Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Public Apathy towards proposed Nuclear Power Station

Apathy about proposed nuclear power station

Only about 12 people attended a public stakeholder meeting held by Eskom, its environmental assessment practitioner Arcus Gibb and public participation consultant Acer in die municipal auditorium last week to discuss the proposed nuclear power station at Bantamsklip just outside Pearly Beach.

Apart from a few concerned citizens, the rest of the audience consisted of representatives of ratepayers associations and conservation groups as well as the municipality.

Similar meetings were held in Gansbaai and Elim in June this year where fierce resistance was encountered to the idea of having a mammoth nuclear power station situated on our doorstep.

In addition to environmental concerns, the main concern among members of the public was whether Eskom still has the capacity to run more than one nuclear power station effectively.

The meetings represent the first part of a longer process to assess the socio-economic as well as environmental impact of the proposed power station on the area, to raise awareness among the public (interested and affected parties or I&APs) and to invite possible concerns at an early stage.

Five potential sites along coastline

In a pre-feasibility study undertaken by Eskom in the early 1980s, five potential sites, based on various social, economic and environmental criteria were identified for the erection of nuclear power stations.

These are Thyspunt near Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape, Bantamsklip about 10km south-east of Pearly Beach, Duynefontein adjacent to the existing Koeberg power station, Brazil in the Kleinsee/Port Nolloth area in the Northern Cape and Schulpfontein in the Hondeklipbaai/Kleinsee area in the Northern Cape.

Eskom proposes to construct a nuclear power station of the pressurised water reactor type technology. Cooling water for the nuclear power station will be utilised directly from the sea.

It was made clear that there would be further meetings as the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process progressed.

Explaining the logic behind the proposal, Eskom's stakeholder manager Tony Stott said that there has been a sharp increase in demand for electricity over the past two years and that it is estimated that the demand for electricity generating capacity will double from an existing 36 000MW to about 77 000MW in 2025.

This additional generating capacity could come from a variety of energy resources namely, coal, liquid fuels, gas turbines, natural gas, uranium (nuclear), hydro and pumped storage schemes, wind and solar energy.

Stott said that to optimally meet the total demand, it was necessary to have both “base load electricity generating power stations? as well as peaking electricity generating power stations”.

Base load capacity forms the major component of the 40 000 MW of new generating capacity that is required in the next 20 years. According to Eskom, the only primary energy sources in South Africa that are suitable and available in sufficient quantities are coal and uranium.

Uranium will provide 50% of new generating capacity.

Arguing that nuclear power has the potential to make a substantial contribution to sustainable development and a significant contribution to reducing South Africa's greenhouse gas emissions and in the light of the country's rich resources of uranium, the Eskom Board had approved the investigation of up to 20 000 MW of nuclear capacity over the next 20 years.

The initial phase of this investigation will concentrate on one nuclear power station of approximately 4 000 MW with provision being made for further expansion. There is a possibility that more than one of the proposed sites will eventually be needed.

The entire development, including auxiliary infrastructure will comprise about 31 ha and will include a nuclear reactor, turbine complex, spent nuclear fuel storage facilities, waste handling facilities, intake and outfall basin and various auxiliary service infrastructure.

Should the proposed project be authorised, it is estimated that the construction of the nuclear power station could commence in 2009/10 with the first unit being commissioned in 2016.

In addition to the EIA process, which serves to identify, assess and mitigate potential environment impacts that may be associated with the proposed nuclear power plant, authorisation from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) is required to provide for the protection of persons, property and the environment against nuclear damage and to exercise regulatory control related to safety.

The construction and operation of the required transmission power lines will be subject to a separate environmental authorisation process. The processes will run as far as practical in parallel with the EIA and all information will be shared with the public as it becomes available.

Lengthy process

Independent specialists have been commissioned to do the specialist studies that will form part of the EIA investigations.

A number of potential environmental issues have already been identified, including air pollution, visual impacts arising from the nuclear power station during construction and operation, impacts on fauna, flora and avi-fauna, potential safety impacts, potential traffic and nuisance impacts during the construction phase, pollution and waste management, social and socio-economic impacts during construction relating to the influx of construction workers.

The construction of such a huge nuclear power station is estimated to also hold substantial development benefits to the local and regional economy.

The EIA includes opportunities for the public to be involved in the decision-making process by identifying issues that will help focus the process and enhance decision-making.

Information about the process can be obtained on the website www.eskom.co.za.

Members of the public are urged to register as an interested and affected party in order to receive information and to record comments.

Source: http://www.news24.com/Regional_Papers/Components/Category_Article_Text_Template/0,,486_2169585~E,00.html

Monday, August 27, 2007

Nuclear Reactors Found to Be Leaking Radioactive Water

Nuclear Reactors Found to Be Leaking Radioactive Water

With power cleaner than coal and cheaper than natural gas, the nuclear industry, 20 years past its last meltdown, thinks it is ready for its second act: its first new reactor orders since the 1970's. But there is a catch. The public's acceptance of new reactors depends in part on the performance of the old ones, and lately several of those have been discovered to be leaking radioactive water into the ground.


WASHINGTON, March 16 — With power cleaner than coal and cheaper than natural gas, the nuclear industry, 20 years past its last meltdown, thinks it is ready for its second act: its first new reactor orders since the 1970's.

But there is a catch. The public's acceptance of new reactors depends in part on the performance of the old ones, and lately several of those have been discovered to be leaking radioactive water into the ground.

Near Braceville, Ill., the Braidwood Generating Station, owned by the Exelon Corporation, has leaked tritium into underground water that has shown up in the well of a family nearby. The company, which has bought out one property owner and is negotiating with others, has offered to help pay for a municipal water system for houses near the plant that have private wells.

In a survey of all 10 of its nuclear plants, Exelon found tritium in the ground at two others. On Tuesday, it said it had had another spill at Braidwood, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago, and on Thursday, the attorney general of Illinois announced she was filing a lawsuit against the company over that leak and five earlier ones, dating to 1996. The suit demands among other things that the utility provide substitute water supplies to residents.

In New York, at the Indian Point 2 reactor in Buchanan, workers digging a foundation adjacent to the plant's spent fuel pool found wet dirt, an indication that the pool was leaking. New monitoring wells are tracing the tritium's progress toward the Hudson River.

Indian Point officials say the quantities are tiny, compared with the amount of tritium that Indian Point is legally allowed to release into the river. Officials said they planned to find out how much was leaking and declare the leak a "monitored release pathway."

Nils J. Diaz, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said he would withhold judgment on the proposal until after it reached his agency, but he added, "They're going to have to fix it."

This month, workers at the Palo Verde plant in New Mexico found tritium in an underground pipe vault.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which is critical of nuclear power safety arrangements, said recently that in the past 10 years, tritium had leaked from at least seven reactors. It called for a systematic program to ensure there were no more leaks.

Tami Branum, who lives close to the Braidwood reactor and owns property in the nearby village of Godley, said in a telephone interview, "It's just absolutely horrible, what we're trying to deal with here." Ms. Branum and her children, 17-year-old twin girls and a 7-year-old boy, drink only bottled water, she said, but use municipal water for everything else. "We're bathing in it, there's no way around it," she said.

Ms. Branum said that her property in Godley was worth about $50,000 and that she wanted to sell it, but that no property was changing hands now because of the spill.

A spokesman for Exelon, Craig Nesbit, said that neither Godley's water nor Braidwood's water system was threatened, but that the company had lost credibility when it did not publicly disclose a huge fuel oil spill and spills of tritium from 1996 to 2003. No well outside company property shows levels that exceed drinking water standards, he said.

Mr. Diaz of the regulatory agency, speaking to a gathering of about 1,800 industry executives and government regulators last week, said utilities were planning to apply for 11 reactor projects, with a total of 17 reactors. The Palo Verde reactor was the last one that was ordered, in October 1973, and actually built.

As the agency prepares to review license applications for the first time in decades, it is focusing on "materials degradation," a catch-all term for cracks, rust and other ills to which nuclear plants are susceptible. The old metal has to hold together, or be patched or replaced as required, for the industry to have a chance at building new plants, experts say.

Tritium, a form of hydrogen with two additional neutrons in its nucleus, is especially vexing. The atom is unstable and returns to stability by emitting a radioactive particle. Because the hydrogen is incorporated into a water molecule, it is almost impossible to filter out. The biological effect of the radiation is limited because, just like ordinary water, water that incorporates tritium does not stay in the body long.

But it is detectable in tiny quantities, and always makes its source look bad. The Energy Department closed a research reactor in New York at its Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, largely because of a tritium leak.

And it can catch up to a plant after death; demolition crews at the Connecticut Yankee reactor in Haddam Neck, Conn., are disposing of extra dirt that has been contaminated with tritium and other materials, as they tear the plant down.

After years of flat employment levels, the industry is preparing to hire hundreds of new engineers. Luis A. Reyes, the executive director for operations at the regulatory commission, told the industry gathering last week, "We'll take your résumé in hard copy, online, whatever you can do," eliciting laughter from an audience heavy with executives of reactor operators and companies that want to build new ones.



Exorbitant costs expected for nuclear power

Energy costs may explode in switch to nuclear power

After painstakingly analyzing the costs of U.S. nuclear power plants built decades ago, energy experts caution that a resurrection of nuclear power could bring along some financial risk and surprisingly high electricity costs.


By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER

After painstakingly analyzing the costs of U.S. nuclear power plants built decades ago, energy experts caution that a resurrection of nuclear power could bring along some financial risk and surprisingly high electricity costs.

Researchers reporting in the most recent edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that construction costs varied by as much as 500 percent before the last U.S. nuclear power station was built almost 30 years ago.

"There is no other (energy) technology we're looking at where the range in cost is a factor of five," said Dan Kammen, professor of energy and resources and of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. "It means that if the nuclear industry doesn't manage itself much better than in the past, we are likely to still get this large range of costs."

The clean, carbon-free energy from splitting atoms has drawn backing among influential lawmakers and environmentalists as a way to ease consumption of fossil fuels and global warming.

But the industry and its financial backers could be vulnerable to the same cost volatility, scientists warned, especially if utilities begin trying half a dozen new kinds of reactors cooled by metals or gases rather than water.

In recent weeks, federal regulators have given the nod to new reactor sites in Illinois and Mississippi, and firms are readying applications for construction and operation of up to 33 new U.S. reactors, mostly in the Southeast and Midwest. Industry officials say soaring plant costs in the 1980s are all but irrelevant now.

"I don't think it's a good prologue," said Peter Saba, a former Energy Department official. "Past experience is not going to be a good gauge, because people are building them differently."

Ordinarily, an industry learns by producing and with learning, technology gets less expensive. But researchers at UC-Berkeley, Georgetown University and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that "the case of nuclear power has been seen largely as an exception that reflects the idiosyncrasies of the regulatory environment as public opposition grew, regulations were tightened and construction times increased."

Particularly after the loss of reactor coolant at Three Mile Island in 1979, tougher new safety requirements came into play, and utilities had to upgrade their construction plans, increasing construction costs at a time when interest rates were high.

By the end of the decade, costs inflated so rapidly that the industry no longer could afford to build plants.

Saba, whose father was a nuclear engineer, said part of the problem was that utilities wanted every nuclear power station to be unique.

"They were designing them as they were building them," he said.

Starting in 1992, Congress and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also have reworked the rules for licensing new plants, allowing nuclear firms to get the latest three basic Generation III+ reactor designs approved in advance. Saba said the advanced Generation IV reactors that concern the energy scientists at Berkeley and Georgetown are at least a decade away.

The rules also permit utilities to seek early site approvals, mostly for sites adjoining existing reactors. Utilities then can apply for a joint construction and operating license, rather than work through two costly and combative licensing proceedings. To these changes, Congress has added billions of dollars in federal liability protections and loan guarantees.

"I don't have any doubt that companies are going to do some pretty hard number-crunching before they proceed," said Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the industry's trade association, the Nuclear Energy Institute.

"It never hurts to look at what the history was in that period. I'm not sure what that tells you because the rules have changed."

Contact Ian Hoffman at ihoffman@angnewspapers.com or (510) 208-6458.

Source: http://www.a4nr.org


NUCLEAR POWER by A. Stanley Thompson, PhD

This article is dated but is rather unique. It is not often that we see a former nuclear engineer, who worked on nuclear projects for private corporations such as GE and Westinghouse as well as the Oak Ridge National Weapons Laboratory, speak so candidly about the hazards of radiation on all three topics of nuclear power plants, nuclear bombs, and depleted uranium weapons.


It is my belief, based on a professional lifetime of study, that further development of nuclear power presents an unacceptable radioactive curse on all future generations. Aside from the risks of accidents worse than we have so far seen, there is no suitable place in our environment to dispose of either present or future nuclear waste.

Now massive public-relations efforts are being launched to retrain the public to trust the "experts." Damaged gene pools and cancers, and a ruined environment, will be our legacy to future generations if we continue to build nuclear reactors and nuclear armaments. How many of our grandchildren are we willing to sacrifice for the continuation of nuclear electric power and nuclear war?


The "peacetime" nuclear business in the United States is in bad shape. The hard fact is that nuclear power is the most subsidized of all industries, kept alive by taxpayer, ratepayer, and bondholder financed welfare, and by world wide military support. Abandoned reactors include Rancho Seco in California, Trojan in Oregon, Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, Shoreham on Long Island. All new reactors ordered since 1973 have been canceled. Estimates of the cost of disposal rise fantastically above $500 million per reactor, and no one knows what to do with the radioactive stuff stored within and around them.

The United States Department of Energy has expressed a desire for tritium to replenish the dwindling supply in its thermonuclear bomb stockpile. In order to survive, some electric utilities have expressed willingness to produce wartime tritium as a government-subsidized by-product of their nuclear electrical power.


Nuclear construction companies would like to build nuclear power plants, but it is unlikely that any unsubsidized nuclear power plant will be ordered by a US utility. The United States has proposed to provide reactors to North Korea to replace their "unsafe" nuclear plants. American, French, and Canadian nuclear companies are considering joint ventures to build power reactors in Indonesia and elsewhere, I presume with financial aid from US taxpayers.

Now it is proposed that US nuclear corporations sell $60 billion of nuclear products to China, trusting that they will not use their ability to produce plutonium for bombs.


The US Atomic Energy Commission used its enormous diffusion plants to separate uranium-235 from natural uranium for the purpose of making nuclear bombs, like the one dropped on Hiroshima. The tons of depleted uranium (mostly uranium-238) left over from the diffusion process were to be a valuable material for conversion to plutonium fuel for breeder reactors. Because our breeder program has lost its support, depleted uranium is now a "waste" material in need of "recycling." Its value for "peace" has been replaced by its value for waging nuclear war. In the Persian Gulf the US military recycled hundreds of tons of depleted uranium into armor piercing shells and protective armor for tanks. After piercing a tank wall the depleted uranium burned, forming a radioactive and chemically lethal aerosol, incinerating everyone inside the tank, then spreading unseen over Iraq. Sickness and death for all future time were spread indiscriminately among Iraqi soldiers and civilians (including children). American soldiers and their children became victims as part of the Gulf War Syndrome.

Now US military suppliers plan to sell this "free" government bonanza on the profitable world military market.


The public has been conditioned by both corporate and government proponents of nuclear power to believe in the necessity for their inherently "safe" nuclear reactors to avert a coming energy crisis. The nuclear establishment advertises itself as the producer of "green" energy, completely ignoring the non-green effects of the manufacture and eventual disposal of reactors, their fuels, and their radioactive products. They claim that they are now ready to produce "safe" reactors. Extension of the analyses by which the experts support their claim of safety shows, I believe, that there is no possibility of a guaranteed safe reactor. There is certainly no way safely to dispose of nuclear waste into the environment.

