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The danger of transporting plutonium

plutonium_04Too much of a bad thing? World awash with waste plutonium Paul Brown 24th January 2016 

As worldwide stocks of plutonium increase, lightly-armed British ships are about to carry an initial 330kg of the nuclear bomb metal for ‘safekeeping’ in the US, writes Paul Brown. But it’s only the tip of a global ‘plutonium mountain’ of hundreds of tonnes nuclear power’s most hazardous waste product.

Two armed ships set off from the northwest of England this week to sail round the world to Japan on a secretive and controversial mission to collect a consignment of plutonium and transport it to the US.

The cargo of plutonium, once the most sought-after and valuable substance in the world, is one of a number of ever-growing stockpiles that are becoming an increasing financial and security embarrassment to the countries that own them.

So far, there is no commercially viable use for this toxic metal, and there is increasing fear that plutonium could fall into the hands of terrorists, or that governments could be tempted to use it to join the nuclear arms race.

ship radiation

All the plans to use plutonium for peaceful purposes in fast breeder and commercial reactors have so far failed to keep pace with the amounts of this highly dangerous radioactive metal being produced by the countries that run uranium-fulled nuclear power stations.

The small amounts of plutonium that have been used in conventional and fast breeder reactors have produced very little electricity – at startlingly high costs.

Japan, with its 47-ton stockpile, is among the countries that once hoped to turn their plutonium into a power source, but various attempts have failed. The government, which has a firm policy of using it only for peaceful purposes, has nonetheless come under pressure to keep it out of harm’s way. Hence, the current plan to ship it to the US.

Altogether, 15 countries across the world have stockpiles. They include North Korea, which intends to turn it into nuclear weapons.

UK’s Plutonium represents a massive cost – but no balance sheet liability recorded

The UK has the largest pile, with 140 tons held at Sellafield in north-west England, whereplutonium has been produced at the site’s nuclear power plant since the 1950s, also using spent fuel from civilian nuclear plants such as Hinkley Point and Calder Hall. The government has yet to come up with a policy on what to do with it – and, meanwhile, the costs of keeping it under armed guard continue to rise.

Like most countries, the UK cannot decide whether it has an asset or a liability. The plutonium does not appear on any balance sheet, and the huge costs of storing it safely – to avoid it going critical and causing a meltdown – and guarding it against terrorists are not shown as a cost of nuclear power.

This enables the industry to claim that nuclear is an attractive and clean energy-producing option to help combat climate change.

The two ships that set off from the English port of Barrow-in-Furness this week are the Pacific Egret and Pacific Heron, nuclear fuel carriers fitted with naval cannon on deck. They are operated by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd, which ultimately is owned by the British government.

The presence on both ships of a heavily-armed security squad – provided by the Civil Nuclear Constabulary’s Strategic Escort Group – and the earlier loading of stores and the craning on board of live ammunition point to a long, security-conscious voyage ahead.

Sent to the US for safekeeping

The shipment of plutonium from Japan to the US falls under the US-led Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), or Material Management & Minimisation (M3) programme, whereby weapons-useable material such as plutonium and highly-enriched uranium (HEU) is removed from facilities worldwide for safekeeping in the US.

The cargo to be loaded onto the two UK ships in Japan consists of some 331kg of plutonium from Japan’s Tokai Research Establishment.

This plutonium – a substantial fraction of which was supplied to Japan by the UK decades ago for ‘experimental purposes’ in Tokai’s Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) facility – is described by the US Department of Energy (DOE) as “posing a potential threat to national security, being susceptible to use in an improvised nuclear device, and presenting a high risk of theft or diversion”. Or, as another US expert put it, “sufficient to make up to 40 nuclear bombs”.

Under the US-led programme, the plutonium will be transported from Japan to the US port of Charleston and onwards to the Savannah River site in South Carolina.

Tom Clements, director of the public interest group Savannah River Site Watch, has condemned this import of plutonium as a material that will simply be stranded at the site, with no clear disposition path out of South Carolina. He sees it as further evidence that Savannah River is being used as a dumping ground for an extensive range of international nuclear waste.

Prime terrorist material’ at risk

The British group Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE) has for decades tracked the transport of nuclear materials round the world.

