Another radioactive water leak in the sea has been detected at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the facility’s operator TEPCO announced. Contamination levels in the gutter reportedly spiked up 70 times over regular readings.
The sensors are connected to the gutter that pours rain and ground water from the plant to a bay adjacent to the facility.
The levels of contamination were between 50 and 70 times higher than Fukushima’s already elevated radioactive status, and were detected at about 10 am local time (1.00 am GMT), AFP reported.
After the discovery, the gutter was blocked to prevent leaks to the Pacific Ocean.
Throughout Sunday, contamination levels fell, but still measured 10 to 20 times more than prior to the leak.
“We are currently monitoring the sensors at the gutter and seeing the trend,” a company spokesman said.
He did not specify the cause of the leak.
It has proved difficult for TEPCO to deal with plant decommissioning. Postponed deadlines and alarming incidents occur regularly at the facility.
Earlier this week, the UN nuclear watchdog (IAEA) said Japan had made significant progress, but there is still a radioactive threat, and a “very complex” scenario at Fukushima.
About a month ago, TEPCO announced it would miss their toxic water cleanup deadline, suspending it until the end of May, after earlier pledges it would be done by March.
The UK government has refused to reveal whether the National Security Council approved or discussed China’s investment in a proposed £24.5 billion nuclear power plant in the UK, Hinkley Point C, citing “national security.”
Despite a BBC Freedom of Information request for information regarding China’s expected 30-40 percent stake in the new nuclear site in southwest England, the government denied further disclosure.
Cabinet Office official Roger Smethurst told the BBC: “There is a general public interest in disclosure of information and I recognize that openness in government may increase public trust in and engagement with the government. There is a definite public interest in members of the public being able to understand decisions taken on investment in critical national infrastructure.”
“I have weighed these public interests against a very strong public interest in safeguarding national security.”
The National Security Council’s job is to review and debate foreign investment projects and then to approve or deny them.
Derek Smith, head of communications for the NSC, told the BBC: “The government has put in place an approach which enables it to assess the risks associated with foreign investment and develop strategies to manage them.”
“The NSC brings together the economic and security arms of the government and is the forum that ultimately balances the risks and opportunities of inward investment decisions.”
In June last year, the government announced the civil nuclear agreement signed by the UK and China, which could be “worth hundreds of millions of pounds to British companies over several years.” This paved the way for Chinese companies to invest in Hinkley Point C.
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said at the time: “China and the UK stand united in our plans for more collaborative working that will help to achieve long lasting energy security in our own countries.”
The plant would be the first overseas venture for the China General Nuclear Power Corp.
Meanwhile, the French nuclear power developer EDF is expected to sign an investment agreement with Chinese partners for the new reactor at Hinkley Point by the end of March, to secure investment for the project.
According to the World Nuclear Association, the UK has 16 operational reactors generating around 18 percent of the country’s electricity. All but one of these will be retired by 2023.
China is reportedly negotiating plans to build four new reactors in Turkey. One-third of the nuclear reactors currently under construction worldwide are in China.
The nuclear plant is not the only UK energy project that China co-finances. The state-owned China General Nuclear Corporation is reportedly prepared to pay £100 million for an 80 percent stake in three UK wind farms.
Tens of thousands have marched in anti-nuclear protests across Taiwan, calling on the government to phase out nuclear energy. The protest comes ahead of the third anniversary of the Fukishima disaster.
Anti-nuclear protesters in Taiwan held four rallies across the country on Saturday, urging the government both to stop construction of a new nuclear power plant and to abandon nuclear power altogether.
Organizers said some 50,000 people attended the protest march and rally in the capital, Taipei, while three other events held simultaneously in other parts of the country drew a combined total of some 30,000.
The Taipei protest was attended by members both of opposition parties and the ruling Kuomintang (KMT).
Concern about the risks posed by Taiwan’s atomic power plants has been growing since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami unleashed a nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant on March 11, 2011.
Taiwan is also regularly hit by earthquakes, raising fears that its currently three nuclear facilities may be similarly vulnerable.
Protesters called on the government to cease construction work on a fourth plant that is being built in a coastal town near Taipei. The plant was originally scheduled to be completed by 2004, but the project has been delayed by political wrangling.
Several polls conducted last year showed that about 70 percent of Taiwanese oppose the building of the plant, which is situated near undersea volcanoes.
The existing plants furnish about 20 percent of the country’s energy needs.
South Korea’s largest power plant has shut down one of its reactors as concerns over safety in the country’s nuclear industry linger on, reports say.
The reactor, one of six in Yeonggwang nuclear complex in the southwest, was closed on Wednesday, AFP quoted a spokesman of the Korea Hydro and Power Co. as saying.
“The cause of the stoppage is as yet unknown and investigations are underway. We don’t know when it will resume operations,” the spokesman said, assuring there was no threat of radiation leak.
The developments come as the nation’s nuclear plants have been grappling with ongoing problems due to the use of substandard parts in the a number of nuclear reactors over the past decade.
In 2012, the government announced that at least eight providers were found to have fake safety tests.
Officials at the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission immediately launched a probe into the scandal, an act which led to the closure of two nuclear reactors in in the same year.
In May 2013, two other reactors went offline. The commission also deferred starting operations at two more reactors, stating that the reactors would not resume their operations until the substandard parts were replaced.
