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Nuclear advocates fight back with wishful thinking

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Michael Mariotte − President of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service

It must be rough to be a nuclear power advocate these days: clean renewable energy is cleaning nuclear's clock in the marketplace; energy efficiency programs are working and causing electricity demand to remain stable and even fall in some regions; despite decades of industry effort radioactive waste remains an intractable problem; and Fukushima's fallout − both literal and metaphoric − continues to cast a pall over the industry's future.

Where new reactors are being built, they are − predictably − behind schedule and over-budget; while even many existing reactors, although their capital costs were paid off years ago, can't compete and face potential shutdown because of operating and maintenance costs that are proving to be too high to manage.

Not surprisingly, the nuclear industry is fighting back. After all, what other choice does it have? But a major new report by established nuclear advocates indicate that the only ammunition left in their arsenal is wishful thinking. The study, 'Projected Costs of Generating Electricity', is jointly produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and its sister organization in the OECD, the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).1

It's an update of a study last produced in 2010 and despite the headlines being pushed by the industry, which claim nuclear power is economically competitive with other generating technologies, it doesn't actually say that at all. But perhaps that's to be expected by an organization now headed by former US Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner William Magwood and devoted to the promotion of nuclear power.

As Jan Haverkamp of Greenpeace International explains:

"You can see the NEA's bias very clearly in slide 112 (part of the public presentation on the report's release), where the title is: "Nuclear: an attractive low-carbon technology in the absence of cost overruns and with low financing costs" ... which shows clearly where the problem is. To call this "attractive" but then sidelining two of the inherent financial issues with the resource is tendentious to say the least. Apart from not including costs like those for clean-up after severe accidents, an insecure cost idea of waste management, and a preferential liability capping scheme with government back-up."

Exactly. If you assume there are no economic problems with nuclear power, then it looks just great. The problem is that in real life, nuclear power's financing costs are not low − they are extremely high because nuclear reactors are considered, for good reason, by investors to be very risky undertakings. One reason they are risky, and thus incur high financing costs, is that they are notorious for their cost overruns.

As if to slap its Paris-based companion the NEA in its face with cold reality, Electricite de France underscored new nuclear power's fundamental economic problems, announcing that the EPR reactor it is building in Flamanville, France, is another year behind schedule and its cost is now projected at triple its original 2007 estimate.3

The IEA/NEA study calculates the levelized lifetime cost of electricity for reactors based on a 60-year lifespan at an 85% capacity factor, even though the study itself admits the global capacity factor in 2013 was only 82.4% and has dropped a bit since the 2010's study reference point of 2008. So the study thus assumes a lifetime that no reactor has yet reached, and that many reactors globally will not even attempt to reach (see below), at a capacity factor higher than has been attained and when the trend is in the opposite direction. Even manipulating the numbers like that, however, only gets the IEA/NEA back to its starting point of needing both the unattainable low financing costs and absence of cost overruns to make new nuclear appear economic.

As for that 60-year lifespan, while most U.S. reactors already have received license extensions allowing their 60-year operation, that is not the case globally (nor is it at all clear that a piece of paper allowing operation will be sufficient on either an economic or safety basis to enable operation). And a new report from a company called Globaldata projects that the number of reactors expected to seek license extensions globally will decline until 2025 (at least).4 Globaldata senior analyst Reddy Nagatham said: "This will be most notable in Europe, where the capacity of NPPs starting PLEX operations is expected to drop almost sevenfold from approximately 8.3 GW this year to 1.2 GW by the end of 2025."

Of course, the shorter a reactor's lifetime, the higher its lifetime cost of electricity will be.

As Greenpeace's Jan Haverkamp points out, the IEA/NEA appears to have a specific endgame in mind: "This study clearly targets the Paris COP [UN climate conference in December 2015] and tries to instill the idea that nuclear needs to get subsidies in the form of credit guarantees and price guarantees and then that will be the silver bullet."

And that brings us back to that more familiar refrain from the nuclear industry: give us more ratepayer bailouts and more taxpayer subsidies and everything will be just fine. The problem for the industry is that fewer and fewer people are singing that song.

Small modular reactors and Generation IV reactors

Nor should the industry look for help from the trendy new kids on the block: small modular reactors (SMRs) and Generation IV technologies. The report predicts that electricity costs from SMRs will typically be 50−100% higher than for current large reactors, although it holds out some hope that large volume production of SMRs could help reduce costs − if that large volume production is comprised of "a sufficiently large number of identical SMR designs ... built and replicated in factory assembly workshops." Not very likely unless the industry accepts a socialist approach to reactor manufacturing, which is even less likely than that the approach would lead to any significant cost savings.

