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Report review - Bechtel: profiting from destruction

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(June 27, 2003)  On 5 June, a national action day was held in the U.S. against the Bechtel company, who has been involved in nuclear businesses since the development of nuclear weapons in World-War II. Actions in San Francisco and Washington D.C. were also directed to Bechtel's role in "re-building" Iraq. On the action day, the report Bechtel: Profiting from Destruction by CorpWatch, Global Exchange and Public Citizen was released.

"Bechtel Group Inc., one of the lead contractors in the reconstruction of Iraq, has a 100-year history of capitalizing on environmentally unsustainable technologies and reaping at immense profits at the expense of societies and the environment", according to the report. The report provides case studies for Bechtel's role in water, nuclear, energy and public works sector and documents a track record of environmental destruction, disregard of human rights and financial mismanagement.

In April, Bechtel was awarded a contract worth up to US$ 680 million to reconstruct infrastructure, electricity, water and waste water systems in a bidding process that forbade public review and was kept secret even from the U.S. Congress.

Apart from more details about Bechtel's role in Iraq, the report gives an overview of its role in nuclear businesses. The chapter "Bechtel and nuclear nightmares" starts with the conclusion that Bechtel has profited both from military and commercial nuclear activities in the U.S. It is now even involved in cleaning up the radioactive mess that the own company created in the past.

What now follows are some examples of Bechtel's nuclear record.
In the early 1940s, Bechtel was involved with the development of the atomic bomb and in the earliest phase of civil nuclear energy. Since then, Bechtel built and/or designed more than half of U.S.' NPPs. These NPPs are responsible for radioactive discharges into water and air. In 1977, Bechtel made a mistake by installing the reactor vessel of San Onofre-2 180 degrees backwards. After the 1979 disaster at Three Mile Island-2, Bechtel was involved in clean-up operations at the plant and was accused of circumventing safety procedures. Employees who blew the whistle on these violations were harassed by its management.

Bechtel has also been involved in nuclear waste business and designed the West Valley reprocessing plant, which was closed after 6 years of operation and left 600,000 leaking tanks of liquid waste. Cleanup would cost US$ 4.5 billion. Once again profiting from the problem it created, Bechtel was also awarded a US$ 3.2 billion contract for the Yucca Mountain project.

The company is also involved in nuclear projects abroad. Examples are the Chernobyl sarcophagus reconstruction project and the project to build two light water reactors in North Korea. In India, it built the Tarapur reactor, which was used for the production of plutonium for the 1974 nuclear bomb test.

In promoting nuclear, Bechtel has been active in efforts to expand nuclear energy in the U.S. Bechtel spearheaded an initiative called the Committee for Energy Awareness, which later became the Nuclear Energy Institute, the principal nuclear lobby organization. Bechtel is involved in the development of the high temperature reactor. If U.S. Senate will approve federal funding of new reactors, Bechtel would be a leading candidate for future contracts.

On the military side, Bechtel is responsible for the management of the Nevada (nuclear weapons) Test Site on which subcritical nuclear tests are conducted. Bechtel is also contractor at the Oak Ridge Reservation that produces weapon components.

Bechtel holds contracts for cleanup work at former nuclear weapons facilities. A Department of Energy investigation revealed management shortfalls that were a threat to environment and health at the Paducah enrichment plant. A DOE investigation at Hanford showed significant deficiencies in radiological work planning and control.

The full report can be found at
WISE Amsterdam


In brief


Rabbits burrow into U.K. Dounreay plant. Managers at the British Dounreay nuclear power plant have been ordered to stop rabbits from entering radioactive waste pits at the plant. Inspectors from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency spotted the lovely bunnies hopping in and out of solid low level waste pits during a recent routine visit. Evidence was found of burrows through two pit caps. The U.K. Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has been told to cut off access to the rabbits, who are in danger of spreading radioactive waste around the site and beyond. The plant operators are now ordered to take immediate and long-term measures to limit wildlife access to the pitts and also to quantify and repair damage caused by wildlife. The plant is consulting on culling the rabbits. BBC, 23 June 2003