South Korea has 23 nuclear reactors which provide a third of the country’s total electricity.
- Another South Korea nuclear reactor shuts down (straitstimes.com)
- S Korea’s Asiana to cancel Fukushima flights (channelnewsasia.com)
- In North Asia, a growing crisis of confidence in nuclear power (reuters.com)
- Scandal in South Korea Over Nuclear Revelations (nuclear-news.net)
The case of the failure of Mexico’s Laguna Verde Nuclear Plant, nestled on the jagged Veracruz seacoast, reveals the need to nix nukes and fortify public right-to-know mechanisms.
With Latin American countries still turned off to nuclear power two years after Japan’s monumental Fukushima meltdowns dispersed radioactive fallout across the ocean to them, events inside a similar facility in Mexico have fueled mounting skepticism over the potential for developing the energy technology.
Fissures, leaks, shutdowns, government secrecy, a failed upgrade, alleged bid-rigging and contract fraud at Mexico’s lone atomic power station, the state-run Laguna Verde Nuclear Plant, were vetted during the 9th Regional Congress on Radiation Protection and Safety held in Rio de Janeiro in April.
The audience of Latin American experts eager to share the information at the professional association forum starred scientists from Argentina and Brazil, which also have nuclear power plants, as well as from Venezuela, Chile and Cuba, which had made tentative moves toward establishing atomic energy stations before the Fukushima catastrophe stymied aspirations.
The irregularities at Laguna Verde came to light thanks to a courageous group of anonymous high-level employees inside the power plant and to the public information requests by their spokesperson, Mexico’s National Autonomous University Physics Professor Bernardo Salas Mar, a former plant employee and valiant whistleblower.
Some of Salas Mar’s most recent research was accepted at the International Radiation Protection Association congress in Brazil, but his university did not provide him with travel expenses to attend in person.
Salas faces high-level attempts to have him fired as a result of his persistent efforts to make public his discoveries of dangerous faults and cover-ups at the Laguna Verde plant. But Salas’ achievements speak for themselves. Were it not for his ceaseless hammering on the doors of the 10-year-old Federal Information Access Institute (IFAI), perhaps no one ever would have known about the latest incidents at Laguna Verde until it was too late.
Based on his freedom-of-information requests to the institute, Salas and Laguna Verde’s own technicians revealed in an April 19 letter to President Enrique Peña Nieto that Mexico has been defrauded to the tune of more than a half-billion dollars by the international companies that won the bid for the federal contract to uprate the two reactors at the plant located near the Caribbean port of Veracruz.
“Uprating” is industry jargon for boosting the capacity of nuclear reactors so they can generate more electricity.
The letter to the President alleges the Federal Electricity Commission purposely botched the bid letting by omitting the usual requirement for a contractor to abide by the Review Standard for Extended Power Uprates. Apparently the CFD did this to favor the Spanish company Iberdrola Ingenería and the French company Alstom Mexico, which lacked the capability to carry out the changes to the nuclear steam supply system according to standard specifications.
Employees in key positions at Laguna Verde had alerted the two previous presidential administrations to the issue as far back as 2006, communicating their “worry over the capacity-boosting work contemplated for this nuclear plant, considering it to be unreliable, risky and overpriced,” according to the letter. Still Iberdrola and Alstom got the $605-million contract to increase the plant’s power output by 20 percent.
Iberdrola announced the successful conclusion of the five-year, $605-million modernization project in February, noting that it overhauled equipment dating back to 1990, in the project that created more than 2,000 jobs.
The president of Alstom in Mexico, Cintia Angulo, was arrested a week after the announcement of the upgrade conclusion on charges of giving false testimony in an unrelated French case of non-payment.
However, the more spectacular fraud for both firms will prove to be the Mexican uprate contract, which not only failed to accomplish the goal of boosting Laguna Verde’s power output, but also left the reactors in worse condition than before, Salas and employees charge.
The Federal Electricity Commission responded to Salas’ inquiries, saying that Reactor Unit 2 would be operating at 100 percent of planned output in April and Unit 1 would be at 100 percent in May.
Nonetheless, after further information requests, Salas revealed that the National Nuclear Safety Commission has denied both reactors the licenses to operate at higher output in the aftermath of the contract, due precisely to the fact that the guidelines for the nuclear steam supply system were not followed.
Employees say the failure to follow the guidelines during the uprate cracked the jet pumps that inject the water to the core of the General Electric boiling water reactors, the same kind that melted down due to a generator system crash at Fukushima.
“The situation of the reactors is not serious yet, but operating with fissures could cause a major problem to the extent that it could endanger national security. (Remember Fukushima and Chernobyl.)” the letter to President Peña Nieto says. The employees consider it “risky and unacceptable for both reactors to continue operating with the fissures that have been encountered.”
Simultaneous suspension of operations at both reactors in September 2012 and related confusing news releases, some blaming the pump fissures, caused alarm in the communities around the installation.
Authorities first said a diesel generator breakdown was at fault for the interruption in service of one reactor, while fuel-cell restocking was the reason for a stoppage at the other.
The next day they said a clogged seawater intake was part of the reason for removing both reactors from service. An escape of hydrogen gas from a condenser was posited. And finally, officials stated to the public that the fissures in both reactors’ water pumps were to blame.
