USA: Jail sentence for under-reporting injuries at nuclear plants. An American court has sentenced a former engineering safety manager to 6.5 years in prison for falsifying information about injuries at three nuclear power plant sites. Walter Cardin was convicted in November 2012by a federal grand jury of eight counts of major fraud against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a US government corporation. The offences were committed from 2004 to 2006. Cardin was convicted of providing false information by under-reporting the number of injuries and their severity.
At the time of the offences, Shaw Group subsidiary Stone & Webster Construction had been contracted by the TVA to provide maintenance and modification services at the Browns Ferry, Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear sites, including construction work for the restart of Browns Ferry 1. False injury rates were then used by Stone & Webster to collect safety bonuses of over $2.5 million from TVA. Stone & Webster paid back US$6.2 million to the USA as part of a civil settlement over the false claims and contract fraud in early 2009. During the trial, evidence was presented covering more than 80 injuries that were not properly recorded by Cardin. Some employees testified that they had been denied or delayed proper medical treatment as a result of Cardin's actions. (World Nuclear News, 15 April 2013, 'Jail sentence for falsification')
Bulgarian nuclear plant leak. A turbo generator at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant was shutdown due to a hydrogen leak in its cooling system. The component that was shut down was part of its conventional, non-nuclear unit, reported Associated Press. The plant, located 200km north of the capital Sofia, has two 1000 MW reactors built in Russia. Two older 440 MW units at the plant were permanently decommissioned in 2006 as a result of European Union safety concerns. Officials were not able to confirm what repairs are necessary at the plant or when the unit might be back in operation. The plant has two 1000-megawatt Russia-built nuclear units. Two older 440-megawatt units at the nuclear plant were permanently decommissioned in 2006 because of European Union safety concerns. (Energy Business Review, 15 April 2013, nuclear.energy-business-review.com)
USA: shots fired at Watts Bar nuclear plant. A security officer patrolling TVA Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City was involved in a shootout with a suspect on Sunday April 21 at about 2am. The incident happened on the Tennessee River side of the plant property, several hundred metres from the plant's protected area, which houses its reactor and power production facilities. The person travelled up to the plant on a boat and walked onto the property. When the officer questioned the suspect, the individual fired multiple shots at the officer. The officer shot back, and when he called for backup, the suspect sped away on his boat. At least one bullet struck the patrol vehicle, but the officer was not injured in the incident.
One power reactor operates at Watts Bar, and another is under construction. TVA has had security problems at Watts Bar before, and two contractors have been convicted of falsifying records about inspections of non-existent electrical cable that would have served the newest reactor's cooling system. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2011 placed Watts Bar under a security safety flag for several months, but neither TVA nor the NRC would discuss why. The US government is considering privatising TVA. (www.timesfreepress.com; www.wbir.com)
South Korea / US nuclear agreement. South Korea and the US have agreed to extend by two years an agreement that prevents Seoul from enriching uranium or reprocessing spent fuel (processes with important implications for weapons proliferation). Those processes were prohibited as part of a 1972 pact that provided Seoul with US nuclear fuel and technology. That deal was set to expire next year but will be extended for another two years. South Korea has been pushing to end the ban on enrichment and reprocessing. South Korea's Foreign Ministry said the two governments would use the two-year extension period to work out "the complexity of details and technologies." South Korea has a long history of secret nuclear weapons research, and in recent years has expressed interest in 'pyroprocessing', possibly to circumvent the ban on conventional PUREX reprocessing. (NTI Global Security Newswire, 24 April 2013, 'South Korea, U.S. Still at Odds on New Atomic Trade Terms'; WISE/NIRS)
USA: environment group told to pay thousands for public info. Clean Nebraska, which is calling for an investigation into the troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant, is asking the Omaha Public Power District for financial data regarding the plant but has been told the information will cost between US$2,500 and $5,000 due to "staff time and other costs." Clean Nebraska's Mike Ryan said: "This looks and smells like a cover-up. Charging ratepayers $2,500 or more for public information effectively hides it from us." Ryan said they are asking for information regarding costs to repair and ultimately restart the reactor. Fort Calhoun has been shut down for two years and will not be restarted without the approval of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (Joe Jordan, 17 April 2013, 'Group told to pay thousands for public info on troubled nuke plant', http://watchdog.org)
Quake too close to Iran's reactor for comfort. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake shook Iran's southern shores on April, as the country celebrated National Nuclear Technology Day. Iran's sole nuclear power reactor, at Bushehr, 150 kms from the quake's epicentre, was unaffected, Iranian and Russian officials said. The reactor, completed in 2011, sits at the intersection of three tectonic plates and is designed to endure earthquakes up to a magnitude of 6.7.
