More errors with Monju nuclear reactor maintenance found, Mainichi, 27 Mar 15 Several more maintenance problems have been discovered at the Monju fast-breeder reactor facility in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, which has been banned from operation following the discovery of over 10,000 cases of maintenance errors in 2013, it has been learned.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) secretariat revealed on March 25 that the newly discovered maintenance errors — which involve the facility’s piping system — mean that Monju operator Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) may have violated safety regulations……..http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20150326p2a00m0na007000c.html
Due to Fukushima, Japan now must choose to go in one of two directions that are largely exclusive: either towards a reactor restart choice that leads to a minimalist phase-out of separated plutonium over time; or towards a maximalist reliance on separated plutonium over time in a closed fuel cycle………
Should Japan opt to start enough reactors to justify reactivating the plutonium fuel cycle, then the implications for nuclear terrorism would be substantial. The train of logic for maximum spent fuel arising from a closed nuclear fuel cycle is radically different to that for the once-through fuel cycle. In this trajectory, the following would occur:
- Japan starts many more light water reactors, sooner rather than later, and extends reactor lifetimes beyond forty years, and constructs new reactors
- This choice enables far more MOx fuel fabrication and recycling of MOx fuel to these reactors than in the once-through fuel cycle usage; this choice would either slowly reduce or rapidly increase the stockpile of separated plutonium that would be supplemented (if the central state is willing to subsidize heavily the utilities for using MOx fuel) by reprocessing the spent fuel from the operation of the light water reactors
- Thereby generating a new stream of separated and un-separated plutonium in Japan to store and secure, and available for diversion or attack.
Although it does not follow automatically, this vision of the revived closed fuel cycle also implies that:
- The fast reactor is developed in order to burn actinides to reduce the waste disposal problem (whether it would do so is debatable)
- The fast reactor would be developed to breed plutonium based on the argument that doing so makes Japan more independent from external nuclear fuel supply.
All the steps in this second path which maximizes separated fuel involves more transport, more bulk processing and storage, and creates more opportunity for non-state actors to divert fissile material or to attack directly the spent fuel stocks in pools or other nuclear materials process sites in the envisioned “closed” fuel cycle. In short, this trajectory maximizes the nuclear terrorist threat, directly and indirectly, over the next thirty years, especially when the demonstration effect on other states to follow suit are taken into account. For exactly this reason, the United States has reaffirmed recently that it does not favor MOx use and breeder activity in Japan or elsewhere……..http://nautilus.org/napsnet/napsnet-special-reports/nuclear-terrorism-risks-in-northeast-asia-japans-reactor-restart-and-spent-fuel/
Savannah River Site Becoming World’s Nuclear Dumping Ground, despite Safety Risks By: GLORIA TATUM Atlanta Progressive News 6-9-2014
“……..We are wasting money and increasing the risk of a terrorist accident if we build that MOX plant at SRS. Plutonium fuel cost more than uranium fuel and there’s plenty of uranium on the planet. So we are taking other people’s plutonium to keep a MOX plant running and no one wants to buy the output from it,” Gundersen told APN.
Plutonium is a man made element derived from the transformation of uranium through fission. Plutonium, Pu-239, has a half life of 24,100 hundred years; that’s the time it will take for half of the plutonium to radioactively decay. Radioactive contaminants are dangerous for ten to twenty times the length of their half-lives, meaning that if plutonium gets into the environment, it will be dangerous essentially forever. If ingested into the body, it causes DNA damage in tissue, and cancer.
The use of MOX fuel does not get rid of plutonium; instead it becomes part of the lethal soup of ingredients termed “high level nuclear waste.” There are no safe long-term storage for nuclear waste, only interim storage solutions for waste that will remain hazardous for thousands of years.
