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Financing reactors and the Fukushima disaster

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Greenpeace International & Banktrack

Investors in nuclear power are being sold precarious and potentially damaging investments because the industry's risks are regularly being overlooked or underestimated. Using the enormous economic losses surrounding the triple meltdown at Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant as an example, a new Greenpeace/BankTrack report shows how financial valuations and investment decisions had not taken well-known and systemic problems into account.

The report ‘Toxic Assets: nuclear reactors in the 21st century’, looks at the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster from an investors’ point of view. It identifies the long-known technological, management, governance and other institutional deficiencies that were instrumental in turning a predicted natural misfortune into a nuclear nightmare. The owner of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), lost 90% of its market capitalization, had its bonds rated as junk and is currently in the process of being at least partly nationalized. Investors and financiers of nuclear utilities all over the world saw their investments eroded.

Had analysts and credit-rating agencies looked beyond short-term cash flows and paid attention to the many early warnings, they would have been able to save investors from major losses. These red flags included warnings about:

* Crucial vulnerabilities in the Fukushima reactor design;
* Substantial governance issues and weak management characterized by major frauds and cover-ups;
* Collusion and loose regulatory supervision; and
* Well-understood and ignored earthquake and tsunami warnings.

All of these warnings had been publically highlighted years, often decades, before the nuclear disaster, and should have been taken seriously not only by nuclear authorities but by analysts and investors as well. Still, Tepco continued to benefit from high credit ratings, supportive analyst recommendations and cheap financing right until the Fukushima nuclear accident. Like Japanese nuclear authorities, financial ʻauthoritiesʼ also missed the many opportunities to force changes on the company. It seems regular dividends were enough to relax the vigilance of analysts who simply ignored major ʻfundamentalʼ risks and their fiduciary duty towards their investor clients.

Investors and financiers kept throwing good money after Tepco. Dozens of banks provided Tepco with at least €54bn of low-cost capital through bond issues, corporate loans and a share issuance between 2000 and 2011. The potential for similar catastrophic nuclear disasters and disastrous investment decisions is not limited to Tepco or Japan. Existing and planned new reactors all over the world are inherently at risk from any combination of:

* Similar mistakes in technology design that proved devastating at Fukushima;
* Substantial governance and management issues, and human error;
* The lack of effective independent supervision; and
* The threat of earthquakes, tsunami, floods and other natural disaster risks.

Nuclear power plants are potentially toxic assets for their investors and financiers. Quite uniquely, they can give rise to liabilities that can exceed their ownerʼs equity a hundred-fold or more. The probability of a devastating accident is around one major disaster in a decade based on the five core meltdowns since the 1950s, and this number does not even take into consideration the growing risks of ageing reactors.

Nuclear assets are also dangerous for investors even in the absence of a nuclear disaster. New reactor builds have been a clear investor ʻno-goʼ for at least a decade. Recently, even existing plants have come under increasing pressure from phase-out decisions, early retirements, large-scale regulatory and liability changes, and shrinking taxpayer and government support. The future of nuclear energy will be highly influenced by three tectonic changes:

* Post-Fukushima regulations that will require additional safety investments, shorter lifespans, higher operating and decommissioning costs, and stricter liability systems;
* Renewable energy, with falling costs and more installed capacity than nuclear plants1, is pushing nuclear out from the merit order and leading to lower plant utilization; and
* A strong reduction in subsidies, credit guarantees and other state supports to nuclear of earlier generous, but now highly indebted governments.

The report ‘Toxic Assets: nuclear reactors in the 21st century’ is written by Gyorgy Dallos & Lauri Myllyvirta and available at:

Contact: Greg McNevin, Greenpeace International Communications,
Tel: +81 80 5416 6507
Email: greg.mcnevin[at],

UK nuclear program: companies reconsider investments

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Steve Thomas, Professor of Energy Policy, University of Greenwich

When, six years ago, Tony Blair announced that nuclear power was ‘back with a vengeance’, the endorsement it gave the so-called ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ was powerful. In part, this was because UK still had prestige in this area as one of the pioneers of nuclear and one that seemed to have turned away from new nuclear. In addition, the British government’s confidence in the new nuclear designs that were meant to fire the Renaissance was so strong, it promised that no public subsidies would be needed or offered to new nuclear orders.

Six years on, when construction on the first units should be starting, it is clear that orders are still at least two years away from being placed. The government has abandoned the promise of no subsidies, the credibility of the new technologies is weak and the potential suppliers and buyers of new nuclear orders are abandoning the British market.

The government planned to expedite the process of ordering by requiring the safety regulator to carry out a Generic Design Assessment (GDA) for several of the new designs. This would mean buyers could choose between several designs, all of which were ready to order with only site-specific design issues to resolve. The GDA would be completed in 2011. It was promised that more than one electricity company would build new nuclear so that there would not be an effective monopoly.

The promise of no subsidies was assumed to mean that new reactors would survive purely from the income from selling their power into the competitive electricity market. Many doubted this claim. Indeed, the Liberal Democrat, Chris Huhne, now Energy Minister and an enthusiastic supporter of the nuclear program wrote in 2006: ‘The reality is that nuclear is a tried, tested and failed technology. Investors have taken a shrewd view of the risk, and have decided not to build. The operating and running costs of nuclear power are far from attractive and these costs do not include the unknown future costs of decommissioning reactors and storing waste that remains radioactive for thousands of years.’ Under Huhne, the cracks in the ‘no subsidies’ policy that were apparent under the previous government are now clear. The promise of no subsidies has become no subsidies that are not also offered to other forms of low carbon electricity. Britain has experience of such subsidies. From 1990-96, the Fossil Fuel Levy raised about BP 6 billion (in 1996 BP and US$ had about the same exchange rates as currently, so US$ 9.5bn; the euro did not exist, but 1 BP was about 2.3 German Marks)  from consumers for non fossil fuel generation. More than 95 per cent of the proceeds went to nuclear and, to add insult to injury, much of this was spent building a new reactor, Sizewell B, which a year after its completion was effectively given away.

New nuclear reactors will now be offered a long term contract, perhaps 20 years, at prices that will have no link to any market prices and the government has put a floor on the European Carbon market price of €36/ton, far above any level the market has produced so that nuclear is guaranteed extra income above the contract price. Even this may not guarantee that the income to nuclear power plant owners will cover their expenses sufficiently for banks to be willing to offer the necessary finance.

On the technology side, four vendors entered their designs into the GDA, but two of these, a Canadian design, ACR, and the GE-Hitachi ESBWR, exited within a year. This left the French European Pressurised water Reactor (EPR) supplied by Areva and the Westinghouse AP1000. By mid-2010, the regulator had acknowledged that it would not be able to give generic design approval in July 2011 as originally planned. Interim acceptance would be given with a list of issues still to be resolved. The Fukushima disaster caused a further delay and interim approval is not now expected until December 2011.

Westinghouse, which has no customers for the AP1000 in UK (or the rest of Europe) has stopped work on resolving these issues and will not resume work unless a firm customer appears. The regulator, the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has targeted the end of 2012 for resolution of the remaining items on the EPR but this seems highly optimistic. The ONR finds itself in the uncomfortable position of being the first regulator to complete a generic review of the EPR. The US regulator is probably a year behind the UK regulator, while the three countries already building EPRs, Finland, France and China, have all chosen to resolve detailed design issues as they go. This seems to be one of the factors behind the appalling delays and cost overruns at the Finnish and French sites. Both are now running at least four years late and expected construction costs are nearly double the original forecasts.