During tests in February 2011, all four of the reactor's emergency cooling pumps were damaged. The reactor was shut down again last October after stray bolts were found beneath the fuel cells. The Iranian government has neglected to address basic questions about its preparedness for a nuclear emergency, including the lack of evacuation drills for Bushehr residents. Iran's Nuclear Regulatory Authority is not an independent body. As a result of the politicisation of Iran's nuclear program, safety concerns are secondary. The Russian operators of the plant are due to run the reactor for only the first two years after its official September 2011 start-up and then are to hand over control to the Iranians. Iran is the only nuclear power country that has not signed the Convention on Nuclear Safety, which sets international benchmarks on the siting, design, construction and operation of reactors. (Foreign Policy; The Age, 13 April 2013, 'Quake too close to Iran's reactor for comfort')
Lithuania concerned about Belarus nuclear plant. The Implementation Committee of the United Nation's Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention) has criticised Belarus for failing to provide information, including environmental impact assessment (EIA) documentation, to neighbouring Lithuania. Despite numerous official requests sent by Lithuania, its questions about compliance with nuclear safety standards and environmental requirements had not been answered, Lithuanian Environment Minister Valentinas Mazuronis said.
Lithuania filed a complaint with the Espoo Convention Implementation Committee and the Espoo Convention Secretariat against alleged violations of the Convention by Belarus in June 2011. In March 2013, the Committee drafted its final conclusions, which should be approved at the meeting of the Parties to the Convention in June 2014. ('Espoo Committee: Lithuania's concerns over Astravyets nuclear facility are justified', 17 April 2013, www.15min.lt; UN Espoo Convention www.unece.org/env/eia)
Portugal sets 70% renewables record. According to new figures from Portugal's grid operator REN, 70% of the electricity consumed in Portugal during the first quarter of the year came from renewable sources as a result of favourable weather conditions and the country's investment in wind and hydro-electricity capacity. Hydroelectric output rose 312% per cent year-on-year, accounting for 37 per cent of total consumption, while wind energy generation rose 60% per cent, delivering 27% of total consumption. The performance is likely to have resulted in a significant emission reductions, given output from coal and gas-fired power stations fell 29% and 44% respectively, compared with the first quarter of 2012. (econews.com.au/news-to-sustain-our-world, 15 April 2013)
Singapore rules out nuclear. The Singaporean government is not actively considering nuclear power, because emergency planning would be too much for the small, densely-populated country. This follows a pre-feasibility study completed last year. Singapore's electricity supply will be increasingly fuelled by gas, which already makes up 78% of supply and will increase further, cutting into the 18% provided by oil. Singapore joins a growing list of countries that have decided since the Fukushima disaster not to engage or re-engage in nuclear programs, although they had previously planned to do so, including Greece, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Oman, Peru, Portugal, Thailand, and Venezuela. Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland plan to phase-out their existing nuclear power programs.
Germany: search for nuclear waste site. Germany will launch a new site selection process for a repository to hold the country's radioactive waste under a compromise agreement between the federal and state governments and opposition parties. A draft law calls for the formation of a 24-member federal-state commission to develop proposals on safety requirements and site selection criteria by the end of 2015. The Bundestag will take decisions on the individual steps of the site selection process, including decisions on locations for above- and underground site surveys. The commission will recommend a repository site to parliament by 2031. The proposal calls for the repository to be built by 2040.
