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Diminishing prospects for MOX and integral fast reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor

A non-existent reactor type called the 'integral fast reactor' (IFR) has some prominent champions, including climate scientist James Hansen. Supporters are beguiled by the prospect of nuclear waste and weapons-usable material being used as fuel to generate low-carbon power − helping to address three problems at once.

The theoretical attractiveness fades away when the real-world history of fast reactors is considered: they have proven to be accident-prone, expensive white elephants, and they have contributed to weapons proliferation.

Both the US and the UK governments have been considering building IFRs. The primary purpose in both countries would be to provide a degree of proliferation resistance to stockpiles of separated plutonium. For Hansen and other IFR supporters, the significance of the US and UK proposals is that the construction of IFRs in those countries could kick-start a much greater worldwide deployment.

However, it seems increasingly unlikely that IFRs will be built in the US or the UK ... and no other country is seriously considering building them.

The latest report on US plutonium disposition options signals a shift away from using mixed uranium/plutonium (MOX) fuel in favor of disposal − and it didn't consider IFRs to be worthy of detailed consideration. The study − commissioned by the Department of Energy (DoE) and produced by a 'Red Team' of experts from US nuclear laboratories, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the commercial nuclear power industry − was leaked to the Union of Concerned Scientists and has been posted on the UCS website.1,2

The plutonium in question is 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium from the US nuclear weapons program (with Russia having also agreed to remove the same amount of plutonium from its military stockpile). The partially built MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina has proven to be an expensive white elephant. The DoE Red Team report details the "difficult, downward spiraling circumstances" that have plagued the MOX program and contributed to the delays and massive cost overruns at the MOX facility.

The UCS notes that the estimated life-cycle cost of the MOX facility has ballooned from US$1.6 billion (€1.43b) to more than US$30 billion (€26.9b), and the DoE report notes that the cost of the MOX approach for plutonium disposition has "increased dramatically".

The World Nuclear Association has crunched the numbers: "Despite being 60% built, the MOX plant still needs some 15 years of construction work, said the leaked report, and then about three years of commissioning. Once in operation the plant would work through the plutonium over about 10 years with this 28-year program to cost $700-800 million per year − a total of $19.6−22.4 billion on top of what has already been spent."3

The DoE Red Team report states that it may not be possible to get sufficient reactors to use MOX fuel to make the approach viable − and that it may struggle get utilities to use MOX fuel even if it is given away for free (!) and even in markets where additional costs (e.g. licensing costs to enable the use of MOX fuel) can be passed directly on to consumers.

The DoE Red Team report promotes a 'Dilute and Dispose' option − downblending or diluting plutonium with adulterating material and then disposing of it. The DoE has already used that method to dispose of several tons of plutonium. DoE proposes disposal of the 34 metric tons of downblended plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico.

WIPP would also be required if the MOX approach is pursued. WIPP has been closed since a February 2014 underground chemical explosion but the Red Team anticipates that it will re-open in the coming years and could be available for downblended waste (or MOX waste).

Don Hancock from the Albuquerque-based Southwest Information and Research Center opposes the MOX project but is sceptical about disposal at WIPP, saying the DoE should review other options including storing the plutonium at the Savannah River Site or the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, where thousands of plutonium pits are already warehoused. Hancock said: "The Red Team or the Union of Concerned Scientists may be confident that WIPP will reopen in a few years, but I don't see any real basis for that. Going from one bad idea to another bad idea is not the solution to this problem."4

Integral fast reactors

IFRs − also called PRISM or Advanced Disposition Reactors (ADR) − have been considered for plutonium disposition in the US. The ADR concept is similar to General Electric Hitachi's PRISM according to the DoE.

Last year a DoE Working Group concluded that the ADR approach would be more than twice as expensive as all the other options under consideration for plutonium disposition; that it would take 18 years to construct an ADR and associated facilities; and that the ADR option is associated with "significant technical risk".5

The 2014 DoE Working Group report stated:

"Irradiation of plutonium fuel in fast reactors ... faces two major technical challenges: the first involves the design, construction, start-up, and licensing of a multi-billion dollar prototype modular, pool-type advanced fast-spectrum burner reactor; and the second involves the design and construction of the metal fuel fabrication in an existing facility. As with any initial design and construction of a first-of-a-kind prototype, significant challenges are endemic to the endeavor, however DoE has thirty years of experience with metal fuel fabrication and irradiation. The metal fuel fabrication facility challenges include: scale-up of the metal fuel fabrication process that has been operated only at a pilot scale, and performing modifications to an existing, aging, secure facility ... Potential new problems also may arise during the engineering and procurement of the fuel fabrication process to meet NRC's stringent Quality Assurance requirements for Nuclear Power Plants and Fuel Reprocessing Plants."

In short, the ADR option is associated with "significant technical risk" according to the 2014 DoE report, and metal fuel fabrication faces "significant technical challenges" and has only been operated at the pilot scale.

If the August 2015 DoE Red Team report is any guide, the IFR/ADR option is dead and buried in the US. The Red Team didn't even consider IFR/ADR worthy of detailed consideration:1

"The ADR option involves a capital investment similar in magnitude to the MFFF [Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility] but with all of the risks associated with first of-a kind new reactor construction (e.g., liquid metal fast reactor), and this complex nuclear facility construction has not even been proposed yet for a Critical Decision (CD)-0. Choosing the ADR option would be akin to choosing to do the MOX approach all over again, but without a directly relevant and easily accessible reference facility/operation (such as exists for MOX in France) to provide a leg up on experience and design. Consequently, the remainder of this Red Team report focuses exclusively on the MOX approach and the Dilute and Dispose option, and enhancements thereof."

The DoE Red Team report states that the IFR/ADR option has "large uncertainties in siting, licensing, cost, technology demonstration, and other factors". It states that the IFR/ADR option "could become more viable in the future" if fast reactors were to become part of the overall U.S. nuclear energy strategy.

IFR/PRISM/ADR advocates argued in 2011 that the first PRISM could be built in the US by 2016.6 However the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to receive a licensing submission from General Electric Hitachi and there are no concrete plans for PRISMs in the US let alone any concrete pours.

IFRs in the UK?

The UK government is also considering building IFRs for plutonium disposition. Specifically, General Electric Hitachi (GEH) is promoting 'Power Reactor Innovative Small Module' (PRISM) fast reactors.7

The UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) released a position paper in January 2014 outlining potential options for future management of separated plutonium stockpiles.8 The NDA report stated that reuse in Candu reactors "remains a credible option", that MOX is a "credible and technically mature option", while PRISM "should also be considered credible, although further investigation may change this view."

The NDA report stated that the facilities required by the PRISM approach have not been industrially demonstrated, so further development work needs to be undertaken with the cost and time to complete this work yet to be defined in detail. GEH estimates that licensing these first of a kind PRISM reactors would take around six years. GEH envisages first irradiation (following development, licensing and construction) in 14−18 years but the NDA considers that timeframe "ambitious considering delivery performance norms currently seen in the UK and European nuclear landscape".

As in the US, the likelihood of IFR/ADR/PRISM reactors being built in the UK seems to be diminishing. An August 2015 report states that the Canadian Candu option seems to be emerging as a favorite for plutonium disposition in the UK, and that GEH is 'hedging its bets' by working with Candu Energy to develop the Candu approach.9,10


1. Thom Mason et al., 13 August 2015, 'Final Report of the Plutonium Disposition Red Team', for the US Department of Energy,

2. UCS, 20 Aug 2015, 'DOE Study Concludes MOX Facility More Expensive, Much Riskier than Disposing of Surplus Plutonium at New Mexico Repository',

3. World Nuclear News, 21 Aug 2015, 'Disposal beats MOX in US comparison',

4. Patrick Malone and Douglas Birch, 22 Aug 2015, Sante Fe New Mexican,

5. US Department of Energy, April 2014, 'Report of the Plutonium Disposition Working Group: Analysis of Surplus Weapon Grade Plutonium Disposition Options',

6. 'Disposal of UK plutonium stocks with a climate change focus',


8. UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Jan 2014, 'Progress on approaches to the management of separated plutonium – Position Paper',

9. Newswire 29th June 2015

10. August 2015, 'Slow Progress on Plutonium Stockpiles', nuClear news No.76,

US MOX plant may get the axe

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The Obama administration has reduced funding for the construction of a MOX fabrication plant at the Department of Energy's Savannah River site in South Carolina. The plant is about 60% complete but the Obama administration has asked Congress for US$320 million in its 2014 budget — down more than 25% from the current annual budget of US$435 million. In its budget request, the administration wrote that its high costs "may make the project unaffordable" and pledged to look for different ways to dispose of plutonium.

The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility is being built to carry out a bilateral deal with Russia to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium. However there is currently no agreed customer for the eventual MOX fuel, while Russia has decided to incorporate its plutonium into fuel for fast-neutron reactors rather than MOX for conventional reactors.

Planning for a MOX plant at Savannah River was first announced in 1998. The Department of Energy projected the construction and 25-year operating cost at US$1.8 billion to $2.3 billion, with operations starting in 2007. By the time construction began in 2007, the estimated construction cost had climbed to US$4.9 billion and the completion date had slid to 2016. In March, the Government Accountability Office told Congress that the construction cost has increased to at least US$7.7 billion, and the operational date will slip to 2019. Thus the estimated cost has risen from US$1.8 billion to US$7.7 billion, and start-up has slipped from 2007 to 2019. The project has cost US$3.7 billion so far, and the proposed allocation of US$320 million in 2014 represents less than 10% of the estimated US$4 billion required to complete construction.

Robert Raines from the National Nuclear Security Administration said that the project has suffered from rising costs, poor oversight, unrealistic expectations and inadequately designed critical components. He told a House appropriations subcommittee: "There was a tendency towards optimism in developing project estimates, assessing and assigning risks, identifying and locking in project requirements, and evaluating and monetizing the cost and schedule impacts of building a first-of- a-kind Hazard Category 1 nuclear facility."

Meanwhile, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing board is reviewing claims that the propsed MOX plant does not include adequate security measures. Watchdog groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, Nuclear Watch South and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, argue that "the risk of plutonium theft would be increased to an unacceptable level" if a federal contractor does not make "fundamental changes" to its plans to secure and account for material at the plant.

Shaw Areva MOX Services, which is building the plant, "proposes to rely on a computerized inventory system to meet certain NRC … regulations in lieu of conventional approaches that entail physical verification of plutonium items," the groups said in a statement.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with Union of Concerned Scientists, argued the company "is proposing a cut-rate approach for plutonium accounting that will make it much harder to detect a diversion or theft of plutonium before it is too late." The "computer-heavy approach could also increase the vulnerability of their accounting system to cyber attack," Lyman said.

Shaw Areva MOX Services said its proposed system meets NRC standards requiring "a licensee to verify, on a statistical sampling basis, the presence and integrity of [sensitive nuclear material], with a 99 percent power of detecting losses of five formula kilograms or more, plant wide, within 30 days ..."

