France orders tests on all nuclear power stations after leak
By Henry Samuel in Paris
Last updated: 8:18 PM BST 17/07/2008
Fears over France's nuclear reactors have been raised as the government orders ground water tests at its 58 power stations, after a uranium leak at one polluted local water supplies.
The safety lapse at a plant in Provence run by French nuclear giant Areva has raised questions over President Nicolas Sarkozy's drive to roll out reactors around the world – in Britain but also in states with less stringent safety norms.
"I don't want people to feel that we are hiding anything from them," said ecology minister Jean-Louis Borloo as he announced the blanket tests.
Residents in Bollène in the Vaucluse, southern France – a top tourist area – have been told not to drink water or eat fish from nearby rivers, after 74kg of liquid uranium was spilled on July 7 at the Tricastin nuclear plant.
Swimming and water sports were also banned along with irrigating crops with the contaminated water, which reached two rivers.
French authorities last week ordered the closure of a nuclear treatment facility at the plant, which also has a nuclear reactor, after liquid was spilled during its transfer from one container to another.
The site is run by Socatri, a subsidiary of Areva, whose president, Anne Lauvergeon, is due to visit.
Areva aims to dominate the design and construction of at least eight new power stations which are to be fast-tracked in England over the next decade.
According to Gordon Brown, they are essential to reduce Britain's dependency on fossil fuels, but environmentalists have already raised safety fears, saying the Areva reactor design is 'untried and untested'.
Ben Ayliffe, head of nuclear campaigns at Greenpeace, said: "Such unpredictable and nasty side effects are the risks you take with nuclear.
"We believe the leak in France resulted from human error.
"Liquid uranium was accidentally poured onto the ground. We're not talking about dishwater here. This is a dangerous radioactive material.
"The risk of accidents like this in the UK should be enough to make reasonable people baulk at the thought of having more nuclear power stations here."
Although ranked as only a level-one incident on a scale from zero to seven, Mr Borloo said he wanted government nuclear safety inspectors to look into the environmental conditions at all sites, in particular the state of the surrounding ground water.
"I'm told that everything is under control, but I want to be sure," Mr Borloo told Le Parisien newspaper.
French environmental group Sortir du nucléaire welcomed the move, but said that tests should be carried out by an independent body not linked to the industry or the French state – its main shareholder.
France has the world's second largest network of nuclear reactors after the United States and they generate more than 80 per cent of its electricity.
While the spill at Tricastin did not affect the reactor, Mr Borloo stressed that "there is no room for negligence" in nuclear energy.
France's IRSN nuclear safety institute said it had located four areas with abnormally high levels of uranium in the ground water and that this could not have been caused by the Tricastin leak alone.
This has led to suggestions that military nuclear waste buried nearby in an underground storage site from 1964 to 1976 may be to blame.
In 1998, a study by French nuclear body Cogema estimated that up to 900kg of uranium had leaked into underground water supplies from the site, and that another 1,700 kilogrammes were still buried there.
However, IRSN said the pollution "incident" had "nothing to do with this mound of waste" – located roughly a mile further south.
It has been declared all vegetables and crops irrigated just after the leak fit for consumption, but residents around Bollène, where the power station is located, said they feared for their health.
"We've been drinking water from this water table for 20 years," said Sylvie Eymard, who cultivates herbs and vegetables on a farm within sight of Tricastin's cooling towers. Most of her plants have died due to the water restrictions.
"We've done chemical tests before, but never thought of a radiological risk.
"I can't help thinking about the possible consequences of this pollution on my children", she told Le Parisien.
The municipality is supplying tanks of drinking water and local stores have sold out on mineral water, while some residents have stocked up on iodine pills – usually taken as protection against airborne radioactive particles.
"The local population is worried and no longer believes official figures", said André-Yves Becq, the deputy mayor. He said Socatri inspectors "suspiciously" told one family that dangerously high levels of contamination in its water supply were due to a "dirty measurement instrument".
