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Monju

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#723
25/02/2011
Shorts

Criticism South Korean UAE contract
A news program has belatedly exposed the fact that the South Korean government agreed to provide a loan covering approximately half the construction costs for the exportation of a nuclear power plant to the United Arab Emirates. While the government explained that this was part of ordinary power plant export financing, controversy has been flaring up as this revelation couples with previous controversies over inflation of the order amount and the deployment of troops to the UAE as a condition for receiving the order. A Jan. 30 episode of the MBC program 'News Magazine 2580' revealed that in the process of signing a contract with the UAE for the power plant export in December 2009, the South Korean government agreed to provide a loan for approximately US$10 billion (7.25 billion euro) of the total order amount of US$18.6 billion through Korea Eximbank. In addition, the program reported that the repayment period was set at 28 years, and that the transaction generates a loss due to the fact that South Korea, which has a lower credit rating than the UAE, has to borrow the money at high interest rates and lend it at low interest rates. The program also reported that the construction has encountered setbacks, including a delay in the groundbreaking ceremony from its originally scheduled date in late 2010, as the Korean government has encountered difficulties coming up with the promised US$10 billion loan.

Hankyoreh, South Korea, 1 February 2011


URÂNIO EM MOVI(E)MENTO,
the 1st International Uranium Film Festival is Latin America´s first film festival to highlight nuclear and radioactive issues. It is an annual event with 2 international competitions.

The Uranium Film Festival wants to inform especially the Brazilian and Latin American societies and stimulate the production of independent documentaries and movies about the whole nuclear fuel cycle, about the dangers of radioactivity and especially about the environmental and health risks of uranium exploration, mining and processing. The Uranium Film Festival will be held from May 21th to 28th 2011 in the city of Rio de Janeiro and from June 2nd to 9th in the city of São Paulo

The first 18 films have been selected: look for the list at:

http://www.uraniumfilmfestival.org/html/selected_films.html


Germany: Complaints against runtime extensions to Constitutional Court.

In cooperation with citizens living close to Germany's seven oldest nuclear powerplants, Greenpeace has submitted a complaint to Germany's Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht). While Greenpeace Germany generally argues that the runtime extensions endanger each citizen's right of being protected against bodily harm, the new constitutional complaint is specifically directed at the latest Nuclear Energy Law's paragraph 7d. The new §7d tells reactor operators, in rather poetic language, to reduce risks threatening "the population". This is, according to Greenpeace's law experts, a significant point. It means that individual citizens who have lately filed complaints (with support from Greenpeace) against the extension of the licenses for reactors in their neighborhood will be denied the right of action. In other words, the old Nuclear Law was designed to protect citizens and gave them the right to complain in local courts against the risks caused by the local polluter, and the new law withdraws this right.

Parallel to Greenpeace's action, two other complaints against the new Nuclear Law

will be filed at the Constitutional Court later this year. One is by a number of states of the German federation and the other is by groups of members of the federal parliament.

Greenpeace press release (in German), 3 February 2011


Norway: severe consequences of Sellafield accident.
An accident at the high-activity liquor storage at Sellafield would have severe consequences for Norway's wildlife, agricultural industry and environment. The Norwegian Radiological Protection Authority has published a second report on the consequences of a accident that releases just one per cent of the high-level liquid waste at Sellafield. This report looks at the consequences to the environment and animals, while the first report considered the fallout likely from a similar accident. The report use the typical weather experienced in October 2008 and only considers the release of caesium-137. An actual accident would release other radionuclides, particularly strontium.

It is estimated the amount of caesium-137 deposited on Norway would be about seven times that from Chernobyl. Direct costs from Chernobyl on agriculture and reindeer in Norway have been over 665 million kroner (US$118 million; 86 million euro) and there are still annual costs of 15 million kroner. Up to 80 per cent of all lambs in Norway would be expected to have excess radiation levels and restrictions apply for decades. The report is available at www.nrpa.no/dav/0942d3dc93.pdf

N-Base Briefing 681, 25 January 2011


Canada: White Elephant 'Pointless Lepreau' reappears in New Brunswick.
The Point Lepreau nuclear generating station provides the quintessential definition of a white elephant. The aging nuclear plant opened its doors three times over budget in 1983. The Energy and Utilities Board refused to support spending on refurbishing it beyond its expected lifetime, but politicians went ahead anyway. Today, costs for the touch-and-go overhaul are already over Cdn$1.4 billion (1.4 bn US$, 1 bn Euro). The latest guess at a completion date is May 2012, a delay of almost three years. Damage to public and worker health and the environment have yet to be calculated and the final costs for taxpayers may not end for generations.

An alliance of public interest groups in New Brunswick, known as the Point Lepreau Decommissioning Caucus, is spreading a simple, but powerful message: Point Lepreau is a white elephant, we don't need it. Pointless Lepreau is old, sickly and on its last legs: Do Not Resuscitate. To underline the foolishness of refurbishing Lepreau, the groups are holding surprise events featuring their newest member, an actual white elephant costume aptly named Pointless Lepreau.

Press release, 19 January 2011


When the dust settles.
The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) and IKV Pax Christi have been working on a joint project to create an animated short film on the hazards of depleted uranium and the international campaign against its use and are happy to announce that the English language version has now been completed. We have sought to render down a complex issue into six and a half minutes and at present the animation is available in English and Dutch, we hope that additional languages will be available in future.

Both versions are available from our Youtube channels at the links below. ICBUW can also provide copies for use at events and to help support your national campaigns.

English version: http://www.youtube.com/user/ICBUW


UK Gov't sending papers down the memory-hole. The UK government and its agencies like the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA; successor to Nirex) are trying to airbrush out the history of the attempt to find a nuclear waste repository in West Cumbria. Documents and scientific papers which were formerly available on their websites have been removed; the Nirex documents have been transferred to the safe keeping of the British Geological Survey, where they may be 'consulted' at Keyworth, Nottinghamshire. But nothing remains online, not even an index of the documents and reports. Now, David Smythe has re-scanned much of the material and collected links of other parts.

Sellafield (West-Cumbria) was disqualified for several reasons, but now NDA and government is looking again at that region for final disposal.

Papers are available at: http://www.davidsmythe.org/nuclear/nuclear.htm


Monju: accident delays startup with 3 more years. The task of removing a device that accidentally fell into the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju in August will delay its full startup about a year to 2014 or later.
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of the 280 MW Monju reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, is expected to remove the device next summer or later and then conduct checkups, delaying the test operation initially scheduled to start next spring and subsequent full-fledged run. Removing the 3.3-ton device, which was used for fuel exchange before it fell into the reactor vessel in the Aug. 26 accident, requires special equipment, approval from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and a followup inspection.
Monju resumed operations with limited power output in May 2010 after 14 years and five months(!) of suspension due to a sodium coolant leak and a resultant fire and coverup attempt in 1995.
Kyodo, 17 December 2010


Extended operation for Paducah enrichment plant? US uranium enrichment company USEC said that it is working to extend the operation of its Paducah plant in Kentucky beyond May 2012, when the old and inefficient gaseous diffusion plant had been expected to shut down. The company said that it will "base its decision to extend operations upon economic considerations and the ability of the plant to operate profitably." The Paducah plant – currently the only operating uranium enrichment facility in the USA - is set to be replaced by USEC's planned American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) project in Piketon, Ohio.

The full ACP plant was originally expected to commence commercial operation in early 2010 and achieve full annual capacity at the end of 2012. However, early in 2009 the whole project was slowed pending funding through the Department of Energy (DoE) loan guarantee program, and in July 2009 it was suspended due to the DoE refusing to award a US$2 billion (1.5 billion euro) loan guarantee, and asking USEC to withdraw its application. USEC refused to do this, and in July 2010, it submitted an updated loan guarantee application to the DoE. In October 2010, DoE informed USEC that it has largely completed its initial technical review of USEC's application and is proceeding to the next stage of the loan guarantee process.

