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Ugly Canadian face now belongs to Trudeau

By Yves Engler · October 14, 2017

The “Ugly Canadian” is on the march, but now with a much prettier face at the helm. Across the planet, Canadian mining companies are in conflict with local communities and usually have the Trudeau government’s support.

A slew of disputes have arisen at Canadian run mines in recent weeks:

Last week in northern central Mexico, community members blockaded the main access road to Goldcorp Inc.’s Penasquito mine. They are protesting against the Vancouver-based company for using and contaminating their water without providing alternative sources.

In Northern Ireland two weeks ago, police forced activists out of a Cookstown hotel after they tried to confront representatives from Dalradian Resources. Community groups worry the Toronto firm’s proposed gold and silver mine will damage the Owenkillew River Special Area of Conservation.

Last weekend, an Argentinian senator denounced Blue Sky Uranium’s exploration in the Patagonia region. Magdalena Odarda said residents living near the planned mine fear the Vancouver company’s operations will harm their health.

On Wednesday more than 40 US congresspeople, as well as the Alaska’s Governor, criticized the removal of restrictions on mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, home to half the world’s sockeye salmon production. In May, Northern Dynasty CEO Thomas Collier met the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency to ask for the lifting of restrictions on its Pebble Mine, which is expected to destroy the region’s salmon fishery. In a bid to gain government permission to move forward on the project, the Vancouver firm appointed a former chief of staff at the US Department of the Interior as its new CEO.

At the end of September, hundreds of families were displaced by the Filipino Army to make way for a mine jointly run by Australian and Canadian firms MRL Gold and Egerton Gold. The community in the Batangas Province was blocking a project expected to harm marine biodiversity.

In eastern Madagascar, farmers are in a dispute with DNI Metals over compensation for lands damaged by the Toronto firm.

In August, another person was allegedly killed by Acacia (Barrick Gold) security at its North Mara mine in Tanzania.

Last week, Barrick Gold agreed to pay $20-million to a Chilean a group after a year-long arbitration. The Toronto company had reneged on a $60-million 20-year agreement to compensate communities affected by its Pascua Lama gold, silver and copper project.

In mid-September, Eldorado Gold threatened to suspend its operations in Halkidiki, Greece, if the central government didn’t immediately approve permits for its operations. With the local Mayor and most of the community opposed to the mine, the social-democratic Syriza government was investigating whether a flawed technical study by the Vancouver company was a breach of its contract.

And in Guatemala, Indigenous protestors continue to blockade Tahoe Resources’ Escobal silver mine despite a mid-September court decision in the company’s favour. Fearing for their water, health and land, eight municipalities in the area have voted against the Vancouver firm’s project.

The Liberals have largely maintained Stephen Harper’s aggressive support for Canada’s massive international mining industry. Last month Canada’s Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne backed El Dorado, denouncing the Greek government’s “troublesome” permit delays. Canada’s Ambassador to Madagascar, Sandra McCadell, appears to have backed DNI Metals during a meeting with that country’s mining minister.

As I detailed previously, the Trudeau government recently threw diplomatic weight behind Canada’s most controversial mining company in the country where it has committed its worst abuses. Amidst dozens of deaths at Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine in Tanzania and an escalating battle over the company’s unpaid royalties/tax, Canada’s High Commissioner Ian Myles organised a meeting between Barrick Executive Chairman John Thornton and President John Magufuli. After the meeting Myles applauded Barrick’s commitment to “the highest standards, fairness and respect for laws and corporate social responsibility.”

Two years into their mandate the Trudeau regime has yet to follow through on their repeated promises to rein in Canada’s controversial international mining sector. Despite this commitment, they have adopted no measures to restrict public support for Canadian mining companies responsible for significant abuses abroad.

The ‘Ugly Canadian’ is running roughshod across the globe and pretty boy Justin is its new face.

October 14, 2017 Posted by | Environmentalism, Nuclear Power, Progressive Hypocrite, Solidarity and Activism | , , | 1 Comment

Plans to Dump Nuclear Waste on Australian Aboriginal Sacred Site May Be Halted

Sputnik – 26.09.2017

Plans to transport nuclear waste from Britain to a sacred Aboriginal site in southern Australia could now be put on hold.

Proposals to ship nuclear waste from northern Scotland to a heritage site considered important to indigenous groups in Australia may be halted.

Campaigners acting for Aboriginal Australians are challenging a bid to transfer the waste from Dounreay, Caithness, to a proposed new dump located at Wallerberdina, 280 miles north of Adelaide.

They insist the potential location for what would be Australia’s first nuclear dump would infringe on a historical site rich in burial mounds, fossilized bones and stone tools and considered sacred by Aboriginals.

Under an agreement reached in 2012, all waste from Australia, Belgium, Germany and Italy that is processed at the Scottish facility must be returned to the country of origin.

Now the Scottish government has indicated that all concerns voiced by indigenous peoples must be taken into account before the waste is transferred by ship, presently planned for 2020.

A government spokesman said it would continue to work with the UK government and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to decide where the shipment should be sent.

“Any concerns expressed by indigenous peoples must be addressed in full and action taken, to ensure that vulnerable communities do not suffer future adverse impacts. We recognize that the management of nuclear waste must take full account of human rights and equality obligations, including the importance of ensuring that security and waste management arrangements protect public safety and avoid harmful environmental impacts,” the government said in a statement.

‘Creating More Problems’

Earlier Gary Cushway, a dual Australian-British citizen, had written to the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon raising the concerns of the residents from the Adnyamathanha community, who live on land adjacent to the proposed dump site at Wallerberdina.

“Radioactive waste is a problem we need to deal with, but shifting the problem on to remote indigenous communities isn’t fixing the problem. It is just creating more problems for indigenous communities that have been mistreated for centuries already,” Mr. Cushway wrote.

In pressing the Scottish government, Mr. Cushway said it was an opportunity to correct the past mistakes of the UK government who tested nuclear weapons on indigenous homelands in South Australia, forcing many of them to be moved from their properties.

The federal Australian government has identified two possible locations for the national waste dump site, having previously been thwarted by campaigns by indigenous and community groups since the 1990s.

No date has, so far, been set for a final decision, although federal government ministers are aware they face a strong backlash if they select the Wallerberdina option as it borders an Indigenous Protected Area where they are still permitted to hunt.

In addition, the state government of South Australia took the decision in June, 2017, to reject plans to cite any of the sites there.

September 26, 2017 Posted by | Environmentalism, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

Cuba Has Treated Over 26,000 Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Victims

teleSUR | August 1, 2017

Since 1990, Cuban medics have treated over 26,000 victims of the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine, scientific network Scielo reported in a recent study.

The areas of treatment, according to Scielo, were primarily focused on dermatology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.

The report detailed that 84 percent of the total number of patients treated were children from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. The majority of people were treated in 1991, when Cuban medics attended to 1,415 patients.

Over 1,000 children received medical treatment annually from 1990 to 1995.

With its main treatment area located on Tarara beach, east of Havana, the main objective of the program was to provide comfortable lodging facilities and an overall healthy environment, where patients could be treated and partake in a rehabilitation plan.

Apart from medical facilities, the locale included schools, a cooking center, a theater, parks and recreation areas.

After 21 years of solidarity treatment, all free of charge, the medical program came to an end in 2011.

