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Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #861 - 28 May 2018

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

‒ Exelon executive: no new nuclear plants in the US, and SMRs 'prohibitively expensive'

‒ Petition to oppose nuclear weapons in South Asia
‒ Leave uranium in the ground

‒ Sellafield faces huge fine over worker's exposure to radiation

‒ New Mexico: Native Tribes try once again to stop uranium mining at sacred Mt. Taylor

‒ Germany's energy transition

‒ Illinois: class action federal lawsuit for uranium hexafluoride contamination

‒ Fukushima radioactive particle release was significant

Exelon executive: no new nuclear plants in the US, and SMRs 'prohibitively expensive'

William Von Hoene, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Exelon, which operates 23 reactors in the US, predicts there will be no new nuclear plants built in the US due to their high operating costs.

"I don't think we're building any more nuclear plants in the United States. I don't think it's ever going to happen," Von Hoene said in April at the annual US Energy Association meeting in Washington, D.C. "I'm not arguing for the construction of new nuclear plants. They are too expensive to construct, relative to the world in which we now live."

Von Hoene described nuclear power as "a bridge to a different kind of carbon-free world" with renewables and storage, adding: "I think it's very unlikely that absent some extraordinary change in environment or technology, that any nuclear plants beyond the Vogtle plant will be built in my lifetime, by any company."

The two-unit Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia has experienced massive delays and cost overruns, while its sister plant in South Carolina was abandoned last year after at least US$9 billion was spent on the project, leading to the bankruptcy of main contractor Westinghouse.

Von Hoene also expressed skepticism about small modular reactors and Generation IV designs. "Right now, the costs on the SMRs, in part because of the size and in part because of the security that's associated with any nuclear plant, are prohibitive," he said. "It's possible that that would evolve over time, and we're involved in looking at that technology. Right now they're prohibitively expensive."

Steven Dolley, 12 April 2018, 'No new nuclear units will be built in US due to high cost: Exelon official',

Petition to oppose nuclear weapons in South Asia

This month marks 20 years of the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998. In these two decades, far from providing any security, nuclear weapons have made the region far more insecure and conflict-prone. South Asia is the only region today, where two nuclear-armed neighbours are constantly engaged in dangerous, hot-and-cold conflicts. The rise of religious extremism and jingoist nationalism in both countries has made things worse.

It is time to say a resounding 'NO' to nuclear weapons in South Asia. When the two Koreas can come together to talk, India and Pakistan can also resolve all issues through amicable dialogue and reconciliation.

We urge you to sign this international citizens' appeal initiated and endorsed by leading activists in South Asia: visit or register your support via email to

The appeal demands an immediate stop to the nuclear build-up and asks India and Pakistan to sign the historic Nuclear Ban Treaty that was adopted by the UN last year.

‒ Kumar Sundaram


Leave uranium in the ground

Günter Wippel writes:

Just over 30 years ago ‒ on April 10, 1988 ‒ seven indigenous activists from different parts of the world set out on a three-week public awareness tour through Germany. They called their tour "Leave Uranium in the Ground." Its purpose was to bring the detrimental impacts of uranium mining and nuclear weapons tests on health, environment and indigenous peoples, to the awareness of German people and decision-makers in provincial and federal parliaments.

Why Germany? Because West German companies were directly involved in uranium extraction in countries around the world. And often, these operations were carried out on indigenous lands. (In the former East Germany, the Wismut uranium mines that supplied the Soviet Union operated until after reunification, closing in 1991.) ...

The struggle against uranium exploitation as a first step in the nuclear fuel chain remains. Even as the nuclear industry grinds to a kind of standstill with new construction too expensive and already obsolete, there remain some 400 reactors around the world that still require uranium to fuel them.

At the forefront of the struggle to halt the use of nuclear power we still find indigenous peoples as well as disadvantaged local communities in what is called the "Third World." And it is often they who point out the many human rights violations on different levels, from taking away peoples' land and livelihood, down to individual death threats, all in the name of so-called "development".

The full article is online:

Günter Wippel founded and coordinates the Uranium Network,

Sellafield faces huge fine over worker's exposure to radiation

Sellafield Ltd, which handles the waste from the UK's nuclear power stations as well as spent fuel from Japan and the US, faces a multimillion-pound fine after an employee was exposed to high levels of radiation.1 The Office for Nuclear Regulation said its investigation had led it to begin a prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act in relation to a February 2017 accident when a site employee was wounded while handling equipment, leaving him open to internal radiation exposure up to three times the annual limit.2 The prosecution is due to begin at Workington magistrates court in Cumbria on July 20.