Problems associated with plutonium management and accounting were all too evident at the Sellafield plant in the UK in 2005. A broken pipe in the THORP reprocessing plant led to the leaking into a containment structure of 83,000 litres of a highly radioactive liquor containing dissolved spent nuclear fuel. The spill contained 160 kgs of plutonium − enough to build 15-20 nuclear weapons − yet the loss went undetected for at least eight months. The accident was classified as Level 3 ('serious incident') on the 7-point International Nuclear Event Scale. British Nuclear Group Sellafield Limited was fined 500,000 pounds plus costs after pleading guilty to three serious, prolonged breaches of its licence conditions.

The UK Health and Safety Executive concluded: "An underlying cause was the culture within the plant that condoned the ignoring of alarms, the non-compliance with some key operating instructions, and safety-related equipment which was not kept in effective working order for some time, so this became the norm. In addition, there appeared to be an absence of a questioning attitude, for example, even where the evidence from the accountancy data was indicating something untoward, the possibility of a leak did not appear to be considered as a credible explanation until the evidence of a leak was incontrovertible."

References and main sources:


UK Plutonium and MOX Experience

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Martin Forwood

Since the production of plutonium (via the Windscale Pile reactors) for use by the UK's nuclear weapons program of the 1950's, Sellafield's flirtation with the civil use of plutonium has seen little progress and led to technical failure and international embarrassment.

From its military origins, plans to permanently deal with the country's ever-growing plutonium stockpile – currently at 118 tonnes, the largest in the world − have remained largely in the background until 2010 when the UK Government launched a Public Consultation on a range of management options. These included its re-use as mixed oxide fuel (MOX), its sale to third parties or its classification as nuclear waste. Given successive Governments' record of unbridled support for the industry, it is unsurprising that the re-use of plutonium in MOX fuel was chosen as the preferred option. Clearly ignoring recent experiences – as the record shows − both Government and industry appear to have fallen into the trap of actually believing their own propaganda.

Sellafield first turned its hand in the 1960s to the 'civil' use of plutonium which was being recovered in increasing amounts through the site's B204 and B205 reprocessing plant – the latter dealing with the spent from the UK's first generation Magnox reactors. The first of these, the Calder Hall reactors, retaining a dual civil/military role until the 1990s.

This new civil era saw the production of 18 tonnes of plutonium fuel for the Prototype Fast Reactor at Dounreay in Scotland, and some 3 tonnes of light-water reactor MOX fuel. Despite this limited experience, but sensing the growing MOX market being tapped into by European fabricators, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) launched its plans for a MOX Demonstration Facility (MDF) that would 'demonstrate BNFL's ability to produce quality MOX fuel'.

With an 8 tonne per year capacity, MDF operated from 1993 to 1999, producing 44 MOX assemblies for pressurised water reactors (around 660 kgs plutonium) for Japanese and European customers. The facility was closed down in 1999 after the quality assurance data for the only fuel to be produced by MDF for Japan was found, on delivery to Takahama, to have been falsified by MDF workers. Returned to the UK in 2002, the falsified fuel has been pond-stored at Sellafield and is scheduled for transport in 2014/15 to France's La Hague for plutonium recovery.

Despite the scandal bringing the resignation of BNFL's Chief Executive and a compensation payment to Japan (whose utilities called a temporary ban on further dealings with BNFL), the embarrassing event made little impression on BNFL's determination to pursue the MOX fuel market. Plans to enter the market – based on 'the wealth of experience gained within BNFL' − had been laid in 1992 (pre MDF operations) with a planning application for the Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP) whose viability rested on winning major business from Japan.

Sellafield MOX Plant
Surviving legal challenges and 5 rounds of public consultation which focussed largely on the plant's increasingly dodgy economic case, the first plutonium was introduced into SMP in 2002. With small orders secured from German, Swiss and Swedish utilities, the expected business from Japan was conspicuous by its absence. The technical complexity of SMP, largely responsible for its eventual downfall, caused problems from the first days of operation.

Using a 'short binderless' powder mixing process unique to BNFL, the production line consisted of pellet production, rod filling and assembly of the rods into a MOX fuel assembly. Early failures in one section of the production line lead to bottlenecks in other sections and after 3 years of operation only one MOX fuel assembly had been produced. With its design production capacity cut from 120 tonnes per year to 72 – and then 40 tonnes − SMP was forced to sub-contract some orders to rival fabricators in Belgium and France.

Against this background, and taking ownership of Sellafield and SMP in 2005, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) almost immediately commissioned independent reports on SMP from consultants Arthur D Little, whose 2006 report exposed the extent of SMP's problems and concluded that 'looked at pessimistically, improvement plans will fail to live up to expectations leading eventually to an irrevocable collapse in the business case and closure'.

By 2009, with an overall total of just nine assemblies produced in seven years of operation, it was clear that a major engineering rescue package was needed, with an NDA technical assessment concluding that SMP could provide neither the capacity nor longevity to be used for the UK civil stockpile.

In a surprise announcement in 2010, Japanese utilities agreed to pay an undisclosed sum for the refurbishment with a promise of trial orders with a revamped SMP. Fate intervened however in the form of the Fukushima meltdowns which resulted in the interest in SMP by Japanese utilities being abandoned.

In August 2011, the NDA announced the closure of SMP – the blame being laid conveniently on Japanese problems. In reality, the over-complex plant which cost the UK taxpayer £1.34 billion and had produced just 13 tonnes of MOX fuel (32 fuel assemblies incorporating around 800 kgs of plutonium) in its 9-year life, was clearly beyond salvation − with or without Japanese help.

SMP's closure rekindled official interest in managing the plutonium stockpile. The Government's public consultation, already launched in 2010, had assessed a number of management options. Ruling out fast-breeder reactors and immobilisation of plutonium as a waste as options that were either technically immature, impractical or too costly, the Government concluded that the re-use of plutonium in MOX fuel remained its preferred option.

Growing plutonium stockpile
The latest official figures show Sellafield's stockpile amounting to 118 tonnes of separated plutonium which includes 24 tonnes of overseas-owned plutonium. Whilst a majority of the 94 tonnes of UK-owned material has arisen from Magnox reprocessing, the overseas-owned plutonium has been recovered largely in the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) and, under the terms of the original reprocessing contracts, is destined for return to customers in the form of MOX fuel.

However, in a recent Government U-turn on those contractual requirements, title transfers ('paper swaps') of some overseas plutonium has already seen 7 tonnes taken into UK ownership − 3 tonnes of plutonium of German and Dutch origin being transferred in April 2013 (the German material as repayment to France's manufacture of orders sub-contracted by SMP) and a title transfer of 4 tonnes of German plutonium made in 2012 (to allow MOX fuel for Germany to be produced in France in advance of the German nuclear phase-out).

As it stands, owners of the 24 tonnes of foreign plutonium are Japan (16 tonnes), Germany (3 tonnes), and the balance of around 5 tonnes owned between Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Sweden. Given officialdom's tacit acceptance that exporting weapons-useable plutonium − in dioxide powder form – from Sellafield is no longer an accepted option, more title transfers are likely as overseas customers increasingly seek to rid themselves of plutonium ownership. Indeed, the fate of the Japanese plutonium has already been under discussion between NDA and Japan.

For the stock of UK-owned plutonium, which will continue to rise until the 2020 scheduled end of reprocessing, its conversion to MOX as preferred by Government/NDA would require a new MOX plant to be built. Estimated at £6 billion, it remains unclear who would take on such a financially risky project, especially in the absence of any viable market for the fuel and the recent SMP debacle.

Seemingly impervious to these obstacles, the UK Government sees MOX fuel being used either in the UK's fleet of new-build reactors or in Candu 6 reactors overseas. Whilst the latter is an option belatedly suggested by Candu Energy − and still under consideration by the NDA − the former looks increasingly suspect with the UK new-build 'renaissance' in increasing disarray. Further, both reactor types scrutinised so far under the regulatory Generic Design Assessment (GDA) licensing process – the EPR and Westinghouse AP1000 − were assessed on their use of conventional uranium fuel only, with MOX use specifically excluded. A late addition, Hitachi-GE's ABWR reactor, began its expected four-year GDA process only in April this year.

Raising further doubts on the Government's preferred re-use option, the NDA revealed in June 2012 that it had opened talks not only with Candu Energy but also with GE-Hitachi who had submitted a feasibility proposal for the use of its liquid metal-cooled 'Power Reactive Innovative Small Module' (PRISM) fast-breeder reactor (a.k.a. 'integral fast reactor') as an alternative to MOX.

The PRISM proposal, which involves a 60-year program at Sellafield that would see the UK-owned stockpile of plutonium converted to the spent fuel standard of self-protection and proliferation resistance within the first 5 years, is still being assessed by the NDA with a decision expected this summer.

PRISM sceptics rightly point to the earlier rejection of fast-breeders by Government, and the complexity of an immature technology that is still at design stage and would require not only the construction/operation of PRISM itself but also a conversion plant to convert plutonium dioxide to a metal fuel and a pyroprocessing system to process the spent fuel from PRISM for re-use in the fast reactor.

So the jury is still out. Should the decision to approve the PRISM proposal be taken later this year, it would almost certainly mean the end of any future MOX plans at Sellafield. Meanwhile, the UK-owned stockpile of plutonium will remain in storage at a cost of £80 million per year.


'Pizza Cumbriana'
Eight years after it was produced from material gathered from the West Cumbrian coast near Waberthwaite, a radioactive 'Pizza Cumbriana' was delivered to the Low Level Waste (LLW) facility at Drigg on April 29 for disposal as LLW.

Originally presented by Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment in March 2005 to the Italian Embassy in London as evidence of the environmental contamination caused by the reprocessing of Italian and other foreign spent fuel at Sellafield, the condemned pizza has languished with other LLW at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell until 22 February 2013 when it was transported by road to its rightful resting place at Drigg.

In advance of its presentation to the Italian Embassy in 2005, analysis of the pizza by Manchester University's Department of Chemistry revealed levels of radioactivity in the pizza topping − comprised of estuary sediment, sea samphire, seaweed and shells − that classified the material as LLW. The levels of radioactivity included 25,000 Bq/kg of Caesium 137, 25,000 Bq/kg of Americium 241 and levels of plutonium up to 15,000 Bq/kg.

Placed in a traditional takeaway pizza box, it was marked with the nuclear waste danger sign and listed its 'traditional Italian ingredients' as 'Caesium, Americium and Plutonium'. The pizza is still 24,392 years within its sell-by date. (, 29 April 2013)

The Plutonium Problem: Reprocessing, MOX, and Fast Neutron Reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Conventional 'Purex' reprocessing involves dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid and separating the unused uranium (about 96% of the mass), plutonium (1%) and high-level wastes (3%).

