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U.S.: radioactive waste issue: suspension of new reactor licenses

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A Perfect Storm is brewing on radioactive waste issues in the U.S., one that will inevitably lead to major changes in radioactive waste policy. Already, elements of this storm have led to a full suspension of all new reactor licenses and license renewals in the U.S..

This confluence of events began with President Obama’s decision, early in his term to end the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada radioactive waste dump and, in tandem with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to end Department of Energy funding to pursue this project. Energy Secretary Chu then appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission to recommend a new approach to radioactive waste issues.

Given that decision, former NRC Chair Greg Jazcko refused to spend any more NRC money or resources on reviewing the Yucca Mountain license application despite harsh criticism from the industry and some in Congress. Jazcko has now been replaced by Yucca-skeptic Allison Macfarlane, who was a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

The Commission reported its recommendations earlier this year. They include establishment of a new, but largely undefined entity to handle radioactive waste policy -essentially removing the responsibility from the Department of Energy. The Commission also urged adoption of a new, but also undefined, community “consent” process for siting of a radioactive waste dump. Of most immediate concern to environmentalists, the Commission also recommended speedy establishment of a “centralized interim storage” site for radioactive waste. There is no real scientific, technical or safety basis for such a site -it would use the same dry cask technology as can be used, and is being used, at reactor sites. But it would encourage the generation of more radioactive waste and set off the widespread transport of radioactive waste across the U.S. In the 1990s, this concept was dubbed Mobile Chernobyl, and was defeated by a veto from President Clinton, which was upheld by the U.S. Senate.

The Commission’s recommendations are now reflected in new legislation (S. 3469)(*1) offered by retiring Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and will be included, although probably in somewhat different form, in a new proposal slated to come from the Obama administration in September 2012. Sen. Bingaman said his committee will hold a hearing on the bill in September, but a date has not yet been set. And Bingaman has publicly acknowledged that his bill so far has little support and will not pass this year. What he wants to do is to begin to lay the groundwork for Congressional consideration next year. A key stumbling block is that his bill does not establish centralized interim storage fast enough or large enough for some members of Congress -meaning that the environmental community has substantial work to do to explain to Congress- many of whose members were not there in the 1990s -the reasons for our unaltera-ble opposition to centralized interim storage.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had re-issued its “waste confidence rule, which states that the NRC need not consider radioactive waste generation in licensing new reac-tors or extending licenses of existing reactors, because the NRC was confident that a permanent radioactive waste site would be licensed eventually and that, if not, existing onsite storage is good enough in any case. The agency was sued by several states and environmental groups like NRDC, and this sum-mer a federal court ruled in their favor, saying that the NRC has no valid reason to believe a permanent site ever will be established and has no technical basis for stating that existing on-site storage methods are good enough.

Responding to the court decision, grassroots intervenors (including NIRS) filed new contentions in every current new reactor and license renewal case arguing that the NRC no longer has any basis to issue new reactor licenses or renewals. The NRC, in Chairwoman Macfarlane’s first major decision, ruled in favor of the intervenors and said the agency indeed cannot grant any new reactor licenses, or approve any new license renewals, until it has addressed the waste confidence problem and provided a technical basis for its rule. Early indications are that this could take a year or more. 

In the meantime, pro-nuclear forces are marshaling to try to force Yucca Mountain on Nevada and the American people, and to try other mechanisms to speed nuclear power development, create new radioactive waste sites regardless of environmental impact, and to ignore the hard lessons learned from the past 25 years of failed radioactive waste policy.

The Fukushima disaster and the frightening reality of severe damage to a reactor's irradiated fuel pool have crept into public awareness. At the same time, fuel stored in dry casks at Fukushima was apparently not adversely affected by either the earthquake or tsunami. Add to that a growing recognition that fuel pools at U.S. reactors are typically much fuller than those at Fukushima, and thus are both more vulnerable and carry a larger radioactive inventory, and concern over radioactive waste issues has grown in the U.S. The specter of widespread transport of radioactive waste likely will lead to greater public concern.

Over the past few years, the nation's anti-nuclear, environmental community has managed to coalesce behind a statement of principles for radioactive waste. These principles are known as HOSS -for Hardened On-Site Storage- and reflect a belief that high-level radioactive waste should remain where it has been generated, but that the fuel pools should be emptied to the extent possible as soon as possible into dry cask storage that is additionally protected by berming and other features from natural disasters, terrorism and the like.(*2) No one believes that dry casks are a permanent solution to the problem, but after years of discussion, the nation's anti-nuclear movement believes they are the best answer for the present for the waste that already has been generated. Of course, ending the generation of any more radioactive waste is also vital, and demonstrating the shortcomings of every possible waste storage method -including the preferred method of HOSS- is a key step toward ending waste generation generally.

