Tag Archives: Nuclear energy

Growing nuclear waste legacy defies disposal

Supporters say more nuclear power will combat climate change, but the industry is still failing to tackle its nuclear waste legacy.

LONDON, 7 February, 2019 − The nuclear industry, and governments across the world, have yet to find a solution to the nuclear waste legacy, the highly dangerous radioactive remains that are piling up in unsafe stores in many countries.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace France says there is now a serious threat of a major accident or terrorist attack in several of the countries most heavily reliant on nuclear power, including the US, France and the UK.

The report fears for what may be to come: “When the stability of nations is measured in years and perhaps decades into the future, what will be the viability of states over the thousands-of-year timeframes required to manage nuclear waste?”

Hundreds of ageing nuclear power stations now have dry stores or deep ponds full of old used fuel, known as spent fuel, from decades of refuelling reactors.

The old fuel has to be cooled for 30 years or more to prevent it spontaneously catching fire and sending a deadly plume of radioactivity hundreds of miles downwind.

Some idea of the dangerous radiation involved is the fact that standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute, the Greenpeace report says.

Official guesswork

The estimates of costs for dealing with the waste in the future are compiled by government experts but vary widely from country to country, and all figures are just official guesswork. All are measured in billions of dollars.

To give an example of actual annual costs for one waste site in the UK, Sellafield in north-west England, the budget just for keeping it safe is £3 bn (US$3.9 bn) a year.

It is estimated that disposing of the waste at Sellafield would cost £80 bn, but that is at best an informed guess since no way of disposing of it has been found.

The report details the waste from the whole nuclear cycle. This begins with the billions of tons of mildly radioactive uranium mine tailings that are left untended in spoil heaps in more than a dozen countries.

Then there are the stores of thousands of tons of depleted uranium left over after producing nuclear fuel and weapons. Last, there is the highly radioactive fuel removed from the reactors, some of it reprocessed to obtain plutonium, leaving behind extremely dangerous liquid waste.

Although the environmental damage from uranium mining is massive, the major danger comes from fires or explosions in spent fuel stores, which need constant cooling to prevent “catastrophic releases” of radioactivity into urban areas.

“Standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute”

There are now an estimated quarter of a million tons of spent fuel stored at dozens of power stations in 14 nuclear countries.

The report concentrates on Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US. What happens in Russia and China is not open to public scrutiny.

All countries have severe problems, but those with the most reactors that have also gone in for reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons face the worst.

The report says of France, which has 58 reactors, a number of which are soon to be retired: “There is currently no credible solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste in France; the urgent matter is reducing risks from existing waste, including spent fuel.”

In the 60 years since the nuclear industry began producing highly dangerous waste, some of it has been dumped in the sea or vented into the atmosphere, but most has been stored, waiting for someone to come up with the technology to neutralise it or a safe way of disposing of it.

Sea dumping outlawed

Since the option of dumping it in the sea was closed off in the 1980s because of alarm about the increase in cancers this would cause, governments have concentrated on the idea of building deep depositories in stable rock or clay formations to allow the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

The problem with this solution is that high-level waste stays dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, so future generations may be put in danger.

Only two countries, Finland and Sweden, which both have stable rock formations, are building repositories, but in both cases there are still doubts and controversy over whether these schemes will be robust enough to contain the radioactivity indefinitely.

In democratic countries, in every case where a depository has been or is proposed, there is a public backlash from nearby communities. This is true in all the countries studied, many of which have been forced to abandon plans to bury the waste

As a result of this resistance from the public the report says that the US “lacks a coherent policy” and the American Department of Energy suggests that “extended storage for 300 years” is the current plan. − Climate News Network

Supporters say more nuclear power will combat climate change, but the industry is still failing to tackle its nuclear waste legacy.

LONDON, 7 February, 2019 − The nuclear industry, and governments across the world, have yet to find a solution to the nuclear waste legacy, the highly dangerous radioactive remains that are piling up in unsafe stores in many countries.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace France says there is now a serious threat of a major accident or terrorist attack in several of the countries most heavily reliant on nuclear power, including the US, France and the UK.

The report fears for what may be to come: “When the stability of nations is measured in years and perhaps decades into the future, what will be the viability of states over the thousands-of-year timeframes required to manage nuclear waste?”

Hundreds of ageing nuclear power stations now have dry stores or deep ponds full of old used fuel, known as spent fuel, from decades of refuelling reactors.

The old fuel has to be cooled for 30 years or more to prevent it spontaneously catching fire and sending a deadly plume of radioactivity hundreds of miles downwind.

