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Radioactive waste in the US: A multi-pronged issue (M. Mariotte)

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#775
13/12/2013
Michael Mariotte − Nuclear Information and Resource Service
Article

The unprecedented wave of operating reactor shutdowns and new reactor cancellations have received most of the attention during 2013, but issues surrounding radioactive waste in the US have intensified and are poised for significant activity during the coming year.

Indeed, there is so much critical action over nuclear waste occurring simultaneously it can be difficult to keep track of what is happening where and when, and how the venues and issues overlap. So here's a handy guide to current events and what to expect when and where.

Yucca Mountain

On November 18, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) directed its staff to resume work on the safety evaluation report for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository, 150 kms from Las Vegas on sacred Western Shoshone Indian Nation treaty lands. The NRC suspended work on reviewing the Department of Energy's (DoE) application to proceed with the Yucca repository following a 2009 decision by the Obama administration to abandon the project. The NRC order comes in response to a 2-1 decision at the DC Appeals Court in August ordering the NRC to resume the Yucca licensing process, so long as funds remain in its coffers to do so.

But with only US$11 million it has for that purpose − far short of what a full evaluation would require − the process can't go far without additional appropriations from Congress. And as long as dedicated Yucca opponent Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) remains Senate Majority Leader, no more funding from Congress is likely to materialise. Thus the practical effects of the NRC's order and court decision seem extremely limited.

But the dim prospects for resuming work at Yucca haven't deterred some in the nuclear industry, and more importantly some powerful House Republicans, who are still determined to see the site opened over the objections of Reid and the Administration. Their only hope, however, is that they can somehow put together pro-Yucca legislation that can pass both houses of Congress − somehow getting through Reid − with a veto-proof margin. As unlikely as that scenario is, we can expect to see movement on a pro-Yucca bill beginning in the House Energy and Commerce Committee during 2014, if for no other reason than to encourage nuclear industry campaign contributions to Republican House candidates.

Nuclear Waste Fund

Under 1982 legislation, the DoE was legally obliged to begin taking irradiated nuclear fuel from utilities for disposal in a permanent repository beginning in 1998. With no permanent repository available nor even on the horizon, the US government has been unable to meet its obligations despite collecting a levy from utilities to pay for spent fuel management.

On November 19, a DC Appeals Court ruling directed the DoE to stop collecting these Nuclear Waste Fund fees. Since the enactment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act 30 years ago, DoE has collected some US$30 billion, of which about US$8 billion was spent studying the Yucca site and building initial infrastructure.

In a related matter, on November 14, a court awarded over US$235 million in damages to three utilities known as the Yankee Companies affected by federal failure to fulfill the high-level radioactive waste disposal commitments mandated by Congress. All three of the utilities' reactors have been decommissioned, but the failure of the federal government to remove spent fuel has forced the utilities to continue to store the materials on site.

But despite being upset by the DoE being forced to dispense millions − and potentially many billions − of federal dollars to nuclear utilities by its failure to establish a permanent disposal site (the "damages" which, of course, were caused by Congress' unrealistic 1998 mandate in the first place), many in Congress have been eyeing the Nuclear Waste Fund as a source of money for their own pet waste projects, such as establishing "consolidated interim storage" waste sites and a new separate agency to handle the radioactive waste issue.

US Senate action on radioactive waste

The Senate Energy Committee, chaired by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has scheduled a mark-up session and potential vote on S. 1240, a bill to incorporate some of the recommendations of the DoE's 'Blue Ribbon Commission' (brc.gov), which issued its final report on the waste issue in January 2012.

The most controversial part of the legislation is its de-emphasis of establishing a permanent radioactive waste disposal site − putting off that task until later − and instead supporting establishment of one or more "interim" storage sites. That approach would require the near-term initiation of widespread transportation of high-level radioactive waste not just once − to a permanent site − but at least twice, and perhaps even more. Critics like the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) dubbed a similar legislative effort in the 1990s a 'Mobile Chernobyl' and successfully blocked it with the help of a veto from President Clinton.

This time around − before even one word has been written in the mainstream media about the waste transport − in November NIRS presented the Senate Energy Committee with a petition signed by more than 42,000 people opposing the bill and 'interim' storage generally.

Besides the transportation issue − and about 100 million Americans live within a mile or so of the only available transport routes no matter where an interim site(s) might be located − there is legitimate concern that an "interim" site would become a de facto permanent facility with none of the regulatory safeguards that would be required of a permanent site.

The bill also attempts to address the issue of 'consent' by establishing a new framework for a local or regional jurisdiction that 'volunteers' to host such a facility to demonstrate public support for that position.

Environmentalists have been pushing Committee members not only to drop the interim storage concept, but also to require that utilities move existing radioactive waste from fuel pools to hardened on-site dry cask storage facilities as quickly as possible.

According to Senate sources, significant portions of S.1240 were being rewritten from the bill introduced during the Spring prior to the markup. Should the bill pass the Committee, which is by no means certain since it is as yet unclear whether the re-write is intended to improve the bill itself or improve its chances of passage (and the two are vastly different goals), its future remains cloudy.

Since as currently written, it does not include any Yucca-related language, it seems possible that Sen. Reid would allow it to come for a floor vote in 2014. But that prospect becomes unlikelier if Reid perceives that it might spur the House to act on pro-Yucca legislation that could allow the two competing bills to come together for a conference committee.

 

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Meanwhile, yet another federal court decision, this one from the summer of 2012, has brought the NRC headlong into another aspect of the radioactive waste issue. That decision threw out the agency's "waste confidence" determination: a rule that provided the underpinning for the NRC's ability to license nuclear reactors.

That rule basically said the NRC had confidence that a waste repository would be built and that the interim storage measures used today (fuel pools and dry casks) would be safe until the repository was open. But the court ruled that with the abandonment of the Yucca Mountain project and no new proposal in site, the agency could no longer assume a permanent site will ever be built. Moreover, the court said that the NRC had no technical basis for its assertion that fuel pools and dry casks are acceptably safe for an indefinite, and potentially very long-term, future. The court's ruling forced the NRC to institute a moratorium on issuing licenses for new reactor construction as well as license renewals for existing reactors. The moratorium cannot be lifted until the issue is resolved.

The NRC responded with a quickly-done, several hundred page Generic Draft Environmental Impact Statement that boils down to a simple assertion: the likelihood of a fuel pool or dry cask accident is so low the agency doesn't have to worry about it.

The NRC this Fall then held a 12-city road show to try to sell the public on this document; many of the meetings were packed with anti-nuclear activists who appeared distinctly unsold on the concept. Interest has been high: the NRC is accepting written public comment on the document through December 20; nearly 9,500 comments to the NRC have gone through a NIRS action page on the issue (http://tinyurl.com/nirs-action), by far the most public comments to an agency that ever have gone through a NIRS page.

The NRC hopes to issue a final document this Spring and resume licensing by the Fall of 2014 but, given the flawed nature of its approach, new lawsuits against it are inevitable.

In a related issue, on November 18 the NRC staff issued a separate document that concluded that expedited transfer to dry cask storage would provide only a minor or limited safety benefit − in direct contradiction to environmentalists' position on S. 1240 − as well as an attempt to bolster support for its waste confidence position. Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) called the NRC memo "biased, inaccurate and at odds with the conclusions of other scientific experts − including those expressed in a peer-reviewed article that was co-authored" by current NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane in 2003 and a separate study completed by the National Academy of Sciences in 2004.

 

Sources:
www.nirs.org/radwaste/wasteconfidence.html
www.world-nuclear-news.org/WR-Reviving-Yucca-Mountain-1911137.html
www.beyondnuclear.org/radioactive-waste-whatsnew/2013/11/20/court-ruling...
www.nationaljournal.com/global-security-newswire/legal-battle-against-ru...
www.nytimes.com/2013/11/20/us/energy-dept-is-told-to-stop-collecting-fee...
www.nti.org/gsn/article/nrc-staff-rejects-concerns-about-nuclear-reactor...

USA: NRC inspector warns of Diablo Canyon seismic risks

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#790
04/09/2014
Article

The former top Nuclear Regulatory Commission on-site inspector at the Diablo Canyon reactors in California, nuclear engineer Dr Michael Peck, has recommended to the NRC that those reactors be shut down until their ability to withstand earthquakes is fully assessed. This should have been the big news a year ago: Peck wrote his recommendation − in the form of a formal Differing Professional Opinion − in July 2013. But the NRC still hasn't taken action, or even responded to it.

There are several major earthquake faults around Diablo Canyon. And not only has our understanding of earthquakes evolved dramatically since construction of the first reactor at Diablo was authorized in 1968, but at least two major faults − the Hosgri and the Shoreline faults − hadn't even been discovered then.

According to the Associated Press: "The NRC says the Hosgri fault line presents the greatest earthquake risk and that Diablo Canyon's reactors can withstand the largest projected quake on it. In his analysis, Peck wrote that after officials learned of the Hosgri fault's potential shaking power, the NRC never changed the requirements for the structural strength of many systems and components in the plant."

And the NRC has done only a preliminary assessment of the possible effects of the Shoreline fault. Diablo's owner, Pacific Gas & Electric, claims the reactors would withstand any possible earthquake from any of the faults, but given that this is the same utility that built the second unit at Diablo in a mirror image of its blueprints, it doesn't hold a lot of credibility. Pacific Gas & Electric has not only been insisting that its two Diablo Canyon reactors are safe, but has filed with the NRC to extend the 40 year licenses given for their operations another 20 years − to 2044 for Diablo Canyon 1 and to 2045 for Diablo Canyon 2.

Peck, on the other hand, who still works for NRC but not at Diablo, does have credibility. In his Differing Professional Opinion, Peck writes: "The new seismic information resulted in a condition outside of the bounds of the existing Diablo Canyon design basis and safety analysis. Continued reactor operation outside the bounds of the NRC approved safety analyses challenges the presumption of nuclear safety."

Peck writes in NRC bureaucratic language, but what he is saying can easily be summed up in plain English: The NRC does not know whether Diablo Canyon could survive an earthquake, within the realm of the possible, at any of the faults around Diablo Canyon. And the reactors should shut down until the NRC does know one way or the other. Of course, if the reactors cannot survive a postulated earthquake, the obvious conclusion is that they must close permanently.

Peck asked that his Differing Professional Opinion be made public, but the NRC has not released it. And despite the NRC's requirement that Differing Professional Opinions are to be ruled on within 120 days of filing, the NRC has not ruled on Peck's July 2013 opinion.

Friends of the Earth has filed a petition with the NRC charging that the plant is in violation of its license and must be closed immediately pending public hearings to prove it is safe. The petition charges that despite having new information that earthquake faults surrounding Diablo Canyon are capable of ground motion far greater than the reactors were designed and licensed to withstand, both Pacific Gas and Electric and the NRC have failed to close the plant pending the completion of a rigorous safety analysis and licensing review required by the NRC's rules.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has announced it will hold hearings into the NRC's suppression of Dr Peck's Differing Professional Opinion. Committee chair Sen. Barbara Boxer said: "The NRC's failure to act constitutes an abdication of its responsibility to protect public health and safety."

Michael Peck, July 2013, 'Differing Professional Opinion − Diablo Canyon Seismic Issues'

http://libcloud.s3.amazonaws.com/93/5a/8/4821/Diablo_Canyon_Seismic_DPO.pdf

Associated Press, 25 Aug 2014, 'Hearings Planned After Call for Nuke-Plant Closure', http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/ap-exclusive-expert-calls-nuk...

Friends of the Earth petition to the NRC:

http://libcloud.s3.amazonaws.com/93/26/5/4826/Friends_of_the_Earth_NRC_p...

Other sources:

http://safeenergy.org/2014/08/25/former-top-nrc-inspector-says-shut-diab...

www.foe.org/diablo

www.foe.org/news/news-releases/2014-08-nuclear-watchdog-petitions-federa...

www.foe.org/news/news-releases/2014-07-diablo-canyon-secret-document-det...

About: 
Diablo Canyon 1Diablo Canyon 2

US NRC approves radwaste rule; ends reactor licensing moratorium

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#790
4408
04/09/2014
Article

NM790.4408 On August 26, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved its controversial replacement for its "waste confidence" rule that was slapped down in 2012 by a federal court and also approved a resumption of new reactor licensing and license renewal activities.

The new replacement rule essentially gives up on the notion of "confidence" that a permanent high-level radioactive waste repository will be built in any foreseeable time frame and instead expresses the agency's support for the concept that "continued storage" in the absence of a permanent repository − even for millenia − is OK with them. The votes on the two actions were both 4-0, although NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane dissented on part of the final version of the "continued storage" rule.