It is clear that major changes are coming to radioactive waste policy, probably over the next 18 months. What isn’t clear yet is what those changes will be. There is both opportunity and threat. This could be the chance to finally obtain a policy that can withstand public and scientific scrutiny, or it could be a return to the failed approach of seeking short-term industry gain at the expense of long-term scientific and public credibility.

*1- available at: gov/public/index.cfm/featureditems?ID=b6de054d-b342-...
*2- available at:

Source and contact: NIRS Washington


SKB license application show serious shortcomings

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Joanna Widstrand

In March 2011, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, SKB, submitted an application to build a repository for spent nuclear fuel near the nuclear power plant at Forsmark, about 160 km up the coast from Stockholm. In accordance with Swedish law the application was circulated for comment among all the institutions and organizations that have participated in the Environmental Impact Assessment consultations. Comments were to focus on perceived gaps in SKB’s environmental impact statement. The deadline for comment was 1 June 2012. 

Several parties to the consultations note serious shortcomings in the application and the environmental impact statement (EIS). They include the two national level environmental groups who have taken part in the consultations, namely, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, SSNC, with its sister organization The Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review, MKG, and Milkas, representing the Swedish Anti-Nuclear Movement and Friends of the Earth Sweden.

SKB's license application will now be processed through two parallel reviews in the Swedish legal system: one performed by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), who will check the application’s compliance with current legislation in the radiation safety area, and the other performed by the Environmental Court, who will examine its compliance with the Environmental Code. SSM plays two parts in the pro-cess: it is a reviewing body in its own right, and it acts as a consultative body to the Environmental Court. 

The initial phase, in which the need for amendments to the application is to be analysed, is common to both SSM‘s and the Court’s review. This first step of the licensing process is important, since it represents an opportunity for input of a broad range of opinions on the application through a national consultation process. When the present consultation process is ended, the Environmental Court and the SSM will proceed to review the application for as long as they find necessary and then determine what amendments are necessary. Only when the application is complete will the authority and the court start the main review process. If the court decides that the amendments are not satisfactory, the application may be rejected.

In the main review there will be a new consultation on the issues and there will be a hearing; thereafter the court and the regulator will submit their assessments of the application to the Swedish Government. The Government will then decide the final repository’s fate, either granting a license to SKB or rejecting the company’s application, taking due account of the recommendations of SSM and the Environmental Court.

Issues concerning longterm safety
SKB’s proposed method for final disposal of spent nuclear fuel is a KBS-3 repository, the longterm safety of which relies on artificial barriers of copper and clay. The 5 meter long fuel rods are to be put in a total of 6,000 canisters made out of copper, which are to be depo-sited in shallow boreholes about 500 m down in the Forsmark bedrock. The boreholes and access tunnels are to be filled out with bentonite clay with the intention to keep the spent nuclear fuel encapsulated and separated from the biosphere for as long as the contents pose a hazard – in essence, for all time to come. The bentonite clay is supposed to protect the copper canisters from contact with groundwaterleading fissures in the surrounding bedrock. The main function of the clay is for it to swell when in contact with water, pretty much like cat litter does. Once saturated, it is expected to keep the canisters and the spent fuel shielded from their surroundings. SKB assures us that everything will be fine.

However, the organizations who participated in the EIA consultation process are of a different opinion. Particularly critical are, besides environmental organizations, the Swedish Environmental Agency, the municipalities of Östhammar and Oskarshamn, the Royal Institute of Technology, and Lund University. 

The main critique presented in the SSNC’s and MKG’s consultation document is that the company’s application does not contain scientific evidence to support the claims for longterm safety of the repository. Copper corrosion, for example, is a problem that has not been sufficiently investigated by the company. In order for the bentonite clay to function as the intended isolator in the repository, a specific amount of water – not too much, not too little – needs to be present in the bedrock so that the bentonite will start swelling. If the clay does not get activated, which is a possible scenario in the relatively dry Forsmark bedrock, there is an imminent risk that the clay will be affected by the heat and radioactivity coming from the canisters and possibly erode. Given an eroded buffer, the canisters would be exposed to water seeping into the repository, which may corrode the copper canisters. The interplay between the copper and clay in a repository environment is another area that requires further investigation. In sum: It is not  acceptable to build a repository that is supposed to be safe and protect humans and the environment from radioactive waste/pollution/toxicity for over 100,000 years, when so much research on such key issues is still lacking.