Their spokesman, Martin Forwood, said: “The practice of shipping this plutonium to the US as a safeguard is completely undermined by deliberately exposing this prime terrorist material to a lengthy sea transport, during which it will face everyday maritime risks and targeting by those with hostile intentions.

“We see this as wholly unnecessary and a significant security threat in today’s volatile and unpredictable world.” The best option, CORE believes, would have been to leave it where it was, under guard.

From DOE documents, this shipment will be the first of a number of planned shipments for what is referred to as ‘Gap Material Plutonium‘ – weapons-useable materials that are not covered under other US or Russian programmes.

In total, the DOE plans to import up to 900kg of ‘at risk’ plutonium – currently held in seven countries – via 12 shipments over seven years. Other materials include stocks of HEU – the most highly enriched plutonium (to 93%), also being supplied to Japan by the UK.

The voyage from Barrow to Japan takes about six weeks, and a further seven weeks from Japan to Savannah River – use of the Panama Canal having been ruled out by the DOE in its documents on the shipment. Previously, the countries near the canal have objected to nuclear transport in their territorial waters.


January 24, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, safety | Leave a comment

Nuclear apocalypse a more pressing danger than Islamic terrorism

Rearming for the apocalypse By  , Boston Globe,  JANUARY 24, 2016 AMERICANS ARE IN near-panic over the danger posed by Islamic terrorists. That danger, however, pales beside an emerging new one. President Obama has proposed a frighteningly wrongheaded plan to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal at the unfathomable cost of about $1 trillion over the next 30 years. Terror will never reach even 1 percent of our population. Nuclear “modernization” increases the prospect of true devastation.


The nuclear threat seems diffuse and faraway, while the prospect of a deranged fanatic shooting up a cinema is as vivid as today’s news. Perhaps we have been lulled into security by the fact that no nuclear weapon has been used since 1945. Voices trying to alert us to the true threat are drowned out in a frenzy of over-the-top campaign speeches and TV rants about crazed Muslims.

The most sobering of these voices belongs to William Perry, who during the 1970s and ’80s directed the development of air-launched nuclear cruise missiles and later became secretary of defense. Now Perry is campaigning against Obama’s plan to develop and buy 1,000 new missiles with adjustable nuclear capacity, 100 new long-range bombers, and a new fleet of nuclear-armed submarines. . He warns that if the plan becomes real, disputes among nations will be “more likely to erupt in nuclear conflict than during the Cold War.”…..
Obama’s proposed “modernization” increases our vulnerability, not our security. The first and most obvious reason is that it will certainly lead other countries to seek equivalent arsenals of their own. It is especially upsetting to Russia, which already feels under increasing American threat as a result of our military maneuvers on its borders and the fact that many of our missiles are positioned in Germany, Turkey, and other countries near its territory. The Russian defense minister recently announced that in response to Obama’s plan, Russia will “bring five new strategic nuclear missile regiments into service.” China would surely match that escalation. If it does so, India will follow. Then Pakistan will jump into the race. It is a recipe for disaster……….

Besides these grave dangers — global proliferation, accidental war, and nuclear terror — there is another: national bankruptcy. Obama’s project is ruinously expensive. Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calls it “spending ourselves into oblivion.” He describes our skyrocketing national debt as “the most significant threat to our national security.”

Now is the time to stop this program. So far, enthusiasm for it is confined to the White House and Pentagon. Once it is launched, rich procurement contracts will be portioned out to the districts of influential members of Congress. That will produce a self-interested constituency and give the project unstoppable momentum………

January 24, 2016 Posted by | general | Leave a comment

EDF in a’panic’ over decision to be made on UK’s Hinkley nuclear power station

text Hinkley cancelledHinkley Point: EDF set for decision on nuclear plant amid claims of board ‘panic’, The Independent, Sources in France say decision on whether to give the green light to controversial project would be made on Wednesday Geoffrey lean , 24 Jan 16

  • The final decision on whether to build Britiain’s first nuclear power station in decades is set to be made by energy giant EDF this week, amid claims of “panic” among the French firm’s board over the viability of the £18bn project.
  • Sources in France said the decision on whether to give the green light to its controversial plant at Hinkley Point, Somerset – on which ministers are depending to “kick-start a major new generation of nuclear power stations” – would be made on Wednesday. But the largely state-owned company refused to comment, or even to confirm or deny that the meeting is taking place.

