Tag Archives: Nuclear energy

Climate Assembly UK: Act now to save our planet

Climate Assembly UK tells British politicians to act faster on climate change. France and Ireland echo its message.

LONDON, 28 September, 2020 − A random group of United Kingdom citizens, Climate Assembly UK: The path to net zero, has delivered an uncompromising verdict on the British approach to the climate crisis: do more, and don’t delay.

The UK is not alone in demanding urgent action. Presented with detailed evidence about the effects of climate change, citizens’ assemblies in two other European countries have come to identical conclusions; we have to make immediate progress, and we must change the way we live.

The most striking common feature about the views of the assemblies convened in Ireland, France and the United Kingdom is that the measures their governments are currently taking are grossly inadequate to tackle climate change.

Policies that politicians have shrunk from imposing on their voters for fear of a backlash have suddenly been urged on them by their own citizens. In Ireland and France this gave both governments the courage to promise to implement most of the assemblies’ recommendations. The UK report released on 10 September has yet to receive a full response, but the signs are encouraging.

The assemblies in each country were composed of a random selection of people to represent all ages, sexes and social groups, first to hear evidence and then to recommend action, including giving clear guidance on priorities.

A similar set of proposals came from the citizens in each of the three countries.

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death”

On energy they wanted more renewable technologies, wind and solar, to replace fossil fuels.

All three assemblies favoured a reduction in air traffic, taxes on frequent flyers, the phasing out of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, encouragement for all things electric, the insulation of homes, and energy efficiency.

Changes in what we eat – particularly less meat – were also common features. More local production both of food and other goods was  important.

There were detailed recommendations, with for example the French suggesting statutory rules on turning central heating thermostats down to 19°C, and not using air conditioning until temperatures reached 30°C. They also advocated lowering the speed limit for cars, to reduce their emissions.

All the reports also wanted more green spaces, places for wildlife and improved habitats.

The reaction of participants, some of whom knew very little about climate change before being selected, is perhaps best summed up by a quote from the French report: “We have lived together, during nine months, an unprecedented and intense human experience, that led us to become conscious of the imperious necessity to profoundly change the organisation of our society and our ways of life…

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death.”

Vested interests object

One of the characteristics of this new form of democracy – the citizens’ jury – is the lengths the organisers have to go to in order to select a cross-section of the community. This ensures that all political views are taken into account as well as age, class and race. But as the French experience shows, taking in vast quantities of information about climate change and sharing this experience with others has a profound effect.

In theory the recommendations these juries make should be accepted by all, since the groups have been selected to represent everyone in the country, but it is clear that vested interests are not prepared to do that.

For example, the UK’s right-wing Spectator magazine said of the results of the French assembly: “The problem with citizens’ assemblies is that their members don’t, unlike elected politicians, actually have to deal with the consequences of their breezy and idealistic proposals.

“In the first place, they are rarely representative of the entire population: in France, 25,000 people were approached to see if they wanted to take part; most refused, and 150 were chosen.

“Most of those are people with an agenda, who are prepared to give up entire weekends in return for a stipend of £74 (€86) a day plus expenses: in other words, political activists and people with time on their hands.”

Industry disappointed

Similarly, within days of the British assembly members having heard a great deal of expert evidence making it abundantly clear they wanted more renewables, onshore and offshore wind and solar power, rather than more nuclear energy, the nuclear industry poured cold water on their judgement and preferences.

In a long article offered to the Climate News Network extolling the virtues of nuclear power in fighting climate change, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, said he was pleased that the assembly wanted to see low carbon ways of producing electricity.

He added: “It is, however, disappointing to see that what this model of engagement was touted as delivering – an understanding of the complexity of decisions that need to be made – is all but absent when it comes to the future power mix.

“There are two lessons in this – firstly, for experts, industry and decision makers to have to communicate much more effectively on the reality of the challenges and the choices they open up. Secondly, that simplistic statements of the impossible made either through wishful thinking or wilful ignorance will not aid decarbonisation – but only increase reliance on burning fossil fuels and the emissions that come from them.”

So it seems that however hard organisers try to select a cross-section of citizens and provide them with clear evidence, there will be an immediate political backlash.

Whether it is climate scientists or citizens’ juries fearing for the future of civilisation, vested interests are always prepared to rubbish what they say. Perhaps though, now that voters (in the form of citizens’ assemblies) have added their voices to those of scientists, politicians will finally have the courage to act on their recommendations. − Climate News Network

Climate Assembly UK tells British politicians to act faster on climate change. France and Ireland echo its message.

LONDON, 28 September, 2020 − A random group of United Kingdom citizens, Climate Assembly UK: The path to net zero, has delivered an uncompromising verdict on the British approach to the climate crisis: do more, and don’t delay.

The UK is not alone in demanding urgent action. Presented with detailed evidence about the effects of climate change, citizens’ assemblies in two other European countries have come to identical conclusions; we have to make immediate progress, and we must change the way we live.