Most commercial reprocessing takes place in the UK (Sellafield) and France (La Hague). There are smaller plants in India, Russia and Japan. In addition, a number of countries have military reprocessing plants. Including both civil and military plants, the International Panel on Fissile Materials lists 19 reprocessing plants in nine countries − China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the UK and the US.

Reprocessing is arguably the most dangerous and dirty phase of the nuclear fuel chain. It generates large waste streams with no management solution and it separates weapons-useable plutonium from spent fuel.

Proponents of reprocessing give the following four justifications:

1. Reducing the volume and facilitating the management of high level radioactive waste.
However reprocessing does nothing to reduce radioactivity or toxicity, and the overall waste volume, including low and intermediate level waste, is increased by reprocessing. Steve Kidd from the World Nuclear Association noted in 2004: "It is true that the current Purex reprocessing technology (used at Sellafield and La Hague) is less than satisfactory. Environmentally dirty, it produces significant quantities of lower level wastes."

2. 'Recycling' uranium to reduce reliance on natural reserves.
However, only an improbably large expansion of nuclear power would result in any problems with uranium supply this century. A large majority of the uranium separated from spent fuel at reprocessing plants is not reused, but is stockpiled. Uranium from reprocessing is used only in France and Russia and accounts for only 1% of global uranium usage [IAEA, 2006]. It contains isotopes such as uranium-232 which complicate its use as a reactor fuel.

3. Separating plutonium for use as nuclear fuel.
However there is very little demand for plutonium as a nuclear fuel. It is used in 'MOX' reactor fuel (mixed uranium-plutonium oxide), which accounts for 2−5% of worldwide nuclear fuel, and in a very small number of fast neutron reactors.

4. Using plutonium as a fuel so that it can no longer be used in nuclear weapons.
However, reactors which can use plutonium as fuel can produce more plutonium than they consume (either by design or modification). Moreover, since there is so little demand for plutonium as a reactor fuel, stockpiles of separated plutonium continually grow and now amount to about 260 tonnes [Fissile Materials Working Group, 2013]. That amount of plutonium would suffice to build around 26,000 nuclear weapons (around 10 kgs of 'reactor grade' plutonium per weapon).

Reprocessing has clearly worsened rather than reduced proliferation risks. Addressing the problem of growing stockpiles of separated plutonium could hardly be simpler – it only requires that reprocessing be slowed, suspended, or stopped altogether.

The main reason reprocessing proceeds is that reprocessing plants act as long-term, de facto storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel. Unfortunately this sets up a series of events which can be likened to the old woman who swallowed a fly – every solution is worse than the problem it was supposed to solve:

1. The perceived need to do something about growing spent fuel stockpiles at reactor sites (not least to maintain or obtain reactor operating licences), coupled with the lack of repositories for permanent disposal, encourages nuclear utilities to send spent fuel to commercial reprocessing plants, which act as long-term, de facto storage sites.
2. Eventually the spent fuel must be reprocessed, which brings with it serious proliferation, public health and environmental risks.
3. Reprocessing has led to a large and growing stockpile of separated plutonium, which is an unacceptable and unnecessary proliferation risk.
4. Reprocessing creates the 'need' to develop mixed uranium-plutonium fuel (MOX) or fast neutron reactors to make use of the plutonium separated by reprocessing.
5. All of the above necessitates a global pattern of transportation of spent fuel, high level waste, separated plutonium and MOX, with the attendant risks of accidents, terrorist strikes and theft leading to the production of nuclear weapons.

None of this is logical or justifiable on non-proliferation, environmental, public health or economic grounds but it suits the short-term political and commercial objectives of those involved.

In a May 6 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Fissile Materials Working Group proposes:

1. Limit the current scale of reprocessing operations and work to decrease it over time.
2. Stop the expansion of current stockpiles and work to reduce them over time.
3. Apply the most stringent standards of safety, security, accounting, and protection of public health to all processes that result in or use separated plutonium, including fuel fabrication.
4. Minimise the number of sites where separated plutonium is used and handled, and the number and length of transports of such material.
5. Pursue options for dry storage of spent fuel, particularly in multilateral cooperative repositories

Current practices worsen the problems in all respects. As the Fissile Materials Working Group notes: "Where is the plan to reduce the plutonium risk? Negotiations on an international treaty to ban plutonium (and [highly enriched uranium]) production for weapons have been in a stalemate for more than two decades, while states outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty − India, Pakistan, and North Korea − are increasing their capacity to separate plutonium for weapons. Although the United States and Russia agreed in 2000 to dispose of 34 tons of excess military stocks under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, this only constitutes about 15 percent of global military-owned separated plutonium."

The Fissile Materials Working Group further states: "Through the Nuclear Security Summit process initiated in 2010, countries have started securing some of the most vulnerable nuclear materials. But they have largely left plutonium untouched."

At the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, the US was also the only significant plutonium holder to address the material in its national statement to the Summit. Sharon Squassoni, director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Security, says that taking up the matter seriously would require leaders to address associated sensitive questions that they might rather avoid, such as how to deal with nuclear waste if not by reprocessing. [Schneidmiller, 2013]

References and main sources:

Sellafield: THORP to sruggle on to 2018

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

In its recently published paper ‘Oxide Fuels – Credible Options’, November 2011, the United Kingdom's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) sets out options for the future operation of Sellafield’s Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant THORP. Opened in 1994 to reprocess UK’s domestic Advanced Gas Cooled (AGR) fuel and Light Water Reactor (LWR) fuel from overseas customers, the plant is currently operating years behind schedule. An estimated 400 tons of overseas spent fuel that should have been completed around 2004, plus some 2000 tons of UK AGR fuel remains to be reprocessed.

In addition, a further 4000+ tons of spent AGR fuel (including the currently expected lifetime arisings from the UK’s fleet of AGR power stations) are destined either for long-term storage at Sellafield prior to disposal or for reprocessing – at the NDA’s discretion. Should 5-year extensions be granted to the AGR power stations, a further 900 tons of spent fuel would arise.

A November 24, CORE Briefing provides a summary of the NDA’s assessment of three Options for THORP: - 1- Complete THORP’s reprocessing contracts; 2- Close THORP early by reprocessing less than the contracted amount of spent fuel and 3- Extend THORP operations so that more than the contracted amount of spent fuel can be reprocessed.

From its assessment, the NDA has concluded that, in line with its 2011 Strategy, Option 1 is the most viable and cost-effective - with the proviso that ‘additional new and costly infrastructure can be avoided (this would include the installation of new High Level Waste tanks), and that NDA proposals for the interim storage of AGR fuel are themselves viable. After further work to underpin the strategy, and providing the provisos are met, the NDA expects to confirm Option 1 as its preferred strategic option by summer 2012.

NDA currently rejects Option 3 – extending THORP operations to include more AGR fuel being reprocessed than currently contracted, and potential new business from domestic and overseas customers ‘if there were any’ – because:

  • extended reprocessing would require multi-billion pound investment across a wide range of infrastructure at Sellafield, with major capital build projects required to support THORP’s extension beyond 2020. Such investment would divert finite resources from the NDA’s primary role of risk and hazard reduction at Sellafield, and new capital build projects would result in energy use and carbon emissions.
  • extended reprocessing could potentially impact on the UK’s discharge commitments under the OSPAR treaty and could challenge the alpha and tritium target levels under the UK’s own Strategy for Radioactive Discharges.
  • no interest has been expressed by the potential operators of new-build reactors in the UK to have their spent fuel reprocessed and recycled. Even had they done so, bulk quantities of spent fuel would be unlikely to be ready for reprocessing until the mid-2030’s when THORP and associated facilities would be over 40 years old.

The NDA’s current rejection of closing THORP early under Option 2 is based on:

  • the provision of additional storage capacity for AGR fuel at Sellafield to ensure that incoming fuel from the power stations – at around 180 tons/yr - can be managed
  • the possible need to implement alternative arrangements for overseas fuel.
  • the requirement to manage spent fuels that are more susceptible to corrosion during storage
  • the resultant earlier reduction to the workforce – though this could be mitigated by redeploying workers to the high hazard reduction activities elsewhere on site.


However, the NDA nevertheless believes that the early closure option should continue to be examined because of concerns that should a number of performance risks associated with THORP and its support facilities arise, Option 1 might have to be abandoned before 2018.

These risks include the overall age and condition of the reprocessing infrastructure, further failures of Sellafield’s current suite of Evaporators which process the high level wastes produced by reprocessing – or a delay in bringing on-line of a new Evaporator in 2014/15 – and the viability of the plans to store AGR fuel. The success of these storage plans depends on the current program to remove redundant multi-element bottles (MEB’s used to transport overseas fuel that has now been reprocessed)) from the ponds being completed on schedule, and the ponds suitably dosed with a corrosion inhibitor.

Based on THORP’s 2018 closure, an application to the Local Authority for a change of use of the ponds from buffer storage prior to reprocessing to interim storage pending disposal is expected to be made around 2016. Subject also to Regulatory approval, the NDA believes a technical and safety case for both storage and disposal of AGR fuel can be made.

In promoting what is likely to be its preferred Option 1, the NDA says that by completing THORP’s contracts in 2018, it will have honored obligations to overseas customers (and inter-Governmental treaties); provide time to prepare facilities for the interim storage of AGR fuel and create space to receive and manage all fuel arisings from AGR stations. It would also enable fuels susceptible to corrosion to be reprocessed.

The NDA believes the costs of the next 7 years of reprocessing - taking THORP to a 2018 closure - are comparable to those of the storage and direct disposal of spent fuel – largely because the capital costs for the reprocessing infrastructure are already sunk. If this had not been the case ‘it would be more cost-effective to cease reprocessing early’.

As part of its Oxide Fuels Credible Options paper, the NDA was asked by Government to consider the wider impacts of its THORP closure decision on the potential for future reprocessing in the UK. Reviewing topics that included Fast Breeder Reactor prospects, the future use of plutonium and new-build reactor operations, the NDA concluded that the timing of THORP’s closure had little material impact on any potential future requirement to supply plutonium; that THORP’s closure would neither impact on the UK’s new-build program nor on the long-term potential for reprocessing in the UK. Should the latter be required, a new reprocessing plant would be necessary.

It also concluded that, on a like for like basis, spent fuel storage followed by disposal ‘is currently more cost-effective than reprocessing’. This was based on an anticipated rise in costs of reprocessing and MOX fuel production in the UK, and the currently low price of uranium. Not surprisingly, all cost data was omitted from the NDA’s paper on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.