As for Generation IV reactors, the report at its most optimistic can only say: "In terms of generation costs, generation IV technologies aim to be at least as competitive as generation III technologies ... though the additional complexity of these designs, the need to develop a specific supply chain for these reactors and the development of the associated fuel cycles will make this a challenging task."

So, at best the Generation IV reactors are aiming to be as competitive as the current − and economically failing − Generation III reactors. And even realizing that inadequate goal will be "challenging." The report might as well have recommended to Generation IV developers not to bother.

Another problem with the report is that the IEA − perhaps at the urging of the NEA − simply assumes that the electrical grid of the future will be the same as it is today, despite the rapid pace of change across the world but especially in the IEA's European home base.

In fact, if there is a real takeaway from the report, it is from the headline on the IEA's website rather than any nuclear publication: 'Joint IEA-NEA report details plunge in costs of producing electricity from renewables.'5

Yes, while the nuclear industry has been attempting to frame the report as good news for nuclear power, the real findings of the report are in the stunning drop in renewables costs. Onshore wind, according to the report, is the cheapest power source of any examined. Solar power, except residential rooftop, is increasingly competitive and will drop further, unencumbered by the high financing charges and cost overruns experienced by nuclear.

It's good to see IEA say something favorable about renewables. As we reported last year, the organization has been notoriously wrong on the deployment of renewables over the years, greatly underprojecting their growth and compiling a simply embarrassing record.6


1. International Energy Agency (IEA) and OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), 2015, 'Projected Costs of Generating Electricity':

Media release:

Executive Summary:

Purchase full report:


3. WNN, 3 Sept 2015, 'Flamanville EPR timetable and costs revised',

4. Phil Allan, 2 Sept 2015, 'Fukushima fallout leading to decline in nuclear generation',

5. IEA, 31 Aug 2015, 'Joint IEA-NEA report details plunge in costs of producing electricity from renewables',

6. Michael Mariotte, 17 July 2014, 'IEA "experts" not particularly expert',

Belgium and the END of nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

Belgium is a microcosm of the ageing nuclear power industry. The International Energy Agency predicts a "wave of retirements"1 − almost 200 reactor shut downs by 2040 − and argues that it is unclear whether new build will offset the "tidal wave" of reactor shut downs over the next 20 years.2 Belgium is at the sharp edge of this new nuclear era: the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning, the END.

Belgium's seven reactors − all pressurized water reactors − are all operated by Electrabel, a GDF Suez subsidiary. Electrabel owns 100% of two reactors, 89.8% of four reactors and 50% of one reactor. EDF and SPE are the other companies with ownership stakes.3

When all seven reactors were operating, they supplied about half of Belgium's electricity. All are due to be shut down by the end of 2025. Belgium's nuclear phase-out law mandates the shut down of six reactors when they have operated for 40 years − with the exception of Tihange 1, which is due to be shut down in 2025 when it has operated for 50 years.

All seven reactors have been in the news over the past year:

  • Doel 1: Shut down when its 40-year licence expired in February 2015.
  • Doel 2: Now operating but due to be shut down in December 2015. GDF Suez / Electrabel is negotiating a possible licence extension for Doel 1 and 2 to operate for another 10 years, and seeking regulatory approval.
  • Doel 3 and Tihange 2: Offline since March 2014 due to concerns about the integrity of reactor pressure vessels; future uncertain.
  • Doel 4: Offline for more than four months in 2014 due to suspected sabotage of the high-pressure turbine. Now operating.
  • Tihange 1: Now in its fortieth year of operation but licensed to operate for another 10 years. Greenpeace has initiated a legal challenge against the licence extension, because of the failure to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment and cross-boundary consultation in line with Belgium's obligations under the Espoo Convention (the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context). Court hearings are scheduled for March 24 and the judge is expected to present his verdict soon after.
  • Tihange 3: Briefly shut down following a fire in December 2014. Now operating.