Although USEC earlier secured investment of U$200 million from Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox to support the ACP, the company maintains that additional financing is needed to complete plant construction.

World Nuclear News, 12 January 2011


Italy: referendum on relaunching nuclear power.
Italy's constitutional court ruled on January 12, a national referendum could be held against the construction of nuclear power plants, dealing a potential blow to government plans to relaunch the sector. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wants nuclear plants to generate a quarter of the country's electricity in the future. The court allowed a request by opposition politician Antonio Di Pietro for a referendum, which will take place between on a Sunday between April 15 and June 15.

Antonio Di Pietro is leader of Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values) a centrist political party and an outspoken opponent of nuclear power. An April 2010 petition by the party successfully gathered the 500,000 signatures of Italian voters needed for the referendum to proceed through the Italian legislative system. This was presented to the Constitutional Court for it's final ruling on the admissibility of the proposed referendum.

Public opinion in Italy has been generally hostile to nuclear energy, and a 1987 referendum following the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986 closed all plants and phased out production.

Reuters, 12 January 2011, Rete Nazionale Antinucleare (RNA) International, 13 January 2011

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#722
21/01/2011
Shorts

US embassy cable on Belene.
A US diplomatic cable, originating from the WikiLeaks organisation and published in the Guardian newspaper just before Christmas, relates the serious misgivings of US Ambassador in Bulgaria, Nancy McEldowney, over the planned Belene nuclear power plant in Bulgaria. Commenting in 2009, McEldowney notes that the controversial nuke project, slated for construction in an earthquake zone, “is dogged by cost overruns, financing woes, construction delays, and now serious safety and quality assurance concerns. Belene may end up costing Bulgaria more than money in the long run.” 
The high-level revelations thus confirm the concerns consistently raised in recent years by campaign NGOs such as the BeleNE! Coalition, CEE Bankwatch Network, Greenpeace, Urgewald, BankTrack and many others in Bulgaria and across Europe. The project-related information described by the US Embassy in Sofia is derived from various sources, including project experts and Bulgarian governmental officials.
The cable also presents the problems experienced by RWE, the German energy utility giant that was involved in Belene as a strategic investor throughout 2007-2009. “RWE is clearly feeling 'buyer's remorse' about its participation in Belene. Belene experts said that RWE remains 'in the dark' on most on-site day-to-day and technical issues. During a late May 2009 Belene project meeting, RWE asked numerous basic questions, indicating that they have not seen any of the on-site safety and environmental reports.”
This confirmation about the project's serious shortcomings comes during a period of renewed pressure from the Russian government to speed up Belene's construction. Meanwhile, the British-based bank HSBC has been recently selected as the financial consultant to organise financing for the Bulgarian nuke. In 2009 French bank BNP Paribas pulled out of a similar role following its own fruitless attempts to convince private and public European investors to put up money for Belene.
In parallel, and following invitations from Bulgaria's prime minister Boyko Borisov to invest in Belene, none of the other countries in the region has as yet confirmed their participation. Croatia has already declared no interest, while Serbia and Macedonia await more documents before taking their decisions. The most damning – and credible – Belene documentation looks already to have been delivered.

Source: The Guardian (UK), 20 December 2010


Extended operation for Paducah enrichment plant?
US uranium enrichment company USEC said that it is working to extend the operation of its Paducah plant in Kentucky beyond May 2012, when the old and inefficient gaseous diffusion plant had been expected to shut down. The company said that it will "base its decision to extend operations upon economic considerations and the ability of the plant to operate profitably." The Paducah plant – currently the only operating uranium enrichment facility in the USA - is set to be replaced by USEC's planned American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) project in Piketon, Ohio.

The full ACP plant was originally expected to commence commercial operation in early 2010 and achieve full annual capacity at the end of 2012. However, early in 2009 the whole project was slowed pending funding through the Department of Energy (DoE) loan guarantee program, and in July 2009 it was suspended due to the DoE refusing to award a US$2 billion (1.5 billion euro) loan guarantee, and asking USEC to withdraw its application. USEC refused to do this, and in July 2010, it submitted an updated loan guarantee application to the DoE. In October 2010, DoE informed USEC that it has largely completed its initial technical review of USEC's application and is proceeding to the next stage of the loan guarantee process.

Although USEC earlier secured investment of U$200 million from Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox to support the ACP, the company maintains that additional financing is needed to complete plant construction.

Source: World Nuclear News, 12 January 2011


USA: another huge victory.
More than 15,000 letters were sent to Congress in December and many, many phone calls made to stop US$8 billion (6 billion euro) in taxpayer loans for new nuclear reactor construction. And the final government funding bill, signed by President Obama, contains not one dime for new nukes! The Senate was forced to pull the "Omnibus" funding bill it had proposed, which included the US$8 billion in taxpayer loans for the nuclear industry, and instead a "Continuing Resolution" was passed that funds the government through mid-March.

That makes at least seven major efforts over the past two years by nuclear industry backers to increase taxpayer loans for new reactors -and every one of those efforts has been blocked! Grassroots people power works! Michael Mariotte: "Take a moment to celebrate … and get ready to do it all over again early in the new year -because the nuclear industry will surely be back, hat-in-hand, looking for your money again. We will, of course, keep you informed."

NIRS, [email protected], 23 December 2010


Monju: accident delays startup with 3 more years.
The task of removing a device that accidentally fell into the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju in August will delay its full startup about a year to 2014 or later.
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of the 280 MW Monju reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, is expected to remove the device next summer or later and then conduct checkups, delaying the test operation initially scheduled to start next spring and subsequent full-fledged run. Removing the 3.3-ton device, which was used for fuel exchange before it fell into the reactor vessel in the Aug. 26 accident, requires special equipment, approval from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and a followup inspection.
Monju resumed operations with limited power output in May 2010 after 14 years and five months(!) of suspension due to a sodium coolant leak and a resultant fire and coverup attempt in 1995.

Kyodo, 17 December 2010


Italy: referendum on relaunching nuclear power.
Italy's constitutional court ruled on January 12, a national referendum could be held against the construction of nuclear power plants, dealing a potential blow to government plans to relaunch the sector. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wants nuclear plants to generate a quarter of the country's electricity in the future. The court allowed a request by opposition politician Antonio Di Pietro for a referendum, which will take place between on a Sunday between April 15 and June 15.

Antonio Di Pietro is leader of Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values) a centrist political party and an outspoken opponent of nuclear power. An April 2010 petition by the party successfully gathered the 500,000 signatures of Italian voters needed for the referendum to proceed through the Italian legislative system. This was presented to the Constitutional Court for it's final ruling on the admissibility of the proposed referendum.

Public opinion in Italy has been generally hostile to nuclear energy, and a 1987 referendum following the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986 closed all plants and phased out production.

Reuters, 12 January 2011, Rete Nazionale Antinucleare (RNA) International, 13 January 2011


UK: more no-subsidies.
The government's Green Investment Bank could fund the building of new nuclear reactors, it has emerged. It is the latest form of public financial support on offer to the industry from the government which continues to insist that the industry will not receive any more subsidies. The Conservatives' pre-election manifesto promised that the Green Investment Bank - which was also in the coalition agreement - would finance "new green technology start-ups". But documents issued before Christmas by Vince Cable's business department list new reactors, along with offshore wind farms and new electricity grids, as one of the three proposed "target sectors" on which the bank would initially focus.