France is fiercely proud of its nuclear prowess thanks to mainly state-owned energy giants Areva, Electricité de France and newly merged GDF Suez. The country has already embarked on the construction of a new generation of higher-yield EPR reactors.
In April, Mr Sarkozy hailed French nuclear technology as "one of the safest in the world' while on a trip to Tunisia – the latest in his nuclear sales tour of mainly Muslim states including Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, but also China.
"Without energy, you will not know growth. Without growth, you will not have development. You will have poverty, under-development and unemployment, and thus terrorism. Everything is linked", he claimed.
Story from Telegraph News:
Saturday, July 19, 2008
"Low-Level" Radioactive Waste is one of the most misleading terms ever created. In the U.S., it is all nuclear waste that is not legally high-level waste, some transuranic waste, or mill tailings.
High-Level Radioactive Waste is: the irradiated fuel from the cores of nuclear reactors, the liquid and sludge wastes that are left over after irradiated fuel has been reprocessed (a procedure used to extract uranium and plutonium), the solid that would result from efforts to solidify that liquid and sludge from reprocessing.
Transuranic Waste is material contaminated with radioactive elements heavier than uranium, such as plutonium, neptunium, americium and curium. These elements: have extremely long hazardous lives--hundreds of thousands to millions of years and emit alpha radiation a type of radiation that is especially dangerous if inhaled or swallowed. Some transuranic waste is allowed in the "low-level" radioactive waste category. In 1983, when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) adopted regulations on land disposal of radioactive waste (lOCFR61), it increased the allowable concentration of transuranics in "low-level" radioactive waste.
Uranium Mill tailings, resulting from mining and milling uranium for weapons and commercial reactors, are not usually included in the "low-level" waste category, but may be handled with it in some states. The large volumes of these wastes, which will emit radiation for centuries, pose serious health problems.
WHAT IS "LOW-LEVEL" RADIOACTIVE WASTE?
"Low-Level" Radioactive Waste includes:
Irradiated Components and Piping: reactor hardware and pipes that are in continual contact with highly radioactive water for the 20 to 30 years the reactor operates. The metal becomes "activated" or radioactive itself from bombardment by neutrons that are released when energy is produced. Also called Irradiated Primary System Components.
Control Rods: from the core of nuclear power plants--rods that regulate and stop the nuclear reactions in the reactor core.
Poison Curtains: which absorb neutrons from the water in the reactor core and irradiated fuel (high level waste) pool.
Resins, Sludges, Filters and Evaporator Bottoms: from cleansing the water that circulates around the irradiated fuel in the reactor vessel and in the fuel pool, which holds the irradiated fuel when it is removed from the core.
Entire Nuclear Power Plants if and when they are dismantled. This includes, for example, from a typical 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactor building floor: over 13,000 tons of contaminated concrete and over 1,400 tons of contaminated reinforcing steel bar.
The highly radioactive and long-lived reactor wastes are included in the "low-level" waste category along with the much less concentrated and generally much shorter-lived wastes from medical treatment and diagnosis and some types of scientific research.
RADIOACTIVE CONCENTRATION vs VOLUME
The nuclear industry and government commonly describe "low-level" waste in terms of volume although there can be a tremendous concentration of radioactivity in a small package and a small concentration in a big package. The amount of radioactivity, measured in CURIES, indicates how much radioactive energy is being emitted by the waste. (1 Curie = 37,000,000,000 or 37 Billion disintegrations or radioactive emissions per second from a radioactive material.)
The medical waste from diagnosis and treatment shipped in one year from most states usually gives off a fraction of one curie of radiation. In contrast, each nuclear reactor generates hundreds and thousands of curies in "low-level" waste every year.
Nuclear reactor waste is concentrated: Solidified liquid emits about 2 curies per cubic meter; Filter/Demineralizer sludges emit about 10 curies per cubic meter; Cartridge filters emit about 20 curies per cubic meter; Demineralizer resins emit about 160 curies per cubic meter. Primary Components average 1000 to 5000 curies per cubic meter.
All of this material is legally considered low-level.