In addition, the Finnish, French and Chinese designs all have significant differences because regulatory issues raised during construction have come too late for the agreed solution to be incorporated in part-built plants. So the UK design will differ from the three designs already under construction. As a result of the problems in Finland and France, the French nuclear industry led by the utility, EDF and the vendor, Areva embarked this summer on a program of design rationalization to reduce costs and improve buildability. The results of this exercise are expected to come too late to be embodied in any UK orders and if they are extensive enough to make a significant dent in costs, they are also likely to require regulators in UK and USA to re-open their generic reviews.

On the utility side, the expectation that subsidies would be offered led to a large number of European utilities expressing an interest so that if the subsidies offered were large enough, they would be at the front of the queue to receive them. The four European utilities with a strong presence in the UK (EDF, RWE, EON and Iberdrola) and the two UK owned companies (Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) and Centrica) plus GDF Suez and Vattenfall all took positions. EDF (80 per cent) and Centrica (20 per cent) teamed up to buy the existing owner of some of the nuclear power plants in the UK, British Energy, giving them access to their existing sites. The German companies, EON and RWE, formed a consortium, Horizon, which bought options on land at existing nuclear sites, while SSE, GDF Suez and Iberdrola did likewise to form the NuGen consortium. However, by summer 2011, the consortia were cracking. RWE appointed consultants to look at selling all its UK assets in June and in October, it acknowledged that it was carrying out an internal review of whether to continue in the Horizon consortium. Given the firm policy to phase out nuclear in Germany by around 2020, it would be surprising if EON was not having similar thoughts. In September, SSE confirmed its withdrawal from the NuGen consortium.This leaves only EDF (Centrica has also been reported to have doubts) but given the shattered reputation of the EPR and ongoing attempts to redesign it, even EDF must be having second thoughts about building in the UK.

It would be nice to think that the government would belatedly see its policy was doomed and abandon it in favour of the German policy of energy efficiency and renewable but all the signs are that it will keep making concessions to shift the investment risk for nuclear away from plant owners on to consumers. The latest ‘rabbit from the hat’ was a claim by one of Huhne’s junior ministers, Charles Hendry that sovereign wealth funds from the Middle East and other oil-rich areas are "queuing up" to invest in UK nuclear power.

KPMG: carbon floor price not enough, more needed. Due to the huge costs and risks associated with nuclear construction plants will only be built with public support in the form of long-term power purchase agreements, according to David Simpson, global head of mergers and acquisitions at finance firm KPMG. But such contracts – Simpson expects the UK government to offer 35-year deals – could be illegal state aid under European Union competition rules. There has been no formal ruling. He said that, even if the law did not exclude those contracts, utilities’ shareholders would have to pay for their first nuclear plants, as investors would see the risks as too high to provide debt.

Yet Simpson said that if the consortia bidding to build plants in the UK used shareholder cash (assuming a €4,000/kW cost for 1,600MW plants), the net debt of all consortia member firms but one would exceed their market capitalisations. Utilities would also receive no income for years, until plants begin operating. It is also unclear whether utilities would have enough equity to begin follow-on plants – at a rate that would satisfy governments – well before initial projects were completed and generating income.

KPMG last year concluded that "Britain's new generation of nuclear power stations will not be built if the Government refuses them any more support." The study, commissioned by RWE npower, said it is still uneconomic for utility companies to invest billions of pounds in nuclear power and a carbon "floor price" is not enough for the big utilities to commit large capital investments. (WISE Amsterdam).
The Telegraph (UK), 17 July 2010 / PE, Professional Engineering, 3 October 2011

Source and contact: Steve Thomas, Professor of Energy Policy and Director of Research Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU), Business School, University of Greenwich, 30 Park Row London SE10 9LS, UK
Tel: +44 208 331 9056
Email: Stephen.Thomas[at]

The economics of nuclear reactors: renaissance or relapse?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dr. Mark Cooper

On June 29, the Government of Ontario (Canada) announced that it has suspended the competitive bidding process to procure two replacement nuclear reactors planned for a Darlington, Ontario site. On June 30, Exelon cited “economic woes” as a major factor in postponing for up to 20 years plans to build two nuclear reactors in Texas, USA. And on June 23, Moody’s Investor Services issued a report titled “New Nuclear Generation: Ratings Pressure Increasing.” The summary to the report included the following: “Moody's is considering “taking a more negative view for those issuers seeking to build new nuclear power plants … Rationale is premised on a material increase in business and operating risk … most utilities now seeking to build nuclear generation do not appear to be adjusting their financial policies, a credit negative.”

These three major developments in the nuclear power industry in late June underscore the key findings of the study “The Economics of Nuclear Reactors, Renaissance or Relapse?”, released on June 18 by economist Dr. Mark Cooper, a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. The analysis of over three dozen cost estimates for proposed new nuclear reactors shows that the projected price tags for the plants have quadrupled since the start of the industry’s so-called “nuclear renaissance” at the beginning of this decade – a striking parallel to the eventually seven-fold increase in reactor costs estimates that doomed the “Great Bandwagon Market” of the 1960s and 1970s, when in the U.S.A. half of planned nuclear reactors had to be abandoned or cancelled due to massive cost overruns.

Key Findings
Within the past year, estimates of the cost of nuclear power from a new generation of reactors have ranged from a low of 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) to a high of 30 cents. The paper tackles the debate over the cost of building new nuclear reactors, with the key findings as follows:

  • The initial cost projections put out early in today’s so-called “nuclear renaissance” were about one-third of what one would have expected, based on the nuclear reactors completed in the 1990s.
  • The most recent cost projections for new nuclear reactors are, on average, over four times as high as the initial “nuclear renaissance” projections
  • There are numerous options available to meet the need for electricity in a carbon-constrained environment that are superior to building nuclear reactors. Indeed, nuclear reactors are the worst option from the point of view of the consumer and society.
  • The low carbon sources that are less costly than nuclear include efficiency, cogeneration, biomass, geothermal, wind, solar thermal and natural gas. Solar photovoltaics that are presently more costly than nuclear reactors are projected to decline dramatically in price in the next decade. Fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage, which are not presently available, are projected to be somewhat more costly than nuclear reactors.
  • Numerous studies by Wall Street and independent energy analysts estimate efficiency and renewable costs at an average of 6 cents per kilowatt hour, while the cost of electricity from nuclear reactors is estimated in the range of 12 to 20 cents per kWh.
  • The additional cost of building 100 new nuclear reactors, instead of pursuing a least cost efficiency-renewable strategy, would be in the range of $1.9-$4.4 trillion over the life the reactors.

Whether the burden falls on ratepayers (in electricity bills) or taxpayers (in large subsidies), incurring excess costs of that magnitude would be a substantial burden on the national economy and add immensely to the cost of electricity and the cost of reducing carbon emissions.

This paper arrives at these conclusions by viewing the cost of nuclear reactors through four analytic lenses.

  • First, in an effort to pin down the likely cost of new nuclear reactors, the paper dissects three dozen recent cost projections.
  • Second, it places those projections in the context of the history of the nuclear industry with a database of the costs of 100 reactors built in the U.S. between 1971 and 1996.
  • Third, it examines those costs in comparison to the cost of alternatives available today to meet the need for electricity.
  • Fourth, it considers a range of qualitative factors including environmental concerns, risks and subsidies that affect decisions about which technologies to utilize in an environment in which public policy requires constraints on carbon emissions.