Policies and politics

Nuclear power policies and laws have been in flux over the past two decades:3

  • In 1999, the government announced that reactor lifetimes would be limited to 40 years, and banned further reprocessing.
  • In 2003, the Belgian Parliament passed legislation banning the building of new power reactors and limited the operating lives of existing reactors to 40 years.
  • In 2009, the government decided to postpone the phase-out by 10 years, so that it would not begin before 2025. This would allow the licensing of reactor life extensions. Reactor operators agreed to pay a special tax of €215−245 million (US$227−259m) per year from 2010−14, and more thereafter. GDF Suez also agreed to subsidise renewables and demand-side management by paying at least €500 million (US$528m) for both, and it maintaining 13,000 jobs in energy efficiency and recycling.

However, an election in April 2010 occurred before the agreed proposals were passed by parliament and thus the nuclear phase-out law remains in place. In July 2012 Belgium's Council of Ministers announced that Doel 1 and 2 were to close in 2015 after 40 years of operation, but Tihange 1 would be permitted to operate to 2025. This was written into law in December 2013. The government said that it had rewritten the 2003 law so that its current stance could not be changed by decree, and therefore the timing of the phase-out "is now final."3,4

In December 2014 the Council of Ministers from the new ruling coalition government agreed that Doel 1 and 2 could continue operating for a further 10 years, to 2025. Energy minister Marie-Christine Marghem said that it was an "unconditional prerequisite" that the Belgian nuclear regulator − the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) − approve licence extensions for the two reactors. She noted that Belgium's planned nuclear phase-out by the end of 2025 remains in place.4

The government decision to allow Doel 1 and 2 to continue to operate for a further 10 years was partly a result of problems with other reactors − in particular the outages of Tihange 2 and Doel 3 and uncertainty about their future. GDF Suez / Electrabel is in negotiation with the Belgian government over the Doel 1 and 2 licence extensions but an agreement has not yet been reached − hence the shut down of Doel 1 in February in accordance with the nuclear phase-out law. Further, the regulator FANC has not yet approved licence extensions for Doel 1 and 2.4

GDF Suez / Electrabel is unwilling to invest up to €600−700 million (US$634−740m) in necessary upgrades to Doel 1 and 2 unless the government provides a "clear legal and economic framework" to justify the investment. Negotiations include removal of the nuclear generation tax introduced by a previous government − according to the World Nuclear Association, that tax cost the company €397 million (US$419m) in 2014.5

As Rianne Teule, campaign director for Greenpeace Belgium, put it: "In order to agree to such a large investment, Electrabel demands 'a clear legal and economic framework'. Read: 'a good deal to reduce the investment risks'. It's the Belgian people who will pay the price, one way or another. If not through increased taxes, when Electrabel's payments to the state decrease, then through increased electricity prices when Electrabel passes on their investments to their clients."6

In 2012 the government passed laws increasing the tax on nuclear operators. The government set a total contribution from nuclear operators for 2012 of €550 million (US$581m), of which Electrabel had to pay €479 million (US$506m). In June 2013 Electrabel filed an appeal to Belgium's Constitutional Court, claiming the tax violated a protocol signed by the company and the federal government in 2009, which included a lower tax, and took no account of declining revenue from nuclear power generation. In April 2014 the Court of First Instance in Brussels rejected Electrabel's claim. The company appealed, but the appeal was rejected in July 2014. Electrabel said it would continue "to examine all potential legal means in order to defend its interests" and "examine all options concerning the future of its nuclear activities in Belgium."3,7

According to Greenpeace, nuclear power is part of the energy security problem, not part of the solution: "The reason for the potential electricity supply problem is Belgium's excessive dependency (55%) on unreliable nuclear power. A political decision to extend the lifetime of two old reactors will not mitigate this acute supply problem. It will take at least a year to implement the necessary safety upgrades, and to order and fabricate new fuel for them. Extending the legally fixed phase-out calendar will undermine investment in real climate solutions such as energy efficiency and renewables."8

Tihange 2 and Doel 3 − compromised reactor pressure vessels

Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were taken offline in 2012 when ultrasound testing suggested the presence of cracks in their reactor vessels. Further investigations indicated that the defects are so-called hydrogen 'flakes'. FANC allowed Electrabel to restart the reactors in May 2013. However the reactors were again taken offline in March 2014 after Electrabel reported that tests to investigate the mechanical strength of irradiated specimens of similar material "did not deliver results in line with experts' expectations".9 FANC said that "a fracture toughness test revealed unexpected results, which suggested that the mechanical properties of the material were more strongly influenced by radiation than experts had expected."10