Guardian (UK), 13 January 2011


Israel: Founders antinuclear information network died.
Shirley Rose Benyamin died late last year and Herschell Benyamin died early January in Jerusalem. After the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, Shirley Benyamin "decided to do something to stop Israel from going down the nuclear power pathway," as environmentalist Alon Tal recounted in his book Pollution in a Promised Land. In addition to her husband, she enlisted the late Dr. Dvora Ben-Shaul, a journalist and scientist. The group founded the Israel Agency for Nuclear Information, but in the post-Vanunu affair atmosphere, the Interior Ministry refused to register the non-profit. The group reconstituted itself with broader environmental goals as EcoNet and was approved. The establishment was suspicious of the couple, but Shirley was undeterred. Funds she raised made it possible to examine the state of health of employees of the Dimona reactor, for which EcoNet won the Israel Prize in 1994. Donations she solicited also helped provide seed money for the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, Green Action and others.

Haaretz.com, 7 January 2011

December 8: nuclear phase out day

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#721
6106
17/12/2010
Kazuhide Fukada
Article

December 8 is “Phase Out Nuclear Energy Day” in Japan. The “Phase Out Nuclear Energy Day” campaign, which now includes a wide range of people, is supporting campaigns around country and wants to remain rooted in people’s daily lives.

“Phase Out Nuclear Energy Day” Organizing Committee - In September this year a few people formed a “virtual group” to initiate a “Phase Out Nuclear Energy Day” campaign. They created an email list and drafted a statement about the nature and purpose of the campaign and publicized it through “Twitter” and “Mixi”. Supporters began to join the email list and a poster and Blog were created to gather supporters, further publicize the campaign and generate “phase out nuclear energy” actions all over Japan around the December 8 date. The campaign, which now includes a wide range of people, wants to remain rooted in people’s daily lives.

The “virtual” group is limiting its aim for this year to getting “Phase Out Nuclear Energy Day” known. We do not plan to organize a major event ourselves this year, but we are supporting other events (see below).

Why December 8?
December 8 is the fifteenth anniversary of the sodium leak and fire at the Monju Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor in Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture. About a month later Shigeo Nishimura, deputy general manager of PNC's general affairs department and one of the team leaders of the in-house team tasked with looking into the cover-up, jumped to his death from a hotel in Tokyo and many details of the accident remain unclear to this day.

What is clear, however, is that plutonium-fueled, sodium-cooled Monju is an exceptionally complicated and dangerous nuclear reactor, subjecting the public to even greater risks than “normal” light water reactors and exacerbating the problem of nuclear proliferation.

Believing that the Monju accident should have been the end of nuclear power in Japan, we chose December 8 as “Phase Out Nuclear Energy Day” to simultaneously commemorate the Monju accident, call for the closure of Monju and call for a total phase out of nuclear power.

Why phase-out nuclear energy?
Unfortunately, in spite of strong opposition, Monju was restarted in May this year. There has been a series of problems, culminating in an accident on August 26 in which a 3-ton fuel-loading device dropped into the reactor when it was being removed. Monju has been out of action since then.

Monju is part of Japan’s failed nuclear fuel cycle program. The Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, another core nuclear fuel cycle facility, is also in serious trouble. Commercial operations were officially postponed for the eighteenth time in September.

In earthquake-prone Japan, nuclear power is the most unsuitable way of generating electricity. There are now 54 nuclear power plants operating in Japan (not including Monju). Besides the danger of accidents, the warm water released from nuclear power plants damages the marine environment and radioactivity released into the environment during the course of regular operations bio-accumulates in the food chain and exposes human beings to radiation.

Nuclear energy is unable to contribute to solving the problem of global warming. Rather it exacerbates the problem. There is an urgent need for the whole of Japan to shift to renewable forms of energy.

Specific actions
The “Phase Out Nuclear Energy Day” campaign is supporting campaigns around Japan, including the 28-year opposition of the people of the island of Iwaishima to Chugoku Electric Power Company’s plan to construct the Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant in Yamaguchi Prefecture. We are sponsoring a film screening and public meeting on December 4 in Yamaguchi City.

Our Japanese blog is on the following link http://ameblo.jp/datsugenpatsu1208/entry-10696488685.html

Source: Mari Hoshikawa, Member of the “Phase Out Nuclear Energy Day” Organizing Committee
Contact: Kazuhide Fukada
Email: [email protected]

About: 
Monju

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#719-720
12/11/2010
Shorts

UK & US regulators: unresolved safety issues EPR and AP1000.
On November 10, the UK nuclear regulator said it expects both the Areva EPR and the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors to have unresolved safety issues when the generic design assessment, or GDA, program completes next year. In a quarterly progress report, the NII said it has potential open issues in 10 out of 18 topical areas on the Areva EPR design review and in 16 out of the 18 topical areas on the Westinghouse AP1000 design. The GDA program was set up to issue design acceptance confirmations, or DACs, to the reactor vendors, which would see the regulator sign off on all but site specific licensing issues. The DAC could then be referenced in site license applications by utilities building the reactors. But the program has been plagued by delays resulting from NII Staff shortages and "a failure on the part of the reactor vendors to satisfy the regulator's queries", as Platts puts it.

A day earlier, World Nuclear News reported that Westinghouse has been told by the U.S. NRC that it's AP1000 aircraft impact study is not adequate. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that documents put to it in order to demonstrate a 2009 requirement did not include 'realistic' analyses and that this amounted to a violation of requirements that Westinghouse must explain and rectify. A rule introduced by NRC in 2009 states that  new nuclear power plant buildings and safety systems must maintain containment, cooling of the reactor core and the integrity or cooling of used fuel facilities in the event of the impact of a large passenger jet. All reactor vendors must fulfill this requirement for their designs. For Westinghouse this regulatory work comes in addition to a 2007 design amendment to the original AP1000 design, which was certified by the NRC in 2006.

In February, UK regulators already criticized the "long delays" and "poor quality" of replies they received from Westinghouse and Areva following safety reviews of their reactor designs.
Source: World Nuclear News, 9 November 2010 / Platts, 10 November 2010 / Nuclear Monitor 704, 26 February 2010


Update Belene, Bulgaria
The situation around the planned nuclear power station in Belene in Bulgaria has become unclear again. Under heavy Russian pressure (among others directly from Prime Minister Putin) and political pressure from a faction within his own party GERB around the Parliament Chair Tsetska Tsacheva, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov declared he is dedicated to the construction of the power plant on the shores of the Danube. Russian Atomstroyexport, a part of Rosatom, prolonged the construction contract with half a year under the condition of a price increase of maximally 2,5 billion Euro on top of the initial 4 Billion price tag. According former director of the Bulgarian Nuclear Regulatory Agency and current professor in risk analysis at the university of Vienna, Georghi Kashchiev, during a round table discussion on 18 October in Sofia, this does, however, not include the first load and large parts of the non-nuclear equipment. With that, the demand from Borisov that the total cost of the project remain under 7 billion Euro come under severe pressure. It is also unclear whether the 500 Million Euro already sunk into Belene are part of this budget. On 1 November, Bulgaria's finance minister Simeon Djankov once more confirmed that no state finances would flow into the project.

In a surprise move, Prime Minister Borisov declared on 25 October after a visit to Muenich a week earlier, that he had found a strategic investor from Bavaria for Belene. Bulgarian media speculate interest from Siemens, the engineering firm that recently broke its alliance with Areva and partnered instead with Rosatom. Siemens, however, refuses to comment on these speculations. An announcement from the Bulgarian Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism that the new strategic investor would be announced in the first week of November was not realised, however, and German media have remained suspiciously silent about a possible deal. On 5 November, Borisov announced an offer of up to 2% participation to each Serbia and Croatia in what he said was a pragmatic attempt to secure markets for the output of Belene.

… and Mochovce, Slovakia

Slovakia has asked and received an extension of the period of comment on the draft verdict of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee, that the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Mochovce 3,4 project has violated the rules of the Convention. The NGOs that originally filed the complaint, Za Matku Zem, Greenpeace Slovakia, Global2000 and the Oeko-buero Wien, did not object to an extension to 30 November. The ACCC is expected to come with a final verdict in December. A spokesperson of the Slovak nuclear regulator UJD, which was responsible for issuing construction licenses in spite of the fact that the EIA procedure had not been finalised, is currently looking for possibilities to implement a likely final verdict of the ACCC, but stated to Greenpeace that it has problems finding a proper legal pathway to do so.

An ACCC verdict is, however, binding and a breach of the Aarhus Convention is also a breach of EU legislation on Environmental Impact Assessments, which means that the European Commission would be obliged to start corrective procedures against Slovakia in case the ACCC verdict concludes a violation of the rules.

… and Temelin, Czech Republic

The submission date for the tender for five new nuclear power stations issued by the Czech utility CEZ has been extended with a year to 2013. CEZ argued that some of the contenders had asked for such an extension, though analysts are of the opinion that the lack of growth in electricity demand in the Czech Republic has bitten into the economic viability of the project. The tender for five blocks, two for Temelin and one for Dukovany in the Czech Republic, one for Jaslovske Bohunice in Slovakia and one for a still to be decided project is expected to cost around 500 billion Czech Crowns or 25 billion Euro. Each block is supposed to deliver between 1000 and 1600 MW capacity.
Source of these 3: Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace EU Unit, email, 6 November 2010


Another fiasco at Monju, Japan.
A12-meter-long, 46-centimeter-wide, 3.3-metric-ton heavy fuel exchange component that lodged in the reactor vessel of the Monju fast-breeder reactor after being dropped on August 26, cannot be extracted using "usual methods," the Japan  Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has stated. The JAEA made the announcement November 9, after examining the component -a cylinder now stuck in an opening in the reactor vessel cap- with a camera. The agency believes that to get the part out, equipment on the reactor vessel cap will have to be removed, and an entirely new structure built to prevent sodium now covering the cylinder from mixing with the outside air and igniting during the process. The agency is now considering ways to do this, but gave no hint when testing of the reactor may recommence.

Since Monju resumed test operations on May 6 after shut down since a 1995 sodium leak, it has undergone the first stage of testing. These core confirmation tests were completed on July 22. Preparations were being made for the next stage, which involves increasing power output to 40%, planned for July 2011. However,  the jammed relay cylinder has made further long delays probable.
Source: Nuke Info Tokyo 138, Sept/Oct 2010 / The Mainichi Daily News, 10 November 2010


UK: What 'no subsidies' means: more help will be given.
Following lobbying by the nuclear industry the Government has accepted that it needs to give more financial incentives in order to ensure a new generation of reactors are built in the UK. Energy minister Charles Hendry said he now agreed with the industry that fixing a high minimum price for carbon emissions was not enough. Instead he thought other financial incentive measures would be need to encourage nuclear and other low-carbon energy sources.
Source: N-Base Briefing 674, 10 November 2910


IEA: US$312 billion subsidy annually for fossil.
On November 10, the International Energy Agency published its World Energy Outlook 2010. The IEA report clearly states that fossil fuels are heavily subsidized by more than US$312 billion per year globally! This leads obviously to unfair competition with clean and climate friendly renewable energies. IEA is increasingly recognizing the important role renewable energy can play to fight climate change and improve security of supply. However, it is failing to shift technology recommendations from unproven, dangerous and expensive technologies such as CCS and nuclear power plants.
Source: Press release Greenpeace, 9 November 2010

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#708
29/04/2010
Shorts

Finland: building nukes for electricity export?
On April 21, the Finnish government proposed two new nuclear power plants. The parliament will make the final decision on the issue earliest in the summer, but most likely in the autumn. On both reactors will be voted separately - there are possibilities to have 2, 1 or 0 new nuclear plants. Building twe nuclear power units would lock Finland's energy consumption to unrealistic, artificially high levels, and are clearly aimed for electricity export. However, Parliament has taken the line that it opposes the construction of generating capacity for export purposes.

Minister of Economic Affairs Mauri Pekkarinen (Centre Party) insisted on April 21, that Finland would adhere to this principle of opposing the construction for export. But the Greens are accusing Pekkarinen of turning his coat on the matter by endorsing two new reactors just a year after saying that Finland’s need for new nuclear energy units was “zero, or one at the most”. “Now he is proposing two units on the basis of the same electricity consumption estimates. This certainly shows how poorly founded Pekkarinen’s proposal is”, Sinnemäki says. The Greens also point out that the forest company UPM, a part owner of TVO, has put forward the idea of electricity exports. “Nobody in Finland -not even the forest industry- has proposed such a fantasy in electricity production that this proposal would not mean export. It becomes clear even in all of the most daring consumption estimates. We simply cannot consume this much electricity.”

Environmental organisations are organizing a large anti-nuclear demonstration in Helsinki on May 8.
Helsingin Sanomat (Int. edition) 22 and 24 April 2010


Japan: Restart Monju expected in May.
The Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, which was shut down in December 1995 after sodium leaked from the cooling system, is set to resume operations in May.  Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa signaled his willingness to approve reactivation of the experimental reactor, located in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, during a meeting with science and technology minister Tatsuo Kawabata and industry minister Masayuki Naoshima on April 26. In the 1995 incident, the reactor operator was heavily criticized after it was found to have concealed information about the accident. During the past 14 years or so that Monju has been in limbo, the operator has come under fire for delaying reports on alarm activation incidents and flawed maintenance work.

Under the government's plan, the next stage in the fast-breeder project will be the construction of a demonstration reactor, which is larger than Monju, around 2025. It would be followed by the development of a commercial reactor around 2050. But the outlook for the plan is bleak, to say the least.

Some 900 billion yen (US$ 9.6 billion or 7.3 billion euro) of taxpayer money has already been spent on the construction and operation of the Monju reactor. It will require additional annual spending of about 20 billion yen (US$ 215 million / 162 million euro).

More on the history and current status of Monju and Japan's fast breeder programm: Nuclear Monitor 702, 15 January 2010: "Restarting Monju – Like playing Russian roulette"
The Asahi Shimbun (Japan), 27 April 2010


Belene contruction halted until investors are found.
Belene construction was halted in search for Western strategic investors after Bulgaria dismissed an offer from Russia to finance the coming two years of construction with an option for a complete Russian take-over of the project. The Bulgarian government has opened a tender for a financial consultant to work out a new financial model for the project. This consultant is expected to be chosen in June 2010. On the basis of this new financial model, strategic investors will be invited for participation. After EU Energy Commissioner Günther Öttinger warned Bulgaria for the dependency that a fully Russian Belene project would create, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borrisov made it clear that Belene only will be continued if it can pay for itself and if it is developed under participation of European and/or US partners. Russia was not to expect more than a 25% participation, if any at all. In his straightforward way, Borissov characterised Belene as either a  European project or no project.