Plutonium re-use - putting the cart before the white elephant. Unwilling or incapable of learning from the UK’s disastrous MOX fuel experiences, the December 1 Government approval for the re-use of plutonium as MOX fuel is branded by CORE as a ‘decision made in the dark that yet again puts the proverbial cart before the inevitable nuclear white elephant’. With a preliminary decision taken by Government even before its Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) public consultation on plutonium management had started, it nevertheless promised that final approval for the re-use option was conditional on a range of major issues – including costs and demand for MOX fuel - being tested ‘before the UK Government will be in any position to take a final view'. (emphasis added)

The weakness of its case for the re-use of plutonium as MOX fuel has undoubtedly prevented the Government from going ‘the whole hog’ and putting its weight behind the construction of a new MOX plant at Sellafield or elsewhere in the UK. In its document published December 1 ‘Management of the UK’s plutonium stocks - A consultation response on the long-term management of UK-owned separated civil plutonium’  the Government however suggests that the construction of a new MOX plant could begin around 2019 with the first MOX fuel being fabricated in 2025.

On August 3, NDA decided to close the Sellafield MOX Plant SMP, a total failure which has so far cost the taxpayer BP1.4 bn (US$2.18 bn or 1.67 bn euro). (see Nuclear Monitor 732, 8 September 2011)
CORE Press Release, 2 December 2011

Source: CORE Briefing 3/11, 24 November 2011
Contact: Martin Forwood at  CORE (Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment). Dry Hall, Broughton Mills, Broughton-in-Furness, Cumbria LA20 6AZ, UK.
Tel: +44 1229 716523
Mail: martin[at]


Sellafield Mox Plant axed by Fukushima fallout - says NDA

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

In what came clearly as a surprise to the gathering of Sellafied stakeholders, the closure of the Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP) was officially announced at West Cumbria Site Stakeholder Group (WCSSG) August 3 meeting. The decision had been made at an NDA Board meeting last week on the grounds that the commercially impotent plant no longer ‘had customers or finance’.

In its press statement, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) says the decision was reached following discussions with Japanese utility customers on the impact on the Japanese nuclear industry of the earthquake in March, including potential delays that would effect SMP’s projected program. The Board concluded that in order to protect the UK taxpayer from a future financial burden, closing SMP at the earliest practical opportunity was the only reasonable course of action.

CORE’s spokesman Martin Forwood said today: “We shed no tears for a white elephant plant that should never have opened in the first place. Had the NDA genuinely wished to save taxpayers money, it should have grasped the many opportunities provided during SMP’s sorry commercial lifetime to put it out of its misery. The NDA has effectively passed the buck to Japan do its dirty work for it and take the blame”.

The prolonged battles to get SMP built and operating, including legal challenges, had already provided ample warning to Sellafield that the commercial prospects for the plant were less than robust. With the first planning application to the Local Authority made in 1992, SMP finally opened with the introduction of the first plutonium in 2002 and only then after five public consultation exercises stretching between 1997 and 2001. Focusing specifically on the economic business case for the plant, the later consultations raised serious doubts as to where the contracts would come from and whether the ‘overly technical and complex plant’ could actually produce the goods to customers’ rigid specifications.

Built to manufacture 120 tons of MOX fuel per year, and with an operating lifespan of 20 years, SMP produced no fuel whatsoever until its third year of operation and a total of just 13 tons in its 9 years of operation which saw a number of contracts having to be sub-contracted to SMP’s arch-rivals in Europe. Despite dire warnings in 2006 and 2007 from Government commissioned consultants Arthur D Little (who had originally provided Government glowing reports of the plant’s prospects) that without further investment the plant would never operate as originally planned, the NDA continued to support its operation and in so doing wasted an estimated BP 1.4 billion (US$ 2.25 bn or 1.6bn euro) of taxpayers money.

A final lifeline was thrown to SMP in 2010 by the NDA involving a prolonged closure for complete refurbishment to be financed at an estimated cost of BP 200 million by Japanese utility customers, with the lead customer for the ‘revamped’ SMP identified as Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka plant. Dubbed in Japan as ‘the most dangerous atomic facility in the quake-prone archipelago’, Hamaoka was forced to close earlier this year by the Japanese Government’s demand for seismic tests and safety improvements. With the postponement of any further use of MOX fuel in Hamaoka’s reactors, SMP’s sole contract and lifeline was lost.

Martin Forwood added: “As widely expected by all but Government and Industry, the ‘cast-iron’ assurances in the late 1990’s from its then owner British Nuclear Fuels that sufficient business would be secured from Japan to warrant the plant’s operation were worthless, with SMP failing to secure even one Japanese contract during its operational lifetime. It is ironic that it should be the very customers it was built to serve who have switched off its life support machine”.

SMP directly employs around 650 workers and the NDA announcement of its closure has drawn the expected outcry on job losses and prophecies of gloom and doom for Sellafield which historically and routinely accompany the slightest threat, genuine or otherwise, to any of the site’s commercial facilities. As compensation, the NDA suggested to the August 3 stakeholder meeting that there was the prospect of a new MOX plant being built and, for their part, the Unions expressed some confidence that the workers could be redeployed elsewhere on site.

SMP’s closure has however opened the proverbial can of worms, particularly in respect of a new MOX plant being built. The current rationale behind the NDA’s thinking appears to be that as long as Japan’s program of MOX use has not completely sunk under the waves of the tsunami and the Fukushima catastrophe, the 13 tons of Japanese plutonium recovered by reprocessing at Sellafield might yet be converted to MOX in the new plant which could also be used to reduce the 110 ton stockpile of UK owned plutonium for use in the UK’s new-build reactors. The cost of a new MOX plant has been put at around BP 1.4 billion.

Martin Forwood further commented: “It beggars belief that the NDA appears hell-bent on repeating its own very recent and taxpayer-costly mistakes on MOX. Whilst they may wish to ‘appease the natives’ with the prospect of a new plant, there is no evidence whatsoever that sufficient MOX demand worldwide exists or will exist – particularly in the UK where many of the proposed new reactors may never get built. This is pie-in-the sky stuff and they should be concentrating instead on putting the dangerous plutonium stockpile permanently out of harm’s way and treat it as a waste by, for example, using SMP and its current workforce to immobilise plutonium in ‘low-spec’ MOX for disposal”.

Source: Press release CORE, 4 August 2011
Contact: Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment. Dry Hall, Broughton Mills, Broughton-In-Furness, Cumbria LA20 6AZ, UK.
Tel/Fax: +44 (0)1229 716523

NDA announce Japanese MOX with the Sellafield MOX plant

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Martin Forwood at CORE

Over a decade after British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL) had persuaded the UK Government that they should be allowed to build and operate Sellafield Mox Plant (SMP) to satisfy the then currently perceived demand by Japan for Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA who took ownership of Sellafield from BNFL in 2005) has announced that contracts with SMP from 10 Japanese power companies have now been secured.

Whilst the news throws a lifeline to the struggling SMP – a plant originally designed to produce 120 tons of MOX fuel per year, but which has managed a total of little over 10 tons in 8 years of operation – the deal is far from being ‘done and dusted’ and will be entirely dependent on the installation of new equipment and extensive modifications to the plant, all of which will be paid for by the Japanese.

Whilst the timescales for the work has not been divulged by the NDA, it is likely to extend over many, many months and can only begin once SMP’s current order has been completed. This is for a German utility and could be expected to be completed this summer. Once finished, SMP must be closed to undergo a full clean-out, followed by modification and installation of new equipment, and then be re-commissioned – a process that will require the necessary approvals of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII). Such approvals are likely to be required in separate stages as different parts of the plant are worked on.

Once SMP is re-commissioned and has secured consent from the Japanese companies that it is ‘fit for purpose’, a test run of plutonium fuel production will be carried out by SMP on behalf of Japan’s Chubu Electric – one of a number of Japanese customers who placed reprocessing business with Sellafield’s Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) thirty years ago. THORP secured orders from Japan amounting to 2864 tons of spent fuel for reprocessing (including 162 tons from Chubu Electric). From the reprocessing of this fuel, some 12 tons of plutonium have been recovered and stockpiled at Sellafield and on May 13, the NDA confirmed to CORE that it is the intention of the Japanese companies to convert all 12 tons of plutonium into MOX fuel at SMP.

THORP’s reprocessing of the Chubu Electric fuel sourced from its Hamaoka 1, 2 and 3 power stations (Boiling Water Reactors, BWR), which are located on Japan’s eastern coast south of Tokyo, will have recovered 1 ton of plutonium - sufficient to make some 100 BWR MOX fuel assemblies for Hamaoka. It remains unknown whether this, or a smaller number of assemblies, will form SMP’s test-run once the plant has been re-commissioned.

It also remains unknown what will happen to the bulk of the Japanese orders if SMP’s test-run for Chubu Electric fails to live up to NDA’s optimistic expectation, and it is unclear how the newly secured business from Japan will be dovetailed with the plant’s few remaining European contracts (Germany, Sweden and Switzerland).

German utilities, facing the possibility of the phase-out of their nuclear power stations, will be particularly concerned that the apparent preference now given by the NDA to SMP’s use for Japanese business, could see their orders fail to materialise in time for reactor use. 

SMP began production in 2002 when the first plutonium was introduced into the plant. Though BNFL originally applied to build the plant in 1992, and sought approval to operate it in 1996, the planning process was delayed by 5 periods of public consultation and legal challenges. Government approval to operate SMP was finally secured in 2001, but only after any hopes of winning MOX orders from Japan had been scuppered when, in 1999, bored Sellafield workers admitted falsifying the quality assurance data for a small consignment of Japanese MOX fuel which had been produced in Sellafield’s MOX Demonstration Facility (MDF) - the forerunner to SMP.

With a number of orders having to be sub-contracted to its rival fabricators in Europe because of its poor performance, SMP’s future has remained under constant review by the NDA and Government, with threat of closure if performance failed to improve and no new business was secured. In its current state, with production bottlenecks and little hope of working automatically, the plant’s annual production rate has been downgraded from 120 to 40 tons. Given recent operational evidence, even this target appears unachievable. In early 2007 for example, work was started on a German order for 8 MOX fuel assemblies (around 4 tons). These were finally completed over 2 years later in August 2009. A second batch of 8 assemblies, also for Germany’s Grohnde power station, is currently underway in SMP and is likely to be the last order before the plant is closed for modification in advance of the Japanese business.

Source: CORE Briefing, 13 May 2010
Contact: Martin Forwood at Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, (CORE) Dry Hall, Broughton Mills, Broughton-in-Furness, Cumbria LA20 6AZ, U.K..
Tel: + 44 1229 716523

Japan's troubled plutonium program

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Green Action Japan

Japan's beleaguered 'pluthernal' program, MOX (mixed plutonium-uranium oxide) fuel use in commercial power plants, got off to a troubled start at Kyushu Electric's Genkai Unit 3 Nuclear Power Plant Unit 3 in Saga Prefecture on November 5, with the use of 16 MOX fuel assemblies. Full-time operation of the reactor is scheduled to begin December 2.

A round-the-clock sit-in began on the same day in front of Kyushu Electric headquarters in Fukuoka City and messages of support are pouring in from around the country. In less than two days 673 NGO groups signed on to protest and petition METI, Kyushu Electric, and Saga Prefecture demanding that use of MOX fuel at Genkai not go forward. The number of sign-on groups continue to grow.