Government secrecy about details surrounding the event accentuated longstanding worries in the population near the plant. The fear of accidents and serious concerns over the ongoing situation was highlighted by an NGO’s court appeal arguing that people should be exempted from paying their light bills due to the fact that their civil rights had been violated by the lack of safety measures and accountability at Laguna Verde.
In response to Salas’ information requests, the Energy Secretariat, in charge of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) and the National Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSNS), said it didn’t have the answers to his questions.
Its commissions presented incongruous replies. The vagueness of the answers provided by the Federal Electricity Commission prompted the researcher to appeal to the IFAI to require revised responses.
After his second round of questioning, he was able to deduce that the cooling water intake channel had indeed filled with sediment and it had been dredged, so it did not present a hazard and did not cause the reactor operations’ interruption.
He also then could determine that the hydrogen had been released from the ductwork into the cooling water of the main generator, during the month of August. While the amount of gas was unknown, the escape was not to the atmosphere, and neither presented a danger nor was cause for halting operations.
The CSNSNS responded that the diesel generator failed when a piston stuck due to lack of lubrication resulting from a bearing problem on Sept. 12. The event did not endanger life and limb, according to Salas.
Simultaneous reloading of fuel cells at both reactors was the most likely reason for the concurrent stalling, Salas concluded after the numerous freedom-of-information requests.
While the main present dangers appear to be the fractures in the cores’ water pumps, a Jan. 11, 2013 scram (emergency reactor shutdown) remains to be inspected under the looking glass of the IFAI.
The institute created by decree in 2002 has provided important tools for shedding light on the machinations of the nuclear plant, among other formerly opaque federal operations.
Yet, as this case underscores, IFAI should strengthen its own processes in order to avoid the kind of inconsistent and self-belying responses that ensnared this most recent of many investigations into the lack of security at Laguna Verde.
Even so, that won’t protect the population from the specter of accidents or deteriorating health and safety in the advent of air and water pollution from the facility, which is located on a part of the coast with only poorly maintained roads to offer escape routes.
If Peña Nieto and company are to be more responsive to community needs than their predecessors, one way to show good intentions would be to comply with demands for conducting an emergency public evacuation drill, something that never has been done in the history of the 17-year-old nuclear plant. Another would be to take the irresponsible parties to court to establish accountability.
- A sad week for the nuclear industry: 6 reactors to go
- Nuclear station insider says San Onofre should stay closed
- Fukushima decommissioning to last for up to 40 years – IAEA
- Potential Cost Of A Nuclear Accident? So High It’s A Secret!
- ‘Irreparable’ safety issues: All US nuclear reactors should be taken out of commission
A proposal in the U.S. Senate has advocates concerned that Illinois could become a leading contender for storing nuclear waste from around the nation.
The discussion draft of a Senate bill released April 25 and open for public comment until May 24 launches a process to create a “centralized interim storage” site (CIS) for nuclear waste that is currently stored at reactors nationwide.
And a June 2012 study [PDF] by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory using spatial modeling suggests that northern Illinois would be among the top possibilities.
Many nuclear energy critics oppose the concept of centralized interim storage, saying that the long-distance transport of nuclear waste to such sites would pose serious risks, and that interim storage sites could become financial and safety burdens especially if a long-term waste repository is never created.
“It would be a radioactive waste shell game on roads, rails and waterways,” said Kevin Kamps of the Maryland-based watchdog group Beyond Nuclear, talking by teleconference with anti-nuclear activists in Chicago gathered at the Nuclear Energy Information Service office last week. “We could have de facto permanent parking lot dumps.”
The draft bill, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013, is meant to carry out the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future [PDF], convened by the Department of Energy in 2010. Sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the bill deals with various nuclear waste issues including, centralized interim storage.
Public comments are also being accepted on additions proposed by Feinstein and Alexander specifically regarding centralized interim storage.
“There is no question that Illinois generally and Chicago specifically would see a high volume of [nuclear waste] traffic if the nation opts for centralized interim storage facilities,” said Dave Kraft, executive director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service in Chicago. “We’re not merely at risk, we’re the bullseye.”
A ‘flawed plan’?
Currently most nuclear waste is stored on-site at plants, in the form of rods housed either in dry casks or pools. Critics say the pools pose serious potential danger in the case of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or accident, including a loss of electric power.
Kamps and other nuclear watchdogs advocate improving waste storage at the site of nuclear plants, including removing fuel rods from pools and storing them in dry casks.
“Waste needs to stay as close to the point of origin as possible, as safely as possible,” said Kamps. “There is no easy answer.”
Eventually, Kamps and other activists want to see a long-term storage site created in a geologically and geographically appropriate place. That was the idea behind the proposed long-term repository at Yucca Mountain, but that plan collapsed in the face of political opposition and complaints that it was not a suitable location.
Many industry critics see the interim storage plan pushed forth in the draft bill as a distraction, rather than a step in the process of finding a satisfactory long-term repository.
In a statement about the draft bill, the national watchdog group Public Citizen stated it “does little to correct the fundamental flaws in our country’s approach to nuclear waste management…Consolidated interim storage is an old plan that didn’t work when it was first introduced 30 years ago, or any of the myriad times it’s been proposed, because it does nothing to address broader storage and disposal issues.”
But Feinstein, in a statement released by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the bill “establishes a desperately needed nuclear waste policy, employing a consent-based approach that will expedite waste removal from at-risk locations and decommissioned plants.”
While Yucca Mountain appears to be off the table, government and industry actors have long been exploring the idea of long-term storage at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River, South Carolina site or at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico, where defense industry radioactive waste is currently stored.
The push for centralized interim storage is driven in part by the risks and public concerns posed by waste stored onsite at reactors. Sen. Wyden’s constituents are particularly concerned about risk from nuclear plants along the Columbia River, including the closed-down Hanford site upstream in Washington.
The Blue Ribbon Commission’s January 2012 report proposed legislative changes which are enshrined in the proposed act. The commission noted that under current law one interim storage facility can be built, and only after a long-term repository is licensed. A similar provision was included in the 2012 Nuclear Waste Administration Act, which did not pass. The current proposal calls for multiple interim sites to potentially be built, and does not require a long-term repository be in the pipeline.
The discussion draft of the bill lays out a process for choosing a site, including creating evaluation criteria for sites, holding public hearings and “solicit[ing] states and communities to volunteer sites,” as noted in a Department of Energy summary. Sen. Alexander called for additions to the draft including a requirement the government issue a request for proposals for pilot storage sites within 180 days.
The Oak Ridge study includes various maps with proposed storage locations based on different factors including population along routes and transportation distance. In every scenario, northern Illinois is a likely contender.
The bill notes that consent from local officials, communities and Native American tribes is mandatory; and that any plan must be approved by Congress. Kamps said, however, that the definition of consent is vague, and the industry is known to have much influence with Congress.
“At least there’s some talk of consent,” he said. “But nuclear power is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.”
The bill would also create a new federal agency, the Nuclear Waste Administration, that would take responsibility for the waste. Utilities with nuclear plants would continue paying into a capital fund meant to finance nuclear waste storage. Currently, about $765 million annually is paid into the fund, according to the Nuclear Energy Information Service.
However, if no long-term repository is identified by 2025, utilities could be released from the capital fund obligation.
In Kamps’ words, this means that “[utility] ratepayers and taxpayers, otherwise known as the American people,” will be paying for the waste storage for many years to come.
“The nuclear industry has a few lawyers on its team,” Kamps said. “If they can get out of paying into the capital fund, I think they will.”
- Hanford nuclear waste tanks at risk of explosion (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Congress needs to focus on how nuclear waste is stored now (thehill.com)
Industry leaders will have no problem closing nuclear reactors that don’t generate expected profits. Exelon, the Chicago-based company that owns 17 of the 104 U.S. reactors, recently saw its stock price drop below $30 a share, the same level as mid-2003, and a whopping 70% below its peak of over $92 a share in mid-2008.
The standard explanation for this reversal is cost. In particular, electricity from growing natural gas and wind sources costs less to produce than that from nuclear reactors. The famous 1954 promise by Atomic Energy Commission head Lewis Strauss that the atom would create energy “too cheap to meter” has failed miserably. But while cost is the reason why utilities will be closing reactors, most reports fail to look beneath the surface and understand WHY nukes are so expensive.
The answer is that nuclear power poses great danger to safety and health. This danger means that reactors must comply with numerous safety regulations; must be built with many safety features; and must be manned by a large and highly trained work force – each a high-ticket item. In addition, the fleet of 104 U.S. reactors in operation is aging – most over 30 years old – requiring that corroding parts be replaced, pushing costs even higher.
Another element in the high cost of nukes won’t be faced until they are decommissioned (after closing). Decommissioning costs run hundreds of millions of dollars per reactor. Utilities are forced by federal law to keep a large decommissioning fund while operating reactors, to prevent them from simply closing reactors, not securing them, and sticking taxpayers with the bill.
Even with all these extensive and expensive efforts to protect the public, nukes still aren’t safe. The chance of a meltdown exists every day, from human error, natural disaster, or terrorist act. The disasters at Chernobyl in 1986 and at Fukushima last year remind us that catastrophic meltdowns that affect thousands to millions are a sobering reality. In addition to meltdowns, there is the matter of routine emissions from reactors and elevated cancer rates near reactors, demonstrated in many studies. Finally, the U. S. and other nations still have no long-term plans to store the massive amounts of hazardous nuclear waste.
Dominion Nuclear recently announced that the Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin will permanently shut down in the spring. This action is a milestone. Not only will this be the first U.S. reactor closed since 1998, but it will likely be followed by numerous other shutdowns. An October 23 New York Times article was headlined “Reactors Face Mothballs.”
Kewaunee’s closing also represents a turning point. For over a decade, nuclear leaders steadily proclaimed an era of a revival, after years of no growth. But the word “renaissance” has vanished, and nuclear power is now in full retreat.
So which reactors will join Kewaunee and be the next to close? Nobody knows for sure, but there are a number of reactors that are faring poorly, and are candidates for shutdown:
- Crystal River (Florida), closed for over three years, needs considerable funds to replace defective parts
– San Onofre (California, two reactors), closed for nearly one year due to faulty steam generators, will require millions to repair.
– Oyster Creek (New Jersey), which must shut down by 2019, may close sooner according to Exelon executives who cite costs and market forces
– Vermont Yankee (Vermont), up for sale (and like Kewaunee with no buyers), along with stiff opposition from local citizens and elected officials
– Clinton (Illinois), another Exelon reactor, has been hit hard by cheaper alternatives
– Indian Point (New York, two reactors), faced considerable citizen and political opposition ever since a plane hijacked by terrorists on 9/11 flew directly over it on its way to the World Trade Center.
This autumn has been the worst period for U.S. nuclear reactors in a long time. Hurricane Sandy caused six reactors to close temporarily, while others were shut to change fuel, and others closed due to mechanical problems. From mid-October to late November, U.S. reactors operated at just 70-75% of capacity, down sharply from the 90% figure of the past decade.
Shrinking nuclear power is even more pronounced overseas. In Japan, nearly two years after Fukushima, only 2 of 54 reactors are operating, and the majority of Japanese are fiercely opposed to restarting any reactors. Soon after Fukushima, governments in Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland announced plans to phase out nuclear power, and Germany has already closed half a dozen reactors.
The business troubles facing reactors are nothing new – historical construction costs far exceeded original estimates, and Wall Street executives stopped lending money for new reactors in the 1970s. Fewer reactors will mean reduced threats to health but also reduced costs – proving what’s good for the environment is also good for business.
Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, is an epidemiologist, and Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project (www.radiation.org).
Janette Sherman, MD is an internist and toxicologist. (www.janettesherman.com).
- ‘A huge setback for, if not the end of, the American nuclear renaissance’ (alethonews)
- EDF Falls in Paris on Rising Costs for Normandy Nuclear Reactor – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Even France can’t build a nuclear reactor economically, and in the planned time (nuclear-news.net)
- South Korea Shuts Down 2 Nuclear Reactors (blogs.voanews.com)
Chinese and French investors have dealt a blow to the British nuclear projects pulling out of a bid for buying a company that will be constructing two nuclear power reactors in Britain.
French nuclear engineering group Areva said it is no longer interested in buying into Horizon Nuclear Power that was supposed to build Wylfa reactor in Wales and Oldbury reactor in Gloucestershire.
Areva added that its Chinese partner the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPC) has also withdrawn its bid for the contract.
“Areva and CGNPC have suspended their interest in the planned sale of Horizon Nuclear Power and did not submit a bid,” an Areva spokeswoman said.
The news is a blow to the British government as Areva has the latest technology in line with European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) regulations needed for the project.
The withdrawals come amid other reports that another Chinese company China National Nuclear Power Corporation, which is the main backer of a US engineering group also bidding for the contract, is no more interested in the project.
The situation leaves London with a single bidder that is a consortium led by the Japanese Hitachi.
Horizon Nuclear Power was formerly run by German utilities E. ON and RWE that suddenly announced they want to drop out of their contracts on a short deadline last week.
- United Kingdom: British nuclear plans suffer blow as Chinese investors pull out (guardian.co.uk)
- New UK nuclear power station plans suffer setback (guardian.co.uk)
- AREVA drops out of race for Britain’s Horizon nuclear project after 3 months (enformable.com)
Germany’s environment minister has admitted that the government faces an uphill climb if it is to achieve the targets it has set out for reducing carbon emissions while simultaneously stopping nuclear energy production.
Germany’s environment minister raised eyebrows on Sunday by conceding that some of the targets that are part of the government’s policy of phasing out the use of nuclear energy, while at the same time cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, may not be achievable.
“It has to be questioned whether we’ll really succeed in reducing electricity use by 10 per cent by 2020,” Peter Altmaier said in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
“If we are going to somehow achieve this, it will take tremendous effort, ” he said.
Altmaier also admitted that the government had a long way to go in efforts to convince a large number of Germans to switch from vehicles powered by internal combustion engines to electric cars.
There may be “significantly fewer” electric cars on the road by 2020 than the government had previously assumed, the minister said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition had previously said that it was on track to put a million electric cars on the road by 2020. Official figures put that number at just over 4,500 at the start of 2012.
Rising consumer costs a possibility
Altmaier also warned of the danger of rising energy costs for consumers.
“If we aren’t careful, the energy reforms could develop into a social problem,” he said, admitting that in efforts to replace nuclear energy with renewables, “the question of energy affordability had been overlooked.”
He also said that turning off a number of nuclear plants meant that power shortages could not be ruled out in the coming winter.
“Last winter there were a few critical moments, which we have learned from,” he said, adding that preparations were underway to ensure this doesn’t happened again. … Full article
- German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier – ‘We Can’t Allow Electricity To Become A Luxury’ (freeinternetpress.com)
The Folly of Nuclear Drones and Other Mad Schemes
The crash last week of a U.S. drone on the Seychelles Islands—the second crash of a U.S. drone on Seychelles in four months—underlines the deadly folly of a plan of U.S. national laboratory scientists and the Northrop Grumman Corp. for nuclear-powered drones.
The drone that “bounced a few times on the runway” at Seychelles International Airport on April 4 “before ending” up in the sea, according to a statement from the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority, was conventionally powered. So was the drone which had a similar accident on Seychelles in December. From the Indian Ocean island nation the U.S. flies drones over Somalia and over waters off East Africa looking for pirates.
But the use of nuclear power on U.S. drones was “favorably assessed by scientists at Sandia National Laboratories and the Northrop Grumman Corp.,” revealed Steven Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists.