In 2012, a federal three-judge panel (DC appeals court) asserted that NRC had no basis for "confidence" since there is, in fact, no plan for how to manage or isolate the most concentrated radioactive wastes ever produced. Since 2012 NRC has fast-tracked an effort to recover its streamlined licensing authority by instituting a new "Waste Confidence" policy. Originally, NRC staff indicated it would take as much as seven years to truly evaluate the dangers of waste storage. A quicker way was found: use all the old assumptions, produce a generic analysis and allow the nuclear waste generators to skip any local, specific analysis of risks and impacts at nuclear power reactor sites. NRC has simply removed the word "confidence" and now writes about "continued storage" while insisting there is no significant environmental impact from this waste

In a statement on the vote, Nuclear Information and Resource Service Executive Director Tim Judson said "For two years we had hoped that logic would prevail: but no such luck. An irrational, industry-dominated NRC has affirmed carte blanche to dirty energy corporations: 'go ahead, produce as much highly radioactive waste as you want; tell us it is safe and we, the NRC, will believe you.' This decision makes it impossible for NRC to claim that it is independent. We agree with grassroots activists in nuclear power communities who have decided that this is a con job. NRC has done nothing to increase our confidence in its performance as a regulator of safety."

The NRC's "continued storage" rule almost certainly will be challenged in court on numerous grounds and by numerous parties. But in the meantime, the NRC has now lifted its moratorium on reactor licensing activities. In practical terms, there are no new reactor license applications that have been particularly inhibited by the moratorium, so unless some utility decides it really wants to press ahead with a new reactor, there will be little change there. The major license renewal case underway is that of Indian Point in New York, and the NRC is expected to resume activity on that case quickly. But the battle over Indian Point is being waged on several fronts and the NRC long has been expected to approve license renewal for those reactors. So it's not clear the NRC action will have a profound effect there either.

In her partial dissent, Macfarlane expressed concern about the failure of the Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) underpinning the rule to address what would happen in the event institutional controls over long-term waste storage collapsed − a not unreasonable position given the eons that radioactive waste is lethal and must be strictly overseen. She noted that the NRC staff acknowledged that even a temporary loss of institutional control "would have impacts similar to spent fuel storage accidents" and that a permanent loss of control "would be 'a catastrophe to the environment.'"

But the staff decided not to analyze or effectively address these possibilities in the GEIS.

Macfarlane also said that the GEIS should be a living document − revised every 10 years to take into account changing circumstances. And Macfarlane pointed out that when waste is stored on-site, as the GEIS essentially presumes, the costs are borne by the utilities. The Nuclear Waste Fund, which currently is blocked from receiving more funds by the Department of Energy, goes for a permanent repository and is far short of anticipated costs in any event. Macfarlane wrote that while "funding near-term storage is not a crisis," the NRC, and the GEIS, should recognize the "genuine reality" that the federal government − i.e. taxpayers − will pay for the long-term storage of radioactive waste.

Every proposed permanent US dumpsite has been seriously flawed. The formerly proposed nuclear dump at Yucca Mountain would leak much faster than would meet even lax safety standards. Many have recently promoted the theoretical concept of expanding the mission for WIPP (the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) nuclear weapons waste deep geological repository in New Mexico to take civilian highly radioactive wastes; this proposal is clearly technically flawed and, given the recent fire and leaks at site, make it questionable it can even continue for that waste let alone adding more.

NRC 'waste confidence' decision:

www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/commission/cvr/2014/2014-0072vtr.pdf

NRC order on resuming licensing activities:

www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/commission/orders/2014/2014-08cli...

NRC press release:

www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2014/14-055.pdf

Nuclear Information and Resource Service statement:

www.nirs.org/radwaste/atreactorstorage/prvotewc82614.pdf

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#791
18/09/2014
Article

Killing the competition: US nuclear front groups exposed

A new report released by the Nuclear Information & Resource Service details US industry plans to subvert clean energy programs, rig energy markets and climate regulations to subsidize aging nuclear reactors.

A coalition of five organizations was joined by renowned energy economist Dr Mark Cooper to release the report, titled 'Killing the Competition: The Nuclear Power Agenda to Block Climate Action, Stop Renewable Energy, and Subsidize Old Reactors'.

The report details the industry's attacks on clean energy and climate solutions and the key battlegrounds in this new fight over the US's energy future. With large political war chests and armies of lobbyists, the power companies have opened up aggressive fights across the country this year:

* Blocking tax breaks for renewable energy in Congress.

* Killing renewable energy legislation in Illinois by threatening to close nuclear plants.

* Passing a resolution calling for nuclear subsidies and emissions-trading schemes in Illinois.

* Suspending renewable energy and efficiency standards in Ohio for two years.

* Ending energy efficiency programs in Indiana.

* Demanding above-market contracts for nuclear and coal plants in Ohio and New York.

Last year, the closure of several reactors highlighted the worsening economics of nuclear energy. Five reactor shutdowns were announced, and eight new reactors cancelled. The industry's rising costs − with new plants too expensive to build and old plants more and more costly to maintain − came head to head with a brewing energy revolution: low natural gas prices, rising energy efficiency, and affordable wind and solar power. As a result, Wall Street firms reassessed the industry, discovering an industry at risk and predicting more shuttered reactors in the coming years.

Energy economist Dr. Mark Cooper, of Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment, published a paper outlining the factors contributing to nuclear energy's poor prospects and highlighting the vulnerability of dozens of reactors. Dr Cooper said: "Nuclear power simply cannot compete with efficiency and renewable resources and it does not fit in the emerging electricity system that uses intelligent management of supply and demand response to meet the need for electricity. Doubling down on nuclear power as the solution to climate change, as proposed by nuclear advocates, is a bad bet since nuclear power is one of the most expensive ways available to cut carbon emissions in the electricity sector. The nuclear war against clean energy is a last ditch effort to stop the transformation of the electricity sector and prevent nuclear power from becoming obsolete."

NIRS, 2014, "Killing the Competition: The Nuclear Power Agenda to Block Climate Action , Stop Renewable Energy, and Subsidize Old Reactors", www.nirs.org/neconomics/killingthecompetition914.pdf

Oldest Indian reactor will not restart

After 10 years in long-term outage, it was reported on September 6 that there will be no restart for the first unit of Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS-1), located at Rawatbata, 64 km southwest of Kota in the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan. The 100 MW Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor, which was supplied to India under a 1963 agreement with Canada, operated from 1972 to 2004, though with multiple extended shutdowns. Cooperation with Canada was suspended following India's 1974 nuclear weapons test; however design details for the reactor had already been transferred to India.

www.worldnuclearreport.org/Oldest-Indian-Reactor-Will-Not.html

www.deccanherald.com/content/429550/end-road-raps-1.html

Czech Republic: March against uranium in Brzkov

A march against planned uranium mining on September 7 was attended by approximately 200 people. The march was organised by the association 'Our Future Without Uranium', which expresses the disapproval of the Brzkov population with the government's intention to resume uranium mining. During the day citizens signed the petition by the civic association called "NO to Uranium Mining in the Highlands".

www.nuclear-heritage.net/index.php/March_against_uranium_in_Brzkov

What went wrong with small modular reactors?

Thomas W. Overton, associate editor of POWER magazine, writes: "At the graveyard wherein resides the "nuclear renaissance" of the 2000s, a new occupant appears to be moving in: the small modular reactor (SMR). ... Over the past year, the SMR industry has been bumping up against an uncomfortable and not-entirely-unpredictable problem: It appears that no one actually wants to buy one."

Overton notes that in 2013, MidAmerican Energy scuttled plans to build an SMR-based plant in Iowa. This year, Babcock & Wilcox scaled back much of its SMR program and sacked 100 workers in its SMR division. Westinghouse has abandoned its SMR program.

Overton explains: "The problem has really been lurking in the idea behind SMRs all along. The reason conventional nuclear plants are built so large is the economies of scale: Big plants can produce power less expensively per kilowatt-hour than smaller ones. The SMR concept disdains those economies of scale in favor of others: large-scale standardized manufacturing that will churn out dozens, if not hundreds, of identical plants, each of which would ultimately produce cheaper kilowatt-hours than large one-off designs. It's an attractive idea. But it's also one that depends on someone building that massive supply chain, since none of it currently exists. ... That money would presumably come from customer orders − if there were any. Unfortunately, the SMR "market" doesn't exist in a vacuum. SMRs must compete with cheap natural gas, renewables that continue to decline in cost, and storage options that are rapidly becoming competitive. Worse, those options are available for delivery now, not at the end of a long, uncertain process that still lacks NRC approval."

www.powermag.com/what-went-wrong-with-smrs/

India's new uranium enrichment plant in Karnataka

David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini write in an Institute for Science and International Security report: "India is in the early stages of building a large uranium enrichment centrifuge complex, the Special Material Enrichment Facility (SMEF), in Karnataka. This new facility will significantly increase India's ability to produce enriched uranium for both civil and military purposes, including nuclear weapons. India should announce that the SMEF will be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, committed only to peaceful uses, and built only after ensuring it is in compliance with environmental laws in a process that fully incorporates stakeholders. Other governments and suppliers of nuclear and nuclear-related dual use goods throughout the world must be vigilant to prevent efforts by Indian trading and manufacturing companies to acquire such goods for this new enrichment facility as well as for India's operational gas centrifuge plant, the Rare Materials Plant, near Mysore."

http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/indias-new-uranium-enrichment...

Iran planning two more power reactors

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) plans to build two new nuclear power reactors, Bushehr Governor General Mostafa Salari announced on September 7. The previous week, AEOI chief Ali Akbar Salehi said that Tehran would sign a contract with Russia in the near future to build the two reactors in Bushehr. The AEOI states that the agreement with Russia will also include the construction of two desalination units.1

One Russian-supplied power reactor is already operating at Bushehr. Fuel is supplied by Russia until 2021 and perhaps beyond. Plans for new reactors may be used by Tehran to justify its enrichment program.

Meanwhile, construction licenses have been issued for the next two nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates by the country's Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation plans to begin construction of Barakah 3 and 4 in 2014 and 2015 respectively with all four of the site's reactors becoming operational by 2020.2

1. http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13930616001123

2. World Nuclear News, 15 Sept 2014

Depleted uranium as a carcinogen and genotoxin

The International Campaign to Ban Uranium Weapons has produced a new report outlining the growing weight of evidence relating to how depleted uranium (DU) can damage DNA, interfere with cellular processes and contribute to the development of cancer.1 The report uses peer-reviewed studies, many of which have been published during the last decade and, wherever possible, has sought to simplify the scientific language to make it accessible to the lay reader.

The report concludes: "The users of DU have shown themselves unwilling to be bound by the consequences of their actions. The failure to disclose targeting data or follow their own targeting guidelines has placed civilians at unacceptable risk. The recommendations of international and expert agencies have been adopted selectively or ignored. At times, users have actively opposed or blocked efforts to evaluate the risks associated with contamination. History suggests it is unlikely that DU use will be stopped voluntarily: an international agreement banning the use of uranium in conventional weapons is therefore required."

A report released by Dutch peace organisation PAX in June found that the lack of obligations on Coalition Forces to help clean-up after using DU weapons in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 has resulted in civilians and workers continuing to be exposed to the radioactive and toxic heavy metal years after the war.2 The health risk posed by the inadequate management of Iraq's DU contamination is unclear − neither Coalition Forces nor the Iraqi government have supported health research into civilian DU exposure. High risk groups include people living near, or working on, the dozens of scrap metal sites where the thousands of military vehicles destroyed in 1991 and 2003 are stored or processed. Waste sites often lack official oversight and in places it has taken more than a decade to clean-up heavily contaminated military wreckage from residential neighbourhoods. Hundreds of locations targeted by the weapons, many of which are in populated areas, remain undocumented and concern among Iraqi civilians over the potential health effects from exposure is widespread.

The Iraqi government has recently prepared a five year environment plan together with the World Health Organisation and UN Environment Programme but the PAX report finds that it is unclear how this will be accomplished without international assistance.

1. www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/malignant-effects

2. www.paxvoorvrede.nl/media/files/pax-rapport-iraq-final-lowres-spread.pdf

www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/no-solution-in-sight-for-iraqs-radioactive...

Clean-up of former Saskatchewan uranium mill

More than 50 years after the closure of the Lorado uranium mill in Saskatchewan, workers are cleaning up a massive pile of radioactive, acidic tailings that has poisoned a lake and threatened the health of wildlife and hunters for decades. The mill is near Uranium City, where uranium mining once supported a community of up to 5,000 people. Lorado only operated from 1957 to 1961, but during that time it produced about 227,000 cubic metres of tailings that were dumped beside Nero Lake. Windblown dust from the top of the tailings presents a gamma radiation and radon concern. Workers will cover the tailings with a layer of specially engineered sand to prevent water from running over them and into the lake. In addition, a lime mixture is to be added to the lake to counteract the acidity.

In 1982, the last of the mines near Uranium City closed, but tailings from the Lorado site and the Gunnar mine were left untouched. Uranium City has about 100 residents now.