Over 460,000 citizens are demanding that use of MOX fuel at Genkai be suspended. This and Kyu-shu Electricâ's rush to start use of MOX fuel caused an unprecedented move by the Saga prefectural legislature last month to demand that the utility rescind its original 2 October start-up date, which it did.

On 28 October Japan's nuclear regulator NISA (Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency) admitted that there are no legal grounds for the government's criteria for imported fuel assembly inspection of MOX fuel. This admission was made to an Upper House Diet office. Citizens, and national and Saga prefectural legislators demanded that NISA come to Saga to explain. NISA is yet to do so.

The 'pluthermal' program is one part of Japan's troubled plutonium program. The other two parts which are in deep trouble are the fast breeder program and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. Commercialization of the fast breeder reactor program has been delayed 8 times and is nearly 80 years behind original schedule (set for early 1970s, now set for 'by 2050'.) Commercial operation of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant has been delayed 17 times. Completion of active tests is now set for October 2010. However, with a dysfunctional high-level waste vitrification facility, the future of Rokkasho is murky.

On 7 October, NISA stated that it couldn't deny the possibility that the same quality fuel Kansai Electric rejected in August is in Genkai's MOX fuel. (Kansai Electric rejected one-quarter of the fuel that had been manufactured for use in its Takahama Unit 3 and 4 reactors.) Both utilities -- MOX fuel was fabricated at Areva -- MELOX plant in Marcoule, France.

Subsequently, Kyushu Electric refused to disclose pertinent information concerning its self-inspection criteria, stating that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, their principle contractor for MOX fuel fabrication would not allow the disclosure. (The same kind of information has been released by Kansai Electric and their principle contractor Nuclear Fuel Industries, Ltd.) Kyushu Electric stated that MELOX as-sured them that Kyushu's MOX fuel had no problems like the one found in Kansai Electric MOX fuel, but the utility admitted they were not shown data to confirm this was correct. The concentration of plutonium in Genkai's MOX fuel is unprecedented and exceeds even that used in France.

German nuclear authorities (BMU) initiated an investigatation after Kansai Electric's rejection of Areva MOX fuel. BMU is reported to take the issue seriously. The status of the investigation is unknown.

'The Japanese government spends 64% of its R&D for energy on nuclear. This program to utilize plutonium is the biggest stumbling block to development of renewable energy and energy efficiency in Japan. Prime Minister Hatoyama is woefully ignorant about this reality. The new government must become aware that this detrimental program is merely a lobbyist and bureaucratic haven. It should shut down the program immediately,' stated Aileen Mioko Smith, executive director of Green Action, a Japanese citizens organization campaigning to stop Japan's plutonium program.

The shipment of MOX fuel for use at Genkai and two other plants which took place this spring did not meet MLIT (Ministry of Land, Transport and Infrastructure) requirements. On 26 February, twenty Diet members signed on to an open letter addressing this concern. One of them includes the current MLIT minister Seiji Maehara, and, two other ministers in the Hatoyama government. Future shipments can-not meet this requirement (MOX fuel cask drop test) at this point.

In April a report commissioned by 70 nuclear free local authorities in the UK found that the British-flagged vessels which transport the MOX fuel from Europe to Japan have serious design flaws. Japan's program is dependent on these shipments since there is no commercial MOX fuel plant in Japan to supply electric utilities. Japanese nuclear transports are protested by dozens of en route countries.

Japan's pluthermal program start-up is a decade behind schedule due to a quality control data falsification scandal of Kansai Electric MOX fuel in 1999, citizen protest, nuclear inspection data falsification by Tokyo Electric in 2002, etc. In June electric utilities announced a multi-year delay in the deadline to use MOX fuel in 16-18 reactors, originally scheduled for 2010.

Source: Green Action (Kyoto, Japan) news release, 5 November 2009
Contact: Aileen Mioko Smith at Green Action, Suite 103, 22-75, Tanaka Sekiden-cho, Sakyo-ku Kyoto 606-8203 Japan. Tel: +81-90-3620-9251, E-mail:, Web:

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Indonesia: Tender postponed indefinitely.
Indonesian State Minister of Research and Technology Kusmayanto Kadiman announced late last month (May) that the tendering process for new nuclear power plants, expected to be completed by the end of the year, have been postponed indefinitely. The process has lacked political support and with presidential elections due in July, the government has pulled the plug. Kusmayanto said, ‘It's impossible to decide now. For the fastest, it will possibly take at last six more years.’ This destroys plans to have a nuclear power plant operating in the 2016-2019 timeframe established by Indonesian Law No. 17/2007.

Nuclear Reaction, 18 June 2009

Sweden: smiling sun banned from Parliament.
Seven antinuclear activists who went to the Swedish Parliament to listen to the energy debate on June 16, were forced to leave the public gallery and were thereafter taken into inquiry by the police. This has never happened before. The reason was that five of them where wearing t-shirts with the smiling sun, the well known antinuclear symbol. Most of them activists were members of the Swedish antinuclear movement and some belong to the Swedish Green woman.

Email: Eia Liljegren-Palmær, 19 June 2009

U.K.: Serious accident averted at Sizewell.
A serious accident at the Sizewell A Magnox reactor was only averted because a worker cleaning clothes in a laundry noticed cooling water leaking from a spent fuel storage pond. In January 2007 40,000 gallons of radioactive water (1 gallon (UK) is about 4.54609 liter)  leaked from a 15ft (4.5 meter) split in a pipe in the cooling pond, containing 5,000 spent fuel rods and alarms failed to warn staff or were ignored. If the pond had emptied of water and exposed the highly-radioactive rods would have caught fire with an airborne release of radioactivity. Thanks to the worker in the laundry staff were able to contain the leak - discharging the radioactive waster into the sea - and re-fill the pond.

A new report on the accident has now been published. It is written by nuclear consultant Dr John Large, commissioned by the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign and based on Nuclear Installation Inspectorate reports released under Freedom of Information. The NII report highlighted a number of serious concerns surrounding the accident. Not only did the pond alarms fail, but had it worked it would have triggered another alarm that had already been on for two days but ignored by staff. There was also poorly designed and poorly installed instrumentation and control equipment. The NII report also suggests that it chose not to prosecute the operators because of staff shortages.

N-base briefing 618, 17 june 2009

Spain: renewal of operation license Garona?
On June 8, the five-member board of Spain's Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) unanimously agreed to recommend that the Garona nuclear plant in northern Spain should get a new 10-year operating licence if it upgrades its safety equipment. The 38-year-old nuclear plant's licence expires on July 5. Nuclear Safety Council chairwoman Carmen Martinez Ten said the decision was taken on technical and security grounds and not for reasons of "energy policy, economics or another nature".

The Spanish government will have to take a clear stand for or against nuclear power before July 5, when it decides whether to renew the operating licence Garona, the oldest of the country's six nuclear plants. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose socialist government has backed the developmentof  renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, has said he wants to phase out nuclear energy in the country when the life span of its six nuclear plants expires. A decision to prolong the life of the Garona plant would be a major u-turn for Zapatero, who pledged to gradually phase out nuclear power during general elections in 2004 and 2008. However, the prime minister said. "The decision regarding Garona will be coherent with the commitments in our election programme as long as the supply of power is guaranteed," This statement was seen by some observers as a sign that the government was leaning towards renewing, maybe for a short period. Later in June, CSN said the government asked their opinion about renewing the permit for two, four or six years, rather than the 10 years. The 500 megawatt Garona plant provided just 1.3 percent of Spain's electricity last year and grid operators say its closure would pose no supply problems.

The Spanish branch of Greenpeace has urged the government not to renew the licence of the plant, arguing it is unsafe. It has called it the "plant of 1,000 fissures". The two utilities running the plant, Iberdrola and Endesa, estimate it will cost 50 million euros (US$70 million) to carry out the upgrades to the plants safety equipment recommended by the CSN.

Spain, along with Denmark and Germany, is among the three biggest producers of wind power in the European Union and the country is one of the largest world producers of solar power.

AFP, 11 June 2009 / Reuters, 19 June 2009

Blows for IAEA Fuel Bank proposal. Developing countries blocked plans by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for nuclear fuel banks that aim to keep countries from acquiring sensitive nuclear technology by offering them alternatives. The Vienna-based agency and Western countries had hoped the IAEA's governing board would give the green light for fleshing out plans to sway countries to buy rather than make nuclear fuel, by offering an insurance in case their supply is cut off for political reasons. But a June 18, joint statement by the Group of 77 (a coalition of developing countries and the Non-Aligned Movement) said that "none of the proposals provide a proper assurance of supply of nuclear fuel." The plans "should not be designed in a way that discourages states from developing or expanding their capabilities in the nuclear fuel cycle". The 35 members of the board agreed only that the nuclear agency "may continue its consultations and discussions" to further work on the fuel bank proposals, according to diplomats at the meeting.

The idea of the IAEA Fuel Bank was to keep countries from acquiring uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies, which can be used not only for energy purposes, but also for making nuclear bomb material. However, developing countries fear that such plans would pressure them to give up their right to peacefully using nuclear energy.

Meanwhile, in May the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs Verhagen, concluded that the British, German and Dutch (the countries that form the Urenco enrichment consortium) initiative for assured supply for low enriched nuclear fuel failed. In May he wrote to Dutch Parliament that “many countries see this condition (giving up enrichment and reprocessing) as discriminating and an unacceptable violation of their rights under the non-proliferation treaty”.

Another blow for the concept of Multilateral Approaches, which is seen by many proponents of nuclear power as one of the main ways to counter proliferation worries.

Earthtimes, 18 June 2209 / Laka Foundation, 18 may 2009

Discussion on new-build in Germany heats up. Germany's economy minister ruled out building new nuclear power stations but said the life of some reactors might be extended and the development of alternative technologies stepped up. "We need limited extensions until we are able to work with sensible alternative technologies in an economical and environmentally friendly manner," Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily in an interview, published on June 19.. "That includes the possibility of equipping existing nuclear power stations with state-of-the-art technology in order to make them even safer and more efficient," the conservative minister said. "But I see no need to build new nuclear reactors." General elections are due in September. On September 5, a nationwide demonstration will take place in Berlin.

Nuclear Reaction, 22 June 2009

Japan: MOX target delayed. Japanese plans for 16-18 reactors to be using mixed oxide (MOX) fuel by 2010 have been put back by five years, the country's Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPCO) has announced. Up until 1998, Japan sent the bulk of its used fuel to plants in France and the UK for reprocessing and MOX fabrication. However, since 1999 it has been storing used fuel in anticipation of full-scale operation of its own reprocessing and MOX fabrication facilities. Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd's (JNFL's) reprocessing plant under construction at Rokkasho-mura is scheduled for completion in August 2009, but earlier this year the company put back the completion date for its planned J-MOX fabrication facility from August 2012 to August 2015. Construction work on the fabrication facility is scheduled to begin in November 2009. Four shipments of reactor-grade plutonium recovered from used fuel have been sent back to Japan from European reprocessing plants since 1992. The most recent arrived in Japan from France in May 2009.