On 16 April, it was also announced that the Bulgarian Energy Holding, which was set up in 2008 to create a pool of assets that could lure possible lenders to the Belene project, will be dismantled before summer. Deputy Minister for Economy, Energy and Tourism Maya Hristova said that BEH was set up to the secure the construction of Belene by the assets generated in the holding, "but this is no longer feasible." She told the Bulgarian press agency BTA that the assets of all state-owned energy companies are of lower value than the estimated value of  Belene. Daily Dnevnik announced that there is currently a discussion to bring the electricity  assets of BEH, including the Kozloduy nuclear power plant and the Maritsa East power station under in state utility NEK and the gas assets in a seperate holding.
Email Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace EU Unit, 26 April 2010


U-price low: "explosive growth in nuclear power hasn't yet happened". 
The spot price of uranium has dropped below US$42/lb (1 lb = 453.59 grams) through in April, down almost US$4 from the 2009 average of US$46 as, according to Purchasing.com, weakening demand has depressed transaction pricing. Lyndon Fagan, an analyst at RBS in Sydney Australia, tells Bloomberg that spot prices indeed have weakened in recent months because the explosive growth in nuclear power hasn't yet happened. Current uranium prices are well down from the levels reached in 2007, when the prices spiked to nearly US$140. Supply concerns drove the price up at that time, and while there's no guarantee that prices could once again reach those levels, such past performance does imply that the potential for such dramatic price moves is possible.

Meanwhile, Admir Adnani, CEO of US-based UraniumEnergy, tells Reuters that a renewed focus on nuclear energy and current mining shortfalls are likely to drive prices of uranium, higher in the coming years. "In the next two to three years, we will see a period of rising uranium prices," Adnani says. "There is absolutely no doubt that the nuclear renaissance and the construction of new reactors plus the existing reactor requirements will bring growing demand... and we need uranium prices to be higher for new mines to be built." But in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, for instance, only two companies have done exploration work over the past couple years, a notable drop from the 10 or so firms that were searching for uranium back in 2007, according to the Canadian Department of 

Natural Resources. www.purchasing.com, 14 April 2010 / Telegraph Journal (Canada), 21 April 2010


Regulators investigating Olkiluoto piping.
Nuclear safety authorities in Finland, France, the UK and US are assessing the significance of undocumented welding on primary circuit piping for the EPR reactor under construction at Olkiluoto, Finland. However, Petteri Tiippana, director of the nuclear reactor regulation department at the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority STUK, told Platts in an interview on April 8, that regulators from those four countries are not preparing a joint statement on the piping quality issue. He reacted on a statement made by a commissioner of French nuclear safety authority ASN,

The piping was manufactured by Nordon, a subcontractor to Areva, the French vendor which is supplying the nuclear part of the Olkiluoto-3 unit under a turnkey contract to utility Teollisuuden Voima Oy. Nordon, based in Nancy in eastern France, is a unit of the Fives group and has long been a major supplier of piping for nuclear power plants. In October 2009, STUK found that small cracks in piping made for the main coolant lines of Olkiluoto-3 had been repaired with welding procedures that were not documented. Tiippana said the piping is still in France and that analysis of the significance of the undocumented welding could be finished within several weeks. STUK will then do final inspections, probably before summer, he said. Until the piping is approved by STUK, it cannot be transported to Olkiluoto.The design of Areva's EPR reactor is under regulatory review for construction in the UK and the US.
Platts, 8 April 2010


Australian uranium for India?
Not that long ago, Australia took a firm stand against selling uranium to India (or any Non-Nuclear proliefration Treaty signatory for that matter): in January 2008, Australia’s new Labor government outlawed uranium sales to India. Stephen Smith, Australian foreign minister emphasizes that in saying in October 2009: “We have had a long-standing principal position which is not aimed at India, it is the long-standing position that we do not export uranium to a country that is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,”

Now, just over a half year later, Australia is planning to change its domestic rules to allow India to import uranium from the country.

India is signing the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement and many other civil nuclear agreements with different countries. The 46-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has also granted a waiver to India in September 2008 allowing nuclear fuel from other nations. However, Australia being a member in that group, didn’t allow India to import nuclear fuel from the country. Now, South Australia’s Department of trade & economic development director Damian Papps said Australia would like to amend the current regulations to enable uranium export to India.
Press TV, 14 October 2009 / Spectrum, April 26, 2010


Further increase heavy forging capacity.
Known as a leader in the ultra-heavy forgings required for the highest capacity nuclear reactors, Japan Steel Works set about tripling its capacity and has completed its second press for ultra-large nuclear forgings. It has now completed the ¥50 billion (US$530 million, 390 million euro) first phase of the expansion with the installation of a new forging shop complete with heavy cranes, heat treatment facilities and the necessary 14,000 ton press.

JSW told World Nuclear News that the new shop was the core of the first investment phase and that the second ¥30 billion (US$320 million, 235 million euro) investment round should be completed in 2011. At that point, JSW said, it would have tripled the nuclear capability that it had in 2007 - enough for about 12 reactor pressure vessels and main component sets per year. The increase in capacity should be felt by mid-2012 as new components are planned to emerge from the factories. Muroran also manufactures generator and steam turbine rotor shafts, clad steel plates and turbine casings for nuclear power plants.

While JSW may be the current leader in the global market for large nuclear components, there are several other (Russian, Chinese and South-Korean) manufacturers tooling up to the same levels for domestic supply. Britain's Sheffield Forgemasters and India's Bharat Forge will join JSW as global ultra-heavy suppliers around 2014.
World Nuclear News, 1 April 2010


Switzerland: Canton slams radioactive waste plans.
Plans for a radioactive waste disposal unit in the canton of Schaffhausen has come under fire in a study published by the local government. The National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste outlined two possible sites for the unit: one in Zurich Weinland and one near Sudranden in the canton of Schaffhasusen. That’s just a few kilometers from the city of Schaffhausen, where 80 percent of the canton’s population live and work. The report published on April 21 says a disposal centre would have a detrimental effect on the town of Schaffhausen, and on the development of both the canton’s economy and population. The report estimates it would lose between 15 and 33 million francs in tax revenue a year and the population would drop by up to 5,000 people.
World Radio Switzerland, 21 April 2010


U.K.: Low-level radwaste in a landfill.
Five bags of radioactive waste from the Sellafield nuclear processing facility were dumped in a landfill site after a faulty scanner wrongly passed them as safe. Environment Agency inspectors have found one of the bags but is still searching for the other four at the Lillyhall landfill site near Workington, Cumbria. The bags contained waste collected in restricted areas of Sellafield where disposal of all items, including protective clothing, is strictly controlled because of the risk of radioactive contamination. The error was discovered by a member of staff who became suspicious when a scanning machine declared as safe a bag that had come from the restricted area. Staff checked the machine's records and found that five other contaminated bags had been passed as safe and sent to the nearby landfill site, which handles a mixture of household and industrial waste. A Sellafield spokeswoman was unable to say for how long the machine had been malfunctioning. The waste should have been sent for storage in concrete vaults at the Low Level Waste Repository near Drigg in Cumbria.

The incident may undermine the nuclear industry's plan to save billions of pounds by adopting lower safety standards for thousands of tonnes of low-level radioactive waste from decommissioned reactor sites. Several landfill sites have applied for permits to handle low-level waste.
Times online (U.K.), 26 April 2010


U.K. political parties and nukes.
The political party manifestos for the General Election show no surprises concerning nuclear policies - and they reveal the fundamental difference on nuclear issues between the Liberal Democrats and both the other two main parties. These difference will make for some tough bargaining in the event of a hung Parliament in which no political party has an outright majority of seats.

The Conservatives commit themselves to "clearing the way for new nuclear power stations - provided they receive no public subsidy". The party is also committed to the new Trident nuclear submarine system.

Under the heading 'Clean Energy' the Labour manifesto says "We have taken the decisions to enable a new generation of nuclear power stations" and the party is also committed to the Trident replacement.

The Scottish National Party wants Trident scrapped, rejects nuclear energy and the deep geological disposal of radioactive wastes.

The Liberal Democrats don't want a "like-for-like" replacement for Trident and promise a review of the proposals. They also reject new reactors "based on the evidence nuclear is a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions" than renewable energy and energy conservationAccording to the LibDem spokesperson on energy and climate issues, Simon Hughes, the curent government plans for a new fleet of nuclear reactors are based on a "completely foolish delusion". And he added; "they are too costly, wil take too long to build, will require government subsidy and will drain investment away from the renewable energy sector".  He says the party will not soften anti-nuclear stance.

