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Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #866 - 24 September 2018

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

US: Could the last remaining nuclear power project fall over?

Last year, the twin AP1000 reactor project in South Carolina was abandoned after the expenditure of at least US$9 billion. Now, the last remaining reactor construction project ‒ the twin AP1000 reactor project in Georgia ‒ is in jeopardy. The Wall Street Journal reported on September 20:

"The sole remaining nuclear power plant under construction in the U.S. is facing mounting opposition from cities and lawmakers concerned about its rising costs. A decision on the expansion of Georgia's Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant is expected by Monday [September 24], when its three primary owners are set to vote on whether to continue going ahead.

"The project is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, and expected to cost upwards of $27 billion, more than double the original price tag estimated when work began a decade ago. It has received $12 billion in federal loan guarantees, including $3.7 billion from the Trump administration last year.

"Southern Co., the utility that serves as the largest owner of the project, announced last month that costs had risen by $2.2 billion, triggering the vote with the other major owners, Oglethorpe Power and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia.

"The Vogtle plant is the only nuclear power plant under construction, or even serious consideration, in the U.S. If work on it stops, the prospects for new nuclear power in the U.S. would dim considerably and raise the question of whether the country can revitalize its nuclear industry.

"On Wednesday, 20 Georgia lawmakers wrote a letter expressing "concern about the ever-escalating cost" of the power plant, under construction in Waynesboro, Ga., and seeking a cap on how much of those costs could be passed on to customers of smaller utilities. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, wrote a letter in support of finishing work, offering his "full support moving this project forward."

"Earlier this month, one the biggest future expected customers of the nuclear plant, a public utility in Jacksonville, Fla., filed a lawsuit to try to back out of the deal. The utility, JEA, contracted with the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, known as MEAG, to buy about 10% of the plant's new units for 20 years. Now, it argues, there are less expensive options.

"On Tuesday, the JEA chairman wrote an open letter urging MEAG ‒ a collection of 49 rural electric cooperatives and cities that operate municipal power companies ‒ to vote against continuing with the project when it takes up the issue Friday, before the Monday vote by the three major partners.

"JEA ran ads in Georgia newspapers on Wednesday, including one published in the Newnan Times-Herald that called Vogtle "a mistake that will cost you and your children for years to come." ...

"When Southern announced last month that the Vogtle costs had risen by $2.2 billion, the company said it would not ask its customers to pay for the increase and instead took a $1 billion charge to its earnings. But as public utilities, some of the other partners have noted that they don't have shareholders with whom to share the burden.

"Georgia Power said it "has voted to move forward, and we hope the co-owners will also vote in favor to fulfill their obligation."

"If any of the three owners vote against moving ahead, the project would be imperiled. Southern's Georgia Power owns 45.7% of the plant, while MEAG owns 22.7% and Oglethorpe roughly 30%. Another company, Dalton Utilities, owns a small share, 1.6%."

Abridged from: Russell Gold, 20 Sept 2018, 'Growing Opposition Threatens Completion of Last U.S. Nuclear Plant',

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Fukushima clean-up workers, including homeless, at grave risk of exploitation, say UN experts

Japan must act urgently to protect tens of thousands of workers who are reportedly being exploited and exposed to toxic nuclear radiation in efforts to clean up the damaged Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Station, say three UN human rights experts: Baskut Tuncak, special rapporteur on the disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, Urmila Bhoola, special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, and Dainius Puras, special rapporteur on physical and mental health.1

"Workers hired to decontaminate Fukushima reportedly include migrant workers, asylum seekers and people who are homeless," said the experts. "We are deeply concerned about possible exploitation by deception regarding the risks of exposure to radiation, possible coercion into accepting hazardous working conditions because of economic hardships, and the adequacy of training and protective measures. We are equally concerned about the impact that exposure to radiation may have on their physical and mental health."

Contamination of the area and exposure to radiation remains a major hazard for workers trying to make the area safe seven years after the catastrophic nuclear meltdown which followed damage to the power plant from an earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Tens of thousands of workers have been recruited over the past seven years under the decontamination programme. Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare indicates on its website that 46,386 workers were employed in 2016; and the Radiation Worker Central Registration Centre of Japan has indicated that as many as 76,951 decontamination workers were hired in the five-year period up to 2016.

The experts said: "The people most at risk of exposure to toxic substances are those most vulnerable to exploitation: the poor, children and women, migrant workers, people with disabilities and older workers. They are often exposed to a myriad of human rights abuses, forced to make the abhorrent choice between their health and income, and their plight is invisible to most consumers and policymakers with the power to change it."

"Detailed reports that the decontamination contracts were granted to several large contractors, and that hundreds of small companies, without relevant experience, were subcontracted, are of concern. These arrangements, together with the use of brokers to recruit a considerable number of the workers, may have created favourable conditions for the abuse and violation of workers' rights."

The UN rights experts have engaged in a dialogue with the Japanese government since last year and have taken into account a recent reply to their most recent concerns.

As part of its Universal Periodic Review, Japan recently "accepted to follow up" on a recommendation from other States to restore radiation levels to those before the disaster to protect the human right to health of pregnant women and children, among several other recommendations. The experts strongly urge the government to lower the allowable dose of radiation to 1 mSv/year to protect children and women who may become pregnant.

An official of Japan's Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry called the UN statement regrettable and one-sided, as did Japan's Foreign Ministry.2

1. UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 16 Aug 2018, 'Japan: Fukushima clean-up workers, including homeless, at grave risk of exploitation, say UN experts',

2. Reuters, 17 Aug 2018, 'Tens of thousands' of workers exposed to radiation risks in Fukushima cleanup, U.N. rights experts say,

2018 NTI Index: Nuclear security progress in jeopardy

After years of progress on nuclear security, the fourth edition of the Nuclear Threat Initiative's NTI Nuclear Security Index finds that the steps countries have taken to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism are jeopardized by a deterioration of political stability and governance, an increase in corruption, and the expanding presence of terrorist groups around the world. The 2018 NTI Index also finds that many countries remain poorly prepared to defend against rapidly expanding and evolving cyber threats to nuclear facilities.

On a brighter note, the biennial NTI Index finds that there has been some progress reducing the number of countries holding fissile, weapons-usable materials. Twenty-two countries now have fissile materials (highly enriched uranium or separated plutonium), compared with 32 when the first NTI Index was released in 2012. In the past two years, Argentina and Poland have joined the list of countries that have removed or disposed of all highly enriched uranium within their territories.

In another positive development, of the 44 countries and Taiwan that have nuclear facilities where an act of sabotage could cause a dangerous release of radiation, 78% improved their Sabotage Ranking scores by implementing greater on-site physical protection, enhanced insider threat prevention, improved response capabilities, and other security measures. However, the NTI Index shows substantial room for improvement in this area and finds a troubling deterioration in the risk environment in almost a quarter of the countries with nuclear materials or facilities that could be targeted.

Four global Nuclear Security Summits, held between 2010 and 2016, highlighted nuclear security risks but no more summits are planned. "The summits were crucial for holding states accountable for appropriate and effective security measures," said NTI President Joan Rohlfing. "Unfortunately, no comparable cooperative global effort has emerged to replace them, leaving dangerous gaps in the current global nuclear security system that terrorist groups or others seeking weapons of mass destruction could exploit."

Nuclear Threat Initiative, 5 Sept 2018, 'Important Nuclear Security Progress Now in Jeopardy, According to 2018 NTI Index',

Full report:

Vogtle 3