The parties agreed that, for the time being, no more radioactive waste would be transported to the Gorleben salt dome in Lower Saxony state, which has been under investigation as a potential repository site. Site suitability work at Gorleben will be terminated and a research laboratory will not be built there. However, Gorleben will not be excluded from the new site selection process. German nuclear waste currently stored abroad is to be taken to other interim storage sites in Germany.
Currently, German radioactive waste is placed in interim storage, with used fuel mostly stored at reactor sites. Most German used fuel is to be reprocessed overseas. Vitrified high-level wastes arising from reprocessing contracts signed up to 1989 is stored in surface facilities at Gorleben and Ahaus. Work began in 2007 on the conversion of a former iron ore mine at Konrad in Lower Saxony into a repository for low- and intermediate-level waste which is planned to be in operation around 2014. (World Nuclear News, 10 April 2013, 'Search for German repository site starts again')
Navajo help create uranium clean-up plan. In 2006, Navajo tribal and federal agencies developed a five-year plan to remediate contaminated uranium mining sites on the reservation. The first five-year plan ended in 2012 with only some of the goals met and now a second five-year plan is being developed. More than 200 tribal officials, federal representatives and Navajo family members recently held a two-day meeting at the Uranium Contamination Stakeholder Workshop.
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said the agencies "still have a long way ahead" to deal with a variety of problems stemming from the uranium mining on the reservation in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Hundreds of Navajo families built their homes using material from the mining and mill operations. The tribe and the federal government are still in the process of tearing these homes down and relocating Navajo families into safer homes.
Nicole Moutoux, who heads the Superfund Program for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco, said that surveys have found that there are more than 400 sites on the reservation that exceed the average uranium levels. "There are 36 sites that are more than 10 times the norm," she said.
Another speaker, Angela Ragin-Wilson, representative for Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said more efforts are being made to track the effects of uranium exposure on the health of young Navajos as part of a birth cohort study. (Bill Donovan, 18 April 2013, 'Navajo families help create five-year uranium cleanup plan', navajotimes.com/news/2013/0413/041813ura.php)
UK nuclear plant leaking radioactive waste 'for months'. A nuclear power station in Kent has been leaking radioactive waste for months according to the UK Environment Agency. Routine tests on boreholes drilled close to the Dungeness B plant found traces of tritium measuring more than seven times the agreed level. The Environment Agency said: "EDF informed the Environment Agency and the Office for Nuclear Regulation in September 2012 and in December 2012 that they had monitored elevated levels of tritium in the groundwater on the Dungeness B nuclear licensed site. Dungeness B is a significant distance from any boreholes used for drinking water abstraction. As a precaution, the local water authority has been informed of the results." Dungeness B is two advanced gas cooled reactors which began operations in 1983 and 1985. It remains operational after Dungeness A was closed in 2006. (Daily Mail, 18 April 2013)
Australia: Radioactive Exposure Tour. Friends of the Earth, Australia has just completed its annual Radioactive Exposure Tour to the South Australian desert. The 'radtours' have their origins in the blockades of the Olympic Dam (Roxby Downs) copper/uranium mine in the early 1980s. The tours have exposed thousands of people first-hand to the realities of 'radioactive racism' and to the environmental impacts of the nuclear industry. This year's group included visitors from Vietnam, India and Germany.
One of the highlights this year was speaking to Mrs Emily Austin, one of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta who led an inspiring and successful campaign to prevent the Howard Government imposing a nuclear waste dump on their land near Woomera in SA. Another highlight of this year's radtour was the participation of Maralinga nuclear bomb test veteran Avon Hudson for the whole 10-day trip. Visit the Woomera Missile Park and you'll see big chunks of metal − but Avon brings them to life with his encylopaedic recollection of the history of missile testing in the region.
Participants were privileged to hear from Marg Sprigg at the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary − land that is 1.8 billion years old. The Spriggs are celebrating a successful campaign to prevent Marathon Resources from establishing a uranium mine inside the precious sanctuary. Marathon did itself no favours by illegally disposing of hundreds of low-level radioactive drill samples inside the Sanctuary; the company was caught out by detective work by Marg and Doug Sprigg. (www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/radtour)