You are here

Belene

Bulgaria pulls plut out of Belene

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#745
4247
04/04/2012
Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace nuclear energy campaigner
Article

Belene will not be constructed, the Bulgarian government announced on March 28. A few days earlier, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said in a TV interview that Belene would never remain just a Russian-Bulgarian project and would not go forward without a  European or American investor. But Finance Minister Simeon Djankov, admitted that Bulgaria has "almost given up on the project." And then, a few days later, the government officially pulled the plug.

Construction of the two 1000MW Belene reactors started on January 1, 1987. And on March 28, 2012, the Bulgarian government confirmed that it officially is stepping out of the project. It will offer the Russian company Rosatom to buy the already produced reactor vessel and heat-exchangers and other big  parts for a reactor in Kozloduy and plans to build a gas power plant in Belene.

The construction of the nuclear power plant by Atomexportstroy, a subsidiary of Russia's state owned Rosatom, had been delayed 15 times. Rosatom had made it clear it is ready to agree on yet another extension of the contract with the Bulgarian government. The currently active extension of the 2006 deal between Bulgaria's National Electric Company NEK and Atomstroyexport was set to expire at the end of March 2012.

The greatest issue over which Bulgaria and Russia had been haggling for the past two years under the Borisov Cabinet was the price of the project, with Russia insisting it should be no less  than 6.3 billion euro, while Bulgaria was demanding a price of no more than 5bn euro (US$ 6.6bn).

After selecting the Russian company Atomstroyexport to build two 1000-MW reactors at Belene and signing a deal for the construction, allegedly for the price of  3.997bn euro, with the Russians in January 2008, in September 2008, former Prime Minister Stanishev gave a formal restart of the building of Belene. At the end of 2008, German RWE was selected as a strategic foreign investor for the plant. But construction was de facto frozen in the fall of 2009 when RWE, which was supposed to provide 2bn euro in exchange for a 49% stake, pulled out.

In mid-March 2011, apparently acting on concerns caused by the situation in Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactor, the European Commission confirmed that it wanted to reexamine the Belene project - once Bulgaria finds an investor for it - even though it already approved it back in 2007.

The project was already canceled once in 1992, after fierce local opposition on environmental grounds and an economic downturn after the fall of communism. When in 2002 plans were revived to construct Belene this again sparked strong local opposition. The situation became especially tense in 2004 when local organic farmer and Greenpeace activist Albena Simeonova received death threats after Greenpeace joined court proceedings against the flawed Environmental Impact Assessment.

PM Borisov a few days after the decision to cancel Belene, in an interview for the weekly political talk show of Darik radio, accused the previous cabinet of the Three-Way Coalition and his predecessor Sergey Stanishev, leader of the opposition left-wing Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, of not signing the contract on Belene, and leaving the task of burying it to the next government. Borisov stated: "The softest definition I can use for this project is speculation, because it is actually a crime."

Heffa Schücking, from the German NGO urgewald: “The opposition to Belene went international from 2006 onwards when Western potential investors and financiers were approached. We had to fight against RWE as 49% strategic investor, who quit the project in 2009, as well as the involvement of French bank BNP Paribas, which finally withdrew its involvement in 2010. Other banks and utilities we had to pressure to stay out of the project included Deutsche Bank, UniCredit, Citi, E.ON, Electrabel and recently HSBC that acted as advisor to the Bulgarian government. Today is really a huge success and a great achievement for Bulgarian and international civil society.”

HSBC is still preparing a report on the Belene contract. So there might still be unexpected turns and twists in this saga, Jan Haverkamp of Greenpeace warns, but he does not expect a resurrection of the project. "Congratulations to all who helped in this struggle over the last 25 years! We kicked out banks, we challenged the Environmental Impact Assessment for 4,5 years in court, we pushed and pushed for alternatives  (which are being developed in Bulgaria, be it slower than possible). We endured attacks and threats. It was not in vain!"

Sources: Sofia News Agency, 28 March 2012 / Press release Greenpeace, 28 March 2011 / Press release BankTrack, 29 March 2012 / Sofia News Agency, 1 April 2012
Contact: Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace nuclear energy campaigner, expert on energy issues in Central Europe.
Tel: +420 242 482 286
Email: jan.haverkamp[at]greenpeace.org

About: 
WISE

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#734
07/10/2011
Shorts

Oppose Nigeria's nuclear plans.
On September 15, President Goodluck Jonathan formally inaugurated Nigeria's Atomic Energy Commission and urged its members headed by Erepamo Osaisai to quickly evolve implementable plans and timelines for the delivery of atomic energy for peaceful purposes in the country. We recall that the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission was established in 1976 to investigate the development of nuclear energy but little progress was made. It was reactivated in 2006 and President Jonathan appointed a new team this year.

Nigeria has the world's seventh-largest natural gas reserves, yet the nation is blighted by persistent electricity outages which force businesses and individuals who can afford them to rely on generators. Much of this vast gas reserves sit untouched under the ground or are flared into the sky. Despite being Africa's biggest crude oil exporter, decades of corruption and mismanagement mean Nigeria has never built the infrastructure to farm its huge oil and gas resources for much-needed domestic use.

Deficits in our existing institutions remain a defining albatross on the path to meaningful development. Cut to the bone, this scenario suggests that Nigeria currently lacks the indigenous capacity, supporting infrastructure, discipline and security wherewithal to build and manage an atomic power plant. It simply is another way of courting disaster - one we cannot manage.

Let us explore and exploit other safer, rational options. These include solar, gas, hydro, wind and coal options. Nigeria has these resources in stupendous quantities. A presidential directive requesting timelines for the generation of electricity through these options is far better than the timelines he recently demanded from the newly-inaugurated Atomic Energy Commission. Our scientist-president should think again.
Editorial Leadership newspaper (Nigeria), AllAfrica.com, 3 October, 2011


Belene construction agreement extended.
Russia's AtomStroyExport (ASE) and Bulgaria's National Electricity Company (NEK) have signed a supplement to their agreement on the construction of the Belene nuclear power plant, extending it until the end of March 2012. Under an earlier extension, the agreement - originally signed in 2006 - was extended until 30 September. According to ASE, the extension 'confirms the parties' interest in the continuation of the project.' NEK said that during the next six months, the two companies will continue their activities related to completing a market study, clarifying the financial model and studying the project finance proposal submitted by financial advisor HSBC. It added that the extra time will allow Bulgaria to conduct an analysis of the results and recommendations of stress tests being performed at nuclear power plants across the European Union. ASE said that work on the foundation pit for the first reactor at Belene has now been completed. It said that a concrete plant at the site has already been put into operation and that water treatment plants have been built.
World Nuclear News, 03 October 2011


UAE: Construction first unit will start mid-2012.
According to the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec), a government establishment created last year to oversee the ambitious nuclear construction project, said it would launch construction work for the infrastructure of four planned nuclear power plants in Barrakah in the western region in mid 2012 to pave the way for their operation in 2017. The UAE will award a contract in early 2012 for the supply of nuclear fuel to run its four nuclear reactors which the country is planning to construct as part of an ambitious nuclear power program.

Under the agreement to built 4 nuclear reactors, inked on December 27, the state-owned Korea Electric Power Corp (Kepco) and is partners in the consortium will design, build and run the reactors that will produce 5,600 MW of electricity. The contract to build the reactors is worth about US$20 billion (15bn euro).

The UAE has said the project is intended to diversify its energy supply sources and meet its rapid growing electricity demand, which is projected to surge to around 40,000 MW in 2020 from nearly 15,000 MW in 2009. The nuclear project will provide nearly 25 per cent of the UAE’s total energy needs of nearly 40,000 MW in 2020. Around seven per cent will be generated through renewable energy and the rest through conventional means.
Emirates 24/7, 25 September 2011


Pyhäjoki location for Finland's sixth reactor.
Fennovoima has chosen Pyhäjoki as the site for its nuclear power plant. Pyhäjoki municipality is located in North Ostrobothnia and the nuclear power plant will be constructed on Hanhikivi peninsula on the coast of Bothnian Bay. For the basis of the site selection, assessments were carried out during some four years. In the beginning of Fennovoima project in summer 2007, the company had almost 40 alternative sites. The number of alternatives was decreased gradually based on assessments and in December 2009 Fennovoima ended up having two alternatives, both located in Northern Finland: Pyhäjoki and Simo municipalities. In the final site decision, safety, technical feasibility, environmental matters, construction costs and schedule were the main factors examined as well as the ability of the site region to support a project that will bring thousands of people to work and use services there.

Fennovoima continues now the planning work together with the municipality, authorities and the plant suppliers and prepares applying for various licences and permits. For example, more detailed bedrock, environmental and water studies will be carried out on the Hanhikivi peninsula. Simultaneously, other preparations for the future phases of the project are carried out together with Pyhäjoki and Raahe region. First preparatory works on Hanhikivi will be started in the end of 2012 at earliest. The construction schedule will be elaborated after the plant supplier has been selected. Fennovoima sent bid invitations for Areva and Toshiba in July 2011 and the plant supplier will be chosen in 2012-2013.

Fennovoima has two owners: Voimaosakeyhtiö SF and E.ON Kärnkraft Finland. Voimaosakeyhtiö SF owns 66 percent of Fennovoima and nuclear expert E.ON Kärnkraft Finland 34 percent. Altogether Fennovoima has 70 shareholders. Voimaosakeyhtiö SF is owned by 69 finnish regional and local energy companies as well as companies in trade and industry.

Finland has 4 reactors in operation (two at Lovisa and two at Olkiluoto). The fifth (Olkiluoto-3) in under construction; over budget and over time.
Press release Fennovoima, 5 October 2011 / IAEA Reactor database.