In 2016, a BBC investigation found that the Sellafield site is riddled with serious safety flaws.3 The BBC investigation was prompted by a whistleblower, once a senior manager in Sellafield, who revealed a litany of safety concerns including degraded infrastructure, improper storage of highly radioactive materials and chronic under-staffing across the site.

In 2014, The Ecologist published a set of leaked images from an anonymous source showing decrepit nuclear waste storage facilities at the Sellafield plant.4 The images show the state of spent nuclear fuel storage ponds that were commissioned in 1952 and used until the mid-1970s to store spent fuel until it could be reprocessed. They were abandoned in the mid-1970s and have been left derelict.

In June 2013, Sellafield Ltd was fined £700,000 and ordered to pay £72,635 in costs at Carlisle Crown Court for sending several bags of radioactive waste to a landfill site in Cumbria in 2010.5 The bags should have been sent to a specialist facility that treats and stores low-level radioactive waste.

A November 2012 National Audit Office report said the Sellafield site posed a "significant risk to people and the environment" because of the deteriorating conditions of radioactive waste storage facilities.6 In February 2013, a report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee described Sellafield as "an extraordinary accumulation of hazardous waste, much of it stored in outdated nuclear facilities", and chair of the committee, Margaret Hodge MP, said Sellafield posed an "intolerable risk".6

Sellafield is in transition ‒ its badly underperforming Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp) ceases operations in November this year, while the Magnox reprocessing plant ‒ which handles waste from Britain's early nuclear power stations ‒ is scheduled to close in 2020.

1. Adam Vaughan, 11 May 2018, 'Sellafield faces huge fine over worker's exposure to radiation',


3. Ruth Quinn, 6 Sept 2016, 'Sellafield 'riddled with safety flaws', according to BBC investigation',

4. Oliver Tickell, 27 Oct 2014, 'Leaked Sellafield photos reveal 'massive radioactive release' threat',

5. ONR, 14 June 2013, 'Sellafield fined after incorrect disposal of radioactive waste',

6. Pete Roche, 12 April 2013, 'Sellafield – 'an intolerable risk'',

New Mexico: Native Tribes try once again to stop uranium mining at sacred Mt. Taylor

Linda Pentz Gunter writes:

It's a tale almost as old as time, except that the "White Man" has not been around as long as that. But long enough to massacre, expel, plunder, desecrate, abandon, repeat. It's the story Native Americans know all too well ‒ a Trail of Tears that never really ended. Sacred places and burial sites disrespected, traditions ignored, the health and well-being of people dismissed, while the fundamental civil rights of indigenous populations in the United States continue to be trampled on by the US government and its friends in industry.

It would be tempting to say that the current battle over resumption of uranium mining at the sacred Mount Taylor, which sits atop one of the richest known uranium ore reserves in the country, is just the latest in this long and shameful saga. But it is not alone. There are stories like this everywhere in Indian Country ‒ Bears Ears would be just one more example.

Mt. Taylor, located in the southwestern corner of New Mexico's San Mateo Mountains, is a pilgrimage site sacred to at least 30 tribes including the Navajo Nation, the Hopi, the Zuni, and the nearby Laguna and Acoma Pueblos. ...

The existing uranium mine site on Mt. Taylor has not been operational since 1990 but got its first standby permit in 1999. The 1993 New Mexico Mining Act allows mines to remain inactive in standby status for a maximum of 20 years before reclamation must be required. Instead, on December 29, 2017, the New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division issued a Return to Active Permit for the Mt. Taylor uranium mine, owned by Rio Grande Resources (RGR).

The decision to allow resumption of uranium mining is based on spurious economic claims, say the groups fighting the decision, including the broad coalition, MultiCultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE) and Amigos Bravos. They face an uphill battle. ...

Petuuche Gilbert, a member of MASE and the Laguna Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment, said: "Mt Taylor is sacred to Acoma and other indigenous peoples, but it is equally important to other people. It must not be polluted by uranium mining. It is important to all people for water and its other natural resources."

Read the full article online: Linda Pentz Gunter, 20 May 2018, "We were rich in uranium, and we have been sacrificed",

Germany's energy transition

Germany is continuing with its nuclear phase out, while pushing renewables strongly, with well over 100GW of wind and solar so far. Renewables overall, including hydro and biomass, should soon be supplying nearly 40% of its electricity. That has been helped by the fall in their costs and by continued support from consumer self-generation, mainly using PV, and locally owned projects, including wind.