The most striking common feature about the views of the assemblies convened in Ireland, France and the United Kingdom is that the measures their governments are currently taking are grossly inadequate to tackle climate change.

Policies that politicians have shrunk from imposing on their voters for fear of a backlash have suddenly been urged on them by their own citizens. In Ireland and France this gave both governments the courage to promise to implement most of the assemblies’ recommendations. The UK report released on 10 September has yet to receive a full response, but the signs are encouraging.

The assemblies in each country were composed of a random selection of people to represent all ages, sexes and social groups, first to hear evidence and then to recommend action, including giving clear guidance on priorities.

A similar set of proposals came from the citizens in each of the three countries.

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death”

On energy they wanted more renewable technologies, wind and solar, to replace fossil fuels.

All three assemblies favoured a reduction in air traffic, taxes on frequent flyers, the phasing out of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, encouragement for all things electric, the insulation of homes, and energy efficiency.

Changes in what we eat – particularly less meat – were also common features. More local production both of food and other goods was  important.

There were detailed recommendations, with for example the French suggesting statutory rules on turning central heating thermostats down to 19°C, and not using air conditioning until temperatures reached 30°C. They also advocated lowering the speed limit for cars, to reduce their emissions.

All the reports also wanted more green spaces, places for wildlife and improved habitats.

The reaction of participants, some of whom knew very little about climate change before being selected, is perhaps best summed up by a quote from the French report: “We have lived together, during nine months, an unprecedented and intense human experience, that led us to become conscious of the imperious necessity to profoundly change the organisation of our society and our ways of life…

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death.”

Vested interests object

One of the characteristics of this new form of democracy – the citizens’ jury – is the lengths the organisers have to go to in order to select a cross-section of the community. This ensures that all political views are taken into account as well as age, class and race. But as the French experience shows, taking in vast quantities of information about climate change and sharing this experience with others has a profound effect.

In theory the recommendations these juries make should be accepted by all, since the groups have been selected to represent everyone in the country, but it is clear that vested interests are not prepared to do that.

For example, the UK’s right-wing Spectator magazine said of the results of the French assembly: “The problem with citizens’ assemblies is that their members don’t, unlike elected politicians, actually have to deal with the consequences of their breezy and idealistic proposals.

“In the first place, they are rarely representative of the entire population: in France, 25,000 people were approached to see if they wanted to take part; most refused, and 150 were chosen.

“Most of those are people with an agenda, who are prepared to give up entire weekends in return for a stipend of £74 (€86) a day plus expenses: in other words, political activists and people with time on their hands.”

Industry disappointed

Similarly, within days of the British assembly members having heard a great deal of expert evidence making it abundantly clear they wanted more renewables, onshore and offshore wind and solar power, rather than more nuclear energy, the nuclear industry poured cold water on their judgement and preferences.

In a long article offered to the Climate News Network extolling the virtues of nuclear power in fighting climate change, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, said he was pleased that the assembly wanted to see low carbon ways of producing electricity.

He added: “It is, however, disappointing to see that what this model of engagement was touted as delivering – an understanding of the complexity of decisions that need to be made – is all but absent when it comes to the future power mix.

“There are two lessons in this – firstly, for experts, industry and decision makers to have to communicate much more effectively on the reality of the challenges and the choices they open up. Secondly, that simplistic statements of the impossible made either through wishful thinking or wilful ignorance will not aid decarbonisation – but only increase reliance on burning fossil fuels and the emissions that come from them.”

So it seems that however hard organisers try to select a cross-section of citizens and provide them with clear evidence, there will be an immediate political backlash.

Whether it is climate scientists or citizens’ juries fearing for the future of civilisation, vested interests are always prepared to rubbish what they say. Perhaps though, now that voters (in the form of citizens’ assemblies) have added their voices to those of scientists, politicians will finally have the courage to act on their recommendations. − Climate News Network

UK’s plutonium stockpile is an embarrassing risk

Plutonium used to be called the world’s most valuable substance. It’s now recognised as a highly dangerous liability.

LONDON, 3 September, 2020 – After 70 years of producing plutonium in reprocessing works the United Kingdom, now with 140 tonnes of it, the largest stockpile in the world, finds it has no use for the metal – and needs to spend £4.5 billion (US$6bn) just to keep it safe.

Having already spent at least that much since the 1950s employing thousands of workers at the Sellafield plant in north-west England to refine the plutonium, the British government has now been told this was a useless endeavour, producing fissile material which, as a security risk, is a burden for future generations.

To cope with the problem the government has now authorised the building of new plants to refine, repackage and store the plutonium for another 140 years, in the hope that some time in the future someone will find a use for it.

Plutonium was once described as the most valuable substance in the world – because with seven kilograms a nation could make a devastating nuclear bomb and become a superpower.