Health effects radiation suppressed by tobacco companies.
Tobacco companies knew that cigarette smoke contained radioactive alpha particles for more than four decades and developed "deep and intimate" knowledge of these particles' cancer-causing potential; however, they deliberately kept their findings from the public. The study, published online in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, the peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, adds to a growing body of research detailing the industry's knowledge of cigarette smoke radioactivity and its efforts to suppress that information. The UCLA researchers analysed  dozens of previously unexamined internal tobacco industry documents, made available in 1998 as the result of a legal settlement.

“The documents show that the industry was well aware of the presence of a radioactive substance in tobacco as early as 1959; furthermore, the industry was not only cognizant of the potential 'cancerous growth' in the lungs of regular smokers but also did quantitative radiobiological calculations to estimate the long-term lung radiation absorption dose of ionizing alpha particles emitted from cigarette smoke." The study’s first author, Hrayr S. Karagueuzian, a professor of cardiology who conducts research at UCLA's Cardiovascular Research Laboratory, said: ‘We show here that the industry used misleading statements to obfuscate the hazard of ionizing alpha particles to the lungs of smokers and, more importantly, banned any and all publication on tobacco smoke radioactivity.” 

The radioactive substance, which the UCLA study shows was first brought to the attention of the tobacco industry in 1959, was identified in 1964 as the isotope polonium-210, which emits carcinogenic alpha radiation. Polonium-210 can be found in all commercially available domestic and foreign cigarette brands, Karagueuzian said, and is absorbed by tobacco leaves through naturally occurring radon gas in the atmosphere and through high-phosphate chemical fertilizers used by tobacco growers. The substance is eventually inhaled by smokers into the lungs.
LA Examiner, 28 September 2011


Dounreay: Belgium waste to be returned.
Dounreay has announced the return of reprocessing wastes from the BR2 research reactor in Belgium. The BR2 reactor in Mol was a good customer for Dounreay over the years, receiving new enriched uranium fuel from the reprocessed spent fuel. It planned to send considerably more spent fuel to Dounreay but the reprocessing plant was closed by a leak and never reopened. Wastes have already been returned to France and Spain. One Dounreay reprocessing customer has requested the substitution of vitrified high-level wastes for the intermediate level wastes at Dounreay (a consultation on this was held in 2010). However, Belgium wants to take back the intermediate level waste, as required by the original contract with Dounreay. Dounreay also had contracts with Australia, Germany and for Italian-owned fuel from Denmark.

There are 153 tons of BR2 reprocessing wastes cemented into 500-liter drums and this will involve an estimated 21 shipments over four years, starting this autumn. The shipments will be from Scrabster and will probably involve the former roll-on/roll-off ferry, the Atlantic Osprey.
N-Base Briefing 689, October 2011


IAEA Inspector exposed to radiation.
On October 5, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that one of its nuclear inspectors had been exposed to radiation during a 4 October inspection of the Belgoprocess nuclear waste facility in Dessel, Belgium. The inspector, along with an inspector from Euratom and a Belgoprocess employee, apparently received a dose of radiation after a vial or flask of plutonium accidentally fell on the floor, according to releases from the company and the Belgian Federal Nuclear Control Agency (AFCN). Plutonium is dangerous if ingested, but the amount received by the inspectors was less than the legal limit, the AFCN says. No radiation has been released beyond the site.
Nature.com, 5 October 2011


Atucha II, Argentina's third nuclear power plant.
President Cristina Kirchner inaugurated Atucha II, Argentina's third nuclear power plant on September 28. The German-designed reactor is expected to be fully operational in six to eight months after engineers run a series of tests. Construction of the plant began in July 1981, but work soon stopped and did not resume until 2006, when then-president Nestor Kirchner (2003-2007), the current leader's late husband, ordered the plant to be completed.

Argentina's other nuclear plants are Atucha I (335 megawatts) and the Embalse plant (600 megawatts). Once Atucha II is online 10 percent of Argentina's electricity will be produced by nuclear power. Plans are on the drawing board for Atucha III plant as well as an overhaul of the Embalse plant to add 30 years to its operational life, said Planning Minister Julio de Vido. Embalse was connected to the grid in 1983. Atucha II is located on the banks of the Parana river in the town of Zarate, some 100 kilometers north of the capital Buenos Aires. It was built at a cost of more than 2.4 billion dollars.
AFP, 29 September 2011


Another USEC deadline for DOE loan guarantee.
On September 30, USEC, announced morning it will reduce its spending on the American Centrifuge Project (ACP) in Piketon by 30 percent over the next month. It will also send out notices to its 450 employees Ohio, Tennessee and Maryland that layoffs are possible if the company doesn’t receive a loan guarantee before October 31. USEC has invested approximately US$2 billion in the ACP but needs significant additional financing to complete the plant. In 2008, USEC applied for a US$2 billion loan guarantee from Department of Energy for construction of the ACP. USEC significantly demobilized construction and machine manufacturing activities in 2009 due to delays in obtaining financing through DOE’s Loan Guarantee Program. Since then, many 'final' deadlines were set by USEC (three in the past half year: June 30, Sept. 30 and now Oct, 31) to obtain the loan guarantee.

In a call with investors, USEC President and CEO John Welch said the company must see a loan guarantee during the next month or risk the end of the project. USEC expects October “to be a month of intense interaction with the DOE,” in hopes of securing the loan guarantee.

The company had faced a September 30 deadline with two investors — Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corporation and Babcock & Wilcox Investment Company — to receive a US$2 billion loan guarantee. They agreed September 30 to extend that deadline to October 31. If USEC receives the loan guarantee, the companies have promised US$50 million to support the project.

In a statement, DOE Spokesman Damien LaVera said, “The Department of Energy has been working closely with USEC as the company has continued to test and validate its innovative technology, obtain private financing and meet other benchmarks that would be required for a successful loan guarantee application. We are strongly committed to developing effective, domestic nuclear enrichment capabilities and are looking at all options on a path forward.”

The ACP will utilize USEC’s AC100 centrifuge machine, which has been developed, engineered and assembled in the US. The AC100 design is a disciplined evolution of classified U.S. centrifuge technology originally developed by DOE. DOE invested already US$3 billion over 10 years to develop the centrifuge technology.
Dayton Daily News, 1 October 2011 /  ACP website: www.americancentrifuge.com


Taiwan: nuclear accident compensation increased.
On September 30, the Taiwanese Cabinet approved an amendment to the Nuclear Damage Compensation Act that imposes heavier compensation liability on nuclear power operators in the event of natural disasters such as an earthquake or a typhoon. Under the amendment, the maximum amount of compensation for losses caused by a nuclear accident was increased from NT$4.2 billion (US$138 million or 103 million euro) to NT$15 billion (US$5 mln or 3.7 mln euro) and the allowed period for compensation claims was extended from 10 to 30 years.

The amendment came after the Atomic Energy Council reviewed the act, which had not been amended since it was first enacted in 1997, in the wake of the nuclear accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin said the amendment fell short of her expectations as she had suggested further lifting the ceiling on compensation liability.
Tapei Times, 30 September 2011


36 year old construction permit extended. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has extended the construction permit for the unfinished Bellefonte unit 1 in Alabama.
The construction permit was originally granted in 1974. It was suspended in 1988, when Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) decided to halt work on the project, but the NRC agreed in 2009 to reinstate the permit. With the reinstated permit due to expire on 1 October 2011, TVA lodged an application for an extension in October 2010. The NRC has now agreed to that extension, meaning that the construction permit will remain valid until 1 October 2020. (see more in Nuclear Monitor 732, 9 September 2011)
World Nuclear News, 03 October 2011


Swiss parliament, no new reactors.
On September 28, the Council of States has followed the government’s lead by voting not to replace the country’s five nuclear power stations  and boost renewable energy resources. Switzerland currently has five nuclear power plants that will gradually come off the power grid at the end of their 50 year (!) lifespan: the first one in 2019 and the last one in 2034. The Senate followed the House of Representatives in calling on the government to ban new nuclear plants but keep parliament "informed about innovations in the field."

The clear result of the September 28 vote - with a three to one majority - came after a parliamentary committee prepared a compromise formula, promoted by the centre-right Christian Democratic Party, which will give parliament another chance to have a say at a later stage. “Even if we were to ban nuclear power plants now our successors in parliament could still one day decide on building on new reactors,” a Christian Democratic Senator, Filippo Lombardi from Ticino, said on behalf of the committee. Discussions on nuclear power are due to continue in the new parliament which is due to convene for the first time in December following general elections next month.

The Social Democrats, the Greens as well as the Christian Democratic Party hailed the Senate decision as an important step towards a new energy policy amid calls for further measures to switch to more renewable energy sources.

The government called for a withdrawal from nuclear energy in May – a proposal backed by the House of Representatives a month later.
Swissinfo.ch 28 September 2011


Hinkley Blockaded: No New Nuclear Power!
More than 300 people (even up to 400, according to a BBC-report), successfully sealed off the main entrance to Hinkley Point nuclear power station in Somerset for nine hours on 3 October in opposition to EDF Energy's plans to build two new mega-reactors on the site. EDF said of 500 employees at the plant, only essential staff had been called in and had arrived by bus at dawn.

Blockaders were joined by a theatrical troupe who enacted a nuclear disaster scenario, while Seize the Day provided a musical backdrop to the event. 206 helium balloons were released to represent the number of days since the Fukushima meltdown. The balloons will be tracked, to show which areas of the West Country would be worst affected by a nuclear disaster at Hinkley.
Indymedia.uk; www.stopnewnuclear.org.uk; BBC, 3 October 2011

Belene: HSBC signs contract for npp in earthquake zone

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#726
6130
13/05/2011
Yann Louvel, Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator BankTrack
Article

Exactly one month after the start of the Fukushima disaster, HSBC signed an agreement for the long delayed and highly controversial Belene nuclear power plant project in Bulgaria. HSBC is hired by the Bulgarian government for consultancy services, to help it decide how to proceed and attract new investors for the Belene project.