    This secrecy reflects the extreme sensitivity about the decision with practicalities and politics pulling in opposite directions. The project suffered a serious blow last week when French regulators delayed a decision on what to do about safety flaws in a similar reactor. But cancelling it would be a huge humiliation for British ministers, and could cause a cross-Channel diplomatic row.

  • The “final investment decision” by EDF’s board – repeatedly delayed over the past two years – is the project’s only remaining hurdle.

    Last October the government persuaded China to invest heavily in the plant, filling a funding shortfall, and the Energy Secretary Amber Rudd is awaiting the decision before signing a deal to allow the company to charge double the present price for the electricity generated from Hinkley’s twin reactors. Three similar European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) projects are planned for Britain if it succeeds…….

  • there are signs of last minute jitters. Union leaders are reportedly warning the company of “financial, industrial and legal risks” in the project, while the French financial journal has suggested that there is “panic on board”.

    Last week the French nuclear regulator delayed until the end of the year a decision on what to do about “very serious” weaknesses detected in the pressure vessel of a similar EPR being built at Flamanville, Normandy. The same fault – which could lead to a nuclear accident – was detected in the vessels for the Hinkley reactors, which had been built and will now have to be replaced.

  • The Flamanville plant is five years behind schedule and its cost has trebled, while the only other EPR being built in Europe, in Finland, is almost a decade late, and the cost has more than doubled. Two other EPRs being built in China are also thought to be over-running while the cost of Hinkley has already soared.

    EDF’s share price has plunged to record lows, and the company is considering selling billions of pounds of assets to fund building Hinkley. On top of all that, Austria is taking Britain to the European Court, alleging it is subsidising the plant illegally.Some British experts believe that, faced with all these difficulties, EDF will defer a final decision again.

January 24, 2016 Posted by | business and costs, France, politics, UK | Leave a comment

Japan wrestling with problem of compensation for victims of nuclear accidents

Panel begins debate on limit of compensation in event of nuclear accident   JIJI The Japan Atomic Energy Commission has started full discussions by experts on whether to limit the power plant operator’s liability to pay damage compensation in the event of a nuclear accident.

text compensation A

Currently, nuclear plant operators in Japan bear unlimited liability for compensation, but some experts demand that a ceiling be set for their responsibility.

The discussions are expected to be difficult, as limiting the liability would raise the problem of how to compensate affected people and businesses for the damage in excess of the limit.

For the March 2011 triple meltdown accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant, Tepco shoulders full liability for compensation under the nuclear compensation law.

But as Tepco alone cannot finance all the costs for compensation payments and decontamination work, the government set aside ¥9 trillion in assistance, which has been provided to the company through Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp., a public-private organization. Tepco repays the aid little by little.

Electric power industry people have been pushing for a cap on nuclear plant operators’ liability for compensation. “If the sky’s the limit for compensation, we cannot project an outlook for our nuclear energy business,” a senior official of a major power utility said.

In line with the government’s policy of continuing to use nuclear energy, an expert panel of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission started debate last year on any problems with the current compensation regime.

Some panel members argued for a limited liability system. “Shouldering risks that go beyond the limit of the private sector will impede fund procurement by electric power companies,” one member said.

On the other hand, a separate member said, “Limited liability is not an option, considering the current situation of Fukushima.”

There are also concerns that a narrower scope of responsibility for power companies could be detrimental to their commitment to safety.

With the panel divided sharply, a government official said no conclusion is expected at an early date.

The expert panel plans to produce a report on their discussions next year, and the government will subsequently start working on any necessary amendments to the nuclear compensation law.

Even if the nuclear compensation system is revised, past nuclear accidents will not be covered by a limited liability system.

Among countries that impose limits on an electric power company’s liability of compensation for a nuclear accident, the United States sets the maximum liability at $12.6 billion and Britain has a ceiling of £140 million ($199.7 million), according to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. Under the U.S. system, if the scale of nuclear damage exceeds the limit, the president proposes a supplementary compensation program to the Congress.