Tokyo Electric restarts second nuclear unit. Japan's largest power company, Tepco restarted a second nuclear reactor - the 1,356 MW Kashiwazaki-Kariwa-7 power plant in Niigata prefecture - on 18 June, bolstering its attempt to avoid electricity shortages in Japan's capital this summer. It was the second of the company's 17 reactors to restart since Tepco was forced by the government to shut all units for safety checks. That was done on 15 April. On 7 May the first reactor - the 1,356 MW Kashiwazaki-Kariwa-6 was restarted. The company is awaiting approval from Fukushima prefecture to restart the 784 MW Fukushima-I-3 and the 1,100 MW Fukushima-I-6 reactors. Tepco says it expects power shortages during July and August unless 10 reactors have restarted., 18 June 2003; WNA News Briefing 03.25, 18-24 June 2003

Plans for U.K. state body to clean up nuclear waste. The British government issued on 24 June a "blueprint" for a new state-funded body to clean up nuclear waste for almost 50 billion British Pounds (US$ 80 billion). Costs could rise to more than US$ 140 billion. The nuclear sites and radioactive substances bill will allow the government to finance the decommissioning of closed NPPs. The draft bill will set up a Nuclear Decommissioning Authority by April 2005. This body will oversee the clean-up of reactors, fuel reprocessing and nuclear research and development facilities dating back to the 1950s. The decision to publish the draft bill, will come as a relief to British Nuclear Fuels, the state-owned group that operates Britain's Magnox power stations and the Sellafield reprocessing plant. The new authority will take responsibility for financing the clean up of all BNFL's 10 Magnox stations and the Sellafield plant. Financial Times and Guardian, 25 June 2003 / 26 June 2003

U.S. Seabrook reactor coming down. The never-completed second unit of the Seabrook NPP is being dismantled for scrap iron. The decision to get rid of the dome ends any speculation that Seabrook's second reactor would ever be completed, plant spokesman Alan Griffith said. When Public Service Company of New Hampshire began construction in 1976, it envisioned two reactors at a cost of less than US$1 billion. But Seabrook became the focal point of anti-nuclear opposition in the 1970s, and because of this opposition and the utility's financial problems, only one reactor was finished. By the time the 1150 MW Seabrook-1 went on line in May 1990, the plant had cost already US$6.5 billion. Construction on the second reactor stopped in 1984 and the steel dome along the Atlantic marshes has been rusting on the horizon ever since. In 1988, Public Service was declared bankrupt. In 2002, FPL Energy of Flordia bought the plant. Equipment inside the dome, including the reactor vessel and other apparatus will be used or sold by FPL. Seacoastonline, 20 June 2003

Bulgaria's President insists on extension of reactor closure deadline. Bulgaria's President Georgi Parvanov requested on 18 June the European Union (E.U.) to extend a deadline it has agreed with Bulgaria to close two reactors at its Kozloduy plant. The E.U. has agreed to send an expert mission to assess the safety of reactors -3 and -4 of the plant, which Bulgaria had pledged to shut down in 2006. According to Kozloduy's CEO Yordan Kostadinov international fears about the reactors were based on outdated information and the reactors were later upgraded. The E.U. however insists that they are still dangerous because of lacking safety containments. To complicate things further, Bulgaria's Surpreme Administrative Court annulled in January 2003 a government decision to close the reactors in 2006 (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 581.5480: "Kozloduy-1 and -2 shut; court blocks closure of -3 and -4"). But, the EU said that the Bulgarian court ruling was not binding for it and has urged Sofia to abide by its international commitments. Bulgarian News Network, 18 June 2003

U.S. Indian Point drill a joke. A drill designed to test security at the U.S. Indian Point nuclear power plant at Buchanan, New York, is set to take place in July, but anti-nuclear activists doubt the effectiviness of it. Entergy, the owner of the plant, is going to use state-of-the-art military equipment to simulate a terrorist attack at the plant. The Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition claims the drill is a joke because it's not realistic enough. The group also claims that the workers at the nuclear power plant already know about the upcoming drill, which of course takes away the element of surprise. But, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that if it were truly a surprise, the guards could think it is a real attack and something could go terribly wrong. News 12 Westchester, 24 June 2003