General elections in the UK will be held on May 6.
N-Base Briefing 649, 21 April 2010 / BusinessGreen.com, 26 April 2010


Rand Uranium: no super dump tailings in Poortjie area.
South-Africa: following a successful protest march on April 23 by emerging black farmers and the Mhatammoho Agricultural Union, and the potentially affected landowners against the proposed super dump (centralized tailings storage facility -TSF) Rand Uranium decided to abandon the project. The protest march, the second in a few weeks, took place at the offices of Rand Uranium in Randfontein. Soon after the protest, Rand Uranium, which had proposed to establish the TSF within the Poortjie area on high agricultural land, issued a statement. The last paragraph of the document reads:  "Through the assessments, and in consideration of planning requirements of the City of Johannesburg, Area 45 is not considered appropriate for the long term TSF." The protest was against Site 45 (Poortjie area).  This means, Rand Uranium has abandoned its intention to establish a super dump in the Poortjie area. 

The proposed super dump would contain 350 million tons of uraniferous tailings and will be established on 1 200 hectares of land. The farmers and landowners claim that the public participation process was fatally flawed and that they were not consulted. It would have impacted the Vaal Barrage Catchment, a highly compromised Catchment. In terms of the Water Research Report No 1297/1/07 (2007) only 21% of the Vaal Barrage showed no evidence of cytotoxicy (i.e. toxic to human cells).  The Report suggests that the underlying problems of this catchment are largely due to heavy metals.  It furthermore states:  "It is clear that mining operations, even after they have been discontinued, are still having a major impact on water quality in the Vaal Barrage catchment, to the extent that it can no longer be compared with other natural water systems."
Emails Mariette Liefferink, 21 and 24 April 2010


U.A.E.: First nuclear site named. Braka has been named as the site for the United Arab Emirate's first nuclear power plant. Limited construction licence applications and environmental assessments for four reactors have been submitted.
The Braka site is in a very sparsely populated area 53 kilometers from Ruwais and very close to the border with Saudi Arabia. It is closer to Doha, the capital of Qatar, than to Abu Dhabi about 240 kilometers to the east. Dubai is another 150 kilometers along the coast. The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) said Braka was selected from ten shortlisted sites, all of which were suitable for nuclear build, on the basis of its environmental, technical and business qualities.

Two requests have been made to the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR). One is for a site preparation licence for the four-reactor power plant to allow Enec to conduct non-safety related groundwork at Braka such as constructing breakwaters and a jetty. The other is for a limited licence to "manufacture and assemble nuclear safety related equipment."  In addition, a strategic environmental assessment for the project has been submitted to the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) addressing environmental impacts and mitigation including for construction work.

But since there is no civil society whatsoever, there will be no independent scrutiny of those documents.
World Nuclear News, 23 April 2010


Contract for ITER buldings.
The Engage consortium has been awarded the architect engineer contract for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) buildings and civil infrastructures. The contract, worth some €150 million (US$200 million), was signed by the Engage consortium and Fusion for Energy (F4E) on 13 April. F4E is the European Union's (EU's) organization for Europe's contribution to ITER. The Engage consortium comprises Atkins of the UK, French companies Assystem and Iosis, and Empresarios Agrupados of Spain. The architect engineer will assist F4E during the entire construction process, from the elaboration of the detailed design to the final acceptance of the works. The contract covers the construction of the entire ITER complex, including 29 out of a total of 39 buildings, site infrastructure and power supplies.

Seven parties - China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the EU - are cooperating to build ITER, a 500 MWt tokamak, at Cadarache. The partners agreed in mid 2005 to site Iter at Cadarache. The deal involved major concessions to Japan, which had put forward Rokkasho as a preferred site. The EU and France will contribute half of the €12.8 billion (US$18.7 billion) total cost, with the other partners - Japan, China, South Korea, USA and Russia - putting in 10% each. Site preparation at Cadarache began in January 2007. The facility is expected to be in operation around 2018. As part of the reactor's phased commissioning, it will initially be tested using hydrogen. Experiments using tritium and deuterium as fuel will begin in 2026. Much later than expected a few years ago.
World Nuclear News, 15 April 2010

RESTARTING MONJU – LIKE PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#702
6006
15/01/2010
Article

Japan's Monju Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR, 280MWe) is scheduled to restart by the end of the 2009 fiscal year (March 31, 2010). If it does so, it will be the first time the plant has operated since it was shut down as a result of a sodium leak and fire fourteen years ago. This article reviews the history and current status of Monju and Japan's FBR program.

CNIC Japan - Construction of the Monju Fast Breeder Reactor began in May 1986. It first achieved criticality on April 5, 1994 and was temporarily connected to the grid on August 29, 1995. At the time of the accident Monju was undergoing tests at 40% power output in preparation for full operation.

The sodium accident
On December 8, 1995 at 19:47 an alarm went off indicating high sodium temperature at the exit of the intermediate heat exchanger in C-loop of Monju's secondary coolant system. One minute later an alarm sounded indicating a sodium leak. At 19:52 staff confirmed that white fumes were coming from the area near the alarm sensors. The reactor was tripped manually at 21:20. Draining of sodium out of C-loop was started at 22:40 and completed at 0:15 on December 9. In other words, the operators waited for about an hour and a half before stopping the reactor and nearly three hours before taking action to stop the leak

The leaked sodium reacted with the air in secondary coolant piping room C, causing a spray-fire and filling the room with fumes. It melted scaffolding and a ventilation duct and damaged the floor's steel liner. According to official reports, the temperature of the steel liner reached 700oC~750oC. Had the sodium melted through the metal liner and come in contact with the concrete below, the accident would have been even more serious. It was eventually estimated that about 640 kilograms of sodium leaked into the piping room.

The Monju reactor is cooled by molten sodium flowing through a three-loop primary system. Heat from the primary loops is transferred to secondary loops, which are also filled with sodium. Heat from the secondary system is then transferred via steam generators to the tertiary system to produce steam to drive the turbines. Since sodium reacts explosively with water, it is essential that sodium not come into contact with the water and steam in the tertiary system. Cracks and holes in the steam generator pipes must be prevented at all costs. The direct cause of the accident was a broken thermocouple in a pipe in the secondary system. Sodium leaked through the aperture that was created. The thermocouple sheath broke as a result of metal (high-cycle) fatigue from vibration caused by the sodium flow. It was finally recovered over four months later 160m downstream from its original location. The thermocouple, manufactured by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI), suffered from a fatal design error. The angular structure of the section that penetrated the pipe meant that it was exposed to resonant vibration caused by a symmetrical vortex in the sodium flow. It is suspected that it was already cracked at least six months and perhaps as long as two years before the accident. It could be said, therefore, that this was an accident waiting to happen.

Besides the direct technical cause, it is possible to identify institutional and policy failures that created an environment in which such accidents were bound to happen. CNIC organized a Monju Committee to make an overall assessment of the accident from technological, legal/institutional and policy perspectives. The Monju Committee pointed out that the rules governing the Monju project as a whole made it virtually impossible to check in advance for design flaws. It also noted that the manual for dealing with accidents was flawed in that portions of it contradicted the original safety review for licensing. More fundamentally, with respect to the government's plutonium policy the report said that no lessons were learned from fast breeder development in other countries and that the accident may well have been caused by the high priority placed on getting Monju operational as quickly as possible. The report called for a thorough reconsideration of the underlying assumption of the government's plutonium policy, namely that breeding plutonium is an effective way of addressing Japan's future energy needs.