Milkas seconds the criticisms put forward by the SSNC and MKG. In addition, Milkas raises issues relating to the geological characteristics of the chosen site. A coastal site like that at Forsmark implies the risk that ground-water will readily spread any leakage from the repository into the Baltic Sea. In the longer term there is the problem of coming ice ages. The repository is to be installed in a tectonic lens – a body of crystalline granite in the midst of a shearing zone. Whereas the zone is stable at present, it may very likely be reactivated under the strains associated with glaciation. On the whole, SKB tends consistently to underestimate the seismic effects of glaciation. The installation of the repository in the lens, in itself, may impair the integrity of the lens, in which case the whole repository is at risk – perhaps even a good deal earlier than the next ice age.

Other concerns include an apparent inability on the part of the applicant to elaborate scenarios that challenge the success of the repository project. Both the Government and the regulatory body have pointed to this bias and called for such scenarios. None has been forthcoming. As a result, we are left to rely on assurances.

A good share of Milkas comments, addressed specifically to the Environmental Court, concerns procedural as well as substantive shortcomings in the EIA process and the EIS in relation to the requirements of the Environmental Code. In Milkas’ view, the applicant has effectively subverted the dialogic method that the Code envisages to ensure allround evaluation of major projects’ environmental consequences.

What next?
SSM's comments on the need for amendments are to be handed in to the Environmental Court by November 1. At the same time the Swedish Council for Nuclear Waste, a consultatory scientific board to the Swedish Government, will give their view. After that, correspondence between SKB and the various organizations who participated in the consultation process will take place in order to discuss the additional work to be required of the company. The Court’s determination on the issue of amendments is expected at the end of 2013, at the earliest. The story continues…

Source and contact: Joanna Widstrand, former project assistant at MKG, the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review.
Tel: +4631-711 00 92
Email: jo.widstrand[at]

WISE Sweden

Showdown time for Vermont Yankee

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The future of the Vermont Yankee reactor remains murky following a federal judge’s January 19 ruling against state laws that would have required the shutdown of the reactor at the end of its original license period on March 21, 2012.

U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha ruled that two state laws intended to prevent Vermont Yankee from operating after that date are pre-empted by the Atomic Energy Act, which gives all power to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for regulation of nuclear power on safety or radiological grounds and forbids states from enacting their own laws on such issues.

That would appear to be a clear-cut victory for the Entergy Corporation, which owns the troubled reactor. But as is often the case with nuclear power issues, the outcome of this ongoing saga remains uncertain.

At Nuclear Monitor presstime, the state had not yet announced whether it would appeal the decision -and there do appear to be some grounds for appeal. Judge Murtha’s ruling was based not on the actual language of the Vermont laws, but on the fact that many state legislators had frequently and publicly expressed serious concern about the safety of the reactor during deliberations on the laws. In other words, Judge Murtha went after what he perceived as the motivations for the laws, rather than the laws themselves. Considering that there may be multiple motivations for nearly every law a legislature enacts, this would seem to be on slippery ground.

A little background: in 2002, Entergy agreed that the Vermont Public Service Board would have to issue a new Certificate of Public Good (CPG) to allow Vermont Yankee to continue operating, even if a license extension were granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Public Service Board does not deal with nuclear safety issues; rather it focuses on rates, quality of service, environmental matters generally, and radioactive waste storage and decommissioning issues -which courts have ruled can fall under state authority.

In 2006, with Vermont Yankee’s operations under mounting criticism within the state, the Vermont legislature passed a law requiring approval from both houses of the legislature for the Public Service Board to issue a CPG. And in February 2010, following revelations of radioactive tritium releases and other problems, the Vermont Senate voted 26-4 against allowing the Board to issue the CPG.

It was the 2006 law, and another related law, that the judge struck down. However, the judge also ruled against Entergy on another issue, and determined that the Vermont Public Service Board must still issue the CPG for Vermont Yankee to continue operating. Entergy has now applied for the CPG; it isn’t known at this point whether the Board will reflect the overwhelming sentiment of Vermonters and deny the Certificate, or whether it will allow the reactor to continue operating.

Meanwhile, in a separate legal proceeding, the State and the grassroots New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution have gone to court to argue that the NRC’s license extension for Vermont Yankee should be nullified because Entergy did not apply for a needed permit under the federal Clean Water Act. Entergy and the NRC have responded that the company did have a different but similar permit. States have a clear right to regulate water discharges from nuclear reactors.

Judge Murtha’s decision was met with outrage by those who have been fighting Vermont Yankee for years. Protests have taken place across the state—from the reactor gates in the south to a march by Occupy Burlington in the north. A number of actions will take place throughout March, including a mock evacuation on March 11 (Vermont Yankee is a Fukushima-clone GE Mark I reactor), a “retirement party” for Vermont Yankee on March 21 and nonviolent civil disobedience the next day, culminating in a major rally on April 1 in Brattleboro just a few miles from the reactor site. The actions are being coordinated by the SAGE Alliance (of which NIRS is a member) and more information can be found at The Alliance is also asking grassroots groups across the country to support Vermont Yankee shutdown efforts by holding support rallies at Entergy-owned facilities everywhere during March.

