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Global nuclear power industry caught in a web of uncertainties

terrorism-targets-2 Nuclear terrorism risks in Northeast Asia: Japan’s reactor restart and spent fuel Nautilus Peace and Security NAPS Net Special Report by Peter Hayes 23 March 2015  “…….the nuclear power industry itself is snared in a web of interdependent uncertainties. These include:

  1. a) How many light water reactors will be restarted and when, and relatedly, will authorities allow reactor operating life to be extended beyond forty years, and will new reactor construction be allowed?
  2. b) Will reprocessing continue to separate plutonium?
  3. c) When will the Japanese Mixed Oxide (MOx) fuel fabrication plant be complete?
  4. d) What level of excess separated plutonium is acceptable domestically and internationally?
  5. e) Will the breeder reactor be reactivated and if so, for what purpose?
  6. f) Will uranium-235 recovered from spent fuel be recycled (affecting the already dismal economics of Japan’s enrichment program); and
  7. g) Will another massive unanticipated nuclear accident in Japan or elsewhere occur? Even ardent pro-nuclear advocates admit that such an event likely would end the use of nuclear power in Japan.[12]

With such massive uncertainty affecting each of these linked variables, any one of which can serve as a binding constraint on the others, the key actors in the Japanese nuclear power sector are unable to make strategic decisions and as a consequence are in a holding pattern until political waters clarify.

Consequently, to the outsider, the safety and security of spent fuel pools in Japan remains unsatisfactory. It is even unclear whether the leadership of the Japanese nuclear power sector recognizes that the risk of loss of coolant arising from malevolent attack exists for spent fuel pools.[13]   However, the choices that Japan makes with regard to light water reactor (LWR) restart, reprocessing, the recycling of plutonium (Pu) through the production and use in LWRs of MOx fuel, the eventual use of fast reactors for actinide disposal, the future development of a plutonium-breeding fast reactor, and Japan’s enrichment activities, are all linked directly to the issue of nuclear terrorism and the risk of diversion of spent fuel and separated plutonium. In turn, choices made in each of these fuel cycle activities will determine how spent fuel is managed in Japan, starting with the management of spent fuel pools.

The risk of nuclear terrorism in Japan originates directly from the accumulation of large quantities of separated Pu in Japan (Japan also owns a stock of Pu now in storage in Europe) for which non-diversion cannot be assured. Pu stocks are vulnerable in bulk reprocessing and MOx fabrication facilities;[14] in the frequent shipments of separated plutonium flowing to and from reprocessing plants, storage sites, fuel fabrication plants, and LWRs and (in the future) to and from fast reactors. Security measures must be adopted for each of these activities to deter and defend against direct attack, at different levels of organization and ferocity on the part of the attacking entity.

Moreover, what Japan does in each of these dimensions sets a precedent for the best—and in some respects, the worst—practice for the rest of the region, with potential follow-on effects in South Korea, Taiwan, and China, as well as in potential importers of Japanese reactors supported by Japanese fuel cycle services as part of the export package. Thus, spent fuel management practices contribute substantially to the risk of terrorist diversion and use or threatened use of fissile materials in nuclear or radiological weapons, and also contribute to expanded (or reduced) vulnerability of nuclear fuel cycle facilities to terrorist hostage-taking and/or direct attack. These targets may be attractive in the terrorists’ search for a more easily achievable “spectacular” event than the acquisition of a nuclear weapons.

This risk is not hypothetical in Japan. Not only has Japan been the host for Aum Shinrikyo,[15] one of the most notorious and prolonged efforts at terrorist acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons; but its counter-terrorism and nuclear security culture is weak,[16] even in the aftermath of Fukushima. In the view of many experts, including US officials reporting from Japan before and after Fukushima, Japan presents an inviting target for domestic and international terrorists and is poorly prepared to deter, let alone respond, to such an attack.[17] Not least, privately-owned facilities normally do not post armed guards in Japan[18], nuclear facility staff are not subject to official background “trustworthiness” checks, and security response forces must come from off-site as licensees are not permitted to respond to armed attackers. Even at Fukushima’s damaged reactors and perilous situation with spent fuel in unit 1, the site security appeared weak, especially with regard to night time attack from the air (using drones) or from the ocean, even during the daytime……….http://nautilus.org/napsnet/napsnet-special-reports/nuclear-terrorism-risks-in-northeast-asia-japans-reactor-restart-and-spent-fuel/

 

March 25, 2015 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, safety

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