Renew On Line (UK) 62

Extracts from NATTA's journal
Renew, Issue 162 July-Aug 2006
   Welcome   Archives   Bulletin         


1. Energy Review EAC Review, FoE Scenarios

2. BWEA on offshore wind wind ups and downs

3. Wave & Tidal Power in Scotland and Wales

4. Reactions to the Budget...and the Climate Review

5. Greening London.. but not Devon

6. Energy Statistics RO grows

7. Coal to come back cleaner? Clean coal

8. Building Battles Building regs and codes

9. Policy moves. Tory greening, UKERC query

10. Stern Climate Views doom ahead?

11. Fuel Cells R&D slow progress

12. EU News Wind and biofuels grow

13. US News Wind battles, Bushes plan

14. World News Divisive Climate Pact?

15. Nuclear News US reprocessing

15 Nuclear News

Reprocessing in the USA

The US Congress has voted $50m to the Dept. of Energy to explore nuclear fuel reprocessing (see Renew 161). The original rationale for reprocessing was to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons and also for possible use in Fast Breeder reactors, but President Carter, who was worried about the proliferation problems, backed off the latter in the 1970’s. Part of the new rationale is that, by extracting uranium and plutonium, the amount of highly active material in the wastes to be disposed of would be decreased. The UK (and France) have been doing that, at considerable cost, for may years- and in addition to a lot of extra intermediate and low level wastes (which are created by reprocessing), the UK has around 80 tonnes of plutonium which we don’t know what to do with, except use it in mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for burner reactors- the Fast Breeder programmes has been closed and we have plenty enough for bombs. But MOX costs more than uranium, of which, for the moment, there is no shortage.
A major US driver for reprocessing now is that there won’t be enough room in the proposed Yucca Mountain waste repository for the wastes expected to be produced as the US nuclear programme expands. The New York Times (27/12/05) reported that, at a forum sponsored by the Foundation for Nuclear Studies of Washington, Phillip J. Finck, deputy associate director of the Argonne National Laboratory, said that by 2010, long before Yucca Mountain can open (if, indeed, it ever does), the US would have more than the 70,000 metric tons of fuel than will fit there.
Morover, the New York Times noted, it’s not just the volume, it’s the heat produced, which is reduced if the plutonium and active uranium is extracted. And longer term you then have extra fuel that can be used. Some also see this as a way to destroy weapons materials, although extracting them from spent fuel does make them easier to get at, at least before they are re-used as new fuel. And each cycle through produces more and more low and intermediate wastes, and increases all the risks associated with the reprocessing operation- as we have found at Sellafield.
At the Nuclear Forum, Frank N. von Hippel, a physicist at Princeton, also noted that it would be a long time before it was clear that reprocessed fuel was needed. But the lure of reprocessing, using the new UREX technology, linked possibly to a new fleet of fast neutron based reactors to use up the recycled plutonium and uranium, is still strong- and raising its game, the US has launched a $250m Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which according to Modern Power Systems (Feb 10th) is ‘part of a budget that could stretch to $1bn by 2009,’ and will help developing countries and others to built new reactors, with the US taking back spent fuel from them to reprocess, converting the Pu into MOX for use in US plants. Energy secretary Samuel Bodman said: ‘GNEP brings the promise of virtually limitless energy to emerging economies around the globe’. We’ve been here before! See Forum in Renew 162 for more.

* Maybe someone should tell them that we in the UK now face a very large clean up bill for our reprocessing/Fast Breeder programme. The total ultimate cost for cleaning up the nuclear industry has now been put by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority at up to £70 bn, with some of that being due to the now abandoned Fast Breeder programme and even more to the low/intermediate level wastes created by reprocessing at Sellafield, and the eventual decommissioning of its reprocessing plants. The Independent (3/06), noted: ‘Previously unpublished figures for individual sites, supplied by the NDA, show that Sellafield, Britain’s largest nuclear complex, is currently estimated to cost another £31bn before it is finally closed down- a figure that is likely to increase drastically. Commercial operations at the site are due to end in 2016, but it will be another 134 years before the site is finally made safe.’
In March the NDA said decommissioning could cost £70bn, ~ £14bn more than previous estimates, in part due to the discovery of radioactive sludge left in underground storage tanks at Sellafield and the issue of contaminated land. A report in the Independent (2/06) then put the grand total, including for BE & MOD, at £160bn!