Source and contact: Michael Mariotte at NIRS Washington

Vermont YankeeNIRS

US: Indian Point ordered by NRC to analyse accident migitation measures

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

The United States' Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected a bid by Entergy, owner and operator of the Indian Point nuclear power plant on the Hudson River 35 miles from midtown Manhattan, to reverse an order to complete legally-required analyses of the facility's severe accident mitigation measures before it can be relicensed.

In the context of Indian Point's relicensing, the New York Attorney General's office argued that the NRC has the obligation to require Entergy to complete analyses of cost-beneficial measures, or to require that the measures be adopted - consistent with NRC's own regulations, as well as those of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. On July 15 2011, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued a decision, agreeing with the attorney general that Indian Point cannot be relicensed without completing the legally-required analyses of its severe accident mitigation measures. Now, in a December 2011 ruling, the NRC rejected the bid by Entergy to reverse the order to complete legally-required analyses of the facility's severe accident mitigation measures before it can be relicensed.

"It is a significant victory that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission firmly rejected an effort by Indian Point's owner to reverse a landmark federal ruling, won by my office, that the facility cannot be relicensed until legally-required analyses of its ability to control severe accidents are completed," attorney general Schneiderman's said on December 22, announcing the ruling.

The Indian Point nuclear plants are located in Buchanan, New York, approximately 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan. It is situated in the most densely populated region of any U.S. nuclear plant. The site has two nuclear reactors that supply power to Con Edison, which serves New York City and Westchester County. The reactors generate enough electricity to supply some two million homes.  A third reactor at the site was retired in 1974.

Entergy is seeking to relicense Indian Point for another 20 years.

Current evacuation and mitigation plans cover only the area within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear reactor, which, in many cases, may not be adequate. In Japan, high contamination levels were recorded far beyond 10 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi plant and the NRC recommended that U.S. citizens evacuate a 50-mile radius of the damaged facility.

The 2010 U.S. population within 50 miles of Indian Point was 17.2 million, an increase of just over five percent since 2000. As part of the relicensing proceeding, nuclear power plants are required to identify the environmental impacts that could be caused by a severe accident and provide analyses of measures that facilities could take to protect the public if one were to occur.

The measures include improvements in equipment, training or procedures. In its environmental review, Entergy identified 20 such measures at Indian Point Units 2 and 3, including flood protection and auxiliary power improvements.

However, the NRC did not require Entergy to complete analyses of those measures, or to require that the measures be adopted, thereby violating NRC's own regulations, as well as those of two laws. Despite an obligation to conduct a full review, both Entergy and the NRC sought to limit the severe accident analyses to a narrow set of components.

Now, Schneiderman says, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must require Indian Point's owner, Entergy, to either adopt cost-effective upgrades that would improve responses and control the impact of a severe accident, or provide a compelling reason why it will not do so.

In February 2011, Schneiderman sued the NRC for authorizing the storage of radioactive waste at nuclear power facilities for at least 60 years after they close, without first conducting the necessary environmental, public health and safety studies.

Source: Sierra Club, Sierra Atlantic, Fall 2011 /  Environmental News Service, 4 January 2012
Contact: NIRS

Indian Point 2Indian Point 3Indian Point 1NIRSWISE

Refueling vermont yankee to continue

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

Entergy Corporation has announced that its board of directors has voted to continue with a planned refueling of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant (Vermont, USA). The board has approved the US$60 million refueling during despite failing to receive a 20-year extension of its license to operate the nuclear plant from Vermont's legislature. Vermont Yankee's current operating license is due to expire March 2012.

On February 24 2010, in a move that sent shock waves through the nuclear power industry, the Vermont State Senate voted overwhelmingly (24-6) to close the Vermont Yankee reactor when its current operating license expires in March 2012. Later that same year, on November 2, the people of Vermont elected Peter Shumlin as Governor. Shumlin is a well known opponent of extending the Vermont Yankee license past its expiration date in 2012.

Vermont is the only state in the country with a law giving its Legislature a say over a nuclear plant's re-licensing. In the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that Entergy signed when it bought the plant in 2002, it agreed to seek a state-issued Certificate of Public Good and not sue the state if the CPG was denied. The Vermont Senate voted last year to direct the Public Service Board not to issue a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) for the plant. Despite all that, Entergy received a 20-year license extension from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in March 2011.

