11. Nuclear news
USA on GNEP
Opening the special Global Climate meeting he convened in Washington
in Sept (see earlier), President Bush said ‘My administration
established a new initiative called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.
This partnership will work with nations with advanced civilian nuclear
energy programs, such as France and Japan and China and Russia. Together
we will help developing nations obtain secure, cost-effective and proliferation-resistant
nuclear power, so they can have a reliable source of zero-emissions
energy.’ Interestingly, the UK is not included in his list- maybe
it isn’t pro-nuclear enough, and plans to stop reprocessing!
US Cools it
But back in the USA, not all has been going to plan. In a first for
the US , last summer one of three nuclear reactors at the Browns Ferry
nuclear plant in Alabama had to be shut down because it could not use
water from the Tennessee River due to the heat wave- there are rules
about raising its temperature beyond certain levels. Similar problems
have occurred in previous years in France and climate change will make
it worse as time goes on.
US MOX plant
Evidently unphased by this problem however, the US Dept. of Energy’s
National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has initiated construction
of the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River
site near Aiken, South Carolina. The new facility is being built to
convert a minimum of 34 tonnes of surplus US weapons grade plutonium.
The fuel will be used in commercial nuclear reactors in North Carolina
and South Carolina. ‘The start of construction of the U.S. MOX
facility helps us fulfill an international non-proliferation agreement
and marks a major step forward in our efforts with Russia to dispose
of surplus weapon-grade plutonium so that it can never be used again
for nuclear weapons’ said NNSA’s deputy administrator for
Defense Nuclear Non-proliferation, William Tobey. Under the agreement,
the US and Russia committed to dispose of 34 tonnes of surplus weapons
grade plutonium. But of course it could also use ‘new’ plutonium
from other sources- including other reactors, in the US and elsewhere,
given the new US commitment to spent fuel reprocessing and the Global
Nuclear Energy Partnership (see above).
Next UK Nukes
British Energy says the existing sites at Sizewell in Suffolk, Dungeness
in Kent, Bradwell in Essex, & Hinkley in Somerset, were the most
likely for new plants. But to give itself more time, it will extend
the lives of the 35 year old Hinkley B and Hunterston plants by five
years, to 2016.
Insurance cover: While the government says the new programme won’t
cost taxpayers anything, Defra let slip that land polluted by a ‘nuclear
occurrence’ would render the Environmental Secretary liable to
foot the bill under the Radioactive Contaminated Land Regulations Act
Costs Oxford energy Don Dr Dieter Helm, says that no country had yet
built nuclear plants without state aid or rigged markets.
UK Jobs threat
The Oxford Research Group’s ‘Secure Energy Briefing’
report on Nuclear power produced for last years nuclear consultation,
claimed that a UK nuclear revival would deprive renewable energy of
‘much needed expertise’. It suggested that although ‘advocates
of nuclear power are presenting nuclear power as a possible solution
to job losses’ in reality ‘there is a very limited pool
of scientists and engineers in the UK; they are a valuable resource.
A nuclear revival in the UK would deprive emerging technologies, such
as renewable energy, of much needed expertise.’ In addition, a
nuclear programme would draw away investment and that would ‘impact
negatively on the renewables market’ .
Nuclear Strike Avoided
Last year, breaking the governments 2% pay rise norm, UK Atomic Energy
Authority workers, at Harwell, Culham, Dounreay and Sellafield etc,
won a phased 3.9 % pay increase, after rumblings about possible industrial
Scotland stays Brave
Last Sept. Scotland’s renewable power capacity overtook its nuclear
capacity. SNP First Minister Alex Salmond decided to mark this event
by instigating a ‘Green Energy Day’ on Sept 7th. Prefiguring
the Scottish Governments very forthright submission to the UK governments
nuclear consultation, he said ‘Scotland neither wants nor needs
new nuclear power stations.. we can have secure energy supplies without
landing future generations of Scots with the burden of toxic radioactive
But Bill Coley, the chief executive of British Energy, has been calling
on the SNP to reverse it’s anti-nuclear policy. Coley insisted
‘I do not know how you can meet your climate change objectives
without nuclear at the price that people would be able to pay. As an
engineer I do not know how you would do that.’
According to the Scotsman, Coley believes a new generation of nuclear
plants can be built close to existing sites, including Hunterston and
Torness, by 2018. But he conceded that might not be possible in Scotland:
‘If the political climate is such that new nuclear build investment
is not wanted then of course we will focus that new build investment
*Using capacity rather than delivered energy makes the comparison maybe
a little unfair, given the different load factors- but then much of
the renewable capacity in Scotland is hydro with good load factors and
Scotland has some wind farms with very much higher load factors than
the average. Even so, on a good day nuclear supplies about 40% of Scotlands
power (not recently though, with plant closures!) while renewables are
not yet at 20%.
The ‘temporary’ structure built around Reactor 4 to try
to contain the residues from the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion in
the Ukraine in 1986 is at long last to be replaced by a properly engineered
containment system- a $500m metal shelter. It will take about 5 years
The existing containment was not a complete seal and there have been
worries about leaks- although some of it is now less active, most of
the nuclear material exposed by the explosion is still in there somewhere,
only about 5% was vented into the atmosphere at the time. But that was
enough to be likely to lead to many cancer deaths, although there are
disputes about the exact figures: the UN IARC-WHO put the range at 6,700-38,000,
with 16,000 being their best guess. Greenpeace however suggest the total
could be 98,000. See Renew 164
Germany ‘needs nuclear’
Germany can only meet its target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions
by 36% by 2020 if it keeps nuclear power plants. So says the German
industry group BDI in a study co-authored by consulting firm McKinsey.
It claimed that, without nuclear or serious economic impacts, emissions
could not be cut by more than 31% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels.
Even achieving 31% would need further investment in technology and would
raise the cost of cutting CO2 emissions up to 175 euros/CO2 tonne saved,
up from the currrent 20 euros. However, opposition to nuclear remains
high in Germany, and the conservative government is honouring the phase
out programme initiated by the Social Democrats, its coalition partner.
Belgium to slow phase out?
Belgium is phasing out its nuclear plants, but its new Christian Democrat-Liberal
government coalition wants to extend the lives of some of the seven
operating reactors, in the light of uncertain energy supplies and prospects
for non-carbon energy.
Source: Modern Power Systems
* Sweden voted to phase out nuclear almost 30 years ago, but progress
has been minimal. State Secretary Ola Altera told Reuters ‘In
the short term, it is not really realistic, especially since the climate
issue has stepped forward as the main priority’.
But no new plants are planned.
FBR back France is to develop a sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor
prototype, whose design features are to be decided by 2012, with the
start up aimed for 2020. A gas-cooled fast reactor is also planned.