The stakes for consumers and the nation are huge. While some have called for the construction of 200 to 300 new nuclear reactors over the next 40 years, the much more modest task of building 100 reactors, which has been proposed by some policymakers as a goal, is used to put the stakes in perspective. Over the expected forty-year life of a nuclear reactor, the excess cost compared to least-cost efficiency and renewables would range from $19 billion to $44 billion per plant, with the total for 100 reactors reaching the range of $1.9 trillion to $4.4 trillion over the life the reactors.

Hope and Hype vs. Reality in reactor costs
From the first fixed price turnkey reactors in the 1960s to the May 2009 cost projection of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the claim that nuclear power is or could be cost competitive with alternative technologies for generating electricity has been based on hope and hype. In the 1960s and 1970s, the hope and hype analyses prepared by reactor vendors and parroted by government officials helped to create what came to be known as the “great bandwagon market.” In about a decade utilities ordered over 200 nuclear reactors of increasing size.

Unfortunately, reality did not deliver on the hope and the hype. Half of the reactors ordered in the 1960s and 1970s were cancelled, with abandoned costs in the tens of billions of dollars. Those reactors that were completed suffered dramatic cost overruns. On average, the final cohort of great bandwagon market reactors cost seven times as much as the cost projection for the first reactor of the great bandwagon market. The great bandwagon market ended in fierce debates in the press and regulatory proceedings throughout the 1980s and 1990s over how such a huge mistake could have been made and who should pay for it.

In an eerie parallel to the great bandwagon market, a series of startlingly low-cost estimates prepared between 2001 and 2004 by vendors and academics and supported by government officials helped to create what has come to be known as the “nuclear renaissance.” However, reflecting the poor track record of the nuclear industry in the U.S., the debate over the economics of the nuclear renaissance is being carried out before substantial sums of money are spent. Unlike the 1960s and 1970s, when the utility industry, reactor vendors and government officials monopolized the preparation of cost analyses, today Wall Street and independent energy analysts have come forward with much higher estimates of the cost of nuclear reactors

The most recent cost projections are, on average, over four times as high as the initial nuclear renaissance projections.

Even though the early estimates have been subsequently revised upward in the past year and utilities offered some estimates in regulatory proceedings that were twice as high as the initial projections, these estimates remain well below the projections from Wall Street and independent analysts. Moreover, in an ominous repeat of history, utilities are insisting on cost-plus treatment of their reactor projects and have steadfastly refused to shoulder the responsibility for cost overruns.

One thing that utilities and Wall Street analysts agree on is that nuclear reactors will not be built without massive direct subsidies either from the federal government or ratepayers, or from both.

In this sense, nuclear reactors remain as uneconomic today as they were in the 1980s when so many were cancelled or abandoned.

The economic costs of low carbon alternatives
There is a second major difference between the debate today and the debate in the 1970s and 1980s. In the earlier debate, the competition was almost entirely between coal and nuclear power generation. Today, because the debate is being carried out in the context of policies to address climate change, a much wider array of alternatives is on the table. While future fossil fuel (coal and natural gas) plants with additional carbon capture and storage technologies that are not yet available are projected to be somewhat more costly than nuclear reactors (see Figure ES-2), efficiency and renewables are also primary competitors and their costs are projected to be much lower than nuclear reactors.

Figure ES-2 presents the results of half a dozen recent studies of the cost of alternatives, including two by government entities, three by Wall Street analysts and one by an independent analyst. Figure ES-2 expresses the cost estimated by each study for each technology as a percentage of the study’s nuclear cost estimate. Every author identifies a number of alternatives that are less costly than nuclear reactors.

One of the central concerns about reliance on efficiency and renewables to meet future electricity needs is that they may not be available in sufficient supply. However, analysis of the technical potential to deliver economically practicable options for low-cost, low-carbon approaches indicates that the supply is ample to meet both electricity needs and carbon reduction targets for three decades or more based on efficiency, renewables and natural gas.

Analyses of the potential contribution and cost of efficiency and renewables, (by the Rand Corporation, McKinsey and Company, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy), clearly shows there is huge potential for low carbon approaches to meet electricity needs. To put this potential into perspective, long-term targets call for emissions reductions below 2005 levels of slightly more than 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. Even assuming that all existing low carbon sources (about 30 percent of the current mix) have to be replaced by 2030, there is more than ample potential in the efficiency and renewables.

Sources: Lazard, Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis - Version 2.0, June 2008, p. 2; CRS; Congressional Budget Office, Nuclear Power’s Role in Generating Electricity, May 2008;  CEC: California Energy Commission, N.D. Cost of Generation Model: User’s Guide, Version 1, N.D.;  Moody’s, New Nuclear Generating Capacity: Potential Credit Implications for U.S. Investor Owned Utilities, May 2008, p. 15.; Standard and Poors, The Race for the Green: How Renewable Portfolio Standards Could Affect U.S. Utility Credit Quality, March 10, 2008, p. 11.; Lovins Amory, and Imran Shiekh, and Alex Markevich, Nuclear Power: Climate Fix of Folly?, December 31, 2008.

With continuing demand growth, it would still not be until 2040 that costly or as yet nonexistent technologies would be needed. Thus, pursuing these low cost options first meets the need for electricity and emissions reductions, while allowing time for technologies to be developed, such as electricity storage or carbon capture, that could meet electricity needs after 2040. The contending technologies that would have to be included in the long term are all shown with equal costs, above the technologies that have lower costs because it is difficult to project costs that far out in future and there will likely be a great deal of technological change before those technologies must be tapped to add substantial incremental supplies.

Meeting electricity needs

In addition to their cost, nuclear reactors possess two other characteristics that make them an inferior choice among the options available.

  • The high capital costs and long construction lead times associated with nuclear reactors make them a risky source of electricity, vulnerable to market, financial, and technological change that strengthen the economic case against them.
  • While nuclear power is a low carbon source of electricity, it is not an environmentally benign source. The uranium fuel cycle has significant safety, security, and waste issues that are far more damaging than the environmental impact of efficiency and renewables.

Figure ES-4 depicts three critical characteristics of the alternatives available for meeting electricity needs in a carbon-constrained environment. The horizontal axis represents the economic cost. The vertical axis represents the societal cost (with societal cost including environmental, safety, and security concerns). The size of the circles represents the risk. Public policy should exploit the options closest to the origin, as these are the least-cost alternatives. Where the alternatives are equal on economic cost and societal impact, the less risky should be pursued.

Nuclear reactors are shown straddling the positive/negative line on societal impact. If the uranium production cycle – mining, processing, use and waste disposal – were deemed to have a major societal impact, nuclear reactors would be moved much higher on the societal impact dimension. If one believes that nuclear reactors have a minor impact, reactors would be moved down on the societal impact dimension. In either case, there are numerous options that should be pursued first. Thus, viewed from a multidimensional perspective, including economic, environmental, and risk factors, there are numerous preferable alternatives.

Source: Calculated by author.

The impact of subsidies
As noted, nuclear reactors are very unlikely to be built without ratepayer and taxpayer subsidies. Many of the hope and hype analyses advance scenarios in which carbon is priced and nuclear reactors are the beneficiaries of large subsidies. Under those sets of extreme assumptions, nuclear reactors become less costly than fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage costs. However, they do not become less costly than efficiency and renewables. High carbon costs make efficiency and renewables more attractive.

Moreover, public policy has not tended to be quite so biased, although the supporters of nuclear power would like it to be. Imposing a price on carbon makes all low carbon options, including efficiency and renewables, more attractive as options. Subsidy programs tend to be applied to all low carbon technologies. As a result, although the carbon pricing and subsidy programs implemented and contemplated in recent years tend to impose cost on consumers or shift them from ratepayers to taxpayers; they do not change the order in which options enter the mix. In other words, given pricing and subsidies that simply values carbon emission or its abatement, the economic costs as estimated above dictate the order in which options are implemented. Nuclear reactors remain the worst option. It is possible to bias policies so severely that the order of priority changes, but that simply imposes unnecessary costs on consumers, taxpayers, and society.

The highly touted renaissance of nuclear power is based on fiction, not fact. It got a significant part of its momentum in the early 2000s with a series of cost projections that vastly understated the direct costs of nuclear reactors. As those early cost estimates fell by the wayside and the extremely high direct costs of nuclear reactors became apparent, advocates for nuclear power turned to climate change as the rationale to offset the high cost. But introducing environmental externalities does not resuscitate the nuclear option for two reasons. First, consideration of externalities improves the prospects of non-fossil, non-nuclear options to respond to climate change. Second, introducing externalities so prominently into the analysis highlights nuclear power’s own environmental problems. Even with climate change policy looming, nuclear power cannot stand on its own two feet in the marketplace, so its advocates are forced to seek to prop it up by shifting costs and risks to ratepayers and taxpayers.

The aspiration of the nuclear enthusiasts, embodied in early reports from academic institutions, like MIT, has become desperation, in the updated MIT report, precisely because their reactor cost numbers do not comport with reality. Notwithstanding their hope and hype, nuclear reactors are not economically competitive and would require massive subsidies to force them into the supply mix. It was only by ignoring the full range of alternatives -- above all efficiency and renewables -- that the MIT studies could pretend to see an economic future for nuclear reactors, but the analytic environment has changed from the early days of the great bandwagon market, so that it is much more difficult to get away with passing off hope and hype as reality.

The massive shift of costs necessary to render nuclear barely competitive with the most expensive alternatives and the huge amount of leverage (figurative and literal) that is necessary to make nuclear power palatable to Wall Street and less onerous on ratepayers is simply not worth it because the burden falls on taxpayers. Policymakers, regulators, and the public should turn their attention to and put their resources behind the lower-cost, more environmentally benign alternatives that are available. If nuclear power’s time ever comes, it will be far in the future, after the potential of the superior alternatives available today has been exhausted.

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Indonesia: Tender postponed indefinitely.
Indonesian State Minister of Research and Technology Kusmayanto Kadiman announced late last month (May) that the tendering process for new nuclear power plants, expected to be completed by the end of the year, have been postponed indefinitely. The process has lacked political support and with presidential elections due in July, the government has pulled the plug. Kusmayanto said, ‘It's impossible to decide now. For the fastest, it will possibly take at last six more years.’ This destroys plans to have a nuclear power plant operating in the 2016-2019 timeframe established by Indonesian Law No. 17/2007.

Nuclear Reaction, 18 June 2009

Sweden: smiling sun banned from Parliament.
Seven antinuclear activists who went to the Swedish Parliament to listen to the energy debate on June 16, were forced to leave the public gallery and were thereafter taken into inquiry by the police. This has never happened before. The reason was that five of them where wearing t-shirts with the smiling sun, the well known antinuclear symbol. Most of them activists were members of the Swedish antinuclear movement and some belong to the Swedish Green woman.

Email: Eia Liljegren-Palmær, 19 June 2009

U.K.: Serious accident averted at Sizewell.
A serious accident at the Sizewell A Magnox reactor was only averted because a worker cleaning clothes in a laundry noticed cooling water leaking from a spent fuel storage pond. In January 2007 40,000 gallons of radioactive water (1 gallon (UK) is about 4.54609 liter)  leaked from a 15ft (4.5 meter) split in a pipe in the cooling pond, containing 5,000 spent fuel rods and alarms failed to warn staff or were ignored. If the pond had emptied of water and exposed the highly-radioactive rods would have caught fire with an airborne release of radioactivity. Thanks to the worker in the laundry staff were able to contain the leak - discharging the radioactive waster into the sea - and re-fill the pond.

A new report on the accident has now been published. It is written by nuclear consultant Dr John Large, commissioned by the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign and based on Nuclear Installation Inspectorate reports released under Freedom of Information. The NII report highlighted a number of serious concerns surrounding the accident. Not only did the pond alarms fail, but had it worked it would have triggered another alarm that had already been on for two days but ignored by staff. There was also poorly designed and poorly installed instrumentation and control equipment. The NII report also suggests that it chose not to prosecute the operators because of staff shortages.

N-base briefing 618, 17 june 2009

Spain: renewal of operation license Garona?
On June 8, the five-member board of Spain's Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) unanimously agreed to recommend that the Garona nuclear plant in northern Spain should get a new 10-year operating licence if it upgrades its safety equipment. The 38-year-old nuclear plant's licence expires on July 5. Nuclear Safety Council chairwoman Carmen Martinez Ten said the decision was taken on technical and security grounds and not for reasons of "energy policy, economics or another nature".

The Spanish government will have to take a clear stand for or against nuclear power before July 5, when it decides whether to renew the operating licence Garona, the oldest of the country's six nuclear plants. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose socialist government has backed the developmentof  renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, has said he wants to phase out nuclear energy in the country when the life span of its six nuclear plants expires. A decision to prolong the life of the Garona plant would be a major u-turn for Zapatero, who pledged to gradually phase out nuclear power during general elections in 2004 and 2008. However, the prime minister said. "The decision regarding Garona will be coherent with the commitments in our election programme as long as the supply of power is guaranteed," This statement was seen by some observers as a sign that the government was leaning towards renewing, maybe for a short period. Later in June, CSN said the government asked their opinion about renewing the permit for two, four or six years, rather than the 10 years. The 500 megawatt Garona plant provided just 1.3 percent of Spain's electricity last year and grid operators say its closure would pose no supply problems.

The Spanish branch of Greenpeace has urged the government not to renew the licence of the plant, arguing it is unsafe. It has called it the "plant of 1,000 fissures". The two utilities running the plant, Iberdrola and Endesa, estimate it will cost 50 million euros (US$70 million) to carry out the upgrades to the plants safety equipment recommended by the CSN.

Spain, along with Denmark and Germany, is among the three biggest producers of wind power in the European Union and the country is one of the largest world producers of solar power.

AFP, 11 June 2009 / Reuters, 19 June 2009

Blows for IAEA Fuel Bank proposal. Developing countries blocked plans by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for nuclear fuel banks that aim to keep countries from acquiring sensitive nuclear technology by offering them alternatives. The Vienna-based agency and Western countries had hoped the IAEA's governing board would give the green light for fleshing out plans to sway countries to buy rather than make nuclear fuel, by offering an insurance in case their supply is cut off for political reasons. But a June 18, joint statement by the Group of 77 (a coalition of developing countries and the Non-Aligned Movement) said that "none of the proposals provide a proper assurance of supply of nuclear fuel." The plans "should not be designed in a way that discourages states from developing or expanding their capabilities in the nuclear fuel cycle". The 35 members of the board agreed only that the nuclear agency "may continue its consultations and discussions" to further work on the fuel bank proposals, according to diplomats at the meeting.