In April, two of Entergy's units, Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee LLC and Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc., filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the state of Vermont seeking a judgment to prevent the state of Vermont from forcing the plant to cease operation on March 21, 2012. On July 18, the Court issued a decision denying a preliminary injunction motion filed by the two units.

Federal law does not forbid individuals from raising safety or reliability concerns, said Parenteau, nor does it block lawmakers from addressing these concerns in the legislative process. However, the law does forbid nuclear safety regulation by the states. “The NRC will decide if that plant is safe, whether we like it or not.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on states’ power to regulate a nuclear power plant in the 1983 Pacific Gas & Electric v. State Energy Commission case. In its ruling, the court stated clearly that states can shut power plants for non-radiological safety reasons. But that same PG & E case also gives companies grounds to sue if a state enacts a law that blocks a plant. Entergy did not sue Vermont in 2006 over the Legislature gaining the right to vote on the awarding of a CPG.

The Court Case is due to start in September.

On June 30, fifteen women, included three women in their nineties (Valerie Mullen, 90; Frances Crowe, 92 and Lea Wood, 94) of the Shut It Down Affinity Group were arrested at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant  and charged with trespass after advocating for replacing nuclear power with solar power.

Sources: Nuclear Monitor 721, 17 December 2010 /, 21 July 2011 /, 25 July 2011
Contact: NIRS, 6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 340, Takoma Park, MD 20912, USA.
Tel: +1 301-270-6477

Vermont YankeeNIRS

Angela's nights with the nuclear industry

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Bernd Frieboese

When the Christian Democrat party (Christlich Demokratische Union, CDU) and the Liberals (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP) formed their coalition Government under Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) in September 2009, one of the projects they put into their coalition contract was the extension of the operation licenses of Germany's nuclear power plants.

Now almost a year has passed and the four big nuclear electricity corporations were getting nervous. The electricity production contingents according to the phase-out plan fixed in the 2002 nuclear energy law are running short for at least three of Germany's 17 reactors, and the operators are probably losing lots of money stretching their contingents by running reactors at minimum power or keeping them offline for extensive revisions and repairs. And of course, the minister of finances insisted on the introduction of the planned nuclear fuel tax!

So the government, under pressure to come forward with a plan, decided to hide behind science and commissioned a number of scenario studies from a group of research institutes. The scenarios included the development of the country's electricity supply in case of nuclear license extensions by between 4 and 28 years. Opposition parties and NGOs were astonished that there was no “business-as-usual” scenario with no license extensions, and outraged when they found out that one of the research institutes is partially financed by RWE, one of the four nuclear utilities.

The studies were delivered to the government on Friday, August 27, and the ministries claimed the right to read them before publishing them. Finally, in the first week of September, it turned out that even though the study scenarios were deliberately biased in favor of nuclear energy, for example by assuming very low future investments into nuclear safety and unrealistically low growth rates for renewable electricity, and by ignoring non-financial aspects of radioactivity, the results gave no good reason for license extensions.

Around this time, the federal ministry for environment, nature protection and reactor safety (Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit, BMU), which is officially in charge of all issues around nuclear energy, played a relatively modest tune. Minister Dr. Norbert Roettgen (CDU) criticized the scenarios and demanded substantial safety upgrades as a condition for possible license extensions. According to him, a combined investment of EUR 6.2 billion was necessary to run each of the 17 reactors for 4 extra years, EUR 20.3 billion for 12 years, 36.2 billion for 20 years and 49.8 billion for 28 years.

And he kept reminding us and the other members of the government of a legal problem that any attempt to extend operation licenses will have to face: An amendment of the Nuclear Energy Law will have to be passed by both the Bundestag (the lower house of the German parliamentary system, representing the citizens of the Federation) and the Bundesrat (the upper house, representing the federal states). No problem in the Bundestag, as the two parties of the coalition hold a secure majority there. The Bundesrat, however, is dominated by anti-nuclear states governed by coalitions involving either the Social Democrats (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) or the ecologist Green party (Buendnis90/Die Gruenen).

So Merkel's government declared that their amendment would be written very cleverly, denying the Bundesrat's participation in the process. The noisy arguments among legal experts are continuing, and any attempt by the coalition to bypass the Bundesrat will be challenged at the Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) by the non-nuclear states.

The next legal challenge for any license extension plan will be put to either German or European courts by the smaller and nuclear-free utilities, who will claim that any extension gives the four big nuclear corporations an unfair advantage in the electricity market. Now as Merkel was back from the summer break and being criticized because most of the big plans of her coalition so far had failed, she decided to speed up this nuclear plan and invite some ministers and the four nuclear utility managers to a meeting in the chancellor's office at noon on Sunday, September 5. The public was not invited and refrained to a demonstration with a large Merkel puppet and a lot of balloons outside the gate – and of course, we were told to be patient and wait for the results of the meeting to be revealed at a press conference on Monday morning.

The 40-page document “Energiekonzept” released on Monday, September 6 contains lots of friendly and unfriendly words about the future of the energy supply and climate politics until 2050. Like the need to reduce heat loss by improving thermal insulation of Germany's houses (the government has just reduced the subsidy program to almost nothing) and the importance of developing renewable sources of electricity (the government has just passed an amendment that will reduce the feed-in tariffs for new PV arrays to nothing within a few years) with an extremely unambitious timetable.

In the short nuclear chapter of the Energiekonzept we learn that the government wants to extend the operation licenses by 8 years for the 7 oldest reactors and by 14 years for the 10 newer ones. Of course, these years would once again be converted into electricity production contingents, which would be transferable from older to newer reactors. And if the share of renewable electricity in the German grid keeps growing, resulting in a shrinking demand for nuclear electricity, these production contingents might be stretched well into the 2040es. And the nuclear operators would be forced to pay at least 50 percent of their additional income to the new nuclear fuel tax and a new fund for the development of renewable energies.

And that was only the official part of what we learned on Monday, September 6. Later that day, in another press conference, a Greenpeace spokesman asked whether we could be sure that the nuclear corporations would indeed pay their contributions to the fuel tax and the renewables fund? The surprising answer from one of the nuclear managers was that they had signed an agreement with the government. It turned out that around midnight on Sunday, when the meeting in the chancellor's office was closed, not everybody had gone home. The four nuclear managers had proceeded to the ministry of finances, where they sat down to write what they called a “Termsheet” which was countersigned by a secretary of the ministry of finances around 4:30 Monday morning.

After a lot of public uproar, the government published the contents of this 10-page agreement, denying that they had ever intended to keep it secret. It contains a few interesting clauses, like a 500 million Euro cap on safety investments for each reactor and a kind of money-back guarantee to the corporations in case a future government would try to withdraw some of the new privileges.

In any case, if everything develops according to Merkel's plan and these agreements are turned into an amendment that can somehow be maneuvered past the Bundesrat and all the legal challenges it faces, the nuclear corporations have made quite a good deal. The Oeko-Institut estimates that their additional income, before taxes, may amount to EUR 150 billion, in a scenario expecting a moderate rise of electricity consumer prices over the next decades.

Through the years 2011 to 2016 they will pay a nuclear fuel tax: EUR 145 per gram of fuel, not EUR 220 per gram as had been suggested earlier this year. And from 2017 onwards, they will contribute to the “voluntary” renewable energy fund. Both the fuel tax and the fund will be tax-deductible, meaning that these payments will reduce the annual tax payments to states and counties. In total, Oeko-Institut estimates that a mere 37% of the additional cash flow to the corporations will be diverted to taxes or the new fund.

But then, Merkel's plan to turn these ideas into an amendment that can become law by the start of next year looks quite ambitious. The number of parties she will have to deal with keeps growing, with unlikely opponents like the pro-nuclear states – governed by her own party – demanding a share of the fuel tax and the government of neighboring Austria complaining about the increasing risk of nuclear accidents.

By the way, latest statistics from 'Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen' found that in the first 6 months of 2010, 23% of Germany's electricity came from nuclear power plants, and 19% came from renewable sources.

Many thousands participate in anti nuclear actions. On Saturday 18 September, some 100,000 people marched through the streets of Berlin to protest against nuclear power and to voice their anger over the government's decision to keep nuclear reactors in use beyond a deadline set by the previous government. The demonstration was organized by various environmental and anti-nuclear groups, with high-ranking politicians from opposition parties also taking part.

Now the preparations for actions against the Castor waste transport early November from La Hague in France to the interim storage facility in Gorleben really started. Several concepts are being put forward by activists: a big large blockade of the storage facility and a call to get onto the train tracks on the day the train is supposed to run there and to make the tracks unusable, to en masse remove the stones from under the tracks, i.e. to undermine them and to make them impassable in creative ways.

On November 6, a demonstration will be held, which is expected to be larger than ever before in the decade long history of the Gorleben fight.

Source and contact: Bernd Frieboese


USA: groups urge NRC to suspend nucelar licensing AP1000

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Mary Olson - NIRS

On April 21, twelve national and regional environmental organizations called upon U.S. nuclear regulators to launch an investigation into newly identified flaws in Westinghouse’s new reactor design. The coalition asked three federal agencies to suspend the AP1000 reactor from licensing and taxpayer loan consideration.