The official review process was flawed from the beginning. The initial investigations were carried out by Monju's owner and operator, Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC)(*1). PNC's controlling agency, the Science and Technology Agency (STA)(*2) also carried out an investigation, as did the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC). However, these reports lacked objectivity and provided minimal information to the public. It was only as a result of massive public pressure that STA gradually became more willing to release information. The Monju accident triggered an outburst of dissatisfaction with the government's handling of nuclear power development. On January 23, 1996 the governors of Fukui, Fukushima and Niigata Prefectures (these three prefectures are home to the overwhelming majority of Japan's nuclear power plants. Monju is located in Tsuruga City in Fukui Prefecture) issued a joint statement and resolutions were adopted by over two hundred local and prefectural assemblies. The resolutions called either for the decommissioning of Monju, or for a reassessment of its development plan.

PNC initially attempted to cover up the seriousness of the accident. Video footage was released immediately after the accident, but it was later discovered that this one-minute tape was an edited version of two original videos, which PNC judged too shocking to release. The edited version only showed a lump of sodium product in a corner of the room, while all other pipes and structures appeared to be intact. The longer versions showed serious damage to the pipes and ducts, as well as large amounts of sodium product spread all around.

An in-house team was tasked with looking into the cover-up, but the investigation took a tragic turn on January 13, 1996, when one of the team leaders, Shigeo Nishimura, deputy general manager of PNC's general affairs department, jumped to his death from a hotel in Tokyo. His widow, Toshiko, has been pursuing justice for her deceased husband ever since, suing PNC for failing in its duty of care. She appealed to the Supreme Court after the Tokyo High Court rejected her case on October 29, 2009.

Obstacles and delays
On January 27, 2003 the Nagoya High Court's Kanazawa branch handed down a historic ruling nullifying the government's 1983 permission for construction of Monju. The verdict recognized three main areas in which the Nuclear Safety Commission's (NSC) pre-construction safety review was inadequate.

In light of inadequacies in the design of the steel floor liner, which became evident as a result the Monju accident, the Court accepted that the radioactive substances in the nuclear reactor container could be released into the environment in a situation where the secondary cooling system ceased to function.

The Court recognized that NSC's safety review did not fully address preventive measures against simultaneous rupture of steam generator tubes, where the rupture of one tube triggers ruptures in peripheral tubes under high temperatures. The Court concluded that NSC's analysis was inadequate in relation to prevention of core meltdown.

On May 30, 2005 the Supreme Court reversed the Nagoya High Court decision on the narrow grounds that NSC's safety assessment was "not unreasonable" and that it did not "contain flaws that could not be overlooked". However, the Supreme Court did not say that Monju was safe to operate.

Shortly before the Supreme Court verdict, on February 7, 2005, Fukui Governor, Issei Nishikawa, granted approval for the start of modifications to Monju. The modifications began on September 1, 2005 after the reactor had been shut down for nearly ten years and were completed on August 30, 2007. Modifications included the following: removal and replacement of the temperature gauge that was the cause of the accident; modification of the sodium drainage system; installation of insulation on walls and ceilings, nitrogen gas infusion apparatus, and a comprehensive video monitoring system; and measures to deal with a water-sodium reaction accident arising from a water leak from the steam generator heat transfer tubes. These measures mainly relate to sodium, but other dangers inherent to the Monju design, including the possibility of a run-away chain reaction and problems related to seismic safety, remain unchanged.

The danger of a loss of control over reactivity leading to collapse of the reactor core is much greater in FBRs than in light water reactors (LWR). FBR fuel assemblies are packed much more densely than in LWRs. If the fuel assemblies bend for any reason, the distance between them is reduced even further, increasing core reactivity and creating the risk of a runaway chain reaction and core melt down. FBRs of Monju class and larger have the additional weakness of a "positive void", meaning that if bubbles form in the coolant, core reactivity tends to increase. Although not an FBR, a positive void was instrumental in causing the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Both these weaknesses could come into play if a loss of electric power caused the primary coolant pumps to stop working.

In regard to seismic safety, there are problems with the design of Monju's piping system. To cope with sudden temperature changes due to the high heat conductivity of sodium, Monju's piping is much thinner than in light water reactors. Also, it is not fixed and it is not straight. Instead, it winds around above the reactor. This represents a very real danger in earthquake-prone Japan, especially given that the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion discovered a previously unknown active fault. The Urasoko fault connects with the Yanagaseyama fault on the ocean floor of Tsuruga Bay, with the latter extending to Shiga Prefecture. The seismic safety assessment is now being redone by a subcommittee of the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency (NISA).

The original target date for restart was February 2008, but this date has been delayed on four occasions. The main reasons for the delay are JAEA's inability to rectify problems with its sodium leak detectors, corrosion in the exhaust duct and the need to replace degraded fuel. The leak detectors have gone off repeatedly in various locations, even though there was no sodium leak. The exhaust duct had not been inspected for ten years, because no inspection plan had been prepared. The problem with the fuel was that since it was first fabricated over half of the original "fissile" plutonium-241 (241Pu has a half-life of 14 years) had decayed into americium-241. In order for Monju to reach criticality, new fuel assemblies had to be fabricated.

Recent developments
On December 8, 2009 JAEA announced its schedule for performance testing leading to full operation of Monju. The tests are scheduled to begin by the end of March 2010 and will be conducted over a period of three years in the following three phases: reactor core confirmation tests, plant confirmation tests at 40% power, tests raising power output. If the tests proceed according to plan, Monju will begin full operations by the end of March 2013.

After carrying out four special safety inspections from May 2008 to March 2009, on April 22, 2009 NISA finally reported to the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy's Investigation Committee for Confirmation of the Safety of Monju that an independent quality control system had begun to operate. However, the overall structure has not changed and it is unclear from NISA's report how the organizational reforms will solve the problems. Monju is owned by JAEA, but it is managed in cooperation with the nuclear power companies and major plant makers Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba and Hitachi. Below these there are numerous subcontractors and sub-subcontractors. The channels of communication between top and bottom of the chain were not operating effectively and morale was very low.

On July 14, 2009 84 fuel assemblies and 19 control rods were replaced. Then on August 12 a 141-point plant confirmation test was completed. The same day JAEA announced that it planned to restart the plant by the end of the 2009 fiscal year. No doubt there were political considerations behind the announcement. JAEA needed to indicate that it would restart Monju in FY2009 in order to secure its FY2010 budget allocation for Monju. There was a change of government shortly after the announcement and the new government is seeking areas where it can cut spending.

According to JAEA, another reason for the target start-up date was that seismic safety improvements would take until the end of November to complete. However, the logical thing would have been to wait for NISA to complete its seismic safety checks before commencing seismic safety improvements, especially considering that Monju had not yet commenced full operations when the sodium accident occurred. When Monju was first constructed the design base ground motion for an "extreme design earthquake" (S2) was set at 450 Gal. Revised seismic design guidelines published in September 2006 established a new design base ground motion, Ss. At first, Ss for Monju was set at 600 Gal, but after consideration by NISA it was raised to 760 Gal. Confirmation of seismic safety based on this figure has not been completed.

Problems continue with the sodium leak detectors. On October 7, 2009 the electric power supply was switched off in order to check the leak detectors, but at the same time the power supply to the equipment for measuring the sodium level in the reactor was switched off. This caused another false alarm. The fact that the power supply for both items of equipment was connected had not previously been noticed. Then on October 23 the pumps for sodium leak detectors in both the primary and secondary circuits went down. As a result, the detectors were out of action for one hour and fifteen minutes. JAEA is trying to get an exemption from the requirement that false alarms during inspections be reported. So far NISA has not approved such an exemption. Nor should it. Such an exemption would create a dangerous grey zone. The fact that JAEA has the audacity to ask for such an exemption is a problem in itself.