Belene is one of the oldest and most controversial nuclear projects in Europe. It is plagued with numerous problems, from its location in an earthquake zone in a country with a poor nuclear safety culture, to the use of an untested Russian reactor technology. [For more information on the Belene dodgy deal, you can access its full profile on the BankTrack website.]

Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace energy campaigner for Europe, recounts the long history of the project: “As early as 1983 Soviet scientists warned that this location was not suitable for an NPP due to the seismic risks. In 1990 the Bulgarian Academy of Science came to the conclusion that the project should be dropped for economic, environmental and social reasons and the Bulgarian Government subsequently termed Belene to be ‘technically unsafe and economically unviable’. However, due to strong vested interests behind the project, Belene has become a kind of nuclear zombie and continues to pop up on the Bulgarian Government’s agenda, in spite of the fact that this is a dangerous and irresponsible project.”

Since 2006, over a dozen banks and several utilities have turned down offers to participate in or finance Belene. Among these are, for example, Deutsche Bank, UniCredit, Citibank, RWE, E.ON and Electrabel.

Heffa Schücking, from the German NGO urgewald, says: “Some banks had to find out the hard way that Belene is a no-go. After protests took place in front of Deutsche Bank and HypoVereinsbank branch offices throughout Germany, both banks were forced to withdraw from the project. RWE followed suit in 2009 after major shareholders attacked the company’s plan to provide 49% of the equity for Belene. European environment organizations are united in their opposition to this project and we are ready to move against HSBC if needed.”

The Fukushima disaster continues and shows us just how deadly a mix nuclear and seismic risks are. “As even the European Commission recently announced that it will review the legal and safety framework, including the seismic risk of the Belene project, it is incomprehensible that HSBC chose this moment in time to replace BNP Paribas as a financial advisor to the project,” says Yann Louvel, climate and energy campaign coordinator for the BankTrack network. He concludes: “The decision of HSBC is deeply disturbing. Instead of drawing the lessons from the Fukushima catastrophe, reviewing its nuclear policy and stepping out of this dangerous sector altogether, HSBC is now involved in one of the worst nuclear projects around the world. We call on the bank to immediately step back and abandon the Belene deal.”

Source: Press release BankTrack, 12 April 2011
Contact: Yann Louvel, Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator BankTrack.  Vismarkt 15, 6511 VJ Nijmegen, Netherlands.
www.banktrack.org

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#722
21/01/2011
Shorts

US embassy cable on Belene.
A US diplomatic cable, originating from the WikiLeaks organisation and published in the Guardian newspaper just before Christmas, relates the serious misgivings of US Ambassador in Bulgaria, Nancy McEldowney, over the planned Belene nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. Commenting in 2009, McEldowney notes that the controversial nuke project, slated for construction in an earthquake zone, “is dogged by cost overruns, financing woes, construction delays, and now serious safety and quality assurance concerns. Belene may end up costing Bulgaria more than money in the long run.” 
The high-level revelations thus confirm the concerns consistently raised in recent years by campaign NGOs such as the BeleNE! Coalition, CEE Bankwatch Network, Greenpeace, Urgewald, BankTrack and many others in Bulgaria and across Europe. The project-related information described by the US Embassy in Sofia is derived from various sources, including project experts and Bulgarian governmental officials.
The cable also presents the problems experienced by RWE, the German energy utility giant that was involved in Belene as a strategic investor throughout 2007-2009. “RWE is clearly feeling 'buyer's remorse' about its participation in Belene. Belene experts said that RWE remains 'in the dark' on most on-site day-to-day and technical issues. During a late May 2009 Belene project meeting, RWE asked numerous basic questions, indicating that they have not seen any of the on-site safety and environmental reports.”
This confirmation about the project's serious shortcomings comes during a period of renewed pressure from the Russian government to speed up Belene's construction. Meanwhile, the British-based bank HSBC has been recently selected as the financial consultant to organise financing for the Bulgarian nuke. In 2009 French bank BNP Paribas pulled out of a similar role following its own fruitless attempts to convince private and public European investors to put up money for Belene.
In parallel, and following invitations from Bulgaria's prime minister Boyko Borisov to invest in Belene, none of the other countries in the region has as yet confirmed their participation. Croatia has already declared no interest, while Serbia and Macedonia await more documents before taking their decisions. The most damning – and credible – Belene documentation looks already to have been delivered.

Source: The Guardian (UK), 20 December 2010


Extended operation for Paducah enrichment plant?
US uranium enrichment company USEC said that it is working to extend the operation of its Paducah plant in Kentucky beyond May 2012, when the old and inefficient gaseous diffusion plant had been expected to shut down. The company said that it will "base its decision to extend operations upon economic considerations and the ability of the plant to operate profitably." The Paducah plant – currently the only operating uranium enrichment facility in the USA - is set to be replaced by USEC's planned American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) project in Piketon, Ohio.

The full ACP plant was originally expected to commence commercial operation in early 2010 and achieve full annual capacity at the end of 2012. However, early in 2009 the whole project was slowed pending funding through the Department of Energy (DoE) loan guarantee program, and in July 2009 it was suspended due to the DoE refusing to award a US$2 billion (1.5 billion euro) loan guarantee, and asking USEC to withdraw its application. USEC refused to do this, and in July 2010, it submitted an updated loan guarantee application to the DoE. In October 2010, DoE informed USEC that it has largely completed its initial technical review of USEC's application and is proceeding to the next stage of the loan guarantee process.

Although USEC earlier secured investment of U$200 million from Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox to support the ACP, the company maintains that additional financing is needed to complete plant construction.

Source: World Nuclear News, 12 January 2011


USA: another huge victory.
More than 15,000 letters were sent to Congress in December and many, many phone calls made to stop US$8 billion (6 billion euro) in taxpayer loans for new nuclear reactor construction. And the final government funding bill, signed by President Obama, contains not one dime for new nukes! The Senate was forced to pull the "Omnibus" funding bill it had proposed, which included the US$8 billion in taxpayer loans for the nuclear industry, and instead a "Continuing Resolution" was passed that funds the government through mid-March.

That makes at least seven major efforts over the past two years by nuclear industry backers to increase taxpayer loans for new reactors -and every one of those efforts has been blocked! Grassroots people power works! Michael Mariotte: "Take a moment to celebrate … and get ready to do it all over again early in the new year -because the nuclear industry will surely be back, hat-in-hand, looking for your money again. We will, of course, keep you informed."

NIRS, [email protected], 23 December 2010


Monju: accident delays startup with 3 more years.
The task of removing a device that accidentally fell into the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju in August will delay its full startup about a year to 2014 or later.
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of the 280 MW Monju reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, is expected to remove the device next summer or later and then conduct checkups, delaying the test operation initially scheduled to start next spring and subsequent full-fledged run. Removing the 3.3-ton device, which was used for fuel exchange before it fell into the reactor vessel in the Aug. 26 accident, requires special equipment, approval from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and a followup inspection.
Monju resumed operations with limited power output in May 2010 after 14 years and five months(!) of suspension due to a sodium coolant leak and a resultant fire and coverup attempt in 1995.

Kyodo, 17 December 2010


Italy: referendum on relaunching nuclear power.
Italy's constitutional court ruled on January 12, a national referendum could be held against the construction of nuclear power plants, dealing a potential blow to government plans to relaunch the sector. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wants nuclear plants to generate a quarter of the country's electricity in the future. The court allowed a request by opposition politician Antonio Di Pietro for a referendum, which will take place between on a Sunday between April 15 and June 15.

Antonio Di Pietro is leader of Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values) a centrist political party and an outspoken opponent of nuclear power. An April 2010 petition by the party successfully gathered the 500,000 signatures of Italian voters needed for the referendum to proceed through the Italian legislative system. This was presented to the Constitutional Court for it's final ruling on the admissibility of the proposed referendum.

Public opinion in Italy has been generally hostile to nuclear energy, and a 1987 referendum following the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986 closed all plants and phased out production.

Reuters, 12 January 2011, Rete Nazionale Antinucleare (RNA) International, 13 January 2011


UK: more no-subsidies.
The government's Green Investment Bank could fund the building of new nuclear reactors, it has emerged. It is the latest form of public financial support on offer to the industry from the government which continues to insist that the industry will not receive any more subsidies. The Conservatives' pre-election manifesto promised that the Green Investment Bank - which was also in the coalition agreement - would finance "new green technology start-ups". But documents issued before Christmas by Vince Cable's business department list new reactors, along with offshore wind farms and new electricity grids, as one of the three proposed "target sectors" on which the bank would initially focus.

Guardian (UK), 13 January 2011


Israel: Founders antinuclear information network died.
Shirley Rose Benyamin died late last year and Herschell Benyamin died early January in Jerusalem. After the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, Shirley Benyamin "decided to do something to stop Israel from going down the nuclear power pathway," as environmentalist Alon Tal recounted in his book Pollution in a Promised Land. In addition to her husband, she enlisted the late Dr. Dvora Ben-Shaul, a journalist and scientist. The group founded the Israel Agency for Nuclear Information, but in the post-Vanunu affair atmosphere, the Interior Ministry refused to register the non-profit. The group reconstituted itself with broader environmental goals as EcoNet and was approved. The establishment was suspicious of the couple, but Shirley was undeterred. Funds she raised made it possible to examine the state of health of employees of the Dimona reactor, for which EcoNet won the Israel Prize in 1994. Donations she solicited also helped provide seed money for the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, Green Action and others.