The newly discovered design flaw is tied to documentation of dozens of corrosion holes being found in existing U.S. reactor containments, which recently has raised concern at the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS), an independent arm of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Containment buildings are vital barriers against radiation releases during nuclear accidents.

“The proposed AP1000 containment design is inherently less safe than current reactors,” said Arnold Gundersen, former senior vice-president at Nuclear Energy Services PCC. Westinghouse did not analyze the scenario for failure containment warned of by Gundersen. He continued, “Westinghouse has ignored the long history of previous containment failures that indicate there is a high likelihood that the AP1000 containment might be in a failed condition [one or more undetected holes] before an accident begins. The containment leakage problem is exacerbated because the AP1000 is specifically intended to function as a chimney – to pull air up and release it through the top of the building.”
Gundersen, a 38-year engineering veteran of the nuclear power industry, produced a 32-page technical report(*1) detailing a history of holes and cracks found at operating nuclear plants. Such corrosion problems, if coupled with the experimental “passive” emergency cooling feature in the AP1000, could accelerate and greatly increase the early release of radiation during an accident. Gundersen’s report is backed by engineer and corrosion specialist Rudolf Hauser.

Based on the report, the coalition urged NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko to suspend license reviews of 14 proposed AP1000 reactors pending the ACRS investigation. They also urged Secretary of Energy Chu and the White House Office of Management and Budget to drop plans for taxpayer funding for the reactor due to increasing risks of projects failing in midstream. In February, the Obama Administration awarded US$8.33 billion (6.5 billion euro) in controversial taxpayer-financed loans (with a public guarantee to cover default) to an AP1000 project at Southern Company’s Vogtle plant in Waynesboro, Georgia.

Gundersen’s analysis shows that even a three-quarter inch hole in the AP1000 reactor building could, under pressure from a pipe break or other accidents, result in a large and unfiltered radiation release because the building is deliberately intended to move air and heat into the atmosphere during an emergency. That heat removal – via a gap between an inner metal containment and the outer shield building – is the very feature Westinghouse touts as its principal safety upgrade.

Gundersen explained why the probability of a radiation accident is higher with the AP1000: “Existing data shows that containment system failure occurs with moisture and oxygen.” He explained today that for the AP1000 design, leakage from the emergency water tank located above the reactor, testing the tank and/or atmospheric humidity will create, within the gap between liners, “a constant environment of moisture and oxygen that may, in fact, provoke a through-wall containment failure in locations that are difficult or impossible to inspect.”

“The Obama Administration should put the brakes on. The consequences of containment failure at Plant Vogtle would be devastating,” said Lou Zeller, Science Director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. “We call upon Energy Secretary Chu and NRC Chairman Jaczko to recall the dangerously flawed AP1000 design before accidents occur and more tax dollars are wasted.”

A number of organizations are contesting design and licensing efforts of 14 AP1000s at seven sites across the Southeast. Also, four AP1000s are under construction in China, with more planned there and in India.

At least 77 instances of containment system degradation have occurred at operating US reactors since 1970. That includes eight through-wall holes or cracks in steel containments – two discovered in 2009 – and 60 instances of corrosion that thinned the liner walls below the allowable thickness. In addition to the ACRS, nuclear experts in Europe have recently expressed concern about the likelihood of containment failures at aging plants.

"The AP1000 flaw identified in this report puts into further question the reality of the so-called 'nuclear renaissance.' If Vogtle's proposed new reactors are the flagship of the nuclear industry's claimed resurgence, then everyone needs to pay closer attention because not only are billions of dollars at risk but so is the potential safety of communities living near these proposed new reactors," said Sara Barczak, High Risk Program Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Although Westinghouse and nuclear utilities such as Duke Energy, Progress Energy and others contend that the AP1000 design was “pre-certified” by the NRC in 2006, in the past two years the NRC has identified a daunting list of design problems involving major components and operating systems, resulting in eighteen revisions to the design. Thus, cost estimates for some of the projects have doubled or tripled. Last October the NRC stunned observers by rejecting the reactor building for its potential inability to withstand high winds and the weight of the emergency water tank.

“The so-called nuclear revival is in real trouble, so it’s no wonder the industry insists on socializing the risks,” said Mary Olson of Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “President Obama and Congress seem clueless to the construction failures occurring in Europe and design problems in the U.S. It’s tragic that industry’s lobbying money has blinded them into efforts to risk 54 billion public dollars for nuclear plants, while a fraction of that amount could help America move quickly into genuine climate protection through clean, efficient energy.”

*1 See for the engineer’s report and graphic illustrations of the chimney-effect during an accident.