HALF-LIFE and HAZARDOUS LIFE
Radioactive elements decay by emitting energy in the form of radioactive particles and rays. As radiation is given off, other elements (some radioactive and some stable) are formed.
The Half-Life is the time it takes for HALF of the radioactive element to decay (give off half of its radioactivity). Different radioactive elements have different half-lives.
The Hazardous Life of a radioactive element is about 10 or 20 Half-Lives. (It is best to measure the amount of radiation after 10 or 20 half-lives before releasing waste from active controls.)
Reactor waste remains hazardous for a very long time. Most medical waste from treatment and diagnosis is hazardous for a very short time. Research and industrial waste can contain small amounts of some long-lived radioactive materials.
Among the radioactive elements commonly found in nuclear reactor "low-level" waste are: Tritium, with a half-life of 12 years and a hazardous life of 120-240 years; Iodine-131, half-life of 8 days, hazardous life of 80-160 days; Strontium-90, half life of 28 years, hazardous life of 280-560 years; Nickel-59, half life of 76,000 years, hazardous life of 760,000-1,520,000 years, and Iodine-129, half-life of sixteen million years, hazardous life of160-320 million years.
By contrast, common medical waste elements include Technetium-99m, with a half-life of 6 hours and a hazardous life of 2.5-5 days; Galium-67, half-life of 78 hours and hazardous life of 1-2 months; and Iodine-131, with its half-life of 8 days and hazardous life of 80-160 days.
The vast majority of medical waste is hazardous for less than 8 months. Yet, it is in the same category as reactor waste that will be hazardous for hundreds of thousands to millions of years.
Clearly, the definition of "low-level radioactive waste" must be changed. It would make sense to redefine the more concentrated and/or longer-lived waste as high-level. Active recontainerization and operational control must be provided for the entire hazardous life of the waste, yet the NRC requires only 100 years of passive institutional control. Thus, waste hazardous longer than 100 years could be forgotten. Retrievability is essential.
PLANNED LEAKAGE AND "ACCEPTABLE" RISK
Waste containers and forms will not last as long as some waste remains hazardous. Therefore, waste should be placed in a manner which will facilitate recontainerization and make continued isolation from the environment possible in the future. If the waste is "disposed of" as the NRC currently requires, it will not be isolated from the environment. "Planned leakage will occur at (what NRC considers) an "acceptable" leak rate leading to "acceptable" public radiation exposures and health risks. The allowable leak rates and exposure levels are determined by federal agencies, not those experiencing the risk.
To avoid leakage, above-ground, engineered storage at or near the source of generation could allow responsible routine monitoring and repair.
States have the right and responsibility to protect their citizens' health. In 1980, Congress gave states the responsibility for "low-level" radioactive waste. How and whether states choose to take on that responsibility will be reflected indefinitely into the future.
Posted by Mitchell Krog at 2:03 PM
Jeremy Leggett 22/06/2008
The Government wilfully suppressed renewables to make space for nuclear to be reborn, argues Jeremy Leggett
The Government released its first energy white paper almost five years ago, when oil was barely $30 a barrel. The result of a thorough consultation with more than 60 energy companies, it called for deep carbon emissions cuts by 2050, to be achieved primarily by a massive programme of renewable and efficient energy mobilisation. Nuclear energy barely survived the consultation. During the Strategic Energy Review that preceded the white paper, I saw executives from nuclear companies literally laughed out of contention during debates about the economics of future energy supply. But senior officials at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) fought a rearguard action. Nuclear was granted a place on the back burner, to be reviewed after five years.
The DTI set up a Renewables Advisory Board to advise ministers on how to execute the white-paper plan in November 2002. I was invited to join it, and at the time I was encouraged. Twelve renewable industry executives joined senior officials from all relevant ministries on the board. There was a sense that we were there to make things happen fast: to help unlock doors. But by September 2003, the industry members of the board were troubled by slow progress and issued a statement of concern. In particular, we were worried that the short tenure of the Renewables Obligation was putting off investment in wind. Faced with this rebellion by its industry advisors, the Government extended the Renewables Obligation. But other doors were proving very difficult to open, notably an early recommendation by industry that government go out and fight a strong hearts-and-minds communication campaign to persuade the public that we needed a strong mix of fast-growing renewables markets, and why.