In the early hours of April 26, 1986, a botched test at the nuclear plant in then-Soviet Ukraine triggered a meltdown that spewed deadly clouds of atomic material into the atmosphere, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

More than 600,000 Soviet civilian and military personnel were drafted from across the country as liquidators to clean-up and contain the nuclear fallout.

Over 30 plant workers and firemen died in the immediate aftermath of the accident, most from acute radiation sickness.

Over the past three decades, thousands more have succumbed to radiation-related illnesses such as cancer, although the total death toll and long-term health effects remain a subject of intense debate.

August 1, 2017 Posted by | Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | | 1 Comment

New generation nuclear power project scrapped in SC amid soaring costs

RT | July 31, 2017

Two South Carolina utilities have abandoned a pair of next generation nuclear reactors that would have been America’s first new atomic reactors in almost 40 years. The facilities were expected to be safer and cheaper.

SCANA Corp and state-owned utility Santee Cooper, the two utilities which own the VC Summer twin-reactor project, announced Monday that they were scrapping the multi-billion dollar project due to construction problems and cost overruns.

“We arrived at this very difficult but necessary decision following months of evaluating the project from all perspectives to determine the most prudent path forward,” said the head of SCANA Corp, Kevin Marsh.

The designer and primary contractor of the new generation reactors, Westinghouse Electric Co., was expected to deliver last year, but the project is now less than 40 percent complete. In addition, costs have soared 75 percent and the reactors would not begin to produce power until 2023, Reuters reported.

In March, Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy. However, the company was mentioned in a June White House fact sheet which stated: “The United States and India are committed to realizing commercial civil nuclear cooperation, in particular through a contract for six Westinghouse Electric AP-1000 nuclear reactors to be built in Andhra Pradesh, India.”

Nine billion dollars has been spent on the now-abandoned South Carolina project and the state’s utility customers have already been billed for some of the reactors’ early costs. They could also be forced to pay for the rest of the failed project, the Charlotte Business Journal reported.

The US has not built new nuclear reactors since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania which saw a partial meltdown of a reactor, Reuters reported.

The new generation reactors were expected to be safer and less costly. With the project now scrapped, the future of large-scale nuclear power plant construction in the US is uncertain.

Many nuclear power plants across the country have struggled financially in the past few years amid falling oil and gas prices, making nuclear energy less competitive.

A number of states, including New York and Illinois, threw lifelines to their nuclear power plants in the form of subsidies, referred to as zero-emission credits. Nuclear energy is recognized as having a very low carbon-emission footprint.

A bill in Ohio would provide the zero-emission credit to its nuclear power plants that have described their financial situation as “urgent.”

Opponents of the subsidy, many of whom are the industry’s competitors, claim these schemes illegally interfere with power markets.

On June 29, President Donald Trump announced that nuclear energy should be “revived” and become part of America’s “global energy dominance.”

“A complete review of US nuclear energy policy will help us find new ways to revitalize this crucial energy resource,” Trump said.

Earlier, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry claimed the field was “strangled all too often because of government regulations.” However, Perry did not specifically say how the government was going to help nuclear energy producers.

A recent study by researchers from Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists cautioned the US against underestimating the risks to nuclear safety, saying a single nuclear fuel fire could lead to fallout “much greater than Fukushima,” referring to the Japanese nuclear disaster caused by the massive tsunami in 2011.

July 31, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | | Leave a comment

Ukraine ‘Losing Control’ of Its Nuclear Facilities

Sputnik – 19.07.2017

Hundreds of containers with radioactive materials inside have been reportedly stolen from a nuclear storage facility in central Ukraine. An expert told Sputnik about the consequences this and other such cases could have for people in and outside the country.

According to 1+1 TV channel, the containers with Cesium-137-contaminated soil and metals, which had spent the past 30 years buried at an unguarded storage site near the city of Krapivnitsky in Kirovograd region, were supposed to stay there for at least 300 years more.

After the unknown thieves dug up the containers, the radiation level in the area jumped 10 times above normal.

In an interview with Radio Sputnik, Valery Menshikov, a member of the Environmental Policy Center in Moscow, shared his fears about the dangerous situation in Ukraine.

“What is now happening is Ukraine is bedlam, period. The stringent Soviet-era controls are gone and not only there. All nuclear storage facilities in Ukraine pose a very serious radiation threat. It’s a very alarming situation we have there now,” Menshikov warned.

He underscored the need to place such nuclear storage sites under strict control.

“Such places must be fenced off, have adequate alarm systems, etc. However, it looks like [the Krapivnitsky facility] had none of these things. In addition to vials with Cesium, there was also metal there and this metal could now be used in construction or smelted, which means that radiation will keep spreading,” Valery Menshikov added.

He blamed the sorry state of Ukraine’s nuclear energy sector on the erratic policy of the Kiev government.

“There are regulations, both domestic and international, drawn up by the IAEA, but the problem is that the current political situation in Ukraine has made it possible to get rid of experienced managers and specialists in the nuclear energy and other economic sectors and replace them (with incompetent ones),” Valery Menshikov emphasized.

“The loss of radiation safety is also evident at Ukrainian nuclear power plants, hence the strange things that keep happening there,” Menshikov concluded.

Ukraine’s nuclear industry has been in dire straits since Kiev ended nuclear energy cooperation with Russia in 2015 and specialists fear that the recurrent cases of thefts of radioactive materials and lax security at the country’s nuclear facilities are dangerously fraught with a repetition of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

July 19, 2017 Posted by | Environmentalism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | | Leave a comment

Nuclear Power’s Annus Horribilus

By Jim Green | CounterPunch | July 17, 2017

This year will go down with 1979 (Three Mile Island), 1986 (Chernobyl) and 2011 (Fukushima) as one of the nuclear industry’s worst ever ‒ and there’s still another six months to go. Two of the industry’s worst-ever years have been in the past decade. There will be many more bad years ahead as the trickle of closures of ageing reactors becomes a flood ‒ the International Energy Agency expects almost 200 reactor closures between 2014 and 2040. The likelihood of reactor start-ups matching closures over that time period has become vanishingly small.

In January, the World Nuclear Association anticipated 18 power reactor start-ups this year. The projection has been revised down to 14 and even that seems more than a stretch. There has only been one reactor start-up in the first half of the year according to the IAEA’s Power Reactor Information System, and two permanent reactor closures.

The number of power reactors under construction is on a downward trajectory ‒ 59 reactors are under construction as of May 2017, the first time since 2010 that the number has fallen below 60.

Pro-nuclear journalist Fred Pearce wrote on May 15: “Is the nuclear power industry in its death throes? Even some nuclear enthusiasts believe so. With the exception of China, most nations are moving away from nuclear ‒ existing power plants across the United States are being shut early; new reactor designs are falling foul of regulators, and public support remains in free fall. Now come the bankruptcies. … The industry is in crisis. It looks ever more like a 20th century industrial dinosaur, unloved by investors, the public, and policymakers alike. The crisis could prove terminal.”

Pro-nuclear lobby groups are warning about nuclear power’s “rapidly accelerating crisis,” a “crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West,” and noting that “the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies.”

USA: The most dramatic story this year has been the bankruptcy filing of US nuclear giant Westinghouse on March 29. Westinghouse’s parent company Toshiba states that there is “substantial doubt” about Toshiba’s “ability to continue as a going concern”. These nuclear industry giants have been brought to their knees by cost overruns ‒ estimated at US$13 billion ‒ building four AP1000 power reactors in the U.S.