“When I hear plutonium in the environment, it becomes a problem not only for the next generation – we were not even a [human] species a quarter of a million years ago – we might be a new species before this stuff completely disintegrates from the environment,” Gundersen said. http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/nuclear-dumping-ground-despite-safety-risks.html
Citizens living downstream from the site have complained for years of high levels of cancer and death in their community, which they attribute to the SRS and Plant Vogtle’s nuclear reactors across the river on the Georgia side.
“The DOE is more interested in jobs this year and totally forgetting about the environmental costs for the next 300 or a thousand years. It’s unfair to the people of Georgia and South Carolina to make some money now and pollute the Savannah River for a thousand years,” Gundersen said. http://www.fairewinds.org/secretly-dumping-peoples-problems/#sthash.mtEhWriM.dpuf
GE Hitachi Receives Federal Funds To Assess New Nuclear Technology, Wilmington Biz BY JENNY CALLISON, NOV 6, 2014 GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) will perform a comprehensive safety assessment of its PRISM sodium-cooled fast nuclear reactor, thanks to a multi-million-dollar federal investment from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the company announced Thursday.
GEH officials are not sure yet of the exact amount of federal funds allocated to the project, company spokesman Jon Allen said Thursday…….The technology on which PRISM is based was developed in the 1980s and, unlike other nuclear reactors, it can use spent nuclear fuel and surplus plutonium to generate electricity. Since the early 1990s, however, no risk assessments have been done on the technology……..
Small Modular Reactors Huffington Post, Dr Helen Caldicott 08/07/2014 Now that the “nuclear renaissance” is dead following the Fukushima catastrophe, when one sixth of the world’s nuclear reactors closed, the nuclear corporations — Toshiba, Nu-Scale, Babcock and Wilcox, GE Hitachi, General Atomics, and the Tennessee Valley Authority — will not accept defeat.
Their new strategy is to develop small modular reactors (SMRs), allegedly free of the dangers inherent in large reactors: safety issues, high cost, proliferation risks and radioactive waste.
But these claims are fallacious, for the reasons outlined below.
Basically, there are three types of SMRs, which generate less than 300 megawatts of electricity compared with current 1,000-megawatt reactors.
1. Light-water reactors
These will be smaller versions of present-day pressurized water reactors, using water as the moderator and coolant, but with the same attendant problems as Fukushima and Three Mile Island. Built underground, they will be difficult to access in the event of an accident or malfunction.
Because they’re mass-produced (turnkey production), large numbers must be sold yearly to make a profit. This is an unlikely prospect, because major markets — China and India — will not buy U.S. reactors when they can make their own.
If safety problems arise, they all must be shut down, which will interfere substantially with electricity supply.
SMRs will be expensive because the cost per unit capacity increases with a decrease in reactor size. Billions of dollars of government subsidies will be required because Wall Street is allergic to nuclear power. To alleviate costs, it is suggested that safety rules be relaxed, including reducing security requirements, and reducing the 10-mile emergency planning zone to 1,000 feet.
2. Non-light-water designs
These include high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) or pebble-bed reactors. Five billion tiny fuel kernels consisting of high-enriched uranium or plutonium will be encased in tennis-ball-sized graphite spheres that must be made without cracks or imperfections — or they could lead to an accident. A total of 450,000 such spheres will slowly and continuously be released from a fuel silo, passing through the reactor core, and then recirculated 10 times. These reactors will be cooled by helium gas operating at high very temperatures (900 degrees C).
A reactor complex consisting of four HTGR modules will be located underground, to be run by just two operators in a central control room. Claims are that HTGRs will be so safe that a containment building will be unnecessary and operators can even leave the site (“walk-away-safe” reactors).
However, should temperatures unexpectedly exceed 1,600 degrees C, the carbon coating will release dangerous radioactive isotopes into the helium gas, and at 2,000 degrees C the carbon would ignite, creating a fierce, Chernobyl-type graphite fire.
If a crack develops in the piping or building, radioactive helium would escape, and air would rush in, also igniting the graphite.
Although HTGRs produce small amounts of low-level waste, they create larger volumes of high-level waste than conventional reactors.