The idea of the IAEA Fuel Bank was to keep countries from acquiring uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies, which can be used not only for energy purposes, but also for making nuclear bomb material. However, developing countries fear that such plans would pressure them to give up their right to peacefully using nuclear energy.

Meanwhile, in May the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Verhagen, concluded that the British, German and Dutch (the countries that form the Urenco enrichment consortium) initiative for assured supply for low enriched nuclear fuel failed. In May he wrote to Dutch Parliament that “many countries see this condition (giving up enrichment and reprocessing) as discriminating and an unacceptable violation of their rights under the non-proliferation treaty”.

Another blow for the concept of Multilateral Approaches, which is seen by many proponents of nuclear power as one of the main ways to counter proliferation worries.

Earthtimes, 18 June 2209 / Laka Foundation, 18 may 2009

Discussion on new-build in Germany heats up. Germany's economy minister ruled out building new nuclear power stations but said the life of some reactors might be extended and the development of alternative technologies stepped up. "We need limited extensions until we are able to work with sensible alternative technologies in an economical and environmentally friendly manner," Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily in an interview, published on June 19.. "That includes the possibility of equipping existing nuclear power stations with state-of-the-art technology in order to make them even safer and more efficient," the conservative minister said. "But I see no need to build new nuclear reactors." General elections are due in September. On September 5, a nationwide demonstration will take place in Berlin.

Nuclear Reaction, 22 June 2009

Japan: MOX target delayed. Japanese plans for 16-18 reactors to be using mixed oxide (MOX) fuel by 2010 have been put back by five years, the country's Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPCO) has announced. Up until 1998, Japan sent the bulk of its used fuel to plants in France and the UK for reprocessing and MOX fabrication. However, since 1999 it has been storing used fuel in anticipation of full-scale operation of its own reprocessing and MOX fabrication facilities. Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd's (JNFL's) reprocessing plant under construction at Rokkasho-mura is scheduled for completion in August 2009, but earlier this year the company put back the completion date for its planned J-MOX fabrication facility from August 2012 to August 2015. Construction work on the fabrication facility is scheduled to begin in November 2009. Four shipments of reactor-grade plutonium recovered from used fuel have been sent back to Japan from European reprocessing plants since 1992. The most recent arrived in Japan from France in May 2009.

World Nuclear News, 12 June 2009

Australia: union action on radioactive waste. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has welcomed the support of Australia’s peak trade union body ACTU in pushing for an end to any federal government move to impose a radioactive waste dump on the Northern Territory and developing a credible and responsible approach to radioactive waste management in Australia. On June 4, the ACTU Congress in Brisbane passed a resolution critical of the government’s delay in delivering on a 2007 election commitment on radioactive waste management and called for an independent and public inquiry into the best options for dealing with radioactive waste.

“The ACTU’s active support in this issue is powerful and very welcome,” said ACF nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney. “The federal government was elected on a promise to scrap the heavy handed waste dump laws and make radioactive waste policy responsible and transparent.  It has failed to deliver on this promise and this resolution is an important reminder to the government and to Resources Minister Ferguson that the community expects better.”

The ACTU now joins a broad range of environment and public health groups, Indigenous organisations and state, territory and local governments concerned by the federal government’s lack of responsible and inclusive action on this issue.

ACF Press release, 5 June 2009

U.S.: doubts about decommissioning funds. Two days after Associated Press reported that operators of nearly half of the US' 104 nuclear reactors are not setting aside enough funds to cover projected decommissioning costs, the NRC has contacted owners of 18 nuclear power plants asking them to explain how the economic downturn has affected funds they must set aside to cover future decommissioning costs. The AP report said the shortfalls have been caused by a combination of falling investments and rising decommissioning costs. Plant operators are required to establish funding during a reactor's operating life to ensure the reactor site will be properly cleaned up once the plant is permanently closed, the NRC said, adding that its review of the latest reports from reactor operators "suggests several plants must adjust their funding plans." Tim McGinty, director of policy and rulemaking in the NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation said: "This is not a current safety issue, but the plants do have to prove to us they're setting aside money appropriately."

Platts, 19 June 2009

Areva and EDF: business prospects and risks in nuclear energy

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Steve Thomas

A new report from the Public Services International Research Unit at the University of Greenwich casts doubt on the ability of the nuclear industry to deliver its promised new reactors. The report "Areva and EDF: Business prospects and risks in nuclear energy", published on June 16, is written by Professor of Energy Policy Steve Thomas and commissioned by Greenpeace International. It examines the financial situations of EDF and Areva and, in particular, what the impact of problems at the Olkiluoto (Finland) and Flamanville (France) nuclear construction sites will be on these companies and their shareholders. It looks at how dependent these companies are on the achievement of their objective to obtain orders for at least 35 more EPRs in the next decade and it examines what part these companies will have in financing these orders.

The ownership of both companies is dominated by the French government and the government has consistently used its ownership of these companies as an arm of government policy. For example in the 1970s and 1980s, EDF and Areva’s predecessor, Framatome, was given whatever resources and backing needed to carry through the government’s nuclear ambitions. The French government continues to use these companies as a policy instrument and is therefore unlikely to want to lose control of these companies. While there is a likelihood that the French government will sell some more EDF shares and that private capital will come into Areva, for example through Bouygues, ownership is likely to continue to be dominated by the French government. For the foreseeable future, the shareholders of the two companies will essentially be the French government, especially after the withdrawal of Siemens from Areva NP. The withdrawal of Siemens from Areva NP, apparently because it was unable to influence Areva NP’s policies sufficiently, will also remove a potential obstacle to the French government influencing Areva’s policies to meet its own priorities. However, the withdrawal of Siemens from Areva NP does present financial problems because of the need to find the capital to buy Siemens out. It remains to be seen whether it will lose significant technical expertise and how quickly Siemens can emerge as a major competitor in nuclear markets.

Government ownership is a strength and a weakness to both companies. It gives both companies huge financial strength and strategic backing in world markets, for example through loan guarantees for exports orders. However, the French government’s policy objectives might not always align with the corporate interests of the two companies. For example, the French government could impose restructuring on Areva, such as privatisation, merger with Alstom or a partnership with Bouygues, which are not in Areva’s own interests.

The French market for Areva and EDF
Any plausible cost overruns at Flamanville, which will represent less than 2% of EDF’s generating capacity in France, can probably easily be absorbed, while the output is not needed to meet French demand so construction time overrun will also have little impact. However, it seems implausible that the European Commission will allow EDF to continue to have a de facto monopoly in the French electricity market and at least one major competitor, probably GDF Suez, is likely to be given or allowed to take a significant proportion of the market. What this will mean for the existing nuclear plants is far from clear. Transferring a proportion of them to a competitor would be highly contentious and would be fiercely resisted, but even if EDF retains these, it seems likely that EDF’s ability to use its French customer base to underwrite foreign investments will be reduced. The proposal to extend the lives of the existing plants to 60 years probably makes economic sense to EDF. However, if the plants were kept in operation for an additional 20 years, the market for EPRs in France would be very small and it would make it hard for EDF to retain its capabilities as a nuclear plant designer and engineer.

For Areva, it will be difficult for any competitors to make any impression on the French market share but even the threat of limited competition could erode Areva’s profit margins.

The company’s reprocessing business is likely to shrink unless the trend to plan to dispose of spent fuel directly is reversed. EDF will be reluctant to reprocess its spent fuel if, as seems likely, direct disposal is cheaper. EDF’s proposal to extend the lives of its existing plants to 60 years means that the huge replacement market for reactors in France that Areva was expecting would dominate its EPR sales is effectively indefinitely postponed and its future reactor sales can only be a small proportion of those previously expected.

Foreign markets
EDF has adopted a new policy in the last year of investing heavily in electric utilities in markets where it hopes to build and operate EPRs and it has announced it expects to invest up to €50 billion (US$ 70 billion) in new nuclear power plants worldwide by 2020. In the UK and the USA, EDF has bought existing nuclear power plants as well as planning to build new ones. It has bought British Energy for about €15 billion, 49.9% of Constellation’s nuclear assets for about €6bn (USA). Its British Energy and Constellation investments have been criticised for being overpriced.

Losses with existing plants can mount up very fast, as was illustrated in the UK in 2002 when British Energy collapsed alarmingly quickly because the cost of its power fell marginally below the market price. If the nuclear markets in USA and UK do not materialise, EDF could be left with some very expensive assets of limited value. For China, EDF has taken a minority stake in a company building new nuclear plants, while its role in South Africa, if any, is not yet clear. If the projected sales of EPRs other than those in USA and the UK do not materialise, the impact on EDF will probably not be major. It would have acquired the resources it would need to fulfil these plans and if the plans do not materialise, it will simply not acquire these resources.

Areva is also investing heavily in foreign markets, especially the USA, where it is expecting to build major new facilities. For future reactor sales, Areva NP is heavily committed to just one reactor design, the EPR, with its other options a long way from commercial application. Its projections of reactor sales do not seem realistic and if the manufacturing facilities it is building are left under-utilised, this could be costly to them. If the EPR continues to encounter technical problems or if the US (or UK) safety regulatory processes throw up significant issues, Areva NP will have serious problems remaining a credible reactor vendor, especially after its errors with its previous design, the N4. Unless it can salvage the Olkiluoto project, which is three years late and at least 50% over-budget, very quickly, the damage to its reputation will be severe. Prospective customers will hardly be impressed by a vendor locked in a bitter struggle with one of its customers, appearing to try to renege on a turnkey contract.

Finance, debt and credit ratings
Both EDF and Areva have long had a stream of secure business with limited competition that dominates their financial position. In the case of EDF, it is the French electricity market, where it has an effective monopoly over most sectors of the market. For Areva, there are its reactor servicing and fuel supply businesses especially in France where it has had a market for the 58 operating reactors with little realistic competition. These large, relatively secure markets are on such a scale that the losses even from major failures such as the Olkiluoto project and perhaps the Flamanville project can be absorbed over 3 or 4 years with relatively little impact on their overall profits. They have also allowed the companies to take on relatively risky investments, such as EDF’s investments in South America secure in the knowledge that these would be underwritten by their core businesses. However, both companies appear to be moving in to a period where these secure businesses will become more risky. This comes at a time when their strategic plans call for major investments, which will tend to significantly increase their debt levels, perhaps putting their high credit rating at risk. Both companies have said they want to sell existing businesses to keep their indebtedness under control, but whether they can find businesses to sell that will not damage their corporate prospects and will raise enough money to achieve this remains to be seen. A weakening of their credit rating will have consequences that will be felt throughout their businesses.

Source: "Areva and EDF: Business prospects and risks in nuclear energy." Steve Thomas. Professor of Energy Policy. Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU). Business School, University of Greenwich, U.K.
The report is commissioned by Greenpeace International and available at:
Contact: Greenpeace International, Otto Heldringstraat 5, 1066 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Tel: +31-0-207182229

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

U.K.: What's in our dump?

The operators of the Drigg national low-level waste facility have asked former workers to tell them what is buried there. In an advert in local papers LLW Repository Limited asked workers who tipped nuclear waste into the site's open trenches over a 25-year period from 1960 to try and remember what it was they dumped. The company said it did have records of what was dumped but they wanted "a clearer picture".

Cumberland News 14 February 2009

Greenpeace: illegal state aid Romania and Bulgaria.

On February 25, Greenpeace has filed complaints to the European Commission over alleged illegal state aid for the construction of two nuclear reactors in Romania and two in Bulgaria. The environmental organization argues that both countries violate EU competition rules. Jan Haverkamp, EU energy campaigner for Greenpeace, said: "We have been investigating for many months the unfair competition conditions that have been granted to the nuclear sector in Romania and Bulgaria. We have now submitted the evidence we have collected to the European Commission, and are calling for urgent action to correct these flagrant market distortions."

The Romanian government earmarked 220 million Euro for the Cernavoda 3 and 4 nuclear power plant. On top of this, the state spent EUR350 million in taxpayers´ money for the purchase of heavy water for the new power station, as well as EUR800 million to increase the capital of state utility S.N. Nuclearelectrica - S.A., with the purpose of supporting its financial contributions to the project.

The Bulgarian government has invested 300 million Bulgarian Leva (154 million Euro) in state utility NEK for the construction of the Belene nuclear power station, as well as another 400 million Leva (205 million Euro) in NEK's parent holding BEH, partly also meant for Belene. According to Greenpeace, all of these investments are in violation of EU competition law.

Press release, Greenpeace EU Unit, 25 February 2009

EDF debt increased to nearly 25 billion Euro.

French energy group and the world’s biggest operator of nuclear power stations, EDF could be forced to sell some of its power stations in France to help to fund its £12.2 billion acquisition of Britain’s nuclear industry. EDF shocked investors by unveiling a fall of nearly 40 per cent in annual profits (slipped to 3.54 billion euro in 2008, compared with 5.6 billion Euro in 2007) and warning that its debt pile had increased to nearly €25 billion (US$ 32 billion) after a string of acquisitions, including those of British Energy and America’s Constellation Energy.

EDF, which is 85 % owned by the French State, is aiming to cut its debt by at least 5 billion Euro by the end of 2010 and much of this would be achieved through asset sales. A number of foreign energy companies, including Enel, of Italy, have previously expressed an interest in entering the French power market.

The Times (U.K.), 13 february 2009

GDF Suez pulls out of Belene!

An important victory and another sign that the Belene project is too risky! French utility GDF Suez has decided to pull out of Bulgaria's planned nuclear plant of Belene. GDF Suez's Belgian subsidiary Electrabel had been in talks to take part in German utility RWE's 49-percent stake in Bulgaria's 4 billion Euro plant. RWE confirmed it had not reached an agreement with GDF Suez but said it would continue to develop the project as planned. "Financial, technical, economic and organization questions are in focus and safety of course comes first in all our considerations," a RWE spokesman told Reuters. Sources familiar with the Bulgarian nuclear project have said the global financial crisis and tighter liquidity have made raising funding extremely difficult and that it was likely the plant's starting date would go beyond the planned 2013-2014.

GDF Suez is focusing on its other nuclear projects, a company spokesman said. The company is trying to grab a share of the nuclear revival with plans to take part in the second and possibly the third new-generation French nuclear reactors as well as in nuclear power projects in Britain, Romania and in Abu Dhabi.

Reuters, 28 February 2009

More delays for Rokkasho.

The commercial start-up of Japan’s Rokkasho reprocessing plant has suffered a further delay. On January 30, its owner, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JNFL), filed an application with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to change its construction plan, pushing the scheduled completion date of the plant back to August 2009. A few years ago JNFL had planned to commence full operation of the plant in November 2007.

Groups and individuals have been campaigning against this plant ever since 1985, when Aomori Prefecture agreed to allow it to be constructed. If the Rokkasho reprocessing ever operates at full capacity, it will reprocess 800 tons of spent fuel and extract about 8 tons of plutonium per year. In the course of regular operations, when spent fuel assemblies are cut up (shearing), radioactive gases are released from the chimney stack. These include radioactive isotopes of krypton, xenon, iodine, cesium, etc.. Later in the process, other radioactive materials are released into the sea as liquid waste. These include tritium, carbon-14, iodine-129, plutonium, etc.. It is said that a reprocessing plant releases as much radioactivity in one day as a nuclear reactor releases in one year.

In addition, there are international concerns that the operation of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant will accelerate trends towards nuclear proliferation. The process used at Rokkasho will produce a 1:1 mixed oxide of plutonium and uranium. The Japanese government says that it is difficult to produce nuclear weapons from this. However, this is not true. Scientists in the US, and also the International Atomic Energy Agency, recognize that this material can readily be transformed into nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Engineering International, 18 February 2009 / Nuke Info Tokyo (CNIC)

U.K.: Leaked for 14 years.

Radioactive waste leaked from a decontamination unit at the Bradwell nuclear power station for 14 years, Chelmsford Crown Court was told late January. The operators, Magnox Electric, were found guilty of allowing unauthorized disposal of radioactive waste from 1990 to 2004 when the problem was discovered. The court was told the leak was caused by poor design and no routine inspection or maintenance. Chief inspector for the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, Mike Weightman, said it was not possible to "inspect or check every feature of a complex plant" but once the leak was discovered regulators took quick action.

N-base 601, 11 February 2009

Iraq takes first step to nuclear power, again….

On February 22, Iraqi Electricity Minister Karim Wahid says Baghdad is taking initial steps to construct the country's first nuclear power plant in cooperation with France. "I am willing to enter into contacts with the French nuclear agency and to start to build a nuclear power plant, because the future is nuclear," said Wahid. Iraq had sealed a contract with France to construct a nuclear reactor during Saddam Hussein's regime in 1976. The construction of the Osirak reactor however remained unfinished after Israeli warplanes bombed the facility in 1981. Tel Aviv accused the regime of building nuclear weapons. In the 1990 Iraq was accused of having a secret nuclear weapons program. Already in 1991 in the first few days of Gulf War I Iraqi nuclear energy capability (research reactor, hot-cells, etc.) was said to be destroyed by the US-led international coalition. However, in the decade that followed Iraq was still accused of having a covert nuclear program, but in search of such a program, after the Gulf War-II in 2003 nothing was found.

Press TV (Iraq), 22 February 2009 / Laka Foundation, sources 1992 & 2003

France: TV show reveals radioactive risk.

Fears that radioactive material taken from France’s old uranium mines has been used in construction have been raised by a TV documentary. According to investigators for the program Pièces à Conviction (Incriminating evidence), there are many sites where radioactive material is a potential health risk including schools, playgrounds, buildings and car parks. Very little uranium is now mined in Europe, but France carried out mining from 1945 – 2001 at 210 sites which have now been revealed by IRSN, the Institute of Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety on its website. Problems stem from millions of tons of reject rock which contained small amount of uranium which are still stocked at some of the sites along with 50 million tons of waste from extraction factories.
The documentary on France 3 also revealed that some reject rock has also been used as construction rubble in areas used by the public, that there have been some radioactive leaks into the environment from waste and that some “rehabilitated” areas where building has been taken place had been contaminated with radon. Before the program went out Areva had lodged a complaint about it with the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel concerned that its intention was to make accusations against the firm. The program makers said they had “opened a national debate on uranium waste in France”.

The Connection (Fr.), 13 February 2009

Largest Pu transport ever from Europe to Japan.

Secret preparations are underway in Britain and France for shipping 1.8 tons of plutonium, the largest quantity of plutonium ever shipped by sea. The plutonium is contained in 65 assemblies of MOX (mixed plutonium and uranium oxide) fuel and is being shipped to Japan for use in the nuclear power plants of three Japanese electric utilities. No details have been revealed, but it is reported that the fuel will be transported by two British-flagged vessels, escorting each other.

The vessels are to depart Europe anytime on or after March 1st. Neither the hour of departure nor the maritime route to be used will be revealed before the ships depart. The United States must approve the transport plan before the shipment can proceed. The MOX fuel to be transported has been fabricated in France by Areva NC. The three possible routes for the shipment are around the Cape of Good Hope and through the South Pacific, around South America, or, through the Panama Canal.

Japanese electric utilities hope the fuel to be shipped will start its troubled MOX fuel utilization program which was to begin a decade ago in 1999. Many more shipments are scheduled to follow and could take different routes.

Green Action (Japan) Press Release 24th Feb 2009

IAEA: Syrian uranium-traces manmade.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said traces of uranium taken from the site of an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria were manmade. The report by the IAEA on the Dair Alzour site puts strong pressure on Damascus as it rejects the Syrian explanation for the presence of uranium.

The IAEA-report says that after an initial visit in June 2008, which revealed the presence of processed uranium, inspectors had not been allowed back to Dair Alzour and other sites where debris might have been stored, on the grounds they were "military installations".

IAEA denounces the Syrian government for its lack of cooperation with the agency's inquiry. "Syria has stated that the origin of the uranium particles was the missiles used to destroy the building," the IAEA report says. "The agency's current assessment is that there is a low probability that the uranium was introduced by the use of missiles as the isotopic and chemical composition and the morphology of the particles are all inconsistent with what would be expected from the use of uranium-based munitions."

The IAEA says Israel also failed to cooperate, but its findings give weight to the Israeli and US allegation that Dair Alzour was a secret reactor intended for eventual production of weapons. The report explicitly questions Syria's denials.

Circulation of the IAEA-report is restricted; it cannot be released to the public unless the IAEA Board decides otherwise. However, it can be found at:

Guardian, 19 February 2009

U.S.: Another spectactular US$50 billion No Nukes Victory

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Harvey Wasserman

For the third straight year, against all odds, a national grassroots No Nukes campaign has stripped out of the federal budget a proposed US$50 billion (39 billion Euro) boondoggle for new atomic reactors. The victory gives a giant boost to solar, wind, efficiency, mass transit and other Solartopian technologies that can solve global warming sustain real economic growth and bring us a truly green-powered Earth.

This latest victory came February 11, as a top-level Congressional conference committee ironed out the last details of the Obama stimulus package. The loan guarantee scam was slipped into the Senate version by Republican Bob Bennett in cooperation with Democrat Tom Carper. The loan guarantees would have backed a Department of Energy program supporting new reactor construction, despite a report from the Government Accountability Office warning that such projects would bankrupt more than half the utilities that might undertake them.

A national grassroots campaign involving virtually all major environmental organizations dealing with energy once again underscored the overwhelming green opposition to atomic power. The Nuclear Information & Resource Service, Beyond Nuclear, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Environment America,, Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, IEER, Center for American Progress, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action, Rainforest International and more than 200 national and local environmental and taxpayer organizations joined in opposition to the guarantees.

A similar victory was won in the fall of 2007 when a $50 billion loan guarantee was slipped into the national energy bill by then-Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). The campaign prompted a song from Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Ben Harper and Keb Mo posted at With the help of, it delivered more than 120,000 signatures to Congress in less than three months.

In 2008 the industry was forced to withdraw a blank check loan guarantee program when the banking system collapsed.

The No Nukes victory came within hours of the passing of Guy Chichester, a legendary founder of the Clamshell Alliance and National Green Party. Chichester helped lead the mass demonstrations at the Seabrook (NH) nuclear site that thrust the atomic power issue into the global limelight. In the 1977 'Last Resort' ( Guy became one of the first to speak on film about a green-powered Earth, arguing that the money being squandered on Seabrook should instead go to renewable energy which would create thousands of jobs and save the planet. As a green pioneer, Chichester’s innumerable -often humor-filled- non-violent arrests were matched only by his great heart and loving spirit.

Ironically, this latest push for reactor subsidies coincides with what may be a death blow to the proposed Yucca Mountain radioactive waste dump. Opposed by both Reid and President Obama, the multi-billion-dollar project may be defunded. After a half-century, the US has no high level nuke waste repository, and none planned.

No one expects an end to the industry’s relentless assault on the taxpayer trough. New reactor cost estimates have tripled since 2007 and are likely to at least double again. Michael Mariotte of NIRS says pro-nukers now want atomic energy labeled “green” in a national renewable energy standard. As Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear points out, additional attempts to get money are likely to follow in upcoming debate on an Energy Bill and other legislation.

But as renewables and efficiency and the movement supporting them surge ahead, the Solartopian vision of a truly green planet, free of fossil/nuke power, becomes ever more real.

Source and contact: Harvey Wasserman, The Free Press, 12 February 2009

U.S. Nuclear Industry Seeks Yucca Alternative.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is urging the Obama Administration to approve a nuclear waste commission. The commission would be used to find alternatives to burying radioactive fuel at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. An NEI official presented a proposal to state utility regulators, which would allow the Department of Energy to continue pursuing construction of the Yucca repository, but would make the commission a fallback if the Yucca Mountain project is halted. President Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have already endorsed the idea of a plan B, saying it's necessary to review the safety and efficacy of disposing used nuclear fuel. During the presidential elections both Democrats-candidates Obama and Hillary Clinton opposed the Yucca Mountain repository.

However, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a group of state officials on February 18, he favors moving toward licensing a nuclear waste repository in Nevada, although whether it would ever be built is another thing altogether.
But… according to the Nuclear Energy Institute blog, several people who were at the 20-minute session said Chu stressed that President Barack Obama doesn't want the Yucca repository, "and I work for the president."

Latest: On February 23, Congress proposed slashing Yucca Mountain's funding by nearly another US$100 million (80 million Euro) for the remainder of fiscal 2009, severely gutting the project and potentially forcing several hundred job layoffs. The House proposes US$288.3 million annualized for the remainder of the fiscal year, down from US$386.4 million approved for the project last fall. Funding already had been cut more than 20 percent over the past two years. Workers at the project's headquarters in Summerlin have been bracing for layoffs. Many of them are already leaving.

KXNT Radio, Texas, US, 17 February 2009 / / Las Vegas Sun, 23 February 2009


Clinton's investment in uranium

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

An article in The New York Times on Jan. 31, 2008 implied that former U.S. President Bill Clinton used political influence in Kazakhstan to allow Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra to invest in what turned out to be a very profitable uranium venture in return for Giustra's major donations to Clinton's foundation. According to the NYT, Giustra's deal was brokered by ex-president Clinton during a so-called "philanthropic tour" of the Central Asian state in late 2005. A few months later, Clinton's charitable foundation received just over US$30 million from Giustra, followed by a whopping US$ 100 million soon afterwards.

WISE Amsterdam - Frank Giustra, heads a specialist investment bank, Endeavour Financial, which picks opportunities in the minerals sector. Previously he was president and CEO of Yorkton Securities, one of Canada's leading venture capital firms and also a major investor in mining. In late 2004, Mr. Giustra began talking to investors, and put together a company that would eventually be called UrAsia Energy Ltd.

Late on September 6, 2005, a private plane carrying the Canadian mining financier flew to Almaty, Kazakhstan. A fortune awaited: highly coveted deposits of uranium. And Mr. Giustra was in hot pursuit of an exclusive deal to tap them. Unlike more established competitors, Mr. Giustra was a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan. But what his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections. Accompanying Mr. Giustra that day was a former president of the United States, Bill Clinton. Within two days, corporate records show that Mr. Giustra came up a winner when his company signed preliminary agreements giving it the right to buy into three uranium projects controlled by Kazakhstan's state-owned uranium agency, Kazatomprom.

A spokesman for Mr. Clinton said the former president knew that Mr. Giustra had mining interests in Kazakhstan but was unaware of "any particular efforts" and did nothing to help. Mr. Giustra said he was there as an "observer only" and there was "no discussion" of the deal with Mr. Nazarbayev or Mr. Clinton. But Moukhtar Dzhakishev, president of Kazatomprom, said in an interview that Mr. Giustra did discuss it, directly with the Kazakh president, and that his friendship with Mr. Clinton "of course made an impression."

Within 48 hours of Mr. Clinton's departure from Almaty on Sept. 7, 2005, Mr. Giustra got his deal. UrAsia signed two memorandums of understanding that paved the way for the company to become partners with Kazatomprom in three mines. The cost to UrAsia was more than US$450 million. Clinton’s foundation has a right to half of any of Giustra’s future minerals earnings.

Records show that Mr. Giustra donated the US$31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation in the months that followed in 2006, but neither he nor a spokesman for Mr. Clinton would say exactly when. In February 2007, Uranium One agreed to pay US$3.1 billion to acquire UrAsia. Mr. Giustra, would be paid US$7.05 per share for a company that just two years earlier was trading at 10 cents per share.

That same month, Mr. Dzhakishev, the Kazatomprom chief, said he travelled to Chappaqua, N.Y., to meet with Mr. Clinton at his home. Mr. Dzhakishev said Mr. Giustra arranged the three-hour meeting. Mr. Dzhakishev said he wanted to discuss Kazakhstan's intention - not publicly known at the time - to buy a 10 percent stake in Westinghouse, a United States supplier of nuclear technology.

Mr. Dzhakishev said he was worried the proposed Westinghouse investment could face Capitol Hill national security concerns that would kill the deal. Clinton first said he had not been lobbying this issue for Mr. Giustra but a few days later had to admit a meeting at his home did take place,.

Now the whole issue has been raised again as Hillary Clinton is to become Secretary of State in the Obama government. While Clinton has agreed not to take any more money from regimes that have a stake in his wife’s policies, he still can accept money from foreign business executives as long as he names them annually. That ensures, Clinton said, there won’t be “even the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

It doesn’t take a cynic to wonder if Secretary Clinton is in an impossible situation. What happens if Madam Secretary goes soft on Kazakhstan? There’s rarely hard evidence but excuse us for asking.


  • New York Times, 31 January 2008 / Judicial Watch Blog,  31 January 2008 / The Croesus Chronicles, 12 January 2009 /, 15 January 2009 /
  •, 21 January 2009