World Nuclear News, 12 June 2009

Australia: union action on radioactive waste. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has welcomed the support of Australia’s peak trade union body ACTU in pushing for an end to any federal government move to impose a radioactive waste dump on the Northern Territory and developing a credible and responsible approach to radioactive waste management in Australia. On June 4, the ACTU Congress in Brisbane passed a resolution critical of the government’s delay in delivering on a 2007 election commitment on radioactive waste management and called for an independent and public inquiry into the best options for dealing with radioactive waste.

“The ACTU’s active support in this issue is powerful and very welcome,” said ACF nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney. “The federal government was elected on a promise to scrap the heavy handed waste dump laws and make radioactive waste policy responsible and transparent.  It has failed to deliver on this promise and this resolution is an important reminder to the government and to Resources Minister Ferguson that the community expects better.”

The ACTU now joins a broad range of environment and public health groups, Indigenous organisations and state, territory and local governments concerned by the federal government’s lack of responsible and inclusive action on this issue.

ACF Press release, 5 June 2009

U.S.: doubts about decommissioning funds. Two days after Associated Press reported that operators of nearly half of the US' 104 nuclear reactors are not setting aside enough funds to cover projected decommissioning costs, the NRC has contacted owners of 18 nuclear power plants asking them to explain how the economic downturn has affected funds they must set aside to cover future decommissioning costs. The AP report said the shortfalls have been caused by a combination of falling investments and rising decommissioning costs. Plant operators are required to establish funding during a reactor's operating life to ensure the reactor site will be properly cleaned up once the plant is permanently closed, the NRC said, adding that its review of the latest reports from reactor operators "suggests several plants must adjust their funding plans." Tim McGinty, director of policy and rulemaking in the NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation said: "This is not a current safety issue, but the plants do have to prove to us they're setting aside money appropriately."

Platts, 19 June 2009

AREVA'S MOX transport: a traveling security threat

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner

About 1.8 tons of plutonium in Mixed-Oxide (MOX) fuel, enough to make 225 nuclear weapons, left the French port of Cherbourg on March 5, to travel to Japan via the Cape of Good Hope and the southwest Pacific Ocean. It is due to arrive in Japanese waters by late-May, according to Areva. This shipment represents an immediate risk of contamination to coastal communities along the route should anything go wrong. The shipment is vulnerable to accident and terrorist attack and stands as a reminder to all governments along the route of the unacceptable risks nuclear energy poses to the world.

The dangerous transport is another attempt of the dying industry to survive. As the French nuclear industry and President Sarkozy aggressively try to sell the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), the latest in nuclear reactors, under the false premise of a climate change solution, they conveniently ignore the very real dangers associated with it, including health risks and potential terrorist attack. EPR reactors are meant to run on 50-100% MOX fuel.

Japan has been trying to use MOX in their nuclear reactors for more than ten years; and have repeatedly failed.  The first shipment to Japan in 1999 ended in fiasco after the producer, UK state company British Nuclear Fuels, admitted it had deliberately falsified vital quality control safety data. After an 18,000-mile voyage, the rejected fuel was shipped back to the UK. Two more cargoes, one delivered in 1999, the other in 2001, were opposed by local citizens and regional governments. Both shipments remain in storage with no prospect that they will ever be used.

There is plenty of evidence showing that the containers used to transport the MOX are not strong enough to withstand serious accidents or terrorist attack. Risk of fire is just one example, the containers are only tested over a few hours, but fires on board ships can last much longer (days or even weeks). Once MOX fuel disperses it poses a grave threat to public health and the environment.

Referring to a plutonium shipment in 2002, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda stated "our small states are fearful that a deliberate act of terror aimed at those ships may bring an end to our very existence. This is not fanciful or farfetched fiction."
Considering all this, it is little wonder that plutonium and MOX shipments have been opposed by dozens of governments and their citizens, since they started.

Areva denying proliferation risks

On the anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entering into force, the trade in nuclear bomb grade material between France and Japan seriously jeopardises the international non-proliferation regime. As a result of civil nuclear programmes, the world now has more weapons usable plutonium in so-called commercial use than in all nuclear weapons arsenals put together.

In an March 2, open letter to Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA, Greenpeace states:

Our specific concerns are Areva’s misrepresentation of the proliferation threat posed bycommercial plutonium contained in this and other MOX fuel. They appear dangerously confused or deliberately denying the inherent proliferation risks of the Japanese plutonium MOX fuel. Specifically Areva (Henri Jacques Neau, Director of Transport) went on record March 1 saying: “It is impossible to make a nuclear weapon as suggested by Greenpeace. Here you must be clear, this MOX does not have any interest for any people to make a nuclear weapon from it. There is no interest in the diversion of this material. We have this level of protection, because the MOX fuel contains plutonium. Everything that contains plutonium must have a protective measure,”

Late February following an interview with French news agency, AFP, an industrial source (most likely Areva) was cited in the article stating that, "To make a bomb” out of MOX, “you would first need an installation in order to separate the plutonium from the uranium. And still, the result would only be plutonium of "civil" quality and not military quality," affirmed this source.

These statements are clearly misleading, stating as it does there is a distinction between civil and military grade plutonium. This, as you are aware is not the formal position of the IAEA, which classifies commercial plutonium MOX fuel as Category 1 nuclear material, requiring the highest level of security protection. As the IAEA safeguards glossary states, conversion of MOX fuel or powder to finished plutonium (metal) is of the order of 1-3 weeks.

Greenpeace is long used to Japanese nuclear industry denials that reactor-grade plutonium is a proliferation threat, and that it cannot be used to make nuclear weapons. However, you will be aware that as long ago as 1990 your predecessor Hans Blix confirmed to the Nuclear Control Institute that the IAEA does not dispute that reactor-grade plutonium can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Now we have denials by the nuclear industry including an explicit denial by Areva, which we believe is in defiance of both the IAEA classification of reactor grade plutonium and MOX fuel, as well as senior nuclear weapons scientists and U.S. government departments, including the Department of Energy.

You will be aware that the U.S. Department of Energy first briefed Japan and other states on the proliferation risks from commercial reprocessing, reactor grade plutonium and MOX fuel more than 30 years ago.

Sources: Greenpeace Press release, 6 March 2009 / Letter to ElBaradei, 2 March 2009 which can be found at:
Contact: Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner
Tel:  +31 650 640 961

Sellafield Mox Plant: stuck on the road to nowhere

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Martin Forwood

The poor prognosis for the crippled Sellafield MOX Plant (SMP) by its owners the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), in its Plutonium Topic Strategy document of January 30, is now confirmed by the Guardian Newspaper (February 17) which quotes ‘well placed industry sources’ as saying that there was little chance the plant would stay open. This will come as little surprise to observers who have watched SMP’s wretched performance since it opened in 2002 – with perhaps the only surprise being that the plant has survived this long.

The NDA’s Plutonium Topic Strategy document states that SMP provided neither the capacity nor the longevity to be used for converting the UK’s civil stockpile of plutonium (now in excess of 100 tons) into reactor-useable MOX fuel – an inference that its MOX fuel making days were numbered - and that the plant might in future be utilized ‘in a meaningful manner’ for producing low specification MOX fuel as a means of transforming plutonium stocks into a waste form for eventual disposal.

SMP, built between 1994 and 1997 at an original cost of BP 470 million (in 1997 1 BP was US$1,6) and currently employing some 800 workers, has been dogged by controversy since the initial planning application was submitted by British Nuclear Fuels plc to Copeland Borough Council in 1992. Ten years later, following five Public Consultation exercises and a number of legal challenges, the first plutonium dioxide powder was introduced into the plant in April 2002. Designed to manufacture 120 tons of MOX fuel per year by utilizing the plutonium recovered at the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) from foreign customers’ Light Water Reactor (LWR) fuel, gremlins in SMP’s highly complex process have resulted in its production capacity being officially downsized, first from 120t/yr to 75t/yr and then to around 40t/yr. Even that reduced target is clearly beyond the capability of the plant as performance figures for the plant since it opened in 2002 testify.

In a February 2008 Parliamentary answer on SMP production, the UK Government’s Secretary of State Malcolm Wicks confirmed that SMP, having produced no MOX fuel in its first two years of operation, produced 0.3 tons in 2004/05, 2.3 tons (2005/06) and 2.6 tons (2006/07) – a total of just 5.2 tons in 5 years. This completed tonnage of fuel formed part of a longstanding order from the Swiss Beznau PWR power station, and the order of 12 MOX fuel assemblies, at 314 kg per assembly, were transported by sea to Switzerland in three shipments between 2005 and November 2006.

The most recently available production figures show a similarly poor performance with little sign of any improvement in getting to grips with the production process, described at the outset by BNFL as its own Short Binderless Route (SBR) process ‘which gives major benefits for the fabrication process and subsequent fuel performance’.

Consisting effectively of 3 production stages of fuel pellet, fuel rod and fuel assembly production, the system has repeatedly suffered from problems at each of the production stages – with a major bottleneck at the rod production stage - bringing the whole fabrication process to a virtual standstill.

With the Swiss order completed and delivered to Beznau by 2006, SMP was reconfigured to manufacture MOX fuel for Germany’s Grohnde PWR power station in early 2007. Unlike the Swiss fuel which is configured in a 14x14 layout within the assembly, the German fuel is configured in a 16x16 layout, within fuel assemblies of 536kg each. Every change in layout necessitates a reconfiguration of SMP which takes ‘weeks, if not months’ to complete.

By the end of 2008 Sellafield confirmed that just 2 MOX fuel assemblies for Grohnde had been completed, and the latest projection is that ‘SMP aims to have produced enough material for around eight fuel assemblies by the end of the Financial Year’ (by March 31, 2009). This claim must be viewed with some suspicion as the plant’s past performance shows that, as a result of serious bottlenecks throughout the production system, producing enough material for 8 MOX fuel assemblies is a far cry from actually completing finished fuel assemblies.

In the unlikely event that 8 assemblies for Grohnde are indeed completed by the end of the financial year, and assuming a plutonium mix of 6%, it would add only another 4.25 tons of MOX fuel to SMP’s overall output, making a grand total of 9.5 tons since operations started 7 years ago. This represents an average rate of some 1.3 tons of MOX fuel per year - a far cry from the 40t/yr target (at best) now acknowledged by the industry.

A measure of the extent of SMP’s failure can be further gauged from its original order book and the fact that the rationale for building the plant was predicated on securing a majority of its MOX fuel orders from Japanese utilities. No firm orders from Japan have materialized and none featured in the original order book which consisted of contracts with European customers only. Of these orders - from Switzerland, Germany and Sweden - a number have already had to be sub-contracted between 2002 and 2005 to rival MOX fabricators in France and Belgium.