For example, the result of the first competitive German onshore wind tender in 2016 had prices ranging between 52‒58 €/MWh for 807 MW. That's down from €80/MWh under the old FiT support system. Of the 70 successful projects, 65 were community-driven or co-operative schemes.

Despite setbacks, it does not seem to be the case, as some insist, that Germany is replacing nuclear with coal, so that emissions are rising. The 2017 World Nuclear Industry Status report notes that, between 2010 (the last year prior to the post-Fukushima shutdown of the eight oldest nuclear plants in Germany) and 2016, "the increase of renewable electricity generation (+84.4 TWh) and the noticeable reduction in domestic consumption (-20.6 TWh) were more than sufficient to compensate the planned reduction of nuclear generation (-56 TWh), enabling also a slight reduction in power generation from fossil fuels (-13 TWh) and a threefold increase in net exports".

Germany's carbon emissions have been growing slightly, however that is mainly due to increases from transport.

Dave Elliot, 23 May 2018, 'Germany stays on track', Environmental Research Web,

Illinois: class action federal lawsuit for uranium hexafluoride contamination

A class action federal lawsuit has been filed by residents of Metropolis, Illinois, against Honeywell International for uranium hexafluoride (U6) contamination. The plaintiffs' statement reads, in part:

"On the outskirts of Metropolis, Illinois sits a plant that made uranium hexafluoride (UF6) from at least 1963 until at least 2017. The air inside the plant was monitored regularly and found to always contain low levels of uranium. What the populace did not know was that continuously for decades the plant expelled air laden with radioactive material and other metals through a system of fans and ducts operating around the clock to vent air from within the plant to the atmosphere. For over a half century winds have carried the radioactive materials and other metals throughout the area in such concentrations that radioactive materials and metals can still be found deposited in soils and buildings in and around Metropolis. …

"Honeywell, from at least 1963 until at least late 2017, operated the UF6 plant on the outskirts of Metropolis along the Ohio River. Fifty-five gallon drums, bolted shut and filled with powdered uranium ore from all over the world, would come to the UF6 plant where they would be emptied with an automated "drum dumper." Each time the drum dumper emptied a barrel, radioactive dust containing metals would be released into the air. After the drums were dumped they were cleaned. Earlier in the plant's history workers sandblasted the drums, which also released radioactive and metal-contaminated dust into the air. Later, a water cleaning method replaced sandblasting.

"Six-inch berms around a concrete cleaning pad contained the wastewater that then entered a series of drains leading to the UF6 plant's wastewater treatment facility where, after moving through a single settling pond, the water was discharged into the Ohio River. In 2006, Honeywell pled guilty in federal court to criminal violations of the Clean Water Act for discharging radioactive materials into the Ohio River."

The full complaint is posted at:

Fukushima radioactive particle release was significant

Scientists from Japan and the UK have studied the release of caesium-rich micro-particles from the Fukushima disaster and their disturbing results have been published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The researchers identified the contamination using a new method and say if the particles are inhaled they could pose long-term health risks to humans.

In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, it was thought that only volatile, gaseous radionuclides, such as caesium and iodine, were released from the damaged reactors. However, in recent years it has become apparent that small radioactive particles, termed caesium-rich micro-particles, were also released.

The abundance of these micro-particles in Japanese soils and sediments, and their environmental impact is poorly understood. But the particles are very small and do not dissolve easily, meaning they could pose long-term health risks to humans if inhaled.

The scientists tested rice paddy soil samples retrieved from different locations within the Fukushima prefecture. The samples were taken close to (4 km) and far away (40 km) from the damaged nuclear reactors. The new method found caesium-rich micro-particles in all of the samples and showed that the amount of caesium associated with the micro-particles in the soil was much larger than expected.

Dr Satoshi Utsunomiya, Associate Professor at Kyushu University, Japan, and the lead author of the study said "when we first started to find caesium-rich micro-particles in Fukushima soil samples, we thought they would turn out to be relatively rare. Now, using this method, we find there are lots of caesium-rich microparticles in exclusion zone soils and also in the soils collected from outside of the exclusion zone".

Abridged from: Eurekalert, 24 May 2018, 'Fukushima radioactive particle release was significant says new research',

Ryohei Ikehara et al., 2018, 'Novel Method of Quantifying Radioactive Cesium-Rich Microparticles (CsMPs) in the Environment from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant', Environmental Science and Technology,