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Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #864 - 13 July 2018

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Belgium: Engie Electrabel fears more decaying concrete in power plants

On June 15, Engie Electrabel, the operator of Belgium's power plants, announced changes to scheduled maintenance outages at three of its reactors. During maintenance of Doel 3 in October 2017, Electrabel noticed decaying concrete in the adjacent building, where back-up safety systems are based. When Tihange 3 underwent scheduled maintenance this April, the same problem was detected.

Both outages had to be prolonged for several months. Engie said: "Since the safety requirements foresee that the bunker buildings need to withstand an external event, the operator of the plant must be able to demonstrate that this resistance is ensured at all times."

Now, Engie Electrabel has decided to extend scheduled outages of the Doel 4 and Tihange 2 reactors to determine whether the same problems are evident at these reactors. The planned outage of Doel 4 will be brought forward from November to August, while the outage planned to start at Tihange 2 in August will be extended until the end of October.

On July 5, it was revealed that there are also problems with the concrete in the reactor building of Tihange 3 itself. According to Engie Electrabel these problems have been there since the reactor was built. The nuclear safety watchdog FANC has announced that this news may lead to an even longer outage of the plant.

Due to the extended outages, Engie Electrabel estimates it will make €250 million less profit in 2018. This was before the latest problem in Tihange 3 was discovered. 

Earlier this year, FANC publicly blamed Engie for the decaying concrete, claiming it was caused by a lack of upkeep by the operator.

‒ WISE Amsterdam

Whatever happened to the nuclear renaissance?

A recent opinion piece by former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd in Nuclear Engineering International reads as a eulogy for the nuclear renaissance. Here's an excerpt:

There were signs of the renaissance in the USA. Between 2007 and 2009, 13 companies applied to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for construction and operating licences to build 31 new nuclear power reactors. … It is clear 15 years on, however, that the revival has not happened. Although the number of reactors under construction around the world is higher than it was then, this is largely down to China and India, plus a revival in Russia after the former Soviet Union fell apart.

The USA provided the only solid example of a rise in reactor orders, but of the 31 only four began construction and only the two units at Vogtle in Georgia are still actively at work. Even they are much delayed. The decision in 2017 by two utilities to scrap the expansion at the Summer station in South Carolina can be viewed as the end of the renaissance dream. …

The obvious question is "what went wrong"?

There was a degree of industry hype about the renaissance. It was talked up by an insular industry with its back against the wall. It also never spread very far beyond the USA, with European countries markedly less confident from the start. Some of the claims made for the Generation III reactors, particularly the costs, look laughable in retrospect.

But the industry can at least claim there have been three significant events about which it could do very little and which have adversely affected its prospects. The first of these is much cheaper natural gas prices. … The second factor is the rise of renewable energy. … The final issue is of course the accident at the Fukushima plant in Japan in 2011. ...

All these events could have been managed a lot better if the industry had put its own house in order. There were mistakes in new plant construction (combined with wider questions over economics) and a flawed communications strategy based on the climate change argument.

The industry now has to answer basic questions such as how it will fix construction cost problems of current reactors; how it will deliver a new generation of cheap, failsafe designs, and how nuclear fits in a grid dominated by cheap, variable renewables.

Construction experience with the Generation III designs in the western world has been frankly disastrous. The industry has seemingly forgotten how to manage large projects during the long fallow years. Olkiluoto, Flamanville and Vogtle are all long delayed and way over budget. The industry's economic problems have been much discussed in these columns and the answer would seem to lie in building fleets of standardized large reactors, as the French did in the 1970s and 1980s and the Chinese are working towards today. This is the opposite of what the UK is doing with its current new-build programme. 

It will be difficult for the industry to move to the next generation of reactors, such as small modular reactors without investing in a programme of today's designs first.

Steve Kidd, 6 June 2018, 'The renaissance – what happened?',

International Energy Agency conference ponders nuclear power's bleak future

The International Energy Agency (IEA) held a high-level meeting on June 28 to identify the key issues faced by nuclear energy and to explore its future. The event was attended by ministers and senior government officials from IEA member countries, industry leaders and experts.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said that "with current policies there is little prospect for significant growth for nuclear power in developed economies on the horizon". The IEA said that "under current policy frameworks, and with limited investment in new plants, the contribution of nuclear to the power mix in mature markets is set to decline significantly."

In the IEA's World Energy Outlook New Policies Scenario, nuclear power production grows with two countries ‒ China and India ‒ responsible for over 90% of net growth to 2040. By contrast, outside of Japan, nuclear power generation in developed economies is set to decline 20% by 2040.

International Energy Agency, 29 June 2018, 'IEA holds high-level meeting on the future of nuclear power',

USA: The vanishing nuclear industry

An article by four current and former researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Engineering and Public Policy, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, argues that the US nuclear power industry faces a bleak future.

M. Granger Morgan and his colleagues argue that because of their great cost and complexity, it appears most unlikely that any new large nuclear power plants will be built over the next several decades. It further argues that no US advanced reactor design will be commercialized before mid-century.

That leaves small modular reactors (SMRs) as the only option that might be deployed at significant scale over the next few decades. The authors systematically investigated how a domestic market could develop to support a SMR industry over the next few decades ‒ including using them to back up wind and solar and desalinate water, produce heat for industrial processes, or serve military bases ‒ and were unable to make a convincing case.

M. Granger Morgan, Ahmed Abdulla, Michael J. Ford, and Michael Rath, July 2018 'US nuclear power: The vanishing low-carbon wedge', Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,

Media release, 2 July 2018, 'The vanishing nuclear industry',

USA: nuclear power / weapons connections surface again

A group of 75 people ‒ including former statesmen, military, industrial and academic leaders ‒ have written to US Energy Secretary Rick Perry imploring him to take immediate action to prevent the closure of power reactors.1

Their letter is blunt about the nuclear power/weapons connections that were rarely discussed and often strenuously denied just a few short years ago. The letter states:

"Several national security organizations, including our nuclear Navy and significant parts
of the Department of Energy, benefit from a strong civil nuclear sector. Many of the
companies that serve the civil nuclear sector also supply the nuclear Navy and major
DOE programs. For example, the Administration's 2018 Nuclear Posture Review noted
that the United States is unable to produce enriched uranium for national security
purposes. Re-establishing this capability will be far easier and more economical with a
strong, thriving civil nuclear sector."

The letter could have noted more direct connections, such as the use of power reactors to produce tritium for nuclear weapons.

As noted in Nuclear Monitor #850, statements linking nuclear power and weapons have become increasingly common and reflect the industry's desperation.2 In a creative extension to the argument, two US-based uranium companies have lodged a petition with the Department of Commerce calling for a mandated requirement for US utilities to purchase at least 25% of their requirements from US mines. The companies, Ur-Energy and Energy Fuels, noted that uranium is "the backbone of the U.S. nuclear deterrent and fuels ships and submarines in the U.S. Navy".3


2. Nuclear Monitor #850, 7 Sept 2017, 'Nuclear power, weapons and 'national security'',

3. Nuclear Monitor #857, 14 Feb 2018, '2017 in review: Uranium is best left in the ground',

Taiwan unable to find US company willing to take radioactive waste

Taiwan wants to export its low-level radioactive waste to the United States, but has so far been unable to find a company willing to receive the materials, Taipower Chair Yang Wei-fuu said on July 3. The waste has been stored in 100,000 barrels on Orchid Island as well as at Taiwan's three operating nuclear plants.

The Cabinet-level Atomic Energy Council said on July 2 it had asked Taipower to research how to transfer the radioactive materials to the U.S. The suggestion for the move came from the U.S. last December, but due to local laws in each state, it has been impossible to find a company willing to agree to the transfer, Taipower said. Winning the agreement of local residents was one of the requirements for companies agreeing to take the waste.

The waste was first stored on Orchid Island, a small island with a population of about 4,000, mainly indigenous Tao, in 1982. Plans to eventually dump the waste into the sea were terminated after international agreement banned the practice in 1996, leading to an accumulation of more than 100,000 barrels of waste. A committee later selected four potential new locations to store the waste, but local resistance was strong and the plan never went ahead, leading the authorities to look for overseas solutions.

The current government of President Tsai Ing-wen has declared it wants to phase out nuclear power by 2025.

Abridged with light editing from: Matthew Strong, 3 July 2018, 'Taiwan still unable to find US company willing to take radioactive waste',

India: Court rejects plea to shut down Kudankulam plant

On July 2, the Supreme Court of India rejected a plea to shut down the Kudankulam nuclear power plant until an 'Away From Reactor' (AFR) spent fuel storage facility is built, and granted the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) an extension until 30 April 2022 to build the facility.

In 2013, the Supreme Court directed NPCIL to have an operational AFR facility by July 2018. NPCIL requested an extension until April 2022. The Supreme Court approved the extension but warned that an extension beyond April 2022 would not be granted.

The court rejected advocate Prashant Bhushan's call to shut down the nuclear power plant until the AFR facility is ready and asked him to file an independent application to shut the reactor and not to mix the issue with NPCIL's current plea for extension of time to build the facility.

Bhushan said he was not against NPCIL's plea for extension of time to build the AFR facility, "but it is absolutely essential that the reactor is shut down for the time being till it is built ... spent fuel cannot be stored in the same compound."

In its application for an extension, NPCIL argued that establishing an AFR facility "is a challenging task on account of no previous experience with long-term storage requirements of high burn-up, Russian-type PWR fuel". As the Kudankulam reactors were 'first-of-a-kind' facilities, there is a need for considerable intensive interaction with the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and Russian specialists for technical conceptualisation and detailing of the facility, NPCIL said.

G. Sundarrajan of environmental NGO Poovulagin Nanbargal said: "How can they continue running the plant and plan to set up two more units without having the technical know-how to store the spent fuel?"

NPCIL is shifting blame and responsibility onto the Indian government, stating that management of spent fuel ‒ including the AFR facility and a deep disposal repository ‒ are the "primary responsibility" of the national government.

Krishnadas Rajagopal, 2 July 2018, 'SC rejects plea to shut down Kudankulam plant till AFR facility is built',

T.K. Rohit and P. Sudhakar, 7 May 2018, 'Spent fuel will be stored at KKNPP site itself: NPCIL',

T.K. Rohit, 27 Feb 2018, 'NPCIL's stand on spent fuel riles environmentalists',