Despite these obvious safety problems, and despite the fact that South Africa has abandoned plans for HTGRs, the U.S. Department of Energy has unwisely chosen the HTGR as the “next-generation nuclear plant.”
3. Liquid-metal fast reactors (PRISM)
It is claimed by proponents that fast reactors will be safe, economically competitive, proliferation-resistant, and sustainable.
They are fueled by plutonium or highly enriched uranium and cooled by either liquid sodium or a lead-bismuth molten coolant. Liquid sodium burns or explodes when exposed to air or water, and lead-bismuth is extremely corrosive, producing very volatile radioactive elements when irradiated.
Should a crack occur in the reactor complex, liquid sodium would escape, burning or exploding. Without coolant, the plutonium fuel could reach critical mass, triggering a massive nuclear explosion, scattering plutonium to the four winds. One millionth of a gram of plutonium induces cancer, and it lasts for 500,000 years. Extraordinarily, they claim that fast reactors will be so safe that they will require no emergency sirens, and that emergency planning zones can be decreased from 10 miles to 1,300 feet.
There are two types of fast reactors: a simple, plutonium-fueled reactor and a “breeder,” in which the plutonium-reactor core is surrounded by a blanket of uranium 238, which captures neutrons and converts to plutonium.
The plutonium fuel, obtained from spent reactor fuel, will be fissioned and converted to shorter-lived isotopes, cesium and strontium, which last 600 years instead of 500,000. The industry claims that this process, called “transmutation,” is an excellent way to get rid of plutonium waste. But this is fallacious, because only 10 percent fissions, leaving 90 percent of the plutonium for bomb making, etc.
Then there’s construction. Three small plutonium fast reactors will be grouped together to form a module, and three of these modules will be buried underground. All nine reactors will then be connected to a fully automated central control room operated by only three operators. Potentially, then, one operator could face a catastrophic situation triggered by loss of off-site power to one unit at full power, another shut down for refueling and one in startup mode. There are to be no emergency core cooling systems.
Fast reactors require a massive infrastructure, including a reprocessing plant to dissolve radioactive waste fuel rods in nitric acid, chemically removing the plutonium, and a fuel fabrication facility to create new fuel rods. A total of 15 to 25 tons of plutonium are required to operate a fuel cycle at a fast reactor, and just five pounds is fuel for a nuclear weapon.
Thus fast reactors and breeders will provide extraordinary long-term medical dangers and the perfect situation for nuclear-weapons proliferation. Despite this, the industry plans to market them to many countries.
they must stop making this radioactive trash
Failed Nuclear Weapons Recycling Program Could Put Us All in Danger io9, Mark Strauss, 7 June 14, Some government screw-ups are so epic that they require decades of effort. Such was the case for the recently cancelled plan to convert surplus weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel. Not only did the U.S. waste $4 billion dollars, it increased the likelihood that terrorists could obtain bomb-making materials.
It sounded like a good idea at the beginning. Let’s turn megatons into megawatts!
In 2000, the United States and Russia signed the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA). Each country pledged to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of plutonium from their nuclear weapons programs. U.S. nuclear weapons contain less than four kilograms of plutonium, so the combined total of 68 metric tons is enough for some 17,000 nuclear weapons. Disposing of this plutonium would make it more difficult to reverse U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons reductions and would prevent terrorists from gaining access to the material.
The United States settled on a plan to convert most of its surplus plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors. A massive reprocessing plant would be built at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, which, during the Cold War, had refined nuclear material for deployment in warheads. Now, the site would have a new mission: creating nuclear fuel from a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxide, otherwise known as mixed oxide fuel, or MOX. Although nuclear power plants in the U.S. use fuel made from low-enriched uranium (LEU), other countries had demonstrated that MOX was a viable alternative.
Instead, the final outcome was a mothballed facility and a still-increasing supply of surplus plutonium. Like I said, this isn’t your typical government boondoggle. It was twenty years in the making………. Continue reading
MOX project of little value http://beta.mirror.augusta.com/opinion/letters/2014-05-01/mox-project-little-value By Victor J. ReillyAiken, S.C. Thursday, May 1, 2014 MOX is a mix of oxides of uranium and plutonium that can be used as fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. It removes some plutonium from the sticky fingers of terrorists. Sound good? Yes, until the cost of doing this soared.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has recently said that if MOX is shelved, she wants the plutonium out of South Carolina. That is silly, but it reflects a 2002 federal law that U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham had demanded.
Apparently, idiocy is endemic.
First, our plutonium problem. With welcome reductions in our nuclear arsenal, we now have about a hundred tons of plutonium in storage. In the wrong hands, less than 20 pounds of it could make a nuclear bomb. That would be a catastrophe. We must store it securely for decades. Savannah River Site would be logical for this job, with its huge area and a staff experienced in handling plutonium. This would provide good jobs that the governor should have jumped at.
MOX’s design capacity is to disable one ton of plutonium per year, so if MOX were the way to work it off, it would take more than a hundred years. A stock of one ton requires as much protection as for 100 tons.
With the huge increase in fixed costs from construction, would it be profitable? If we plan to cancel the program, we would end up writing off the sunk costs, so why not do it anyway? Would it then be profitable? If MOX fuel can’t be sold at a profit, why continue with it?
In summary, MOX has no value in ridding us of our stored plutonium.
Alternatives must be sought for that. The United States will need to have one or several plutonium storage sites, indefinitely. South Carolina should accept the job for one of them.
DOE shuts $4 billion ‘plutonium-eater’ reactor Ecologist, Douglas Birch 12th March 2014 A nuclear reactor designed to burn up surplus Cold War plutonium has been closed by the US Department of Energy. Initially it was meant to cost $1bn. So far it has cost $4bn. To complete and operate would cost $25-34bn.
After a year of study meant to examine the viability of the two-decade old program, the department’s leadership made clear in budget documents for fiscal year 2015 that the plant is no longer affordable within budget limits set by Congress.
The mad world of nuclear economics
Initially advertised as a $1 billion program, the plant has already consumed more than $4 billion and was projected to cost up to $10 billion to complete over the next five years. Its total costs – including operation over 15 years – were estimated at nearly $34 billion by a special study conducted for Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
The plant, which lay at the center of a diplomatic deal with Russia that was blessed by three U.S. presidents, was supposed to transform at least 34 tons of plutonium withdrawn from retired U.S. nuclear weapons into so-called Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel to be burned in civilian nuclear power plants. Russia agreed to undertake a similar effort, but the cancellation of the U.S. plan may affect that decision.
The department’s review “has determined that the MOX fuel approach is significantly more expensive than planned and it is not viable within the FY 2015 funding levels”, the White House’s Energy Department budget proposal states……..http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2317472/doe_shuts_4_billion_plutoniumeater_reactor.htm
After spending tens of billions of dollars and decades on breeder-related programs, Tom Cochran said, countries find it hard to pull the plug.
“You have an entrenched bureaucracy and an entrenched research and development community and commercial interests invested in breeder technology, and these guys don’t go away,” Cochran said. “They’re believers … and they’re not going to give up. The really true believers don’t give up.”……..
“Stealing a weapon is too hard,” Cochran said. “But there is no big risk in fuel assemblies, or in taking things from a bulk handling facility that can be used to make weapons.” In this view, Rokkasho is a kind of big-box store for would-be nuclear terrorists.
A Washington-based physicist and nuclear contrarian, Cochran helped kill a vast plutonium-based nuclear industrial complex back in the 1970s, and now he’s at it again — lecturing at symposia, standing up at official meetings, and confronting nuclear industry representatives with warnings about how commercializing plutonium will put the public at enormous risk.
Where the story ends isn’t clear. But the stakes are large. Continue reading
The company aims to complete the plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, in October, expecting that tests by the Nuclear Regulation Authority will be concluded in about six months. The company is determined to do whatever it can to ensure the screening goes smoothly, Senior Executive Vice President Kazuhiro Matsumura said.
The NRA last month drew up new safety standards for key facilities used in the country’s nuclear fuel cycle, such as fuel reprocessing plants.
Under the new rules, operators of these facilities must take steps to ensure they can deal with severe accidents caused by earthquakes, tsunami and terrorist attacks.
The operators are also required to take a stricter approach in research to determine whether faults running near or directly under their facilities are active or not.
Japan Nuclear Fuel previously planned to finish construction of the plant in October 2013. But the firm put off the planned completion by about one year to meet the new standards………
The ¥2.2 trillion plant has seen its scheduled completion date moved back as many as 20 times due to a series of problems. Initially, the plant was slated to be completed in 1997, four years after the start of construction.
It is uncertain whether the NRA can complete its safety screening of the plant in six months as expected……
Japan Nuclear Fuel also filed for safety screening tests of other facilities, such as a low-level radioactive waste management center and a plant to make mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel from extracted uranium and plutonium.http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0000921892
NRA to approve restart of reprocessing facility http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/20131211_29.html Japan’s nuclear regulator plans to approve a partial restart of a facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel before it clears safety screening under new regulations.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority says it’s allowing the restart to make plutonium and other highly radioactive waste in the facility solid and more stable.
The authority said on Wednesday that it plans to allow the government-backed Japan Atomic Energy Agency to operate part of the plant in Tokai Village, about 100 kilometers north of Tokyo.
The decision comes after the agency sought permission to restart the facility soon, saying that keeping the waste in liquid form involves high risks.
NRA commissioners said the facility’s stockpiles of plutonium solutions and other liquid waste will be made safer when reprocessed into solids.
They came up with a plan to allow part of the facility to run for 5 years before checking is done under the enhanced regulations.
The facility stores 3.5 cubic meters of solutions containing plutonium and more than 400 cubic meters of highly radioactive liquid waste. NRA secretariat officials say reprocessing the plutonium solutions into powder will take about 2 years, and turning other liquid waste into glass 21 years.
The new regulations are to take effect on December 18th. The NRA is to give formal approval after confirming that the agency can ensure stable reprocessing at the plant.
The plutonium stockpile poses enormous problems for the government. Not only is it highly radioactive and an immense potential danger to health, it is also a target for terrorist attacks and for anyone interested in stealing nuclear weapons-grade material.
The NDA’s report to DECC is understood to conclude that the Prism fast reactor is as credible as the two other options based on Mox fuel, even though GE-Hitachi has not yet built a commercial-scale plant for burning plutonium waste. DECC, however, has refused to release the report under a Freedom of Information request
It is understood that the NDA has been impressed by proposals from GE-Hitachi to build a pair of its Prism fast reactors on the Sellafield site,
Revealed: UK Government’s radical plan to ‘burn up’ UK’s mountain of plutonium http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/revealed-uk-governments-radical-plan-to-burn-up-uks-mountain-of-plutonium-8967535.html 28 Nove 13 A radical plan to dispose of Britain’s huge store of civil plutonium – the biggest in the world – by “burning” it in a new type of fast reactor is now officially one of three “credible options” being considered by the Government, The Independent understands. However, further delays have hit attempts to make a final decision on what to do with the growing plutonium stockpile which has been a recurring headache for successive governments over the past three decades.
The stock of plutonium, one of the most dangerous radioactive substances and the element of nuclear bombs, has already exceeded 100 tonnes and is likely to grow to as much as 140 tonnes by 2020, bolstered by a recent decision to include foreign plutonium from imported nuclear waste.
Ministers had pledged to resolve the plutonium problem in a public consultation but are sitting on a secret report by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) which is believed to confirm that there are now three “credible options” for dealing with the plutonium stored at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria. Continue reading
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