A further measure can be seen in the NDA’s highly optimistic 2005/06 Life Cycle Base Line (LCBL) forecast on SMP which projected, for example, a total Grohnde contract of 64 MOX fuel assemblies, with the first 16 assemblies being delivered in 2008 (just 2 had actually been produced in SMP by 2008) and further shipments of 16 assemblies each being made in 2009, 2010 and 2012 respectively. Similarly, the LCBL projected orders of 44 assemblies (532kg each) for the German Brokdorf power station, the first 12 to be delivered in 2007, and an order of 88 assemblies (200kg each) for Sweden’s Oskarshamn BWR power station, the first 24 also to be delivered in 2007. Clearly these orders must now be seen as lost causes and a large proportion are likely to have been lost or similarly sub-contracted since 2005.

Two further comparisons are also worth noting. Firstly the comparison with Sellafield’s significantly smaller MOX Demonstration Facility (MDF) which cost £26 million and operated between 1993 and 1999 before being closed as a commercial production plant by the Regulators following the ‘falsification scandal’ in 1999 which saw bored workers at the plant falsifying quality assurance data on fuel manufactured for a Japanese customer. Records show that during its 6-year life, the 8 ton per year demonstration facility produced 36 assemblies totaling around 18 tons of MOX fuel – twice the tonnage produced by SMP in 7 years of operation.

The second comparison relates to the granting by the Regulators of a ‘Consent to Operate’ for SMP. The Consent effectively marks the end of the active commissioning of the plant and the start of full commercial production, and implies that both the Regulators and the operators of the plant are satisfied with the safety and reliability of the production process.

The Health & Safety Executive’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) are quoted as expecting to have given this Consent in 2004, some 2 years after the introduction of the first batch of plutonium into the plant. As SMP has lurched from one crisis to another, hopes of gaining the Consent to Operate have been put back year on year and Consent is not now expected to be applied for by the operators until 2010 at the earliest.

Because of ‘commercial confidentiality’ restrictions, little detail is known about additional and unexpected costs incurred by SMP. With the use of some creative accounting, the original construction cost of £470M was written off as a sunk cost – leaving independent consultants, commissioned by Government, to conclude that the plant had a Net Positive Value (NPV) of some £200M (US$290 million). Had the construction costs been properly included, SMP would have been a loss maker from day one. Additional costs since then, including confirmed lost revenues on every order that has had to be sub-contracted to Europe, mean the overall costs to SMP will have spiraled significantly, up to the £2 Billion as quoted in the Sellafield area’s local newspaper (Whitehaven News, February 18, 2009). A January 2009 meeting of local liaison committee was told that due to the complexity of the design and build of the plant ‘SMP is unlikely to meet planned throughput without further investment’

Whilst those who opposed SMP, from its first appearance in BNFL’s 1992 planning application and through all subsequent consultations and legal challenges, had correctly forecast the likely shortcomings of the plant, including the highly suspect economic case put forward by BNFL, the complexity of the production process and the thin order book secured by SMP, its owners (NDA) and operators (Sellafield Ltd) only now appear to recognize the hopelessness of the plant’s operational and financial position.

In retrospect, even they now appear to concede that the plant’s process system was too complex to succeed as projected (as admitted by the Secretary of State in 2008 – ‘SMP was based on unproven technology’), that BNFL had only limited experience of manufacturing MOX fuel for overseas LWR’s, that the plant’s inherently weak business case was never properly scrutinized, and that hopes of securing large orders from Japan have virtually evaporated as a result of the loss of trust by Japanese utilities following the 1999 MOX falsification scandal.

When it took ownership of SMP in April 2005, the NDA advised that the plant’s future was under review. It has remained under review ever since, but apart from the published (but heavily redacted) reports commissioned from independent consultants Arthur D Little in 2005 and 2006, all other reviews have been carried out behind closed doors by the NDA and its in-house contractors, and have remained unpublished – despite the former’s promise of openness and transparency.

It is perhaps not surprising that the NDA is keen to keep the full extent of SMP’s current state from public scrutiny given that ADL, in its last published report (2006) had come to some damning conclusions. Commenting on the downgrading of production from 120t/yr to 40t/yr, ADL said that the plant’s operators had not yet been able to demonstrate that SMP was capable of sustaining continuous operation at a level needed to meet customer requirements and that because of operational difficulties holding back fuel production, SMP’s NPV (£200M) had been ‘substantially eroded’. Further, that the prospect of fully automatic operation for SMP was ‘only a remote possibility’, and that the plant had a potential throughput of only a few tons of plutonium a year at best.

This ADL reference to plutonium volumes is itself overly optimistic, given that even at the original SMP design production rate of 120t/yr, the plant was predicted by BNFL to utilize at most around 7 tons of plutonium recovered from THORP each year. In reality, with just 12 MOX fuel assemblies already fabricated for Switzerland, and with a possible further 8 assemblies ‘on the go’ for Germany, the total plutonium utilized in SMP to date (at an incorporation rate of 6% in MOX fuel) will amount to just half a ton of plutonium utilized in 7 years of operation.

The latest in-house review, consisting of a technical, strategic and operational assessment of SMP is due to go before the NDA Board of Directors in March 2009 and then on to UK Government. There is as yet no indication as to how the new Parent Body Organisation (PBO) in charge at Sellafield views the current crisis with SMP.

Taking over the management of Sellafield’s commercial operations in November 2008 under contract to the NDA (the contract worth an estimated £22 Bn over 17 years), the PBO Nuclear Management Partners (NMP) consists of the US Washington Group International Limited, UK’s AMEC Nuclear Holdings Limited and France’s AREVA NC.

Given AREVA’s relative success in manufacturing MOX fuel in France for many years, it remains to be seen whether they will advise ‘turning off the life support machine’ for SMP, perhaps suggesting instead the construction of a new MOX plant at Sellafield or alternatively reaching an agreement to transfer plutonium stocks to France where it could be fabricated into MOX fuel. Such an agreement would be hampered not only with operational difficulties both in the UK and France – Sellafield for example has no official export route for THORP plutonium – but would incur political and international condemnation at the prospect of shipping 100 tons of prime terrorist material in an era of heightened terrorist risk.

Clearly recognizing Sellafield’s inability to manufacture MOX fuel on anything like a commercial scale, the local MP Jamie Reed (an ex BNFL PR man) and the site’s workforce and trades unions are pressing for a new MOX plant to be constructed at Sellafield. As one independent observer has noted ‘it is good to hear that our elected representatives are keeping up the tradition (in the nuclear field) of only advocating investment in proven failure’.

A decision on a new plant could be made only by Government Ministers, following advice of the NDA who are currently grappling to resolve the fate of Sellafield’s embarrassing stockpile of plutonium.

Source and contact: Martin Forwood at CORE (Cumbrians Opposed to A Radioactive Environment). Dry Hall, Broughton Mills, Broughton-in-Furness, Cumbria LA20 6AZ, UK.

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

U.K.: What's in our dump?

The operators of the Drigg national low-level waste facility have asked former workers to tell them what is buried there. In an advert in local papers LLW Repository Limited asked workers who tipped nuclear waste into the site's open trenches over a 25-year period from 1960 to try and remember what it was they dumped. The company said it did have records of what was dumped but they wanted "a clearer picture".

Cumberland News 14 February 2009

Greenpeace: illegal state aid Romania and Bulgaria.

On February 25, Greenpeace has filed complaints to the European Commission over alleged illegal state aid for the construction of two nuclear reactors in Romania and two in Bulgaria. The environmental organization argues that both countries violate EU competition rules. Jan Haverkamp, EU energy campaigner for Greenpeace, said: "We have been investigating for many months the unfair competition conditions that have been granted to the nuclear sector in Romania and Bulgaria. We have now submitted the evidence we have collected to the European Commission, and are calling for urgent action to correct these flagrant market distortions."

The Romanian government earmarked 220 million Euro for the Cernavoda 3 and 4 nuclear power plant. On top of this, the state spent EUR350 million in taxpayers´ money for the purchase of heavy water for the new power station, as well as EUR800 million to increase the capital of state utility S.N. Nuclearelectrica - S.A., with the purpose of supporting its financial contributions to the project.

The Bulgarian government has invested 300 million Bulgarian Leva (154 million Euro) in state utility NEK for the construction of the Belene nuclear power station, as well as another 400 million Leva (205 million Euro) in NEK's parent holding BEH, partly also meant for Belene. According to Greenpeace, all of these investments are in violation of EU competition law.

Press release, Greenpeace EU Unit, 25 February 2009

EDF debt increased to nearly 25 billion Euro.

French energy group and the world’s biggest operator of nuclear power stations, EDF could be forced to sell some of its power stations in France to help to fund its £12.2 billion acquisition of Britain’s nuclear industry. EDF shocked investors by unveiling a fall of nearly 40 per cent in annual profits (slipped to 3.54 billion euro in 2008, compared with 5.6 billion Euro in 2007) and warning that its debt pile had increased to nearly €25 billion (US$ 32 billion) after a string of acquisitions, including those of British Energy and America’s Constellation Energy.

EDF, which is 85 % owned by the French State, is aiming to cut its debt by at least 5 billion Euro by the end of 2010 and much of this would be achieved through asset sales. A number of foreign energy companies, including Enel, of Italy, have previously expressed an interest in entering the French power market.

The Times (U.K.), 13 february 2009

GDF Suez pulls out of Belene!

An important victory and another sign that the Belene project is too risky! French utility GDF Suez has decided to pull out of Bulgaria's planned nuclear plant of Belene. GDF Suez's Belgian subsidiary Electrabel had been in talks to take part in German utility RWE's 49-percent stake in Bulgaria's 4 billion Euro plant. RWE confirmed it had not reached an agreement with GDF Suez but said it would continue to develop the project as planned. "Financial, technical, economic and organization questions are in focus and safety of course comes first in all our considerations," a RWE spokesman told Reuters. Sources familiar with the Bulgarian nuclear project have said the global financial crisis and tighter liquidity have made raising funding extremely difficult and that it was likely the plant's starting date would go beyond the planned 2013-2014.

GDF Suez is focusing on its other nuclear projects, a company spokesman said. The company is trying to grab a share of the nuclear revival with plans to take part in the second and possibly the third new-generation French nuclear reactors as well as in nuclear power projects in Britain, Romania and in Abu Dhabi.

Reuters, 28 February 2009

More delays for Rokkasho.

The commercial start-up of Japan’s Rokkasho reprocessing plant has suffered a further delay. On January 30, its owner, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JNFL), filed an application with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to change its construction plan, pushing the scheduled completion date of the plant back to August 2009. A few years ago JNFL had planned to commence full operation of the plant in November 2007.