A fellow member of the board warned me that DTI officials were deliberately going slowly, and would continue to do so, aiming to keep their hopes for nuclear alive. Renewables, he feared, would be teed up to fail. I didn’t believe it at the time. But recently I heard two of Tony Blair’s senior colleagues confirm the DTI has long suppressed renewables to make space for nuclear. The slow-motion treatment of renewables that I have witnessed in the UK during the past five years, while renewables markets abroad have grown explosively, now makes a sickening kind of sense.
In 2004, oil hit $50 for the first time. New fears about energy security meant more than $30 billion of new investment flowed into renewables globally. Very little came to the UK. Much of it went to Germany, where the Germans have created more than 200,000 new jobs since 2000 in industries now exporting globally. UK plc meanwhile has been starved of opportunities both to create new jobs and compete in new global export markets.
Along the way, the nuclearphiles have jumped the gun on their five-year review. Tony Blair called for a second energy white paper, and by July 2006 the draft already backed a new generation of British nuclear power plants. At that time, nuclear inspectors were reporting unexplained cracks in six reactor cores in the existing generation. British Energy, it seemed, did not know the extent of the damage in the reactors, could not monitor their deterioration and didn’t fully understand why the cracking had occurred. The DTI authors of the energy white paper, and their champion in Number 10, were undeterred.
Greenpeace challenged the legality of the second white paper process and in February 2007 the High Court ruled that the Government’s review had indeed been unlawful. Another consultation began. Another year had been lost.
In March, Europe agreed a union-wide target of 20 per cent renewables in the energy mix. Twenty-seven leaders signed up, Blair among them. As a result of this and other market-building initiatives, global investment in renewables companies accelerated still faster in 2007. Share prices in renewables companies soared far ahead of normal stocks, while growing numbers of experts warned oil and gas were depleting faster than expected. But in the UK it was business as usual. In August, the Guardian revealed ministers were being briefed by DTI officials (now the Department of Business and Regulatory Reform) that the UK couldn’t come close to a 20 per cent target. In a development beyond even the script of Yes Minister, options for wriggling out of the 20 per cent commitment included counting nuclear energy as renewable energy.
No doubt shamed by all this, Gordon Brown held the line, and is currently insisting the UK plays ball with the EU’s 20 per cent target. But how will he deliver it, when his government has some of the least effective market-enablement programmes for renewable energy in the industrialised world? How, surrounded by civil servants intent on seeing a re-nuclearised Britain almost at any cost?
One of those most instrumental in engineering the nuclear renaissance was Blair’s chief scientific adviser, Sir David King. People present in the crucial cabinet meeting where the 2003 energy white paper was finalised have described to me how King and other DTI officials stopped ministers shelving nuclear completely. In a Guardian interview on 12 January, King speaks with evident pride about how John Prescott became furious to the point almost of violence.
King went further in the interview and in his forthcoming books, labelling greens Luddites harming the fight against global warming. Many ‘want to get away from all the technological gizmos and developments of the 20th century,’ he professes.
Many greens I know are keen to drop 20th-century technologies, but only in that we are rather keen to progress to the technologies of the 21st century. The technologies of the present century look set to be very different from the technologies of the last, if you consider where energy investors prefer to put their money. The vast majority of venture capital investment in energy, and some of the most successful investments on stock exchanges in 2007, went to renewable and efficient technologies, and these offer at least a fighting chance of solving our energy problems.
Nuclear is one of those 20th-century technologies society has tried and found wanting. We can’t build it fast enough to make a difference either to our clear-and-present climate change problem, or our fast-emerging energy security problem. Even if we could, we haven’t found a way to deal with its hideous wastes after half a century of effort. We can’t afford it without endless blank-cheque subsidies, as opposed to the short-term, fixed-amount subsidies – or their policy equivalents – that renewables need in order to accelerate into mass markets. We haven’t found a way to stop the people that run the industry from releasing a stream of lies, falsified documents, accident- and near-miss cover-ups, and consistent, huge and almost universal cost underestimates. If we plough ahead with nuclear power regardless, we face the fact that the separation between civil and weapons programmes is wafer-thin, and so effectively issue a licence to the rest of the world to proliferate nuclear weapons. Retired nuclear bomb designers have a tendency to profess that if and when civil nuclear programmes are resurrected on any scale, it is only a matter of time before the terrorists make it into our cities with suitcase bombs. Finally, if we build a new generation of nuclear reactors, by the Government’s own admission they would need to be on existing sites: on the coast. The same government warns us, via its lead role in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are at risk of melting, which would lift global sea level many metres. Whither Dungeness then, a site where 600 tonnes of shingle already has to be dumped daily to keep the sea at bay? Some 20th-century technologies we do need to get away from. Nuclear power is one.
The book King has written to vent his rage against the greens, we are told, ends with a map of the world on which is superimposed six tiny squares. If all the light falling on those squares could be harvested, King explains, all the world’s energy needs could be met. Indeed. This remarkable fact is the product of a nuclear reactor. That reactor is more than 90 million miles from our planet, and it is called the Sun. The power it could in principle generate within those tiny squares is called solar power. David King was until recently a lead player in a government that has acted for years as though it wants to slowly strangle any prospect of solar power in Britain.
Jeremy Leggett is founder and chairman of Solarcentury and SolarAid, and author of The Carbon War and Half Gone. This article is an extended version of some of his writing on nuclear power and renewables in the Guardian
Posted by Mitchell Krog at 1:56 PM
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA Jul 07 2008 16:24
A proposed nuclear power station at Thuyspunt would be a disaster for the environment and tourism in Jeffrey's Bay and St Francis Bay, the Supertubes Surfing Foundation said on Monday.
"Local and international surfers ... will not fancy a surf in radioactive waves at one of the best right-handers in the world," said the organisation, which takes care of beaches and protects sand dunes in Jeffrey's Bay.
The organisation said seawater would be used to cool the proposed plant's condensers and then returned to the ocean.
"We are not satisfied that pumping heated water back into the ocean will have no impact on sea life and water quality in the Jeffrey's Bay and St Francis Bay area," said the chairperson of the organisation, Tyrone Smith.
If Thuyspunt -- just 12km from Cape St Francis -- is chosen by Eskom as the site of its plant, a 4 000MW nuclear reactor will be built. This is more than twice the size of the Koeberg plant in the Western Cape, said Supertubes.
Vulnerable ecosystems and wetlands could be destroyed by building a nuclear facility at Thuyspunt.
Smith also said the large amounts of water sucked in at high velocity to cool the condensers could capture wildlife from the sea and destroy it. "The plant would have some kind of filter system and even large fish would be trapped and killed."
He also said it was a "very real possibility" that dolphins would be killed at the proposed nuclear plant.
"The risk of an accident at a nuclear plant so close to the pristine beaches of Jeffrey's Bay is unacceptable," the organisation said, adding that wind speed in the area was strong enough that if there were an accident, radiation would strike the communities of St Francis and Jeffrey's Bay within an hour.
"There would literally be no time for an evacuation as it would be impossible to warn everybody -- the local population would simply be eradicated. The agricultural land would be unusable for thousands of years."
Botanist Richard Cowling said dune fynbos in the area was endangered and that building the site would require the removal of huge amounts of sediment.
"Any disturbance of the dunes will play havoc with the complex water-flow dynamics in the area," he said.
Smith said agriculture and tourism, the two pillars of the economy in the area, would be hardest hit if the plant was built. "Would [tourists] risk their safety by spending their summer holidays so close to a nuclear plant that is spewing polluted water back into the ocean they want to swim in?"
J'Bay Boardriders' Club chairperson Andy Thuysman said many jobs could be lost. "The Baviaanskloof [40km from Jeffrey's Bay] has been declared a world heritage site and the tourism potential from this may never be realised."
Planned power lines would be driven through the wilderness area above the highway, he said.
Supertubes said it will be asking people to sign a petition at the Billabong Pro surf contest.
Eskom was not immediately available for comment. -- Sapa
Posted by Mitchell Krog at 1:55 PM
Bill for Britain's nuclear clean-up increases by another £10bn
· A week after MPs criticise accounts, numbers go up
· Repairing broken reactors brings cost total to £83bn
# Terry Macalister
# The Guardian,
# Friday July 18, 2008
The credibility of the nuclear industry was shaken last night after the estimated cost of cleaning up Britain's atomic waste was raised by a further £10bn.
The latest clean-up estimate from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) suggests the commonly accepted figure of £73bn should rise to £83bn. But the agency insisted that £10bn of income from generating and fuel reprocessing plants should also be taken into account.
It said the most accurate estimate of the clean-up bill over the next 130 years was £73bn, which included £10bn for the future construction of a high level waste depositary. The NDA's estimates for that project have not been revealed before.
The government agency blamed the latest rise in costs on the decision to tackle more complicated hazard problems at Sellafield along with rising inflation in the engineering sector, and a lack of income from the Thorp and Mox fuel reprocessing plants, which have been hit by a succession of problems.
The latest clean-up estimates came as a newly restarted fuel reprocessing plant was taken out of action until the end of the year and British Energy said four broken-down reactors would not be repaired on time or within budget.
But an NDA spokesman said there was good news in its annual report and accounts because the lifetime cost of running the Drigg low-level waste depositary - now under private management - had fallen by 18% and the cost of cleaning up the Dounreay site was down by 10%.
Further savings would come from placing Sellafield under private management, he said, but admitted there could be no guarantee that the clean-up bill would not rise again: "Obviously, with a civil engineering project over 130 years there will always be risks."
Last week a report from the Commons public accounts committee criticised ministers over last year's clean-up estimate and complained about the lack of certainty over the projected cost of decommissioning Britain's nuclear sites.
Greenpeace said the NDA figures were alarming. It questioned the agency's reliance on gaining £10bn of income from plants such as Thorp, which has a history of breakdowns, and pointed out that the plant had effectively been taken out of action for the rest of the year while a new evaporator was fitted.
"In just three years the estimated cost for dealing with our nuclear legacy has risen by over £20bn," said Greenpeace's senior nuclear campaigner, Ben Ayliffe. "It now stands at over £73bn and is spiralling out of control. The NDA admits that they have no idea what the final bill will be.
"They're stuck in a radioactive quagmire and as usual it's the public who will have to carry the can. It beggars belief that Gordon Brown and his nuclear stooges want to build more atomic plants when the plans for cleaning up after our existing reactors are such a drain on this country's coffers."
The latest clean-up figures came as British Energy, the UK's main nuclear power generator, admitted that the cost of bringing back on stream two key plants that had encountered problems nine months ago would be "significantly higher" than expected and would take considerably longer to fix than anticipated.
The company originally estimated that it would cost £50m to repair reactors at the Hartlepool and Heysham 1 facilities. But yesterday BE chairman Adrian Montague said a much more complex engineering solution was required and "the final costs will be significantly higher than this initial estimate".
The four broken reactors have already soaked up a million man-hours of work and while good progress has been made, British Energy said it could not be sure of bringing the units back into service until the last quarter of this calendar year. More specific details of the cost overrun would be given next month alongside first quarter earnings.
The latest difficulties to have beset British Energy were revealed by the chairman at the company's annual shareholders' meeting in Edinburgh. Montague admitted the performance of the nuclear power stations was "disappointing", with Hartlepool and Heysham's difficulties coming on top of boiler problems at Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B.
"However, these large events mask the continued improvement in what we have seen in many of our underlying operating metrics, notably the record low level of small generation losses and the strong and sustained safety and environmental performance achieved across the fleet," he said.
Turning to expectations that a new generation of atomic power plants would be constructed in the UK, British Energy said it was making prudent investments "to secure a pivotal role" in any such developments, most obviously from preparing some of its existing sites for new plant.
"We have recently held a series of public meetings with the communities around Sizewell about our proposals for a twin nuclear unit there, and we are scheduling similar meetings for our other lead sites at Hinkley Point, Dungeness and Bradwell," Montague said.
The company, whose nuclear plants generate 14% of the UK's electricity, last month rejected takeover overtures from EDF, the French nuclear power operator which is interested in British Energy primarily for the sites which could be used for its own new atomic stations. "Our dialogue is therefore continuing and a further announcement will be made in due course," the chairman said.
The NDA's figure for clean-up costs: it says £10bn will be offset by income
The number of years the nuclear clean-up is expected to take
Percentage of the UK's electricity generated by British Energy plants
Posted by Mitchell Krog at 1:55 PM
Gordon Brown says the UK is at the forefront of a global 'nuclear renaissance'. But despite all the rhetoric, the real picture is grim
* John Sauven
* Friday July 18, 2008
Just this week Prime Minister Gordon Brown confidently assured us that the UK was at the forefront of a global "nuclear renaissance" and that within a few years we'd be home to at least eight bright, shining new reactors. We're told a week is a long time in politics, but it must seem an absolute eternity to the ever more bedraggled British nuclear industry.
Yesterday the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) published its annual report and the predictable news was that the cost of decommissioning existing reactors and dealing with our legacy of radioactive waste has rocketed yet again. The bill now stands at a whopping £73bn, up from £53bn in 2006. That's an increase equivalent to the entire cost of the London 2012 Olympics each year.
Some experts believe that the real total might be more than £85bn. This is a staggering amount of taxpayers' money. Just to put the figure into context, it's about the same cost as the entire Apollo Programme that took man to the moon. Sadly, unlike JFK's lunar mission, in this case we have nothing to celebrate. What that money buys us is merely desperate grappling with the radioactive and toxic legacy of nuclear power.
The NDA claims the overall figure will be kept down because it will generate revenue through its commercial operations. But the idea that the NDA's commercial operations can guarantee this income is laughable. A big slice of the revenue they want to rely on for a century or more depends on two of the biggest white elephants in nuclear industry history – Thorp and the Sellafield Mox Plant. The Thorp reprocessing facility was shut for years following dangerous radioactive leaks and is now closed until Christmas while a new evaporator is fitted. Meanwhile it was recently announced to surprisingly little fanfare that the Mox plant, which cost nearly half a billion pounds, has produced next to nothing since it was built. Relying on these for a guaranteed income is like putting your faith in a sprig of flowers to ward of the plague.
The fact that the NDA is playing a central role in working out how much waste from new reactors might cost to dispose of should make all of us stop and think about the merits of any new nuclear programme. The taxpayer is picking up the tab for all these failures and cost increases now, and as the Public Accounts Committee stated recently, it is impossible to guarantee that the taxpayer will not pick up the tab for new nuclear power stations too. Government promises that there will be no subsides for its new nuclear programme are almost worthless.
Despite all the rhetoric and improbable promises about the benefits of new nuclear reactors, the real picture is grim. Much like the recent news that British Energy is paying twice as much to get two of its creaking UK reactors back on line (the bill is now more than £100m). And the rumours that French state-owned nuclear utility Electricite de France is having second thoughts about buying British Energy.
But before we conclude that this is a British malaise, this week brought the startling announcement from France that all its nuclear reactors must now be checked so that leaks of radioactive waste into local rivers, as happened at one site last week, don't happen anywhere else. This comes hot on the heels of the construction blunders at the new reactor site in Flamanville that led to the French nuclear authority suspending the project. These are the reactors and companies that are touted to deliver Brown's "nuclear renaissance", but unless stopped, the prospect is of a much more disastrous and expensive rerun.
A fall from the giddy heights of Brown's expansive nuclear dreams at the start of the week takes some beating. However, the one thing the nuclear industry really excels at is shooting itself in the foot. Which means we can probably expect more of the same before the summer's out.
Posted by Mitchell Krog at 1:54 PM