The nuclear debate in the US is firmly centred on attempts to extend the lifespan of ageing, uneconomic reactors with state bailouts. Financial bailouts by state governments in New York and Illinois are propping up ageing reactors, but a proposed bailout in Ohio is meeting stiff opposition. The fate of Westinghouse and its partially-built AP1000 reactors are much discussed, but there is no further discussion about new reactors ‒ other than to note that they won’t happen.

Six reactors have been shut down over the past five years in the US, and another handful will likely close in the next five years. So how far and fast will nuclear fall? Exelon ‒ the leading nuclear power plant operator in the US ‒ claims that “economic and policy challenges threaten to close about half of America’s reactors” in the next two decades. According to pro-nuclear lobby group ‘Environmental Progress‘, almost one-quarter of US reactors are at high risk of closure by 2030, and almost three-quarters are at medium to high risk. In May, the US Energy Information Administration released an analysis projecting nuclear’s share of the nation’s electricity generating capacity will drop from 20 percent to 11 percent by 2050.

There are different views about how far and fast nuclear will fall in the US ‒ but fall it will. And there is no dispute that many plants are losing money. More than half of the country’s reactors are losing money, racking up losses totalling about US$2.9 billion a year according to a recent analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. And a separate Bloomberg report found that expanding state aid to money-losing reactors across the eastern US may leave consumers on the hook for as much as US$3.9 billion a year in higher power bills.

Japan: Fukushima clean-up and compensation cost estimates have doubled and doubled again and now stand at US$191 billion (€167 billion). An analysis by the Japan Institute for Economic Research estimates that the total costs for decommissioning, decontamination and compensation could be far higher at US$443‒620 billion (€389‒544 billion).

Only five reactors are operating in Japan as of July 2017, compared to 54 before the March 2011 Fukushima disaster. The prospects for new reactors are bleak. Japan has given up on its Monju fast breeder reactor ‒ successive governments wasted US$10.6 billion (€9.3 billion) on Monju and decommissioning will cost another US$2.7 billion (€2.3 billion).

As mentioned, Toshiba is facing an existential crisis due to the crippling debts of its subsidiary Westinghouse. Toshiba announced on May 15 that it expects to report a consolidated net loss of US$8.4 billion (€7.4 billion) for the 2016‒2017 financial year which ended March 31.

Hitachi is backing away from its plan to build two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors in Wylfa, Wales. Hitachi recently said that if it cannot attract partners to invest in the project before construction is due to start in 2019, the project will be suspended.

Hitachi recently booked a massive loss on a failed investment in laser enrichment technology in the US. A 12 May 2017 statement said the company had posted an impairment loss on affiliated companies’ common stock of US$1.66 billion (€1.46 billion) for the fiscal year ended 31 March 2017, and “the major factor” was Hitachi’s exit from the laser enrichment project. Last year a commentator opined that “the way to make a small fortune in the uranium enrichment business in the U.S. is to start with a large one.”

France: The French nuclear industry is in its “worst situation ever” according to former EDF director Gérard Magnin. France has 58 operable reactors and just one under construction.

French EPR reactors under construction in France and Finland are three times over budget ‒ the combined cost overruns for the two reactors amount to about US$14.5 billion (€12.7 billion).

Bloomberg noted in April 2015 that Areva’s EPR export ambitions are “in tatters.” Now Areva itself is in tatters and is in the process of a government-led restructure and another taxpayer-funded bailout. On March 1, Areva posted a €665 million net loss for 2016. Losses in the preceding five years exceeded €10 billion.

In February, EDF released its financial figures for 2016: earnings and income fell and EDF’s debt remained steady at €37.4 billion. EDF plans to sell €10 billion of assets by 2020 to rein in its debt, and to sack up to 7,000 staff. The French government provided EDF with €3 billion in extra capital in 2016 and will contribute €3 billion towards a €4 billion capital raising this year. On March 8, shares in EDF hit an all-time low a day after the €4 billion capital raising was launched; the share price fell to €7.78, less than one-tenth of the high a decade ago.

Costs of between €50 billion and €100 billion will need to be spent by 2030 to meet new safety requirements for reactors in France and to extend their operating lives beyond 40 years.

EDF has set aside €23 billion to cover reactor decommissioning and waste management costs in France ‒ just less than half of the €54 billion that EDF estimates will be required. A recent report by the French National Assembly’s Commission for Sustainable Development and Regional Development concluded that there is “obvious under-provisioning” and that decommissioning and waste management will take longer, be more challenging and cost much more than EDF anticipates.

In 2015, concerns about the integrity of some EPR pressure vessels were revealed, prompting investigations that are still ongoing. Last year, the scandal was magnified when the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) announced that Areva had informed it of “irregularities in components produced at its Creusot Forge plant.” The problems concern documents attesting to the quality of parts manufactured at the site. At least 400 of the 10,000 quality documents reviewed by Areva contained anomalies. Work at the Creusot Forge foundry was suspended in the wake of the scandal and Areva is awaiting ASN approval to restart the foundry.

French Environment and Energy Minister Nicolas Hulot said on June 12 that the Government plans to close some nuclear reactors to reduce nuclear’s share of the country’s power mix. “We are going to close some nuclear reactors and it won’t be just a symbolic move,” he said.

India: Nuclear power accounts for just 3.4 percent of electricity supply in India and that figure will not rise significantly, if at all. In May, India’s Cabinet approved a plan to build 10 indigenous pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR). That decision can be read as an acknowledgement that plans for six Westinghouse AP1000 reactors and six French EPR reactors are unlikely to eventuate.

The plan for 10 new PHWRs faces major challenges. Suvrat Raju and M.V. Ramana noted: “[N]uclear power will continue to be an expensive and relatively minor source of electricity for the foreseeable future. … The announcement about building 10 PHWRs fits a pattern, often seen with the current government, where it trumpets a routine decision to bolster its “bold” credentials. Most of the plants that were recently approved have been in the pipeline for years. Nevertheless, there is good reason to be sceptical of these plans given that similar plans to build large numbers of reactors have failed to meet their targets, often falling far short.”

South Africa: An extraordinary High Court judgement on April 26 ruled that much of South Africa’s nuclear new-build program is without legal foundation. The High Court set aside the Ministerial determination that South Africa required 9.6 gigawatts (GW) of new nuclear capacity, and found that numerous bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements were unconstitutional and unlawful. President Jacob Zuma is trying to revive the nuclear program, but it will most likely be shelved when Zuma leaves office in 2019 (if he isn’t removed earlier). Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi said on June 21 that South Africa will review its nuclear plans as part of its response to economic recession.

South Korea: South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in said on June 19 that his government will halt plans to build new nuclear power plants and will not extend the lifespan of existing plants beyond 40 years. President Moon said: “We will completely re-examine the existing policies on nuclear power. We will scrap the nuclear-centred polices and move toward a nuclear-free era. We will eliminate all plans to build new nuclear plants.”

Since the presidential election on May 9, the ageing Kori-1 reactor has been permanently shut down, work on two partially-built reactors (Shin Kori 5 and 6) has been suspended pending a review, and work on two planned reactors (Shin-Hanul 3 and 4) has been stopped.

Taiwan: Taiwan’s Cabinet reiterated on June 12 the government’s resolve to phase out nuclear power. The government remains committed to the goal of decommissioning the three operational nuclear power plants as scheduled and making Taiwan nuclear-free by 2025, Cabinet spokesperson Hsu Kuo-yung said.