In January 2015, FANC said the process to restart the reactors had been extended from April to July so that Electrabel could answer further questions. In February, FANC announced that additional inspections revealed more extensive flaking within the pressure vessels of the two reactors than previously identified. FANC said 13,047 flaw indications have now been found in the vessel of Doel 3 and 3,149 in that of Tihange 2. Further test results are expected by April.1,9

FANC Director General Jans Bens said: "This may be a global problem for the entire nuclear industry. The solution is to implement worldwide, accurate inspections of all 430 nuclear power plants."11

Shortly after approving the restart of Doel 3 and Tihange 2 in May 2013 − a decision that was contested at the time and seems unwise in hindsight − Bens was seriously downplaying nuclear risks: "The harbour of Antwerp is being filled with windmills, and the chemical industry is next to it. If there is an accident like a break in one of the wings, that is a guillotine. If that goes through a chloride pipe somewhere, it will be a problem of a bigger magnitude than what can happen at Doel. Windmills are more dangerous than nuclear power plants."12

Two materials scientists have said the unexpected flaws in Doel 3 and Tihange 2 could be related to corrosion from normal operation, with potential implications for reactors worldwide. Prof. Digby MacDonald said: "The consequences could be very severe ... like fracturing the pressure vessel. Loss of coolant accident. This would be a leak before break scenario. ... My advice is that all reactor operators, under the guidance of the regulatory commissions should be required to do an ultrasonic survey of the pressure vessels. All of them." Prof. Walter Bogaerts said: "If I had to estimate, I would really be surprised if it ... had occurred nowhere else.13,14

Electrabel reacted to the latest news by saying that it may be willing to "sacrifice" one of the two reactors to allow destructive testing to learn more about the problem.15

Doel 3 and 4: Fire and sabotage

On 1 December 2014 at 10:30am, a fire began in the electrical substation transformer building at Doel and led to an emergency shutdown of reactor #3. The fire was put out by the local fire service and the reactor was restarted at 5am the following day.16 Fires at nuclear power plants pose significant risks to reactor safety due to the potential disruption of the electrical supply to vital reactor safety functions. The risks in Belgium are all the greater because of the high population density and the concentration of seven reactors at just two sites.17

Sabotage at Doel 4

The Belgium nuclear industry was shaken on 5 August 2014 when it was revealed that sabotage had caused, in Electrabel's words, "significant damage" at Doel 4. Lubricant had been discharged from the high-pressure turbine through a valve which had probably been opened deliberately by a worker. Some 6,000 professionals from 15 companies participated in the repair of the turbine. The repair involved the manufacture of 2500 blades at four plants in China, Croatia, Italy and Switzerland.18 The reactor was restarted on December 19.19

The END of nuclear power

When the last reactor is shut down in 2025, that won't be the end of Belgium's nuclear program but the beginning of the END − the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning.

In addition to the decommissioning of seven reactors, Belgians will somehow have to manage: high-level nuclear waste currently stored at Dessel and at reactor plants; larger volumes of low- and intermediate-level waste; and other nuclear facilities now in various stages of decommissioning including a MOX fuel fabrication plant and the Eurochemic reprocessing plant at Dessel.


1. International Energy Agency, 2014, 'World Economic Outlook 2014',
2. Nick Cunningham, 19 Feb 2015, 'Is There Any Hope Left For Nuclear Energy?',
3. World Nuclear Association, 17 Feb 2015, 'Nuclear Power in Belgium',
4. WNN, 12 Feb 2015, 'Belgian reactor shutdown imminent',
5. WNA Weekly Digest, 27 Feb 2015,
6. Rianne Teule, 22 Dec 2014, 'Belgium's government is Electrabel's slave',
7. World Nuclear News, 18 July 2014, 'Belgian court rejects nuclear tax complaint',
8. Eloi Glorieux, 13 Sept 2014, 'Belgium's nuclear reactors are phasing themselves out',
9. WNN, 17 Feb 2015, 'Further flaws found in Belgian reactor vessels',
10. FANC, 13 Feb 2015, 'Doel 3/Tihange 2: new update',
11. 13 Feb 2015, 'Veel meer scheuren in kerncentrales dan gedacht',
12. Justin McKeating, 23 May 2013, 'Fact not fiction: Renewable energy is safer than nuclear power',
13. Greenpeace, 17 Feb 2015, 'Thousands more cracks found in Belgian nuclear reactors, Belgian regulatory head warns of global implications',
14. Greenpeace, 15 Feb 2015, 'Nuclear Reactor Pressure Vessel Crisis',
15. Greenpeace, 17 Feb 2015, 'Thousands of cracks in Belgian reactors, potentially a global nuclear problem',
16. Greenpeace, 3 Dec 2014,
17. Bart Martens, December 2014, 'De Economische Impact van een Kernramp In Doel', study commissioned by Greenpeace Belgium,
18. WNN, 5 Dec 2014, 'Doel 4 restart approaches',
19. 19 Dec 2014, 'Doel 4 reactor reopens',

The nuclear power industry is failing miserably

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) have released a Nuclear Energy Technology Roadmap, arguing that total installed nuclear capacity should be more than doubled to reach 930 GW by 2050 to contribute to climate change mitigation (well down from the 1200 GW figure put forward in the 2010 Nuclear Energy Technology Roadmap).1

Nuclear growth would contribute 13% of the emissions reductions envisaged in the IEA/NEA scenario (far less than 13% if all sectors are considered, not just power generation). Nuclear would account for 17% of electricity generation in 2050 − still less than the historical peak of 17.6% in 1996.

Writing in, Nick Cunningham argues that nuclear growth of the magnitude promoted in the IEA/NEA report is "highly unlikely".2 Obstacles include workforce issues, the need for greater standardisation, greater public acceptance, and a resolution to long-term nuclear waste storage.

Cunningham writes:

"Critically, however, the IEA notes that the nuclear industry is going to need to demonstrate that it can build new power plants on time and within budget. On this objective, the industry is failing miserably. Nuclear power plants have often suffered from cost overruns and delays, one factor (among many) that put the industry into a decades-long lull beginning in the early 1980's. The so-called "nuclear renaissance" was thought to put an end to these problems with a new generation of designs and modular construction. So far, it hasn't played out that way.

"Meanwhile, a tidal wave of nuclear reactors will close down over the next 20 years as their operating licenses expire. ... A massive build out of nuclear power in China is where the nuclear industry's best hopes reside, but it is unclear if even China can make up for the shrinking industry presence in the West, let alone meet the IEA's ambitious scenario for 2050."

Meanwhile, BP has released the 2015 edition of its annual Energy Outlook.3 BP projects that from 2015 to 2035:

  • Global energy consumption increases by 37% with India and China accounting for half the growth.
  • Total energy-related carbon emissions increase by 25%.
  • Coal demand growth in China and India more than makes up for declines in the rest of the world. Jointly they are projected to account for 66% of total coal demand in 2035.
  • Renewables (including biofuels) account for 8% of total energy consumption in 2035, compared to 3% today.
  • Renewable power generation overtakes nuclear in the early 2020s and hydro in the early 2030s.
  • The fastest fuel growth is seen in renewables (6.3% p.a.), followed by nuclear (1.8% p.a. − down from BP's 2014 estimate of 1.9% p.a.), hydro (1.7% p.a), natural gas (1.9% p.a.), and oil and coal (both 0.8% p.a.).
  • The shares of nuclear and hydro to total power generation continue to decline, but the scaling up of renewables is sufficient to lift the aggregate non-fossil share from 32% in 2013 to 38% by 2035.
  • Within the OECD, renewables contribute 90% of net growth in power generation from all sources. In non-OECD countries, there is significant growth in renewables, hydro and nuclear.
  • China overtakes the US as the biggest nuclear producer.
  • Nuclear power declines in Europe and North America: "Nuclear capacity in Europe and North America declines as ageing plants are gradually decommissioned, and the difficult economics and politics of nuclear energy stunts new growth."
  • Japan is assumed to restart its reactors gradually from 2015 but is not expected to recover to pre-Fukushima level of nuclear power generation by 2035.


1. International Energy Agency and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, 2015, 'Nuclear Energy Technology Roadmap', or
2. Nick Cunningham, 19 Feb 2015, 'Is There Any Hope Left For Nuclear Energy?',
3. BP, Feb 2015, 'Energy Outlook 2035',

International Energy Agency cuts nuclear forecast

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released its 'World Energy Outlook 2013' report on November 12.[1,2,3]

The IEA expects global demand for electricity to grow over 70% by 2035, with over half of this growth in China and India. The report notes that coal "remains the backbone of generation globally, particularly outside the OECD, but its share of the mix is eroded from two-fifths to one-third" by 2035.

Renewables are set "become the world's second-largest source of power generation by 2015 and close in on coal as the primary source by 2035," with renewables' share of electricity generation to grow from 20% in 2010 to 31% by 2035. China is expected to see the biggest absolute increase in generation from renewables, more than the gains in the European Union, United States and Japan combined.

The IEA predicts that global nuclear generating capacity will reach 580 gigawatts (GWe) in 2035, a 56% increase compared to current capacity of 372 GWe. The 580 GWe figure is 10% less than the IEA forecast a year ago. China, South Korea, India, and Russia are expected to lead the growth in nuclear capacity.

As reported in the September 27 issue of the Nuclear Monitor [4], the World Nuclear Association's latest projections for nuclear growth are "significantly lower" than the projections in the Association's 2011 report, and the IAEA has also scaled back its nuclear growth projections.

The nuclear growth projections of these three organisations − the IEA, WNA and IAEA − are still implausibly high even after downward revisions. For example it is difficult to envisage anything other than marginal growth in South Korea in the wake of the corruption scandals engulfing the industry there; growth in China is certain but sustained annual growth in the range of 6 GW is unlikely; Russia has recently sharply reduced its nuclear growth projections; and India has a track record of making absurd nuclear growth projections and failing spectacularly to meet them.

Dr Ian Fairlie has recently compiled a list of over 40 examples of governments, banks, utilities and energy companies around the world withdrawing from nuclear projects since 2011.[5]

How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing

In the US, it is difficult to see current capacity of 99 GW − over one-quarter of the world total − being maintained let alone expanded. All the more so since a large majority of the US reactor fleet (and the global reactor fleet) will be well and truly into old age by 2035.

Peter Bradford, a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, explained the problem in a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article earlier this year, titled 'How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing'.[6]

Bradford writes: "The United States is on course to all but exit the commercial nuclear power industry even if the country awakens to the dangers of climate change and adopts measures to favor low-carbon energy sources. Nuclear power had been in economic decline for more than three decades when the Bush administration launched a program that aimed to spark a nuclear power renaissance through subsidies and a reformed reactor licensing process. But Wall Street was already leery of the historically high costs of nuclear power. An abundance of natural gas, lower energy demand induced by the 2008 recession, increased energy-efficiency measures, nuclear's rising cost estimates, and the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station further diminished prospects for private investment in new US nuclear plants. Without additional and significant governmental preferences for new nuclear construction, market forces will all but phase out the US nuclear fleet by midcentury."

In the latest setback for the US nuclear industry, Mitsubishi has announced it will slow down work to obtain design certification for Advanced Pressurized Water Reactors (APWR), and in response Luminant has suspended its application to build two APWRs at the Comanche Peak plant in Texas.[7]

In the past year, US utilities have closed or announced plans to close five reactors in addition to cancelled plans for new reactors and uprates. Those five are Vermont Yankee, Vermont; San Onofre, California; Kewaunee, Wisconsin; Crystal River, Florida; and Oyster Creek, New Jersey.[8]

On November 7, Forbes published a list of six nuclear plants in the US that could be the next to shut down − in addition to plants that are offline and may never reopen (e.g. Fort Calhoun in Nebraska) and plants already scheduled for closure (e.g. Exelon's Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey). The six plants that could be the next to shut down are: Indian Point, New York; Ginna, New York; James A. Fitzpatrick, New York; Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania; and Davis Besse, Ohio.[8]

[1] International Energy Agency, 'World Energy Outlook 2013',
[2] WNN, 12 Nov 2013, 'IEA cuts nuclear power growth forecast',
[3] Karel Beckman, 14 Nov 2013, 'Exclusive interview IEA-Director Maria van der Hoeven',
[4] 'World Nuclear Association scales back projections', Nuclear Monitor #768, 27 Sept 2013,
[5] Ian Fairlie, 11 Nov 2013, 'Nuclear Pull-outs and Withdrawals Since 2011',
[6] Peter A. Bradford, 'How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2013, vol.69 no.2, pp12-21,
[7] WNN, 12 Nov 2013, 'Mitsubishi delays certification of APWR',
[8] 7 Nov 2013, '6 Nuclear Plants That Could Be Next To Shut Down',

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

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

Proliferations costs of laser enrichment

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

Safety and non-proliferation are two key premises –"important minimum requirements"- for global expansion of nuclear power and countries seeking nuclear use must adhere to these principles, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Nobuo Tanaka stressed during the International Conference on Access to Civil Nuclear Energy held in Paris. The meeting, initiated by France and co-organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency and OECD, aims to promote bilateral and multilateral cooperation between countries eager for nuclear access and willing to share nuclear experience.

