Renew On Line (UK) 49

Extracts from NATTA's journal
, issue 148 March-April 2004

   Welcome   Archives   Bulletin         


1. Innovation Review- Beyond wind
2. Marine Energy Challenge
3. 35,000 jobs by 2020 ..but UKERC is delayed
4. Security of Supply…BBC turns the lights off
5. Government pushes ahead with renewables and carbon trading
6. Wind costs and benefits
7. ‘No’ to the Severn Barrage
8. Stalling on Micro-CHP and VAT
9. Mini-Hydo project blocked, Biofuels still pushed
10. Europe Roundup: Germany gets it right
11. World Roundup: wave power hits US, 100% renewable Japan
12. Nuclear News: Waste haunts Italy, who will get ITER?

12. Nuclear News

Who will get ITER ?

A French site, backed by the EU, was initially favoured for the International Thermonuclear fusion energy reactor, ITER- Cadarache near Marseille.  Spain had dropped out of the contest to strengthen the European position against the other site contenders- Canada and Japan. But then came the wrangles. The US had reportedly been unhappy to back France on account of the latters position on Iraq.  In addition the French ‘network for the abolition of nuclear energy’ argued against Cadarache since there was an active geological  fault 7 km from the proposed site- a 2001 report by the French nuclear safety authority  concluded that the area presents a ‘significant seismic  risk’ and recommended the closure of six nuclear facilities since they were insufficiently resistant to earthquakes.  The other favourite in the race, Rokkasho in Japan, then began to look more promising- it’s on solid bed-rock and near a US air base. France then started talking about ‘going it alone’.  This was followed by a proposal for an inelegant compromise- splitting the work between France and Japan. As we go to press it’s still unclear who will be chosen.

Where ever it goes, the EU and Japan will be putting up most of the money, but Russia, China, Korea, Canada, and the USA are also involved- the USA had dropped out of the programme a few years back, but George Bush has brought it back in. The 10 billion euro ITER project aims to create the world’s first sustained nuclear fusion reaction. So far experiments with JET, the Joint European Torus, at Culham in Oxfordshire have achieved a small positive energy output but have not been able to sustain the requisite high temperature plasma.  With ITER, which is bigger, it is hoped to be able to do this for several minutes,  as a further step on the way to developing a viable power plant. Fusion is clearly still seen as worth trying for,  despite the cost and uncertainties.  Certainly the bulk of the funds going to the Euratom programme, which the UK supports, are allocated to fusion research- see the Table.

EC Euratom/fusion programmes

(GBP millions, 2003 prices) Total Euratom        Fusion
1997 159.0    130.2 
1998                             158.6   133.8 
1999 177.5 139.2 
2000 189.5 113.5 
2001 190.3 163.4 
2002 221.6 141.8 
2003 176.7       97.6 

Source: Parliamentary Answer, 4th Dec. Figures do not include separate Euratom loans. For more  see:

N-Wastes haunt Italy

Italy bought Magnox reactor technology from the UK in the 1960’s- our only reactor export success- but closed the reactors down in the 1980’s, after the Chernobyl disaster. However, the wastes that they produced haven’t gone away. They, and active wastes from medical sources, have been stored on site in around 120 separate locations around the country, but after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA, the Italian government was worried that they might not be secure. So the search began for a central repository. In Nov. plans were announced for a long term storage site in a former salt mine in Scanzano in the south of the country.  This has been met with very strong local opposition, and the waste issue has become a political issue in Italy (see WISE Nuclear Monitor 28).

There are also implications for the UK. It seems that, under agreements made with the UK government, spent fuel from the Italian reactors has been reprocessed at Sellafield, and now the Plutonium that has been extracted from the fuel,  and resultant extra waste that has been created, will presumably  have go back to Italy. The impacts of all this were raised as an issue in Parliament on  Nov 20th, when the government was asked what assessment had been made of ‘whether proper arrangements are in place in respect of nuclear material from Italy currently in the UK for (a) their repatriation to Italy in a safe and timely way and (b) their safe storage in the UK pending dispatch’. Energy Minister Stephen Timms responded: ‘The arrangements in place for reprocessing of overseas spent fuel contain options for return of wastes. The Government intend that such options should be exercised and that wastes arising from reprocessing be returned to the country of origin. It has been the practice of successive Governments to obtain, before a contract for the reprocessing of foreign spent fuel is signed, assurances from the relevant government that it will take no legislative or regulatory steps to prevent the return of wastes arising under the contract.  The adequacy of the facilities for managing those wastes is a matter for their owners and the regulatory authorities of the country concerned in accordance with the relevant legislation of that country.’

...and the UK

A six year old study of childrens teeth has come back to haunt BNFL.  The results of tests on more than 3,000 extracted teeth by health authorities had showed that the level of plutonium increased the closer one lived to the Sellafield plant, but it had been concluded that the levels were  too low to be a health risk.  However, looking back at the study, some members of the Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters have now, it seems, cast doubt on these conclusions. Prof. Eric Wright from Dundee University Medical School, told the Observer (Nov.30) that some peoples genetic make up might predispose them to be sensitive to even small levels of internal radiation. But Melanie Johnson, the Public Health Minister, pressed on this issue, insisted that the average concentrations of plutonium ‘were so low they are considered to present an insignificant radiological hazard’.  Note the word average.  BNFL told the Observer ‘what is not clear is whether the plutonium recorded in this study originated [from Sellafield] or from nuclear weapons testing fall-out’.

But how could that produce higher levels nearer Sellafield?

Nuclear phase in?

In a report for the Adam Smith Institute entitled ‘Power to the People’ Prof. Michael Laughton argues for new incentives for future investment in all forms of generation, and says we should not close off options like nuclear.  ‘The security of power supplies and energy sources must be the top priorities of future energy policy. We can still meet our environmental objectives, but the mix of generating sources must be urgently considered. Over-dependence on gas will significantly raise the risk of supply interruption, price instability and economic damage. And by raising carbon dioxide levels, gas will reduce environmental quality too. Renewables are an important part of the mix, but they are technologically challenging and nobody knows what the full cost will be. They are also irregular, meaning that we will need fossil fuel back-up anyway.  Meanwhile, the government is closing nuclear plants and has no plans to build new ones. To prevent shortages, we would need to replace this lost capacity with fossil-fired plant. But to meet our Kyoto commitments, and to preserve our security by having a good mix of fuels, the issue of new nuclear build needs to be put firmly back on the political agenda.’


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