UK: Tim Yeo, a former Conservative politician and now a nuclear industry lobbyist with New Nuclear Watch Europe, said the compounding problems facing nuclear developers in the UK “add up to something of a crisis for the UK’s nuclear new-build programme.” The lobby group noted delays with the EPR reactor in Flamanville, France and the possibility that those delays would flow on to the two planned EPR reactors at Hinkley Point; the lack of investors for the proposed Advanced Boiling Water Reactors at Wylfa; the acknowledgement by the NuGen consortium that the plan for three AP1000 reactors at Moorside faces a “significant funding gap”; and the fact that the Hualong One technology which China General Nuclear Power Corporation hopes to deploy at Bradwell in Essex has yet to undergo its generic design assessment.

The only reactor project with any momentum in the UK is Hinkley Point, based on the French EPR reactor design. The head of one of Britain’s top utilities said on June 19 that Hinkley Point is likely to be the only nuclear project to go ahead in the UK. Alistair Phillips-Davies, chief executive officer of SSE, an energy supplier and former investor in new nuclear plants, said: “The bottom line in nuclear is that it looks like only Hinkley Point will get built and Flamanville needs to go well for that to happen.”

There is growing pressure for the obscenely expensive Hinkley Point project to be cancelled. The UK National Audit Office report released a damning report on June 23. The Audit Office said: “The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s deal for Hinkley Point C has locked consumers into a risky and expensive project with uncertain strategic and economic benefits … Today’s report finds that the Department has not sufficiently considered the costs and risks of its deal for consumers. … Delays have pushed back the nuclear power plant’s construction, and the expected cost of top-up payments under the Hinkley Point C’s contract for difference has increased from £6 billion to £30 billion.”

Writing in the Financial Times on May 26, Neil Collins said: “EDF, of course, is the contractor for that white elephant in the nuclear room, Hinkley Point. If this unproven design ever gets built and produces electricity, the UK consumer will be obliged to pay over twice the current market price for the output. … The UK’s energy market is in an unholy mess … Scrapping Hinkley Point would not solve all of [the problems], but it would be a start.”

And on it goes. Hinkley Point is one of the “great spending dinosaurs of the political dark ages” according to The Guardian. It is a “white elephant” according to an editorial in The Times.

EDF said on June 26 that it is conducting a “a full review of the costs and schedule of the Hinkley Point C project” and the results will be disclosed “soon”. On July 3, EDF announced that the estimated cost has risen by €2.5 billion (to €23.2 billion, or €30.4 billion including finance costs). In 2007, EDF was boasting that Britons would be using electricity from Hinkley to cook their Christmas turkeys in December 2017. But in its latest announcement, EDF pushes back the 2025 start-up dates for the two Hinkley reactors by 9‒15 months.

Former Ecologist editor, Oliver Tickell and Ian Fairlie wrote an obituary for Britain’s nuclear renaissance in The Ecologist on May 18. They concluded:

“[T]he prospects for new nuclear power in the UK have never been gloomier. The only way new nuclear power stations will ever be built in the UK is with massive political and financial commitment from government. That commitment is clearly absent. So yes, this finally looks like the end of the UK’s ‘nuclear renaissance’.”

Switzerland: Voters in Switzerland supported a May 21 referendum on a package of energy policy measures including a ban on new nuclear power reactors. Thus Switzerland has opted for a gradual nuclear phase out and all reactors will probably be closed by the early 2030s, if not earlier.

Germany will close its last reactor much sooner than Switzerland, in 2022.

Sweden: Unit 1 of the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant in Sweden has been permanently shut down. It was to be shut down on June 29, but an abnormal event on June 17 led to an automatic shut down and the reactor will not be restarted. Unit 2 at the same plant was permanently shut down in 2015. Ringhals 1 and 2 are expected to be shut down in 2019‒2020, after which Sweden will have just six operating power reactors.

Russia: Rosatom deputy general director Vyacheslav Pershukov said in mid-June that the world market for the construction of new nuclear power plants is shrinking, and the possibilities for building new large reactors abroad are almost exhausted. He said Rosatom expects to be able to find customers for new reactors until 2020‒2025 but “it will be hard to continue.”

China: With 36 power reactors and another 22 under construction, China is the only country with a significant nuclear expansion program. However nuclear growth could take a big hit in the event of economic downturn. And nuclear growth could be derailed by a serious accident, which is all the more likely because of China’s inadequate nuclear safety standards, inadequate regulation, lack of transparency, repression of whistleblowers, world’s worst insurance and liability arrangements, security risks, and widespread corruption.

July 17, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | Leave a comment

Forest fire rages in Chernobyl exclusion zone

RT | June 29, 2017

A forest fire has erupted in the Chernobyl exclusion zone forests during tree cutting works, according to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. While a helicopter and two planes were dispatched to the site, the fire is still ongoing.

“At 12:35pm [local time] during technological tree cutting works in the exclusion and obligatory evacuation zone at the territory of Lubyanskoye Forestry, tree residue and the forest bed have caught fire. The fire spread out to an area of some 20 hectares,” the State Emergency Service of Ukraine said in a statement.

The emergency service dispatched an Mi-8 helicopter with a water-spraying device and two AN-32P fire planes to the location to provide surveillance and combat the fire. At least 102 firemen and 22 fire engines arrived at the scene, while the Mi-8 dropped water on the fire five times.

Despite their efforts, however, the fire even spread somewhat and at 6:29pm local time engulfed 25 hectares of the forest bed, as well as 0.5 hectares of the tree tops, according to the statement.

This is not the first wildfire to break out near the crippled Chernobyl nuclear power station. In 2015, forest and grass fires erupted in the exclusion zone several times with the worst one breaking out in May, when some 400 hectares of forests were engulfed in flames.

Several consecutive fires caused a significant increase in radiation in the exclusion zone. In July 2015, Ukrainian nuclear inspectors registered air contamination with cesium-137 near the settlement of Polesskoye in the Chernobyl zone, or approximately 10 times above permitted levels. Cesium-137 is one of the most dangerous radioactive elements, since it accumulates in the human body and can lead to leukemia.

Wildfires in nuclear-contaminated zones can have grave consequences, as they release radioactive particles accumulated in the trees and plants. In 2014, an international team of scientists published a study, warning that “the resulting releases of Cesium-137 after hypothetical wildfires in Chernobyl’s forests are classified as high in the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES). The estimated cancer incidents and fatalities are expected to be comparable to those predicted for Fukushima.”

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant was badly damaged after an accident on April 26, 1986, when a failed safety experiment caused a catastrophic meltdown at the plant’s Reactor 4. An explosion followed, destroying the reactor and releasing large amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. People living in the area around the power station were evacuated due to nuclear contamination and an exclusion zone was established.

June 29, 2017 Posted by | Environmentalism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | | Leave a comment

Toshiba to pay $3.68bn for 2 nuclear plants after US subsidiary files for bankruptcy

RT | June 11, 2017

Embattled Japanese conglomerate Toshiba has agreed to pick up the $3.7 billion tab for its faltering nuclear engineering division, Westinghouse, which has been forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Toshiba signed on for the construction of two nuclear reactors at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia in 2008 but the project has been plagued by cost overruns and delays for years.

