Renew On Line (UK) 66
|Extracts from NATTA's journal
Renew, Issue 166 March-April 2007
|Welcome Archives Bulletin|
Ins and outs of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
The Australian government seems increasingly keen on nuclear, and even though opposed, opposition Labor Party leader Kim Beazley has called on his party to scrap its ' no new uranium mines' policy. He said that ' banning new uranium mines would not limit the export of Australian uranium to the world; it would simply favour incumbent producers' . But he said using nuclear energy in Australia was ' not in our national interest' .
And at the other end of the nuclear fuel cycle, there are some real issues emerging in the UK concerning what to do with the 77 tonnes of British plutonium that has been extracted from spent fuel at Sellafield, and also the plutonium extracted from reprocessing fuel from overseas. Sellafields Mixed-Oxide Plant (SMP), which was meant to convert some of it into Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel has been having problems. A review for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) last year found that the plant has suffered 37,000 minor and 100 major equipment failures in a year, which had prevented production for about 70% of the time. In 2001 BNFL, predicted it would produce 72 tonnes of MOX a year. In 2005, according to the NDA, it made just under 3 tonnes.
The NDA has decided that keeping the ' fragile' plant going is preferable to ' immediate closure' , but New Scientist (23/9/06) commented ' its longer term future is highly uncertain' . A recent NDA report said: ' The next step is the government energy and plutonium/spent fuel review. This is due to be completed mid-2007 and will clarify the future, if any, of SMP and the disposition of plutonium.' Sources: New Scientist /ENS
Meanwhile, the UK Government has accepted the recommendation of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, that geological disposal of nuclear wastes was the best option. It says that, with NIREX absorbed into it, the NDA will act as a ' strong, effective implementing organisation' .
It is estimated that the site will have to take 470,000 cubic metres of waste and would cost up to £20bn to build. But Environment Minister David Miliband insisted that ' we are not seeking to impose radioactive waste on any community. I am determined that the new approach for selecting sites will be carried out from the beginning in an open, transparent way with appropriate opportunity for public & stakeholder, as well as expert community, involvement.'
He added ' We are strongly supportive of exploring the concept of voluntarism and partnership arrangements with the local authorities serving communities who might be affected' with interested councils being expected to discuss the idea, in return for a reward in the form of social and infrastructure investment.
But Friends of the Earth Scotland said: ' Solving the problem should not begin with bribes, but should instead start with a pledge not to create any more waste' , while Greenpeace noted that ' unbelievably, the Government was pushing for a series of new nuclear reactors, which would quadruple the amount of the most highly radioactive waste' adding ' it could take several generations to find a so-called suitable disposal site, if indeed at all' .
Two major European Banks, the UniCredit Group and Deutsche Bank, have withdrawn from financing two nuclear power stations near the Bulgarian town of Belene.
The move came after the credit assessment consultancy Standard and Poor downrated the Bulgarian utility NEK from ' developing' to ' negative' because of its 51% participation in Belene. The CEE Bankwatch Network commented: ' The Belene nuclear power project is a major financial and environmental risk. Everybody seems to be aware of this except for the Bulgarian government.'
The Belene project which started in the 1980s was halted in 1992 because of environmental and economic concerns. One criticism was that it is in a seismic active area. In 2003, the Bulgarian government revived the project in the hope of creating a strong position in the electricity market in the Balkans. Critics, however, point out that at least one of the proposed reactor designs (the VVER 1000/320) would not be admissible in, for instance, Germany. The other proposed design has not been licensed in Europe before.
The Government is still keen to push ahead, but Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace' s Central Europe nuclear expert said: ' I am curious whether that will happen now as we can see the financial bottom of the project falling away. It is time that Bulgaria shelves this ill-conceived nuclear dream and looks to the future. Bulgaria has immense capacity to cut down its energy wastage, which in a matter of years can free up more capacity than Belene would ever generate. On top of that it has huge untapped resources in renewable energy like wind, biomass, hydro and solar.'
There has been a major grass roots campaign aimed at getting the two banks to withdraw funding; last year, citizens and environmental groups in 23 countries protested at their local bank branches against the interest of UniCredit Group in Belene and in Germany thousands of people sent cards to HVB and Deutsche Bank to express their disapproval, and there were protests in 60 cities in Germany. Heffa Schücking of the German organisation Urgewald said: ' It is clear that many people have not forgotten Chernobyl and do not accept that their bank should support new nuclear projects' .
Haverkamp added: ' UniCredit and Deutsche Bank have recently also expressed interest in other shaky nuclear projects in Central Europe, like Mochovce in Slovakia and Cernavoda in Romania. We sincerely hope that their withdrawal from Belene also means that they will now fully shift their focus towards real solutions like the development of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources in the region.'
' We have to talk again of the use of nuclear. We need to have a balanced energy mix because having one anchor is not enough during stormy weather. We have to think before we cut off the tree branch and before we know whether renewables can fill in the gap' said Joachim Wuermeling, Secretary of State at the German Economy and Technology Ministry at a Franco-German Conference last year.
But Merkel' s Christian Democrat-SPD coalition government is still honouring the previous SPD-Green policy of a nuclear phase out by around 2020 despite presure from conservatives like Economy Minister Michael Glos, who wants it scrapped.
* The IEA' s latest ' World Energy Outlook' , says the world needs 40% more nuclear capacity by 2030 to respond to climate change and oil price uncertainties.
University of Michigan' s Prof. Rodney Ewing, has calculated that nuclear generation would need to increase by a factor of up to ten over current levels to have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions: ' we would need something like 3,500 nuclear power plants' . And that would probably take longer than the 50 years that experts say we have in which to come up with solutions to global warming. Moreover, they would generate tens of thousands of metric tons of additional nuclear waste annually- including plutonium. He asks ' Plutonium versus carbon- which would you rather have as your problem?'
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