Haaretz.com, 7 January 2011

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#719-720
12/11/2010
Shorts

UK & US regulators: unresolved safety issues EPR and AP1000.
On November 10, the UK nuclear regulator said it expects both the Areva EPR and the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors to have unresolved safety issues when the generic design assessment, or GDA, program completes next year. In a quarterly progress report, the NII said it has potential open issues in 10 out of 18 topical areas on the Areva EPR design review and in 16 out of the 18 topical areas on the Westinghouse AP1000 design. The GDA program was set up to issue design acceptance confirmations, or DACs, to the reactor vendors, which would see the regulator sign off on all but site specific licensing issues. The DAC could then be referenced in site license applications by utilities building the reactors. But the program has been plagued by delays resulting from NII Staff shortages and "a failure on the part of the reactor vendors to satisfy the regulator's queries", as Platts puts it.

A day earlier, World Nuclear News reported that Westinghouse has been told by the U.S. NRC that it's AP1000 aircraft impact study is not adequate. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that documents put to it in order to demonstrate a 2009 requirement did not include 'realistic' analyses and that this amounted to a violation of requirements that Westinghouse must explain and rectify. A rule introduced by NRC in 2009 states that  new nuclear power plant buildings and safety systems must maintain containment, cooling of the reactor core and the integrity or cooling of used fuel facilities in the event of the impact of a large passenger jet. All reactor vendors must fulfill this requirement for their designs. For Westinghouse this regulatory work comes in addition to a 2007 design amendment to the original AP1000 design, which was certified by the NRC in 2006.

In February, UK regulators already criticized the "long delays" and "poor quality" of replies they received from Westinghouse and Areva following safety reviews of their reactor designs.
Source: World Nuclear News, 9 November 2010 / Platts, 10 November 2010 / Nuclear Monitor 704, 26 February 2010


Update Belene, Bulgaria
The situation around the planned nuclear power station in Belene in Bulgaria has become unclear again. Under heavy Russian pressure (among others directly from Prime Minister Putin) and political pressure from a faction within his own party GERB around the Parliament Chair Tsetska Tsacheva, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov declared he is dedicated to the construction of the power plant on the shores of the Danube. Russian Atomstroyexport, a part of Rosatom, prolonged the construction contract with half a year under the condition of a price increase of maximally 2,5 billion Euro on top of the initial 4 Billion price tag. According former director of the Bulgarian Nuclear Regulatory Agency and current professor in risk analysis at the university of Vienna, Georghi Kashchiev, during a round table discussion on 18 October in Sofia, this does, however, not include the first load and large parts of the non-nuclear equipment. With that, the demand from Borisov that the total cost of the project remain under 7 billion Euro come under severe pressure. It is also unclear whether the 500 Million Euro already sunk into Belene are part of this budget. On 1 November, Bulgaria's finance minister Simeon Djankov once more confirmed that no state finances would flow into the project.

In a surprise move, Prime Minister Borisov declared on 25 October after a visit to Muenich a week earlier, that he had found a strategic investor from Bavaria for Belene. Bulgarian media speculate interest from Siemens, the engineering firm that recently broke its alliance with Areva and partnered instead with Rosatom. Siemens, however, refuses to comment on these speculations. An announcement from the Bulgarian Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism that the new strategic investor would be announced in the first week of November was not realised, however, and German media have remained suspiciously silent about a possible deal. On 5 November, Borisov announced an offer of up to 2% participation to each Serbia and Croatia in what he said was a pragmatic attempt to secure markets for the output of Belene.

… and Mochovce, Slovakia

Slovakia has asked and received an extension of the period of comment on the draft verdict of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee, that the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Mochovce 3,4 project has violated the rules of the Convention. The NGOs that originally filed the complaint, Za Matku Zem, Greenpeace Slovakia, Global2000 and the Oeko-buero Wien, did not object to an extension to 30 November. The ACCC is expected to come with a final verdict in December. A spokesperson of the Slovak nuclear regulator UJD, which was responsible for issuing construction licenses in spite of the fact that the EIA procedure had not been finalised, is currently looking for possibilities to implement a likely final verdict of the ACCC, but stated to Greenpeace that it has problems finding a proper legal pathway to do so.

An ACCC verdict is, however, binding and a breach of the Aarhus Convention is also a breach of EU legislation on Environmental Impact Assessments, which means that the European Commission would be obliged to start corrective procedures against Slovakia in case the ACCC verdict concludes a violation of the rules.

… and Temelin, Czech Republic

The submission date for the tender for five new nuclear power stations issued by the Czech utility CEZ has been extended with a year to 2013. CEZ argued that some of the contenders had asked for such an extension, though analysts are of the opinion that the lack of growth in electricity demand in the Czech Republic has bitten into the economic viability of the project. The tender for five blocks, two for Temelin and one for Dukovany in the Czech Republic, one for Jaslovske Bohunice in Slovakia and one for a still to be decided project is expected to cost around 500 billion Czech Crowns or 25 billion Euro. Each block is supposed to deliver between 1000 and 1600 MW capacity.
Source of these 3: Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace EU Unit, email, 6 November 2010


Another fiasco at Monju, Japan.
A12-meter-long, 46-centimeter-wide, 3.3-metric-ton heavy fuel exchange component that lodged in the reactor vessel of the Monju fast-breeder reactor after being dropped on August 26, cannot be extracted using "usual methods," the Japan  Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has stated. The JAEA made the announcement November 9, after examining the component -a cylinder now stuck in an opening in the reactor vessel cap- with a camera. The agency believes that to get the part out, equipment on the reactor vessel cap will have to be removed, and an entirely new structure built to prevent sodium now covering the cylinder from mixing with the outside air and igniting during the process. The agency is now considering ways to do this, but gave no hint when testing of the reactor may recommence.

Since Monju resumed test operations on May 6 after shut down since a 1995 sodium leak, it has undergone the first stage of testing. These core confirmation tests were completed on July 22. Preparations were being made for the next stage, which involves increasing power output to 40%, planned for July 2011. However,  the jammed relay cylinder has made further long delays probable.
Source: Nuke Info Tokyo 138, Sept/Oct 2010 / The Mainichi Daily News, 10 November 2010


UK: What 'no subsidies' means: more help will be given.
Following lobbying by the nuclear industry the Government has accepted that it needs to give more financial incentives in order to ensure a new generation of reactors are built in the UK. Energy minister Charles Hendry said he now agreed with the industry that fixing a high minimum price for carbon emissions was not enough. Instead he thought other financial incentive measures would be need to encourage nuclear and other low-carbon energy sources.
Source: N-Base Briefing 674, 10 November 2910


IEA: US$312 billion subsidy annually for fossil.
On November 10, the International Energy Agency published its World Energy Outlook 2010. The IEA report clearly states that fossil fuels are heavily subsidized by more than US$312 billion per year globally! This leads obviously to unfair competition with clean and climate friendly renewable energies. IEA is increasingly recognizing the important role renewable energy can play to fight climate change and improve security of supply. However, it is failing to shift technology recommendations from unproven, dangerous and expensive technologies such as CCS and nuclear power plants.
Source: Press release Greenpeace, 9 November 2010

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#708
29/04/2010
Shorts

Finland: building nukes for electricity export?
On April 21, the Finnish government proposed two new nuclear power plants. The parliament will make the final decision on the issue earliest in the summer, but most likely in the autumn. On both reactors will be voted separately - there are possibilities to have 2, 1 or 0 new nuclear plants. Building twe nuclear power units would lock Finland's energy consumption to unrealistic, artificially high levels, and are clearly aimed for electricity export. However, Parliament has taken the line that it opposes the construction of generating capacity for export purposes.

Minister of Economic Affairs Mauri Pekkarinen (Centre Party) insisted on April 21, that Finland would adhere to this principle of opposing the construction for export. But the Greens are accusing Pekkarinen of turning his coat on the matter by endorsing two new reactors just a year after saying that Finland’s need for new nuclear energy units was “zero, or one at the most”. “Now he is proposing two units on the basis of the same electricity consumption estimates. This certainly shows how poorly founded Pekkarinen’s proposal is”, Sinnemäki says. The Greens also point out that the forest company UPM, a part owner of TVO, has put forward the idea of electricity exports. “Nobody in Finland -not even the forest industry- has proposed such a fantasy in electricity production that this proposal would not mean export. It becomes clear even in all of the most daring consumption estimates. We simply cannot consume this much electricity.”

Environmental organisations are organizing a large anti-nuclear demonstration in Helsinki on May 8.
Helsingin Sanomat (Int. edition) 22 and 24 April 2010


Japan: Restart Monju expected in May.
The Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, which was shut down in December 1995 after sodium leaked from the cooling system, is set to resume operations in May.  Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa signaled his willingness to approve reactivation of the experimental reactor, located in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, during a meeting with science and technology minister Tatsuo Kawabata and industry minister Masayuki Naoshima on April 26. In the 1995 incident, the reactor operator was heavily criticized after it was found to have concealed information about the accident. During the past 14 years or so that Monju has been in limbo, the operator has come under fire for delaying reports on alarm activation incidents and flawed maintenance work.

Under the government's plan, the next stage in the fast-breeder project will be the construction of a demonstration reactor, which is larger than Monju, around 2025. It would be followed by the development of a commercial reactor around 2050. But the outlook for the plan is bleak, to say the least.

Some 900 billion yen (US$ 9.6 billion or 7.3 billion euro) of taxpayer money has already been spent on the construction and operation of the Monju reactor. It will require additional annual spending of about 20 billion yen (US$ 215 million / 162 million euro).

