NEC2016 Conference: 'Nuclear Energy ‒ Expensive Gamble'
There were eight main and three opening speeches at the Nuclear Energy Conference 2016 held in Prague on April 5. The conference website (www.nec2016.eu) includes the presentations, profiles of the speakers, photos and audio recordings of all three sections in three languages.
Speakers expressed their surprise at how there is still a need to talk about the unresolved safety problems 30 years after Chernobyl and five years after Fukushima. It was highlighted that energy economics has changed: today we need flexible electricity systems and small units such as renewable energy sources. These are getting cheaper, with almost zero operating costs and negligible costs of disposal in comparison to nuclear power plants. A pressing need to reduce risks associated with radioactive releases to the environment was mentioned and how the associated risks increase with a plant lifetime extension. In connection with this there were serious concerns raised about an indefinite license to operate the first block of the Dukovany nuclear power plant which was issued in March 2016.
On the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl (the Jaslovské Bohunice accident in 1977 was also discussed briefly) it was concluded that until now nuclear accident modelling approaches have always failed because they were not able to incorporate the human factor. It was made clear that high standards for nuclear energy exist, but only on paper with no implementation in practice. Safety culture of operators and their control by the state authorities are lacking. Furthermore, operators are trying to save money on safety measures. The audience discussed these topics in relation to the presentations on the EU's new Nuclear Safety Directive and limited liability. It has been pronounced that civil society participation is indispensable in order to improve safety culture and to prevent disasters such as Chernobyl, the consequences of which have become more obvious nowadays. The TORCH study has shown that radioactive fallout after Chernobyl will result in at least 40,000 cancer deaths in Europe (see Nuclear Monitor #820).
As was said in the opening speech, the coming two years should indicate the future direction of the European energy industry. Whether billions will be invested to subsidize new and current nuclear projects, whether a legal action against the Hinkley Point C project in the UK will succeed and whether subsidies for nuclear energy will be banned, based on a legal ‒ not political ‒ decision. We can only hope that by then no nuclear accident caused by aging nuclear power plants will occur. There are serious concerns with aging reactors, as stated in the presentations devoted to technological parameters of the Belgian, Slovakian and French plants. Serious shortcomings of nuclear power plants in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic were also commented upon in the presentation on safety 'stress tests'.
‒ Olga Kališová, Calla – Association for Preservation of the Environment, Czech Republic
UK groups consider how to go 'Beyond Nuclear' and deliver on renewables
As part of commemorating the 30th Chernobyl and 5th Fukushima anniversaries, a number of UK anti-nuclear groups came together to organise events in London and Manchester under the title of 'Beyond Nuclear'. The aim of the events was to commemorate Chernobyl and Fukushima by understanding their ongoing effects in Belarus, Ukraine, in places around Europe and Japan and the Pacific Ocean. It was also important to consider, if we were to go to 'beyond nuclear', could renewable energy provide the low-carbon energy that is required? The organising group included the UK and Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), the Low Level Radiation and Health Conference, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the Chernobyl Children's Project - UK (CCP), the Socialist Environmental Resource Association (SERA), Kick Nuclear and Japanese Citizens Against Nuclear – UK (JAN).
The events were spread over four days – March 17–20 – and commenced with a Parliamentary seminar in Portcullis House, Westminster. The keynote speaker was Alexander Likhotal, the President and CEO of Green Cross International, who gave an address on behalf of its patron, Mikhail Gorbachev. The speech noted how the terrible effects of the Chernobyl disaster had been a pivotal moment in Gorbachev's career and raised for him real issues over the safety of nuclear power. A key part of the work of Green Cross is to push for promoting the benefits of energy efficiency and a wide renewable energy mix whilst directly supporting evacuated communities in both Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Many of the speakers in London also spoke at a special Nuclear Free Local Authorities seminar and the main 'Beyond Nuclear' conference in Manchester. They included radiation and health specialists Professor Tim Mousseau, Dr Ian Fairlie and Dr Keith Baverstock. They highlighted the huge environmental dislocation following the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters and the ongoing health problems on human and animal health. They called for a real challenge to UN and international health organisations, who they felt continue to downplay the health and environmental effects of both disasters.
Yayoi Hitomi gave a moving overview of the problems that exist for those evacuated from Fukushima. Working with many local groups, there are huge radioactive waste issues in the area, as well as concerted pressure from the Japanese Government to encouraged local people to return back to 'decontaminated' areas, creating great stress amongst affected communities.
A key part of the events was to bring an international flavour to a UK audience. David Reinberger of Vienna City Council's Ombuds-Office / Cities for a Nuclear Free Europe Secretariat explained why Austria had issued a legal challenge to the Hinkley Point C development in Somerset, and why Vienna was working with UK local authorities and Councils in 10 European countries to oppose new nuclear and advocate decentralised energy solutions.
