but the next phase ‒ which could last for years ‒ when local residents may return home to contaminated water and not know the danger.

EPA is expanding the kinds of radioactive 'incidents' that would be allowed to give off these dangerously high levels and doses. PAGs originally applied to nuclear disasters like the nuclear power meltdowns at Fukushima or a dirty bomb but now they could also apply to less dramatic releases from nuclear power reactors or radiopharmaceutical spills, nuclear transport accidents, fires or any radioactive "incident" that "warrant[s] consideration of protective action."

These PAGs are a bad legacy. Approving them now is a deceptive way to circumvent the Safe Drinking Water Act, Superfund cleanup levels, and EPA's history of limiting the allowable risk of cancer to 1 in a million people exposed (or at most 1 in 10,000 in worst-case scenarios).

The PAGs don't just affect water, they also markedly relax long-term cleanup standards; set very high and outdated radiation levels allowable in food; eliminate requirements to evacuate people vulnerable to high radiation doses to the thyroid and skin; eliminate limits on lifetime whole body radiation exposures; and they recommend dumping radioactive waste in municipal garbage dumps not designed for such waste.

Please take action now to protect drinking water from dangerous radiation levels! There are two quick actions to take:

  • Tell EPA Regional Administrator to ask EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy why she is raising radiation levels allowed in drinking water.
  • Send a message to Administrator McCarthy asking her not to approve these dangerous radiation levels in drinking water.

To take action, please visit

We have stopped PAGs like these from being approved before ‒ and we can do it again. EPA insiders attempted to push these dangerous guides through in the waning days of the Bush administration, and public pressure like this got the agency to pull them back. Now we have to do it again!

For more information, contact Diane D'Arrigo at NIRS:

Belgium: Regulator says Engie Electrabel is 'shameless' over lax nuclear safety standards

The Director-General of the Belgium nuclear regulator FANC condemned Engie Electrabel, the owner of the Doel and Tihange nuclear power plants. According to FANC director Jan Bens, once director of an Electrabel nuclear power station himself, the company is far too lax in tackling several safety issues. Electrabel promised, once more, improvements.

The FANC director expressed his discord towards Engie Electrabel in two harsh letters, which the French newspaper La Libre got hold of. The first letter (July 2016) concerns a study of fire safety in Doel and Tihange. According to Bens, Electrabel doesn't take the mandatory study seriously and this indictment of the company's lax attitude shows extreme impertinence.

In a second letter in September, Bens shows his concern about inadequate safety standards in Tihange. And this is not the first time. Several months ago, FANC rapped the board of directors on the knuckles because of a complacent company culture and tolerating inadequate safety standards. Personnel ignored safety regulations and procedures constantly. Often incidents were not discovered or reported, which they are legally required to do. Therefore FANC filed a complaint with the court system.

Electrabel promised improvements. But little came of it, hence the harsh words from Bens. In his letter he condemns Electrabel's inability, for over a year, to react structurally, quickly and efficiently to significantly increase safety standards. It became clear during a recent FANC inspection of the Tihange plant that an earlier action plan to improve safety standards was only partly implemented.

The two letters are ammunition for the growing opposition of organisations and governments that want to – at least – see the closure of Doel 3 and Tihange 2 (the reactors with cracks in their pressure vessels) as soon as possible. Among them, concerned local Dutch governments, the federal German government and the German community in Belgium.

Engie Electrabel responded by saying that they take FANC's suggestions "very seriously."

‒ Werner Rommers, Translated by Thessa Meijlis / WISE Amsterdam.

Belgium: Legal action to close Tihange 2 reactor

Some 90 municipalities from border regions in Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are taking legal action to have the nuclear plant Tihange 2 (Liège) closed. They are making preparations to take energy suppliers Electrabel, who manage the plant, and the Belgian nuclear watchdog FANC to court, according to press reports in De Standaard, Het Nieuwsblad and Het Belang van Limburg.

The recent spate of ominous reports on Tihange 2 has been sparking unrest and major concerns in Belgium's neighboring countries for several months. Now, it turns out they are preparing legal action to have Tihange 2 taken offline. Enough is enough, is the argument.

Tihange 2 has made the headlines various times as the reactor vessel contains many small cracks. This has mainly sparked concerns in the Aachen region in western Germany and in the Dutch Limburg region. A study by the Vienna Institute of Safety and Risk Sciences shows that these regions, apart from Belgium, are exposed to major risk in the case of a nuclear accident. Large parts of Dutch Limburg province ‒ 50‒60% ‒ would become inhabitable. For Aachen this is 10%.

Local municipalities have decided they can't take this risk, labelling it as "unacceptable". Professor Wolfgang Renneberg, head of the German nuclear watchdog, says that the doubts surrounding the safety of the reactor vessels in Doel 3 and Tihange 2 haven't been eliminated.

Tihange 2 was offline for months to allow research into the problem, but was deemed safe enough to be restarted by the regulator FANC.

China's nuclear roll-out facing delays

China may scale down plans for nuclear power because of slowing demand for electricity and construction setbacks, writes Steve Thomas, emeritus professor of energy studies at the University of Greenwich, London, in China Dialogue. Key points are summarized here:

For China's nuclear industry, 2016 has been a frustrating year. So far, construction has started on only one new plant, and its target of bringing 58 gigawatts of nuclear capacity in service by 2020 seems impossible to meet.

In 2015, nuclear power accounted for only 3% of China's electricity and at any plausible rate of building nuclear plants, it is unlikely that nuclear would achieve more than 10% of China's electricity supply. The challenge for the Chinese nuclear industry is to do what no other nuclear industry worldwide has been able to do; to bring the cost of nuclear generation down to levels at which it can compete with other forms of generation, particularly renewables. If it is unable to do this, China cannot afford to carry on ordering nuclear plants and nuclear will retain a small proportion of the electricity mix.

All the plants started between 2008 and 2010 are online except for six imported reactors. These include four AP1000 reactors designed by Westinghouse, based in the USA but owned by Toshiba of Japan; and two European Pressurised Reactors (EPR), developed by Areva, a French multinational group specialising in nuclear power. The EPR and AP1000 reactors have been problematic to build. The two EPRs are 3-4 years late although there is little available information detailing why. The four AP1000s are also running 3-4 years late.

Another challenge is the strain placed on China's nuclear regulators in the face of such an ambitious target. The National Nuclear Safety Administration is under particular pressure to oversee the operation of 36 plants and the construction of 20 plants, as well as being the first regulatory authority to review six new designs. A senior official from China's State Nuclear Power Technology Company said in 2015: "Our fatal weakness is our management standards are not high enough." To build up the capabilities to support such a large construction programme a pause in ordering new plants and equipment may be necessary.

Steve Thomas, 26 Oct 2016, 'China's nuclear roll-out facing delays',

AP1000 reactor design is dangerous and not fit for purpose

Peter Roche, an energy consultant based in Edinburgh and policy adviser to the UK Nuclear Free Local Authorities, has written a 22-page critique of the AP1000 reactor design. The AP1000 reactor is a pressurized water reactor (PWR) designed and sold by Westinghouse Electric Company, now majority owned by Toshiba.

Construction has so far commenced on ten AP1000s, six in the US and four in China, and another three are scheduled to begin soon. However two of the ten have been suspended, presumed abandoned, and the other eight are all running several years late and hugely over cost. Not one has ever been completed.

Roche summarizes the problems:

"The AP1000 advanced passive nuclear reactor design has a weaker containment, and fewer back-up safety systems than current reactor designs. Conventional reactors rely on defence-in-depth made up of layers of redundancy and diversity – this is where, say, two valves are fitted instead of one (redundancy) or where the function may be achieved by one of two entirely different means (diversity). In contrast advanced passive designs rely much more on natural processes such as natural convection for cooling and gravity rather than motor-driven pumps to provide a backup water supply.

"The AP1000 appears to be vulnerable to a very large release of radioactivity following an accident if there were just a small failure in the steel containment vessel, because the gasses would be sucked out the hole in the top of the AP1000 Shield Building due to the chimney effect.

"Recent experience with existing reactors suggests that containment corrosion, cracking, and leakage is more common than previously thought, and AP1000s are more vulnerable to containment corrosion than conventional reactors.
In addition the AP1000 shield building lacks flexibility and so could crack in the event of an
earthquake or aircraft impact.
"A thorough review of the AP1000 design in the light of the Japanese accident at Fukushima has shown that:

  • Ongoing nuclear fission after a reactor has supposedly been shutdown continues to be the
    source of significant pressure inside the containment. The AP1000 containment is
    extraordinarily close to exceeding its peak post accident design pressure which means post accident pressure increases could easily lead to a breach of the containment.
  • At least seven ways in which an AP1000 reactor design might lose the ability to cool the
    reactors in an emergency have been identified. These include damage to the water tank which sits on top of the shield building and some sort of disruption to the air flow around the steel containment.
  • The accidents at Fukushima, especially the overheating and the hydrogen explosions in the Unit 4 Spent Fuel Pool showed that the calculations and assumptions about the AP1000 Spent Fuel Pond design were wholly inadequate.
  • Fukushima showed that when several reactors share a site an accident at one reactor could
    damage other reactors. In the AP1000 the water tank on top of the reactor, and the shield
    building could be vulnerable to damage.
  • Westinghouse assumes that there is zero probability of an AP1000 containment breach. But the accidents at Fukushima have shown that there is a high, probability of Containment System failure resulting in significant releases of radioactivity directly into the environment."

Pete Roche, Nov 2016, 'The AP1000 Nuclear Reactor Design',

Peter Roche, 21 Nov 2016, 'AP1000 reactor design is dangerous and not fit for purpose',

Canada: Auditor slams nuclear regulator

Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, part of the Office of the Auditor-General, has released a damning report following its 'performance audit' of the country's nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).1

Some of the report's findings were as follows:

"We concluded that the CNSC could not show that it had adequately managed its site inspections of nuclear power plants. The CNSC could not demonstrate that its inspection plans included the appropriate number and types of inspections and that it had the staff needed to verify that nuclear power plants were complying with all applicable requirements or that site inspections were carried out according to the CNSC's procedures.

"Overall, we found that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) had insufficient or incomplete documentation to support or explain its planning decisions. For example, it could not show how it had taken risks into account when making decisions about which inspections it would and would not carry out each year. The CNSC could not show that it had determined the minimum number and types of inspections needed to verify that nuclear power plant operators were complying with regulatory and licensing requirements.

"Overall, we found that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) could not show that inspectors always followed CNSC procedures when carrying out and documenting inspections of nuclear power plants. This has led to inconsistencies, gaps in documentation, and missed opportunities for identifying improvements in conducting inspections. For example, although the CNSC requires that inspection guides be developed and approved before inspections take place, we found that this was done for only one quarter of inspections during the 2013–14 and 2014–15 fiscal years."

Commenting on the CNSC's inadequate and irregular safety inspections, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Julie Gelfand, who has a background in the mining industry, told a press conference: "I think it's pretty serious. This kind of lack of precision in a precision industry I think is really not acceptable. These mistakes should not happen when we're dealing with nuclear power plants."2

On a positive note, the Commissioner's report found that CNSC "followed up on instances of non-compliance identified through site inspections and confirmed that the nuclear power plants involved had taken corrective action or were in the process of doing so."

The report notes that previous audits have also found fault with the CNSC. An audit in the year 2000 found that "the CNSC's regulatory activities were not based on a rigorous, well-documented system of risk analysis; the ratings it assigned for regulatory performance were unclear; and the compliance and enforcement system was not complete. As a result, the CNSC could not adequately demonstrate that it was achieving its safety objectives for the regulation of nuclear power reactors."

An audit in 2005 noted satisfactory progress in response to the recommendations from the December 2000 audit but "progress had been slower than planned in developing a formal, well-articulated, systematic risk-management approach to the regulation of nuclear power reactors."

As we reported in Nuclear Monitor #827 in July 2016, whistleblowers at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission released a letter detailing allegations of inadequate safety standards.3 Writing anonymously, because of inadequate whistleblower protections, the experts point to five separate cases in which the commission's staff sat on relevant information about risk or non-compliance that might have called the safety of a nuclear plant into question. They say nuclear hazards have been underestimated, plant operators have been permitted to skip requirements of the licensing regime, and assessments outlining what could happen in the event of a major nuclear disaster have been withheld from the commissioners and the public.

1. Office of the Auditor-General of Canada, 2016, 'Report 1—Inspection of Nuclear Power Plants—Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission', and

2. 4 Oct 2016, 'Canada watchdog warns of faulty nuclear monitoring',


See also:

UN General Assembly's First Committee votes on DU

On November 1, 146 states voted in the UN General Assembly's First Committee in favour of the sixth resolution on DU weapons since 2007.1,2 This year's text paid particular attention to the technical difficulties that affected states face in tackling DU contamination to internationally recognized radiation protection standards.

Just four states voted against the text, which will be voted on again by the General Assembly in early December. The US, UK, France and Israel remain the only four governments to continuously oppose the resolutions, while 26 states abstained.

The resolution also took note of the ongoing concerns from states such as Iraq, and from health experts and civil society over the effects of the weapons on civilians. With the vote coming a week since the US admitted firing DU in Syria in 20153, concern over the health and environmental consequences of the use of the weapons is once again on the international agenda.

In October, the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons and PAX released an analysis of declassified military data showing that the US military ignored its own guidelines for the use of DU ammunition in the 2003 Iraq War, firing the DU weapons at unarmoured targets, buildings in populated areas and troops.4 The data also tripled the number of sites known to be contaminated in Iraq to more than 1,000. While the UK released information to the UN on where it fired 1,900kg of DU, the US is still withholding data on where it fired 62,000kg of the weapons. This is hampering clearance work.