More on the history and current status of Monju and Japan's fast breeder programm: Nuclear Monitor 702, 15 January 2010: "Restarting Monju – Like playing Russian roulette"
The Asahi Shimbun (Japan), 27 April 2010


Belene contruction halted until investors are found.
Belene construction was halted in search for Western strategic investors after Bulgaria dismissed an offer from Russia to finance the coming two years of construction with an option for a complete Russian take-over of the project. The Bulgarian government has opened a tender for a financial consultant to work out a new financial model for the project. This consultant is expected to be chosen in June 2010. On the basis of this new financial model, strategic investors will be invited for participation. After EU Energy Commissioner Günther Öttinger warned Bulgaria for the dependency that a fully Russian Belene project would create, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borrisov made it clear that Belene only will be continued if it can pay for itself and if it is developed under participation of European and/or US partners. Russia was not to expect more than a 25% participation, if any at all. In his straightforward way, Borissov characterised Belene as either a  European project or no project.

On 16 April, it was also announced that the Bulgarian Energy Holding, which was set up in 2008 to create a pool of assets that could lure possible lenders to the Belene project, will be dismantled before summer. Deputy Minister for Economy, Energy and Tourism Maya Hristova said that BEH was set up to the secure the construction of Belene by the assets generated in the holding, "but this is no longer feasible." She told the Bulgarian press agency BTA that the assets of all state-owned energy companies are of lower value than the estimated value of  Belene. Daily Dnevnik announced that there is currently a discussion to bring the electricity  assets of BEH, including the Kozloduy nuclear power plant and the Maritsa East power station under in state utility NEK and the gas assets in a seperate holding.
Email Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace EU Unit, 26 April 2010


U-price low: "explosive growth in nuclear power hasn't yet happened". 
The spot price of uranium has dropped below US$42/lb (1 lb = 453.59 grams) through in April, down almost US$4 from the 2009 average of US$46 as, according to Purchasing.com, weakening demand has depressed transaction pricing. Lyndon Fagan, an analyst at RBS in Sydney Australia, tells Bloomberg that spot prices indeed have weakened in recent months because the explosive growth in nuclear power hasn't yet happened. Current uranium prices are well down from the levels reached in 2007, when the prices spiked to nearly US$140. Supply concerns drove the price up at that time, and while there's no guarantee that prices could once again reach those levels, such past performance does imply that the potential for such dramatic price moves is possible.

Meanwhile, Admir Adnani, CEO of US-based UraniumEnergy, tells Reuters that a renewed focus on nuclear energy and current mining shortfalls are likely to drive prices of uranium, higher in the coming years. "In the next two to three years, we will see a period of rising uranium prices," Adnani says. "There is absolutely no doubt that the nuclear renaissance and the construction of new reactors plus the existing reactor requirements will bring growing demand... and we need uranium prices to be higher for new mines to be built." But in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, for instance, only two companies have done exploration work over the past couple years, a notable drop from the 10 or so firms that were searching for uranium back in 2007, according to the Canadian Department of 

Natural Resources. www.purchasing.com, 14 April 2010 / Telegraph Journal (Canada), 21 April 2010


Regulators investigating Olkiluoto piping.
Nuclear safety authorities in Finland, France, the UK and US are assessing the significance of undocumented welding on primary circuit piping for the EPR reactor under construction at Olkiluoto, Finland. However, Petteri Tiippana, director of the nuclear reactor regulation department at the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority STUK, told Platts in an interview on April 8, that regulators from those four countries are not preparing a joint statement on the piping quality issue. He reacted on a statement made by a commissioner of French nuclear safety authority ASN,

The piping was manufactured by Nordon, a subcontractor to Areva, the French vendor which is supplying the nuclear part of the Olkiluoto-3 unit under a turnkey contract to utility Teollisuuden Voima Oy. Nordon, based in Nancy in eastern France, is a unit of the Fives group and has long been a major supplier of piping for nuclear power plants. In October 2009, STUK found that small cracks in piping made for the main coolant lines of Olkiluoto-3 had been repaired with welding procedures that were not documented. Tiippana said the piping is still in France and that analysis of the significance of the undocumented welding could be finished within several weeks. STUK will then do final inspections, probably before summer, he said. Until the piping is approved by STUK, it cannot be transported to Olkiluoto.The design of Areva's EPR reactor is under regulatory review for construction in the UK and the US.
Platts, 8 April 2010


Australian uranium for India?
Not that long ago, Australia took a firm stand against selling uranium to India (or any Non-Nuclear proliefration Treaty signatory for that matter): in January 2008, Australia’s new Labor government outlawed uranium sales to India. Stephen Smith, Australian foreign minister emphasizes that in saying in October 2009: “We have had a long-standing principal position which is not aimed at India, it is the long-standing position that we do not export uranium to a country that is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,”

Now, just over a half year later, Australia is planning to change its domestic rules to allow India to import uranium from the country.

India is signing the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement and many other civil nuclear agreements with different countries. The 46-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has also granted a waiver to India in September 2008 allowing nuclear fuel from other nations. However, Australia being a member in that group, didn’t allow India to import nuclear fuel from the country. Now, South Australia’s Department of trade & economic development director Damian Papps said Australia would like to amend the current regulations to enable uranium export to India.
Press TV, 14 October 2009 / Spectrum, April 26, 2010


Further increase heavy forging capacity.
Known as a leader in the ultra-heavy forgings required for the highest capacity nuclear reactors, Japan Steel Works set about tripling its capacity and has completed its second press for ultra-large nuclear forgings. It has now completed the ¥50 billion (US$530 million, 390 million euro) first phase of the expansion with the installation of a new forging shop complete with heavy cranes, heat treatment facilities and the necessary 14,000 ton press.

JSW told World Nuclear News that the new shop was the core of the first investment phase and that the second ¥30 billion (US$320 million, 235 million euro) investment round should be completed in 2011. At that point, JSW said, it would have tripled the nuclear capability that it had in 2007 - enough for about 12 reactor pressure vessels and main component sets per year. The increase in capacity should be felt by mid-2012 as new components are planned to emerge from the factories. Muroran also manufactures generator and steam turbine rotor shafts, clad steel plates and turbine casings for nuclear power plants.

While JSW may be the current leader in the global market for large nuclear components, there are several other (Russian, Chinese and South-Korean) manufacturers tooling up to the same levels for domestic supply. Britain's Sheffield Forgemasters and India's Bharat Forge will join JSW as global ultra-heavy suppliers around 2014.
World Nuclear News, 1 April 2010


Switzerland: Canton slams radioactive waste plans.
Plans for a radioactive waste disposal unit in the canton of Schaffhausen has come under fire in a study published by the local government. The National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste outlined two possible sites for the unit: one in Zurich Weinland and one near Sudranden in the canton of Schaffhasusen. That’s just a few kilometers from the city of Schaffhausen, where 80 percent of the canton’s population live and work. The report published on April 21 says a disposal centre would have a detrimental effect on the town of Schaffhausen, and on the development of both the canton’s economy and population. The report estimates it would lose between 15 and 33 million francs in tax revenue a year and the population would drop by up to 5,000 people.
World Radio Switzerland, 21 April 2010


U.K.: Low-level radwaste in a landfill.
Five bags of radioactive waste from the Sellafield nuclear processing facility were dumped in a landfill site after a faulty scanner wrongly passed them as safe. Environment Agency inspectors have found one of the bags but is still searching for the other four at the Lillyhall landfill site near Workington, Cumbria. The bags contained waste collected in restricted areas of Sellafield where disposal of all items, including protective clothing, is strictly controlled because of the risk of radioactive contamination. The error was discovered by a member of staff who became suspicious when a scanning machine declared as safe a bag that had come from the restricted area. Staff checked the machine's records and found that five other contaminated bags had been passed as safe and sent to the nearby landfill site, which handles a mixture of household and industrial waste. A Sellafield spokeswoman was unable to say for how long the machine had been malfunctioning. The waste should have been sent for storage in concrete vaults at the Low Level Waste Repository near Drigg in Cumbria.

The incident may undermine the nuclear industry's plan to save billions of pounds by adopting lower safety standards for thousands of tonnes of low-level radioactive waste from decommissioned reactor sites. Several landfill sites have applied for permits to handle low-level waste.
Times online (U.K.), 26 April 2010


U.K. political parties and nukes.
The political party manifestos for the General Election show no surprises concerning nuclear policies - and they reveal the fundamental difference on nuclear issues between the Liberal Democrats and both the other two main parties. These difference will make for some tough bargaining in the event of a hung Parliament in which no political party has an outright majority of seats.

The Conservatives commit themselves to "clearing the way for new nuclear power stations - provided they receive no public subsidy". The party is also committed to the new Trident nuclear submarine system.

Under the heading 'Clean Energy' the Labour manifesto says "We have taken the decisions to enable a new generation of nuclear power stations" and the party is also committed to the Trident replacement.

The Scottish National Party wants Trident scrapped, rejects nuclear energy and the deep geological disposal of radioactive wastes.

The Liberal Democrats don't want a "like-for-like" replacement for Trident and promise a review of the proposals. They also reject new reactors "based on the evidence nuclear is a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions" than renewable energy and energy conservationAccording to the LibDem spokesperson on energy and climate issues, Simon Hughes, the curent government plans for a new fleet of nuclear reactors are based on a "completely foolish delusion". And he added; "they are too costly, wil take too long to build, will require government subsidy and will drain investment away from the renewable energy sector".  He says the party will not soften anti-nuclear stance.

General elections in the UK will be held on May 6.
N-Base Briefing 649, 21 April 2010 / BusinessGreen.com, 26 April 2010


Rand Uranium: no super dump tailings in Poortjie area.
South-Africa: following a successful protest march on April 23 by emerging black farmers and the Mhatammoho Agricultural Union, and the potentially affected landowners against the proposed super dump (centralized tailings storage facility -TSF) Rand Uranium decided to abandon the project. The protest march, the second in a few weeks, took place at the offices of Rand Uranium in Randfontein. Soon after the protest, Rand Uranium, which had proposed to establish the TSF within the Poortjie area on high agricultural land, issued a statement. The last paragraph of the document reads:  "Through the assessments, and in consideration of planning requirements of the City of Johannesburg, Area 45 is not considered appropriate for the long term TSF." The protest was against Site 45 (Poortjie area).  This means, Rand Uranium has abandoned its intention to establish a super dump in the Poortjie area. 

The proposed super dump would contain 350 million tons of uraniferous tailings and will be established on 1 200 hectares of land. The farmers and landowners claim that the public participation process was fatally flawed and that they were not consulted. It would have impacted the Vaal Barrage Catchment, a highly compromised Catchment. In terms of the Water Research Report No 1297/1/07 (2007) only 21% of the Vaal Barrage showed no evidence of cytotoxicy (i.e. toxic to human cells).  The Report suggests that the underlying problems of this catchment are largely due to heavy metals.  It furthermore states:  "It is clear that mining operations, even after they have been discontinued, are still having a major impact on water quality in the Vaal Barrage catchment, to the extent that it can no longer be compared with other natural water systems."
Emails Mariette Liefferink, 21 and 24 April 2010


U.A.E.: First nuclear site named. Braka has been named as the site for the United Arab Emirate's first nuclear power plant. Limited construction licence applications and environmental assessments for four reactors have been submitted.
The Braka site is in a very sparsely populated area 53 kilometers from Ruwais and very close to the border with Saudi Arabia. It is closer to Doha, the capital of Qatar, than to Abu Dhabi about 240 kilometers to the east. Dubai is another 150 kilometers along the coast. The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) said Braka was selected from ten shortlisted sites, all of which were suitable for nuclear build, on the basis of its environmental, technical and business qualities.

Two requests have been made to the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR). One is for a site preparation licence for the four-reactor power plant to allow Enec to conduct non-safety related groundwork at Braka such as constructing breakwaters and a jetty. The other is for a limited licence to "manufacture and assemble nuclear safety related equipment."  In addition, a strategic environmental assessment for the project has been submitted to the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) addressing environmental impacts and mitigation including for construction work.

But since there is no civil society whatsoever, there will be no independent scrutiny of those documents.
World Nuclear News, 23 April 2010


Contract for ITER buldings.
The Engage consortium has been awarded the architect engineer contract for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) buildings and civil infrastructures. The contract, worth some €150 million (US$200 million), was signed by the Engage consortium and Fusion for Energy (F4E) on 13 April. F4E is the European Union's (EU's) organization for Europe's contribution to ITER. The Engage consortium comprises Atkins of the UK, French companies Assystem and Iosis, and Empresarios Agrupados of Spain. The architect engineer will assist F4E during the entire construction process, from the elaboration of the detailed design to the final acceptance of the works. The contract covers the construction of the entire ITER complex, including 29 out of a total of 39 buildings, site infrastructure and power supplies.

Seven parties - China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the EU - are cooperating to build ITER, a 500 MWt tokamak, at Cadarache. The partners agreed in mid 2005 to site Iter at Cadarache. The deal involved major concessions to Japan, which had put forward Rokkasho as a preferred site. The EU and France will contribute half of the €12.8 billion (US$18.7 billion) total cost, with the other partners - Japan, China, South Korea, USA and Russia - putting in 10% each. Site preparation at Cadarache began in January 2007. The facility is expected to be in operation around 2018. As part of the reactor's phased commissioning, it will initially be tested using hydrogen. Experiments using tritium and deuterium as fuel will begin in 2026. Much later than expected a few years ago.
World Nuclear News, 15 April 2010

NGO's force RWE out of Belene project

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#697
5989
06/11/2009
Urgewald
Article

A Europe-wide NGO campaign recently won a significant victory: German energy giant RWE cancelled its investment into the Belene nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. Over the past three years, environment organizations from Germany, Bulgaria, France, Italy and other countries campaigned against Belene, which they consider to be among the most dangerous nuclear projects planned in Europe.

The site for the Belene nuclear power plant is situated in an earthquake prone zone in the North of Bulgaria and the planned reactors are of a previously untested Russian design. As Albena Simeonova, an organic farmer and leader of the local resistance movement says: “The seismic risk is immense. During the last large earthquake hundreds of buildings collapsed and over 120 people were killed only a few kilometers from the Belene site. Building an nuclear power plant here means playing Russian Roulette with the safety and health of millions of people.”

Although Belene is only one of some 30 nuclear projects on the planning table in Eastern Europe, campaigners attach special significance to this victory. “Belene was the first of the Eastern European nuclear projects to seek financing from Western banks and investors,” says Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace’s energy expert for Eastern and Central Europe. “The fact that it has failed sends an important signal regarding the financial viability of all of these plans.”

In 2006 and 2007, well before the financial crisis began, over a dozen international banks had turned down loan applications for Belene. In 2008, however, the project seemed revived, when RWE decided to become a major investor and signed a contract to acquire 49% of its equity. RWE, however, had not reckoned with the opposition it would face from the small, but determined German environment organization urgewald.

When it became obvious that RWE’s Management was oblivious to rational arguments, urgewald initiated a broad-based public campaign, which led some 30,000 German citizens to send personal letters and petitions to RWE. However, the company’s CEO, Jürgen Grossmann, proved to be impervious to public opinion. Urgewald thus shifted its campaign focus to the company’s Supervisory Board, which is made up of major shareholders, unions and mayors of three municipalities that hold large amounts of RWE stock. Together with German anti-nuclear organizations, urgewald organized a week of protests in 50 cities, highlighting shareholders’ responsibility for an investment in Belene. This had a strong impact on the mayors and on individual shareholders such as Allianz. As a corporation, whose major business is life insurance, Allianz did not want to be connected in the public eye with a potentially life-threatening project. In addition, urgewald sent a detailed critique of the project to RWE’s 700 largest shareholders, many of which also became concerned about the serious and critical risks that an investment in Belene poses.

Essentially, the campaign in Germany managed to publicly raise so many doubts about Belene that RWE management had to soothe its Supervisory Board by promising to clear all “open questions” before actually contributing its share of the equity for the nuclear power plant. This bought time and time brought a change of Government in Bulgaria. The elections in Bulgaria in July 2009 ousted the post-communists from power and the new government immediately announced its intention to evaluate the large Russian energy projects that its predecessor had lined up. At the time this article appears, this evaluation is still ongoing, but the first results have confirmed what critics have been saying all along:

Belene is not needed to meet Bulgaria’s power needs. It is geared wholly towards export, which makes it financially risky as it is difficult to predict what will be the future market price for electricity in the region. Belene is incredibly expensive: According to the new Bulgarian Government, it will cost at least 10 billion Euros (15 bn US$) to bring Belene on line. The former Government had consistently misrepresented the facts by claiming that the project’s price tag amounted to only 4 billion Euros. Corruption played a major role in the development of the project and the 430 million Euros, which were already sunk into the preparation of Belene have more or less disappeared into dark channels. The new Government has, however, still not canceled the project as its predecessor had already signed a binding contract with the Russian contractor Atomstroyexport for the delivery of the nuclear power plant. This contract foresees a steep penalty of 800 million Euros if Bulgaria steps back from Belene. The Government has therefore announced that it will reduce its own share in the project from 51 to 20% and intends to search for new investors. (see also Nuclear Monitor 695: "Belene nuclear project is sinking")

Just two days after this announcement, RWE, however, notified the Bulgarian authorities that it will renege from its investment plans. Well-informed sources within the company state that this decision was based on RWE’s inability to find further investors and its negative assessment of the project’s profitability. “Better late than never,” comments Heffa Schücking, director of urgewald. “We are, however, still amazed that it took the company 18 months to figure this out. Belene was never an economically viable project and there were innumerable statements from prestigious Bulgarian economists to this effect.”

Schücking states that RWE’s pullout is almost certain to be the final nail in the project’s coffin. After all, Belene is now officially a project without private investors, without financing and missing 80% of its equity. “It’s hard to see how it could come back,” she says, but if it does, NGOs throughout Europe are ready to push it back under the ground.”

Source and contact: Heffa Schücking, Urgewald e.V.. Von-Galen-Straße 4, D-48336 Sassenberg, Germany.
Tel.      +49-2583-1031
Email: [email protected]
Web: www.urgewald.de

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#696
23/10/2009
Shorts

U.K. wants to sell Urenco stake.
The U.K. Government’s stake in Urenco, which owns nuclear enrichment plants in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, will be sold off to help to repay the country’s escalating debt mountain, the Prime Minister announced on October 12. The plan to sell off the Government’s one-third stake in Urenco could be the most controversial. The stake is controlled by the Shareholder Executive, which was created in 2003 to better manage the Government’s performance as a shareholder in businesses. The other two thirds are owned by the Dutch Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland and German Uranit. Downing Street sources said that the sale would be subject to national security considerations, which could lead to the Government maintaining a small interest in the company or other restrictions placed on the sale.

Meanwhile, the Dutch state took over the last 1.1% of the stakes in Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland, the Dutch part of Urenco, from private companies. Now, The Netherlands, owns the full 100% of the company. The Netherlands is not in favor of selling the uranium enrichment company to private parties.

The Times (U.K.) 12 October 2009 / Letter Dutch Finance Minister, 12 October 2009


Belarus: EIA Hearing new NPP.
On October 9, a public hearing took place in Ostrovets, in the Grodno Region, on the question of construction of a nuclear power plant in Belarus. All the entrances to the cinema where the hearings were held got blocked by riot police and streets were filled with plainclothes police. Documents and leaflets critical of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) were confiscated illegally, because of their 'doubtful' contents. Employees of state institutions were brought to the hearings by busses. Forcedly assembled audience was registered in advance, in violation of regulations. Many registered participants were however not let inside the building. Speaking was allowed only to state employees in favor of nuclear power plant construction, others were denied to speak. The denial was motivated by the fact that they supposedly have been registered too late. It is clear that the procedure of these hearings didn't meet the standards and therefore the results can't be recognized as independent. Russian expert in nuclear physics Andrey Ozharovskiy was arrested in the morning on a charge of disorderly conduct when he wanted to enter the building and handing out a critical response to the EIA. He was released only after 7 days in jail. Thus, the authorities showed their true face again - they are not going to let the dissident speak openly on the matters important to those in power.

Belarus Anti-Nuclear Resistance, 10 October 2009


Sellafield: Dramatic rise to discharge limit.
Sellafield Ltd is expected to ask the U.K. Environment Agency (EA) for an almost 5-fold increase in gas discharge limit for Antimony 125 (Sb-125) so that the Magnox reprocessing plant can continue to operate. Sb-125 has a radioactive half-life of 2.75 years and emits beta radiation.

Disclosed in its Quarterly Report to the local West Cumbria Sites Stakeholder Group meeting scheduled for 1st October, the EA confirms that Sellafield wants the limit to be raised from its current level of 6.9 to Gigabequerels (GBq) to 30GBq. The bulk of Sellafield’s Sb-125 gas discharges arise during the de-canning  (removal of the fuel’s outer casing) of spent Magnox fuel, particularly the higher burn-up fuel, in the site’s Fuel Handling Plant prior to its transfer to the reprocessing plant.

In early 2008 the Sb-125 discharge limit stood at just 2.3GBq but later had to be raised to its current level of 6.9GBq when the discharge chimney sampling equipment was found to be under-reporting. In October 2008 Sellafield Ltd indicated to the EA that, as part of its Periodic Review submission, it would be seeking to increase the limit from 6.9GBq to 11.6 GBq. In a spectacular misjudgment of its discharge requirements, Sellafield now needs to raise the limit to 30GBq to allow the de-canning and subsequent reprocessing of the larger volumes of higher burn-up fuel being received in the Fuel Handling Plant from UK’s Magnox power stations.

Since 2007, processing higher burn-up fuel in the Fuel Handling Plant has lead to Sellafield breaching its discharge Quarterly Notification Level on a number of occasions, and in late 2008 exceeding the site’s internal trigger level. Subsequently, in April this year, as releases of Sb-125 from the Fuel Handling Plant threatened to breach the Sellafield site limit itself, Magnox reprocessing had to be abandoned for several weeks. Currently, the EA expects the current discharge limit to be breached again but is permitting Magnox reprocessing to continue – as the lesser of two evils.

The proposed increase in site discharge limit to 30GBq is unlikely to be authorized until April next year when approval from the European Commission, under Euratom Article 37, is expected to be given. Whilst the current limit of 6.9GBq is likely to be breached between now and then, it is understood that discharges of other fission products released during the de-canning of Magnox fuel in the Fuel Handling Plant, whilst also on the increase, will remain within their respective site discharge limits

CORE Press release, 30 September 2009


Ratings NEK downrated due to Belene.
On 5 October, according to the Platts News Flashes, the rating agency Standard & Poor's Rating Services down rated the credit ratings for Bulgaria's dominant state power utility NEK from BB to BB- partly because of its involvement in Belene. The down rating "reflects our view of a weakening of NEK's financial profile and liquidity on the back of large investments and in the context of a deteriorating domestic economy," said S&P credit analyst Tania Tsoneva. The spending that NEK did "prior to the project's financing, coupled with large regular investments, have significantly weakened NEK's financial metrics". In November there will be an update of S&P's CreditWatch.

Email: Greenpeace, 6 October 2009


U.A.E. Passes Nuclear-Energy Law.
On October 4, the United Arab Emirates issued the Federal Law Regarding the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. The law provides for "the development of a robust system for the licensing and control of nuclear material." Federal Law No. 6, which was issued by U.A.E. President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, establishes the independent Federal Authority of Nuclear Regulation to oversee the country's nuclear energy sector, and appoints the regulator's board. It also reiterates the U.A.E.'s pledge not to domestically enrich uranium as part of its plans to build nuclear power plants, the first of which is slated for commercial operation in 2017. The law makes it illegal to develop, construct or operate uranium enrichment or spent fuel processing facilities within the country's borders.

The bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation between the U.A.E. and the U.S., or the 123 Agreement, could come into force at the end of October, when a mandatory 90-day period of Congressional review is expected to end.

Wall Street Journal, 5 October 2009


Uranium waste: Urenco transports to Russia stopped.
A TV-report by the German/French-TV-station ARTE brought a new wave of media coverage concerning uranium waste transports from France and Germany to Russia. One of the positive results of the media interest: Urenco has confirmed that the UF6-transport from Gronau to Russia on 26 August was indeed the last one!

This is a major success for the joint campaign involving Russian, Dutch, French, Finnish, Swedish and German activists and organizations for the last three-four years. Thanks to this hard campaign the anti-nuclear groups have finally stopped this part of the dirty export of nuclear waste to Russia. Considering that they were up against several of the biggest nuclear players in Europe and various governments they have done very well!

But the same documentary, aired on October 13, made clear that France’s energy giant EDF is still sending its uranium hexafluoride to the Seversk facility in Siberia, Russia. According to the ‘Liberation’ newspaper, 13 percent of French radioactive waste produced by EDF could be found in the open air in the town in Siberia to which access is forbidden. An EDF spokeswoman declined to confirm the 13 percent figure, or that waste was stored in the open air, but confirmed EDF sends nuclear waste to Russia. Because a small part (10-20 %) of the depleted uranium is send back after being enriched to natural levels U-235, authorities claim it is not waste but raw material.

Reuters, 12 October 2009 / Email: SOFA Muenster (Germany) , 16 October 2009


Bad news for American Centrifuge Plant.
On October 15, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced it could not support a program to prove USEC’s centrifuge technology. The loss of US$30 million (Euro 20 million) for the next financial year comes after the DOE's July decision to refuse USEC a loan guarantee to help it secure finance for the American Centrifuge facility at Piketon, Ohio. At the time the company said it would have to 'demobilize' the project, on which it had already spent US$1.5 billion (see Nuclear Monitor 691, 16 July 2009, In Brief). The DOE placed USEC's application on hold and gave the company a chance to improve its application by proving the commercial viability of its technology. The DOE was to financially support a proving program with US$30-45 million per year, starting in the financial year 2010.

However, the US$30 million for the first financial year was recently denied by Congress during the appropriations process. And in another piece of bad news for USEC it has emerged that a manufacturing fault in its centrifuges will mean several months' delay while replacement parts are made and the units rebuilt. In a statement, the DOE noted that the deal with USEC still stands to postpone review of its loan guarantee application until certain "technical and financial milestones are met," which would probably take six months even without the delay of rebuilding. The department noted that it had "worked closely" with USEC this year on its loan guarantee application, and had put an extra $150-200 million per year into Cold War clean-up at an adjacent site managed by the company. This boost should lead to 800-1000 new jobs, the DOE said, which would offset the 750 jobs at risk on the American Centrifuge.

World Nuclear News, 16 October 2009


Jordan: site studies begin for Aqaba nuclear plant.
On October 13, the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) launched environmental and feasibility studies for the location of the countries’ first nuclear power plant. It marked the first gathering of the implementing parties of the site-selection and characterization study, a two-year process that will examine the proposed site, located in the southern strip of Aqaba, nine kilometers inland and 450 meters above sea level.

Over the next three months, nuclear engineering and consultant bureau’s, will determine whether the site, some 20km outside Aqaba city, will be suitable for the construction.

The JAEC selected Aqaba due to the abundant water sources of the nearby Red Sea and the proximity to infrastructure such as the Port of Aqaba and the electrical grid, the chairman said, noting that there are plans in place to establish up to six reactors at the site.

During the meeting on October 13, JAEC Chairman Khaled Toukan indicated that the JAEC is also considering a proposal to establish two power plants at the site simultaneously. The measure would decrease costs by 20 per cent through utilizing economies of scale, he added.

A week later Toukan announced that Jordan is coming up with 'strong results' indicating the country would emerge as a key exporter of uranium by the end of 2011. He made the remarks during a tour of the uranium exploration operations, which are being carried out in central Jordan by the French atomic energy conglomerate, Areva.

Jordan Times, 14 October 2009 / Deutsche Presse Agentur, 20 October 2009


French Polynesia: nuclear compensation very restricted.
There was much praise in July when the French National Assembly approved a bill for compensating the victims of tests carried out in French Polynesia and Algeria over more than three decades. About 150,000 civilian and military personnel took part and many later developed serious health problems. (see Nuclear Monitor 686, 2 April 2009; In Brief) But now activists fighting for victims of French nuclear testing in the Pacific are stunned by conditions imposed in the compensation bill by France's upper house.

Roland Oldham, president of Mororua e Tatou Association, representing French Pacific nuclear test workers, said the actions of the upper house Senate reflected arrogance in metropolitan France towards its territories. He said the Senate has imposed strict requirements on applicants to prove their case on various grounds. The geographic zone from which claims would be considered had been greatly limited. The Senate had further rejected a bid by his organization - fighting for years for compensation - to be part of a compensation committee, which would now be only made of people nominated by the French Ministry of Defence. "It's the same people that have done the nuclear testing in our place, in our island," Mr Oldham said. "And finally, there's only one person decides if the case is going to be taken into account, (if a victim) is going to have compensation or not - and that's the Ministry of Defence. "For our Polynesian people it's going to be hard. A lot of our people won't be part of compensation."

Radio Australia News, 15 October 2009


Taiwan: life-time extension of oldest plants.
State-owned Taiwan Power Company has asked to keep using the oldest nuclear power plant, Chinshan, operational since 1978 in a coastal area of north Taiwan, after the licenses of its two reactors expire in 2018 and 2019, the Atomic Energy Council said. The application is for extending the life of the plant's two generators from 40 to 60 years. Environmental activists voiced severe concerns about what they called a risky plan, also citing a shortage of space to store the nuclear waste. “We strongly oppose the measure. We cannot afford taking such as risk," Gloria Hsu, a National Taiwan University professor, told AFP.

Taiwan Power operates three nuclear power plants, while a fourth is being constructed.

AFP, 21 October 2009

Belene nuclear project is sinking

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#695
5976
02/10/2009
Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace EU energy campaigner
Article

Since the new Bulgarian government has discovered that the price tag for the Belene nuclear power project on the shores of the Danube is expected to massively inflate from €4 to €10 billion Euros (US$ 5.8 – 14.5 billion), Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has desperately been looking for ways to pull the plug.

Prime Minister Borisov has recently put three €300 million payments to Russian building contractor Atomstroyexport on hold while the viability of the project is reassessed. Russia and the Russian companies involved in the project are not exactly happy with this new approach. Reports in the media even allege that Russian diplomats and energy companies have gone as far as to threaten a gas war next winter, unless the Belene project is resurrected.

Any compensation payments for breach of contract with Atomstroyexport are likely to be high, but still several times lower than what the Bulgarian government suspects might be the losses arising from Belene for Bulgarian taxpayers. But German energy giant RWE, 49% investor in Belene, hoped to gain billions from the project and is therefore shopping around for partners.

Experts believe that RWE has approached Russian energy company InterRAO, two unnamed Swedish companies – perhaps Vattenfall or ABB – and Fortum, from Finland. But things do not seem to be going well. Fortum's CEO Tapio Kuula told Greenpeace only last week that it had no interest whatsoever in being involved. And over the last few years Franco-Belgian utility GdF Suez / Electrabel and twelve – yes, twelve – banks have withdrawn their interest.

The question now is who will kill the project first. Bulgarian energy minister Traycho Traykov has already announced that he will make a final recommendation at the end of September. Borisov is expected to make a final decision in November. If Bulgaria decides to put Belene out of its misery, RWE will be able to save face and blame the government. But given the lack of progress, it is not inconceivable that RWE could step out before then, giving Borisov the opportunity to blame the Germans.

Russian energy Minister Sergei Shmatko told journalists on 17 September that his country is ready to consider an investment participation in the nuclear power plant should Bulgaria decide to sell its state-owned stake. This, however, will not change anything in the economicality of the project, but looks more like a last attempt from Moscow to save its 4 billion Euro contract.

Jumping ship
Prime Minister Borisov is also behind a decision to dismantle energy giant Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH), which was initially set up to provide sufficient collateral to generate loans for the Belene project. But the banks were not duped and BEH only managed to collect a €300 million cash input from the state budget that is under EU investigation as alleged illegal state aid.

Because of the economic downturn and the related 30% slump in electricity exports, 51% Belene investor Bulgarian state utility NEK has dived under the reserves limit set in its €250 million loan contract with BNP Paribas - the only loan it could secure for the project. This means the French bank has the right to recall its loan. The only alternative for NEK would be to renegotiate terms with BNP Paribas, which could lead to a doubling of the so far very low 4,8% interest rate.

The conclusion is clear: Belene represents a huge financial risk for Bulgaria, not to mention a serious environment risk. The project is sinking and the question now is who will jump ship first.

Source and contact: Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace EU policy campaigner dirty energy & expert on energy issues in Central Europe.
Tel: +32 2 27419 21
Email: [email protected]

Elections in Bugaria, financial troubles and RWE cause confusion for Belene

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#691
5966
16/07/2009
Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace EU energy campaigner
Article

The July 5, parliamentarian elections in Bulgaria saw a landslide. The ruling coalition of Socialists, ethnic Turks and the former Bulgarian king Simeon II's party was wiped away by the new party GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria). GERB, the political child of Sofia mayor Boyko Borisov, won with 39,7% of the vote 120 of the 240 seats in Parliament. Borisov is now creating a minority government that will seek votes for support from the right wing parties in parliament: the extreme-right nationalist Ataka and Order, Lawfulness and Justice parties and the centre right Blue Coalition of the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria and United Democratic Front.

The Blue Coalition was the first party to openly speak out against the Belene nuclear power project, and there were hopes that it would be needed for a coalition with GERB. GERB's victory is so large, however, that it does not need to grant too many favours. And GERB itself is not very clear on Belene. Party officials including Borisov had stated over the last months that Belene would not get any financial support any more from the state. The nominee for finance minister, Simeon Djankov, currently working at the World Bank, declared that Bulgaria should invest in energy efficiency instead. On July 13, he announced in the daily Standart that in the preparation of the Belene project around 500 BGN (some 230 million Euro) must have disappeared as the Ministry for Energy and Economy informed him 800 million BGN was used for the deconstruction of the old unfinished nuclear power plant. Djankov claims that in other countries, this would have cost nothing more than 250 million leva.

Party leader Borisov, however, announced in a television interview on 12 July that he still stands firmly behind the project. Rumors are that he has been contacted intensively in the last weeks by the pro-Belene lobby within and outside his party. Also he, however, expressed doubts about the availability of state funds for the project.

And without state funding, Belene might be dead. Over the last years, 12 different Western banks withdrew initial interest from the project after they found out more details. French top-nuclear-bank BNP Paribas - after Citi the largest nuclear financier in the world and usually not caring about its nuclear image - initially brokered a 250 million Euro bridging loan for 2007, which was extended to 2008. In 2008 it also won the tender for financial adviser of the project. But over time it has virtually withdrawn its interest and declared that the project is too risky. It also stated publicly that it will not invest in Belene itself anymore.

The bridging loan ran out in November 2008 and the outgoing Bulgarian government counted on the freshly chosen strategic investor RWE to cough up some cash to run the program in 2009. RWE, however, did not like the current risks either and demanded that the Bulgarian side first secure its 51% participation financially before it was going to make any monetary commitments.

In a hasty move, the Bulgarian socialist party turned towards Russia and asked an earlier offer from Prime Minister Putin for a loan of 3,8 billion Euro to be re-opened. The Russian side is now still mulling over the conditions under which it would be willing to do this, and one of them seems to be a full government guarantee. But this would be against EU state aid legislation.

Nevertheless, bills need to be paid. In a bold move, the Bulgarian government injected in the hight of the financial crisis 300 million BGN into the Belene project in the form of an increase of shares by the Bulgarian utility NEK, which resides under the energy-giant Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH EAD). This money was meant to cover ongoing costs and was transferred in December 2008. Standard and Poor's put NEK on CreditWatch and in July downgraded its rating from “developing” to “negative”. Greenpeace and the Bulgarian Green Policy Institute directly filed a complaint to the European Commission, because such a capital injection is only allowed when it is done in a way that would be similar to what a normal operator on the free market would do. They argue that the Bulgarian State is abusing its position as state to give Belene a financial advantage - an advantage that other operators on the electricity market do not have access to. With that, the capital injection would be illegal state aid and would have to be retracted. The European Commission opened an investigation which is still ongoing.

In the mean time, German energy giant RWE, the strategic investor in Belene, is trying to find a way to participate in the project without hurting its image even further. Its reputation already got severely budged because of shareholder opposition against the participation in Belene as well as several glitches in its German nuclear power plants. It has become clear that RWE will not accept the project as it was - and there continue to be severe doubts whether it will accept the project at all. To hedge against financial risks, RWE is currently looking for partners. It is in negotiations with Fortum of Finland, and two unnamed Swedish companies of which one is most probably Vattenfall. It also talks with InterRAO from Russia, complicating the picture of Russian control over the project even further. This would mean that not only the design and construction are done by Russia (Atomstroyexport), the fuel will come from Russia (TVEL), the money might come from Russia, but also operation would happen with Russian participation. This picture raises many eyebrows because the Belene project was always sold to the public with the argument of less energy dependence on Russia.

Environmental NGOs in Finland and Sweden are already gearing up to make possible investors aware of the problems surrounding Belene. In Germany, Belene is becoming increasingly the big blotch on the shirt of RWE and actions are in preparation on the side of environmentalists, but also RWE customers and shareholders.

Pressure is high on the whole project and all partners seem to try to create an image that things go forward - all waiting for an other one to make the first step out. The question does not seem any longer whether the Belene project will be stopped, but rather who will be courageous enough to pull the plug. Borisov has a unique chance to prevent further financial bleeding of his country into megalomania projects, unless he is hit by the virus himself. RWE has a chance to dump the Belene project as a first step towards making the company more sustainable. Your bets, please!

Source: Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace energy campaigner, EU Unit Brussels, Belgium.
Contact: Jan Haverkamp (Greenpeace): [email protected]
Heffa Schücking (urgewald): [email protected]
Petko Kovachev (Green Policy Institute, Sofia); [email protected]