Devolved in UK

65% of respondents to a recent online poll on the Scottish Sunday Herald website opposed nuclear power and only 35% were in favour.
Scottish politicians of all hues are usually very concerned to maintain their hard won rights under the Scottish Devolution Act to exercise control over planning issues, and the possibility that the Whitehall government might choose to go nuclear and impose nuclear plans on Scotland therefore evidently rankles. The Lib Dems, Greens and the Scottish National party are all anti-nuclear, and although the Scottish Labour party recently voted in favour of nuclear, that puts a strain on the ruling Lib-Lab coalition. Asked in the Westminster parliament what would happen if the Scottish Executive blocked nuclear plans, Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Scotland, said ‘we do not propose to amend the Scotland Act 1998’, but added that ‘most sensible political parties, and most people in Scotland, recognise that we need to have a profound debate about the future of energy generation in Scotland, and that to rule out nuclear would be absolutely foolish... We should be looking not to the Scotland Act but to the good sense of people in Scotland, who have rejected the nationalists, the Greens and the Trots on every occasion on which they have had the opportunity to vote them down.’
Although it does not have the same devolved powers over planning, Wales also has a long standing anti-nuclear movement, which at one point collected an anti-nuclear petition signed by 50,000 people from across Wales. More recently Welsh Economic development minister Andrew Davies has stated there is no ‘commercial case’ for more nuclear power stations in Wales. And the Welsh (and NI) Secretary, Peter Hain, has in the past adopted a critical stance on nuclear power.
Meanwhile, similar concerns are emerging in Northern Ireland. The All Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities Forum has pointed out that the Strategic Energy Framework for N. Ireland, published in June 2004 following extensive consultation, emphasises the role that renewables can play in meeting N.Ireland’s energy needs- and didn’t mention nuclear. Down District Councillor Margaret Ritchie, a member of the Forum, commented ‘There is absolutely no good reason why this should change just because Tony Blair has been seduced by the nuclear lobby into calling yet another energy review’.

Waste Watchers

The Governments advisory Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, is due to report soon on their interim conclusion following their major public consultation on how to deal with nuclear waste. They have argued reasonably that public acceptance was the key issue. However, they have been under fire from, amongst others, the Royal Society, which in a report in January, said that the Committee needed ‘stronger scientific input’. Prof. Geoffrey Boulton, the co-ordinator of the report and independent member of the CoRWM Quality Assurance Group, said: ‘We are concerned that the hitherto relatively limited engagement with the scientific & engineering communities might result in a negative response to the final CoRWM proposals’, but he added ‘we support the crucial importance of the public consultation and engagement processes’.
* Insurance UK Nuclear operators liabilities arising from accidents are limited to the first £140m:

More waste

CoRWM, the governments nuclear waste advisory committee, says that a new generation of nuclear power stations could increase the amount of highly active radioactive waste stored in the UK five fold. But BNFL says the new reactors will only produce 10% of the total volume of waste produced by existing plants. However that’s mainly because the spent fuel rods will no longer be reprocessed- thus avoiding the generation of a lot of low and intermediate wastes. What you do get though is more high level waste to store- an extra 31,900 cubic metres of spent fuel, without the plutonium and uranium extracted, on top of the 8,150 cubic metres of a highly active waste currently stored. New reactors are certainly bound to produce less wastes overall than MAGNOX plants, with their alloy fuel cans, and they may burn up more plutonium, but without reprocessing, you still get a lot of high level waste. (Guardian, 9/1/6)

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