You are here

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Iran: Busher reaches first criticality
According to Russian builder AtomStroyExport (ASE),  Iran's first nuclear power reactor Bushehr achieved criticality on 8 May 2011 and is now functioning at the minimum controlled power level. Final commissioning tests will now be carried out prior to start of commercial operation. According to Iranian news agency Fars, the plant is expected to be connected to the national grid within the next two months.
Construction work began on two German-designed pressurised water reactors (PWRs) at the Persian Gulf site in the mid-1970s but was abandoned in 1979 following the Islamic revolution when unit 1 was substantially complete. In 1994, Russia's Minatom agreed to complete unit 1 as a VVER-1000 making use of the infrastructure already in place. However, this necessitated major changes, including fabrication of all the main reactor components in Russia under a construction contract with AtomStroyExport. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said in 2008 that it was no longer planning to complete Bushehr unit 2. Further delays ensued for negotiations over fuel supply for the plant, but two agreements were signed early in 2005 covering the supply of fresh fuel for the reactor and its return to Russia after use, securing the plant's fuel supply needs for the foreseeable future.
In February 2011, only weeks before operation was expected to start, the discovery of debris from damaged coolant pumps meant that all the fresh reactor fuel had to be unloaded, checked and cleaned, and the reactor internals and main circulation pipeline flushed through. Bushehr will produce about 1000 MWe for the Iranian grid; about 3% of the country's power supply.
The following table shows which countries produced nuclear energy for the first time after the 1970’s. Currently, only 10 countries did so (of which 3 weren't independent countries at that time), and if we look at countries who started construction of their first nuclear power station, we find that only China and Romania did so after the 1970’s (as said, Iran started in the 1970's)

Country         start of construction             first power of           

of first n-power plant          first n-reactor           

Slovenia                      3-1975                                    10-1981

Brazil                          5-1971                                    4-1982

Hungary                     8-1974                                    12-1982

Lithuania                    5-1977                                    12-1983

South Africa               7-1976                                    4-1984

Czech Republic          1-1979                                    2-1985

Mexico                       10-1976                                  4-1989

China                          3-1985                                    12-1991

Romania                     7-1982                                    7-1996

Iran                             -1975                                       -2011

So which country will be next? According to the World Nuclear Association nuclear power is under serious consideration in over 45 countries which do not currently have it. However, that is in most cases more whish than reality. It is difficult to predict which country will start with the construction of its first nuclear reactor next: will it be Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Turkey, Jordan or after all the United Arab Emirates?

World Nuclear news, 10 May 2011 / Nuclear Monitor, 21 June 2007 / World Nuclear Association, Emerging nuclear energy countries (visited 25 May 2011)

Big antinuclear demonstration Switzerland. An estimated 20.000 people have held a massive demonstration in northern Switzerland against a possible decision by the government to rely on nuclear energy. The demonstration, staged near the Beznau nuclear power plant, was also attended by people from Germany, Austria and France. According to Maude Poirier, spokeswoman for Sortons du nucleaire, the rally was the biggest protest at nuclear power in Switzerland in 25 years.

Over a thousand high school students went on strike and marched to the centre of Bern on May 24Tuesday, to protest against Switzerland's nuclear energy policy, even though local police had not granted permission for the demonstration.

A day later, on May 25, the Swiss cabinet has called for the phasing out of the country’s five nuclear power reactors and for new energy sources to replace them. The recommendation will be debated in parliament, which is expected to make a final decision in June. If approved, the reactors would be decommissioned between 2019 and 2034 after they have reached their average lifespan of 50 years.

But the delay will anger the antinuclear movement, Greens and the Social Democrats (SP) who had called for nuclear reactors to be closed earlier. And indeed, it looks less like a phase-out scenario and more like an attempt to 'save' nuclear power.

The decision is likely to please business groups who had warned that "a premature shut down of Switzerland's nuclear reactors could lead to higher electricity costs and negatively impact the country's energy-hungry manufacturing sector."