Are U.S. Holtec nuclear storage casks safe? Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service (NIRS), have called for an investigation into possible design flaws concerning storage containers that would be used in transporting spent fuel to Yucca Mountain. In a letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) both organizations requested an independent evaluation of the NRC's quality assurance program in light of safety allegations brought by former Exelon employee, Oscar Shirani. In July 2000, as an employee of Exelon, Shirani led a quality assurance audit of Holtec, a lead manufacturer of casks used to transport and store spent fuel, and its supplier, U.S. Tool & Die. Shirani uncovered nine quality assurance violations indicating that casks made by Holtec may not match the licensed design specifications. This means that casks loaded with fuel may not perform as expected under stress and strain, and under certain circumstances may not isolate the radioactivity adequately. Holtec casks are currently used to store fuel at five sites in Illinois, Oregon, New York, Georgia and Washington states. Shirani, whose employment was subsequently terminated by Exelon, also alleges that the NRC failed to adequately address the safety issues he identified and that some of these issues remain unresolved. His list of pending Holtec violations include welding violations, brittle materials, damaged neutron shielding and falsified quality assurance documents. Public Citizen, 19 June 2003 / Las Vegas Sun, 21 June 2003

IAEA blames operator for Paks-2 fuel damage. Time pressure, underestimation of safety consequences by both operator and regulators, and overconfidence in vendor Framatome ANP were major factors in the 10 April fuel damage incident at Hungary's Paks-2 reactor, an IAEA expert mission has concluded. The team said those factors contributed to a weak assessment of a new design and operation. It concluded that "neither the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority (HAEA) nor Paks used conservative decision-making in their safety assessments for this unproven fuel cleaning system". Paks and Framatome are still debating the accident sequence, the tank remains in the fuel transfer pool, and the closed reactor is costing Paks US$ 225,000 a day. The IAEA team concluded also that personnel involved did not receive adequate training. A video inspection has recently shown that all 30 fuel elements inside the container were damaged, some severely. WNA News Briefing 03.25, 18-24 June 2003; Nucleonis Week, 26 June 2003

Nuclear plant delay requested. The Union of Concerned Scientists wants U.S. FirstEnergy Corp.'s troubled Davis-Besse nuclear power plant kept shut down until a federal criminal investigation of the plant ends. The Washington-based advocacy group sent on 25 June a letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission urging the agency to delay any restart until the NRC concludes its criminal investigation. The Union believe there is strong evidence FirstEnergy management committed criminal acts in lying under oath to the NRC. Beacon Journal, Ohio, 26 June 2003

Phenix fast reactor restarts. The French Phenix reactor has restarted after a Euro 250 million (US$ 290 million) upgrade. The 250 MW experimental fast breeder reactor had been shut down since 1995. Since its opening in 1973 it had a low capacity factor of only 27% (see WISE News Communique 490: "In brief"). Phenix will not be used to "breed" plutonium as was its original design. In the coming years (it will finally close in 2008) it will be used for research on burning actinides (plutonium, americium, etc.). WNA Weekly Digest, 20 June 2003

DU in the 2003 war on Iraq and international conference. A new report The Use of Depleted Uranium in the 2003 Iraq War by Dan Fahey, available on the WISE uranium website ( reveals that during the 2003 Iraq War, the U.S. and U.K. armed forces shot ammunition made from depleted uranium (DU) at a wide variety of targets. Although there is little known about the actual quantities of DU released or the locations of contamination, it appears that approximately 100 to 200 metric tons was shot at tanks, trucks, buildings and people in largely densely populated areas. The U.S. and U.K. governments have announced they will medically test veterans who were exposed to DU. The lack of a coherent environmental policy will likely result in Iraqi civilians and relief workers being unnecessarily exposed to DU contamination. Further policy action and additional research are needed to resolve the uncertainties regarding the use and effects of DU munitions in the war.
Connected to this is an initiative for an international conference on depleted uranium (DU): Depleted uranium / uranium weapons: the Trojan horses of nuclear war. This international organizing Conference will take place in Hamburg, Germany from 16-19 October 2003, at the University of Hamburg. The purpose of the conference is to bring together under one umbrella the different facets of a widely scattered movement, and galvanize a cohesive international strategy and movement to eliminate DU and other uranium weapons. The primary language of the conference will be English, with translators. It will also be broadcast by live-Internet feed for those such as individual affected veterans and civilian populations in Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan who cannot afford to directly attend.
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