January 24, 2016 Posted by | Japan, Legal | Leave a comment

France’s President Hollande visits India, hoping to market nuclear reactors

Hollande-salesFrance Signals Rafale, Nuclear Progress as Hollande Visits India, Bloomberg,  HeleneFouquet January 24, 2016 France signaled a state-to-state accord with India could be signed on Monday over a deal for 36 Dassault Aviation SA Rafale fighter jets, and that a six-year-old plan to build nuclear reactors in the South Asian nation would see some progress…………

The reactors are planned for Jaitapur, a coastal town in India’s western province of Maharashtra. Areva was seeking further clarity from India on its nuclear liability law before moving ahead with what would be India’s biggest nuclear plant.

The agreement India and the U.S signed recently over insurance-related issues for nuclear plants will help in overcoming certain hurdles, Royal said.

 India last year pledged to create a 15 billion rupee ($222 million) insurance pool to shield nuclear plant operators, as well as equipment suppliers, against damages during an accident. Some have argued the pool may not be sufficient.

January 24, 2016 Posted by | France, India, marketing | Leave a comment

Wisconsin won’t get nuclear power, whether or not they lift the moratorium

nukes-hungryTom Still: Repeal nuclear moratorium — but don’t expect new power plants in Wisconsin, TOM STILL | Wisconsin Technology Council president, 24 Jan 16  

It’s hard to find a more knowledgeable advocate of nuclear energy than Michael Corradini, a professor of engineering physics at UW-Madison, a past president of the American Nuclear Society and a longtime advisor to governments at home and abroad.

But if you ask Corradini whether a bill lifting a 1983 moratorium on building nuclear plants in Wisconsin will make a tangible difference any time soon, his answer is a starkly practical “no.”

The reasons for his pessimism reflect the reality of the costs of building such a plant in a state where incentives to do so are virtually non-existent. Barriers include the low global cost of oil and natural gas, decades of planning and approval time, continued opposition by most environmental groups and a state regulatory structure that doesn’t allow owners of a nuclear plant to recover costs in any reasonable amount of time.

Toss in the fact that energy demand in Wisconsin is relatively stagnant – the result of conservation efficiencies as well as economic trends – and the prospects for a “next-generation” nuclear power plant popping up in the Badger state are dimmer than a candle in a coal mine……..

  • Some utility companies are adopting wind and solar power more quickly than others as they strive to stay a step ahead of current regulations, not to mention those they may face if President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and international standards take hold. Costs are falling for wind and solar, although low oil and gas costs are slowing adoption in some cases.
  • Breakthroughs in energy storage technologies can help smooth out the bumps in intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar. Mechanical, thermal, compressed air and other technologies can make it possible to efficiently store electricity produced when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining……..

January 24, 2016 Posted by | politics, USA | Leave a comment

South Carolina would do better to switch to renewable energy not to nuclear dead end

text-my-money-2Nuclear power enjoys large subsidies  Michael Kohl January 24, 2016 J. Winston Porter’s recent opinion piece regarding eliminating energy credits for wind and solar was misleading considering his support of nuclear energy. The nuclear industry has the highest degree of subsidization. Normally, utilities rely upon a variety of funding sources including corporate bonds. After the financal collapse of the Washington Public Power Supply System in 1983 with the loss of $2.3 billion to municipal bond investors, no financially prudent fund or investor will invest in the building of new reactors.

If nuclear power has a blank check for building new reactors in South Carolina, why is the nuclear industry concerned about solar and wind power? Perhaps it is that financially prudent utilities such as Duke Power and SCE&G are beginning to hedge their bets; not only investing in these alternative sources of power but also encouraging their customers to do so.

For less astute utilities such as Santee Cooper, the choice is to stay with coal where the cost of pollution control continues to rise. Nuclear reactors that are economically competitive, safe for the population and deal with the unresolved issues of nuclear waste require a level of ingenuity similar to that for expeditions to Mars.

Unfortunately for the nuclear industry, today’s most successful technical entrepreneurs are interested in going to Mars and building electric cars but not in the further development of nuclear power. What utilities in South Carolina today face is whether it is better to cut their losses on nuclear power and concentrate on becoming a 21st century utility that serves a distributive source for maintaining power generated by gas, hydropower, solar and wind, or stick with a government-sponsored boondoggle called nuclear power.


January 24, 2016 Posted by | general | Leave a comment

Chinese President Xi Jinping likely to attend nuclear summit in US

Chinese President Xi Jinping tipped to attend nuclear summit in US, South China Morning Post, Sidney Leng  sidney.leng@scmp 24 Jan 16  Despite disagreement on North Korea, Beijing and Washington ‘have much common ground’President Xi Jinping is expected to make his second visit to the United States in less than a year to attend the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in March, according to national defence and military experts from both countries.

During Xi’s state visit to the US in September, the two countries agreed to deepen cooperation on nuclear security. Beijing has not confirmed Xi’s attendance, but several Chinese academics and analysts at a China Energy Fund Committee conference in Hong Kong yesterday said he would probably go.

A White House fact sheet dated September also said the two countries might hold a meeting before the summit to discuss nuclear security.

“The two countries share common interests in intercepting nuclear terrorism, so I think there is plenty of room for cooperation on it, among other issues,” said Zhang Tuosheng, from the China Foundation For International and Strategic Studies.

READ MORE: China will work with US to implement Iran nuclear deal, Xi tells Obama……..

Chinese foreign policy strategists say China has already put enough pressure on North Korea, made denuclearisation a priority in the region and insisted on addressing the issue through dialogue.

“If the six-party talks [involving the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the US] don’t work, then I propose trilateral dialogues, such as ones between China, the US and South Korea. The most important thing is managing a crisis,” Zhang said.

January 24, 2016 Posted by | China, politics international | Leave a comment

Decontamination of minds

A Japanese organization called “declaration of safety in Fukushima” (福島 安全 宣言) or something like that launched a campaign for the “decontamination of minds” (心 の 除 染) to convince that radioactivity is safe.

In a video taken in the twenty kilometers zone, sill evacuated, a person takes radiation readings and states that it is safe as it is well below 100 mSv. But the video avoids the most contaminated areas and confuses microsieverts and microsieverts / hour. When the Japanese authorities say there is no risk below 100 mSv, it is on the whole life span. To compare that value to microsieverts per hour or millisieverts per year is meaningless.

There are also videos of pseudo-scientific conferences to affirm that radiation in Fukushima is safe. The audience seems very small.

The group calls for the lifting of the evacuation orders and the return of inhabitants, and also for the restart of the declared safe nuclear reactors.

Another similar initiative, already presented by the Blog of Fukushima, has been to make children to pick up garbage along the highway 6 that passes thru the forbidden zone. This time, it was an organization called “Happy Road Net” which was the organizer.


Let us remember that it is internationally recognized that there is no safe limit for radiation and that each radiation dose has an impact that is proportional to it. In such a context, it is recommended that the radiation exposure should be justified by a benefit. What was the benefit for these children?

It’s a safe bet to say that the decontamination of minds will be no more effective than the decontamination of the contaminated territories was …

January 24, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , | 1 Comment

January 24 Energy News


Science and Technology:

¶ Lake Poopó is more than 12,000 feet above sea level on Bolivia’s semi-arid Andean plains. Even though the lake has dried up before, according to experts, this time the recovery will no longer be possible. “This is a picture of the future of climate change,” a glaciologist says. (The lake’s area was about 250,000 acres.) [Laurel Leader Call]

Fishing boats on what was once Lake Poopó's shore. Fishing boats on what was once a shore.


¶ Based on research done by Stanford University, led by Mark Z. Jacobson, The Solutions Project is popularizing the maps and plans. It has created infographics highlighting which future energy mix will theoretically be the best to achieve the zero-emission target for each of these 139 countries. [CleanTechnica]

¶ Swiss battery manufacturer Leclanché has been selected by Hecate Canada Storage II, LLP to deliver a 13-MW/53-MWh system. Leclanché will team with Deltro Energy Inc on the…

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January 24, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment