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Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #845 - 8 June 2017

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

High-level dump for South Australia declared 'dead' 

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has backed away from his Labor Party government's plan to import 138,000 tonnes of spent fuel and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste as a money-making venture.

The SA Labor government promoted the project but it began to fall apart late last year. A 350-member Citizens' Jury strongly rejected the proposal. The main opposition Liberal Party then decided to oppose it; as did in a minor party ‒ the Nick Xenophon Team; and the SA Greens opposed it from the start. The project never gained majority public support despite furious spinning by the state government and the Murdoch press.

Earlier this week, the Premier said the project is "dead", there is "no foreseeable opportunity for this", and it is "not something that will be progressed by the Labor Party in Government".

The Premier's statements have been welcomed by Aboriginal Traditional Owners and communities and environmental groups.

Yankunytjatjara Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chair and No Dump Alliance spokesperson Karina Lester said: "Today's news has come as a relief and is very much welcomed by the Alliance. We are glad that Jay has opened his ears and listened to the community of South Australia who has worked hard to be heard on this matter. We know nuclear is not the answer for our lands and people – we have always said NO."

Narungga man and human rights activist Tauto Sansbury said: "We absolutely welcome Jay Weatherill's courageous decision for looking after South Australia. It's a great outcome for all involved."

Despite the victory, two sites in South Australia are still being targeted for a national nuclear waste dump by the federal government. Craig Wilkins, Conservation SA's Chief Executive, said: "We now look forward to the Premier standing up for the people in Kimba and the Flinders Ranges fighting against the federal government's push to impose radioactive waste from Sydney's Lucas Height's research reactor onto their communities," Wilkins said.

Spent fuel pool risks

A recent article in Science warns of the risks of densely-packed spent fuel pools in the US.1 The article is behind a paywall but the arguments are neatly summarized in a May 25 web-post2 by co-author Ed Lyman, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. That post is reproduced here:

In a Policy Forum article published in this week's Science magazine, I argue, along with my co-authors Frank von Hippel and Michael Schoeppner, that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) needs to take prompt action to reduce the alarmingly high potential for fires in spent fuel pools at U.S. nuclear plants.

The NRC allows nuclear plant owners to pack spent fuel into cooling pools at much higher densities than they were originally designed to handle. This has greatly increased the risk to the public should a large earthquake or terrorist attack breach the liner of a spent fuel pool, causing the pool to rapidly lose its cooling water. In such a scenario the spent fuel could heat up and catch fire within hours, releasing a large fraction of its highly radioactive contents. Since spent fuel pools are not enclosed in high-strength, leak-tight containment buildings, unlike the reactors themselves, much of this radioactive material could be readily discharged into the environment.

The consequences of a fire could be truly disastrous at densely packed pools, which typically contains much more cesium-137 ‒ a long-lived, extremely hazardous radioactive isotope ‒ than is present in reactor cores. My Princeton University co-authors have calculated, using sophisticated computer models, that a spent fuel pool fire at the Peach Bottom nuclear plant in Pennsylvania could heavily contaminate over 30,000 square miles with long-lived radioactivity and require the long-term relocation of nearly 20 million people, for average weather conditions.3 Depending on the wind direction and other factors, the plume could reach anywhere from Maine to Georgia. My co-authors estimate the financial impact on the American economy of such contamination could reach $2 trillion4: ten times the estimated $200 billion in damages caused by the release of radioactivity from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The danger could be greatly reduced if plant owners thinned out the pools by transferring their older fuel to dry storage casks. But despite the relatively modest cost of this common-sense step ‒ about $50 million per reactor ‒ owners won't do it voluntarily because they care more about their bottom line.

The NRC could require plant owners to expedite transfer of spent fuel to dry casks. But it refuses to do so, basing its decision on quantitative risk analyses that, as discussed in our Science article, underestimate the benefits of such a transfer by making numerous unrealistic and faulty assumptions. For example, its estimate of the economic damages of a fire in a densely packed spent fuel pool was $125 billion; nearly 20 times lower than the independent estimate of my Princeton co-authors.

In light of our findings, our article calls on the NRC to strengthen the technical basis of its risk analysis methodology by basing it on sound science and sensible policy judgments. We are confident that such an analysis will reveal that the substantial benefits of expedited transfer would more than justify the cost.

1. Edwin Lyman, Michael Schoeppner, and Frank von Hippel, 26 May 2017, 'Nuclear safety regulation in the post-Fukushima era', Science, Vol. 356, Issue 6340, pp. 808-809,

2. Ed Lyman, 25 May 2017, 'UCS in Science: The NRC Must Act to Reduce the Dangers of Spent Fuel Pool Fires at Nuclear Plants',

3. Frank N. von Hippel and Michael Schoeppner, 2016, 'Reducing the Danger from Fires in Spent Fuel Pools', Science & Global Security,

4. Frank N. von Hippel and Michael Schoeppner, 2017, 'Economic Losses From a Fire in a Dense-Packed U.S. Spent Fuel Pool', Science & Global Security,

Russian nuclear industry spending money in the wrong places

Charles Digges summarizes1 a new Bellona report2 on Russia's nuclear industry:

The risk of a nuclear accident at the Kola Nuclear Power Plant near Murmansk and only kilometers from Norway's border with Russia, will continue to increase until it is closed – at the earliest in 2030 when it will have operated twice as long as it was designed to.

Kola is just one nuclear power plant that Russia is letting grow old and decay while it spends the bulk of its money building nuclear power plants in other countries, a new report by Bellona has found.

Independent international experts widely consider the Kola Nuclear Power Plant to be one of the world's most dangerous. It went into service over four decades ago, in 1973, and lacks the concrete reinforcements present in new reactor designs. This means that radioactivity could be released far easier in the event of an accident.

Although Russia makes an effort to maintain the plant, it is only becoming more worn. Most critically, the steel in its reactor vessels will become more fatigued as they continue to be exposed to radiation.

Should there be an accident at the plant, its severity is largely in the hands of the prevailing winds – which would likely focus the fallout on Murmansk's population of 300,000, and farther to the Barents Sea. Additionally, according to wind simulation models, the country of Finnmark in northern Norway, the coastal town of Tromsø and northern Sweden would also be hit.

Despite this, there are no near-future plans to close the plant. Instead, Russia invests in continual maintenance and upgrades to Band-Aid emerging problems. Norway itself contributes money and expertise to these efforts in the hopes of delaying an incident.

"Unfortunately, this also contributes to this old nuclear plant being in operation for longer," said Nils Bøhmer, Bellona's general manager and nuclear physicist, who is one of the report's co-authors. "This means that the Kola Nuclear Power Plant is an increasing safety risk for Norway."

One reason why Rosatom, Russia's state nuclear corporation, doesn't prioritize phasing out facilities like Kola is because it is spending money on building new nuclear plants in other countries. "They do this to consolidate their position internationally – the nuclear facilities act as political bridges," said Bøhmer.

Bellona's new report described these conditions for plants Russia is building in Turkey, Hungary, India, Bangladesh, Belarus, Iran, Finland and China. When these plants are up and running, Rosatom will deliver their fuel and, later, deal with their waste. They can also be used for political leverage."

Meanwhile the Kola Nuclear Power Plant continues to operate even though the Murmansk region routinely has surplus energy, particularly from safer sources like hydroelectric, wind and other renewable sources.

1. Charles Digges, 31 May 2017, 'Russian nuclear industry is spending its money in the wrong places',

2. Bellona Foundation, May 2017, 'Russian nuclear power – 2017',