Swiss utility companies Axpo, Alpiq and BKW had expressed an interest in building new nuclear plants and decisions on sites had been expected in mid-2012. (more on Switzerland: Nuclear Monitor 726; 13 May 2011)

Financial Times, 26 May 2011 / Reuters, 25 May 2011 / The Local (Sw.), 24 may 2011

Six potential locations for Danish LLW & ILW repository.
A major step towards a repository for Denmark's low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste has been made with the submission of three pre-feasibility studies to the Danish interior and health ministry. The first study, prepared by national decommissioning body Dansk Dekommissionering (DD), looks at different disposal concepts in terms of types of repository, waste conditioning, safety analyses, costs and long-term impact assessments. Overall, the studies conclude that a moderately deep repository would be the most appropriate from a security point of view, although this would be more expensive than a near-surface repository. From 22 areas suggested in preliminary studies, the reports recommend that six potential sites are taken forward for further study. The six identified locations will now be narrowed down to a shortlist of two or three by an inter-ministerial working group in a process that will include the affected municipalities and regions.

Denmark never implemented a commercial nuclear power program but operated a total of three scientific research reactors over the period from the late-1950s up to 2000, as well as associated fuel fabrication facilities. All three reactors – DR-1, DR-2 and DR-3 – were located at the Risø National Laboratory north of Roskilde on the island of Zeeland. Most of the used fuel from the reactors has been returned to the USA, but the country still has a sizeable amount of low and intermediate level radioactive waste which is being stored at Risø pending the selection and construction of a final repository.

World Nuclear News, 5 May 2011

SKB Turns in application for permit to build a final repository.
On March 16, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, SKB, applied for a permit to build a final repository for spent nuclear fuel and a facility where the fuel will be encapsulated before being transported to the final repository. SKB's application will now be reviewed by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority and the Environmental Court. The application will subsequently be presented for political decision in the relevant municipalities and by the government. SKB wants to use the so-called KBS-3 method for the repository, in which spent fuel would be placed in copper and steel canisters before being placed in granite bedrock 500 meters below the surface. Bentonite clay would be put around the canisters as a barrier to radioactive leakage. Critics of the plan have repeatedly questioned the choice of copper and its potential for corrosion, among others issues.

The Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review, or MKG, an organization that opposes the KBS-3 method, said that SKB has “shown arrogance in the face of criticism” about the method. The group called on Swedish politicians to “take responsibility” and require alternative methods to be further reviewed. MKG  favors a so-called deep-borehole repository, which would be deeper underground than the repository planned by SKB.

SKB is applying for permission to build an encapsulation facility in Oskarshamn Municipality and a final repository for spent nuclear fuel at Forsmark in Östhammar Municipality. (see more on the SKB plans in: Nuclear Monitor 706, 26 March 2010: “Nuclear fuel waste storage: end of the road for the Swedish solution”).

In December 2009 SKB, the industry's jointly owned company for nuclear waste solutions, published a "preliminary" environmental impact statement (EIS) on the KBS-3 scheme. The report failed to meet even rudimentary requirements of an EIS. In January 2010 the SKB unilaterally declared the termination of public consultations on the project (consultations mandated by the Swedish Environmental Code, 1998). SKB makes no apologies, but simply notes that long-awaited updates will be filed together with the formal application.

SKB, 16 March 2011 / Nuclear Fuel, 21 February 2011 / Nuclear Fuel, 21 March 2011 / Nuclear Monitor 706, 26 March, 2010

The 'greying' of the nuclear industry.
Almost a third of Britain's nuclear inspectors are eligible to retire within three years, leaving a potential 'knowledge gap' within the regulator. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has hired 93 new inspectors since 2008. But of the 217 inspectors, 30 per cent are over the age of 57, 11 per cent are over 60 and 70 could retire by 2015. The regulator said that new recruits were needed soon so that the older generation could pass on their expertise and bridge the knowledge gap. Is that what they mean by saying that the nuclear industry has matured?

The Times (UK), 19 May 2011