Their report said that “technology and systems designs evaluated… have previously never been applied to unmanned air vehicles” and “use of these technologies” could provide “system performance unparalleled by existing technologies.” It acknowledged, however, that “current political conditions will not allow use of the results.” Thus “it is doubtful that they will be used in the near-term or mid-term future.”
Just consider if the two drones which crashed on the Seychelles used nuclear power—and the impacts if the radioactive fuel they contained was released. […] Drones, not too incidentally, have a record of frequently crashing.
The nuclear-powered drone scheme is ostensibly not going anywhere now—because of “current political considerations.” But other schemes to use nuclear power overhead—which also threaten nuclear disaster—are on the planning table and some are moving ahead.
- A new U.S. Air Force plan which supports “nuclear powered flight.” Titled Energy Horizons, issued in January, it states that “nuclear energy has been demonstrated on several satellite systems” and “this source provides consistent power…at a much higher energy and power density than current technologies.” It does admit that “the implementation of such a technology should be weighed heavily against potential catastrophic outcomes.” Indeed, the worst accident involving a U.S. space nuclear system occurred with the fall to Earth in 1964 of a satellite powered by an RTG, the SNAP-9A. It failed to achieve orbit and fell to Earth, disintegrating upon hitting the atmosphere causing its Plutonium-238 fuel to be dispersed as dust widely over the Earth. Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California, Berkeley, long linked the SNAP-9A accident to a global rise in lung cancer. The Air Force report sees nuclear power as an energy source that would assist it in taking the “ultimate high ground” which would provide it with “access to every part of the globe including denied areas.”
- “A ground-breaking Russian nuclear space travel propulsion system will be ready by 2017 and will power a ship capable of long-haul interplanetary missions by 2025,” the Russian state news agency, Ria Novosti, reported last week. The April 3 article, headlined “Plutonium to Pluto: Russian nuclear space travel breakthrough,” said, “The megawatt-class nuclear drive will function for up to three years and produce 100-150 kilowatts of energy at normal capacity.” It is “under development at Skolkovo, Russia’s technology innovation hub, where nuclear cluster head Dennis Kovalevich confirmed the breakthrough.” It said, “Scientists expect to start putting the new engine through its paces in operational tests as early as 2014.” Earlier, Ria Novosti reported that the director of Roscosmos , the Russian space agency, believes the “development of megawatt-class nuclear power systems for manned spacecraft was crucial if Russia wanted to maintain a competitive edge in the space race, including the exploration of the moon and Mars.” It also said the Russian rocket company, Energia, is “ready to design a space-based nuclear power station with a service life of 10-to-15 years, to be initially placed on the moon or Mars.” The worst accident involving a Soviet or Russian nuclear space system was the fall from orbit in 1978 of the Cosmos 954 satellite powered by a nuclear reactor. It also broke up in the atmosphere spreading radioactive debris which scattered over 77,000 square miles of the Northwest Territories of Canada.
- The U.S. is moving again to produce Plutonium-238 for space use. In recent years, the U.S. stopped making Plutonium-238. It is 270 times more radioactive than the more commonly known Plutonium-239, used as fuel in atomic bombs, and thus its manufacture has resulted in significant radioactive pollution. Instead, it obtained Plutonium-238 from Russia. RTGs powered by Plutonium-238 had been used by the U.S. as a source of electricity on satellites—as the Energy Horizons report noted. But that was until the SNAP-9A accident which caused a turn to generating electricity with solar photovoltaic panels. Now all satellites are powered by solar panels, as is the International Space Station. But RTGs using Plutonium-238 have remained a source of on board electricity for space probes such as Cassini which NASA launched to Saturn in 1999. The Department of Energy plans to produce Plutonium-238 at both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory. “Over the next two years, Oak Ridge National Laboratory will carry out a $20 million pilot project to demonstrate the lab’s ability to produce and process Plutonium-238 for use in the space program,” reported the Knoxville News Sentinel last month.
- The U.S. is also developing nuclear-powered rockets. NASA Director Charles Bolden, a former astronaut and U.S. Marine Corps major general, is a booster of a design of a Houston-based company, Ad Astra, of which another former astronaut, Franklin Chang-Diaz, is president and chief executive officer. “He launched Ad Astra after he retired from NASA in 2005, but the company continues a close association with the U.S. space agency,” the U.S. government’s Voice of America noted in its article on the project last year. The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket or VASMIR could be energized by solar power but, the article relates, “Chang-Diaz says replacing solar panels with a nuclear reactor would provide the necessary power to VASMIR for a much faster trip.” It quotes him as saying “we could do a mission to Mars that would take about 39 days, one way.” And, although “such a mission is still many years away, Chang-Diaz says his rocket could be used much sooner for missions to the International Space Station or to retrieve or position satellites in Earth orbit.”
Challenging what is going on is the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the group, comments:
“Who can deny that the nuclear power industry isn’t working overtime to spread its deadly product onto every possible military application? The recent disclosure that the Pentagon has been strongly considering sticking nuclear engines on-board drones is dangerously ‘more of the same.’”
“Nuclear-powered devices flying around on drones or on-board rockets that frequently blow up on launch is pure insanity,” says Gagnon. “The people need to push back hard.”
