Renew On Line (UK) 59

Extracts from NATTA's journal
, issue 159 Jan-Feb 2006

   Welcome   Archives   Bulletin         


1.     Giving and taking: £30m LCBP/ RO cuts?

2. New Climate Review: wait for it!

3. New Energy Review: nuclear or not?

4. Decarb the UK:Tyndall Centre report

5. UK Wind is fine: ECI report

6. Green heat: biomass reviews

7. PAC slams‘£12.5 bn’ RO costs

8. Scots Adjust Renewables Target

9. Energy Efficiency: mixed reviews

10. Carbon Saving: UK results so far

11. EU News:  Germany does well

12. World News: Asian-Pacific Pact

13. Nuclear News: Safety and Costs disputed

13. Nuclear News

Nuclear ‘Safe’

There is categorically no evidence that living near nuclear power stations increases the rate of childhood cancers, says a report from the UK’s  Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment. Its conclusions are based on data on 32,000 childhood cancer cases from 1969-93 in the UK.  But in parallel came news of the largest and most comprehensive study ever among nuclear power workers, which it seems has established that the low doses of radiation they receive can increase their cancer risk. The study of 400,000 workers in 15 countries including the UK, carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organisation, found that 1-2% of the cancer deaths among those who took part may have been caused by radiation exposure. Given these conflicting views, we wonder what will be the reactions when potential sites are announced for UK nuclear waste repositories- which may happen  later this year.  Last time the government tried to think of places to put it, the list (recently disclosed) included an MOD site in High Wycombe, along with 536 other possible locations, most being in remote areas, including offshore, but with Cumbria finally dominating. However that plan was dropped in 1997. Now they are trying again.

It has to go somewhere. At present most of the high and medium level waste is stored temporarily at Sellafield, while 1m cubic metres of low level waste has been deposited in trenchs covered with soil at the nearby Drigg repository. The British Nuclear Group, who are now the operators, wants to dispose of a further 750,000 cubic metres there, before closing it around 2050. However there are fears that the site may not remain safe long term. Evidently, coastal erosion could mean that in 500 years, waste from Drigg, which is on low-lying ground less than 500 metres from the shore, could be flooded and the waste could be washed onto the beaches and into the sea. Last year the Environment Agency (EA) claimed that that such an event would increase the risk of local people contracting cancers by at least 100 times and launched a consultation, ‘Undue burdens’, on what should be done. High on the list one might hope is- not produce any more waste. But what about what’s already there? At minimum, the EA has suggested putting thicker caps on the waste and extending the period over which Drigg is actively managed to beyond the planned 150 years. But it has also suggested digging out at least some of the long lived wastes there, some of which has a half-life of 245,000 years. But that would be very expensive and moving it all would be even more expensive- and Drigg is the main repositry available for low level waste at present. Where else could it go- and the 500,000 tonnes more expected in future from existing plant and decommissioning operations? We’re back to the fundamental issue- even given reassurances about nuclear being safe, no one wants nuclear waste stored near them. (28/5/5) noted that ‘other coastal nuclear waste sites, like Rokkashomura in Japan and Lan Yu island in Taiwan, could face similar risks. Reactor sites next to the sea, including six in India and 13 in the UK, might also be vulnerable.’

Nuclear ‘Too Costly’

With NM Rothschild, the London merchant bank, and other financial and corporate interests, said to be looking at how a new UK nuclear programme might be financed, OXERA, has produced a timely report claiming that the 11% return they estimated they would get on the £8.6 bn investment required for eight new plants, was too small to justify the risks for private companies. However, OXERA said that the rate of return could be increased to about 15% if the government offered cumulative capital grants of about £1.6 bn, or debt guarantees of over £3bn. Even the Economist, in an otherwise pro-nuclear comment (7/6/5), said that subsidies would be needed.

Oddly though, given the possibility of new build in the UK at some point, BNFL has put the major US reactor construction company Westinghouse, which it bought a few years back, up for sale- it may get £1bn for it. This is strange since Westinghouse has developed the new AP1000 reactor concept, which some see as the next big thing in terms of exporting nuclear plants around the world- and also possibly for the UK.  But then BNFL (and the government who own it) needs the money to offset the continuing losses on waste processing- BNFL’s  reported losses of £150m in 2004, although that was better than the £303m loss the year before.  Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks noted that owning a major reactor vendor might be seen as problematic if the government were to enter that market as a buyer. But, another reason for the sale could be that the ambitions Westinghouse has to be the supplier of four new plants to China may be thwarted by the US government. Reflecting US concerns over Chinas’ policies, the House of Representatives blocked a $5bn loan by the federally controlled Export-Import Bank, which was meant to help pave the way for the deal- and which ultimately, over the next 20 years, might lead to orders for maybe 20 or 30 reactors, worth around $54bn. Just what the BNFL- or rather the UK government- could have done with to meet some of the £56bn the NDA’s clean up programme is now expected to cost.

* The nuclear industry certainly does always seem to need big money. The WISE/NIRS Nuclear monitor issue 630/31 looks at subsidies to nuclear power- and reports a vast imbalance in treatment compared with renewables. For example it notes that the US nuclear energy sector received $15.3/kWh in the first 15 years of the development of nuclear power (1947-1961) whereas wind energy received just $0.46/kWh in its first 15 years- 30 times less. The imbalance has continued with nuclear still getting the lions share of funding e.g. around Euro 12,500 for nuclear fission & fusion, compared with Euro 400m for renewables in the EU Energy R&D Fifth Framework programme. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Authority has noted that the global nuclear clean up programme will cost $1 trillion up to 2050.  Source: /

Accidents will happen

An accident at the Torness nuclear plant in Scotland in 2002, described at the time by British Energy as due to ‘vibration problems’, was far more serious and highlighted major flaws in safety procedures, according to a report by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, released recently after a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The NII criticised Torness managers for staff cutbacks, ‘ignorance’, ‘communication problems’ and failing to give safety a high priority.  Some of the information the company provided to investigators was said to be ‘inaccurate or inconsistent’. The accident led to one reactor being shut down for over six months, and cost British Energy at least £25m.

Things don’t seem to have improved too much since then.  A report produced for the British Nuclear Group on the internal leak of 83,000 litres of radioactive material at the THORP reprocessing plant last year, said that there was ‘operational complacency’ at the plant: ‘The reaction of all staff interviewed... was that they believed that material losses on this scale could not conceivably be due to a leak; there had been an error in the paperwork’.   It was 8 months before they realised the growing scale of the problem and took action.  The report concludes: “It seems likely there will remain a significant chance of further plant failures occurring in the future even with comprehensive implementation of recommendations of this report”.  

Although neither incident led to public exposures, they both cost a lot- and the THORP problem has yet to be resolved- the reopening, expected in March, has been delayed until at least May, and is still subject to NDA/NII approval.

Yukka-EPA fix

With the proposed US n-waste repository at Yukka mountain still being contested, the  EPA has proposed raising the permitted level for radiation doses to future generations to 350 millirem p.a. peak

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