“We are pleased with today’s positive developments with Toshiba and Westinghouse that allow momentum to continue at the site while we transition project management from Westinghouse to Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power,” said Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers, the utility which is working with Westinghouse on the Vogtle nuclear plant expansion project, as cited by the AP.

The Japanese company will cap its liability for the construction of two of Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia but the future of the development remains uncertain.

Government intervention may be required, however, as suggested by Tom Fanning, CEO of the Southern Company which is in talks to take over management of the project from Westinghouse.

“This is a national security issue,” he said on a recent a call to analysts, as cited by the Financial Times. “If the United States wants nuclear in its portfolio for the future, we’ve got to figure out a way to be successful here.”

In a statement Saturday, Toshiba confirmed the payments will be made from October 2017 through to January 2021. The company reported $8.6 billion loss for fiscal year ended March 2017.

Toshiba has factored the payment into its earnings reports. Auditors though, have refused to endorse the reports and are viewing the figures as projections and not true financial reports.

Toshiba is struggling to stay afloat financially and has been forced into selling its lucrative and highly prized computer chip and semiconductor business.

Toshiba President, Satoshi Tsunakawa, has acknowledged the flaws in the company’s strategy regarding Westinghouse, reports the AP, but nuclear power will remain part of Toshiba’s near-term business strategy which includes the decommissioning of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

June 11, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Nuclear Power | | Leave a comment

Dozens of new cracks discovered at Belgian nuclear reactors

RT | June 11, 2017

The latest ultrasonic inspections have detected a substantial number of new micro cracks in nuclear reactors at the Tihange and Doel power plants in Belgium since the last study conducted three years ago, Belgian and German media report.

At least 70 additional cracks were uncovered at the Tihange 2 nuclear reactor during an ultrasonic inspection in April of this year, Belga news agency reports. Some 300 new flaws have also allegedly been discovered at the Doel 3 reactor tank during a check last November, according to tagesschau.de.

Belgian Interior Minister, Jan Jambon, confirmed the micro fissures at Tihange 2 following a parliamentary inquiry posed by Green Group leader Jean-Marc Nollet, DW reports. The reported new cracks at Doel 3 have not yet been confirmed.

The cracks do not pose any danger to operations at the nuclear plants, says operator Engie-Electrabel, which carried out the inspections under instructions from the Belgian Atomic Regulatory Authority (FANC).

The operator said the new flaws were discovered due to a “different positioning of the ultrasound device.” Engie-Electrabel maintains that as long as cracks do not expand, they do not pose a danger to the reactor’s operations.

Branding Engie-Electrabel “irresponsible,” environmentalist group, Nucléaire Stop, has criticized the operator for still running Tihange 2 reactor despite a 2.22 percent increase in faults.

In February 2015, FANC said 3,149 cracks had been found at Tihange, while 13,047 were discovered at Doel. The operator must now submit additional analyses of the situation by September.

Tihange lies only 60 kilometers (about 37 miles) from the German border, while Doel is 150 kilometers away, near Antwerp. Germans living in the area close to this border have been exerting pressure on the government to force Belgium to shut down the aging reactors.

Both of the reactors have experienced leaks and cracks for some time now. Doel 3 has a capacity of 1,006 megawatts, while Tihange 2 a capacity of 1,008 megawatts. The reactors are almost 35-years-old but are still generating about 14 percent of the nation’s power capacity.

June 10, 2017 Posted by | Environmentalism, Nuclear Power | , | Leave a comment

Nuclear nightmare worse than Fukushima could hit US because of ignored risks – study

RT | May26, 2017

The US has underestimated the risks to its nuclear safety as a single nuclear fuel fire could lead to fallout “much greater than Fukushima,” according to a new study. Researches slammed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for ignoring the potential danger.

If spent fuel at one of the dozens of US nuclear sites sets alight, it “could dwarf the horrific consequences of the Fukushima accident [in Japan],” researchers from Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists warned in their study published in the May 26 issue of Science magazine.

The disaster would lead to “trillion-dollar consequences,” as the hypothetical fire would result in contamination of an area larger than New Jersey and force mass relocations.

The scientists simulated a nightmare scenario in their ‘Nuclear safety regulation in the post-Fukushima era’ article. Supposing that an imagined fuel fire broke out at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania at the beginning of 2015, and taking into account the weather conditions at that time, they showed the devastating extent of potential contamination in the area. The accident would have led to the relocation of around 8 million people and would have cost $2 trillion in damages, according to Science Daily, citing the article.

Map based on data published in Science magazine © Google maps / RT

At first, it would mostly have affected a small part of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, also touching on New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. However, within three months almost all the East Coast from South Carolina to Maine would have become contaminated to a varying extent, the scientists said, with radiation going deeper into the land later on.

The researchers say that this frightening scenario can be avoided if spent fuel is not housed in the pools which are used at almost all US nuclear plants to store and cool used radioactive material. Instead, it would be safer to transfer it to dry storage casks after it is cooled in pools for around five years, they say. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) previously considered such measures, but decided they would be too costly.

The study blames the NRC for downplaying the potential consequences and risking millions of Americans’ lives to favor nuclear industries.

“The NRC has been pressured by the nuclear industry, directly and through Congress, to low-ball the potential consequences of a fire because of concerns that increased costs could result in shutting down more nuclear power plants,” one of the authors of the study, Frank von Hippel, is quoted as saying by Science Daily.

“Unfortunately, if there is no public outcry about this dangerous situation, the NRC will continue to bend to the industry’s wishes.”

The researches also stressed that a nuclear disaster could be brought about by a large earthquake or terrorist attack, the possibility of which was excluded by the NRC.

They have called on the agency to take action to reduce the potential danger by enhancing the monitoring of the pools and increasing water levels in case of a breakdown. If the NRC does not act, the researchers say Congress should step up.

The NRC previously said the transfer of spent fuel, which could reduce the threat of radioactive releases by 99 percent, would require additional spending of $50 million per pool. An accident would result in $125 billion in damages and radioactive contamination would not go beyond 50 miles of the site, according to the NRC, in sharp contrast to the researchers’ estimates. The NRC also said that the consequences would be dealt with within a year, while the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents have shown much worse effects, with the areas still deserted.

“In far too many instances, the NRC has used flawed analysis to justify inaction, leaving millions of Americans at risk of a radiological release that could contaminate their homes and destroy their livelihoods,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and co-author of the article. “It is time for the NRC to employ sound science and common-sense policy judgments in its decision-making process,” he said.

NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell has promised to study the scientists’ proposal and report to agency commissioners, Science Daily reports.

In early May, an emergency was declared at a nuclear waste site in Hanford, Washington, after a portion of a tunnel near the plutonium-uranium extraction plant collapsed. The same site leaked gallons of toxic waste last April, affecting a number of workers.

May 27, 2017 Posted by | Environmentalism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | , | 1 Comment

“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal

By John Laforge | CounterPunch | April 21, 2017

Nuclear power supporters like to say, “Nuclear waste disposal is a political, not a scientific problem.” Scientists refute this slogan every day.

A case in point is the Canadian Environment Minister’s second “do over” order issued to Ontario Power Generation regarding the company’s waste dump idea. The 15-page order, issued April 5, rejected the company’s sophomoric answers to a previous “not good enough” finding by Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna.

OPG wants to bury 7 million cubic feet of radioactive waste in a deep hole less than a mile from Lake Huron, on its own property on the Bruce Peninsula, northwest of Toronto. It’s there that OPG runs the world’s biggest rad’ waste production complex — the Bruce Nuclear Station — eight old power reactors in varying states of repair and disrepair.