But what about proliferation? Due to a new technology, the problem of proliferation will rather become worse than better. Two scientists are claiming that the ‘new’ uranium enrichment technology SILEX (separation of isotopes by laser excitation) is so proliferation prone that the dangers outweigh the so-called advantages: exponential improvements in efficiency.

In an article in Nature (March 4, 2010) the two -Francis Slakey (Upjohn lecturer in physics and public policy at Georgetown University, Washington DC) and Linda R. Cohen (professor of economics and law at the University of California, Irvine)- they warn that the world is heading towards the development of nuclear-enrichment technologies so cheap and small that they would be virtually undetectable by satellites. The say that those proliferation risks incurred from such technologies are “simply not worth the benefits”. Over the past 60 years, technologies that enrich uranium to make fuel for nuclear reactors have shown exponential improvements in efficiency. But those improvements also come with a heavy price: an increased risk of proliferation. It is far easier to covertly build a small, lower-energy enrichment facility than a large, energy-intensive one.

In their opinion, the newest laser enrichment technology — called separation of isotopes by laser excitation (SILEX) — offers more potential risks than benefits. The development and potential misappropriation of an enrichment facility too small and efficient to be detected could be a game-changer for nuclear proliferation.

Global Laser Enrichment, a subsidiary of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, has applied for a license from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to operate a full-scale commercial SILEX plant in North Carolina. This is open for public petition until 15 March, and a final decision is expected to take at least another year. Numerous analysts, as well as the authors of a recent report from the American Physical Society ('Technical Steps to Support Nuclear Arsenal Downsizing'), have called for the NRC to examine proliferation risks as part of its licensing process. Such a barrier would discourage commercial research and development in this area, the authors suggest.

To assess the costs and benefits of a new technology, its efficiency must be measured. To make reactor fuel, the concentration of fissile uranium-235 must be increased compared with the uranium-238 in the sample. The efficiency of an isotope-separation technology can be measured in terms of the increase in the proportionate concentration of uranium-235 in the enriched stream — or ‘separative work units’ (SWU) — per megawatt-hour of electricity consumed by the plant (SWU MWh−1). The quantity of SWUs needed to produce a kilogram of reactor fuel depends on three factors: the percentage of uranium-235 required

in the final fuel, the percentage present in the natural uranium feedstock and the percentage acceptable in the depleted uranium tailings (waste). If uranium feed is cheap and SWUs expensive, fuel of a given enrichment level can be made in a cost effective way by using more uranium and living with a higher proportion of residual uranium-235 in the tailings. Alternatively, expensive uranium and cheap SWUs make it worthwhile to squeeze more of the uranium-235 out of the feedstock.

The initial enrichment method, developed in the 1940s and called the calutron, was a mass spectrometer that ionized the uranium and used magnetic fields to filter out the uranium- 235. This was displaced by the technique of gaseous diffusion, which forces uranium hexafluoride through semipermeable membranes.

In the 1960s, centrifuge enrichment was developed, which dramatically decreased the energy required. The technology’s efficiency has increased from roughly 0.5 SWU MWh−1 in 1945 to more than 5 SWU MWh−1 in the 1960s, and over 20 SWU MWh−1 today.

More than 20 countries have experimented with laser enrichment over the past two decades, including South Korea and Iran, without much success. SILEX was developed by the Australian company Silex Systems, and is now being commercialized exclusively by GE Hitachi. In 2006, Silex stated that it anticipated the technology to be anywhere from 1.6 to 16 times more efficient than first-generation centrifuges. The details are classified and the efficiency claims impossible to verify. But assuming a continuation of historical trends in enrichment efficiency it seems reasonable to assume a doubling of today’s best efficiency by 2020.

It is generally assumed that this improvement will lead to financial benefits for consumers. But such an effect would be small: about US$0.66 per household per month, as calculated in the Nature article. Doubling nuclear generation in the US by 2025 (a very ambitious growth scenario for the nuclear industry) could double the value of enrichment savings to US$1.32 per household a month. In addition, a change in the relative prices of enrichment services (lower) and natural uranium (higher) will increase the demand for SWUs in the production of fuel. If the price of the former halves and the price of the latter doubles, the authors of the Nature article calculate — based on a cost-optimization of formulae for enrichment processes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge — that demand for SWUs will increase by 40% for the same level of electricity production from nuclear power.

The construction, heat signature and power usage of large nuclear enrichment plants can usually be detected, but smaller centrifuge plants can be kept secret for years, as the recent revelation of a facility being built in Qom, Iran, shows. If laser enrichment is as efficient as has been suggested, then it could occupy a space substantially smaller than a warehouse (75% smaller than centrifuge technologies) and draw no more electricity than a dozen typical houses. This could put such plants well below the detection threshold of existing surveillance technology — even when used to enrich uranium on a large scale.

Hidden costs of nuclear power
As a contrast to the savings anticipated from laser enrichment, calculated in the article, consider the public costs associated with containing such technologies. According to the Congressional Research Service, the US government spent roughly US$990 million in 2008 on nonproliferation programs. In particular, this included more than US$200 million to research and develop technology to detect covert enrichment facilities. Others estimate that US$5 billion — 10% of the US government’s annual budget for nuclear-security activities — can be credited to non-proliferation activities.

Over the past decade, the United States has spent money on non-proliferation activities at a total cost of more than US$50 per household a month.

An increase in the number of countries with access to perhaps-undetectable laser enrichment technologies would only increase these costs. As a first step in containing the risks of laser enrichment, Congress should require that an evaluation of proliferation risks be part of the NRC licensing process. Such an evaluation would be a natural extension of the NRC’s mandate to ensure that technology is not used “in a manner that is hostile to the interests of the United States”. The NRC already has a process for evaluating confidential information, so this need not be difficult to enact.

An argument has been made that by developing laser enrichment technology in the United States, US entities can ensure that the technology is adequately safeguarded against proliferation. History does not instill confidence in this approach. Previous enrichment technologies — the calutron, gas centrifuge and advanced centrifuge — have all created proliferation risks over the past 50 years despite efforts to withhold the information.

A second argument offered in favour of developing such technologies is that if the United States doesn’t do so, some other country will, in which case the costs of protecting against proliferation will be even higher. There are two responses to this: first, if the United States ceases development and takes no further action, the technology will certainly be delayed. Second, to limit the availability of the technology, the United States need now only negotiate with the handful of technologically advanced countries capable of laser enrichment innovation. It would be best if all nations took a stance of repressing new technologies for more efficient uranium enrichment. But it is clear that the risk of proliferation will only decrease when nuclear power is phased-out.

Sources: ‘Secrets, lies and uranium enrichment: The classified Silex project at Lucas Heights’, Greenpeace, 2004 / ‘Stop laser uranium enrichment’, Francis Slakey and Linda R.Cohen in: Nature, 4 March 2010 / / Xinhua News Agency, 8 March 2010


Laser enrichment plants can be used to produce highly enriched uranium in just a few stages, as opposed to the thousands of stages required using centrifuges. A 1977 report by the US Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) highlighted this as one of the major proliferation problems posed by laser enrichment The report also expressed the concern that the sale of laser enrichment technology by commercial entities, could hasten the proliferation of the technology.

The sensitive nature of the SILEX technology was formally recognised in 1996, after SILEX Systems signed an agreement with the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC). The US Department of Energy (DOE) then classified the SILEX process as “Restricted Data”, RD – a classification that usually relates to the design of nuclear weapons, or the use or acquisition of nuclear material suitable for their construction.

This was the first time in history that privately held technology was given this classification.

On April 30, 2003, USEC Inc. announced that it is ending its funding for research and development of the SILEX laser-based uranium enrichment process. USEC has been funding R&D on the SILEX process since 1996, when the Company signed an agreement with Silex Systems Limited in Australia. USEC will now focus all of its advanced technology resources on the demonstration and deployment of USEC’s American Centrifuge uranium enrichment technology. On May 22, 2006 GE Energy’s nuclear business has signed an exclusive agreement with Silex Systems Limited, an Australia-based technology innovator, to license the technology and develop the company's next generation low enriched uranium manufacturing process in the United States. The transaction is subject to, among other things, governmental approvals and regulatory controls on the design, construction and operation of the process. On October 4, 2006, Silex announced that GE Energy's nuclear business and Silex Systems Limited received the U.S. government authorizations required to proceed with an agreement granting GE exclusive rights to develop and commercialize Silex’s laser-based uranium enrichment technology.