Reinhard Uhrig of Global 2000 Austria, Angelika Claussen of IPPNW Germany and Linda Pentz Gunter of Beyond Nuclear USA gave overviews of the challenges made to nuclear power in their countries and how renewable energy projects were developing. They also provided guidance and solidarity to UK groups challenging new nuclear. Professor Keith Barnham provided the conference with a UK based energy solution – drawing from his book 'The Burning Answer'. This centred on combining wind and solar as the key components of energy policy; with biogas and energy efficiency as back-ups when and where required. He urged local authorities and community energy cooperatives to take up this vision.
The final day of the events brought campaigners together from around the UK to focus on improving campaigns, working more closely together and benefiting from international experience. It was agreed that there is a need to develop a network of groups together and seek new resources to enhance its effectiveness. Reports are going back to funding sponsors the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, Lush Charitable Trust and WISE International to get this process moving forward; and further discussions are taking place with all the groups who were involved. With 2016 such a pivotal year in UK nuclear policy – as the Hinkley Point project 'wobbles' and discussion is made over UK radioactive waste strategy – it is important to continue with the excellent momentum from the 'Beyond Nuclear' events.
Some of the presentations are already available on the NFLA website. The full list of presentations and a link to filmed presentations will go on the weblink www.nuclearpolicy.info/category/presentations on Chernobyl Day, April 26, along with an article from Professor Keith Barnham advocating for a new, alternative, renewables-centred UK energy policy.
‒ Sean Morris, Nuclear Free Local Authorities Secretary, email@example.com
Nuclear energy ‒ an intergenerational issue
A new report ‒ 'Toxic Time Capsule: Why nuclear energy is an intergenerational issue' ‒ has been released by the New Weather Institute. Commissioned by the Intergenerational Foundation, a British charity, the 47-page report compares the intergenerational costs and benefits of different energy choices in the UK. It argues that doubts growing over the viability of building new nuclear power stations create an important and timely opportunity to rethink the UK's energy strategy and get a better deal for the nation. It argues there will be significant and often hidden costs that would be passed on to future generations in the event of a significant expansion in nuclear power, and that renewable options offer a better intergenerational contract.
The costs of the nuclear option include: higher prices paid per KWh for generating electricity; high and long-term costs for managing radioactive waste; complex and long-term security requirements; missed opportunities for capturing greater economic value from our energy system; undermining effective action on global warming that includes the development of better alternatives; and the locking-in of a less flexible, less secure and more vulnerable energy infrastructure, subject to unsolved problems and a lasting toxic legacy.
The greatest danger is that an expansion of nuclear power, justified on the grounds that it is a significant solution for global warming, in fact represents a major obstacle to more effective action, making runaway climate change more likely, whilst at the same time leaving an unwelcome environmental toxic time capsule for future generations to handle.
The report states that a highly conservative estimate puts the additional cost of power from the proposed Hinkley Point C reactor project for its 35-year initial contract period, compared to onshore wind and solar power, at £31.2 billion and £39.9 billion respectively. If similar costs applied to other currently planned or proposed reactors for the UK, the nuclear premium would be between £175 billion and £220 billion compared to the renewable options.
The report concludes that intergenerational concerns should be designed into the process for making energy choices, and suggests guiding principles and minimum criteria to achieve those ends. The report also finds that, if applied, such criteria point to an energy system in transition to renewable energy which would serve both current and future generations equally well.
New Weather Institute / Intergenerational Foundation, April 2016, 'Toxic Time Capsule: Why nuclear energy is an intergenerational issue', www.newweather.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Toxic-Time-Capsule.pdf, www.if.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Toxic-Time-Capsule_Final_28-Mar...
Post-Fukushima safety upgrades cost $47 billion
A Platts review finds that the global nuclear industry is spending US$47 billion (€41.4b) on safety enhancements. Platts found that in nine of the 13 countries with the largest nuclear fleets, costs to comply with post-Fukushima requirements will total more than US$40 billion, mostly before 2020. Those countries accounted for 289, or two-thirds, of the power reactors in operation worldwide. The median of the costs was $46.9 million/reactor. If the remaining reactors not covered in the Platts survey spent the median amount to meet post-Fukushima regulatory requirements, the global cost to make post-Fukushima enhancements would be $47.2 billion.
William Freebairn / Platts, 29 March 2016, 'Nuclear safety upgrades post-Fukushima cost $47 billion', http://blogs.platts.com/2016/03/29/nuclear-safety-upgrades-post-fukushima/