The company proposes digging 2,231 feet down into part of its 2,300-acre compound on Lake Huron, and burying all sorts of radioactive material (everything except waste fuel rods), including a “significant amount” of carbon-14, a cancer agent with a deadly radioactive “life” of 57,300 years — i.e. ten 5,730-year radioactive half-lives. After two years of public hearings into the question of placing long-lasting poisons next to a major source of drinking water, a federal Joint Review Panel in 2015 recommended approval of the project to Minister McKenna.

McKenna was to make a decision by March 1, 2016, but instead demanded better work from OPG. On Feb. 18, 2016, the Minister ordered the company to produce details about alternate dump sites. OPG submitted shockingly shabby generalizations Dec. 28, 2016, and McKenna’s April 5 reply is an understated denunciation of OPG’s obfuscations and evasions. Beverly Fernandez, founder of Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, told Clinton, Michigan’s The Voice, “OPG has been given a failing grade on its most recent report regarding burying its radioactive nuclear waste less than a mile from the Great Lakes. OPG has now been issued a strong set of new challenges to answer.”

For example, the company has the nerve to [state] that, “All underground facilities (office, tunnel, emplacement room) will be constructed in accordance with the seismic requirements of the latest edition of the National Building Code at the time of the construction.” In fact, as the Minister’s rejection of OPG’s attempted snow-job pointed out, “There are no specific seismic requirements in the National Building Code for underground facilities…. Provide a revised version…”

A public servant doing her job

In requiring a study of alternate potential sites for deep disposal, Minister McKenna ordered OPG to make “specific reference to actual locations.” Instead, OPG tried to get away with citing two enormous geological regions that it said might be suitable. As Jennifer Wells and Matthew Cole reported in the Toronto Star, OPG’s “actual locations” covered an area of 726,052-square-kilometres — about 75% of the Province of Ontario. This blatant attempt at scamming the government didn’t fool McKenna, a public servant who is actually doing her job.

In one of OPG’s more garish displays of environmental racism, the company’s Dec. 2016 report failed to analyze or even acknowledge the land use Treaty Rights of Indigenous or First Nation peoples. Minister McKenna’s April 5 rebuke rightly demands that OPG provide “a description of the land and resource uses for the alternative locations that highlight the unique characteristics of these locations from the perspective of Indigenous peoples.

McKenna’s lengthy critique amounts to “strike two” against OPG, and the Minister’s refutation was praised by community leaders and watchdogs around the Great Lakes. So far, 187 cities, townships, counties, states and provinces in the Great Lakes Basin have passed resolutions opposing the dump. Columnist Jim Bloch in The Voice asked, “How many swings will the Canadian government give Ontario Power Generation before the firm strikes out in its request to build a nuclear waste dump on the shores of Lake Huron?” The answer may be “no more.”

As befits questions of persistent cancer agents and how to package and keep them out of drinking water for thousands of years, McKenna’s April 5 rebuke lists 23 complex and technically dumbfounding dilemmas that could doom the Lake Huron dump plan. Professor Erika Simpson at the University of Western Ontario reviewed McKenna’s critique and wrote April 7, “It will take OPG perhaps a decade to come up with all the information that is now required … given all the overwhelming problems identified.”

Beverly Fernandez summed up the opposition as well as anyone. “Given the overwhelming opposition to this plan and the potential for massive consequences to the Great Lakes, no responsible government would approve a plan that endangers the drinking water of 40 million people, and a $6 trillion Great Lakes economy.”

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

April 21, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Environmentalism, Nuclear Power, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

Terminal Decline? Fukushima and the Deepening Crisis of Nuclear Energy

By Jim Green | Nuclear Monitor | March 10, 2017

Saturday March 11 marks the sixth anniversary of the triple-disaster in north-east Japan – the earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

And the news is not good. Scientists are wondering how on earth to stabilise and decontaminate the failed reactors awash with molten nuclear fuel, which are fast turning into graveyards for the radiation-hardened robots sent in to investigate them.

The Japanese government’s estimate of Fukushima compensation and clean-up costs has doubled and doubled again and now stands at ¥21.5 trillion (US$187bn; €177bn).

Indirect costs – such as fuel import costs, and losses to agricultural, fishing and tourism industries – will likely exceed that figure.

Kendra Ulrich from Greenpeace Japan notes in a new report that “for those who were impacted by the worst nuclear disaster in a generation, the crisis is far from over. And it is women and children that have borne the brunt of human rights violations resulting from it, both in the immediate aftermath and as a result of the Japan government’s nuclear resettlement policy.”

Radiation biologist Ian Fairlie summarises the health impacts from the Fukushima disaster: “In sum, the health toll from the Fukushima nuclear disaster is horrendous. At the minimum:

+ Over 160,000 people were evacuated most of them permanently.

+ Many cases of post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders arising from the evacuations.

+ About 12,000 workers exposed to high levels of radiation, some up to 250 mSv

+ An estimated 5,000 fatal cancers from radiation exposures in future.

+ Plus similar (unquantified) numbers of radiogenic strokes, CVS diseases and hereditary diseases.

+ Between 2011 and 2015, about 2,000 deaths from radiation-related evacuations due to ill-health and suicides.

+ An, as yet, unquantified number of thyroid cancers.

+ An increased infant mortality rate in 2012 and a decreased number of live births in December 2011.”

Dr Fairlie’s report was written in August 2015 but it remains accurate. More than half of the 164,000 evacuees from the nuclear disaster remain dislocated. Efforts to restore community life in numerous towns are failing. Local authorities said in January that only 13% of the evacuees in five municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture have returned home after evacuation orders were lifted.

As for Japan’s long-hyped ‘nuclear restart’: just three power reactors are operating in Japan; before the Fukushima disaster, the number topped 50.

A nuclear power ‘crisis’?

Nuclear advocates and lobbyists elsewhere are increasingly talking about the ‘crisis’ facing nuclear power – but they don’t have the myriad impacts of the Fukushima disaster in mind: they’re more concerned about catastrophic cost overruns with reactor projects in Europe and the US.

Michael Shellenberger from the Breakthrough Institute, a US-based pro-nuclear lobby group, has recently written articles about nuclear power’s rapidly accelerating crisis and the crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West“.

A recent article from the Breakthrough Institute and the like-minded Third Way lobby group discusses the crisis that the nuclear industry is presently facing in developed countries“.

‘Environmental Progress’, another US pro-nuclear lobby group connected to Shellenberger, has a webpage dedicated to the nuclear power crisis. Among other things, it states that 151 gigawatts (GW) of worldwide nuclear power capacity (38% of the total) could be lost by 2030 (compared to 33 GW of retirements over the past decade), and over half of the ageing US reactor fleet is at risk of closure by 2030.

As a worldwide generalisation, nuclear power can’t be said to be in crisis. To take the extreme example, China’s nuclear power program isn’t in crisis – it is moving ahead at pace. Russia’s nuclear power program, to give one more example, is moving ahead at snail’s pace, but isn’t in crisis.

Nonetheless, large parts of the worldwide nuclear industry are in deep trouble. The July 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report provides an overview of the troubled status of nuclear power:

+ nuclear power’s share of the worldwide electricity generation is 10.7%, well down from historic peak of 17.6% in 1996;

+ nuclear power generation in 2015 was 8.2% below the historic peak in 2006; and

+ from 2000 to 2015, 646 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar capacity (combined) were added worldwide while nuclear capacity (not including idle reactors in Japan) fell by 8 GW.