Cost without benefit
Documents published by the new government's Administrative Reform Council, which was established to identify wasteful projects, show that up to and including FY2009 the government has spent over 900 billion yen (US$ 9.8 billion or 6.7 billion Euro) on construction and maintenance of Monju. Of this 230 billion yen represents maintenance costs since the accident. This does not include other FBR-related research and development.

Monju's fuel was not removed after the accident, remaining submerged in sodium. Circulation of sodium was maintained in the three loops of the primary system and in one of the three secondary loops. The other two secondary loops were filled with argon gas. Electric motors have continued to pump sodium, electrically heated to 200oC, through the pipes. The need to keep the molten sodium circulating means that Monju has continued to consume a large quantity of electricity.

On November 11 a working group of the Administrative Reform Council recommended that Monju be allowed to restart, but that the rest of the FBR program should be frozen while the respective responsibilities and roles of METI and MEXT are sorted out. However, in the new government's draft budget for the 2010 fiscal year 23.3 billion yen (US$254 million or 175 million Euro) is allocated for Monju (an increase of 2.9 billion yen compared to 2009), while 37 billion yen is allocated for FBR related research (1.4 billion yen less that the original budget request, but still an increase of 2.3 billion yen compared to 2009.)

International context
It is a great irony that the first nuclear reactor to generate electricity was a FBR. The Idaho National Laboratory's EBR-I generated a tiny amount of electricity in 1951, but in 1955 it suffered a runaway chain reaction resulting in a partial core meltdown. FBRs have been plagued by cost, safety and proliferation problems ever since. Nevertheless, the dream of a virtually inexhaustible source of energy still mesmerizes some, while the counter-intuitive theory that these reactors might help solve the problem of radioactive waste has taken on a life of its own in recent years. Besides Japan, there is still political support of some sort or other for fast reactor development in countries including the US, France, Russia, China and India, although the degree and nature of the support varies from country to country.

The US withdrew from FBR development in response to India's 1974 nuclear test. In 1977 the Carter Administration froze the US's commercial plutonium use program, including FBR, on non-proliferation grounds. Congress stopped funding for the Clinch River FBR project in 1983 and finally halted the FBR program altogether in 1994. The idea of fast reactors made a come back in February 2006 under the Bush Administration's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). However, the focus was no longer on breeding plutonium, which was still seen as a proliferation risk, but rather on burning surplus plutonium and minor actinides to reduce the radioactive waste burden. The pendulum swung back the other way again in June 2009, when the Obama Administration cancelled the program to develop spent nuclear fuel reprocessing and fast reactor technologies in cooperation with other countries. GNEP's domestic research and development initiative was retained, but the aim is no longer to develop near-term commercial projects. Instead the focus is on long-term R&D on advanced reprocessing and fast-reactor technologies.

France achieved criticality with its first FBR, Rapsodie, in 1967 and connected the demonstration FBR Superphenix (at 1,200 MWe the world's largest FBR ever built) to the grid in 1986. However, the 1991 nuclear waste law shifted the focus of Superphenix from breeding plutonium to transmuting surplus plutonium and minor actinides into shorter-lived isotopes as a radioactive waste management strategy. In 1998 Superphenix was finally closed down permanently. With a cumulative load factor of just 7.79% it had proved to be a costly white elephant. France's Phenix fast reactor, first connected to the grid in 1973, was finally disconnected in March 2009. A ceremony to mark the end of operation was held on September 12, 2009.

The US and France now face practical problems if they want to develop fast reactors. The US has been out of the business for so long that it has a skill shortage, while France no longer has a fast reactor to carry out transmutation tests. They are therefore looking to Japan for support. In August 2009 France, Japan and the US amended an earlier agreement to cooperate on sodium-cooled fast reactor research and development. One focus is to determine whether Monju could be used for international transmutation research. If Monju is restarted, the three countries plan to use it to carry out an irradiation program in the framework of the Generation IV International Forum.

Russia and China have FBR programs, although they are significantly different from Japan's program. Russia's BN-600 reactor (Beloyarsk-3), which was connected to the grid in 1980, uses chiefly uranium dioxide fuel with an enrichment of 17-26%. It is probably the only fast reactor in the world still generating electricity, unless the Indian fast breeder test reactor at Kalpakkam is still generating a tiny amount of electricity. BN-600 is not well suited to a breeder program, but Russia is currently constructing a BN-800 demonstration FBR (Beloyarsk-4), which can use MOX fuel and might be used to breed plutonium. Start-up of Beloyarsk-4 is currently scheduled for 2014, two years later than originally planned.

China's FBR program is based on Russia's. In October 2009 China and Russia signed an agreement to start pre-project and design works for two BN-800 reactors in China. Russia and China are already cooperating on one fast reactor, a small 65 MWt sodium-cooled unit known as the Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor at the China Institute of Atomic Energy near Beijing.

India is constructing a 500 MWe prototype FBR at Kalpakkam. However, it is important to remember that the Indian program is not "peaceful". In 2008 the Nuclear Suppliers Group made a special exception to its rules to allow nuclear trade with India. In return, India agreed to place more of its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, but India's FBRs were not included in the list of "civilian" facilities submitted to the IAEA. They are officially military facilities and India is still producing fissile material for weapons use. Therefore, Japan would be wise not to point to India as evidence that it is not alone in pursuing a plutonium-breeding program.

Conclusions
Monju shares the same problems of nuclear proliferation, safety and cost that have plagued fast breeder reactors in other countries. There is no sign that the benefits that are supposed to compensate for these dangers, namely breeding of plutonium as an inexhaustible civilian energy source and transmutation of radioactive waste, will ever be viable. The Japanese government will try to trumpet the value of Monju for international transmutation research, but it is highly unlikely that Monju will be used as a breeder reactor.

Japan's fuel cycle program, of which Monju is a key part, represents a serious nuclear proliferation problem. The rationale for Japan separating plutonium from spent nuclear fuel was to supply its FBR program, but there were warnings from all around the world about the massive stockpile of surplus plutonium that Japan would accumulate in the process. These warnings were proved correct. Japan now has about 47 tons of separated plutonium, nearly 10 tons of which is stockpiled in Japan. The rest is held in France and the UK. Regardless of Japan's own intentions, this plutonium stockpile sets a bad example for other would-be nuclear proliferators.

From a safety perspective, if anything the danger of operating Monju is even greater than it was before the sodium accident. During the fourteen years that Monju has been sitting idle, pipes and equipment would have degraded. However, it is impossible to check for cracks and holes throughout the whole plant, especially where sodium prevents visual inspection. Furthermore, JAEA's attitude has not changed. Its instinct is still to cover up problems, as evidenced by its proposal not to report false alarms of sodium leaks. The condition of the plant and the nature of the operator both suggest that more trouble lies ahead. To restart Monju now would be like playing Russian roulette.

Regarding cost, Monju is one of Japan's most wasteful projects. If the government is serious about redirecting taxpayers' money to where it is most needed, it should not wait for further troubles to arise before withdrawing support for Monju and the FBR program.

Notes and references
*1. Plagued by problems, PNC subsequently changed its name to Japan Nuclear Fuel Cycle Development Institute (JNC). JNC later merged with the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute (JAERI) to form the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), which is now under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).
*2. STA was headed by a Cabinet Minister, but government ministries were restructured on January 6, 2000. STA's R&D role was transferred to the JNC later merged with the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute (JAERI) to form the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), which is now under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and its regulatory role was transferred to the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency (NISA) within the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).
 

Sources: Philip White and Hideyuki Ban, Nuke Info Tokyo nr. 134, Nov/Dec. 2009, CNIC, Email: [email protected], Web: http://cnic.jp/english/

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