Some idea of the dangerous radiation involved is the fact that standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute, the Greenpeace report says.

Official guesswork

The estimates of costs for dealing with the waste in the future are compiled by government experts but vary widely from country to country, and all figures are just official guesswork. All are measured in billions of dollars.

To give an example of actual annual costs for one waste site in the UK, Sellafield in north-west England, the budget just for keeping it safe is £3 bn (US$3.9 bn) a year.

It is estimated that disposing of the waste at Sellafield would cost £80 bn, but that is at best an informed guess since no way of disposing of it has been found.

The report details the waste from the whole nuclear cycle. This begins with the billions of tons of mildly radioactive uranium mine tailings that are left untended in spoil heaps in more than a dozen countries.

Then there are the stores of thousands of tons of depleted uranium left over after producing nuclear fuel and weapons. Last, there is the highly radioactive fuel removed from the reactors, some of it reprocessed to obtain plutonium, leaving behind extremely dangerous liquid waste.

Although the environmental damage from uranium mining is massive, the major danger comes from fires or explosions in spent fuel stores, which need constant cooling to prevent “catastrophic releases” of radioactivity into urban areas.

“Standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute”

There are now an estimated quarter of a million tons of spent fuel stored at dozens of power stations in 14 nuclear countries.

The report concentrates on Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US. What happens in Russia and China is not open to public scrutiny.

All countries have severe problems, but those with the most reactors that have also gone in for reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons face the worst.

The report says of France, which has 58 reactors, a number of which are soon to be retired: “There is currently no credible solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste in France; the urgent matter is reducing risks from existing waste, including spent fuel.”

In the 60 years since the nuclear industry began producing highly dangerous waste, some of it has been dumped in the sea or vented into the atmosphere, but most has been stored, waiting for someone to come up with the technology to neutralise it or a safe way of disposing of it.

Sea dumping outlawed

Since the option of dumping it in the sea was closed off in the 1980s because of alarm about the increase in cancers this would cause, governments have concentrated on the idea of building deep depositories in stable rock or clay formations to allow the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

The problem with this solution is that high-level waste stays dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, so future generations may be put in danger.

Only two countries, Finland and Sweden, which both have stable rock formations, are building repositories, but in both cases there are still doubts and controversy over whether these schemes will be robust enough to contain the radioactivity indefinitely.

In democratic countries, in every case where a depository has been or is proposed, there is a public backlash from nearby communities. This is true in all the countries studied, many of which have been forced to abandon plans to bury the waste

As a result of this resistance from the public the report says that the US “lacks a coherent policy” and the American Department of Energy suggests that “extended storage for 300 years” is the current plan. − Climate News Network

Nuclear waste mountains just go on growing

Some politicians still claim atomic energy is the answer to climate change while leaving the problem of nuclear waste to our descendants.

LONDON, 27 February, 2018 – Nuclear waste has been an intractable problem since nuclear power was invented more than 50 years ago, and for many countries it is becoming an ever more expensive and politically embarrassing issue.

Not that politicians would admit this: many still argue that nuclear power is an answer to climate change, forgetting that they are passing the waste buck to future generations.

To those in power the solution to the waste problem is always just around the corner, conveniently just beyond their term of office. But the history of the industry over the last four decades, across the globe, is of dozens of failed schemes.

Currently the United States, France and the UK are yet again wrestling with the problem of repeated failed attempts to find a solution, as scientists warn that continued neglect of the issue is placing citizens in increasing danger.

The situation in China and Russia is not known, apart from the fact that in Russia there have recently been mysterious atmospheric leaks of radiation detected as far away as Switzerland.

Getting an honest overall situation report from the Russian government or from China seems unlikely, since many of their nuclear sites remain closed territories.

Long-lived radioactivity

The problem is that civil nuclear industries, especially when they are combined with a weapons programme, produce plutonium and other by-products in spent fuel that take as long as 100,000 years to decay.

Identifying somewhere to put these wastes where they could be safe for that length of time requires stable geological formations that are very hard to find anywhere. Since international law requires the state that produced the waste to dispose of it within its own boundaries, this is even more difficult.

If democracy is added into the mix, and people are given the right to object to a deep depository being built in their backyard, then in some countries the problem appears to be insoluble.

Two countries are close to solving the issue of their waste mountains, Sweden and Finland, although there are still regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Both are building deep depositories for their biggest problem, spent nuclear fuel. Fortunately spent fuel is less complex than the waste generated by the UK, France or the US, because it has no highly dangerous detritus remaining from nuclear weapon manufacturing.

The problem for . . . states that built nuclear power stations in the last century is the growing urgency of finding a solution

For these three states, which have all reprocessed spent fuel to extract weapons grade plutonium, the situation is far more difficult. Despite this, all three countries are continuing to build nuclear power stations, potentially making the problem even worse for future generations.

The prime example is the UK, which wants to build a new generation of ten nuclear stations, but has just started its sixth search for a nuclear waste dump site in 42 years.

Various governments have gone through many proposals, some of them surviving through years of public consultations, planning inquiries and geological investigations, only to be finally rejected.

One favoured site, at Sellafield in Cumbria, next to the country’s two vast reprocessing facilities, was rejected on geological grounds – the rock it was to be built into has too many cracks to keep the waste from leaching into the water supply.

The latest scheme launched by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy involves finding a community somewhere in Britain willing to take the waste in return for a very large bribe in the form of cash to develop schools, roads, industries and anything else that takes their fancy – as long as they host the nation’s nuclear waste for the next 100,000 years. It remains to be seen whether there are any takers.

Pledge ignored

The problem for the government is that it has frequently pledged not to build any more nuclear power stations until it has solved the problem of the waste, something it has patently failed to do. Meanwhile ever larger quantities of waste are being stored, much of it in unsatisfactory and sometimes dangerous conditions. Just keeping it safe costs £3bn (US$4.2bn) a year.

In the US, where the situation is as bad or worse, President Trump has re-opened the long-running saga of Yucca Mountain nuclear depository. This is a scheme that has been fought over for decades and abandoned because of local opposition.

The problem is that the waste stored in numerous US nuclear facilities is dangerous and urgently needs to be packaged and found a final resting place.

One of the most critical places is Hanford, once a place for making nuclear weapons that now has stores of unstable waste. The tanks full of liquid waste alone will cost an estimated  $111bn to package and make safe. Trump’s reaction to this has been to slash Hanford’s budget by 10%.

Meanwhile the answer from Nevada state officials to Trump’s proposal to re-open the Yucca Mountain depository scheme was to approve a $5.1mn legal contract to fight the proposal. It seems unlikely the situation will be resolved soon.

Eviction criticised

In north-eastern France hundreds of riot police were employed this month to evict 15 protestors living in tree houses to protect a zone in the forest of Lejuc, near Meuse.

The use of 500 armed gendarmes to evict 15 people has been strongly criticised, not least because the government has not yet finally agreed that this is the right site to bury 85,000 cubic metres of waste that will remain dangerous for 100,000 years.

The problem for these three governments – and others in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and many other states that built nuclear power stations in the last century – is the growing urgency of finding a solution.

In Britain, France and the US there are “swimming pool-size tanks” of high-level waste which are unstable and need work without delay.
With one third of Europe’s operating nuclear power stations due to be shut down by 2025, and European utilities short of €118bn (US$145bn) in decommissioning and waste management funds to pay for the work, it looks as though taxpayers will be left to foot this enormous bill.

Knowing this, companies are queuing up to get into the nuclear waste business, confident that governments will sooner or later be forced to step in and provide the money to keep their citizens safe. – Climate News Network

Some politicians still claim atomic energy is the answer to climate change while leaving the problem of nuclear waste to our descendants.

LONDON, 27 February, 2018 – Nuclear waste has been an intractable problem since nuclear power was invented more than 50 years ago, and for many countries it is becoming an ever more expensive and politically embarrassing issue.

Not that politicians would admit this: many still argue that nuclear power is an answer to climate change, forgetting that they are passing the waste buck to future generations.

To those in power the solution to the waste problem is always just around the corner, conveniently just beyond their term of office. But the history of the industry over the last four decades, across the globe, is of dozens of failed schemes.

Currently the United States, France and the UK are yet again wrestling with the problem of repeated failed attempts to find a solution, as scientists warn that continued neglect of the issue is placing citizens in increasing danger.

The situation in China and Russia is not known, apart from the fact that in Russia there have recently been mysterious atmospheric leaks of radiation detected as far away as Switzerland.

Getting an honest overall situation report from the Russian government or from China seems unlikely, since many of their nuclear sites remain closed territories.

Long-lived radioactivity

The problem is that civil nuclear industries, especially when they are combined with a weapons programme, produce plutonium and other by-products in spent fuel that take as long as 100,000 years to decay.

Identifying somewhere to put these wastes where they could be safe for that length of time requires stable geological formations that are very hard to find anywhere. Since international law requires the state that produced the waste to dispose of it within its own boundaries, this is even more difficult.

If democracy is added into the mix, and people are given the right to object to a deep depository being built in their backyard, then in some countries the problem appears to be insoluble.