What is happening has deep roots. A key rationale by Sandia and Northrop Grumman for nuclear-powered drones was, as the British newspaper, The Guardian, reported last week, long—very long—flight times. “American scientists have drawn up plans for a new generation of nuclear-powered drones capable of flying over remote regions of the world for months on end without refueling,” it reported. The same rationale, noted Gagnon, was behind the U.S. development in the 1940s and 50s of nuclear-propelled bombers.
The strategy was for these nuclear-powered bombers to stay up in the air for extensive periods of time. There would thus be no need to scramble crews and have bombers take off to drop nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union—they’d already be airborne waiting for the command. The Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft or NEPA project was begun in 1946 and involved the conversion of two B-36 bombers for nuclear propulsion. The first operation of an aircraft engine using nuclear power occurred in 1956. The U.S. national laboratories—a string of facilities that got their start in the crash program to build atomic weapons, the Manhattan Project—were integral to the scheme. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, then run by the since disbanded U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, did much of the research work. Much of the testing was done at what is now Idaho National Laboratory where today two nuclear aircraft engines are on public display and there is also still remaining a gargantuan hangar built for nuclear aircraft. General Electric was a major contractor.
The plan for nuclear-powered bombers was finally scuttled because of the problem of providing heavy lead shielding to protect the crew from radiation and, as then U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told Congress in 1961, an atomic airplane would “expel some fraction of radioactive fission products into the atmosphere, creating an important public relations problem if not an actual physical hazard.”
A subsequent program linking nuclear power and weapons was the Star Wars program under President Ronald Reagan. It was “predicated,” as Gagnon notes, “on nuclear power in space.” Reactors and also a “Super RTG” to be built by General Electric were to provide the energy on orbiting battle platforms for lasers, hypervelocity guns and particle beam weapons.
In my book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet,” and TV documentary, Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens, I noted the 1988 declaration of Lt. General James Abramson, first head of the Strategic Defense Initiative, that “without reactors in orbit [there is] going to be a long, long light cord that goes down to the surface of Earth” bringing up power. He stated: “Failure to develop nuclear power in space could cripple efforts to deploy anti-missile sensors and weapons in orbit.”
As to nuclear-propelled rockets, the U.S. has a long history of seeking to build them from the 1950s onward. There was a program called Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application or NERVA followed by Projects Pluto, Rover and Poodle. And in the 1980s, the Timberwind nuclear-powered rocket was developed to loft heavy Star Wars equipment into space and also for trips to Mars. Most recently, the Project Prometheus program to build nuclear-powered rockets was begun by NASA in 2003. Through the years there have been major concerns over a nuclear rocket blowing up on launch or crashing back to Earth.
The Soviet Union, Russia, conducted a parallel space nuclear program—including nuclear-powered satellites, development of a nuclear bomber and nuclear-powered rockets.
Now, meanwhile, nuclear power above our heads has been shown as unnecessary.
NASA has persisted in using Plutonium-238-powered RTGs on space probes claiming there was no choice. But last year it launched the Juno space probe which is now on its way to Jupiter—getting all its on-board electricity only from solar photovoltaic panels. It’s to arrive in 2016 and make 32 orbits around Jupiter and perform a variety of scientific missions. As NASA stated last week on its website for Juno: “As of April 4, Juno was approximately209 million miles from Earth… The Juno spacecraft is in excellent health.” This is despite NASA claiming for decades that only nuclear power could provide on-board power in deep space.
Likewise, the European Space Agency in 2004 launched a space probe it calls Rosetta, also using solar energy rather than nuclear power for on-board electricity. It is to rendezvous in 2014 with a comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and send out a lander which will investigate the comet’s surface. At that point it will be 500 million miles from the Sun, a small ball in the sky at that distance, yet Rosetta will still be harvesting solar energy.
As to propulsion in space, a highly promising energy source are the ionized particles in space that can be utilized in the frictionless environment with what are being called solar sails.
In May 2010, the Japan Exploration Agency launched an experimental spacecraft, Ikaros, that seven months later reached Venus—propelled only by its solar sail. The Planetary Society is readying a similar mission using a spacecraft named LightSail-1 powered by solar sails and planning for two more ambitious solar sail flights of LightSail-2 and LightSail-3.
These missions do not present threats to life on Earth—as does the use of nuclear power overhead. And the threats of nuclear power overhead can be enormous. For example, consider the projection in NASA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission about the impacts if there were an “inadvertent reentry” of Cassini into Earth’s atmosphere during one of its two “flybys”—whips around the Earth but a few hundred miles high to increase its velocity so it could get to Saturn. If it fell to Earth, broke up in the atmosphere and its 72.3 pounds of Plutonium-238 were released, “5 billion… of the world population… could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure,” projected NASA.
Moreover, the production of nuclear fuel on Earth for use in space—or in the atmosphere for drones—constitutes danger, too. Facilities that had been used earlier by the U.S. to produce Plutonium-238, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Mound Laboratory, ended up as hotspots for worker contamination and radioactive pollution.
James Powell, executive director of the organization Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, which has been opposing the restart of Plutonium-238 production at nearby Idaho National Laboratory, comments: “Aside from the looming danger of nuclear powered craft above Earth, we should also realize that the nuclear material is to be produced in our backyards with 1960′s era nuclear reactors and then transported back and forth from [Oak Ridge National Laboratory in] Tennessee to Idaho. Every single part of this process deeply concerns us.”
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet (Common Courage Press) and wrote and presented the TV program Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens (www.envirovideo.com). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.
- The Toxic Crash of Phobos-Grunt (alethonews.wordpress.com)
A year after the nuclear catastrophe began at the Fukushima Daiichi station in Japan, the world has a historic chance to put an end to one of the biggest frauds ever played on the global public to promote a patently unsafe, accident-prone, expensive and centralised form of energy generation based upon splitting the uranium atom to produce heat, boil water, and spin a turbine. Candidly, that’s what nuclear power generation is all about.
The lofty promise of boundless material progress and universal prosperity based on cheap, safe and abundant energy through “Atoms for Peace”, held out by US President Dwight D Eisenhower in 1953, was mired in deception and meant to temper the prevalent perception of atomic energy as a malign force following the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Eisenhower was a hawk committed to building up the US nuclear arsenal from under 1,500 to over 20,000 warheads and sought to “compensate” for this by dressing up nuclear energy as a positive force. “Atoms for Peace” camouflaged the huge US military build-up in the 1950s.
The nuclear promise was also based on untested, unrealistic assumptions about atomic electricity being safe and “too cheap even to meter”. The projection sat ill at ease with the subsidies, worth scores of billions, which nuclear received. The US navy transferred reactor designs developed for its nuclear-propelled submarines to General Electric and Westinghouse for free. The US also passed a law to limit the nuclear industry’s accident liability to a ludicrously low level.
Fifty-five years on, the world has lost over $1,000 billion in subsidies, cash losses, abandoned projects and other damage from nuclear power. Decontaminating the Fukushima site alone is estimated to cost $623 billion, not counting the medical treatment costs for the thousands of likely cancers.
All of the world’s 400-odd reactors are capable of undergoing a catastrophic accident similar to Fukushima. They will remain a liability until decommissioned (entombed in concrete) at huge public expense, which is one-third to one-half of what it cost to build them. They will also leave behind nuclear waste, which remains hazardous for thousands of years, and which science has no way of storing safely.
All this for a technology which contributes just two percent of the world’s final energy consumption! Nuclear power has turned out worse than a “Faustian bargain” – a deal with the devil. Even the conservative Economist magazine, which long backed nuclear power, calls it “the dream that failed.”
Nuclear power experienced decline on its home ground because it became too risky and “too costly to hook to a meter”. The US hasn’t ordered a single new reactor since 1973, even before the Three Mile Island meltdown (1979). Western Europe hasn’t completed a new reactor since Chernobyl (1986). As a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission put it: “The abiding lesson that Three Mile Island taught Wall Street was that a group of NRC-licensed reactor operators, as good as any others, could turn a $2 billion asset into a $1 billion cleanup job in about 90 minutes.”
Nuclear power is now on the run globally. The number of reactors operating worldwide fell from the historic peak of 444 in 2002 to 429 this past March 1. Their share in global electricity supply has shrunk from 17 to 13 percent. And it’s likely to fall further as some 180-plus 30 years-old or older reactors are retired. Just about 60 new ones are planned.
After Fukushima, nobody is going to build nuclear reactors unless they get a big subsidy or high returns guaranteed by the state – or unless they are China, India or Pakistan. China’s rulers don’t have to bother about democracy, public opinion, or safety standards.
Nor are India’s rulers moved by these considerations. They are desperate to deliver on the reactor contracts promised to the US, France and Russia for lobbying for the US-India nuclear deal in the International Atomic Energy Agency. Manmohan Singh has even stooped to maligning Indian anti-nuclear protesters as foreign-funded, as if they had no minds of their own, and as if the government’s own priority wasn’t to hitch India’s energy economy to imported reactors. Pakistan’s nuclear czars are shamefully complacent about nuclear safety.
Nuclear power is bound up with secrecy, deception and opacity, which clash with democracy. It evokes fear and loathing in many countries, and can only be promoted by force. It will increasingly pit governments against their own public, with terrible consequences for civil liberties. A recent BBC-GlobeScan poll shows that 69 percent of the people surveyed in 23 countries oppose building new reactors, including 90 percent in Germany, 84 percent in Japan, 80 percent in Russia and 83 percent in France. This proportion has sharply risen since 2005. Only 22 percent of people in the 12 countries which operate nuclear plants favour building new ones.
Nuclear reactors are intrinsically hazardous high-pressure high-temperature systems, in which a fission chain-reaction is barely checked from getting out of control. But control mechanisms can fail for many reasons, including a short circuit, faulty valve, operator error, fire, loss of auxiliary power, or an earthquake or tsunami.
No technology is 100 percent safe. High-risk technologies demand a meticulous, self-critical and highly alert safety culture which assumes that accidents will happen despite precautions. The world has witnessed five core meltdowns in 15,000 reactor-years (number of reactors multiplied by duration of operations). At this rate, we can expect one core meltdown every eight years in the world’s 400-odd reactors. This is simply unacceptable.
Yet, the nuclear industry behaves as if this couldn’t happen. … Full article
- No Nuclear Nirvana (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Japanese officials ask KEPCO to break away from nuclear energy (enformable.com)
- How Fukushima is leading towards a nuclear-free Japan (guardian.co.uk)