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Fire near Chernobyl site alarming, ‘radiation respects no boundaries’

RT | April 29, 2015

A forest fire near Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear site may cause problems for communities a long way from the area as the dispersal plumes can transport radiation further to the north, nuclear safety expert John Large told RT.

RT: How dangerous is the situation in your opinion? Do you agree with ecologists who say the smoke will spread the radiation?

John Large: I spent some time in Ukraine in 2006 and I assessed the Chernobyl situation interviewing about 30 scientists and engineers who were working on the aftercare of Chernobyl. Brush fires and forest fires were the greatest concern in terms of the means by which you can disperse a secondary radiological impact from the original dissipation that occurred in 1986… What you have in Chernobyl in the exclusion zone and the further way you have an area that has been abandoned for farming, abandoned for management. That means you’ve got lots of brush and young wood growing out of control. Let me assess that – a big fuel load to have a fire. That means that the biological load is very high, so the radiation particles can be dispersed. Take down the chemistry as well. The chemistry is the way in which the strontium and cesium from the radioactive strontium and cesium from the reactor are bound here, and of course the elevated temperature of the fire and plus all the plume and aerial dispersion – means that could transport it hundreds of kilometers, particularly to the north, to Belarus. So there are more problems here for communities that are long way away from the site. What I had hoped was that the Ukrainian officials would have had in place firefighting capacity greater than they normally would have at any other area of Ukraine, because it certainly needs to be protected not just now but in the longer term as well.

We know that Ukraine is cash-strapped. There was a responsibility for its neighbors, Russia, the EU, not Belarus as much because it’s in an even worse financial situation, but there was a general responsibility to protect this area from another bout of radioactive dispersion.

RT: What lessons can be learned from this particular incident then to make sure that the brush and the forest doesn’t catch light again, or if it does, to make sure that site is secured?

JL: It is not the reactor, it is not the location of the reactor that is the problem – it is the dispersal plumes from the original accident – that is the problem. If there are radioactive materials on the ground now and then it’s engulfed by forest fire maybe 40-50 km away from the reactor. But that deposited radioactivity is re-suspended into gas, blown high into the atmosphere by the heat of the flames, and then of course it settles somewhere else. And it may be those communities to the north that are not prepared to have this new radiation plume and deposition and fallout come down on their communities.

RT: Do you think there should be a common international strategy and response for situations like this?

JL: We’ve seen recently with Chernobyl, with Windscale in the 1950’s in the UK, and particularly now with Fukushima that the radiation doesn’t respect any international boundaries. So an international effort is required for this type of catastrophe, all potential catastrophes. I would have thought that the EU or Russia would have healed their scars over this and got together and put some efforts and resources into controlling this and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

April 30, 2015 Posted by | Environmentalism, Nuclear Power | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Forest fires heading for Chernobyl nuclear plant – Ukraine Interior Ministry

RT | April 28, 2015

The Ukrainian National Guard has been put on high alert due to worsening forest fires around the crippled Chernobyl nuclear power plant, according to Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

Earlier the country’s emergency ministry said there was no danger posed to the sealed-off power plant from the three forest fire flashpoints in the region.

“The forest fire situation around the Chernobyl power plant has worsened,” a statement on Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s Facebook page says.

“The forest fire is heading in the direction of Chernobyl’s installations. Treetop flames and strong gusts of wind have created a real danger of the fire spreading to an area within 20 kilometers of the power plant. There are about 400 hectares [988 acres] of forests in the endangered area.”

Avakov says the Ukrainian prime minister has called an emergency meeting on how to tackle the situation. Police and National Guard units are on high alert.

Ukrainian emergency services say 182 people and 34 vehicles have been dispatched to fight the fire. Mi-8 helicopters and three An-32 water dropping airplanes are also working at the scene. The efforts are being coordinated from a mobile emergency headquarters.

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Environmentalism, Nuclear Power | , | 2 Comments

Fresh leak at Fukushima nuclear plant sees 70-fold radiation spike

RT | February 22, 2015

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.

February 22, 2015 Posted by | Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

China-UK nuclear power deal details hidden for ‘national security’

RT | January 15, 2015

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.

January 15, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , , | 1 Comment

Anti-nuclear protests in Taiwan draw tens of thousands

DW | March 8, 2014

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.

(dpa, AFP)

March 9, 2014 Posted by | Nuclear Power, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | 1 Comment

South Korea halts nuclear reactor over safety concerns

Press TV – August 21, 2013

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.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Nuclear Power | , , , , | Leave a comment

California’s San Onofre nuclear plant to shut down permanently – owner

RT | June 7, 2013

Southern California Edison (SCE) has decided to permanently retire two units of its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) on California’s Pacific coast, Edison International said in a press release.

“SONGS has served this region for over 40 years,” said Ted Craver, Chair and CEO of Edison International, the parent company of SCE, “but we have concluded that the continuing uncertainty about when or if SONGS might return to service was not good for our customers, our investors, or the need to plan for our region’s long-term electricity needs.”

Units 2 and 3 of the troubled plant have been shut down since January 2012, when a radiation leak led to the discovery of significant damage to several generator tubes. Many feared that the worsening conditions at the atomic power station would result in a Fukushima-like meltdown in California.

The plant’s generators have been malfunctioning for months. Today’s decision to permanently shut down the twin-domed facility comes after the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety & Licensing Board ordered a hearing on Edison’s plan to restart Unit 2 at 70 percent of full power. The company’s officials claimed that operating the least-damaged reactor at that capacity would ensure its safety by reducing vibrations in the generator’s tubes.

It may take over a year for a final decision on the future of the reactor to be made, Edison said in its statement on Friday. It added that throughout that period the company will bear the costs of ensuring the reactor is prepared for a restart – a costly prospect for both the owner and its clients. SCE said it would rather focus its efforts on “planning for the replacement generation and transmission resources which will be required for grid reliability.”

The company also plans to reduce its current staff of about 1,500 to around 400 employees within the next 12 months, but vowed to handle the layoffs “fairly.”

It will take years to fully decommission the two San Onofre reactors. Edison said its “top priority will be to ensure a safe, orderly, and compliant retirement of these units.”

The US has 104 nuclear power reactors, 13 of which are currently being decommissioned, according to the NRC.

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Nuclear Power | , , , | Leave a comment

Mexico’s Aging Laguna Verde Nuclear Plant a Fiasco

By Talli Nauman – Americas Program – 10/05/2013

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.

 

May 11, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Nuclear Power | , , , , | 1 Comment

US: Senate plan could make Illinois ‘bullseye’ for nuclear waste

By Kari Lydersen – MIDWEST ENERGY NEWS – 05/08/2013

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.”

Who pays?

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.”

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Nuclear Power | , , , , | Leave a comment

Double Your Trouble With Nuclear Power

By JOSEPH MANGANO and Dr. JANETTE SHERMAN, MD | CounterPunch | December 5, 2012

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).

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism, Nuclear Power | , , , , | Leave a comment

UK nuclear plans left in shambles

Press TV – October 3, 2012

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.

October 3, 2012 Posted by | Nuclear Power | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Germany: Environment minister voices doubts about energy reforms

DW | July 16, 2012

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

July 16, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Nuclear Power | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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