Two countries are close to solving the issue of their waste mountains, Sweden and Finland, although there are still regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Both are building deep depositories for their biggest problem, spent nuclear fuel. Fortunately spent fuel is less complex than the waste generated by the UK, France or the US, because it has no highly dangerous detritus remaining from nuclear weapon manufacturing.

The problem for . . . states that built nuclear power stations in the last century is the growing urgency of finding a solution

For these three states, which have all reprocessed spent fuel to extract weapons grade plutonium, the situation is far more difficult. Despite this, all three countries are continuing to build nuclear power stations, potentially making the problem even worse for future generations.

The prime example is the UK, which wants to build a new generation of ten nuclear stations, but has just started its sixth search for a nuclear waste dump site in 42 years.

Various governments have gone through many proposals, some of them surviving through years of public consultations, planning inquiries and geological investigations, only to be finally rejected.

One favoured site, at Sellafield in Cumbria, next to the country’s two vast reprocessing facilities, was rejected on geological grounds – the rock it was to be built into has too many cracks to keep the waste from leaching into the water supply.

The latest scheme launched by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy involves finding a community somewhere in Britain willing to take the waste in return for a very large bribe in the form of cash to develop schools, roads, industries and anything else that takes their fancy – as long as they host the nation’s nuclear waste for the next 100,000 years. It remains to be seen whether there are any takers.

Pledge ignored

The problem for the government is that it has frequently pledged not to build any more nuclear power stations until it has solved the problem of the waste, something it has patently failed to do. Meanwhile ever larger quantities of waste are being stored, much of it in unsatisfactory and sometimes dangerous conditions. Just keeping it safe costs £3bn (US$4.2bn) a year.

In the US, where the situation is as bad or worse, President Trump has re-opened the long-running saga of Yucca Mountain nuclear depository. This is a scheme that has been fought over for decades and abandoned because of local opposition.

The problem is that the waste stored in numerous US nuclear facilities is dangerous and urgently needs to be packaged and found a final resting place.

One of the most critical places is Hanford, once a place for making nuclear weapons that now has stores of unstable waste. The tanks full of liquid waste alone will cost an estimated  $111bn to package and make safe. Trump’s reaction to this has been to slash Hanford’s budget by 10%.

Meanwhile the answer from Nevada state officials to Trump’s proposal to re-open the Yucca Mountain depository scheme was to approve a $5.1mn legal contract to fight the proposal. It seems unlikely the situation will be resolved soon.

Eviction criticised

In north-eastern France hundreds of riot police were employed this month to evict 15 protestors living in tree houses to protect a zone in the forest of Lejuc, near Meuse.

The use of 500 armed gendarmes to evict 15 people has been strongly criticised, not least because the government has not yet finally agreed that this is the right site to bury 85,000 cubic metres of waste that will remain dangerous for 100,000 years.

The problem for these three governments – and others in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and many other states that built nuclear power stations in the last century – is the growing urgency of finding a solution.

In Britain, France and the US there are “swimming pool-size tanks” of high-level waste which are unstable and need work without delay.
With one third of Europe’s operating nuclear power stations due to be shut down by 2025, and European utilities short of €118bn (US$145bn) in decommissioning and waste management funds to pay for the work, it looks as though taxpayers will be left to foot this enormous bill.

Knowing this, companies are queuing up to get into the nuclear waste business, confident that governments will sooner or later be forced to step in and provide the money to keep their citizens safe. – Climate News Network

Nuclear energy revival remains elusive

A legacy of lies and cover-up leaves nuclear energy with a serious credibility gap, and no sign of its long-promised revival. 

LONDON, 25 December, 2016 There have been three well-documented major nuclear accidents in the last 60 years, each one accompanied by official lies and cover-ups. There have been other less well-known serious accidents that have been so effectively hushed up that decades later there are only the sketchiest details available.

The legacy of these disasters is a deep distrust of the industry by many voters. In some leading industrial countries this has led to governments being forced to abandon nuclear power altogether, while others face such strong opposition to new stations being built that they have abandoned the idea, although they still keep the old ones operating, at least for now.

This chequered history of the industry matters. It has caused a global split. While many scientists and politicians concerned about climate change believe that nuclear power is vital if governments are to meet their commitments to curb dangerous global warming, just as many do not. 

The opposition is based on the belief that the industry has lost all integrity and credibility and that renewables are a cheaper, safer and all-round better bet.  This view is reinforced by the inability of the industry to deal with its waste. Renewables can easily be recycled, but nuclear waste remains dangerous for thousands of years, leaving future generations to pay for it.