Reactors are bound occasionally to fail. They are complicated mechanical devices designed, built, and operated by fallible human beings, some of whom may be vindictive. Our reactors may be "weapons in the hands of our enemies," susceptible to sabotage. Despite attempts at secrecy, the list of reactor accidents fills whole books.

In 1986 the Chernobyl reactor exploded, blowing off its two-thousand- ton lid, polluting the northern hemisphere with radioactivity, casting radiation sickness and death into the far future, leaving a million acres of land ruined "forever" by radioactive contamination.

Radioactive reindeer meat was discarded in Lapland, and milk in Italy. It is reported that half of the 10 million people in Belorussia live in contaminated areas. Some estimates of adults and children doomed to be killed and maimed by cancer and mutations run in the millions. If nuclear power continues, there will be other "Chernobyls" scattered around the world, perhaps more devastating. The Chernobyl accident demonstrates the devastation which could happen with a nuclear accident near a large city.

The nuclear business, here and abroad, has a record of willful and careless radiation exposure and killing of unaware people since the beginning: its miners from radon gas, its Hanford "down-winders" , victims of Chernobyl in the Ukraine, the SL-1 reactor in Idaho, a nuclear fuel plant in Japan.

Even "successful" reactors are intolerable. Reactors produce radioactive pollution. They use uranium and make plutonium. Both are radioactive, chemically poisonous heavy metals. Plutonium, a nuclear bomb material, is also the world's most radioactively lethal material. A power reactor at the end of its life has manufactured lethal radioactive products equivalent to those from several thousand nuclear bombs. We as a society cannot afford, even if we knew how, the cleanup of these radioactive messes. Nuclear power, with its lethal radioactive poisons, pollutes "forever", in new, more insidious, more intransigent ways than any other form of energy.

RESUME of A. Stanley Thompson
A. Stanley Thompson, 1910 Monroe Street, Eugene, Oregon 97405
e-mail stanleyt@efn.org

BA Amherst College, BSME University of Washington, PhD University of Pennsylvania

Thermal Power from Nuclear Reactors, Thompson and Rodgers, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1956.
Many papers, published and unpublished, on design methods for power plants and nuclear reactors, including "A Model of Reactor Kinetics," Thompson and Thompson, Nuclear Science and Engineering, September 1988.

Jet propulsion engines, central station power plants, and nuclear reactors.
1941-1946 Westinghouse: In charge of mechanical development and design of first American designed and built turbojet engines.
1946-1951 North American Aviation: In charge of engineering development of nuclear reactors and power plants.
1951-1952 Oak Ridge National Laboratory: Consultant to Director on new reactor developments; Originated and taught course in Reactor Engineering at Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology.
1952-1953 Nuclear Development Corporation: Development of nuclear reactors.
1953-1956 Studebaker-Packard Corporation: Manager, Nuclear Development Department. Consultant to General Electric and to Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
1956-1957 General Atomic: Chief Engineer.
1957-1960 Nuclear Development Corporation: Chief Engineer.
1960-1961 Aerojet-General Nucleonics: Staff adviser to Engineering Vice President.
1961-1976 Director, Geoscience, Ltd Consultant to various companies on power plants and nuclear reactors, including Westinghouse. General Electric, Aerojet General, Geoscience Ltd, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
1963-1967 Robert College, Istanbul, Turkey: Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Department Head.
1967-1976 Howard University: Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

What have you got against nuclear power, anyway?

What have you got against nuclear power, anyway?

Sooner or later, at least one member of the audience that has turned out to see me present Al Gore's climate change slide show wants to know why I haven't included nuclear power in the list of technologies that can help cut our carbon emissions. The question is usually put by the likes of a retired engineer who actually understands the physics and technical aspects of nuclear power. I have to admit that I don't welcome the question, because it tends to lead to a drawn-out debate at what is already a longer evening that most attendees bargained for. But I do have an answer: time.


by James Hrynyshyn

Sooner or later, at least one member of the audience that has turned out to see me present Al Gore's climate change slide show wants to know why I haven't included nuclear power in the list of technologies that can help cut our carbon emissions. The question is usually put by the likes of a retired engineer who actually understands the physics and technical aspects of nuclear power. I have to admit that I don't welcome the question, because it tends to lead to a drawn-out debate at what is already a longer evening that most attendees bargained for. But I do have an answer: time.

I've written before about some of the problems with nuclear power, without really scratching the surface. There are so many dimensions to the problem - waste storage, proliferation, construction capacity, the glacial pace of the regulatory context, and of course, economics - that it's easy to overlook the simplest drawback of all.

It's beginning to look like the industry really is on the brink on a revival, though, so we'd better come to grips with these issues soon. There's a campaign in New Zealand, where CO2 emissions have grown 50 percent since 1990, to make nuclear power a major plank in the country's future energy portfolio. The Philippines is making similar noises. The director general of South Africa's department of minerals and energy wants to put his country's large uranium deposits to work in domestic reactors in a big way. Last year, Toshiba bought 77 percent of Westinghouse Electric, which makes nuclear power plants, in anticipation of an industry resurgence. And the government of Kazakhstan wants 10 percent of that piece of the pie. (Now, that can't be a good idea...)

A look at the South African plan exposes the flaw in all these schemes. According to South Africa Press Agency report:

The draft document sets out a phased approach to creating a nuclear industry. This includes proposals up to 2010 of maintenance and enhancement of current nuclear infrastructure, research into advanced nuclear energy systems and promotion of uranium exploration and mining.

In the following years up to 2015, new nuclear power plants would be constructed. These would come into operation by 2025 and advance nuclear energy systems would be commercialised.

So, no new nukes until 2025. Back in the United States, it takes at least a decade and sometimes closer to 15 years to choose a site for a new 1 GW nuclear power plant, conduct the environmental assessment, hold the regulatory hearings, commission the project, build the plant, test it and bring it up to full power.

The U.S. government recently produced $10 billion in subsidies to help get 6 nukes built over the next decade. That's a lot of taxpayer clams for just half a dozen plants. The American nuclear industry only has the capacity to build two a year in any case. But these are side issues.

The real problem is that serious climate change, the kind that could send the planet into a rapid and intolerable regime shift, could be upon us in as little as 40 years. In order to mitigate some of that warming, we'll have to start bringing down our carbon emissions long before that. The reason I don't mention nuclear power in the list of alternative energy sources that can make a significant contribution to that goal is, even in the best-case scenario, we can't build enough nukes fast enough.

Again, realistically, we can't expect to see any new nukes online before 2017 or even 2022. By then, solar power (photovoltaics) could well be economically competitive not only with unsubsidized nuclear power, but oil, gas and even coal. Wind power is already cost-competitive, and there is enormous potential for improving energy efficiency between now and then. All those approaches, with a (very) little bit of biodiesel and ethanol and what have you thrown into the mix, and we might just be able to give ourselves a few years of breathing room to make the enormous changes in lifestyle, and technological breakthroughs, that a low-carbon economy will demand.

We could, of course, do all those things the environmentalist like, and still build more nukes, so they can help when they do finally come on line. But before we do that, we'd have to figure out how to:

1. Reduce the massive carbon emissions associated with mining and refining natural uranium, which is 99.3 percent U-238 and can't be used in your standard American light-water reactor until the U-235 content is upped from less than .0.7 % to something like 3 %. This is not an minor problem. In fact, some uranium refining might need a couple of coal-fired plants to supply the energy to refine the uranium. You could instead use straight U-238 in a CANDU reactor, but they use heavy water as a moderator and coolant, and again, producing heavy water is energy-intensive.
2. Safely bury the radioactive waste. The official plan is to stick it all in the Yucca Mountains in Nevada, but the transportation and sequestration details have yet to be worked out.
3. Secure a reliable supply or uranium. A recent report from the International Atomic Energy Association concludes: "The message is clear: long lead times will be the rule rather than the exception, and exploration will have to accelerate to ensure a stable supply of relatively low cost uranium." In other words, we don't have a reliable supply at the moment, not one to meet even modest industry growth rates of 1 to 3% a year. There is a virtually inexhaustible supply of uranium in seawater, but again, extracting it is energy-intensive, and we're back to square one.
4. Free the industry from massive government assistance. Nuclear utilities are the only ones who don't have to cover their own liability costs. How long with this be tolerated by investors in "clean tech" who are eager to see some return on their fuel-cell, cellulosic ethanol bacteria reactor, nanotech solar panel and tidal generator schemes? Not long, I suspect. This week's Nature, writing about new U.S. legislation that woul further assist the industry, notes that

Under the legislation, the federal government could be liable to pay back loans covering up to 80% of construction costs if the utility defaults. Not everyone thinks that this is the best course of action. "This is a huge risk for taxpayers," says Michele Boyd, legislative director at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group in Washington DC.

All things considered, we can't afford to embark on a path that leaves people with the misleading impression that we've solved the climate change problem. And nuclear fission, whatever its merits, simply can't replace enough oil, gas and coal-fired plants to make a significant difference, not in time to forestall catastrophic climate change.

Source: http://a4nr.org/library/globalwarmingclimatechange/08.15.2007-islandofdoubt

Guinea joins African states seeking nuclear power

Guinea joins African states seeking nuclear power
Saliou Samb | Conakry, Guinea

Guinea will start talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency on a nuclear energy programme after the discovery of uranium this month, becoming the latest African state seeking a nuclear solution to power shortages.

The poor West African nation announced at the start of August that Australian miner Murchison United had discovered commercially viable deposits of uranium at a jungle site at Firawa, about 600km east of the capital.

"To favour research and development in the area of alternative energy ... the government authorises the Foreign Affairs Ministry ... to start talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency," government spokesperson Justin Morel Junior told state television late on Wednesday.

As well as nuclear power, Junior said President Lansana Conte's government was interested in using uranium in agriculture, medicine and industry.

Uranium prices have quadrupled over the last two years as many countries have turned to nuclear power as a means of reducing their carbon footprint amid concerns over global warming and emissions targets set under the Kyoto Protocol.

Guinea President Lansana Conte, a chain-smoking septuagenarian who has ruled the former French colony since a 1984 military coup, has given uranium exploration contracts to two other companies, Nova Energy and Contico.

Mineral-rich Guinea, which was rocked by violent union protests against Conte's government at the start of this year, contains a third of the world's proven reserves of bauxite, the raw material for aluminium.

Many African countries have expressed interest in atomic fuel to alleviate worsening power shortages across the world's poorest continent, which are hobbling economic development and holding back living standards.

In June, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni -- whose country recently discovered uranium -- told the leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised nations that Africa needed nuclear energy to meet its burgeoning power demands.

South Africa is currently sub-Saharan Africa's only nuclear energy producer. It aims to raise the share of atomic power in its energy mix to 15% from 6% as it struggles to meet the demands of a booming urban population.

In North Africa, Algeria recently signed a nuclear cooperation accord with the United States, while Libya inked a similar deal with France last month. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, meanwhile, has expressed his determination to build a nuclear reactor before his term ends in 2012.

Africa was the world's leading producer of uranium 30 years ago and it currently accounts for about 20% of global output, after top producer Australia. Intelligence agencies have raised concerns about the radioactive mineral, particularly in war-torn states like Democratic Republic of Congo, being used by rogue states or terrorist organisations. -- Reuters

Source: http://www.mg.co.za/

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bad time for government to get coy about its vision for energy

Bad time for government to get coy about its vision for energy
Hilary Joffe

IN THE space of a week, the trade and industry department released an industrial policy framework promising a stronger role for competition policy, the national treasury supported a partnership between Sasol and the government to build a new synthetic fuel plant, and the cabinet approved an energy security strategy that appeared to rule out a private-sector bid to build a new fuel pipeline from Durban to Gauteng.

The events seem unrelated. But, taken together, they seem to suggest that while the government professes enthusiasm for competition and partnerships with the private sector, its support for these in practice is selective, at best.

Take competition. The pipeline is a test case because it’s one of the rare instances in which a private sector consortium (iPayipi) has put in a bid in direct competition with a state-owned monopoly (Transnet) to build and operate infrastructure the government deems to be strategic. It’s a test, too, because new legislation gives the power to an independent regulator, not the government, to decide whose bid shall prevail. Or so it appeared, until a minerals and energy department press statement last week announced that the cabinet had approved a policy that included “the development of the Transnet Pipelines’ new multiproduct pipeline which is necessary to alleviate the identified constraints in the petroleum supply chain by 2010”.

It certainly looked as if the cabinet had made up its mind , and comments from a senior department official in yesterday’s Business Report seemed to confirm the department’s dismissive attitude towards both Nersa and iPayipi. But department director-general Sandile Nogxina hotly denied yesterday that this was the case. He said the cabinet decision had been misinterpreted and that its approval of Transnet’s bid in no way excluded private participation, nor did it stop Nersa evaluating the application.

The objectives of the pipeline legislation included promoting competition and investment in the sector, Nogxina said, and the law said anyone who wanted to build a pipeline must go to the regulator to get a licence.

Whether the official was out of line or the department realised the implications of his comments and sprang into damage-control mode was unclear. And it remains unclear why the cabinet had to endorse Transnet’s R9,5bn application to build the pipeline: it doesn’t approve every parastatal project in this way. Importantly, though, the department has gone on the record as having no intention of excluding private sector participation .

But speak to officials privately, and it’s clear there’s ambivalence about the idea of the private sector operating such crucial infrastructure. The concern is the private players might walk away from the project because tariffs aren’t set high enough and it doesn’t prove profitable enough, leaving SA without the pipeline come 2010. And to some extent the concerns are legitimate: though there are many examples internationally of fuel pipelines privately owned and operated, building a pipeline is a risky business. And private pipelines have no precedent in SA, so government officials are understandably anxious.

But contrast that with the kind of risk government cheerfully contemplates taking on another, far bigger private sector fuel project — a new Sasol. Government has, in effect, committed to the building of a new synfuels plant, expressing its support for Sasol’s Mafutha project last week when Finance Minister Trevor Manuel rejected the proposed windfall tax on synfuels, in part because of security-of-supply concerns. But Sasol hasn’t committed to Mafutha yet. Indeed, it has yet to start the prefeasibility study for the project, which is likely to cost well over R100bn and will need heavy subsidies to make it viable. So whatever form the partnership between the government and Sasol takes, it could cost taxpayers a great deal.

Not that the government shouldn’t be working with Sasol. But its early enthusiasm for this project is quite a contrast to the slow pace of public-private partnerships more generally. Apart from the Gautrain, there’s not much on the drawing board of any size, and little sign of private players being cut in on any big infrastructure projects, except as contractors.

Sasol, of course, is not just any private sector company. Apart from its history under state ownership, it is also a dominant player in the inland market for fuel. Which is where there is a link with the pipeline and with competition. One of the reasons the new Durban-Gauteng pipeline is important is that as long as there is a shortage of pipeline capacity feeding SA’s economic heartland, the other oil companies are at a disadvantage in that market and Sasol can maintain its dominance. The new pipeline will open up the inland market to greater competition. But Mafutha could entrench Sasol’s position again.

Either way, this is no time for the government to be coy or secretive about how it sees the security-of-supply story playing out. We need to know what role it sees itself playing and how much it might cost us, as taxpayers and at the petrol pump.

Source: http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/opinion.aspx?ID=BD4A539149

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Earthlife Warns On 'Excessive' Koeberg Waste

Earthlife Warns On 'Excessive' Koeberg Waste
John Yeld

Eskom is storing an "excessive" amount of high-level nuclear waste in its on site cooling ponds at the Koeberg nuclear power station, according to environmental group Earthlife Africa Cape Town.

But Eskom denies the charge, saying its high-level waste storage facility was modified during the late 1990s and that, while just under 1000 tons of spent fuel was on site, this was "well within the licence conditions".

Earthlife believed the high-level waste accumulated on site was "far beyond" what the system was originally designed to manage and posed "serious concerns" about the safety of the waste, said spokesperson Maya Aberman.

The organisation was also concerned about information supplied to it suggesting that boron levels in the water around the spent fuel were "abnormally high", at approximately 2 000 parts per million.

Boron is used to absorb neutrons emitted by the radio-active waste.

In response, Eskom spokesperson Carin de Villiers said the fuel pools had undergone a modification during the late 1990s which enabled them to store the total quantity of spent fuel expected to be produced over the 40-year design life of the plant.

"A full safety assessment was performed and submitted to the NNR, who evaluated and approved the modification."

The maximum number of fuel elements allowed to be stored in the spent fuel pools was specified in the station's nuclear installation licence.

"For each spent fuel pool the maximum number is 1 536 fuel assemblies - that is, a total of 3 072 fuel elements for the station.

"As indicated in the Eskom Annual Report 2007 a total of 1 561 spent fuel elements have been produced in the 23 years of operation up to the end of March 2007.

"At present the pools contain just under 1 000 tons of spent fuel, including the structural material in the fuel elements.

"It is clear that the total amount of spent fuel is well within the licence conditions."

The spent fuel pools were designed to operate with a boron concentration of around 2 000 parts per million, De Villiers added.

Aberman said information about the spent fuel cast "serious doubt" on the praise issued to Koeberg by the National Occupational Safety Association.

"It's worthwhile to note that in reports issued by both the National Energy Regulator of South Africa and Eskom itself, following problems at Koeberg in 2005/6, problems were attributed to negligence and inadequate corrective action on the part of personnel, insufficient supervisory oversight controls and limitations to the experience and training of staff."

It had been alleged that Eskom had failed to respond to warnings and had failed to test vital equipment for periods of up to 10 years.

"As such, the high score accorded to Koeberg by the National Occupational Safety Association is a mystery," said Aberman.

"Given conflicting reports emanating from various sources about events at Koeberg, we are asking 'How can the safety of the plant be assured?' "

De Villiers said in response that the safety of Koeberg was ensured by the "very strict" international standards that the plant had to comply with, as well as oversight by the National Nuclear Regulator who has full-time inspectors on the Koeberg site.

Also, regular international peer reviews of Koeberg were undertaken every two to three years, and Eskom also had its own internal nuclear inspectorate, independent of the power station, that continuously monitored and evaluated safety, De Villiers said.

Source: http://www.capeargus.co.za/

Civic group urges greater public involvement in energy policy

Civic group urges greater public involvement in energy policy
By: Mariaan Olivier

Newly formed Coalition Against Nuclear Energy (CANE), which opposes government's nuclear expansion plans, urged the State on Wednesday to commit to greater public participation in energy planning.

The Department of Minerals and Energy released the draft nuclear energy policy and strategy for public comment earlier this month. This document outlined government’s plans to become globally competitive in the nuclear industry, touching on issues of uranium beneficiation, enrichment and reprocessing of spend nuclear fuel.

“Not just Cabinet alone, but all sectors together should decide on energy policy in South Africa,” said CANE in a statement.

Cane has been formed as an umbrella group comprising community organisations, residents' associations, NGOs, academics, professionals, unionists, environmentalists and ordinary citizens.

It stated that seven sites have been chosen for new nuclear reactors, and that various areas around the country had been identified for uranium prospecting and mining, including vast tracts of the Karoo and Magaliesburg also in the North West province.

"Everyone in South Africa will now face the same danger from Koeberg nuclear power station,” CANE said.

The group added that it did not support the construction of new nuclear reactors as a way of tackling the climate crisis.

“Available renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions than nuclear power."

Source: http://www.engineeringnews.co.za

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A simple statement on nuclear power and the climate crisis

A simple statement on nuclear power and the climate crisis


Dear Friends:


We’re getting a little tired hearing nuclear industry lobbyists and pro-nuclear politicians allege that environmentalists are now supporting nuclear power as a means of addressing the climate crisis. We know that’s not true, and we’re sure you do too. In fact, using nuclear power would be counterproductive at reducing carbon emissions. As Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute points out, “every dollar invested in nuclear expansion will worsen climate change by buying less solution per dollar…”


The statement below is simple and straightforward. We’ll send it to the media and politicians when they misstate the facts, and you can use it as well. We hope you and your organization will join us and sign on in support here. The more organizations and people sign on, the faster the media and politicians will get the message. Invite your friends and other organizations to sign too!


"We do not support construction of new nuclear reactors as a means of addressing the climate crisis. Available renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions than nuclear power."


Please go to http://www.nirs.org/petition2/index.php to sign this statement. Organizational sign-ons are especially wanted, but individuals are encouraged to sign as well.


Michael Mariotte

Executive Director

Nuclear Information and Resource Service



Bold state bid to put SA back on nuclear map

Bold state bid to put SA back on nuclear map
Hilary Joffe

THE government yesterday launched its draft policy on nuclear energy, which seeks to create a new industry around nuclear power generation to take advantage of SA’s rich uranium deposits, develop technology and create tens of thousands of jobs.

The mineral and energy affairs department unveiled plans to promote the recycling of spent nuclear fuel as well as to rebuild SA’s uranium enrichment capacity, which was originally developed for nuclear weapons but was voluntarily dismantled before 1994. Now, enrichment would be for peaceful purposes only, with the aim of producing nuclear fuel for SA’s own new nuclear reactors and for the international market.

The plans are set out in a draft nuclear energy policy and strategy that the department unveiled yesterday, after the cabinet approved it for public comment last week.

The department hopes to finalise the policy before the end of this year. It follows President Thabo Mbeki’s commitment in his state of the nation address in February to accelerate work that would pave the way for SA to increase its reliance on nuclear and renewable energy.

The department’s chief director for nuclear energy, Tseliso Maqubela, said yesterday the nuclear policy aimed to ensure SA diversified its energy sources away from coal, addressing security of supply and global climate change concerns. “There is no way we can have a primary energy source such as uranium which we don’t use fully,” he said.

Maqubela said it was envisaged that nuclear power would account for more than 15% of SA’s total power generation capacity by 2025- 30, more than double the current 6%.

Eskom CE Jacob Maroga said last month the utility’s aspiration was that half of the 40000MW it planned to add to its generating capacity over the next 20 years would come from nuclear, in line with its aim of cutting its dependence on coal to less than 70% by 2025, from the present 88%.

Eskom is due to detail plans for its new conventional nuclear power stations in March . Maqubela said it was looking at 4000MW of nuclear power in the first phase of the building programme and the figure would be increased from there.

The government is also looking to the experimental pebble bed technology to generate nuclear power in future years and has been working to bring international partners into the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project. Department director-general Sandile Nogxina said yesterday, however, the government would go ahead with the PBMR even if it did not get international partners .

But it would look for foreign partners who could come in on building the infrastructure for recycling spent fuel. SA does not have that infrastructure . Nogxina said that in the long term, the government wanted SA to be able to compete globally in the whole nuclear value chain, including the recycling of uranium.

The draft policy document proposes to recapitalise the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa, formerly the Atomic Energy Corporation) to co-ordinate investment in nuclear research and development and innovation. There will be a single national nuclear safety regulator, in the National Nuclear Regulator. But the document also proposes the creation of several new institutions, including a new national nuclear security agency, a national radioactive waste management agency and a national nuclear architectural capability. The policy makes Eskom the only generator of nuclear power, though Maqubela said the door was not closed for private sector participation, though this would have to be in partnership with Eskom.

On the mining side, Maqubela said the government would look to provide incentives to encourage the mining and beneficiation of uranium locally.

Nogxina also said the cabinet’s approval last week of the Energy Master Plan did not imply that only Transnet could build a new fuel pipeline from Durban to Gauteng. P rivate sector consortium IPayipi has also applied to the National Energy Regulator to build the pipeline. Transnet’s application still had to go through the regulatory process. The cabinet’s endorsement in no way excluded participation of the private sector, he said.

Source: http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/topstories.aspx?ID=BD4A539311

Nuclear expansion is a pipe dream, says report

Nuclear expansion is a pipe dream, says report

· Hope for new era of cheap, clean power is a 'myth'
· Building more stations would increase terror risk

John Vidal, environment editor
Wednesday July 4, 2007
The Guardian

A worldwide expansion of nuclear power has little chance of significantly reducing carbon emissions but will add dangerously to the proliferation of nuclear weapons-grade materials and the potential for nuclear terrorism, says a leading research group that has analysed the possible uptake of civil atomic power over the next 65 years.

The Oxford Research Group paper, funded by the Joseph Rowntree charitable trust, says that the worldwide nuclear "renaissance" planned by the industry to provide cheap, clean power is a myth. Although global electricity demand is expected to rise by 50% in the next 25 years, only 25 new nuclear reactors are currently being built, with 76 more planned and a further 162 proposed, many of which are unlikely to be built. This compares with 429 reactors in operation today, many of which are already near the end of their useful lives and need replacing soon.

For nuclear power to make any significant contribution to a reduction in global carbon emissions in the next two generations, the paper says, the industry would have to construct nearly 3,000 new reactors - or about one a week for 60 years.

"A civil nuclear construction and supply programme on this scale is a pipe dream, and completely unfeasible. The highest historic rate [of build] is 3.4 new reactors a year," says the report.

The paper - Too Hot to Handle? The Future of Civil Nuclear Power - comes as the UK government consults on a new generation of nuclear power stations and at a time of increased terrorist activity. It argues that worldwide stocks of high-grade uranium are expected to have run dangerously low within 25 years and that a significant increase in nuclear power beyond then will require a new generation of "breeder" reactor.

Though this will reduce the need for high-grade uranium, it says, it will also add immensely to the amount of weapons-grade plutonium being produced. "Even a small expansion in the use of nuclear power for electricity generation would have serious consequences for the spread of nuclear weapons to countries that do not now have them and for nuclear terrorism," it says.

The researchers say that nuclear proliferation is inevitable in the next decade. If all the reactors planned today are built, a further seven countries will have nuclear power. Nine more potentially volatile Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, have expressed interest in civil nuclear power, says the paper.

In addition, future demand for electricity will come from the world's poorest countries, which are expected to add nearly 3.5 billion to their populations in the next 60 years. "If nuclear power is to play more than a marginal role in combating global warming, then nuclear power will have to be operated in countries like Bangladesh, Congo, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan, which at present have no nuclear reactors", it says.

"According to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, within 30-40 years at least 30 countries are likely to have access to fissile materials from their civil nuclear power programmes that can be used for nuclear weapons and competent nuclear physicists and engineers who could design and fabricate them.

"Future breeder reactors will be fuelled with plutonium and only a small input of uranium. The plutonium will be of a type suitable for use in the most efficient nuclear weapons. The normal operation of these reactors will, as a matter of course, multiply the amount of weapons-usable plutonium available across the world.

"If the decision to go with nuclear power is taken, then the UK will implement a flawed and dangerously counter-productive energy policy.

"The question is whether in the 21st century the security risks associated with civil nuclear power can be managed, or not? Society has to decide whether or not the risks of proliferation and nuclear terrorism in a world with many nuclear power reactors are acceptable."


A scramble for uranium to feed the new generation of nuclear plants in China and Russia has led to a huge price increase: the commodity shot up 45% to $138 a pound in the past three months alone - as compared with $10.75 in early 2003, when atomic power was out of favour and nobody wanted to construct facilities. Nuclear is now seen as one way of meeting soaring energy demand while keeping greenhouse gas emissions low.





Nuclear power is dangerous, linked to weapons, a terrorist target, dirty, expensive, inefficient, outdated, in decline and unwanted.

The 20th Century was nuclear; the 21st Century will be energy intelligent!

The international nuclear lobby is full of confidence: "Our industry is not in the defensive mindset that it was in before. On the contrary, we must now make the most of the nuclear revival and go on the offensive."

What nuclear revival? How relevant is nuclear energy? Has the nuclear sector solved its problems? Are the facilities safe and a new Chernobyl excluded? Is nuclear waste safely stored for the millennia to come? Are all the costs paid for, now and forever? Is misappropriation of nuclear material impossible? Does nuclear energy prevent climate change? Do people want nuclear power?

In fact, the nuclear industry has never solved its historic problems and new problems have constantly popped up. There is no nuclear proponent that pretends the facilities are 100% safe. Dozens of accidents in various countries since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 have come very close to a new major catastrophe, including the following:

- 1993, Russia: an explosion at the reprocessing plant Tomsk-7 releases significant amounts of plutonium and other radioisotopes into the environment;

- 1995, Japan: a sodium leak and subsequent fire at the plutonium fuelled fast breeder reactor Monju, which has remained shut-down since;

- 1998, France: a large 30m3 per hour primary coolant leak at the most recent French reactor at Civaux can only be isolated after 10 hours;

- 1999, Japan: two workers are killed and several hundred people exposed to radiation following a criticality accident at a fuel fabrication plant in Tokai, Japan.

- 2002, USA: a 130-200cm2 hole is discovered at the Davis Besse plant that goes right through the 17cm thick reactor pressure vessel head down to a thin internal liner of stainless steel cladding not designed to withstand operating pressure.

- 2003, Hungary: the majority of 30 spent fuel elements are broken in a cleaning tank leaving 3.6 tons of uranium pellets at the bottom of the container; the situation remains unsolved to date;

- 2005, UK: a leak of over 80m3 of nitric acid containing some 22t of uranium and 200kg of plutonium is discovered, eight month after its beginning, at the dissolver of reprocessing plant THORP that has been shut down since.

Remember Chernobyl?

Twenty years after the unit number four of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded people remain surprisingly unaware of the dramatic consequences of the disaster:

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that the total radioactivity released from Chernobyl was 200 times that of the combined releases from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

About 350,000 people were evacuated from particularly contaminated areas. However, 9,500 people still live in zones of compulsory evacuation. Some 7 million people are entitled to special allowances, pensions and health care privileges as a result of being categorised as in some way affected by Chernobyl.

The cumulated economic damage to Ukraine alone is estimated to exceed 165 billion euro by 2015. Up to 2005, about 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer have occurred in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia in those aged under 18 at the time of the accident.

Official reports put the number of fatal cancers to be expected at 9,000. Independent scientists estimate that between 30,000 and 60,000 people will die from Chernobyl induced cancer.

The number of people designated as permanently disabled by the Chernobyl accident (and their children) increased from 200 in 1991 to 64,500 in 1997 and over 91,000 in 2001;

In the United Kingdom, over 2,500 kilometres from the source of the disaster, 374 sheep farms with 200,000 sheep are still subject to restrictions because of contamination from the Ukrainian reactor accident. The contaminated fields in the UK cover an area of over 750 km2.

In certain regions of Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Poland wild game (including boar and deer), wild mushrooms, berries and carnivore fish from lakes and still reach caesium-137 contamination levels of several thousand becquerel per kilogram.

The European Commission does not expect any change soon and concludes: "The restrictions on certain foodstuffs from certain Member States must therefore continue to be maintained for many years to come."

The Chernobyl disaster will continue and nobody will ever know the true extent of the damage to people and the environment. But we do know enough to say that nobody could seriously accept the slightest risk of this happening again!

Nuclear knowledge can be used to produce electricity or nuclear explosive devices. The separation of civil and military uses is a myth. Several countries have developed bomb programs on the basis of technology provided by other countries "for civil purposes". The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) actually guarantees "the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination". As long as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under full access does not come up with proof of non-declared weapons related activities, all Members to the NPT, including Iran, have the right to access nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment and plutonium separation. The NPT is actually a "Proliferation Treaty", the IAEA a broker of nuclear technology.

Nuclear facilities, plutonium and radioactive waste shipments constitute prime targets for terrorists. The hijacking of a significant amount of plutonium or highly enriched uranium and a credible threat with a crude nuclear explosive device would challenge any democracy in a so far unprecedented extent. A massive attack on a large spent fuel or plutonium store could dwarf the Chernobyl accident in short- and long-term fatalities and environmental contamination.

Dirty from Mine to Waste

The nuclear fuel "cycle" is a myth. The nuclear system, rather a spiral, generates large amounts of waste at each single step from uranium mine – hundreds of millions of tons of waste in the world already – to plutonium separation, called reprocessing. The only two large-scale plutonium plants worldwide at Sellafield (UK) and La Hague (France) discharge huge amounts of radioactivity and cause over 80% of the collective dose to Europeans. There is no solution to the safe storage of high-level radioactive waste for thousands of years.

Benefits Privatized, Costs Mutualized

The total cost of a nuclear kWh most likely will never be known. Costs for waste management, decommissioning and clean-up are constantly on the rise and are generally expected to be paid for by the taxpayer, while in many countries beneficial power generation has been privatized. However, according to most international cost assessments, nuclear power generates by far the most expensive delivered energy. For new nuclear power to become competitive it would need substantial State subsidies in particular to provide guarantees against substantial financial and economic risks.

Nuclear Power Destroys Efficient Climate Change Policy

Every Euro invested in nuclear power is wasted because it could achieve greater greenhouse gas abatement if invested in energy conservation and efficiency. Large-scale power plants lead to overcapacities and therefore consumption incentives and waste of electricity as well as large losses in distribution networks. There is little or no link between oil and nuclear energy. Nuclear power increases the dependence on non-sustainable energy and resource imports. Energy service security is the answer.

Decentralised High-Tech Plants Outpace Ancient Technology

Nuclear is old technology. Most of the operating plants were designed between the 1950s and 1970s. Today, high-tech, decentralised cogeneration and renewable energy plants already outpace nuclear: they surpassed nuclear power’s total installed capacity in 2002 and its annual output in 2005. In 2004 they added about 6 times as much net capacity and almost 3 times as much annual electricity generation as nuclear power.

Very Limited Role in Securing Energy Supply

Nuclear power covers only a minor share of energy services in the world: 6% of commercial final energy in the EU and ca. 2% in the world. Even in France, the most nuclearised country in the world, nuclear power provides only l7.5% of commercial final energy while over 70% of the consumption is covered by fossil fuels. Nuclear power does not make the EU any more independent of energy imports, since all the uranium for the fabrication of nuclear fuel has to be imported.

Insignificant Market Share In New Capacity

In total 26 nuclear units are listed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as "under construction", but nine of these have been listed there for between 18 and 30 years. Only one reactor is under construction in the EU (Olkiluoto-3 in Finland). Nuclear power represents between 1% and 2% of the world market for new electricity generating capacity.

Ongoing Decline – No Sign of Revival

In March 2006, there are 148 units operating in the EU25, which is 24 units less than at the historic peak in 1989. For the first time in 15 years in 2005 a single building site was started up (Finland), however, two units were shut down the same year (Germany, Sweden). The decline continues.

Rapid Aging – Slow Decline

The world’s nuclear plants are rapidly aging. Until 2015 about 80 units will reach age 40, by 2025 an additional 200 reactors will have operated for four decades. Even if it was possible to practically double the current operating age (about 22 years) of all reactors, their replacement at age 40 would mean to connect to the grid a unit every month and a half until 2015 and one every 18 days between 2015 and 2025. Considering the long lead times of nuclear power plants of at least ten years, such a scheme is impossible. Even if China did build 20 additional units and other countries a few more by 2025, the numbers of nuclear plants operating will decline. Unless the operating age would be stretched on average significantly beyond 40 years, which would raise not only the question how 50 year old reactors could possibly stand for the term "revival" but also a new dimension of severe nuclear safety issues.

People "Fairly or Totally Opposed" to Nuclear Power

The latest opinion poll published by the European Commission shows that 55% of the EU25 citizens questioned are fairly or totally opposed to nuclear energy. Political leaders that call for more nuclear power ignore their public opinions. People want a sustainable energy future based on conservation, efficiency and renewable energy in which nuclear power has no place.

The 20th Century was nuclear; the 21st Century will be energy intelligent!


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Heat Wave Shows Limits of Nuclear Energy

Heat Wave Shows Limits of Nuclear Energy

The extreme hot summer in Europe is restricting nuclear energy generation and showing up the limits of nuclear power, leading environmental activists and scientists say.

The extreme hot summer in Europe is restricting nuclear energy generation and showing up the limits of nuclear power, leading environmental activists and scientists say.

The heat wave since mid-June has led authorities in France, Germany, Spain and elsewhere in Europe to override their own environmental norms on the maximum temperature of water drained from the plants' cooling systems.

The French government announced Jul. 24 that nuclear power plants situated along rivers will be allowed to drain hot water into rivers at higher temperature. The measure is intended "to guarantee the provision of electricity for the country," according to an official note.

France has 58 nuclear power plants, which produce almost 80 percent of electricity generated in the country. Of these, 37 are situated near rivers, and use them as outlet for water from their cooling systems.

The drought accompanying the hot summer has reduced the volume of water in the rivers, and might force some power plants to shut down.

Under normal circumstances, environment rules limit the maximum temperature for waste water in order to protect river flora and fauna.

"For many years now, French authorities have defended nuclear power arguing that it is clean energy, good for the environment, and that it will help combat global warming, for it does not emit greenhouse gases," Stephane Lhomme, coordinator of the environmental network Sortir du Nuclaire (Phase Out Nuclear Power) told IPS.

"Now, with global warming leading to extreme hot summers, we are witnessing that it is the other way round," Lhomme said. "Global warming is showing the limits of nuclear power plants, and nuclear power is destroying our environment."

During the hot summer of 2003, French authorities had allowed nuclear power plants to drain excessively hot water into rivers, leading to considerable damage to flora and fauna, Lhomme said.

According to the minutes of the National Surveillance Committee on water drained from reactors Aug. 21 and Sep. 3 2003, "hot water temperatures might have led to high concentrations of ammoniac, which is potentially toxic for the rivers' fauna."

The minutes point to a European norm on the concentration of ammoniac in rivers, which France did not respect.

Meanwhile France is importing some 2000 megawatts of power per day from neighbouring countries to compensate for shortages in production at nuclear power plants.

While the French authorities have overridden their own environmental norms, in Germany energy providers have slowed down some nuclear reactors to limit waste water temperature and to protect flora and fauna.

Reactors Kruemmel, Brunsbuettel and Brokdorf situated along the river Elbe which flows through Eastern and Northern Germany have all been slowed down. So have traditional fossil fuel power plants situated along the river Rhine.

The nuclear reactors Isar 1 near Munich, and Neckarwestheim near Stuttgart have being authorised to drain hotter water into the nearby rivers than normally allowed.

In Spain, the nuclear power plant at Santa Maria de Garota, one of eight Spanish reactors, was shut down last weekend due to the high temperatures recorded in the river Ebro, into which the reactor drains the water used in its cooling system.

The power plant, Spain's oldest, provides 20 percent of the electricity generated in the country.

German energy expert Hermann Scheer says the situation shows a need for radical change in policy. "We must massively invest in renewable energy sources, and get rid of nuclear power as soon as possible," he told IPS.

Scheer is president of Eurosolar, the European association for renewable energy resources, and winner of the "Alternative Nobel prize" for his commitment to the environment.

In France, nuclear scientist Hubert Reeves urged the government to "invest massively" in renewable energy resources. "We are behind many of our European partners such as Germany, Denmark and Spain in this matter, and cannot wait until the energy crisis reaches its climax to find an alternative to our present model," he told IPS.

A crisis, he said, "is round the corner." Fossil energy sources are about to be exhausted, and "nuclear technology will not solve present problems within a reasonable period of time.we should abandon nuclear power and invest in alternative sources."





Imagine saying to a smoker: "You can continue to smoke as many packs of cigarettes as you like, just be sure to pop in for lung X-rays so we will know when you have contracted cancer or lung diseases".

Yet governments around the world build nuclear reactors wherever they want, polluting earth and water with highly radioactive materials and at the same time run extensive campaigns to promote "cancer awareness". Human beings are made to feel that their reproductive organs are ticking time-bombs that may succumb to cancers at any moment. And children and unborn babies become the highest statistics of cancers, filling hospital oncology wards.

The nuclear industry is becoming as familiar with lawsuits as the tobacco industry. And in fact the uranium mining process that produces fuel for nuclear reactors is second only to tobacco for causing lung cancers in its employees. Yet due to government investment (taxpayers' funds) the nuclear industry continues to demand and receive multi-million rand budgets each year in return for a minimal contribution of electricity, making it the most expensive form of energy on the planet.

Not only are the building and decommissioning costs of the nuclear industry astronomical, but the compensation figures that are paid to employees or nearby communities for fatal cancers they have contracted from this polluting industry also reach multi-million rand figures. Local residents in the Hicksville Long Island area in the US found that toxins from nuclear waste had leached into their water supplies. They brought a lawsuit against the company for increased cancer risks that was settled for $11 million. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is now prosecuting lawsuits arising from this site in federal court.

US Senator, Charles Schumer said that treatment, medical monitoring and compensation are on the way for potentially thousands of workers. He said: "I will hold the Army Corps' of Engineers feet to the fire" and "the site should have been cleaned up yesterday", referring to his previous efforts in 2004 to achieve a full cleanup.

Gerard Depascale contracted a rare cancer while working for the Hudson News Group on this site and was awarded lifetime workers' compensation and medical benefits. An attorney said: "Over the course of the next 10-20 years, I believe we are going to see more cases of cancer and other illnesses related to radiation at this site".

New aid promised by Senator Schumer will be especially welcome to workers who were exposed to ionizing radiation and other toxins on the site and are now in fear of getting sick in the future.

So who benefits from nuclear reactors? Probably only the lawyers who file these lawsuits that are becoming known in the US as "toxic torts". The workers who are awarded the "compensation" may not live to spend any money.

Smoking cigarettes was thought to be harmless and done by almost everyone. Now that people are more informed, hardly anyone smokes. But if they do, it is their informed choice. This is a crucial difference between cancers incurred by smoking and those from nuclear waste - an issue of choice. Nuclear programmes have been enforced on many communities by governments who have invested far too much money in this old technology. It is not the choice of the community - as protests have shown. And unfortunately you cannot simply move into the non-nuclear room as you would choose a non-smoking area.

When people are informed of the many dangers to their health, they realize that it simply makes sense to stop nuclear programmes altogether in the same way they stopped smoking and choose the healthier alternatives of renewable energy sources.

Yours sincerely



All South Africans should be aware that the Department of Minerals (DME) is going to the cabinet within the next few weeks to fast-track the nuclear programme in this country. In the process, they will be striking the death knell for democracy in this country since the public will not be allowed to protest a nuclear reactor being built in their backyard, or waste sited in their community, if the DME embeds its nuclear programme in legislation.

The DME wants to enforce the development of Necsa (also a government body) through legislation in such a way that investors would be guaranteed that their proposals will go through without any hindrance or objection allowed. If they succeed then it opens the doors to any other industry to follow this precedent - and fast-track their developments regardless of public opinion or community objections.

This is of huge significance in this country because at one stroke it takes away any thought of democracy in government - allowing the government to basically write "blank cheques" to investors and dictate that a nuclear reactor will be placed on any site they choose.

At the moment primary legislation controlling the Necsa is the National Nuclear Regulatory (NNR) Act and according to an attorney, Claire Tucker: "each applicant has to engage in a protracted negotiation process with the NNR over the content required".

For investors, Tucker says this means they don't know "how the licence application process would develop, or what problems could arise.” What Necsa wants is a situation that exists in the US so that they can "get a licence confirming the suitability of a site for a nuclear reactor not only before one actually decides to build that reactor, but before the choice of design for the reactor is made. This process includes final environmental approval for the site and the plant parameters proposed. Or one can get a licence for a design of a nuclear reactor before one selects a site on which to construct it".

Necsa states that :"there are a limited number of sites in South Africa which are suitable to build a nuclear reactor, so this scarce resource must be protected. Being able to identify, secure, and licence a nuclear site in advance of a decision to build a reactor gives an investor greater security and flexibility".

So what they are clearly saying is that the government must bend over backwards to protect investors and ensure they are not hindered in any way by public concerns. They want to put laws in place that guarantee the nuclear process will go through - without any obection allowed from the public. This despite the fact that radioactive waste is already buried in large storage drums under 1000 hectares of land at Vaalputs (between Namaqualand and Bushmanland) and with an expanded nuclear programme, this would only increase.

Necsa also had to decommission 56 facilities they said: "to minimise the state’s liabilities with regard to potential safety hazards that the facilities constitute to personnel, the public and the environment. The majority of these sites formed part of the former AEC’s nuclear fuel activities and have all been shut down permanently". So these nuclear sites were identified as hazardous enough to the public to be shut down, but now they want to start the process again?

A Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in America have been complaining about "generic certification" - or basically writing a blank cheque that no matter what the problems are, a nuclear plant will be built on the site they choose. UCS wrote to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) in America for a decade to try to get nuclear companies to repair a basic flaw on the Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) which is the make that Necsa wants to buy from overseas companies. These scientists state that the NNR is the only organization allowed to monitor nuclear reactors and simply does not do its job effectively.

There are other problems besides lack of a democratic process, waste issues and responsibility for monitoring nuclear reactors in South Africa. Who is going to pay for any potential damages? In South Africa, the State is not "the insurer of last resort" for liabilities that arise from nuclear damage that exceed the securities held by the nuclear operator, nor does it have a statutory insurance scheme.

It seems that the suppliers of nuclear parts are concerned that liabilities from nuclear damage will be passed on to them, if the operator is not able to pay and the State refuses to do so. Foreign companies that supply parts to the nuclear industry want South Africans to provide them with higher indemnities than those in the NNR Act to cover nuclear damage claims.

So here you have a situation where Necsa and the DME acknowledge there could be nuclear damage that could cost a great deal - but no one wants to pay for it or be liable for it. This is also bearing in mind that Necsa is itself a government organization and cannot seem to find private investors to cushion the people of South Africa from huge costs that will be added to tax bills and electricity bills.

The minister of the DME herself says that: "no control regime, no matter how comprehensive, could guarantee an end to the illicit trade of nuclear materials". The South African public surely deserves to know that the government is admitting they would not be able to control crime in the nuclear industry - worse still an expanded one?

And in order to find people to run these nuclear reactors - they want to bring back the dinosaurs! “We’re considering bringing back pensioners", Necsa states blithely.

The DME is also offering foreign mining companies licenses to mine uranium in South African and local people of the Magaliesburg and Beaufort West should be informed about the Navajo people in America who suffered cancers due to uranium mining on their lands and have since prevented the American government from any further uranium mining by law. According to Canadian law, primary cancers are an occupational disease of uranium mining. Are Trade Unions representing South African labour aware of this risk to their workforce?

All of these issues have huge implications for the South African public. The DME wants to foist a nuclear programme on the public by imposing legislation to guarantee that developments that cost millions to build and decommission and can cause millions in liability/damages will go ahead without opposition.

This questions the heart of a country's democracy and constitution - the right of the people to legal recourse to protest or object developments that will impact directly on them and the children of the future. These are not small industries, but huge nuclear reactors that require large amounts of space, large amounts of water for cooling processes and still more space for waste.

The DME is very clearly saying, no matter what the public thinks, we will go ahead anyway. But if a country pretends to be a democracy - then people in government must be aware that they are there because voters chose them to represent their best interests. The government is supposed to serve the people who voted them into office - not the other way round, with the people becoming footstools to potential dictators.

Yours sincerely