IN BRIEF

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#703
29/01/2010
Shorts

Germany: phasing out the phase-out. Utility companies and the government have agreed to allow two nuclear power plants which were scheduled for closure soon, to keep operating.

The two older reactors scheduled to be taken offline in the near future, Biblis A in Hesse and Neckarwestheim I in Baden-Württemberg, will remain operational until the current government finalizes its general energy program, expected in October. The move appears to be another step in reversing a 2001 plan passed by Germany's Social Democratic-Green party government under Gerhard Schröder to eventually phase out nuclear power in Germany. According to the media report, energy companies are using something of an accounting trick to enable the plants to stay online: unused allocations of electricity from newer plants will be transferred to the Biblis and Neckarwestheim facilities. The federal government met with the country's top four energy providers in Berlin on January 21 about possibly extending the life spans of nuclear power plants. While the government played down the meeting as "routine," anti-nuclear activists protested throughout the day.
Source: The Local (Germany), 23 January 2010
 

UK: Higher-burnup fuel needs century cooling period.

The higher-burnup fuel proposed for new reactors being considered in the UK could require a spent fuel cooling period so long that a UK geologic repository, as currently planned, would close before some of the fuel was ready for disposal. The concern surfaced in a response from Westinghouse to a study by the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s Radioactive Waste Management Division, or RWMD, on the “disposability” of waste from the Westinghouse AP1000. In a similar study of the waste from the Areva EPR, the RWMD postulated that a 90- to 100-year cooling period would be necessary for the higher-burnup fuel planned for use in both companies’ reactors. As currently envisioned, a geologic repository is “assumed” to accept its first spent fuel and high-level waste around 2075, according to the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, or NDA. A repository is expected to operate 90 years before it is closed in 2165. However, if an AP1000 or EPR begins operation in 2020 — the date assumed in the RWMD studies — and operates for 60 years and the fuel needs 100 years to cool, spent fuel from the final years of reactor operations would not be cool enough for disposal until 2180, after the repository had closed.

More on high-burnup fuel in Nuclear Monitor 671, 17 April 2008: “Too Hot To Handle. The truth of high-burnup-fuel”

Source: Nuclear Fuel, 14 December 2009

Nuclear lobby: 4 key issues for 2010. In the January 2010 issue of Nuclear Engineering International Dan Yurman (“Serving nuclear energy markets since 1989”) sees four key priorities for 2010 to let a nuclear renaissance in the United States happen. Priorities, because he sees problems and uncertainties ahead: “Critics are exploiting the fault lines that have already appeared, and some, under the guise of scholarship, cherry pick their sources to make the case for failure. Their objective is to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the minds of business and government decision makers.” (January 28, 2010) Stating that “he is not prepared to accept a long term future for the U.S. as being an agnostic on nuclear energy while the U.K. France, Italy, India, China, and other countries put the pedal to the metal to build dozens of new reactors to meet the challenge of global climate change” he analyses four areas where things have to change.

1- US$200 billion loan guarantees for companies to build new reactors. “Without the loan guarantees, few utilities have the market capitalization to ‘bet the company’ on a multi-billion dollar investment in a new nuclear reactor.”

2- developing a “cadre of nuclear engineers and skilled trades capable of building new reactors on time and within budget”. Foreign competition will raid U.S. engineering programs for talent unless the “federal government” (again the government) puts in place a scholarship program.

3- The third priority is “revitalizing U.S. manufacturing capabilities including development of a facility to produce large forgings, e.g., 400 tons or more, for reactor vessels.” Because despite increases in capacity, Japan Steel Works (one of the few companies worldwide able to produce those large forgings) reports a three to- four year wait time for 400 ton reactor vessels. Currently three production facilities are under construction in the U.S.: by Areva in Virginia, Shaw in Louisiana, and Babcock & Wilcox/McDermott at locations in Ohio and Indiana.

4- If you think these three are difficult enough, read the fourth critical issue: re-invent the fuel cycle: two strategically located 500 ton/year reprocessing plants; a commercial MOX fuel manufacturing capability and the development of fast (breeder) reactors to “burn the MOX-fuel en complete the fuel cycle”.

It’s time to make clear that nuclear energy had its chance (after 50 years of pouring money in it),  admit it is something of the past and move forward to real energy solutions (but, that’s not Yurman’s conclusion).

Source: Nuclear Engineering International, January 2010 / blog Yurman at http://djysrv.blogspot.com/

Albania: Approval of Atomic Energy Agency.

On January 20, the government of Albania approved the creation of the country s National Atomic Agency, an institution that is suppose to supervise the development of nuclear projects. Earlier Prime Minister Sali Berisha had announced that the government was looking at the possibility of constructing a nuclear power plant. Albania’s power generation system has not seen major investment since the early 1980s, when the cash-strapped former communist regime stopped investing in new hydropower dams. Berisha's statements over constructing a nuclear power plant, have drawn interest from Italy Italian energy giant Enel who has expressed interest in locating a nuclear power generating project  in the Balkans, possibly in Albania or Montenegro. The Prime Minister said the government’s goal is to make his country a regional energy  superpower. However most commentators believe that Berisha’s statements are little more than hot air and will do little to help end electricity shortages.

Source: Balkan insight, 21 January 2010

Black workers got more radiation.

U.S.A.: A Tennessee company that processes nuclear waste has agreed to settle federal claims black employees were subjected to higher levels of radiation than others. The Studsvik Memphis Processing Facility, formerly known as Radiological Assistance Consulting and Engineering, or RACE, has signed a consent agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported. Under the agreement, 23 black employees are to receive a total of US$650,000 (461,000 Euro).  The EEOC alleged the company assigned black employees to work with radioactive waste and manipulated dosimeters to show lower levels of radiation than the actual ones. Black employees were also paid less and subjected to other kinds of discrimination. Lewis Johnson, president of Studsvik, said the alleged discrimination took place before the Swedish-based company bought the Memphis facility.

Source: UPI, 16 January 2010

Radiation leak at Germany's uranium enrichment facility.

A radiation leak at Germany's sole uranium enrichment facility in Gronau (North Rhine Westphalia) has left one worker in hospital under observation. On January 21, in the preparation of a container at the Gronau uranium enrichment plant, a release of radioactive waste occurred. One employee of Urenco  Deutschland, who was operating at that time, has been admitted to hospital as a precaution for observation. He was contaminated on hands and feet with UF6 while opening a supposedly "empty and washed" container. It seems he also enhaled some. He was expected to be released within 24 hours on Friday, but had to stay over the weekend, when uranium was found in his urine. But press reports on Monday claim, he has to stay in hospital longer.According to the plant's operating company, Urenco Deutschland, there was no danger at any time to the local population. Urenco, is currently determining the cause of this incident, according to their press release.The national news in Germany reported widely on the accident. Even the prosecutor has started - on demand of local antinuclear organisations - an investigation against Urenco. On January 22 and 24 there were demonstrations in Gronau - with up to 100 people.

Source: Deutsche Welle, 22 January / Urenco press release, 22 January / WDR, 25 January 2010

U.S.: Power to corporate society.

On January 21, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out six decades of established law by granting corporations the right to use their incredible wealth and power to influence elections -- thereby diminishing the power of voting.. Imagine ExxonMobil, AIG or Entergy-Louisiana for that matter, throwing huge sums of money directly into Congressional or Legislative attack ads. And this on top of the already unbelievable amount of influence corporations have on elections. Such a scenario used to be illegal. But no longer, since the Supreme Court ruled to lift the ban that kept corporations from contributing directly to campaigns and candidates. The tortured legal argument is this: We the People are infringing on corporations' "rights" by preventing them from using all of the special advantages they have over real human beings (like unlimited life, limited liability, and lots of other ways of amassing great wealth) to influence political elections. A corporation is not a person. Corporations cannot vote. They do not live, breathe or die - at least not in the way people do and are not a part of "We the People." Giving corporations the rights of people is a cynical political move that fundamentally changes democracy. Unless we stand up, the problem of corporate money in politics could go from bad to unimaginably worse.Thankfully, some legislators are working to strengthen our campaign finance laws to prevent this. Congress needs to prevent a flash flood of corporate money into elections and there is a need to move fast. The alternative is an undemocratic system in which large corporations have even more power to drown out the voices of regular voters

Source: U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, www.pirg.org, 21 January 2010

Spain: Nuclear law reformed.

Spain’s 1964 nuclear energy law is to be reformed to give nuclear plants greater possibility of functioning beyond the 40 years “useful life” for which they were designed, the Council of Ministers decided on December 23. The country’s eight nuclear plants must now be owned by a single limited company whose “exclusive object should be the management of the plants”, ministers decided. This is to “increase the transparency of the accounts and investments of the installations.” Ministers approved a series of measures to “clarify the criteria for the renewal” of operating licences. The 40-year “useful life” has been ratified, with extensions accepted “giving consideration to the general interest and the energy policy in effect, and the security of energy supply.” Utilities may now exchange participations to ensure that a nuclear plant belongs to a single company. Many of the eight are shared by two or three utilities, such as Garoña which is to be closed in 2013 shortly after completing 40 years’ operation. Garoña’s company, Nuclenor, was created by its 50-50 owners, utilities Iberdrola and Endesa. The ministers also approved tougher nuclear insurance conditions, increasing the obligatory insurance of a plant in case of an accident from 700 million Euro to 1.2 billion Euro (US$ 1.68 billion)

Source: Power In Europe, 11 January 2010

Scotland: New waste policy published.

The Scottish Government has published its proposed new intermediate level waste policy which is out to consultation until 9 April. In 2007 the Scottish Government broke away from the rest of the UK by rejecting the idea of a deep geological repository for its higher activity wastes. Instead it favoured long-term storage of waste in on- or near surface facilities, near the site where it was produced. The announcement was widely welcomed by environmental groups, the Nuclear Free Local Authorities and the Green and Liberal Democrat parties.Over the past two years Scottish Government officials have been consulting with stakeholders. The fact this consultation was almost entirely with regulators and the nuclear industry is reflected in changes to the original announcement that are likely to be widely questioned by the same people who initially supported the 2007 decision. It is now proposed that disposal of waste should be the preferred option, rather than storage, unless there are technical reasons why disposal of a waste stream is not possible. The concept of near-surface waste facilities has now been extended to depths of "tens of metres". The principle of waste facilities at or near where it is produced has also been widen to allow greater transport of material over longer distances. Surprisingly the Scottish Government has also revived a suggestion that storage or disposal facilities might be constructed under the seabed, but accessed from land. When this concept was proposed by the UK Government in the past there was considerable international opposition as its intended that any leakage would go into the marine environment. 'Export' of wastes to the UK or overseas is also explicitly allowed if treatment facilities are not available in Scotland.

Full details of the consultation documents are available at www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/waste-and-pollution/Waste-1/16293...

Source: N-BASE Briefing 639, 20 January 2010