But it is the three major disasters that are at the root of this fierce debate. They happened over a span of 60 years, and all had different causes. But all followed a familiar pattern.

The first was at Windscale in north-west England in 1957, when a plutonium-producing reactor caught fire. The second was Chernobyl on the border of Ukraine and Belarus in 1986: the top blew off one of the reactors and there was a serious fire. The third was at Fukushima in Japan in 2011, when an earthquake and a tsunami caused meltdowns at three reactors.

Official concealment

All three accidents had startling similarities in the official reaction. In each case the governments involved, the nuclear regulators and plant owners tried to hide the scale of the disaster from the public who were most in danger. In each case this resulted in unnecessary exposure of the population to harmful radiation.

Second, the possible long-term health effects to the people involved were hotly disputed. In each case this took the form, both at the time and ever since, of governments and the industry playing down the health risks.

There is still an argument about whether the Windscale fire caused a leukaemia cluster in children in the neighbourhood. After Fukushima, governments and the industry claim, very few or no deaths at all resulted. Expect the argument to continue for decades.

Third has been the underplaying of the enormous cost and intractable nature of trying to clean up the mess. For example, people who are evacuated are told the move is only temporary, when it could last for decades, possibly generations.

Again, the official estimate for “compensation” for the Fukushima accident rose from ¥5.4 trillion (£40bn) to ¥8 trillion (£70bn), a fact only slipped out at the end of November 2016, nearly five years after the accident.

Technically insurmountable

In each case, even after the Windscale accident 60 years ago, the clean-up of the actual nuclear pile that caught fire has several times started and then been abandoned as too difficult. They are not expected to be completed for decades.

There is no hope of cleaning up Chernobyl or Fukushima this century. A new concrete shell over Chernobyl to replace the existing crumbling structure should be in place by 2017 at a cost of €2.1 billion – but this is designed only as a temporary structure, to last 100 years.

Governments tried hard to cover up what happened. At Windscale,  the British government subsequently admitted it had deliberately covered up the seriousness of the accidents to keep its nuclear weapons programme on track.

In Chernobyl’s case it was the sky-high radiation readings from as far away as Scandinavia and Germany that led the Soviets to admit what had happened. Thirty years later the real health effects of the accident are hotly disputed.

Thousands of children have had their thyroids removed and there have been many birth defects and cancers. Belarus, worst hit by the disaster, is anxious to play down the long-term effects to avoid frightening potential foreign investors in the country.

The nuclear industry has been trying hard to put all this in the past. In response to public concerns it has come up with a whole series of “safer” designs for nuclear power stations. As a result, some countries like Finland and Britain are encouraging the building of a new generation of French, Japanese, Chinese and American designs.

It seems that if the climate is to be saved from overheating, we shall have to do this without the aid of new nuclear power

This time, however, it is not just safety that is at issue. For the last 35 years not a single nuclear power station in the west has been built to time or on budget. It undermines the claim that nuclear power will be able to compete with other fuels on price. It has repeatedly been shown that, without government subsidy, nuclear power cannot survive.

The latest evidence for this is the two new power stations being built in Finland and France. Both are nearly 10 years behind schedule and have more than doubled in cost.

The original claims that the price of the electricity the stations would produce would be competitive cannot be true. Wholesale prices must already have more than doubled before a single watt of power has been produced.

Yet, despite this track record, the nuclear industry hopes to keep on growing and claims it is expecting to do so – and many governments continue to pour money into research and development. They do so in the hope that one day nuclear power will provide a safe and economically viable method of producing electricity.

So far, however, there is no sign of the long-predicted nuclear renaissance. The costs of a safe design continue to increase as the industry and governments attempt to live down the legacy of misleading the public for the last 60 years. It seems that if the climate is to be saved from overheating, we shall have to do this without the aid of new nuclear power. Climate News Network

A legacy of lies and cover-up leaves nuclear energy with a serious credibility gap, and no sign of its long-promised revival. 

LONDON, 25 December, 2016 There have been three well-documented major nuclear accidents in the last 60 years, each one accompanied by official lies and cover-ups. There have been other less well-known serious accidents that have been so effectively hushed up that decades later there are only the sketchiest details available.

The legacy of these disasters is a deep distrust of the industry by many voters. In some leading industrial countries this has led to governments being forced to abandon nuclear power altogether, while others face such strong opposition to new stations being built that they have abandoned the idea, although they still keep the old ones operating, at least for now.

This chequered history of the industry matters. It has caused a global split. While many scientists and politicians concerned about climate change believe that nuclear power is vital if governments are to meet their commitments to curb dangerous global warming, just as many do not. 

The opposition is based on the belief that the industry has lost all integrity and credibility and that renewables are a cheaper, safer and all-round better bet.  This view is reinforced by the inability of the industry to deal with its waste. Renewables can easily be recycled, but nuclear waste remains dangerous for thousands of years, leaving future generations to pay for it.

But it is the three major disasters that are at the root of this fierce debate. They happened over a span of 60 years, and all had different causes. But all followed a familiar pattern.

The first was at Windscale in north-west England in 1957, when a plutonium-producing reactor caught fire. The second was Chernobyl on the border of Ukraine and Belarus in 1986: the top blew off one of the reactors and there was a serious fire. The third was at Fukushima in Japan in 2011, when an earthquake and a tsunami caused meltdowns at three reactors.

Official concealment

All three accidents had startling similarities in the official reaction. In each case the governments involved, the nuclear regulators and plant owners tried to hide the scale of the disaster from the public who were most in danger. In each case this resulted in unnecessary exposure of the population to harmful radiation.

Second, the possible long-term health effects to the people involved were hotly disputed. In each case this took the form, both at the time and ever since, of governments and the industry playing down the health risks.

There is still an argument about whether the Windscale fire caused a leukaemia cluster in children in the neighbourhood. After Fukushima, governments and the industry claim, very few or no deaths at all resulted. Expect the argument to continue for decades.

Third has been the underplaying of the enormous cost and intractable nature of trying to clean up the mess. For example, people who are evacuated are told the move is only temporary, when it could last for decades, possibly generations.

Again, the official estimate for “compensation” for the Fukushima accident rose from ¥5.4 trillion (£40bn) to ¥8 trillion (£70bn), a fact only slipped out at the end of November 2016, nearly five years after the accident.

Technically insurmountable

In each case, even after the Windscale accident 60 years ago, the clean-up of the actual nuclear pile that caught fire has several times started and then been abandoned as too difficult. They are not expected to be completed for decades.

There is no hope of cleaning up Chernobyl or Fukushima this century. A new concrete shell over Chernobyl to replace the existing crumbling structure should be in place by 2017 at a cost of €2.1 billion – but this is designed only as a temporary structure, to last 100 years.

Governments tried hard to cover up what happened. At Windscale,  the British government subsequently admitted it had deliberately covered up the seriousness of the accidents to keep its nuclear weapons programme on track.

In Chernobyl’s case it was the sky-high radiation readings from as far away as Scandinavia and Germany that led the Soviets to admit what had happened. Thirty years later the real health effects of the accident are hotly disputed.

Thousands of children have had their thyroids removed and there have been many birth defects and cancers. Belarus, worst hit by the disaster, is anxious to play down the long-term effects to avoid frightening potential foreign investors in the country.

The nuclear industry has been trying hard to put all this in the past. In response to public concerns it has come up with a whole series of “safer” designs for nuclear power stations. As a result, some countries like Finland and Britain are encouraging the building of a new generation of French, Japanese, Chinese and American designs.

It seems that if the climate is to be saved from overheating, we shall have to do this without the aid of new nuclear power

This time, however, it is not just safety that is at issue. For the last 35 years not a single nuclear power station in the west has been built to time or on budget. It undermines the claim that nuclear power will be able to compete with other fuels on price. It has repeatedly been shown that, without government subsidy, nuclear power cannot survive.

The latest evidence for this is the two new power stations being built in Finland and France. Both are nearly 10 years behind schedule and have more than doubled in cost.

The original claims that the price of the electricity the stations would produce would be competitive cannot be true. Wholesale prices must already have more than doubled before a single watt of power has been produced.

Yet, despite this track record, the nuclear industry hopes to keep on growing and claims it is expecting to do so – and many governments continue to pour money into research and development. They do so in the hope that one day nuclear power will provide a safe and economically viable method of producing electricity.

So far, however, there is no sign of the long-predicted nuclear renaissance. The costs of a safe design continue to increase as the industry and governments attempt to live down the legacy of misleading the public for the last 60 years. It seems that if the climate is to be saved from overheating, we shall have to do this without the aid of new nuclear power. Climate News Network

UK’s nuclear project falters again

Hopes of a nuclear revival in Europe are fading as the continent’s biggest new reactor project is put back three years.

LONDON, 19 February, 2016 – The future of the nuclear industry in Europe took another blow this week when the French state-owned power company EDF again postponed a final decision on whether to build two large nuclear power stations in the UK. Construction will now not start before 2019, the company said.