Clean-up work also includes sealing off and cleaning up 35 mine exploration sites. Later, the Saskatchewan Research Council is to begin a cleanup of the Gunnar mine. That project is in the environmental assessment stage. Four million tonnes of tailings were produced at Gunnar during its operation from 1955 to 1963.

The clean-up project is controversial. The Prince Albert Grand Council, which represents a dozen First Nations in central and northern Saskatchewan, said in a written submission for the Lorado and Gunnar projects that many residents favour removal of the tailings rather than covering them up. The Saskatchewan Environmental Society says more investigation should have been done on the feasibility of removing the tailings. It questions how the covering will stand up as climate change delivers more severe weather, and whether government will continue to monitor the sites.

http://lethbridgeherald.com/news/national-news/2014/08/31/tough-conditio...

France: Greenpeace activists given suspended sentences

A French court has issued two-month suspended prison sentences to 55 Greenpeace activists involved in a break-in at France's Fessenheim nuclear power plant in March. Fessenheim is France's oldest nuclear plant. About 20 Greenpeace activists managed to climb on top of the dome of a reactor in Fessenheim. The activists, mostly from Germany but also from Italy, France, Turkey, Austria, Hungary, Australia and Israel, were all convicted of trespassing and causing wilful damage.

Greenpeace has identified Fessenheim's reactors as two of the most dangerous in Europe and argues that they should be shut down immediately. The area around the plant is vulnerable to earthquakes and flooding. Fessenheim lies in the heart of Europe, between France, Germany and Switzerland, with seven million people living with 100 kms of the reactors.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-29060086

www.english.rfi.fr/economy/20140905-greenpeace-activists-given-suspended...

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/g...

USA: Missouri fire may be moving closer to radioactive waste

A new report suggests an underground fire at the Bridgeton Landfill may be moving closer to radioactive waste buried nearby. The information comes just days after it was announced construction of a barrier between the fire and the waste will be delayed 18 months. The South Quarry of the Bridgeton Landfill has been smouldering underground for three years. A number of gas interceptor wells are designed to keep the fire from moving north and reaching the radioactive waste buried at the West Lake Landfill. However the wells may have failed according to landfill consultant Todd Thalhamer, who is calling for more tests to determine exactly how far the fire is from the radioactive material.

www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/2014/09/05/report-landfill-fire-may-be-mov...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Lake_Landfill

Britain's nuclear clean-up cost explosion

The cost of cleaning up Britain's toxic nuclear sites has shot up by £6bn (US$9.7b, €7.5b), with the government and regulators accused of "incompetence" in their efforts to manage the country's legacy of radioactive waste. The estimated cost for decommissioning over the next century went up from a £63.8bn estimate in 2011−12 to £69.8bn in 2012−13, with more increases expected in the coming years. This increase is nearly all due to the troubled clean-up of the Sellafield nuclear facility in Cumbria.

www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/sellafield-nuclear-cleanup-bill-w...

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#773
21/11/2013
Shorts

Radiation can pose bigger cancer risk for children − UN study
Infants and children are at greater risk than adults of developing some cancers when exposed to radiation, according to a report released in October by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and presented to the UN General Assembly.

Children were found to be more sensitive than adults for the development of 25% of tumour types including leukaemia and thyroid, brain and breast cancers. "The risk can be significantly higher, depending on circumstances," UNSCEAR said.

"Because of their anatomical and physiological differences, radiation exposure has a different impact on children compared with adults," said Fred Mettler, chair of an UNSCEAR expert group on the issue.

www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/25/us-nuclear-radiation-children-idUSBRE...

USA: Bad record keeping hindering clean-up of nuclear sites
The US government's decades-long effort to rehabilitate hundreds of sites around the country where nuclear weapons development and production has taken plan has been hampered by sloppy record-keeping. Documentation has been so uneven that the Energy Department says it lacks adequate records on several dozen facilities to be able to determine whether they merit clean-up. Additionally, in excess of 20 sites that were cleaned up and announced to be safe ended up needing more rehabilitation after lingering traces of nuclear contamination were found. The final price-tag of the clean-up effort is estimated to cost US$350 billion.[1]

Meanwhile, who − and what pot of money − would drive clean-up after a nuclear power plant incident is a question still left unanswered by the federal government, New York state officials said in a recent legal filing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Under the Price-Anderson Act, the nuclear power industry's liability in the event of a catastrophe is limited, and in any case NRC officials said in 2009 that Price-Anderson money likely would not be available to pay for offsite clean-up − a revelation made public a year later when internal EPA documents were released under the Freedom of Information Act. Another three years have gone by and the federal government has yet to provide a clear answer, the New York Attorney General's office says. In 2012, NRC Commissioner William Magwood acknowledged that there "is no regulatory framework for environmental restoration following a major radiological release."[2]

[1] NTI Global Security Newswire, 30 Oct 2013, 'Bad Record Keeping Hindering Cleanup of Ex-Nuclear Sites: Report', www.nti.org/gsn/article/cleanup
[2] Douglas P. Guarino, 25 Sept 2013, 'New York Wonders Where Nuclear Cleanup Funds Would Come From', www.nti.org/gsn/article/new-york-wonders-where-nuclear-cleanup-funds-wou...
 

Areva signs uranium deal with Mongolian state
French utility Areva has signed a deal with Mongolia's state-owned Mon-Atom to develop two uranium mines in the Gobi desert. A company will be created, 66% owned by Areva, 34% Mon-Atom, and Japan's Mitsubishi Corporation will take an equity interest. Areva said exploration had discovered two uranium deposits with estimated reserves of 60,000 tonnes.

Mongolian protesters had warned before the signing that a deal could lead to the contamination of water resources in the area. Selenge Lkhagvajav, a protest leader, said: "We are not against cooperation with France. But we just say 'no uranium exploration in Mongolia', as not having it is the best way to prevent radioactive pollution and contamination."

www.channelnewsasia.com/news/business/french-energy-giant-signs/862604.html
http://news.yahoo.com/french-energy-giant-signs-uranium-deal-mongolia-14...

Scotland: Dundrennan depleted uranium protest
Campaigners held a walk-on at the Dundrennan range in protest at the test firing of depleted uranium (DU) weapons into the Solway Firth. It was part of an international day of action and followed concerns about serious health issues resulting from the use of such weapons in war zones. The last DU tests at the south of Scotland range were in 2008. DU Day of Action events were also held in Finland, Japan, Norway, Costa Rica and elsewhere.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-south-scotland-24835544
www.bandepleteduranium.org/en/6/11-day-of-action

UK: Inadequate nuclear regulation
The UK government's nuclear safety watchdog has named the five UK sites that need the most regulation because of the safety problems they pose. They are the reprocessing complex at Sellafield in Cumbria, the nuclear bomb factories at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire, the nuclear submarine base at Devonport in Plymouth and the former fast breeder centre at Dounreay in Caithness.[1]

These sites have been highlighted by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) in its 2013 annual report as requiring an "enhanced level of regulatory attention" because of the radioactive hazards on the sites, the risk of radioactive leaks contaminating the environment around the sites and ONR's view of operators' safety performances.[1]

Sellafield was rated unacceptable in one inspection because a back-up gas turbine to provide power to the site in emergencies was "at imminent risk of failure to operate" because of severe corrosion. "Failure would reduce the availability of nuclear safety significant equipment, and also potentially injure or harm the workforce," says ONR.[1]

At Aldermaston, corrosion in a structural steelwork was discovered in 2012, resulting in the closure of the A45 building which makes enriched uranium components for nuclear warheads and fuel for nuclear submarines.[1]

In May, AWE admitted one count of breaching the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 in relation to an August 2010 accident and fire at Aldermaston. A worker was injured when the mixing chemicals in a bucket caused an explosion and a fire which led to the evacuation of staff and nearby residents. Bernard Thorogood, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive, said an investigation into the fire revealed a "constellation of failures" relating to health and safety regulations which put employees at risk.[2]

[1] Rob Edwards, 5 Nov 2013, www.robedwards.com/2013/11/five-nuclear-sites-with-most-safety-problems-...
[2] Basingstoke Gazette, 23 May 2013, www.basingstokegazette.co.uk/news/10436305._/

Italy: radioactive waste dumped illegally by Mafia blamed for cancer increase
The Italian Senate is investigating a possible link between buried radioactive waste and a rise of almost 50% in tumours found in the inhabitants of several towns around Naples. The illegal trafficking of hazardous waste came to light in 1997. A Mafia clan had run a profitable operation dumping millions of tonnes of waste on farmland, in caves, in quarries, on the edge of towns, in Lake Lucrino and along the coast.

Radioactive sludge, brought in on trucks from plants in Germany, was dumped in landfills, said Carmine Schiavone, who was involved in the illegal activities before becoming a whistle-blower. "I know that some is on land where buffalo live today, and on which no grass grows," he said.

Hannah Roberts, 1 Nov 2013, 'Toxic nuclear waste dumped illegally by the Mafia is blamed for surge in cancers in southern Italy', www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2483484/Toxic-nuclear-waste-dumped-ille...
 

UK: Dungeness power lines damaged by storms
EDF's Dungeness nuclear power station has been reconnected to the National Grid after power lines were damaged when storms battered southern Britain. The Kent power plant's two reactors were automatically shut down when electricity to the site was cut off on 28 October.[1] More than 60,000 homes and businesses were left without power.[2]

The Dungeness plant was in the media earlier this year when Freedom of Information documents revealed that ministers rejected advice from the Office for Nuclear Regulation to restrict development near nuclear plants. That advice was overridden when the government approved the expansion of Lydd airport, a few miles from the Dungeness plant. Dungeness was also in the news earlier this year when it was revealed that tritium leaks beyond the statutory limit had occurred.[3]

[1] BBC, 6 Nov 2013, www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-24838306
[2] Utility Week, 29 Oct 2013, www.utilityweek.co.uk/news/nuclear-plant-and-60000-customers-still-off-s...
[3] 'Dungeness Airport Threat & Tritium', May 2013, www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo50.pdf

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#772
15/11/2013
Shorts

Switzerland − Mühleberg NPP will be shut down early
Operator BKW FMB Energy will permanently shut down Switzerland's Mühleberg nuclear power plant in 2019 − three years ahead of the planned 2022 shut down. BKW chair Urs Gasche said the main factors behind the decision were "the current market conditions as well as the uncertainty surrounding political and regulatory trends." BKW said it will invest US$223 million to enable continued operation until 2019. The Swiss canton of Bern is the majority shareholder in BKW.[1]

The single 372 MWe boiling water reactor began operating in 1972. In 2009, the Swiss environment ministry issued an unlimited-duration operating licence to the Mühleberg plant. This decision was overturned in March 2012 by the country's Federal Administrative Court (FAC), which said the plant could only operate until June 2013. BKW subsequently lodged an appeal with the Federal Court against the FAC's ruling, winning the case this March and securing an unlimited-duration operating licence.[1]

In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, the Swiss government adopted a nuclear power phase-out policy, with no new reactors to be built and all existing reactors to be permanently shut down by 2034, along with a ban on nuclear reprocessing.[2,3]

[1]www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Political-risks-prompt-early-closure-of-Swi...
[2] www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/CNPP2013_CD/countryprofiles/Switzerland/Switzerland.htm
[3] www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-O-S/Switzerland/

---

US−Vietnam nuclear deal − fools' gold standard
A senior Republican senator wrote to the Obama administration in late October voicing concerns about a recently negotiated nuclear trade agreement with Vietnam that does not explicitly prohibit the country from developing weapons-sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technology.[1]

Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee.) wrote: "The administration's acceptance of enrichment and reprocessing [ENR] capabilities in new agreements with countries where no ENR capability currently exists is inconsistent and confusing, potentially compromising our nation's nonproliferation policies and goals. ... The absence of a consistent policy weakens our nuclear nonproliferation efforts, and sends a mixed message to those nations we seek to prevent from gaining or enhancing such capability, and signals to our partners that the ‘gold standard' is no standard at all. The United States must lead with high standards that prevent the proliferation of technologies if we are to have a credible and effective nuclear nonproliferation policy."[2]

Corker is requesting a briefing from the Obama administration prior to the submittal of the US-Vietnam trade agreement to Congress. Once the agreement is submitted, the legislative branch will be required within 90 days of continuous session to decide whether to allow, reject or modify the accord.[1]

Shortly after the October 10 signing of the nuclear trade agreement, a US government official told journalists that Hanoi has promised "not to acquire sensitive nuclear technologies, equipment, and processing". But unidentified US officials told the Wall Street Journal that Vietnam would retain the right to pursue enrichment and reprocessing.[3]

Prior to the October 10 signing, Vietnam repeatedly said it would not accept restrictions on enrichment and reprocessing in a formal agreement with the US. According to Global Security Newswire, Hanoi "may make some effort ... to reassure the nonproliferation community, outside of the agreement text".[4]

In short, the agreement does not meet the 'gold standard' established in the US/UAE agreement of a legally-binding ban on enrichment and reprocessing [5] − notwithstanding contrary claims from US government officials and many media reports. Instead, it applies a fools' gold standard − a non-legally binding 'commitment'. There are many parallels in nuclear politics, such as India's 'moratorium' on nuclear weapons testing while Delhi refuses to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

US labour and human rights groups have urged President Obama to suspend free-trade negotiations with Vietnam because of its treatment of workers and government critics. Analysts say a sharp increase in arrests and convictions of government detractors could complicate the nuclear deal when it is considered by Congress.[9]

Vietnam has also signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, France, China, South Korea, Japan and Canada. Plans call for Vietnam to have a total of eight nuclear power reactors in operation by 2027. Russia and Japan have already agreed to build and finance Vietnam's first four nuclear power units − two Russian-designed VVERs at Ninh Thuan and two Japanese reactors at Vinh Hai − although construction has yet to begin.[7] Vietnam intends to build its first nuclear-power reactor in a province particularly vulnerable to tsunamis.[8]

Progress − albeit slow progress − is being made with an IAEA low-enriched uranium fuel bank in Kazakhstan, which IAEA member countries could turn to if their regular supplies were cut. The fuel bank is designed to stem the spread of enrichment capabilities.[6]

[1] www.nti.org/gsn/article/senior-gop-senator-concerned-us-vietnam-nuclear-...
[2] www.foreign.senate.gov/press/ranking/release/corker-inconsistency-in-civ...
[3] www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-vietnam-announce-new-atomic-trade-deal/
[4] www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-vietnam-could-initial-nuclear-trade-pact-week...
[5] Nuclear Monitor #766, 'Sensitive nuclear technologies and US nuclear export agreements', www.wiseinternational.org/node/4019
[6] www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/02/us-nuclear-fuel-iaea-idUSBRE9910JJ201...
[7] www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-Agreement_opens_US_Vietnam_nuclear_trade-1...
[8] www.nti.org/gsn/article/vietnam-nuclear-power-program/?mgs1=b5a1drpwr4
[9] www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/10/us-signs-nuclear-technology-...

---

Thousands protest against Areva in Niger
Thousands of residents of the remote mining town of Arlit in Niger took to the streets on October 12 to protest against French uranium miner Areva and support a government audit of the company's operations.[1]

The Nigerian government announced the audit in September and wants to increase the state's revenues from the Cominak and Somair mines, in which the government holds 31% and 36.4% stakes, respectively. The government is also calling on the company to make infrastructure investments, including resurfacing the road between the town of Tahoua and Arlit, known as the "uranium road".[1]

Around 5,000 demonstrators marched through Arlit chanting slogans against Areva before holding a rally in the city centre. "We're showing Areva that we are fed up and we're demonstrating our support for the government in the contract renewal negotiations," said Azaoua Mamane, an Arlit civil society spokesperson.[1]

Arlit residents complain they have benefited little from the local mining industry. "We don't have enough drinking water while the company pumps 20 million cubic metres of water each year for free. The government must negotiate a win-win partnership," Mamane said. Areva representatives in Niger and Paris declined to comment.[1]

Another resident said: "The population has inherited 50 million tonnes of radioactive residues stocked in Arlit, and Areva continues to freely pump 20 million cubic metres of water each year while the population dies of thirst."[2]

Areva is also developing the Imouraren mine in Niger, where first ore extraction is due in 2015.[3]

Meanwhile, four French nationals from Areva and contractor Vinci have been released after three years in captivity. They were kidnapped by Islamic militants near the Arlit uranium mine. Seven people were kidnapped on 15 September 2010 by what has been described as the Islamic Mahgreb Al-Qaida group; three were released in February 2011. In May 2013, a terrorist car bomb damaged the mine plant at Arlit, killing one employee and injuring 14.[4]

[1] www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/12/niger-areva-protest-idUSL6N0I20H22013...
[2] www.france24.com/en/20131012-thousands-protest-niger-against-french-nucl...
[3] www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-06/areva-urges-clients-to-buy-uranium-as-...
[4] WNN, 30 Oct 2013, www.world-nuclear-news.org/C_Hostage_relief_for_Areva_3010132.html

More information:

  • Nuclear Monitor #769, 10 Oct 2013, 'Niger audits U mines, seeks better deal'
  • Nuclear Monitor #765, 1 Aug 2013, 'Uranium mining in Niger'
About: 
Muehleberg

Barbara George

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#772
15/11/2013
Diane D'Arrigo, US Nuclear Information and Resource Service
Article

Barbara George, founder of Women's Energy Matters (www.womensenergymatters.org) was a multitalented beautiful artist, activist, expert, friend. She died on November 7, 2013 of an aggressive lymphoma shortly after the successful campaign to keep the San Onofre nuclear power reactors closed forever and after many years challenging the California Public Utility Commission to support energy efficiency and renewable energy to replace nuclear, coal and gas.

She saw what needed to be done and did it, encouraging others to do the same. She realised the pubic needed to know about nuclear power, so she developed a one-woman show, 'Everything You Wanted to Know About Nuclear Power But Were Afraid to Ask', and took it on the road across the US awakening many who would never have gone to a meeting of talking heads. She started her antinuclear work with the Shad Alliance and the successful campaign to shut down Shoreham nuclear power reactor in Long Island, New York which closed after operating for the equivalent of two days over a two year period.

Barbara was part of the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice which had sister camps around the world. She was involved in the Hunters Point Community, one of the last black neighbourhoods in San Francisco, the place where ships from Pacific nuclear weapons bombing had been brought for "cleaning," and the departure point for nuclear waste dumping in the Farallon Islands. She introduced the US Nuclear Information and Resource Service to truckers from Hunters Point who transported radioactive and hazardous waste on a regular basis and they joined a legal challenge to US Department of Transportation and US Nuclear Regulatory Commission efforts to weaken nuclear transport regulations that would then be used to allow nuclear waste to go to regular trash and everyday recycling.

Barbara worked on the long, hard, campaign that stopped the proposed Ward Valley nuclear waste dump on land sacred to five Native American nations and bordering habitat for the endangered desert tortoise. Her relentless work at the California Public Utility Commission exposed meagre funding for renewables and incompetence of the regulator and the Investor Owned Utilities. Simultaneously, she advocated for public power and helped create the Marin County, California Community Choice Aggregation system, a model for other communities to break from electric companies and buy their own power.

Barbara knew that life is precious and short, so took the time occasionally to let it all go and swim in California's springs, hike on the beaches and enjoy healthy meals with friends. Her home was a workshop full of colour and flowers, art and beauty among voluminous documents and testimony.

How lucky we are to have known and worked with Barbara, a brave, knowledgeable, inspiring and highly skilled intervenor in the corrupt processes that give us nuclear instead of truly clean power.

− Diane D'Arrigo, US Nuclear Information and Resource Service
With thanks to Roger Herried, Abalone Alliance Clearinghouse Archivist and Louise Dunlap 

Yellowcake submarines

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#771
02/11/2013
Article

The UK Office for Nuclear Regulation has issued an improvement notice on the Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth after a report revealed lapses. The naval base is operated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and government engineering contractors Babcock Marine. On 29 July 2012, the electric-power source for coolant to submarine reactors failed and then the diesel back-up generators also failed, according to a heavily redacted report from the MoD's Site Event Report Committee.[1]

Babcock launched an internal investigation after the incident, blaming the complete loss of power on a defect in the central switchboard and acknowledging that the event had "potential nuclear implications". Among a number of "areas of concern" uncovered by Babcock was what was described as an "inability to learn from previous incidents and to implement the recommendations from previous event reports".[1]

The Office for Nuclear Regulation issued an improvement notice for three alleged breaches of health and safety legislation, and of Section 24 of the Nuclear Installations Act – regarding "operating instructions".[1]

The MoD's Site Event Report Committee report notes that there had been two previous electrical failures at Devonport − the loss of primary and alternative shore supply to nuclear submarine HMS Talent in 2009, and the loss of "AC shore supply" to the nuclear submarine HMS Trafalgar in 2011.[1]

Regarding the July 2012 loss of power incident, independent nuclear consultant John Large said: "It is unbelievable that this happened. It could have been very serious. Things like this shouldn't happen. It is a fundamental that these fail-safe requirements work. It had all the seriousness of a major meltdown – a major radioactive release." Large warned that if a submarine had recently entered the base when the failure occurred the situation could have been "dire" because of high heat levels in its reactor.[1]

The loss of power incident is one of 11 incidents in the past five years at two nuclear submarine bases, the MoD has revealed. Radioactive waste has been spilled, workers exposed to radiation, power supplies lost, safety valves wrongly operated and a bag of waste mistakenly dropped overboard. Six of the incidents happened at Faslane in Scotland, five at Devonport. The incidents have been admitted by UK defence minister, Philip Dunne, in response to a parliamentary question.[2]

According to the MoD, six incidents since 2008 at Faslane have been defined as "category B", the second-worst rating, involving "actual or high potential for a contained release within building or submarine or unplanned exposure to radiation". In 2008, valves on board a submarine were shut "in error" at Faslane, causing a loss of power. In 2009, there were two problems with cranes at Faslane being used more often than they should be without authorisation. In 2010, the melting of an ice plug caused by the failure of a liquid nitrogen supply resulted in radioactive coolant leaking into a submarine reactor compartment at Faslane. In the same year, a bag of potentially contaminated clothing fell overboard. Last year, maintenance workers entered an area next to a reactor compartment "without the proper radiological controls in place and hence received an unplanned exposure to a radiological dose," the MoD said.[2]

The five incidents at Devonport include a spillage of reactor coolant "into the environment" in 2008, the operation of two submarines without key safety valves in 2010 and an overflowing radioactive waste tank in 2011. The July 2012 loss of power incident is also included in the list. Although the MoD described what happened in 10 instances, it refused to give details of one event at Devonport because "disclosure would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the armed forces".[2]

UK Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator report

The 2012−13 report of the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR) revealed:[4,5,6]

  • Cracks in reactors and nuclear discharges, directly attributable to the Royal Navy's oldest Trafalgar Class SSNs (Ship Submarine Nuclear) remaining in service beyond their design date.
  • Faults with the new Astute Class submarines that will delay their entry into service, forcing the Navy to continue sailing the ageing and potentially dangerous Trafalgars.
  • The Atomic Weapons Establishment failed to notice or rectify corrosion to a nuclear missile treatment plant in Berkshire.
  • Nuclear-qualified engineers are quitting the Navy in droves over poor pay and conditions, creating a skills crisis.

 

DNSR head Richard Savage wrote: "Significant and sustained attention is required to ensure maintenance of adequate safety performance and the rating [Red] reflects the potential impact if changes are ill-conceived or implemented. The inability to sustain a sufficient number of nuclear suitably competent personnel is the principal threat to safety. Vulnerabilities exist in core skill areas, including safety, propulsion, power and naval architects."[4]

In March 2007, two sailors were killed on HMS Tireless when an oxygen generator exploded during an Arctic exercise. An inquest heard that there was a significant possibility the generator was salvaged from a hazardous waste depot in a cost-cutting bid by the MoD. HMS Tireless leaked radioactive coolant from its reactor for eight days in February 2013 including six days at the Devonport dockyard in Plymouth.[4,6]

The DNSR report states: "Inspection programmes have not been as comprehensive as regulators would expect. As an example, corrosion in the structural supports of a building was not identified as early as would be expected which resulted in the Office for Nuclear Regulation issuing a Safety Improvement Notice." AWE admitted corrosion had affected its uranium component manufacturing facility.[4]

Meanwhile, there are fears that two major naval bases (Devonport and Rosyth, Fife) sited near large British cities could become nuclear waste storage facilities by default after it was revealed the MoD proposes to remove low-level radioactive waste from the UK's nuclear submarine fleet. The first of Britain's fleet of 27 nuclear submarines is due to be dismantled within five years. But according to minutes of the Submarine Dismantling Project Advisory Group, there is "uncertainty running to several decades" over a long-term storage solution for radioactive waste. There are seven retired subs at Rosyth and eight at Devonport.[3]

Russia

A fire broke out on a Russian nuclear submarine undergoing repairs, according to news reports in September, but no injuries or radiation leaks were reported. Russian news reports said the fire on the Tomsk submarine at repair yards in the Pacific coast city of Bolshoi Kamen had been extinguished with foam on September 16. The Tomsk, capable of firing cruise missiles, has been undergoing repairs since 2010. Reports said all its weaponry had been removed and the reactor was shut down, although it was not clear if any nuclear material remained in the reactor.[7]

Large-scale Soviet nuclear tests, dumping of spent fuel and two scuttled nuclear-powered submarines are a major source of pollution in the Arctic ocean. There are 17,000 containers and 19 vessels holding radioactive waste submerged in the Kara Sea, as well as 14 nuclear reactors including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel, and 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery. In addition, the Soviet nuclear submarine K-27 was scuttled in 1981 in the Kara Sea. The K-27, equipped with two nuclear reactors (and their irradiated fuel), was filled with bitumen and concrete before being sunk, to ensure that it would lie safely on the ocean floor for 50 years.[8,9,10]

As the Arctic thaws under the influence of global warming, oceanic currents in the region could hasten the spread of radioactive materials. But according to Bellona's Igor Kurdrik, an expert on Russian naval nuclear waste, the Russian state has another interest: "We know that the Russians have an interest in oil exploration in this area. They therefore want to know were the radioactive waste is so they can clean it up before they begin oil recovery operations."[10]

USA

The US Navy has decided to scrap the USS Miami instead of fixing the nuclear submarine, which a civilian shipyard worker set fire to in 2012. The submarine was commissioned in 1990 at a cost of US$900 million. It sustained US$450 million in damages after Casey James Fury, a shipyard worker, set the 23 May 2012 blaze.[11]

The fire damaged forward compartments including living quarters, a command and control centre and the torpedo room. Weapons had been removed prior to the fire, and the fire never reached the rear of the submarine, where the nuclear propulsion components are located. Fury said he was suffering from anxiety and having problems with his ex-girlfriend and set the fire in order to get out of work early. It took 12 hours and the efforts of more than 100 firefighters to extinguish the fire. Seven people were hurt. Fury is serving 17 years in federal prison.[11]

References:
[1] www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/nuclear-scare-at-navy-submarine-...
[2] www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/workers-exposed-to-radiation-at-fa...
[3] www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/naval-bases-could-become-nuclear...
[4] www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2384224/Revealed-Shock-Code-Red-safety-...
[5] www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/04/ageing-nuclear-submarines-sailor...
[6] DNSR Annual Report 2012−13, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...
[7] www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/16/fire-russian-nuclear-submarine-tomsk
[8] www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/nuclear-waste-lurks-beneath-arct...
[9] www.bellona.org/articles/articles_2012/rosatom_seminar
[10] http://earthfirstnews.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/russia-dumped-17-nuclear-...
[11] www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2386909/Nuclear-submarine-USS-Miami-set...

Climate change, water and energy

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#770
24/10/2013
Article

A July 2013 report by the US Department of Energy details many of the interconnections between climate change and energy.[1] These include:

  • Increasing risk of shutdowns at coal, gas and nuclear plants due to decreased water availability which affects cooling at thermoelectric power plants, a requirement for operation;
  • Higher risks to energy infrastructure located along the coasts due to sea level rise, the increasing intensity of storms, and higher storm surge and flooding. A 2011 study evaluated the flood risk from coastal storms and hurricanes for the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant (Maryland) and the Turkey Point nuclear plant (Florida). Under current conditions, storm surge would range from 0.6 metres for a Nor'easter to 3.7 metres for a Category 3 hurricane, causing no flooding at Calvert Cliffs but "considerable flooding" at Turkey Point (which would be inundated during hurricanes stronger than Category 3);
  • Disruption of fuel supplies during severe storms;
  • Power-plant disruptions due to drought; and
  • Power lines, transformers and electricity distribution systems face increasing risks of physical damage from the hurricanes, storms and wildfires that are growing more frequent and intense. For example, in February 2013, over 660,000 customers lost power across eight states in the US Northeast affected by a winter storm bringing snow, heavy winds, and coastal flooding to the region and resulting in significant damage to the electric transmission system.

 

Many incidents illustrate the connections between climate, water and nuclear power in the US:

  • From February 8−11, 2013, Winter Storm Nemo brought snow and high winds to 19 nuclear energy facilities in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic − 18 facilities operated continuously at or near full power throughout the storm while Entergy's Pilgrim 1 reactors in Massachusetts safely shut down on February 9 due to a loss of off-site power (restored the following day).[6]
  • In October 2012, ports and power plants in the Northeast were either damaged or experienced shutdowns as a result of Hurricane Sandy. More than eight million customers lost power in 21 affected states.[1] Hurricane Sandy affected 34 nuclear energy facilities in the Southeast, mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Northeast. Twenty-four nuclear energy facilities continued to operate throughout the event. Seven were already shut down for refueling or inspection. Three reactors shut down: Salem 1, New Jersey, was manually shut down due to high water at its outside circulation water pumps; Indian Point 3, New York, automatically shut down due to external power grid disruption; Nine Mile Point 1, New York, automatically shut down due to external power grid disruption. Exelon declared an alert due to the high water level at the cooling water intake structure of its Oyster Creek, New Jersey nuclear plant; the alert ended after 47 hours when the water level dropped.[6]
  • In August 2012, Dominion Resources shut down one reactor at the Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Connecticut because the temperature of the intake cooling water, withdrawn from the Long Island Sound, was too high. Water temperatures were the warmest since operations began in 1970. No power outages were reported but the two-week shutdown resulted in the loss of 255,000 megawatt-hours of power, worth several million dollars.[1]
  • In August 2012, Entergy's Waterford 3 reactor, Louisiana, was temporarily shut down as a precaution due to projected high winds (Hurricane Isaac).[6]
  • In July 2012, four coal-fired power plants and four nuclear power plants in Illinois requested permission to exceed their permitted water temperature discharge levels. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency granted special exceptions to the eight power plants, allowing them to discharge water that was hotter than allowed by federal Clean Water Act permits. [1]
  • In July 2012, the Vermont Yankee had to limit output four times because of low river flow and heat; and FirstEnergy Corp's Perry 1 reactor in Ohio dropped production because of above-average temperatures.[2]
  • In September 2011, high temperatures and high electricity demand-related loading tripped a transformer and transmission line near Yuma, Arizona, starting a chain of events that led to the shut down of the San Onofre nuclear plant with power lost to the entire San Diego County distribution system, totaling approximately 2.7 million power customers, with outages as long as 12 hours. [1]
  • On 27−28 August 2011, Hurricane Irene affected 24 nuclear power plants along the East Coast. Eighteen reactors remained at or near full power throughout the storm. Power output from four reactors was temporarily reduced as a precaution. One plant temporarily shut down as a precaution − Constellation Energy declared an unusual event when the Calvert Cliffs 1, Maryland, reactor automatically shut down due to debris striking an external electrical transformer.[6]
  • On 27 April 2011, three Browns Ferry reactors, Alabama, automatically shut down when strong storms knocked out off-site power. Emergency diesel generators were used for just over five days.[6]
  • On 16 April 2011, Dominion Resources' two Surry reactors, Virginia, automatically shut down after a tornado damaged a switchyard and knocked out off-site power.[6]
  • In the Summer of 2010, the Hope Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey and Exelon's Limerick plant in Pennsylvania had to reduce power because the temperatures of the intake cooling water, withdrawn from the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers respectively, were too high and did not provide sufficient cooling for full power operations. [1]
  • On 6 June 2010, DTE Energy's Fermi 2 reactor, Michigan, automatically shut down after a tornado knocked out off-site power to the site. The tornado caused some external damage.[6]
  • On 1 September 2008, Entergy's River Bend reactor, Louisiana, was manually shut down ahead of the approach of Hurricane Gustav. The shut down proceeded safely as designed but the hurricane caused some external damage.[6]
  • In 2007, 2010, and 2011, the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, Alabama, had to reduce power output because the temperature of the Tennessee River was too high to discharge heated cooling water from the reactor without risking ecological harm to the river. TVA was forced to curtail the power production of its reactors, in some cases for nearly two months. While no power outages were reported, the cost of replacement power was estimated at US$50 million. [1] From August 5−12, 2008, the TVA lost a third of nuclear capacity due to drought conditions; all three Browns Ferry reactors were idled to prevent overheating of the Tennessee River.[2]
  • On 20 August 2009, lightning struck transmission lines knocking out off-site power to the Wolf Creek reactor, Kansas, and the plant automatically shut down.[6]
  • In August 2006, two reactors at Exelon's Quad Cities Generating Station in Illinois had to reduce electricity production to less than 60% capacity because the temperature of the Mississippi River was too high to discharge heated cooling water. [1] The Dresden and Monticello plants in Illinois cut power to moderate water discharge temperatures from July 29 to August 2.[2]
  • In July 2006, one reactor at American Electric Power's D.C. Cook Nuclear Plant in Michigan was shut down because the high summer temperatures raised the air temperature inside the containment building above 48.9°C, and the temperature of the cooling water from Lake Michigan was too high to intake for cooling. The plant could only be returned to full power after five days.[1]
  • On 28 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina knocked out off-site power to Entergy's Waterford 3 reactor, Louisiana, and a manual shut down proceeded. Emergency diesel generators were used for 4.5 days.[6]
  • On 24 September 2004, Hurricane Jeanne prompted a manual shut down of NextEra Energy's St. Lucie 1, 2 reactors, Florida, then caused loss of off-site power. Emergency diesel generators functioned as designed.[6]
  • In 2003, Hurricane Charley led to a shut-down of the Brunswick 1 reactor in North Carolina due to loss of off-site power because of a trip of the station auxiliary transformer. The transformer trip was due to an electrical fault on a transmission system line. Operators manually shut down the reactor.[7]
  • On 24 June 1998, FirstEnergy's Davis Besse reactor, Ohio, received a direct hit by an F2 tornado. The plant automatically shut down and emergency diesel generators (EDG) provided back-up power.[6] One EDG had to be started locally because bad switch contacts in the control room prevented a remote start. Then, problems due to faulty ventilation equipment arose, threatening to overheat the EDGs. Even with the EDGs running, the loss of offsite power meant that electricity supply to certain equipment was interrupted, including the cooling systems for the onsite spent fuel pool. Water temperature in the pool rose from 43°C to 58°C. Offsite power was restored to safety systems after 23 hours just as one EDG was declared inoperable.[7]
  • On 24 August 1992, Category 5 Hurricane Andrew knocked out off-site power to NextEra Energy's Turkey Point 3, 4 reactors, Florida, and damaged electrical infrastructure. Manual plant shut down proceeded and emergency diesel generators were used for six days, 10 hours.[6] All offsite communications were lost for four hours during the storm and access to the site was blocked by debris and fallen trees. The nuclear power station's fire protection system was also destroyed.[7]
  • In 1988, drought, high temperatures and low river volumes forced Commonwealth Edison to reduce power by 30% percent or in some cases shut down reactors at the Dresden and Quad Cities plants in Illinois. "That was the first wake-up call that plants would be vulnerable in a climate-disrupted world," said David Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service.[2]

 

Of course, the problems are not unique to the US. A few examples:

  • In July 2009, France had to purchase power from the UK because almost a third of its nuclear generating capacity was lost when it had to cut production to avoid exceeding thermal discharge limits.[2]
  • In 2003, France, Germany and Spain had to choose between allowing reactors to exceed design standards and thermal discharge limits and shutting down reactors. Spain shut down its reactors, while France and Germany allowed some to operate and shut down others.[2] The same problems occurred in the Summer of 2006.[3]
  • On 8 February 2004, both Biblis reactors (A and B) in Germany were in operation at full power. Heavy storms knocked out power lines. Because of an incorrectly set electrical switch and a faulty pressure gauge, the Biblis-B turbine did not drop, as designed, from 1,300 to 60 megawatts, maintaining station power after separating from the grid. Instead the reactor scrammed. When Biblis-B scrammed with its grid power supply already cut off, four emergency diesel generators started. Another emergency supply also started but, because of a switching failure, one of the lines failed to connect. These lines would have been relied upon as a backup to bring emergency diesel power from Biblis-B to Biblis-A if Biblis-A had also been without power. The result was a partial disabling of the emergency power supply from Biblis-B to Biblis-A for about two hours. Then, the affected switch was manually set by operating personnel.[7]

 

A study by researchers at the University of Washington and in Europe, published in Nature Climate Change, found that generating capacity at thermoelectric plants in the US could fall by 4.4−16% between 2031 and 2060 depending on cooling system type and climate change scenarios.[4]

Prof. Dennis Lettenmaier, one of the authors of study, told InsideClimate News the problems will be two-fold.[5] First, water temperatures will be higher because of raised air temperatures, and will be too high at times to adequately cool the plant. Secondly, there may simply not be enough water to safely divert the flow and return it to the waterway. Climate models project a greater probability of low river levels due to a more variable climate. Lower river or lake levels would mean there would be less water available to diffuse the warmth that is returned. Plants currently have discharge restrictions to prevent ecological damage from downstream thermal pollution. With lower water levels, the plants would be forced to shut down more often.

Lettenmaier said the study's findings might discourage operators from applying for relicensing of ageing facilities, because of the expensive upgrades that would be required. "That could be the last nail in the coffin," he said. (For example the the Oyster Creek (NJ) plant will close in 2019 in part because the utility prefers closure instead of installing a state-mandated cooling tower to minimise damage to Barnegat Bay.) Plants using cooling towers rather than once through cooling will also be affected by climate change, but not nearly as much.

The impacts of climate change could be even bigger in Europe, according to the Nature Climate Change study. Power production in European thermoelectric plants could drop by 6.3−19% between 2031 and 2060 due to increased shut-downs.

The Nature Climate Change article states: "In addition, probabilities of extreme (>90%) reductions in thermoelectric power production will on average increase by a factor of three. Considering the increase in future electricity demand, there is a strong need for improved climate adaptation strategies in the thermoelectric power sector to assure future energy security."

References:
[1] Department of Energy, July 2013, 'U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather' http://energy.gov/downloads/us-energy-sector-vulnerabilities-climate-cha...
[2] Robert Krier, 15 Aug 2012, 'Extreme Heat, Drought Show Vulnerability of Nuclear Power Plants', InsideClimate News, http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120815/nuclear-power-plants-energy-n...
[3] Susan Sachs, 10 Aug 2006, 'Nuclear power's green promise dulled by rising temps', www.csmonitor.com/2006/0810/p04s01-woeu.html
[4] Michelle T. H. van Vliet et al., June 2012, 'Vulnerability of US and European electricity supply to climate change', Nature Climate Change, Vol.2, pp.676–681, www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v2/n9/full/nclimate1546.html
[5] Robert Krier, 13 June 2012, 'In California, No Taboos Over Coastal Climate Threats', InsideClimate News, http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120613/nuclear-power-plants-united-s...
[6] Nuclear Energy Institute, 'Through the Decades: History of US Nuclear Energy Facilities Responding to Extreme Natural Challenge', www.nei.org/Master-Document-Folder/Backgrounders/Fact-Sheets/Through-the...
[7] Hirsch, Helmut, Oda Becker, Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt, April 2005, 'Nuclear Reactor Hazards: Ongoing Dangers of Operating Nuclear Technology in the 21st Century', Report prepared for Greenpeace International, www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/nuclearreactorhazards

Further reading:
Section D.2 of the Greenpeace report cited immediately above addresses the following topics:

  • Consequences of Climate Change for NPP Hazards
  • Examples of Flooding
  • Examples of Storm Events
  • Vulnerability of Atomic Power Plants in the Case of Grid Failure
  • Vulnerability of Atomic Power Plants in the Case of Flooding
  • Vulnerability of Nuclear Power Plants by Other Natural Hazards
  • Possible Counter-measures

Jellyfish shut down Swedish nuclear plant

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#770
24/10/2013
Article

A huge cluster of jellyfish forced the Oskarshamn nuclear plant in Sweden to shut down on 29 September 2013. The jellyfish clogged the pipes that bring in cooling water. It took two days to fix the problem.[1]

Jellyfish have caused problems at many nuclear plants around the world, as have fish and other aquatic life.[3] A few examples:

  • In 2005, one reactor at Oskarshamn was temporarily shut down due to jellyfish.[1]
  • EDF Energy manually shut down the Torness nuclear power plant in Scotland in mid-2011 because jellyfish were obstructing the cooling water intake filters.[3] (In May 2013, the two Torness reactors were temporarily shut down because seaweed blocked the water intake pipe.[4])
  • In 2012 a reactor at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California was shut down after sea salp − a gelatinous, jellyfish-like organism − clogged water intake pipes.[2]
  • In July 2009 a reactor in Japan was forced to temporarily shut down due to infiltration of swarms of jellyfish near the plant.[5] Jellyfish disrupted operation of the Shimane nuclear plant in Japan in 1997 and 2011.[6]
     

Marine biologists warn the jellyfish phenomenon could become more common. Lene Moller, a researcher at the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment, said: "It's true that there seems to be more and more of these extreme cases of blooming jellyfish. But it's very difficult to say if there are more jellyfish, because there is no historical data."[1]

Increased fishing of jellyfish predators and global warming are contributing to higher jellyfish populations.[3] Monty Graham, co-author of a study on jellyfish blooms published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June 2011, blames global warming, overfishing, and the nitrification of oceans through fertiliser run-off.[7]

References:
[1] Gary Peach, 1 Oct 2013, 'Wave of jellyfish shuts down Swedish nuke reactor', http://phys.org/news/2013-10-jellyfish-swedish-nuke-reactor.html
[2] Aaron Larson, 1 Oct 2013, 'Nuclear Plant Shut Down Due to Jellyfish', www.powermag.com/nuclear-plant-shut-down-due-to-jellyfish/
[3] 'Fire and Jellyfish Threaten Plant Operations', 07/06/2011, POWERnews, www.powermag.com/fire-and-jellyfish-threaten-plant-operations/
[4] Reuters, 24 May 2013, 'Seaweed stops Scottish EDF nuclear plant', http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/05/24/uk-edf-britain-seaweed-idUKBRE9...
[5] Monami Thakur, 9 July 2011, 'Millions of Jellyfish Invade Nuclear Reactors in Japan, Israel', www.ibtimes.com/millions-jellyfish-invade-nuclear-reactors-japan-israel-...
[6] Reuters, 24 June 2011, 'Jellyfish back off at Japan nuclear power plant', http://in.reuters.com/article/2011/06/24/idINIndia-57889320110624
[7] Glenda Kwek, 11 July 2011, 'Jellyfish force shutdown of power plants', www.theage.com.au/environment/jellyfish-force-shutdown-of-power-plants-2...

About: 
Oskarshamn-1Oskarshamn-2Oskarshamn-3Torness unit ATorness unit BDiablo Canyon 1Diablo Canyon 2Shimane-1Shimane-2

'Hot Water' documentary

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#770
24/10/2013
Article

(Abridged from YourGv.com, 8 July 2013.)

Hot Water is an 80-minute documentary exposing the long-term devastation wrought by uranium mining and the nuclear industry. It follows the investigative journey of Liz Rogers, the 'Erin Brockovich of Uranium', as she travels around the US exploring the impact of uranium mining, atomic testing and nuclear plants on the drinking water of 38 million people.

The documentary is described as a "powerful film that exposes the truths behind how the ground water, air and soil of the American Southwest came to be contaminated with some of the most toxic substances and heavy metals known to man due to the mining of uranium and the health and environmental impacts that followed."

Film-makers Liz Rogers and Kevin Flint begin in South Dakota witnessing communities exposed to uranium from local mining interests. They take samples showing that radioactive material is seeping toward the nation's breadbasket.

Rogers and Flint follow the story to Oklahoma to explain the economic model of the industry. Private companies mine the uranium for a massive profit. Local workers and residents are made promises, but when finally forced to admit the environmental and health impact of the mining, the companies take their profits, declare bankruptcy and saddle the American taxpayer with hundreds of billions of dollars in clean-up costs, according to the documentary.

"I don't know who started calling me the Erin Brockovich of uranium. Maybe I am the old and fat Erin Brockovich with a trucker mouth," said Rogers. "I took this journey because I was pissed off. I felt like an idiot because I believed the lies. I believed we were safe. I made this film because people need to know the truth."

The producers of Hot Water are completing a distribution agreement and will soon have the film on NetFlix and other VOD streams.

Youtube trailer: http://tinyurl.com/water-hot
Web: www.zerohotwater.com
Email: Liz Rogers liz[at]regroupfilms.com
Twitter: @ZeroHotWater

Licensed to Kill

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#770
24/10/2013
Article

Water outflows from nuclear plants expel relatively warm water which can have adverse local impacts in bays and gulfs, as can heavy metal and salt pollutants. The US Environmental Protection Agency states: "Nuclear power plants use large quantities of water for steam production and for cooling. Some nuclear power plants remove large quantities of water from a lake or river, which could affect fish and other aquatic life. Heavy metals and salts build up in the water used in all power plant systems, including nuclear ones. These water pollutants, as well as the higher temperature of the water discharged from the power plant, can negatively affect water quality and aquatic life. Nuclear power plants sometimes discharge small amounts of tritium and other radioactive elements as allowed by their individual wastewater permits."[1]

A report by the by the US Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), US Humane Society and other groups, 'Licensed to Kill: How the Nuclear Power Industry Destroys Endangered Marine Wildlife and Ocean Habitat to Save Money', details the nuclear industry's destruction of delicate marine ecosystems and large numbers of animals, including endangered species. Most of the damage is done by water inflow pipes, while there are further adverse impacts from the expulsion of warm water. Another problem is 'cold stunning' – fish acclimatise to warm water but die when the reactor is taken off-line and warm water is no longer expelled. For example, in New Jersey, local fishers estimated that 4,000 fish died from cold stunning when a reactor was shut down. (See the report and 6-minute video at www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/licensedtokill and the video is also posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVsw3rmCnnU)

Case Study: Close to one million fish and 62 million fish eggs and larvae died each year when sucked into the water intake channel in Lake Ontario, which the Pickering nuclear plant uses to cool steam condensers. Fish are killed when trapped on intake screens or suffer cold water shock after leaving warmer water that is discharged into the lake. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission told Ontario Power Generation to reduce fish mortality by 80% and asked for annual public reports on fish mortality.[2]

Case Study: The Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey, US, has killed 80 million pounds (36,300 tonnes) of aquatic organisms in the Barnegat Bay over the past 40 years, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.[3]

References:
[1] US Environmental Protection Agency, 'Nuclear Energy', www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/nuclear.html
[2] Carola Vyhnak, 6 July 2010, 'Pickering nuclear plant ordered to quit killing fish', 'Millions of adults, eggs and larvae perish when sucked into intakes or shocked by cold water', www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/832748--pickering-nuclear-plant-ordered...
[3] Todd Bates, 22 March 2012, 'Oyster Creek nuclear plant kills 1,000 tons of sea life a year, agency says', http://blogs.app.com/enviroguy/2010/03/22/oyster-creek-nuclear-plant-kil...

About: 
NIRSPickering-1Pickering-2Pickering-3Pickering-4Pickering-5Pickering-6Pickering-7Pickering-8Oyster Creek

US reactors vulnerable to terrorist attack

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#769
10/10/2013
Article

US commercial and research nuclear facilities remain inadequately protected against two credible terrorist threats – the theft of weapon grade material to make a nuclear weapon, and sabotage attacks intended to cause a reactor meltdown – according to a report by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP) of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at Texas University.[1]

The report, released on August 15, finds that none of the 104 commercial nuclear power reactors in the US States is protected against a maximum credible terrorist attack, such as the one perpetrated on September 11, 2001. Operators of existing nuclear facilities are not required to defend against the number of terrorist teams or attackers associated with 9/11, nor against airplane attacks, nor even against readily available weapons such as high-power sniper rifles.

The report finds that some US nuclear power plants are vulnerable to terrorist attack from the sea, but they are not required to protect against such ship-borne attacks. Another terrorism danger is posed by three civilian research reactors that are fueled with bomb-grade uranium, which is vulnerable to theft to make nuclear weapons. These facilities are not defended against a posited terrorist threat, unlike military facilities that hold the same material. The facilities are supposed to convert to non-weapons-grade, low-enriched uranium fuel. But they will continue to use bomb-grade uranium for at least another decade according to the latest schedule.

The US government does not require nuclear power plants to be protected from rocket-propelled grenades or .50 caliber rifles with armour piercing shells — weapons that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) initially proposed that plants guard against, but that were removed from requirements after pressure from the nuclear industry to keep costs down.

Coastal nuclear facilities in at least eight states are vulnerable to nautical attacks but are not required to protect against them because the NRC deems airborne and seaborne attacks beyond the design-basis threat.

Report co-author Prof. Alan Kuperman said: "More than 10 years have come and gone since the events of September 2001, and America's civilian nuclear facilities remain unprotected against a terrorist attack of that scale. Instead, our civilian reactors prepare only against a much smaller-scale attack, known as the "design basis threat," while the government fails to provide supplementary protection against a realistic 9/11-type attack. It would be a tragedy if the United States had to look back after such an attack on a nuclear reactor and say that we could have and should have done more to prevent the catastrophe."

The report also notes that some US government nuclear facilities – operated by the Pentagon and Department of Energy – are protected against most or all of the above threats. But other US government nuclear sites remain unprotected against such credible threats because security officials claim that terrorists do not value the sites or that the consequences would not be catastrophic. However the NPPP report argues it is impossible to know which high-value nuclear targets are preferred by terrorists, or which attacks would have the gravest consequences.

The report recommends that Washington require a level of protection at all potentially high-consequence US nuclear targets – including both nuclear power reactors and civilian research facilities with bomb-grade material – sufficient to defend against a maximum credible terrorist attack. To meet this standard at commercial facilities, the NRC should upgrade its "design basis threat," and the US government should provide the requisite additional security that is not supplied by private-sector licensees.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that civilian research centres are subject to even fewer security requirements than the nuclear power plants, such as having a trained, armed response force with semi-automatic weapons. If facilities housing the research reactors cannot boost their security, he said, "there is a good case for shutting down research reactors in densely populated areas. It's something the country has ignored for a long time." Since 9/11, Lyman said, seven nuclear research reactors using highly enriched uranium have converted to low enriched uranium but the larger, higher-powered reactors have yet to make the transition.[2]

The NPPP report attracted widespread mainstream media reporting, prompting some unhappy responses from nuclear apologists − one complaining about "gullible reporters" promoting a "student paper".[3] The NRC also responded, challenging some of the claims made in the NPPP report and noting that 'Design Basis Threats' set by the NRC are not made public.[4] That lack of transparency is itself a problem.

Air Force fails drill

Meanwhile, an Air Force unit that oversees one-third of the United States' land-based nuclear missiles has failed a safety and security inspection. Lt. General James Kowalski, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said a team of "relatively low-ranking" airmen stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, "did not demonstrate the right procedures" in a single exercise.[5]

A statement posted on the command's website said the 341st Missile Wing received an unsatisfactory rating after making "tactical level errors − not related to command and control of nuclear weapons − during one of several exercises conducted during the inspection. This failure resulted in the entire inspection being rated 'unsatisfactory.'" The Air Force is "looking into" the possibility of disciplinary action against the 341st, Kowalski said. The wing did well overall, he said, scoring excellent or outstanding in most of the 13 areas being tested.[6]

In March, the deputy commander of the 91st Missile Wing complained of "rot" in the group after an inspection gave its missile crews the equivalent of a "D" grade on Minuteman 3 launch operations. Although the 91st passed that inspection, the failed simulation of ICBM launch operations resulted in the temporary removal and retraining of 19 personnel. In 2008, the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot failed the nuclear security component of an inspection. The Air Force nuclear mission has hit a number of bumps since 2008, including a B-52 bomber flight over several US states during which the crew was unaware that actual weapons were onboard.[5]

On August 19, a US Air Force crew ejected from a B-1 bomber that ran violently aground during a training flight. The four crew members all sustained "some injuries,".[7]

In January 2013, Energy Department personnel pretending to be terrorists reached a substance representing nuclear-weapon fuel after they fought through defenses in an exercise at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the Project on Government Oversight reported.[8]

In July 2012, three Plowshares peace activists successfully broke into the Y-12 National Security complex in Tennessee (transformnowplowshares.wordpress.com). The activists − aged 83, 64 and 56 − are in jail in Georgia and face up to 30 years in prison after losing their plea for the most serious charge to be dropped. Sentencing hearings are scheduled in January 2014.[9]

Security review after mass shooting at naval base

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a review of physical security and access at all global US military installations following the mass shootings in Washington on September 17. A government contractor and former Navy reservist is accused of killing 12 civilian workers at the Washington Navy Yard prior to his own shooting death. The security review was ordered following the disclosure that an unpublished Defense Department inspector general's report had concluded that "potentially numerous felons may have been able to gain unrestricted access to several military installations across the country due to the insufficient background checks, increasing the risk to our military personnel and civilian employees."[12]

NRC failing on employee security checks

An audit by the US NRC's Office of the Inspector General, released on September 12, cites concerns with an NRC policy that does not call for punishing personnel who fail to disclose personal circumstances that could raise doubts about whether they can be trusted with access to sensitive nuclear materials.[13,14] NRC employees "rarely comply with personnel reporting responsibilities" that require them to disclose if they are alcoholics or dealers of illegal drugs, the audit states. The Inspector General's audit examined materials from 35 re-investigations of NRC employees, and found over two dozen files with evidence of incidents that "should have been reported" to NRC security officials.

Unaccompanied access to ORNL buildings

As many as 6,400 foreign visitors from China, India, Egypt, Pakistan, and other countries were allowed "unaccompanied access to numerous buildings" at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) according to an Office of Inspector General report released last month.[15,16] ORNL is the nation's central repository for bomb-grade uranium.

Each visiting foreigner is given a plan that lays out in detail where they may go accompanied by their host. But "7 of the 16 hosts we interviewed did not maintain contact with foreign nationals during their entire stay," the report warns, and "these issues have the potential to increase Oak Ridge's security risk that sensitive information and national security assets could potentially be lost or compromised."

Some who were given free rein in the nuclear facility had not even been checked against the Department of Energy's Foreign Access Central Tracking System prior to their arrival in the US. Previous audits highlighted similar issues with unaccompanied foreign nationals that have still not been resolved.

British nuclear police drunk, stoned

In June, documents released under a Freedom of Information Act application revealed that that Police officers with the elite force that guards Britain's nuclear power stations have been caught drunk, using drugs, misusing firearms and also accused of sexual harassment and assault.[10]

In June, UK bomb disposal experts were called to the radioactive waste repository at Drigg, south of Sellafield, after more than 100 unexploded shells were found washed up, creating a mile-wide exclusion zone along the shore. Experts from the Northern Diving Group gathered the shells and pieces together and carried out controlled explosions. The majority of the material was comprised of 12- and 18-inch shells, apparently having been dumped there after World War II.[11]

References:
[1] Lara Kirkham with Alan J. Kuperman, August 2013, "Protecting U.S. Nuclear Facilities from Terrorist Attack: Re-assessing the Current 'Design Basis Threat' Approach", www.nppp.org, http://blogs.utexas.edu/nppp/files/2013/08/NPPP-working-paper-1-2013-Aug...
[2] Rebecca LaFlure, 21 August 2013, 'Are civilian nuclear plants vulnerable to terror attacks?' www.publicintegrity.org/2013/08/21/13190/are-civilian-nuclear-plants-vul...
[3] Rod Adams · August 21, 2013, http://atomicinsights.com/why-did-gullible-reporters-promote-student-pap...
[4] Robert Lewis, 23 August 2013, 'Security and Nuclear Power Plants: Robust and Significant', http://public-blog.nrc-gateway.gov/2013/08/23/security-and-nuclear-power...
[5] 'In New Setback, Air Force Missile Team Fails Security Drill', 14 August 2013, www.nti.rsvp1.com/gsn/article/safety-and-security-inspection-failed-air-...
[6] www.afgsc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123359516
[7] 'Crew Escapes U.S. Bomber in Training Crash', 20 August 2013, www.nti.org/gsn/article/crew-escapes-us-bomber-training-crash
[8] 'Mock Terrorists Reach Nuclear Bomb Material in U.S. Facility Drill', 2 August 2013, www.nti.rsvp1.com/gsn/article/mock-terrorists-reach-nuclear-bomb-materia...
[9] 'Nuclear Plant Protesters Denied Request for New Trial', 4 Oct. 2013, www.nti.org/gsn/article/judge-refuses-permit-new-trial-y-12-activists, ...
[10] 'Safety fears over elite police officers drunk on duty at UK's nuclear sites', The Independent, 27 June 2013, www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/safety-fears-over-elite-police-offic...
[11] "Bomb find ends with a big bang", Whitehaven News, 6 June 2013, www.nwemail.co.uk/bomb-find-ends-with-a-big-bang-1.1060905
[12] Nuclear Threat Initiative, 18 September 2013, 'Hagel Orders Review of Security at All Military Installations', www.nti.org/gsn/article/navy-head-wants-review-base-security-oct-1/?mgs1...
[13] http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1325/ML13255A431.pdf
[14] www.nti.org/gsn/article/auditors-urge-nrc-tighten-personnel-security-che...
[15] Office of Inspector General, Sept 2013, 'Unclassified Foreign National Visits and Assignments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory', http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/09/f2/INS-O-13-05.pdf
[16] Alissa Tabirian, 7 Oct 2013, 'OIG: 6,400 Foreigners Had Access to Nuclear Lab's Restricted Areas', http://cnsnews.com/news/article/alissa-tabirian/oig-6400-foreigners-had-...

(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)

 

Illicit Nuclear Trade
The Institute for Science and International Security has released a report, 'Future World of Illicit Nuclear Trade: Mitigating the Threat'. Of the roughly two dozen countries that have pursued or obtained nuclear weapons during the past 50 years, almost all of them depended importantly on foreign supplies. The ISIS report assesses that the scourge of illicit nuclear trade appears to be worsening and if left unchecked, it could emerge as one of the most significant global challenges to combating the future spread of nuclear weapons.

Yet, this future world of illicit nuclear trade is not inevitable; the expected trends can be prevented and new threats headed off. The report presents over 100 specific recommendations in the following 15 broad policy areas
1) Build greater awareness against illicit trade
2) Make export controls universal and more effective
3) Promote better enforcement and use of UN, unilateral, and regional sanctions
4) Improve controls over sensitive nuclear information and assets
5) Stop the money flows related to illicit trade
6) Better coordinate prosecutions and more vigorously prosecute smugglers
7) Enhance early detection methods
8) Emphasise interdictions
9) Create a universal standard against illicit nuclear trade
10) Prevent additional developed/industrialised market nations from developing nuclear weapons
11) Reinvigorate a US policy to discourage uranium enrichment and plutonium separation capabilities in regions of tension
12) Gain and verify pledges to renounce illicit nuclear trade
13) Obtain additional state commitments not to proliferate
14) Prevent non-state actors from obtaining nuclear weapons via illicit trade
15) Implement relevant arms control agreements and extend security assurances.

The report is posted at isis-online.org or use this shortcut: tinyurl.com/illicitnukentrade

Vermont Yankee and the collapse of the US nuclear power industry

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#767
06/09/2013
Michael Mariotte - Executive Director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.
Article

Only eight months through, 2013 is already a remarkable year for the anti-nuclear power movement in the US. Where Germany is following a deliberate government-mandated path to phase out nuclear power entirely, in the US the atomic industry is simply collapsing on its own − aided by concerted and strategic grassroots organising campaigns and legal actions.

Entergy Corporation's August 27 announcement of the pending shutdown of the Vermont Yankee reactor at the end of its current fuel cycle was just the latest blow to the industry, which already has seen four other reactor shutdowns (the most in one year ever) and the abandonment of six proposed new reactors, not to mention cancellation of several power uprates. And more may be coming.

As economist Marc Cooper of the Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment put it, "What we are seeing today is nothing less than the rapid-fire downsizing of nuclear power in the United States. It is important to recognize that the tough times the U.S. nuclear power industry faces today are only going to get worse."

And indeed, there are several − perhaps the word should be many − other reactors, both operating and proposed, that sit on the edge of the same intersection of cost and safety concerns that are bringing the industry down faster than anyone would have imagined just a year ago.

Conventional wisdom holds that it is the current abundance and dirt-cheap prices for natural gas brought about by the fracking boom that is undermining nuclear power, making it impossible for marginal ageing reactors to compete economically, much less for utilities to even consider extraordinarily expensive new reactors. When Duke Energy took a second look at its $24 billion Levy County, Florida project for example, it didn't take long for it to realise it could build the same amount of natural gas-fired capacity for a fraction of that amount.

Conventional wisdom isn't always wrong. And the availability of cheap natural gas is certainly taking its toll on the industry. There is no doubt that Wisconsin's Kewaunee reactor − by all accounts about as problem-free as an old reactor gets − would still be operating today if it could compete with low-cost gas. The UBS investment firm predicted Vermont Yankee's demise months ago, arguing that it couldn't compete in the regional marketplace.

Renewable energy

But over the long term, natural gas isn't what the nuclear industry should be most worried about. Clean alternatives to nuclear power, especially solar and wind, are growing at a frenetic pace as costs plunge. A rooftop photovoltaic system is now being installed in the US every four minutes, and that will become every 90 seconds by 2016.[1].

John Wellinghoff, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said in August 2013 that "Solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything." If a single drop of water on the pitcher's mound at Dodger Stadium is doubled every minute, Wellinghoff said, a person chained to the highest seat would be in danger of drowning in an hour. "That's what is happening in solar. It could double every two years," he said.[2]

The goal of a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system by mid-century suddenly seems quite attainable. According to the Energy Information Administration, for the first five months of 2013, renewable energy sources (including hydropower) provided 18.48% more energy to the US than nuclear power. Solar grew by 32.26% from a year ago while wind grew by 20.99%, continuing a trend of the past few years. And this actually underestimates solar power: non-utility and small-scale (residential and commercial rooftop) photovoltaic systems don't show up as electric generation since to the utilities that provide generation statistics they represent only a reduction in demand.

Indeed, no one seems to know just how much rooftop solar power there is in the US, but with a new installation every four minutes, the amount is growing rapidly.

This movement toward small-scale distributed generation is turning the traditional utility model on its head and in the process scaring the pants off of utility officials. David Crane is CEO of NRG Energy, itself a major utility and operator of the two existing South Texas nuclear reactors. But after Fukushima, NRG dropped out of a project to build two new reactors there and is now betting heavily on solar power. Crane recently predicted to Business Week that "in about the time it has taken cell phones to supplant land lines in most U.S. homes, the grid will become increasingly irrelevant as customers move toward decentralized homegrown green energy."[3]

This coming change in the fundamental structure of electric utilities bodes poorly for large baseload power plants of any kind − especially nuclear power which cannot be powered up and down quickly − and has become another reason utilities are scrapping marginal power plants, both nuclear and coal.

Still, dinosaurs thrashing their tails didn't always go down easily, and neither do nuclear reactors. They have to be helped along by effective grassroots opposition.

Grassroots opposition

No one can doubt that Southern California Edison would still be trying to run the San Onofre reactors, even after their botched steam generator repair job, if it weren't for the sustained and stunningly-effective opposition mounted by Friends of the Earth and numerous grassroots groups in southern California, aided by the Nuclear Free California network formed in August 2011.

At Vermont Yankee, the history of protest and opposition dates back to the 1970s. While Clamshell Alliance protests at Seabrook were larger and got more attention, Vermont Yankee was a Clamshell target as well. The New England Coalition has been filing legal challenges in every venue possible for just about as long.

After having successfully closed the Yankee Rowe reactor in nearby western Massachusetts, the Citizens Awareness Network turned its attention to Vermont Yankee and the first Nuclear Free New England action camp was held there in 1998. Twenty-one people were arrested at the plant gates at the culmination of that camp on August 27, 1998. The reactor closed 15 years later to the day.

During those 15 years, CAN, the New England Coalition, VPIRG and more protested, lobbied, filed legal briefs, and never let up. New groups were formed, like the Shut It Down affinity group − composed entirely of women over 70 − which held monthly protests for more than eight years and often were arrested and the Sage Alliance, an umbrella group which brought together perhaps the largest Vermont Yankee protest ever in March 2012, more than 1,000 people in Brattleboro (which has a population of about 12,000), resulting in more than 130 arrests.

By the end, just about the entire state of Vermont was united against the reactor. The State Senate had voted 26-4 to close the reactor. The Governor wanted it shut, so did the entire Congressional delegation. Entergy had fought vigorously against all these efforts, and in early August had pretty much won a court victory that determined the state could not close the reactor on safety grounds, and that it was safety issues that had dominated the Senate's vote (though the decision left open the door for some different state actions that might have closed the reactor).

Some believe that Entergy closed the reactor now to keep that court victory as a precedent and prevent other state action that might also be viewed as precedent − Entergy also owns the much larger Indian Point reactors near New York City, where another major grassroots campaign, supported by Governor Andrew Cuomo, is underway to prevent relicensing and close them permanently.

The nuclear "renaissance" in the US began in the summer of 2007, when the first license application in more than 30 years was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for the Calvert Cliffs-3 reactor in Maryland. On March 11, 2013 − the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster − the NRC Commissioners upheld the denial of a license for that reactor, the first in this year's remarkable sequence of shutdowns, cancellations and abandonments. All that's left are two reactors under construction in Georgia (which state officials now admit they might not have approved in today's climate), two in South Carolina, and one old TVA reactor that's been under construction for three decades.

Instead of a renaissance, the nuclear industry is being routed. Its ageing reactors face safety issues, big repair bills and growing public opposition. Its new reactors are too expensive to build. And, scariest of all for nuclear utilities, their entire business model of large, inflexible baseload power plants is being challenged not by off-the-grid hippies, but by other utility executives who see the writing on the wall.

The 2013 collapse of the U.S. nuclear power industry may seem astounding today. Over the next few years, it's more likely to seem routine.

[1] www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/america-installs-a-solar-system-eve...
[2] www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/ferc-chair-wellinghoff-sees-a-solar...
[3] www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-08-22/homegrown-green-energy-is-makin...

About: 
NIRSVermont Yankee

Sensitive nuclear technologies and US nuclear export agreements

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#766
23/08/2013
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

US business groups are lobbying the US government to limit the negotiation of bilateral nuclear trade agreements (known as Section 123 agreements under the 1954 Atomic Energy Act [1]) containing clauses banning the development of sensitive nuclear technologies (SNT) − uranium enrichment and nuclear reprocessing. SNT can be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons − highly enriched uranium or plutonium.

The United Arab Emirates agreed not develop SNT as part of its 2009 agreement with the US.[2] However the agreement does prohibit the stockpiling of plutonium separated from spent fuel produced in reactors in the UAE and separated in another country − just as Japan stockpiles plutonium separated from spent fuel in European reprocessing plants. Moreover the agreement reportedly contains an escape clause that allows the UAE to exercise any more favourable terms that the US grants other Middle Eastern nations in subsequent nuclear trade pacts.

The Obama administration dubbed the UAE agreement the "gold standard" for future agreements around the world. There has been an ongoing debate as to whether the "gold standard" SNT ban should be a condition of all future US nuclear agreements or whether it should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The Obama administration is currently undertaking its third successive internal review of the matter.[3] Some have suggested a compromise − US negotiators would seek an SNT ban in all or almost all agreements unless both the Secretary of State and the Energy Secretary agree to waive the requirement. There has also been discussion of a regional approach − for example the US might seek SNT bans in the Middle East but put Asia in the too-hard basket.

US business groups are fighting initiatives to limit the spread of SNT. In July, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce called on the Obama administration to expedite conclusion of bilateral agreements and to adopt a "pragmatic" approach to SNT.[4]

The business groups expressed concern that as well as losing out on business opportunities to competitors who do not impose the same restrictions, the US is also at risk of losing influence on nuclear security and non-proliferation on the global stage. The second argument is disingenuous − effectively the business groups are saying the government ought to permit the spread of SNT so the US is better placed to limit the spread of SNT.

That disingenuous argument was the basis of an April 25 joint letter to the Obama administration by former deputy Defense secretary John Hamre, former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and James Jones, former Defense secretaries James Schlesinger and William Cohen, and retired Adm. Michael Mullen, previously chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[5] They argue against tightening restrictions because the "U.S. civil nuclear industry is one of [Washington's] most powerful tools for advancing its nuclear nonproliferation agenda. ... Weakening it will merely cede foreign markets to other suppliers less concerned about nonproliferation than the United States." In other words, spread SNT to help stop the spread of SNT, and spread SNT or other countries less concerned about the spread of SNT will spread SNT.

Henry Sokolski from the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center questioned the letter's contention that nuclear trade must be a principal vehicle for Washington's non-proliferation objectives: "You'd think after our wretched experience with civil nuclear programs in Iran, India, Iraq, Pakistan and our past near-calls with Taiwan and South Korea's programs, this would be the last thing anyone truly opposed to nuclear weapons proliferation would push."[5]

Sokolski collaborated with Foreign Policy Initiative head Jamie Fly on a February 2012 letter to Obama, signed by 20 conservative defense experts, recommending an approach stronger than the case-by-case policy then in favour in Washington. The signatories − including former Defense Department policy head Eric Edelman, former national security adviser Steven Hadley and former nuclear nonproliferation envoy Robert Joseph − said: "Rather than abandon efforts to tighten nonproliferation controls on civil nuclear exports, the United States should be leveraging access to our market to encourage French, Russian, and Asian nuclear suppliers to tighten their own rules to meet the nonproliferation gold standard."[6]

Asia
There are indications that Taiwan might agree to an SNT ban as part of a nuclear trade agreement with the US. [7,8] The current US−Taiwan agreement, which does not include an SNT ban, expires next year. Taiwan might sign an agreement without an expiration date, meaning that the SNT ban would be in force indefinitely.

South Korea is effectively a member of the 'gold standard' club as the 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula prohibits both North and South Korea from possessing enrichment or reprocessing facilities. However North Korea has violated the Declaration, and the situation in north-east Asia is further complicated by Japan's stockpiling of vast amounts of separated plutonium − a problem which will only worsen if the Rokkasho reprocessing plant proceeds to operation (see Nuclear Monitor #763, 'Japan's reprocessing plans').

The US is pressing South Korea to agree to maintain SNT bans as part of negotiations on the extension of the nuclear agreement. South Korea is unwilling to continue to forego SNT, and deadlocked negotiations have been extended for two years. There is some hope that if Taiwan agrees to an SMT ban, South Korea might be persuaded to do likewise. But even if Taiwan foregoes SNT, two elephants remain in the room − North Korea and Japan − not to mention the nuclear weapons programs of the US itself and of China.

South Korea's research into 'pyroprocessing' complicates the issue. Pyroprocessing would involve separating short-lived fission products from spent fuel, leaving plutonium mixed with other transuranics (a.k.a. actinides). That is far preferable to conventional reprocessing. On the other hand, proliferators would much prefer to have access to a mix of transuranics (including plutonium) rather than spent fuel, as spent fuel generates much more radioactivity and heat and is therefore much more difficult to handle.

Negotiations on a nuclear trade agreement between the US and Malaysia may commence in coming years but there is no indication as to whether Malaysia would agree to SNT bans.

Negotiations on a nuclear trade agreement between the US and Vietnam have commenced, but Vietnam is reportedly unwilling to agree to an SNT ban.[9,10]

Middle East
Discussions are ongoing between the US and Saudi Arabia on a nuclear trade agreement.[11] The option of a ban on SNT in Saudi Arabia is under discussion according to US State Department official Thomas Countryman. However Saudi Arabia has expressed unwillingness to forego SNT.

Countryman dismisses concerns that Saudi Arabia might develop nuclear weapons, although members of the ruling family have said they might do just that in response to Iran's nuclear program.[12] Also of concern is the potential for instability in the kingdom and who might control SNT if the ruling family is overthrown.

Saudi Arabia has signed cooperation pacts with a number of other nations including China, France, South Korea and Argentina.[13] Canadian officials have expressed concerns about the potential for Saudi Arabia to pursue nuclear weapons. "Minimal [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards are in place in SA [Saudi Arabia] to verify peaceful uses of nuclear energy ... and it has refused to accept strengthened safeguards," officials said in an assessment prepared for Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister last year. "Many observers question SA's nuclear intentions, especially if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. As a result, SA does not meet Canada's requirements for nuclear cooperation."[14]

Countryman said he is "confident that any civil nuclear cooperation we agree would not in any way contribute [to] or encourage" nuclear weapons development in Saudi Arabia, although he surely knows that nuclear exports to Saudi Arabia could indeed contribute to and encourage proliferation. The US National Intelligence Council warned in its 2008 ' Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World' report of the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and noted that a number of states in the region "are already thinking about developing or acquiring nuclear technology useful for development of nuclear weaponry."[15]

The US has also held discussions with Jordan and Syria regarding nuclear trade in recent years, though the talks have stalled because of political turmoil in the Middle East.[10,12]

Jordan is reportedly unwilling to agree to an SNT ban [16] though there were hints in early 2012 that perhaps Jordan would agree to a ban.[17]

The unfolding saga over US nuclear export policy should be put in context. In particular, it needs to be seen in the context of countless failed multilateral and international proposals over the decades to limit the spread of SNTs, such as the Bush administration's 'Global Nuclear Energy Partnership'.[18]

Such proposals fail for various reasons, not least the unwillingness of nuclear have-nots to forego options and technologies that the nuclear haves (weapons states and weapons-capable states) will not renounce. Another complication is Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which states: "Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes ... All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy."

Lastly, an article on US nuclear export policy would be incomplete without mention of the tireless − and ultimately successful − efforts of the US under the Bush administration to end the global norm of prohibiting nuclear trade with countries that have not signed the NPT. The 2008 US−India nuclear trade agreement has had a number of unfortunate, predictable outcomes − legitimising nuclear weapons programs and fanning proliferation in South Asia, legitimising China's supply of reactor technology to Pakistan, undermining and complicating efforts to persuade Iran to forego SNT, etc. The Obama administration has done nothing to undo the damage.

References:
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_123_Agreement
[2] www.nti.org/gsn/article/obama-team-eyes-saudi-nuclear-trade-deal-without...
[3] www.nti.rsvp1.com/gsn/article/nuclear-trade-reform-bill-faces-hostile-lo...
[4] www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-US_business_in_joint_plea_on_nuclear_trade...
[5] www.nti.org/gsn/article/former-defense-brass-object-more-restrictive-nuc...
[6] www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-nuclear-trade-policy-concerns-mounting-capito...
[7] www.nti.org/gsn/article/taiwan-ready-forgo-nuclear-fuel-making-us-pact-r...
[8] www.nti.rsvp1.com/gsn/article/q-senior-us-envoy-expects-taiwan-nuclear-t...
[9] www.nationaljournal.com/obama-team-eyes-saudi-nuclear-trade-deal-without...
[10] www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-could-secure-key-asian-nuclear-trade-deals-2013
[11] www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-nuclear-marketers-visited-saudi-arabia-trade-...
[12] www.nti.org/gsn/article/q-envoy-says-saudi-nuclear-pact-would-not-lead-w...
[13] www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-nuclear-marketers-visited-saudi-arabia-trade-...
[14] www.nti.org/gsn/article/saudi-atomic-aims-worry-canada/
[15] US National Intelligence Council, 2008, "Global Trends 2025 – a Transformed World", www.aicpa.org/research/cpahorizons2025/globalforces/downloadabledocument...
[16] www.nationaljournal.com/obama-team-eyes-saudi-nuclear-trade-deal-without...
[17] www.nti.org/gsn/article/us-nuclear-trade-talks-vietnam-jordan-moving-for...
[18] www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/nfc/mnfc

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