Non-stop production

The UK began making plutonium in the 1950s so that it could keep up with the US and Russia in obtaining such a bomb, and since then it has not stopped, although it has earmarked its current stockpile for peaceful purposes.

The plan, once there was enough military plutonium to use for bombs, was to make plutonium-based fuels for electricity production, but the technology has proved too expensive to be viable.

So the plutonium is now a liability, costing more than £300 million a ton to make safe and store. It will be permanently guarded by a special armed police force for the next 140 years to prevent terrorists getting access to it – the additional cost of this 24-hour surveillance being kept secret because it is “a matter of national security.”

Some of the plutonium has been stored for so long that it already needs what is called “emergency repackaging” to keep it safe. Some of it decays into a more radioactive substance, americium-241, which remains a danger for another 300 years.

Sudden revelation

To avoid immediate danger to workers this plutonium will have to be re-packaged again to meet the standard required for it to enter a new store, so far unbuilt.

Rachel Western, a Friends of the Earth researcher, who obtained a Ph.D studying decision-making in nuclear waste management, said: “It is shocking that after half a century of production of plutonium at Sellafield they have discovered how dangerous it is, so that we are suddenly faced with emergency action.”

One of the extraordinary aspects of this history is that successive governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been warned repeatedly by scientists, engineers and environment groups that the plutonium is a liability, not an asset. Despite that, in the 1990s (having already built up a vast stock of plutonium) ministers authorised the new reprocessing works to begin operations.

After a life of 20 years this reprocessing plant, known as Thorp (the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant), shut down in 2018, and another that has been working since the 1950s is due to close in 2021 – in the meantime still turning out more plutonium that has no end use.

“Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations”

This reporter, who worked for The Guardian newspaper, was assigned to follow Britain’s plutonium story from the 1980s. After a long planning inquiry into the Thorp plant, which was to cost £1.8 billion, a debate broke out on whether the UK needed any more plutonium

The original plan for Thorp was to make money for the UK by reprocessing spent nuclear fuels at Sellafield from around the world to recover plutonium and uranium to re-use in reactors. Everyone outside the industry said that this would be uneconomic, and so it proved. But the government went ahead anyway.

The idea was to make a new fuel called MOX, mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium, to burn in reactors that would provide energy but effectively render the plutonium useless for making weapons.

In order to justify opening the second reprocessing works the government authorised the building of an additional MOX plant, but it never worked properly and was abandoned as a catastrophic financial failure. Despite this, Sellafield continued to separate plutonium.

Looking for alternative

Papers passed to the Climate News Network show what an expensive legacy this plutonium production line has proved to be.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the government body charged with dealing with the UK’s nuclear wastes, said in its 2019 document Progress on Plutonium: “Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations to manage.”

It outlined a series of possibilities for using the plutonium, including the already failed alternative of making MOX fuel. In that and future documents these alternatives were discussed and found to be too expensive, unproven or simply impractical, because there were no reactors available to burn the plutonium.

As a result, repacking the dangerously unstable plutonium and then storing it for future generations to deal with is the chosen option until an alternative can be found. The most likely, according to the NDA document, seems to be mixing it with concrete or ceramics and burying it in a deep depository.

Cost increase

Costs are not discussed in that document. However, following a request by the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, an all-party body of members of parliament, the costs of dealing with the plutonium were disclosed by the NDA.

The evidence says in part: “The costs of the programme to manage the indefinite storage of UK-held plutonium are expected to increase between £0.5-£1 billion from the current estimate of £3.5 billion.”

These costs include the current “contingency repack capability” which is code for emergency treatment for old plutonium stores; the building of a new state of the art retreatment plant; and the construction of a giant new store to take all the plutonium. This it is hoped will be ready by 2027, with extensions to be added in 2033 and 2040.

Other documents, also seen by the Climate News Network, explain that one of the problems that Sellafield faces is that plutonium breaks down.

Completely unusable

Radioactive substances decay into what are called daughter products, also highly dangerous, that have different properties and in this case dilute the purity of the plutonium. This is why nuclear warheads constantly have to be remade with pure plutonium.

At Sellafield some of this refined plutonium has been left in store for so long that it is regarded as unusable in any form and will have to be disposed of. Other plutonium could be purified for use, if a use could be found.

The documents made clear that the plutonium in these old stores was too dangerous to leave until the new facilities could be built. The NDA’s 2020 annual report said: ”In the last 12 months Sellafield has started to recover some of the most degraded plutonium storage packages, therefore beginning to mitigate one of the more significant challenges associated with storing these materials.”

Sellafield has more than 1,000 empty buildings and nearly 10,000 employees looking after the nuclear waste created since the 1950s. – Climate News Network

Plutonium used to be called the world’s most valuable substance. It’s now recognised as a highly dangerous liability.

LONDON, 3 September, 2020 – After 70 years of producing plutonium in reprocessing works the United Kingdom, now with 140 tonnes of it, the largest stockpile in the world, finds it has no use for the metal – and needs to spend £4.5 billion (US$6bn) just to keep it safe.