This is the eighth time a “final investment decision” on building two European Pressurised Water Reactors (EPRs) has been postponed because the company has still to secure enough backing to finance the £18 billion (€23.26 bn) project.

The excuse this time was that the Chinese New Year celebrations had held up negotiations with the Chinese backers, who have agreed to put up one-third of the money.

Preparation of the site at Hinkley Point in the west of England was stopped last year while EDF sought partners for the project. Each time there has been a postponement the company has issued a statement saying it remains “fully committed” to building two 1,650 MW reactors (1 MW is enough to power 750-1,000 average US homes).

Decision close

This week was no different. “We have the intention to proceed rapidly with the investment decision for Hinkley Point,” EDF’s chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy told reporters. Adding that EDF had not yet finalised talks with its Chinese partners, he said: “Today we estimate this final decision is very close.”

Levy said it would take about three years, possibly a bit more, of study and work with sub-contractors before EDF will begin building the first permanent structures on the Hinkley Point C site, though it will do preparatory work between now and then.

“Definitive construction of what will be built on the site, what we call the first concrete, is on the horizon for 2019,” Levy said.

This date is a year after the reactors were originally due to be completed. The timetable has gradually slipped backwards. Last year the date for power to start being generated was put back to 2025, but this new date for pouring concrete makes 2030 more likely – if the reactors are built at all.

Problematic record

The new proposed start date of 2019 is very significant for reasons the company dare not spell out. This is because there is no evidence yet that these so-called Evolutionary Power Reactors will operate effectively. Four are under construction, but are years behind schedule, and costs have tripled. In Europe their earliest proposed start date is 2018 – so it looks as though EDF is being careful not to begin building another one until it can prove the design actually works.

The EPRs are “third generation European Pressurised Water Reactors” – the largest nuclear plants in the world. They have a chequered history, even before any has actually produced a single watt of electricity. Construction of the first prototype began in 2005 in Finland: expected to be finished in 2009, it is still under construction.

The same is true of the second, at Flamanville in France, where construction began in 2007. It has also hit delays and cost over-runs of staggering proportions. It too is due to start in  2018.

The other two EPRs are being built in China. Both should have been in operation by this year, but both also have undergone unspecified delays.

Safety question

The biggest problem for EDF, which owns and is building the Flamanville reactor, is that there are safety issues over the strength of the steel used to build the pressure vessel. It contained too much carbon and is undergoing stress testing to see if it is safe. While the outcome of these tests remains unknown, a question mark hangs over the stations future.

This, plus the vast amount of remedial safety work required by the French safety regulators from EDF on its fleet of 58 ageing reactors in France itself, has put the company under severe financial strain. It needs to find €100 bn for repairs, and to improve safety following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, to keep the plants operating until 2030.

As a result of fears that the company might overstretch itself and jeopardise jobs in France the six trade union representatives on EDF’s board have expressed opposition to the company going ahead with building reactors on British soil.

Unfilled gap

This further postponement of a start date for the new reactors leaves the UK government with a gaping hole in its energy policy, despite it offering to pay double the existing price of electricity for the output from Hinkley Point, a subsidy that will continue for 35 years.

The Conservative government has been relying on nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels from 2025, when it plans to phase out all its coal stations. Some renewable energy subsidies have been scrapped to make way for new nuclear stations.

In all, the Conservative government wants ten new nuclear stations in the UK – four EPRs and the rest from Japan and the US. None of these now seems likely to be built before 2030, if at all.

Perhaps to divert attention from the postponement of the new reactors, EDF announced that it was going to extend the life of four of the nuclear power stations it already operates in Britain. It bought eight ageing stations of British design in 2009 for £12.5 billion.

Longer lives

Some were already due to close in 2018 but have had their lives extended. Now another four will be kept open to bridge the gap left by the failure to build the new stations at Hinkley Point.

These are the Heysham 1 plant in northwest England and another at Hartlepool in the northeast, both of which had been due to be switched off in 2019 because of their advanced age. They will be allowed to keep producing electricity for another five years.

Two other reactors, Heysham 2 and Torness in Scotland, have been granted extensions of seven years to 2030. There is no reason – as long as the stations are deemed safe – why further life extensions should not be applied for, and granted.

Continuing to apply for life extensions for old nuclear stations also saves the company from technical bankruptcy. Once a station is closed its decommissioning costs become company liabilities. With the company’s debts already high, it would not take many closures for EDF’s liabilities to exceed its assets. – Climate News Network

Hopes of a nuclear revival in Europe are fading as the continent’s biggest new reactor project is put back three years.

LONDON, 19 February, 2016 – The future of the nuclear industry in Europe took another blow this week when the French state-owned power company EDF again postponed a final decision on whether to build two large nuclear power stations in the UK. Construction will now not start before 2019, the company said.

This is the eighth time a “final investment decision” on building two European Pressurised Water Reactors (EPRs) has been postponed because the company has still to secure enough backing to finance the £18 billion (€23.26 bn) project.

The excuse this time was that the Chinese New Year celebrations had held up negotiations with the Chinese backers, who have agreed to put up one-third of the money.

Preparation of the site at Hinkley Point in the west of England was stopped last year while EDF sought partners for the project. Each time there has been a postponement the company has issued a statement saying it remains “fully committed” to building two 1,650 MW reactors (1 MW is enough to power 750-1,000 average US homes).

Decision close

This week was no different. “We have the intention to proceed rapidly with the investment decision for Hinkley Point,” EDF’s chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy told reporters. Adding that EDF had not yet finalised talks with its Chinese partners, he said: “Today we estimate this final decision is very close.”

Levy said it would take about three years, possibly a bit more, of study and work with sub-contractors before EDF will begin building the first permanent structures on the Hinkley Point C site, though it will do preparatory work between now and then.

“Definitive construction of what will be built on the site, what we call the first concrete, is on the horizon for 2019,” Levy said.

This date is a year after the reactors were originally due to be completed. The timetable has gradually slipped backwards. Last year the date for power to start being generated was put back to 2025, but this new date for pouring concrete makes 2030 more likely – if the reactors are built at all.

Problematic record

The new proposed start date of 2019 is very significant for reasons the company dare not spell out. This is because there is no evidence yet that these so-called Evolutionary Power Reactors will operate effectively. Four are under construction, but are years behind schedule, and costs have tripled. In Europe their earliest proposed start date is 2018 – so it looks as though EDF is being careful not to begin building another one until it can prove the design actually works.

The EPRs are “third generation European Pressurised Water Reactors” – the largest nuclear plants in the world. They have a chequered history, even before any has actually produced a single watt of electricity. Construction of the first prototype began in 2005 in Finland: expected to be finished in 2009, it is still under construction.

The same is true of the second, at Flamanville in France, where construction began in 2007. It has also hit delays and cost over-runs of staggering proportions. It too is due to start in  2018.

The other two EPRs are being built in China. Both should have been in operation by this year, but both also have undergone unspecified delays.

Safety question

The biggest problem for EDF, which owns and is building the Flamanville reactor, is that there are safety issues over the strength of the steel used to build the pressure vessel. It contained too much carbon and is undergoing stress testing to see if it is safe. While the outcome of these tests remains unknown, a question mark hangs over the stations future.

This, plus the vast amount of remedial safety work required by the French safety regulators from EDF on its fleet of 58 ageing reactors in France itself, has put the company under severe financial strain. It needs to find €100 bn for repairs, and to improve safety following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, to keep the plants operating until 2030.

As a result of fears that the company might overstretch itself and jeopardise jobs in France the six trade union representatives on EDF’s board have expressed opposition to the company going ahead with building reactors on British soil.

Unfilled gap

This further postponement of a start date for the new reactors leaves the UK government with a gaping hole in its energy policy, despite it offering to pay double the existing price of electricity for the output from Hinkley Point, a subsidy that will continue for 35 years.

The Conservative government has been relying on nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels from 2025, when it plans to phase out all its coal stations. Some renewable energy subsidies have been scrapped to make way for new nuclear stations.

In all, the Conservative government wants ten new nuclear stations in the UK – four EPRs and the rest from Japan and the US. None of these now seems likely to be built before 2030, if at all.

Perhaps to divert attention from the postponement of the new reactors, EDF announced that it was going to extend the life of four of the nuclear power stations it already operates in Britain. It bought eight ageing stations of British design in 2009 for £12.5 billion.

Longer lives

Some were already due to close in 2018 but have had their lives extended. Now another four will be kept open to bridge the gap left by the failure to build the new stations at Hinkley Point.

These are the Heysham 1 plant in northwest England and another at Hartlepool in the northeast, both of which had been due to be switched off in 2019 because of their advanced age. They will be allowed to keep producing electricity for another five years.

Two other reactors, Heysham 2 and Torness in Scotland, have been granted extensions of seven years to 2030. There is no reason – as long as the stations are deemed safe – why further life extensions should not be applied for, and granted.

Continuing to apply for life extensions for old nuclear stations also saves the company from technical bankruptcy. Once a station is closed its decommissioning costs become company liabilities. With the company’s debts already high, it would not take many closures for EDF’s liabilities to exceed its assets. – Climate News Network