Groups and individuals have been campaigning against this plant ever since 1985, when Aomori Prefecture agreed to allow it to be constructed. If the Rokkasho reprocessing ever operates at full capacity, it will reprocess 800 tons of spent fuel and extract about 8 tons of plutonium per year. In the course of regular operations, when spent fuel assemblies are cut up (shearing), radioactive gases are released from the chimney stack. These include radioactive isotopes of krypton, xenon, iodine, cesium, etc.. Later in the process, other radioactive materials are released into the sea as liquid waste. These include tritium, carbon-14, iodine-129, plutonium, etc.. It is said that a reprocessing plant releases as much radioactivity in one day as a nuclear reactor releases in one year.

In addition, there are international concerns that the operation of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant will accelerate trends towards nuclear proliferation. The process used at Rokkasho will produce a 1:1 mixed oxide of plutonium and uranium. The Japanese government says that it is difficult to produce nuclear weapons from this. However, this is not true. Scientists in the US, and also the International Atomic Energy Agency, recognize that this material can readily be transformed into nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Engineering International, 18 February 2009 / Nuke Info Tokyo (CNIC)

U.K.: Leaked for 14 years.

Radioactive waste leaked from a decontamination unit at the Bradwell nuclear power station for 14 years, Chelmsford Crown Court was told late January. The operators, Magnox Electric, were found guilty of allowing unauthorized disposal of radioactive waste from 1990 to 2004 when the problem was discovered. The court was told the leak was caused by poor design and no routine inspection or maintenance. Chief inspector for the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, Mike Weightman, said it was not possible to "inspect or check every feature of a complex plant" but once the leak was discovered regulators took quick action.

N-base 601, 11 February 2009

Iraq takes first step to nuclear power, again….

On February 22, Iraqi Electricity Minister Karim Wahid says Baghdad is taking initial steps to construct the country's first nuclear power plant in cooperation with France. "I am willing to enter into contacts with the French nuclear agency and to start to build a nuclear power plant, because the future is nuclear," said Wahid. Iraq had sealed a contract with France to construct a nuclear reactor during Saddam Hussein's regime in 1976. The construction of the Osirak reactor however remained unfinished after Israeli warplanes bombed the facility in 1981. Tel Aviv accused the regime of building nuclear weapons. In the 1990 Iraq was accused of having a secret nuclear weapons program. Already in 1991 in the first few days of Gulf War I Iraqi nuclear energy capability (research reactor, hot-cells, etc.) was said to be destroyed by the US-led international coalition. However, in the decade that followed Iraq was still accused of having a covert nuclear program, but in search of such a program, after the Gulf War-II in 2003 nothing was found.

Press TV (Iraq), 22 February 2009 / Laka Foundation, sources 1992 & 2003

France: TV show reveals radioactive risk.

Fears that radioactive material taken from France’s old uranium mines has been used in construction have been raised by a TV documentary. According to investigators for the program Pièces à Conviction (Incriminating evidence), there are many sites where radioactive material is a potential health risk including schools, playgrounds, buildings and car parks. Very little uranium is now mined in Europe, but France carried out mining from 1945 – 2001 at 210 sites which have now been revealed by IRSN, the Institute of Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety on its website. Problems stem from millions of tons of reject rock which contained small amount of uranium which are still stocked at some of the sites along with 50 million tons of waste from extraction factories.
The documentary on France 3 also revealed that some reject rock has also been used as construction rubble in areas used by the public, that there have been some radioactive leaks into the environment from waste and that some “rehabilitated” areas where building has been taken place had been contaminated with radon. Before the program went out Areva had lodged a complaint about it with the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel concerned that its intention was to make accusations against the firm. The program makers said they had “opened a national debate on uranium waste in France”.

The Connection (Fr.), 13 February 2009

Largest Pu transport ever from Europe to Japan.

Secret preparations are underway in Britain and France for shipping 1.8 tons of plutonium, the largest quantity of plutonium ever shipped by sea. The plutonium is contained in 65 assemblies of MOX (mixed plutonium and uranium oxide) fuel and is being shipped to Japan for use in the nuclear power plants of three Japanese electric utilities. No details have been revealed, but it is reported that the fuel will be transported by two British-flagged vessels, escorting each other.

The vessels are to depart Europe anytime on or after March 1st. Neither the hour of departure nor the maritime route to be used will be revealed before the ships depart. The United States must approve the transport plan before the shipment can proceed. The MOX fuel to be transported has been fabricated in France by Areva NC. The three possible routes for the shipment are around the Cape of Good Hope and through the South Pacific, around South America, or, through the Panama Canal.

Japanese electric utilities hope the fuel to be shipped will start its troubled MOX fuel utilization program which was to begin a decade ago in 1999. Many more shipments are scheduled to follow and could take different routes.

Green Action (Japan) Press Release 24th Feb 2009

IAEA: Syrian uranium-traces manmade.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said traces of uranium taken from the site of an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria were manmade. The report by the IAEA on the Dair Alzour site puts strong pressure on Damascus as it rejects the Syrian explanation for the presence of uranium.

The IAEA-report says that after an initial visit in June 2008, which revealed the presence of processed uranium, inspectors had not been allowed back to Dair Alzour and other sites where debris might have been stored, on the grounds they were "military installations".

IAEA denounces the Syrian government for its lack of cooperation with the agency's inquiry. "Syria has stated that the origin of the uranium particles was the missiles used to destroy the building," the IAEA report says. "The agency's current assessment is that there is a low probability that the uranium was introduced by the use of missiles as the isotopic and chemical composition and the morphology of the particles are all inconsistent with what would be expected from the use of uranium-based munitions."

The IAEA says Israel also failed to cooperate, but its findings give weight to the Israeli and US allegation that Dair Alzour was a secret reactor intended for eventual production of weapons. The report explicitly questions Syria's denials.

Circulation of the IAEA-report is restricted; it cannot be released to the public unless the IAEA Board decides otherwise. However, it can be found at:

Guardian, 19 February 2009


Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(May 27, 2005) On May 18, activists from Greenpeace occupied the site of Borssele, the sole remaining nuclear power reactor in The Netherlands as a result of the renewed debate on its future, which re-started when members of the government again put the official closure date into question.

(628.5690) WISE Amsterdam - On February 16, when most NGOs involved in energy issues were celebrating the entering into force of the Kyoto protocol, the Dutch Secretary of State for the Environment (The Netherlands no longer has a Minister for Environmental Affairs) announced that the government is seeking ways to keep the Borssele nuclear power plant open for 20 more years. The coalition government (three parties of right-wing Conservatives), in 2002, agreed upon the closure of the last Dutch commercial nuclear power station in 2013, at the end of its natural lifetime (40 years).

However, the government has so far failed to come up with a comprehensive and/or inspiring plan for more renewables, energy efficiency or even new investments in cleaner power stations or wind farms. The Dutch will probably only be able to meet the Kyoto targets because half of the savings on CO2-emission are to be met with projects in other countries via the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

And as the Dutch energy market has gradually been liberalized and left to the market, the owners of the Borssele nuclear reactor can successfully claim that it is not up to the government to decide when the reactor should close. The Dutch system allows a plant that fulfills safety requirements to be awarded an open-ended license; Borssele has one. The utility, EPZ, has stated that it should receive between 700 and 1200 million Euros in compensation from the government if 'forced' to close in 2013. This claim has led the Dutch NGO world and communities at large to re-start their opposition for the first time in maybe 15 years. Groups are increasing efforts to put pressure on parliament and the government to stick to the original closure date of 2013.

The State Secretary for the Environment hired two consultants to initiate talks with the main stakeholders, behind closed doors, to identify possibilities for making a dirty deal; if the environmental movement would accept the postponement of closure to 2033 then the 'saved' money (from not compensating the utility) would then be spent on renewable energy projects and investments.

Divide and rule
In the first round of this tense and highly political game all the environmental NGOs refused to participate, not wanting to "…bargain on nuclear energy". The offer of such a deal has served to galvanize the Dutch anti-nuclear movement and in response to the political war games, a coalition of eight environmental groups responded with an action. Greenpeace Netherlands and WISE have been increasing the number of its actions against nuclear energy and earlier this year, 200 drums with 'radioactive waste' were placed in front of parliamentary buildings. On May 18, Greenpeace managed to occupy the Borssele site and some activists even climbed onto the reactor dome. This was a major embarrassment for both the government and the utility as just a few months ago, the entire nation was shaken by the news that a would-be Muslim terrorist had been arrested with detailed maps of the nuclear power station. Greenpeace easily walked onto the site with 40 people and 12 of them occupied the dome for a day, painting a huge crack to symbolize the expected problems of ageing reactors.

Other players (opinion makers, civil servants, environmental and energy consultants, etc) in the debate are much more open to the idea of a deal (postponed closure in exchange for money for renewables). The consultants are now attempting to play the divide-and-rule game by trying to expose supporters of a deal.

Although not written in stone yet, it seems that the government wants to keep Borssele open until at least 2033. This has far reaching consequences for the discussion on radwaste and reprocessing. In a new report ("Ontwikkelingen met betrekking tot eindverwerking van gebruikte brandstof", NRG, April 2005), the government published new details on the status of Dutch plutonium stocks; in the last 15 years, despite almost annual parliamentary debate on reprocessing, no details were ever published on the exact status of Dutch reprocessing contracts. The government has decided that there are still no relevant developments to stop reprocessing (despite, for instance, the 'new' terrorism threat).

The State Secretary and his staff have, of course in confidentiality, been allowed to view the reprocessing contracts with Cogema for the first time ever. After some discussions both Cogema and Borssele agreed to reveal the following information on Dutch plutonium:


  • EPZ claims that ownership of Dutch plutonium (Pu) stocks is transferred, or will be transferred, to others for recycling as MOX fuel. Borssele itself does not and will not use MOX. This counts for both the already produced (separated) Pu as well as the Pu still to be produced

  • Of the 2,5 tons Pu already produced, 23% was sold to the Kalkar and Superphenix fast breeder projects, 31% was sold for recycling in MOX, 31% is still in storage with the aim to be used in MOX later, as is the remaining 15%. The total amount of separated plutonium owned by The Netherlands is 2.3 tons (Dec. 31, 2004): 0.4 tons from Dodewaard and 1.9 tons from the Borssele reactor.

  • Of the 280 tons of reprocessed uranium produced till now, 126 tons has already been re-enriched and used for re-loading into Borssele and 139 tons has been transferred to others. EPZ "expects to find a solution" for the remaining 15 tons.


    In February when the future of Borssele was debated, a Dutch businessman announced his intention to build a small (25 Mw) Pebble Bed nuclear reactor in the Netherlands, to be used as a stand-alone energy source for high-energy consuming industry in the Rotterdam harbor area. As he put it, "the question whether I will go to the Ministry and start the process for a license depends largely on how much resistance I meet in society".

    The large utilities active in the Dutch energy market are also reviewing their positions on nuclear power. Although none are expected to announce plans to build a large reactor, it is clear that there is a rapid change in thinking occurring, not only within the general public (polls show support for nuclear growing steadily) but, and more importantly in the short term, also within the circles of decision makers.

    Source and contact: WISE Amsterdam.

BorsseleGKN DodewaardWISE