Renew On Line (UK) 63
|Extracts from NATTA's journal
Renew, Issue 163 Sept-Oct 2006
|Welcome Archives Bulletin|
12. Nuclear News
NAO on BE’s liabilities
The government’s decision to bail out nuclear generator British Energy has left the taxpayer facing ‘a large and uncertain liability’, the National Audit Office has warned. The NAO noted that, ‘in the light of its assessment of the threat to electricity supplies and to safety’, the DTI had agreed ‘to take responsibility for meeting certain of the Company’s nuclear liabilities. In return, the Company will contribute to a Nuclear Liabilities Fund from future cash streams.’ But the NAO noted, since the electricity market has proved to be very volatile in recent years ‘the Nuclear Liabilities Fund is therefore particularly exposed to British Energy’s future financial and operational performance. This uncertainty places a significant risk in the hands of the taxpayer.’
Reactions The government have argued that it had no choice but to bail out BE- if the company had gone into administration, all of its nuclear liabilities would have fallen on the tax payer anyway. However, new estimate of liabilities underwritten by the public purse since the restructuring have now emerged, putting the situation in an even more worrying light. The costs, associated with having spent fuel treated by British Nuclear Fuels, was put at £5.1bn- up £1bn from the previous figure, given at the time of BE’s privatisation in 1996.
Greenpeace said: ‘The original estimate of British Energy’s liabilities was £3.4bn. The increase of £1.7bn is massive and this will not be the final subsidy the taxpayer could end up having to pay’. SERA argued that the DTI should ‘allow BE to be released from the costs associated with the unnecessary chemical reprocessing of its spent nuclear fuel (by BNFL at Sellafield) and that the used fuel rods are instead put into dry storage. To do so would reduce the company’s operating costs by approximately £200-£250m per year. This sum is approximately 10% of its annual revenue.’
It added ‘Spent fuel from BE’s newest plant, the PWR at Sizewell B, has already been successfully put into dry storage since the plant started operating in 1995. From a technical and operational point of view, the reprocessing of spent fuel rods from BE’s seven AGR type stations is entirely unnecessary. Moreover, from an environmental point of view, there would be lower environmental discharges and lower arisings of difficult and dangerous wastes, including plutonium, to be dealt with further down the line.’
It noted that ‘British Energy itself has called for the dry storage option to be adopted. However, BNFL at Sellafield has so far refused to agree any substantial change to the existing contractual arrangements.’ Finally it concluded ‘the significant savings from the end of reprocessing would create the opportunity to order an increase in allocations that are required to be made into the segregated fund’ to ‘cover decommissioning costs of reactors after they close’.
* Rounding the story off, following the governments bailout, with BE now back in the black, with a £599m pre-tax profit compared to a £300 loss last year (thanks in part to increased electricity prices to £32/MWh), the government has decided to sell off at least part of its remaining share of BE- which might raise up to £2bn. But then in July it was revealed that the Nuclear Safety Directorate was concerned about possible cracks in the graphite cores of BE’s AGRs.
* The NAO report is at: www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/05-06/0506943.pdf
The governments Committee on Radioactive Waste Management has recommended deep geological disposal as the best long term option for the UK’s nuclear waste, rather than surface storage, which may not be surprising given the risk of terrorist attacks on the later. But it says that it will take time to negotiate plans and sites and that meanwhile we will need robust surface storage. That of course could be for quite a while, so the ‘out of sight out of mind’ problem and lack of retrievability that worries some environmentalists is lessened- for the duration. Gordon MacKerron, the Committees chair, said its report should not be seen as a green light to new nuclear reactors, although the issues of whether or not to approve a new generation of reactors, and how to manage the nuclear waste already created, although separate, are inextricably linked through a basic ethical question: is it right to create more radioactive waste when we haven’t found an acceptable long-term option for handling the material already in existence? CoRWM stresses that its findings do not mean the issue is solved. It’s July report is seen as only be the start. CoRWM envisages a lengthy, three-stage process of deciding on a storage method, setting out a clear implementation plan, and then the key one, resolving issues of public confidence.
The nuclear industry claims a new generation of reactors will add only 10% to the volume of radioactive waste. But as noted in Renew 162, this is misleading since the majority of existing waste is made up of bulky, low-level waste. CoRWM says that new reactors will produce three times the amount of high-level waste as existing reactors if, as seems likely, their spent fuel is not reprocessed.
The debate over the energy balance for nuclear power continues with on the one hand the World Nuclear Association saying that there was plenty or uranium and that even using low grade ore the energy needed for the fuel cycle was only at worst under 3% of that generated over a typical plants lifetime, while others, for example adding in back-end costs as well, disagree. See John Busby’s analysis at
Chernobyl still with us
The UK Dept. of Health has admitted that more than 200,000 sheep are grazing on land still contaminated by fallout from the Chernobyl accident 20 years ago in the Ukraine- 1,500 miles away. Emergency orders still apply to 355 Welsh farms, 11 in Scotland and 9 in England. No sheep can be moved out of these areas without a special license, under Emergency Orders imposed in 1986. Sheep with higher than the permitted level of radiation have to be marked with a special dye that does not wash off in the rain, and have to spend months grazing on uncontaminated grass before they are passed as fit to go into the food chain.
The Chernobyl disaster and the dust cloud that went across parts of the UK, has also been linked to higher rates of infant mortality in Britain in a study by epidemiologist John Urquhart, who claims that infant deaths may have risen by 11% between1986 and 1989 in high exposure areas compared with 4% in other areas. He says that ‘the effect of radioactive fallout could be two orders of magnitude greater than previously suspected’. ( Independent 14/23 March).
The Guardian (25/03) noted that new independent studies had claimed that ‘at least 30,000 people are expected to die of cancers linked directly to severe radiation exposure in 1986’, contrasting this with the ‘official’ view from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency and World Health Organisation, that ‘only 50 deaths can be directly attributed to the disaster, and that, at most, 4,000 people may eventually die from the accident’ (see Renew 160). A study by Greenpeace put it at more like 93,000, while another study, TORCH, put it at 30,000-60,000; see www.chernobylreport.org/?p=downloads.
Finally, in something of a surprise shift, a new WHO/IRAC study put it at 16,000, but with a wide uncertainly range of 6,700 to 38,000. See:www.iarc.fr/ENG/Press_Releases/pr168a.html More in Renew 164.
The world’s first floating nuclear combined heat and power station (70MWe) is to be built by Russian nuclear submarine builder Sevmash, under a contract negotiated by Rosenergoatom, and is expected to be
operational by 2010, with 2 of the KLT-40C reactors used in Russian Icebeakers . It could lead to similar 20,000 tonne vessels used in Russia & abroad, especially in Asia and the Middle East where demand for desalination plants is a key market. Russia & China are reported to have signed an $86.5m contract. Sergey Obozov of Rosenergoatom, responding to claims that it would be a ‘floating Chernobyl’, said: ‘The reliability of (the) offshore nuclear power plant will be the same with the Kalashnikov gun’.
MPS June, Spiegel Magazine June 2006
The prime ministers of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have agreed on the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Lithuania, as part of a common energy strategy for the Baltic States. They have invited Baltic companies Lietuvos Energija, Latvenergo and Eestienergia to invest in the designing and construction of the new nuclear plant. The Soviet-built Ignalina RBMK plant used to generate 80% of Lithuania’s electricity and also supplied power Estonia and Latvia, but the first half of it has already been closed and the second is due to close in 2009, as part of EU accession agreement. The EC seems keen on nuclear these days (see earlier) but whether the EU as a whole would welcome a new plant, much less provide funding for it, remains unclear.
Source: Modern Power Systems 6/3/06
Thorium for Oz?
Australia’s decision to sell uranium to China led to an interesting TV debate (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 13/04/2006) which looked at the rival idea of using Thorium. As we’ve noted before, this is three times more abundant than uranium, and Australia has the world’s largest reserves. In theory it is less risky to use- it’s not directly fissile. That means that to use it you have to kick start it either by using a particle accelerator to produce a neutron pulse, or by mixing it with fissile fuels, like plutonium, to provide the neutrons. The argument for the latter is that this would be a way to use up all the plutonium produced from the uranium fission programme. The resultant wastes would be less problematic- with half lives of hundreds of years rather than hundreds of thousands of years. However, Ian Lowe, President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, was not impressed. He told ABC that, while thorium had some theoretical advantages over uranium, that was not the point: ‘it’s like being run over by a diesel train rather than a steam train’.
The USA and India have reached agreement over India’s plans for nuclear expansion- which is surprising, given that India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. India certainly still seems loath to accept oversight of its nuclear activities, and says the power and weapons aspects are impossible to separate out. The new agreement with the USA seems bound to be provocative, not least in relation to Iran- which is a signatory to the NPT, but is being treated very differently by the US. This could be a problem for India, since Iran is a potentially important source of natural gas for India.
|We are now offering to e-mail subscribers a PDF version of the complete Renew, instead of sending them the printed version, should they wish.|