US nuclear industry in crisis

The US nuclear industry is in crisis, with a very old reactor fleet – 44 of its 99 reactors have been operating for 40 years or more – and no likelihood of new reactors for the foreseeable future other than four already under construction.

Last September, Associated Press described one of the industry’s many humiliations: “After spending more than 40 years and $5 billion on an unfinished nuclear power plant in northeastern Alabama, the nation’s largest federal utility is preparing to sell the property at a fraction of its cost.

“The Tennessee Valley Authority has set a minimum bid of $36.4 million for its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant and the 1,600 surrounding acres of waterfront property on the Tennessee River. The buyer gets two unfinished nuclear reactors, transmission lines, office and warehouse buildings, eight miles of roads, a 1,000-space parking lot and more.”

Japanese conglomerate Toshiba and its US-based nuclear subsidiary Westinghouse are in crisis because of massive cost overruns building four AP1000 reactors in the US – the combined cost overruns amount to about US$11.2bn (€10.7bn) and counting.

Toshiba said in February 2017 that it expects to book a US$6.3bn (€5.9bn) writedown on Westinghouse, on top of a US$2.3bn (€2.1bn) writedown in April 2016. The losses exceed the US$5.4bn (€5.1bn) Toshiba paid when it bought a majority stake in Westinghouse in 2006.

Toshiba says it would likely sell Westinghouse if that was an option – but there is no prospect of a buyer. Westinghouse is, as Bloomberg noted, too much of a mess to sell. And since that isn’t an option, Toshiba must sell profitable businesses instead to stave off bankruptcy.

Toshiba is seeking legal advice as to whether Westinghouse should file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But even under a Chapter 11 filing, Reuters reported, “Toshiba could still be on the hook for up to $7 billion in contingent liabilities as it has guaranteed Westinghouse’s contractual commitments” for the US AP1000 reactors.

The Toshiba/Westinghouse crisis is creating a ripple effect. A few examples:

+ the NuGen (Toshiba/Engie) consortium has acknowledged that the plan for three AP1000 reactors at Moorside in the UK faces a significant funding gap and both partners reportedly want out of the project;

+ Georgia Power, 45.7% owner of the troubled Vogtle AP1000 project, recently suspended plans for another nuclear plant in Georgia; and

+ Toshiba recently announced its intention to pull out of the plan for two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors at the South Texas Plant, having booked writedowns totaling US$638m (€605m) on the project in previous years.

The French nuclear industry is in crisis

The French nuclear industry is in its worst situation ever, former EDF director Gérard Magnin said in November 2016. The French government is selling assets so it can prop up its heavily indebted nuclear utilities Areva and EDF.

The current taxpayer-funded rescue of the nuclear power industry may cost the French state as much as €10bn (US$10.5bn), Reuters reported in January, and in addition to its “dire financial state, Areva is beset by technical, regulatory and legal problems.”

France has 58 operable reactors and just one under construction. French EPR reactors under construction in France and Finland are three times over budget – the combined cost overruns for the two reactors amount to about €12.7bn (US$13.4bn).

Bloomberg noted in April 2015 that Areva’s EPR export ambitions are in tatters. Now Areva itself is in tatters and is in the process of a government-led restructure and another taxpayer-funded bailout.

On March 1, Areva posted a €665m (US$700m) net loss for 2016. Losses in the preceding five years exceeded €10bn (US$10.5 bn). A large majority of a €5bn (US$5.3bn) recapitalisation of Areva scheduled for June 2017 will come from French taxpayers.

On February 14, EDF released its financial figures for 2016: earnings fell 6.7%, revenue declined 5.1%, net income excluding non-recurring items fell 15%, and EDF’s debt remained steady at €37.4bn (US$39.4bn). All that EDF chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy could offer was the hope that EDF would hit the bottom of the cycle in 2017 and rebound next year.

EDF plans to sell €10bn (US$10.5 bn) of assets by 2020 to rein in its debt, and to sack up to 7,000 staff. The French government provided EDF with €3bn (US$3.2bn) in extra capital in 2016 and will contribute €3bn towards a €4bn (US$4.2bn) capital raising this year.

On March 8, shares in EDF hit an all-time low a day after the €4bn capital raising was launched; the stock price fell to €7.78, less than one-tenth of the €86.45 high a decade ago.

Costs of between €50bn and €100bn (US$53-106bn) will need to be spent by 2030 to meet new safety requirements for reactors in France and to extend their operating lives beyond 40 years.

EDF has set aside €23bn (US$24.3bn) to cover reactor decommissioning and waste management costs in France – less than half of the €54bn (US$57bn) that EDF estimates will be required. A recent report by the French National Assembly’s Commission for Sustainable Development and Regional Development concluded that there is “obvious under-provisioning” and that decommissioning and waste management will likely take longer, be more challenging and cost much more than EDF anticipates.

EDF is being forced to take over parts of its struggling sibling Areva’s operations – a fate you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. And just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse for EDF, a fire took hold in the turbine room of one of the Flamanville reactors on February 9 and the reactor will likely be offline until late March at an estimated cost of roughly €1.2m (US$1.27m) per day.

Half of the world’s nuclear industry is in crisis and/or shutting down

Combined, the crisis-ridden US, French and Japanese nuclear industries account for 45% of the world’s ‘operable’ nuclear reactors according to the World Nuclear Association’s database, and they accounted for 50% of nuclear power generation in 2015 (and 57% in 2010).

Countries with crisis-ridden nuclear programs or phase-out policies (e.g. Germany, Belgium, and Taiwan) account for about half of the world’s operable reactors and more than half of worldwide nuclear power generation.

The Era of Nuclear Decommissioning (END)

The ageing of the global reactor fleet isn’t yet a crisis for the industry, but it is heading that way.

The assessment by the ‘Environmental Progress’ lobby group that 151 GW of worldwide nuclear power capacity could be shut down by 2030 is consistent with figures from the World Nuclear Association (132 reactor shut-downs by 2035), the International Energy Agency (almost 200 shut-downs between 2014 and 2040) and Nuclear Energy Insider (up to 200 shut-downs in the next two decades). It looks increasingly unlikely that new reactors will match shut-downs.

Perhaps the best characterisation of the global nuclear industry is that a new era is approaching – the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning (END). Nuclear power’s END will entail:

+ a slow decline in the number of operating reactors (unless growth in China can match the decline elsewhere);

+ an increasingly unreliable and accident-prone reactor fleet as ageing sets in;

+ countless battles over lifespan extensions for ageing reactors;

+ an internationalisation of anti-nuclear opposition as neighbouring countries object to the continued operation of ageing reactors (international opposition to Belgium’s reactors is a case in point);

+ a broadening of anti-nuclear opposition as citizens are increasingly supported by local, regional and national governments opposed to reactors in neighbouring countries (again Belgium is a case in point, as is Lithuanian opposition to reactors under construction in Belarus);

+ many battles over the nature and timing of decommissioning operations;

+ many battles over taxpayer bailouts for companies and utilities that haven’t set aside adequate funding for decommissioning;

+ more battles over proposals to impose nuclear waste repositories on unwilling or divided communities; and

+ battles over taxpayer bailouts for companies and utilities that haven’t set aside adequate funding for nuclear waste disposal.