Source: Press release 'AP1000 Oversight Group', 21 April 2010
Contact: Mary Olson at NIRS
Tel: +1 828 252-8409

NIRS South East

Florida Levy reactors: more delays and rising costs

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Progress Energy has announced that it has postponed major construction activities at the proposed Levy nuclear power plant in Florida until it has received a licence for the plant.

At the same time, the estimated cost for the project has increased by up to US$5 billion to an estimated total of US$22,5 billion for two Westinghouse AP1000 (both 1105 MWe). Remember, actual construction has not even started and a license is now expected not before late 2012.

The company said that it has delayed work for several reasons, including: the need to reduce capital spending to avoid short term rate increases; a recent downgrading to Progress Energy Florida's credit ratings; a delay in the licensing timeline; the current economic climate; and continued uncertainty about federal and state energy policies, including carbon regulation.

Levy units 1 and 2 - both Westinghouse AP1000 reactor units - were originally expected to begin operating in 2016 and 2017, respectively. However, in May 2009, Progress announced a schedule change for the project after regulators ruled that no excavation may take place ahead of full permission to build. Commercial operation of the two 1105 MWe reactors were pushed back by "a minimum of 20 months."

Rising costs
The company has filed nuclear cost for 2010 and projected costs for 2011 with the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC). These include costs for the proposed Levy plant and an uprate project at unit 3 of its existing Crystal River plant. For 2011, the company is seeking to recover US$164 million in nuclear costs. If the PSC approves Progress' 2011 nuclear cost estimates as filed, the company estimates the average residential customer would pay US$5.53 per month on a 1000 kilowatt-hour bill (US$4.99 for Levy and 54 cents for Crystal River) beginning with January 2011 bills. That is 21% lower than the US$6.99 per month customers currently pay (US$6.78 for Levy and 21 cents for Crystal River).

Meanwhile, Progress said that its current estimate for the cost of the proposed Levy plant is between US$17.2 billion and US$22.5 billion. This cost includes land, transmission lines, fuel and financing costs. The company had previously put the estimated cost as up to US$17.2 billion.

Progress says that, according to the current schedule, it expects the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to issue the combined construction and operating licence (COL) for Levy in late 2012.

Source: World Nuclear news, 7 May 2010
Contact: NIRS


In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

New York thwarts reactor relicensing.
The U.S. New York state's Environment Department has told Entergy that its Indian Point nuclear power plant (units 2 and 3) can no longer use water from the Hudson River for direct (once-through) cooling, whereby a large volume of water is drawn from the river and discharged back into it, a few degrees warmer. In March the Environment Department introduced a draft policy requiring certain industrial facilities - including nuclear and other power plants - to recycle and reuse cooling water through "closed cycle cooling" technology with large evaporative cooling towers. Water use from the river is then much lower, to replace that evaporated and allow some discharge to maintain quality. (see Nuclear Monitor 706: 'Proposal: cooling towers required for New York reactors')

Entergy has applied to renew the operating licences for the two reactors for 20 years from 2013 and 2015. It estimates that building new cooling towers would cost some US$1.1 billion (805 million euro) and involve shutting down the reactors for 42 weeks.

According to Michael Mariotte of NIRS Entergy is making so much money with the 20-year lifetime extension at Indian Point, "there is a pretty good chance they'll go ahead and build the cooling towers".
World Nuclear news, 6 April 2010 / NIRS statement, 12 April 2010

U.K.: Higher bills for nuclear.
UK energy minister Ed Miliband has confirmed the Government intends introducing a new 'carbon levy' on consumer electricity bills. While Mr Miliband insisted the levy was to help all low-carbon forms of generation, it is widely accepted the main reason is to help the financing of building new nuclear reactors.

The Conservative Party also wants to introduce a tax on electricity generation to encourage renewables and nuclear power. A clear commitment to nuclear power was also given by the party's energy spokesman, Greg Clark. He said there would be "no limit" on the growth of nuclear power and they wanted to see a new reactor completed every 18 months.

The Government has also announced it will create a new 'green bank', using private money, to finance low-carbon energy developments.

General elections in the U.K. will take place on May 6.
N-Base Briefing 646, 1 April 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Egypt looking for investors.
State-owned National Bank of Egypt (NBE) is seeking to raise funds with other banks to help fund the country's aim to build four nuclear power plants by 2025, the business newspaper Al-Alam al-Youm said on April 6. According to a report in the paper NBE, the country's largest bank by assets and chief financier for the project, will meet officials from the Electricity and Energy Ministry to discuss plans to raise the required funding.

In March, Egypt announced its very optimistic (and very unrealistic) plans to build four nuclear reactors (4000 MW total) by 2025 and inaugurate the first in 2019.
Reuters, 6 April  2010