Having already spent at least that much since the 1950s employing thousands of workers at the Sellafield plant in north-west England to refine the plutonium, the British government has now been told this was a useless endeavour, producing fissile material which, as a security risk, is a burden for future generations.

To cope with the problem the government has now authorised the building of new plants to refine, repackage and store the plutonium for another 140 years, in the hope that some time in the future someone will find a use for it.

Plutonium was once described as the most valuable substance in the world – because with seven kilograms a nation could make a devastating nuclear bomb and become a superpower.

Non-stop production

The UK began making plutonium in the 1950s so that it could keep up with the US and Russia in obtaining such a bomb, and since then it has not stopped, although it has earmarked its current stockpile for peaceful purposes.

The plan, once there was enough military plutonium to use for bombs, was to make plutonium-based fuels for electricity production, but the technology has proved too expensive to be viable.

So the plutonium is now a liability, costing more than £300 million a ton to make safe and store. It will be permanently guarded by a special armed police force for the next 140 years to prevent terrorists getting access to it – the additional cost of this 24-hour surveillance being kept secret because it is “a matter of national security.”

Some of the plutonium has been stored for so long that it already needs what is called “emergency repackaging” to keep it safe. Some of it decays into a more radioactive substance, americium-241, which remains a danger for another 300 years.

Sudden revelation

To avoid immediate danger to workers this plutonium will have to be re-packaged again to meet the standard required for it to enter a new store, so far unbuilt.

Rachel Western, a Friends of the Earth researcher, who obtained a Ph.D studying decision-making in nuclear waste management, said: “It is shocking that after half a century of production of plutonium at Sellafield they have discovered how dangerous it is, so that we are suddenly faced with emergency action.”

One of the extraordinary aspects of this history is that successive governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been warned repeatedly by scientists, engineers and environment groups that the plutonium is a liability, not an asset. Despite that, in the 1990s (having already built up a vast stock of plutonium) ministers authorised the new reprocessing works to begin operations.

After a life of 20 years this reprocessing plant, known as Thorp (the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant), shut down in 2018, and another that has been working since the 1950s is due to close in 2021 – in the meantime still turning out more plutonium that has no end use.

“Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations”

This reporter, who worked for The Guardian newspaper, was assigned to follow Britain’s plutonium story from the 1980s. After a long planning inquiry into the Thorp plant, which was to cost £1.8 billion, a debate broke out on whether the UK needed any more plutonium

The original plan for Thorp was to make money for the UK by reprocessing spent nuclear fuels at Sellafield from around the world to recover plutonium and uranium to re-use in reactors. Everyone outside the industry said that this would be uneconomic, and so it proved. But the government went ahead anyway.

The idea was to make a new fuel called MOX, mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium, to burn in reactors that would provide energy but effectively render the plutonium useless for making weapons.

In order to justify opening the second reprocessing works the government authorised the building of an additional MOX plant, but it never worked properly and was abandoned as a catastrophic financial failure. Despite this, Sellafield continued to separate plutonium.

Looking for alternative

Papers passed to the Climate News Network show what an expensive legacy this plutonium production line has proved to be.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the government body charged with dealing with the UK’s nuclear wastes, said in its 2019 document Progress on Plutonium: “Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations to manage.”

It outlined a series of possibilities for using the plutonium, including the already failed alternative of making MOX fuel. In that and future documents these alternatives were discussed and found to be too expensive, unproven or simply impractical, because there were no reactors available to burn the plutonium.

As a result, repacking the dangerously unstable plutonium and then storing it for future generations to deal with is the chosen option until an alternative can be found. The most likely, according to the NDA document, seems to be mixing it with concrete or ceramics and burying it in a deep depository.

Cost increase

Costs are not discussed in that document. However, following a request by the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, an all-party body of members of parliament, the costs of dealing with the plutonium were disclosed by the NDA.

The evidence says in part: “The costs of the programme to manage the indefinite storage of UK-held plutonium are expected to increase between £0.5-£1 billion from the current estimate of £3.5 billion.”

These costs include the current “contingency repack capability” which is code for emergency treatment for old plutonium stores; the building of a new state of the art retreatment plant; and the construction of a giant new store to take all the plutonium. This it is hoped will be ready by 2027, with extensions to be added in 2033 and 2040.

Other documents, also seen by the Climate News Network, explain that one of the problems that Sellafield faces is that plutonium breaks down.

Completely unusable

Radioactive substances decay into what are called daughter products, also highly dangerous, that have different properties and in this case dilute the purity of the plutonium. This is why nuclear warheads constantly have to be remade with pure plutonium.

At Sellafield some of this refined plutonium has been left in store for so long that it is regarded as unusable in any form and will have to be disposed of. Other plutonium could be purified for use, if a use could be found.

The documents made clear that the plutonium in these old stores was too dangerous to leave until the new facilities could be built. The NDA’s 2020 annual report said: ”In the last 12 months Sellafield has started to recover some of the most degraded plutonium storage packages, therefore beginning to mitigate one of the more significant challenges associated with storing these materials.”

Sellafield has more than 1,000 empty buildings and nearly 10,000 employees looking after the nuclear waste created since the 1950s. – Climate News Network

UK’s nuclear plans flounder through muddy dispute

Arguments over where to dump huge amounts of potentially radioactive mud are now ensnarling the UK’s nuclear plans.

LONDON, 3 July, 2020 – Vast quantities of mud, which campaigners say may contain radioactive particles, are the latest problem to confront the UK’s nuclear plans for two new reactors under construction in the West of England.

The nuclear industry, which insists that it is a key part of fighting climate change, is no stranger to controversy, and it may be glad that it has experience of arguing for the mud’s harmless character.

The battle concerns campaigners’ attempts to prevent 600,000 cubic metres of mud from the sites of two closed reactors being dumped in the waters of the Bristol Channel, close to where the French nuclear company EDF is building two new reactors at Hinkley Point.

EDF wants to move the mud from where it is now so that it can build the water intakes for the new reactors up to three kilometres offshore.

Relying on tides

The issue is whether the mud contains radioactivity discharged from the old Hinkley Point reactors, and whether dredging it will release dangerous particles to be distributed across the estuary onto Welsh beaches.

Amid much controversy EDF was given permission to dump 300,000 cubic metres of mud from the same site in 2018, but in the end it moved less than half the total to the disposal grounds close to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. The plan is not for the mud to settle on the sea bed but for the powerful tides that scour the Bristol Channel to distribute the mud over much of the estuary.

The campaigners opposing the dumping believe there is a risk that the mud contains plutonium and other highly dangerous radionuclides which can reach the shore in spray or dry in sand on the beaches and then be blown inland.

These particles could be inhaled, they say, and could cause an increase in cancers – particularly child leukaemia and birth defects.

“Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched”

The 34 groups, with members including policy analysts, experts and local authorities, spell out their objections in a letter sent to the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford. They ask for an extended sampling programme, for protection of Welsh people’s health, and for the appointment of an expert group to advise on the dangers.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the Welsh government’s environment agency, has received over 150 representations about EDF’s plan and has imposed conditions on the company, requiring it to sample the mud from the area to be dredged, including for plutonium and other radionuclides.

EDF, whose two reactors will cost £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) by 2025, said the dredging was safe and that claims the mud was toxic were wrong. All the mud dumped already had been tested to international standards, it said, and it was sure it was safe.

At the heart of the argument are the internationally accepted radioactive dose limits for humans. There is an increasing body of evidence of cancer clusters around nuclear installations, but established government scientists reject the idea that there could be a link with radioactivity.

Urgent review

These issues are discussed in a recently published report for Children with Cancer UK. It calls for an urgent scientific reassessment of international standards and says that governments are trying to avoid the evidence of the dangers of low-level radiation.

The report suggests the risk is far greater than officially acknowledged.

Those who wrote to Mark Drakeford supported this view. They said: “Past activities at the Hinkley nuclear site have almost certainly resulted in the dispersal of plutonium and other radioactive substances on land in the Severn Estuary in the area adjacent to the plant.

“These carcinogenic (cancer-causing) materials are highly likely to be present in the mud EDF wants to dump on the north side of the estuary, close to Cardiff, with a population of 350,000 people.”

‘Risk to thousands’

They add that well-documented evidence shows radioactive particles can come ashore, travel long distances on the breeze, “and can easily be ingested or inhaled, adding to the risk of cancer, leukaemia and congenital malformation at far higher rates than government advisors and the nuclear industry admit.

“Disposal of material which has not been adequately assessed for content of plutonium and other alpha-emitting materials is highly irresponsible and represents a potential health risk for thousands of people in Cardiff and beyond.”

Richard Bramhall, from the Low-Level Radiation Campaign, said: “Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched.”

EDF denies any danger. Chris Fayers, head of environment at Hinkley Point C, said the second phase of dredging was necessary ahead of drilling six vertical shafts for the cooling water system for the new power station.

More stringent testing

“The mud is typical of sediment found anywhere in the Bristol Channel and no different to sediment already at the Cardiff Grounds [disposal] site”, he said.

“Ahead of the second phase of dredging independent experts will carry out further analysis of the mud and sediment using techniques that are even more stringent than those used in 2017.”

He said NRW had confirmed that independent analysis showed the levels of toxicity were so low as to be not classed as radioactive under UK law, and posed no threat to human health or the environment.

NRW says: “We only grant licences if we’re satisfied that the activity can take place without harming the health of people, wildlife and the environment.” – Climate News Network

Arguments over where to dump huge amounts of potentially radioactive mud are now ensnarling the UK’s nuclear plans.

LONDON, 3 July, 2020 – Vast quantities of mud, which campaigners say may contain radioactive particles, are the latest problem to confront the UK’s nuclear plans for two new reactors under construction in the West of England.

The nuclear industry, which insists that it is a key part of fighting climate change, is no stranger to controversy, and it may be glad that it has experience of arguing for the mud’s harmless character.

The battle concerns campaigners’ attempts to prevent 600,000 cubic metres of mud from the sites of two closed reactors being dumped in the waters of the Bristol Channel, close to where the French nuclear company EDF is building two new reactors at Hinkley Point.

EDF wants to move the mud from where it is now so that it can build the water intakes for the new reactors up to three kilometres offshore.

Relying on tides

The issue is whether the mud contains radioactivity discharged from the old Hinkley Point reactors, and whether dredging it will release dangerous particles to be distributed across the estuary onto Welsh beaches.

Amid much controversy EDF was given permission to dump 300,000 cubic metres of mud from the same site in 2018, but in the end it moved less than half the total to the disposal grounds close to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. The plan is not for the mud to settle on the sea bed but for the powerful tides that scour the Bristol Channel to distribute the mud over much of the estuary.

The campaigners opposing the dumping believe there is a risk that the mud contains plutonium and other highly dangerous radionuclides which can reach the shore in spray or dry in sand on the beaches and then be blown inland.

These particles could be inhaled, they say, and could cause an increase in cancers – particularly child leukaemia and birth defects.

“Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched”

The 34 groups, with members including policy analysts, experts and local authorities, spell out their objections in a letter sent to the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford. They ask for an extended sampling programme, for protection of Welsh people’s health, and for the appointment of an expert group to advise on the dangers.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the Welsh government’s environment agency, has received over 150 representations about EDF’s plan and has imposed conditions on the company, requiring it to sample the mud from the area to be dredged, including for plutonium and other radionuclides.

EDF, whose two reactors will cost £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) by 2025, said the dredging was safe and that claims the mud was toxic were wrong. All the mud dumped already had been tested to international standards, it said, and it was sure it was safe.

At the heart of the argument are the internationally accepted radioactive dose limits for humans. There is an increasing body of evidence of cancer clusters around nuclear installations, but established government scientists reject the idea that there could be a link with radioactivity.

Urgent review

These issues are discussed in a recently published report for Children with Cancer UK. It calls for an urgent scientific reassessment of international standards and says that governments are trying to avoid the evidence of the dangers of low-level radiation.

The report suggests the risk is far greater than officially acknowledged.

Those who wrote to Mark Drakeford supported this view. They said: “Past activities at the Hinkley nuclear site have almost certainly resulted in the dispersal of plutonium and other radioactive substances on land in the Severn Estuary in the area adjacent to the plant.

“These carcinogenic (cancer-causing) materials are highly likely to be present in the mud EDF wants to dump on the north side of the estuary, close to Cardiff, with a population of 350,000 people.”

‘Risk to thousands’

They add that well-documented evidence shows radioactive particles can come ashore, travel long distances on the breeze, “and can easily be ingested or inhaled, adding to the risk of cancer, leukaemia and congenital malformation at far higher rates than government advisors and the nuclear industry admit.

“Disposal of material which has not been adequately assessed for content of plutonium and other alpha-emitting materials is highly irresponsible and represents a potential health risk for thousands of people in Cardiff and beyond.”

Richard Bramhall, from the Low-Level Radiation Campaign, said: “Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched.”

EDF denies any danger. Chris Fayers, head of environment at Hinkley Point C, said the second phase of dredging was necessary ahead of drilling six vertical shafts for the cooling water system for the new power station.

More stringent testing

“The mud is typical of sediment found anywhere in the Bristol Channel and no different to sediment already at the Cardiff Grounds [disposal] site”, he said.

“Ahead of the second phase of dredging independent experts will carry out further analysis of the mud and sediment using techniques that are even more stringent than those used in 2017.”

He said NRW had confirmed that independent analysis showed the levels of toxicity were so low as to be not classed as radioactive under UK law, and posed no threat to human health or the environment.

NRW says: “We only grant licences if we’re satisfied that the activity can take place without harming the health of people, wildlife and the environment.” – Climate News Network

Unanswered questions dog UK’s new nuclear plans

A French company has designs on the United Kingdom: new nuclear plans for more reactors, with British consumers footing the bill.

LONDON, 11 June, 2020 – The French company EDF, a company in a hurry, wants permission to start building two more reactors in the United Kingdom, and it hopes to save money – by arranging for British taxpayers to pay the capital costs of its new nuclear plans.

EDF is already building two reactors at Hinkley Point in the West of England, and it is hoping to transfer workers from that site to Suffolk, on the east coast, believing that will help it to save up to 20% of the construction cost of the two planned reactors, because everyone employed there will know already what to do.

The catch is that EDF has no money itself to finance the construction and wants the UK government to impose a new tax on British electricity consumers so that they will pay the cost through their electricity bills.

The UK has yet to decide whether to go ahead with this tax, euphemistically called a Regulated Asset Base. If adopted, what the scheme means is that the UK consumer will pay EDF’s bills rather than the company having to borrow the money from banks, which are increasingly unlikely to lend money to such expensive schemes because they take so long to build and promise little return.

Anxieties abound

Meanwhile EDF, which has a Chinese nuclear company as its junior partner, promises to create 25,000 jobs, including 1,000 apprenticeships during construction, and says 900 full-time jobs will be available when Sizewell C, as the station will be called, is complete.

If all goes to plan the company hopes to start work in 18 months and says the two reactors will take 10 years to build. It expects them to provide 7% of the UK’s electricity, enough for six million homes.

There are many objectors. Some say much of the coastline will be badly affected, including internationally important nature reserves. Others fear the site is highly vulnerable to sea level rise and therefore a danger to the public.

Local people also fear that the construction site, with its attendant lorry and commuter traffic, will disrupt their lives for a decade, destroying the important tourist trade.

Cheaper options

Other more strategic objections, which might weigh heavier with the government, are that nuclear power is very expensive and much cheaper and less controversial alternatives exist, particularly on-shore and off-shore wind and solar power, and biogas.

More importantly, a drive for energy efficiency, badly neglected in the UK at present, would render the whole project unnecessary.

The problem EDF has is its track record on construction and repairs. The type of reactor it plans to build, the European Pressurised Water Reactor, said by the company to be the most powerful in the world, is proving extremely difficult to build, and till now none has yet been completed outside China.

Construction is running more than 10 years late in both Finland and France, and costs continue to escalate.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors”

EDF’s debts are now huge, so big that the French state is working out how to restructure the company by splitting it into a renewables arm (which is profitable) and a nuclear branch.

There are serious doubts about the reliability of EDF’s claims and timetables for fixing existing power stations and opening new ones. The company currently owns all of the UK’s operating nuclear reactors, most of which are near the end of their lives, and there are serious doubts about whether they are economic and in some cases even safe.

Two reactors at Hunterston in Scotland have serious cracking in the graphite blocks that are part of the control mechanism. The company has spent two years trying to justify continuing to operate the reactors to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

Similarly, at the other end of the UK, at Dungeness in south-east England, the station is also closed for extensive repairs, an outage that was going to take weeks has now stretched to two years – and the start-up date has just been put back again.

Looking on the bright side

One of the features of all of EDF’s activities is the extraordinary optimism the company seems to have, particularly about when reactors will be finished or ready to restart after repairs. With the Hunterston reactors restart dates have been announced nine times, only to be postponed each time.

This track record led the Climate News Network to ask EDF some searching questions, including why they continued to offer optimistic start-up dates that were repeatedly postponed. We also asked why the company kept the Hunterston and Dungeness stations open at all, since repairing them was costly and they were already near the end of their operating lives.

We asked EDF: “At what point do you cut your losses and close the stations permanently?” After five days of pleading for more time to answer, it sent us already published press releases extolling the virtues of the plan to build Sizewell, and several comments.

On Dungeness B it said: “For the past two years we have undertaken a major investment programme at Dungeness to secure the station’s longer-term future. Since the start of the year we have made great progress in  tackling some of the complex problems our works identified.

Extensive repairs

“However we still have further engineering works to complete, and a detailed safety case to finalise, before we ask for restart approval from our regulator. Our present position for estimated return to service is 11 September for Reactor 22 and 21 September for Reactor 21.”

On Hunterston B, EDF said: “We are continuing to work constructively with the regulator to ensure the work at Hunterston B is done thoroughly and helps inform future decisions. The safety case for Hunterston B, Reactor 3, has been submitted to the ONR for its independent assessment.

“Since the first reactor was taken offline we have carried out the most extensive graphite inspection programme ever undertaken, the results of which have been fed into this case”, referring us to the information the company provides on graphite blocks.

The ONR could not answer for EDF on its estimated reactor re-opening dates, but on Hunterston it said it was looking at the safety case, would not be hurried and would not give permission to restart until it was satisfied it was safe to do so.

Unexpected snags

Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the ageing reactors:

“It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems”, he said.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors, but continues to pour money into plants to get a couple more years of operation out of plants highly likely to be loss-makers.

“It is depressing that ONR, which has a duty to keep the public informed on such important issues, chooses to hide behind bland statements such as that it will take as long as it takes, and that it will not comment on EDF’s decisions.” – Climate News Network

A French company has designs on the United Kingdom: new nuclear plans for more reactors, with British consumers footing the bill.

LONDON, 11 June, 2020 – The French company EDF, a company in a hurry, wants permission to start building two more reactors in the United Kingdom, and it hopes to save money – by arranging for British taxpayers to pay the capital costs of its new nuclear plans.

EDF is already building two reactors at Hinkley Point in the West of England, and it is hoping to transfer workers from that site to Suffolk, on the east coast, believing that will help it to save up to 20% of the construction cost of the two planned reactors, because everyone employed there will know already what to do.

The catch is that EDF has no money itself to finance the construction and wants the UK government to impose a new tax on British electricity consumers so that they will pay the cost through their electricity bills.

The UK has yet to decide whether to go ahead with this tax, euphemistically called a Regulated Asset Base. If adopted, what the scheme means is that the UK consumer will pay EDF’s bills rather than the company having to borrow the money from banks, which are increasingly unlikely to lend money to such expensive schemes because they take so long to build and promise little return.

Anxieties abound

Meanwhile EDF, which has a Chinese nuclear company as its junior partner, promises to create 25,000 jobs, including 1,000 apprenticeships during construction, and says 900 full-time jobs will be available when Sizewell C, as the station will be called, is complete.

If all goes to plan the company hopes to start work in 18 months and says the two reactors will take 10 years to build. It expects them to provide 7% of the UK’s electricity, enough for six million homes.

There are many objectors. Some say much of the coastline will be badly affected, including internationally important nature reserves. Others fear the site is highly vulnerable to sea level rise and therefore a danger to the public.

Local people also fear that the construction site, with its attendant lorry and commuter traffic, will disrupt their lives for a decade, destroying the important tourist trade.

Cheaper options

Other more strategic objections, which might weigh heavier with the government, are that nuclear power is very expensive and much cheaper and less controversial alternatives exist, particularly on-shore and off-shore wind and solar power, and biogas.

More importantly, a drive for energy efficiency, badly neglected in the UK at present, would render the whole project unnecessary.

The problem EDF has is its track record on construction and repairs. The type of reactor it plans to build, the European Pressurised Water Reactor, said by the company to be the most powerful in the world, is proving extremely difficult to build, and till now none has yet been completed outside China.

Construction is running more than 10 years late in both Finland and France, and costs continue to escalate.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors”

EDF’s debts are now huge, so big that the French state is working out how to restructure the company by splitting it into a renewables arm (which is profitable) and a nuclear branch.

There are serious doubts about the reliability of EDF’s claims and timetables for fixing existing power stations and opening new ones. The company currently owns all of the UK’s operating nuclear reactors, most of which are near the end of their lives, and there are serious doubts about whether they are economic and in some cases even safe.

Two reactors at Hunterston in Scotland have serious cracking in the graphite blocks that are part of the control mechanism. The company has spent two years trying to justify continuing to operate the reactors to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

Similarly, at the other end of the UK, at Dungeness in south-east England, the station is also closed for extensive repairs, an outage that was going to take weeks has now stretched to two years – and the start-up date has just been put back again.

Looking on the bright side

One of the features of all of EDF’s activities is the extraordinary optimism the company seems to have, particularly about when reactors will be finished or ready to restart after repairs. With the Hunterston reactors restart dates have been announced nine times, only to be postponed each time.

This track record led the Climate News Network to ask EDF some searching questions, including why they continued to offer optimistic start-up dates that were repeatedly postponed. We also asked why the company kept the Hunterston and Dungeness stations open at all, since repairing them was costly and they were already near the end of their operating lives.

We asked EDF: “At what point do you cut your losses and close the stations permanently?” After five days of pleading for more time to answer, it sent us already published press releases extolling the virtues of the plan to build Sizewell, and several comments.

On Dungeness B it said: “For the past two years we have undertaken a major investment programme at Dungeness to secure the station’s longer-term future. Since the start of the year we have made great progress in  tackling some of the complex problems our works identified.

Extensive repairs

“However we still have further engineering works to complete, and a detailed safety case to finalise, before we ask for restart approval from our regulator. Our present position for estimated return to service is 11 September for Reactor 22 and 21 September for Reactor 21.”

On Hunterston B, EDF said: “We are continuing to work constructively with the regulator to ensure the work at Hunterston B is done thoroughly and helps inform future decisions. The safety case for Hunterston B, Reactor 3, has been submitted to the ONR for its independent assessment.

“Since the first reactor was taken offline we have carried out the most extensive graphite inspection programme ever undertaken, the results of which have been fed into this case”, referring us to the information the company provides on graphite blocks.

The ONR could not answer for EDF on its estimated reactor re-opening dates, but on Hunterston it said it was looking at the safety case, would not be hurried and would not give permission to restart until it was satisfied it was safe to do so.

Unexpected snags

Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the ageing reactors:

“It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems”, he said.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors, but continues to pour money into plants to get a couple more years of operation out of plants highly likely to be loss-makers.

“It is depressing that ONR, which has a duty to keep the public informed on such important issues, chooses to hide behind bland statements such as that it will take as long as it takes, and that it will not comment on EDF’s decisions.” – Climate News Network

At last: a fair deal for our atomic love affair

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

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