As discussed in a previous article in The Ecologist, nuclear power is likely to enjoy a small, short-lived upswing in the next couple of years as reactors ordered in the few years before the Fukushima disaster come online. Beyond that, the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning sets in, characterised by escalating battles – and escalating sticker-shock – over lifespan extensions, decommissioning and nuclear waste management.

In those circumstances, it will become even more difficult than it currently is for the industry to pursue new reactor projects. A positive feedback loop could take hold and then the industry will be well and truly in crisis.

Nuclear lobbyists debate possible solutions to the nuclear power crisis

Michael Shellenberger from the Breakthrough Institute argues that a lack of standardisation and scaling partly explains the “crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West”. The constant switching of designs deprives the people who build, operate and regulate nuclear plants of the experience they need to become more efficient.

Shellenberger further argues that there is too much focus on machines, too little on human factors:

“Areva, Toshiba-Westinghouse and others claimed their new designs would be safer and thus, at least eventually, cheaper, but there were always strong reasons to doubt such claims. First, what is proven to make nuclear plants safer is experience, not new designs. …

“In fact, new designs risk depriving managers and workers the experience they need to operate plants more safely, just as it deprives construction companies the experience they need to build plants more rapidly.”

Shellenberger has a three-point rescue plan:

1/ ‘Consolidate or Die’: “If nuclear is going to survive in the West, it needs a single, large firm – the equivalent of a Boeing or Airbus – to compete against the Koreans, Chinese and Russians.”

2/ ‘Standardize or Die’: He draws attention to the “astonishing” heterogeneity of planned reactors in the UK and says the UK “should scrap all existing plans and start from a blank piece of paper”, that all new plants should be of the same design and “the criteria for choosing the design should emphasize experience in construction and operation, since that is the key factor for lowering costs.”

3/ ‘Scale or Die’: Nations “must work together to develop a long-term plan for new nuclear plant construction to achieve economies of scale”, and governments “should invest directly or provide low-cost loans.”

Wrong lessons

Josh Freed and Todd Allen from pro-nuclear lobby group Third Way, and Ted Nordhaus and Jessica Lovering from the Breakthrough Institute, argue that Shellenberger draws the wrong lessons from Toshiba’s recent losses and from nuclear power’s “longer-term struggles” in developed economies.

They argue that “too little innovation, not too much, is the reason that the industry is on life support in the United States and other developed economies”. They state that:

+ The Westinghouse AP1000 represents a fairly straightforward evolution in light-water reactor design, not a radical departure as Shellenberger claims.

+ Standardisation is important but it is not a panacea. Standardisation and building multiple reactors on the same site has limited cost escalation, not brought costs down.

+ Most of the causes of rising cost and construction delays associated with new nuclear builds in the US are attributable to the 30-year hiatus in nuclear construction, not the novelty of the AP1000 design.

+ Reasonable regulatory reform will not dramatically reduce the cost of new light-water reactors, as Shellenberger suggests.

They write this obituary for large light-water reactors: “If there is one central lesson to be learned from the delays and cost overruns that have plagued recent builds in the US and Europe, it is that the era of building large fleets of light-water reactors is over in much of the developed world.

“From a climate and clean energy perspective, it is essential that we keep existing reactors online as long as possible. But slow demand growth in developed world markets makes ten billion dollar, sixty-year investments in future electricity demand a poor bet for utilities, investors, and ratepayers.”

A radical break

The four Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors conclude that “a radical break from the present light-water regime … will be necessary to revive the nuclear industry”. Exactly what that means, the authors said, would be the subject of a follow-up article.

So readers were left hanging – will nuclear power be saved by failed fast-reactor technology, or failed high-temperature gas-cooled reactors including failed pebble-bed reactors, or by thorium pipe-dreams or fusion pipe-dreams or molten salt reactor pipe-dreams or small modular reactor pipe-dreams? Perhaps we’ve been too quick to write off cold fusion?

The answers came in a follow-up article on February 28. The four authors want a thousand flowers to bloom, a bottom-up R&D-led nuclear recovery as opposed to top-down, state-led innovation.

They don’t just want a new reactor type (or types), they have much greater ambitions for innovation in “nuclear technology, business models, and the underlying structure of the sector” and they note that “a radical break from the light water regime that would enable this sort of innovation is not a small undertaking and will require a major reorganization of the nuclear sector.”

To the extent that the four authors want to tear down the existing nuclear industry and replace it with a new one, they share some common ground with nuclear critics who want to tear down the existing nuclear industry and not replace it with a new one.

Shellenberger also shares some common ground with nuclear critics: he thinks the UK should scrap all existing plans for new reactors and start from a blank piece of paper. But nuclear critics think the UK should scrap all existing plans for new reactors and not start from a blank piece of paper.

Small is beautiful?

The four Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors argue that nuclear power must become substantially cheaper – thus ruling out large conventional reactors “operated at high atmospheric pressures, requiring enormous containment structures, multiply redundant back-up cooling systems, and water cooling towers and ponds, which account for much of the cost associated with building light-water reactors.”

Substantial cost reductions will not be possible “so long as nuclear reactors must be constructed on site one gigawatt at a time. … At 10 MW or 100 MW, by contrast, there is ample opportunity for learning by doing and economies of multiples for several reactor classes and designs, even in the absence of rapid demand growth or geopolitical imperatives.”

Other than their promotion of small reactors and their rejection of large ones, the four authors are non-specific about their preferred reactor types. Any number of small-reactor concepts have been proposed.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) have been the subject of much discussion and even more hype. The bottom line is that there isn’t the slightest chance that they will fulfil the ambition of making nuclear power “substantially cheaper” unless and until a manufacturing supply chain is established at vast expense.

And even then, it’s doubtful whether the power would be cheaper and highly unlikely that it would be substantially cheaper. After all, economics has driven the long-term drift towards larger reactors.

As things stand, no country, company or utility has any intention of betting billions on building an SMR supply chain. The prevailing scepticism is evident in a February 2017 Lloyd’s Register report based on “insights and opinions of leaders across the sector” and the views of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers.

The Lloyd’s Register report states that the potential contribution of SMRs “is unclear at this stage, although its impact will most likely apply to smaller grids and isolated markets.” Respondents predicted that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”.

The Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors are promoting small reactors because of the spectacular failure of a number of large reactor projects, but that’s hardly a recipe for success. An analysis of SMRs in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists sums up the problems:

“Without a clear-cut case for their advantages, it seems that small nuclear modular reactors are a solution looking for a problem. Of course in the world of digital innovation, this kind of upside-down relationship between solution and problem is pretty normal. Smart phones, Twitter, and high-definition television all began as solutions looking for problems.

“In the realm of nuclear technology, however, the enormous expense required to launch a new model as well as the built-in dangers of nuclear fission require a more straightforward relationship between problem and solution. Small modular nuclear reactors may be attractive, but they will not, in themselves, offer satisfactory solutions to the most pressing problems of nuclear energy: high cost, safety, and weapons proliferation.”

Small or large reactors, consolidation or innovation, Generation 2/3/4 reactors … it’s not clear that the nuclear industry will be able to recover – however it responds to its current crisis.


Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter, where a longer version of this article was originally published. jim.green@foe.org.au

Nuclear Monitor, published 20 times a year, has been publishing deeply researched, often critical articles on all aspects of the nuclear cycle since 1978.

March 14, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment