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The past week in nuclear and climate news

a-cat-CANHow good it would be to be able to ignore Donald Trump! But he sees to it that this is pretty much impossible, in any current affairs media. On the nuclear scene, many worry a lot:

Meanwhile the global nuclear industry is in financial crisis.  And Fukushima nuclear reactor radiation at highest level since 2011 meltdown.

Trump is having his impact on climate change news and action, too.

Joint Statements on Climate Change from National Academies of Science Around the World.

Antarctic Sea Ice Likely to Hit New All-Time Record Lows Over Coming Days.

Delays, ballooning costs, stall Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors

UK.

JAPAN. Radiation in Fukushima reactor containment vessel at deadly level: TEPCO.   Fukushima nuclear disaster: Worker sues Tepco over cancer.  Niigata governor Ryuichi Yoneyama stands firm against restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

Hitachi to take a 70 billion yen hit after U.S nuclear  project fails.     Toshiba’s financial woes continue – about to be sued by trust banks. Toshiba to withdraw from nuclear plant construction, chairman to quit.

IRAN.     Iran tested ballistic missile, but did not breach nuclear agreement

USA. US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis warns NKorea against nuclear attack .  Fear of nuclear war leads Texans to build expensive bunkers.   America’s EPA head announces pullout from a global pact to cut emissions.  A Washington State judge uses doubt on climate change as legal cause to block a climate activist’s defense.

FRANCE. France’s next President to face costly propping up of the nuclear industry. China decides against taking stake in Areva .

INDIA. Toshiba to withdraw from Indian nuclear projects.

SOUTH AFRICA Only government-owned nuclear companies have responded to Eskom on nuclear marketing.

GREENLAND. Greenland – environment future threatened by mining for uranium and rare earths.

February 4, 2017 Posted by | Christina's notes | Leave a comment

Toshiba’s just one corporation in a slew of nuclear financial crises

Not just Toshiba – the global nuclear industry is in crisis everywhere, Ecologist, Jim Green 3rd February 2017   Global nuclear power capacity grew slightly in 2016, writes Jim Green, but it was more a dead cat bounce than the promised ‘nuclear renaissance’. The collapse of Toshiba, the direct result of its failing nuclear ventures, is indicative of the crisis faced by nuclear contractors and utilities worldwide. Another sign of the industry’s poor outlook: no major commodity had a worse 2016 than uranium.

financial-crisis

Recent revelations that nuclear giant Toshiba faces multi-billion dollar losses and write-downs and may rule itself out of future nuclear construction bids around the world have dominated the world’s financial press.

Toshiba was only just recovering from a 2015 accounting scandal in which it padded reported profits by about US$1.3bn over seven years.

The ripple-effects of Toshiba’s latest problems will be many and varied. Japan’s ambitions to develop a large nuclear export business are in tatters.

As recently as last year, Toshiba said it hoped to win 50 contracts to build new nuclear plants in India and China over the next decade. Also up in the air are reactor construction projects being planned in the UKTurkey, and elsewhere.

Toshiba says it is “re-examining its relationship” with Westinghouse, its struggling US subsidiary. Delays and cost overruns on nuclear construction projects in the US will be expressed as write-downs that could be as high as US$7 billion.

As Toshiba, so the entire nuclear industry

Toshiba’s 2006 acquisition of Westinghouse has turned out to be a “pivotal moment in Toshiba’s decline” according to Bloomberg. Even pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman says the looming massive write-down has “doomed” the company’s US nuclear business.

He adds that it “also apparently ends the so-called nuclear renaissance in the US for full size reactors. During 2007-2010 there were more than two dozen applications expected for new reactors, but now only a few licenses have been completed and they do not have any links to near term plans to build the units.”

But it’s not just Toshiba. Other nuclear utilities around the world are also in deep trouble. Their problems were summarised in the July 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report:

“Many of the traditional nuclear and fossil fuel based utilities are struggling with a dramatic plunge in wholesale power prices, a shrinking client base, declining power consumption, high debt loads, increasing production costs at aging facilities, and stiff competition, especially from renewables.

  • In Europe, energy giants EDF, Engie (France), E.ON, RWE (Germany) and Vattenfall (Sweden), as well as utilities TVO (Finland) and CEZ (Czech Republic), have all been downgraded by credit rating agencies over the past year. All of the utilities registered severe losses on the stock market.
  • French utility AREVA has accumulated €10 billion (US$10.9 billion) in losses over the past five years. Share value 95% below 2007 peak value. Standard & Poor’s downgraded AREVA shares to BB+ (‘junk’) in November 2014 and again to BB- in March 2015. The company is to be broken up, with French-state-controlled utility EDF taking a majority stake in the reactor building and maintenance subsidiary AREVA NP will then be opened up to foreign investment. The rescue scheme has not been approved by the European Commission.
  • The AREVA rescue scheme could turn out to be highly problematic for EDF as its risk profile expands. EDF struggles with US$41.5 billion debt, downgraded by S&P, shares lost over half of their value in less than a year and 87% compared to their peak value in 2007.
  • RWE shares went down by 54% in 2015.
  • In Asia, the share value of the largest Japanese utilities TEPCO and Kansai was wiped out in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster and never recovered. Chinese utility CGN (EDF partner for Hinkley Point C), listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange since December 2014, has lost 60% of its share value since June 2015. The only exception to this trend is the Korean utility KEPCO that operates as a virtual monopoly in a regulated market.
  • In the US, the largest nuclear operator Exelon has lost about 60% of its share value compared to its peak value in 2008………..”http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2988607/not_just_toshiba_the_global_nuclear_industry_is_in_crisis_everywhere.html

February 4, 2017 Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs | Leave a comment

British government now being urged to guarantee Moorside nuclear funding

text-my-money-2The Moorside nuclear complex (Image: Nugen)Government urged to guarantee Moorside nuclear funding, text-relevant ITV.com, 3 Feb 17     The Government is being urged to step in and guarantee funding for a new nuclear power station after Japanese giant Toshiba said it was reviewing its investment in overseas nuclear projects.

The GMB union said ministers should take urgent action to secure the development at Moorside in Cumbria.

The future of the planned £10 billion power plant has been thrown into doubt after Toshiba said it was reviewing its overseas nuclear business.

Toshiba owns Westinghouse, the American-based nuclear developer whose AP1000 nuclear reactors are set to be used at Moorside……http://www.itv.com/news/border/2017-02-03/government-urged-to-guarantee-moorside-nuclear-funding/ 

February 4, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, politics, UK | Leave a comment

France’s next President to face costly propping up of the nuclear industry

AREVA EDF crumblingFrance’s Next President May Face $3 Billion Nuclear Hangover, text-relevantBloomberg by Francois De BeaupuyFebruary 4, 2017, 

  • Not enough left in the kitty to bail out both EDF and Areva
  • Sale of assets from phone company to Renault may be considered

Whoever succeeds Francois Hollande as France’s president may find one of their first tasks in office will be selling off some of the nation’s prized assets to prop up the state’s nuclear industry.

That’s because the government is as much as 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) short of the 7.5 billion euros it has said it needs this year to fix the financial problems of Areva SA and Electricite de France SA, said two government officials with direct knowledge of the matter. Hollande will try to find an answer before he leaves office in June, one of the people said. If he can’t, his successor must decide how to plug the gap, said the other person.

France is preparing to rescue its nuclear industry after EDF was weakened by falling European power prices and Areva lost billions on a long-delayed project in Finland. The president must either increase the national debt or weigh politically sensitive privatizations of holdings in anything from automakers such as Renault SA to the former phone monopoly — a tall order with the first round of presidential elections just three months away…….

While the government has enough in its privatization account for the 3 billion-euro stimulus it plans for EDF this quarter, it remains almost 3 billion euros short of the 4.5 billion euros it wants to help its near-bankrupt reactor maker, Areva, complete its restructuring and meet debt repayments this year, said the officials. Areva shareholders on Friday voted in favor of a 5 billion-euro state-backed bailout, which includes 500 million euros from Japanese investors………https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-03/france-s-next-president-said-to-face-3-billion-nuclear-hangover

February 4, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, France, politics | Leave a comment

The danger of Steve Bannon and “America First”

bannon-steveRobert Reich: Why Putting Steve Bannon on the National Security Council Is So Terrifying, In These Times, 30 Jan 17  The dangers of “America First.”BY ROBERT REICH    Donald Trump has reorganized the National Security Council – elevating his chief political strategist Steve Bannon, and demoting the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Bannon will join the NSC’s principals committee, the top inter-agency group advising the President on national security.

Meanwhile, the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will now attend meetings only when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed,” according to the presidential memorandum issued Saturday.

Political strategists have never before participated in National Security Council principals meetings because the NSC is supposed to give presidents nonpartisan, factual advice.

But forget facts. Forget analysis. This is the Trump administration.

And what does Bannon have to bring to the table?

In case you forgot, before joining Donald Trump’s inner circle Bannon headed Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet that has promoted conspiracy theories and is a platform for the alt-right movement, which espouses white nationalism.

This is truly scary.

Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice calls the move “stone cold crazy.” Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also served under George W. Bush, says the demotions are a “big mistake.”

Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told CBS News, “I am worried about the National Security Council. … The appointment of Mr. Bannon is a radical departure from any National Security Council in history.” McCain added that the “one person who is indispensable would be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in my view.”

Here’s the big worry: Trump is unhinged and ignorant. Bannon is nuts and malicious. If not supervised by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, their decisions could endanger the world…….

Not incidentally, “America First” was the name of the pro-Nazi group led by Charles Lindbergh that bitterly fought FDR before U.S. entry into World War II to keep America neutral between Churchill’s Britain and Hitler’s Reich.

Trump’s and Bannon’s version of “America First” is no less dangerous. It is alienating America from the rest of the world, destroying our nation’s moral authority abroad, and risking everything we love about our country.

Unsupervised by people who know what they’re doing. Trump and Bannon could also bring the world closer to a nuclear holocaust. http://inthesetimes.com/article/19853/reich-trump-bannon-america-first-national-security-council

February 4, 2017 Posted by | politics, USA | Leave a comment

Blow to UK nuclear strategy as Toshiba considers pulling out of Cumbria plant

 scrutiny-on-coststext-relevantGovernment urged to seek new investors to save Moorside project after concerns key partner will leave consortium, Guardian, , 3 Feb 17, Plans for a new nuclear power station in Cumbria are likely to be scrapped after a key backer pulled out, creating a major hole in the government’s nuclear strategy.

Two industry sources close to the process said Toshiba had privately decided to quit the consortium behind the planned Moorside plant, echoing sources who told Reuters and the Wall Street Journal that the Japanese company was withdrawing from new nuclear projects in the UK.

Toshiba said last month it was reviewing all its nuclear business abroad after suffering a multibillion-dollar writedown on its US business. It has promised to provide more details about its intentions when it publishes results on 14 February.

The French energy firm Engie, which is Toshiba’s partner in the NuGen consortium, has long been seen as wanting to get out of the project. Its chief executive said last year the future did not lie in nuclear power……..

“Any potential investor in that project is going to need to have very direct reassurance from the government; even if they are just starting an exploratory period, they are welcomed,” said Tim Yeo, the chairman of the pro-nuclear group New Nuclear Watch Europe.

The former Conservative MP said ministers should even consider taking a direct stake in the Moorside plant. Such an interventionist approach would have been anathema in recent years but appears more credible after recent leaks revealed the government was considering taking a stake in another new nuclear plant, at Wylfa in Wales……..

Moorside, near Sellafield, is a key part of the government’s hopes for a new fleet of power stations to fill the UK’s energy gap in the next decade as coal plants and ageing atomic plants close.

The only one to be approved so far is EDF’s £18bn Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset, which was made financially possible through subsidies to be levied on household bills. The government hopes new plants will be built at Wylffa, Sizewell, Bradwell and Oldbury…… https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/03/toshiba-exit-could-scrap-plans-for-new-nuclear-power-plant-in-cumbria

February 4, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, politics, UK | Leave a comment

Europe’s biggest nuclear construction project now hangs in the balance

Endgame for Cumbria’s nuclear nightmare – Moorside or Doomrise? http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/Blogs/2988608/endgame_for_cumbrias_nuclear_nightmare_moorside_or_doomrise.html Martin Forwood / CORE 3rd February 2017       The ‘biggest nuclear construction project in Europe’ next to Sellafield in Cumbria is now hanging in the balance, writes Martin Forwood.
moorside-nugen-cumbria-plan
With Toshiba fast sinking due to failed nuclear projects, and other members of the Nugen consortium getting cold feet, the project is facing collapse. The only alternatives are a Korean rescue – or making British taxpayers pick up the bill upfront.

The financial fog swirling around the Moorside new-build project in West Cumbria continues to thicken by the day.

The development consortium NuGen must inadvertently have added to the gloom with its recently published statement that:

NuGen’s shareholders [Toshiba and Engie] are committed to the development of the Moorside project.”

Folks with longish memories will recall an identical statement (though with names changed) coming just a few short weeks before the widely predicted departure from NuGen of Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) in 2011 and in 2013 when Spain’s Iberdrola also pulled out of the project.

Whether the current consortium partners of Toshiba and Engie will survive NuGen’s kiss of death message remains to be seen, but the omens are not good for NuGen or those who support the development.

For Engie itself, on record last December as “trying to abandon its nuclear projects in Turkey and Great Britain” in order to concentrate on decentralized energy and renewables, is the odds-on favourite to be next through NuGen’s seemingly ever revolving doors.

Is Toshiba’s AP1000 reactor finished?

Toshiba, dubbed as “ailing” by the Japanese media and still suffering the aftershocks of an accounting scandal in 2015 that rocked the corporate world, now has to contend with its wayward and wholly owned subsidiary Westinghouse purchased from British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) in 2006 and which has now landed its parent with a multi billion dollar loss on reactor building projects.

Selling Westinghouse, or lowering its equity stake in the reactor business is an option currently being considered by Toshiba, as is selling off some profitable Westinghouse segments such as its nuclear fuel business which includes the Springfields site in Lancashire.

With Westinghouse and its AP1000 modular reactors selected for Moorside by NuGen in 2014, the turmoil surrounding the reactor builder is set to further undermine the future prospects for the West Cumbrian development.

Toshiba’s decision on the “corrective measures” it intends to take to sort out its corporate mess will not be published until mid-February, but it is widely reported by the international  media that the Corporation will cease taking orders related to the building of nuclear power stations in a move that would effectively mark its withdrawal from the nuclear construction business.

Though it will continue work on the two twin-reactor AP1000 nuclear plants under construction in the United States, Toshiba is reported to be reviewing its investment in Moorside. There is no doubt that Moorside’s future currently hangs precariously in the balance, its survival dependent on  whether or not Toshiba pulls the plug on any further involvement in overseas developments.

Should that be the case, NuGen faces the game-changer not only of losing its main consortium shareholder and its Westinghouse subsidiary (with Engie to follow?) but having to find one or more new partners prepared to nail their colours to a failing new build renaissance on a greenfield site acknowledged as being less than optimum for new-build construction and ridiculously remote from where its output of electricity is needed.

Korea’s KEPCO to the rescue?

One such potential partner whose interest in Moorside has been quietly simmering on the back-boiler for the last few years is South Korea’s Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO).

In terms of involvement in Moorside, the company appears to have just two options, the first being to take over some of Toshiba’s stake in the development and thereby help finance the project. Such a move however must surely bite the dust if Toshiba does decide in mid-February that it no longer wants any part of Moorside.

The second and only remaing option is for KEPCO to take on the development itself with or without other partners and ditching the US AP1000 reactors in favour of using its own reactor technology such as its Advanced Power Reactor APR1400 – the first of which, Shin Kori 3 in Ulsan, went on line in South Korea only last year having taken eight years to build.

In turning NuGen’s original plan completely on its head, the adoption of KEPCO’s APR1400 at Moorside would automatically put back NuGen’s current but overly-optimistic projection of a Moorside construction start around 2021 by several years as the South Korean reactor undergoes its Generic Design Assessment by the UK’s Regulators. Such a delay may seem a small price to pay by NuGen whose pet project, without the APR1400, would be facing oblivion.

Yet given its recent history, others may take a different view of KEPCO, which is part-owned by the South Korean government.

For like Toshiba, KEPCO is itself still emerging from a major scandal that surfaced in 2012 involving bribery, corruption and faked safety tests for critical nuclear plant equipment which resulted in a prolonged shut-down of a number of nuclear power stations and the jailing of power engineers and parts suppliers.

Or make the taxpayer finance the project upfront?

Without ‘friends like this’, and in the absence of any change of mind by Toshiba,  it is difficult to see how else Moorside might be financed in the future, unless the UK Government itself rides to the rescue with taxpayers money.

The suggestion, floated by NuGen to a House of Lords committee just two months ago that some of what it described as non-nuclear elements of the project – the local transport infrastructure and the offshore cooling systems – might qualify for Government support.

After a decade of posturing over its West Cumbrian project, that the private consortium now feels the need for taxpayer support for Moorside underscores the extent of NuGen’s financial woes and highlights the unattractive face of new nuclear build to would-be global investors.

Picking the UK taxpayer pocket to support a technology past its sell-by date wholly undermines the Government’s erstwhile promise that the full costs of developing, constructing and operating new-build reactors would be borne by the developer and is not likely to go unchallenged.

Right on cue however is the GMB union’s view announced today that “the sensible thing is for the Government to step in and guarantee the funding, this will keep Moorside on track and push down the price we will all have to pay for the electricity it will produce.”

In truth, the ulterior motive behind the Union’s support for Moorside as a means of ‘keeping the lights on’ is the rank fear that, without the development – and with Sellafield’s commercial operations soon to end,  the decades of West Cumbria’s unhealthy domination by the nuclear industry will be a thing of the past.

February 4, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, politics, UK | Leave a comment

The nuclear power ‘renaissance’ … or a dead cat bounce?

nuclear-dead-catNot just Toshiba – the global nuclear industry is in crisis everywhere, Ecologist, Jim Green 3rd February 2017    “……..Global nuclear power text-relevantcapacity increased by 9.2 gigawatts (GW) in 2016. By contrast, renewable electricity capacity growth was 153 GW in 2015 and almost certainly greater in 2016.

In broad terms, nuclear power has been stagnant for the past 20 years. Using figures from the World Nuclear Association (WNA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency, global nuclear capacity has grown 12.7% over the past 20 years and 5.7% over the past decade. But those figures include idle reactors in Japan and the inclusion of those reactors is, as former WNA executive Steve Kidd states“misleading” and “clearly ridiculous”.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) excludes 34 idle reactors in Japan (and one each in Taiwan and Sweden) from its calculations of current nuclear capacity. Using WNISR figures, nuclear capacity has grown by 1.7% over the past 20 years and it has declined by 4.6% over the past decade.

Year Global nuclear power capacity
Dec. 1996 347 GW
Dec. 2006 370 GW
Dec. 2016 391 GW (WNA – including reactors in long-term outage)

353 GW (WNISR – excluding reactors in long-term outage)

If we look more closely at recent figures, the picture is a little confusing. Global nuclear power capacity increased “slightly” in 2016 according to the pro-nuclear WNA while the anti-nuclear WNISR said that a “significant” number of new reactors came online. If there’s some confusion now as to the trajectory of nuclear power, that confusion is likely to grow in the next few years.

To explain, let’s first look at WNA figures on reactor construction starts:

Year Number of power reactors under construction
2008 34
2011 63
2014 71
2017 60

The nuclear power ‘renaissance’ never materialised in the since that the number of ‘operable’ reactors has hovered between 430 and 450 for the past 20 years, with no clear trend in either direction. (The number of operating reactors is currently 406 according to the WNISR, which excludes reactors in long-term outage.).

But we can see the ‘renaissance’ manifest in the sharp increase in construction starts in the few years preceding the March 2011 Fukushima disaster. Those reactors are starting to come online, and more will come online in the next few years. Thus 10 reactors came online in both 2015 and 2016 (a number not previously reached since 1990). And the number of grid connections over the past five years (32 from 2012-2016) was considerably greater than during the five years before that (17 from 2007-2011).

How will this play out in the coming years? Here are predicted reactor start-up (grid connection) figures compiled by the WNA:

Year Number of anticipated reactor start-ups
2016 12 (but only 10 actual start-ups)
2017 18
2018 10
2019 8
2020 7

We may have been premature in declaring the nuclear renaissance dead. Indeed we’re right in the middle of the renaissance. It will likely span around three years and it will be more a dead cat bounce than a renaissance. Last year, 10 reactors were grid connected and four were permanently shut down. In 2017-18, the WNA anticipates 28 grid connections; the true number will fall short of that figure but grid connections will exceed permanent shut-downs.

But that’s as good as it gets for the nuclear industry. In truth, the industry is in a world of pain.

The reactor fleet is ageing; most reactors are late middle-aged – the average age of the world’s nuclear reactor fleet is 29 years. The number of permanent shut-downs is on the rise and that trend is certain to continue:

Thus 6-10 reactors will need to be commissioned each year for the next 20-25 years just to maintain current nuclear capacity………..http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2988607/not_just_toshiba_the_global_nuclear_industry_is_in_crisis_everywhere.html

February 4, 2017 Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs, ENERGY | Leave a comment

Pentagon urges Trump to expand nuclear weapons, ready for “limited” atomic war.

missiles s korea museumPentagon Panel Urges Trump Team to Expand Nuclear Options  Report suggests “tailored nuclear option for limited use”, Roll C all, John M. Donnelly, 1 Feb 17, A blue-ribbon Pentagon panel has urged the Trump administration to make the U.S. arsenal more capable of “limited” atomic war. The Defense Science Board, in an unpublished December report obtained by CQ, urges the president to consider altering existing and planned U.S. armaments to achieve a greater number of lower-yield weapons that could provide a “tailored nuclear option for limited use.”

The recommendation is more evolutionary than revolutionary, but it foreshadows a raging debate just over the horizon.

Fully one-third of the nuclear arsenal is already considered low-yield, defense analysts say, and almost all the newest warheads are being built with less destructive options. But experts on the Pentagon panel and elsewhere say the board’s goal is to further increase the number of smaller-scale nuclear weapons — and the ways they can be delivered — in order to deter adversaries, primarily Russia, from using nuclear weapons first.

Critics of such an expansion say that even these less explosive nuclear weapons, which pack only a fraction of the punch of the bombs America dropped on Japan in 1945, can still kill scores of thousands of people and lead to lasting environmental damage. They worry that expanding the inventory of lower-yield warheads — and the means for delivering them — could make atomic war more thinkable and could trigger a cycle of response from adversaries, possibly making nuclear conflict more likely. And, they say, such an expansion would cost a lot of money without necessarily increasing security.

The issue will gain greater prominence in the next several years as an up-to-$1 trillion update of the U.S. nuclear arsenal becomes the biggest Pentagon budget issue. That update, as now planned, mostly involves building new versions of the same submarines, bombers, missiles, bombs and warheads. Support for the modernization effort is bipartisan.

But any effort to create new weapons, or even to modify existing ones, in order to expand the arsenal of potentially usable nuclear weapons is likely to trigger opposition.

“There’s one role — and only one role — for nuclear weapons, and that’s deterrence. We cannot, must not, will not ever countenance their actual use,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “There’s no such thing as limited nuclear war, and for the Pentagon’s advisory board to even suggest such a thing is deeply troubling.”

“I have no doubt the proposal to research low-yield nuclear weapons is just the first step to actually building them,” she added. “I’ve fought against such reckless efforts in the past and will do so again, with every tool at my disposal.”

Conservatives on the congressional defense committees generally support exploring new nuclear options………

Fears of expanded arms race

Those who oppose development or production of more small-scale nuclear weapons argue that U.S. conventional capabilities are unmatched. They also say there’s no reason to believe Russia, for all its bluster, would go nuclear in a conflict, because it would never assume the United States wouldn’t respond either with overwhelming conventional force or nuclear weapons.

Moreover, they say, the United States has or will have plenty of lower-yield nuclear bombs to drop if necessary. And, they add, there are few scenarios in which missiles would be needed to deliver such warheads, because aircraft will suffice, particularly if they can launch atomic-tipped cruise missiles from long distances.

There are potentially serious disadvantages to expanding the lower-yield arsenal, the critics also contend.

First, there’s the cost — expected to be in the billions………http://www.rollcall.com/news/policy/pentagon-panel-urges-trump-team-expand-nuclear-options

February 4, 2017 Posted by | USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis warns NKorea against nuclear attack

Atomic-Bomb-SmUS warns NKorea against nuclear attack, http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/02/03/us-warns-nkorea-against-nuclear-attack   SBS News, 3 Feb 17, Newly minted US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has told North Korea that any attack on the US or its allies will attract an “effective and overwhelming” response.
Source: AAP  
US President Donald Trump’s defense secretary has warned North Korea of an “effective and overwhelming” response if Pyongyang chooses to use nuclear weapons.

It came as he reassured Seoul of steadfast US support at the end of a two-day visit.

“Any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at South Korea’s defense ministry.

Mattis’ remarks come amid concern that North Korea could be readying to test a new ballistic missile, in what could be an early challenge for Trump’s administration.

North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy South Korea and its main ally, the United States, conducted more than 20 missile tests last year, as well as two nuclear tests, in defiance of UN resolutions and sanctions.

The North also appears to have also restarted operation of a reactor at its main Yongbyon nuclear facility that produces plutonium that can be used for its nuclear weapons program, according to US think tank 38 North.

“North Korea continues to launch missiles, develop its nuclear weapons program and engage in threatening rhetoric and behaviour,” Mattis said.

North Korea’s actions have prompted the United States and South Korea to respond by bolstering defenses, including the expected deployment of a US missile defense system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), in South Korea later this year. The two sides reconfirmed that commitment on Friday.

February 4, 2017 Posted by | North Korea, politics international, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Hollow victories for the global nuclear industry in 2016

text-relevantNot just Toshiba – the global nuclear industry is in crisis everywhere, Ecologist, Jim Green 3rd February 2017  “…….The number of reactors under construction is slowly dropping. Using WNA figures, 71 reactors were under construction in January 2014 compared to 60 in January 2017. According to WNISR figures, the number is down from 67 to 55 over the same period. Again, that trend seems near-certain to continue because of a sharp drop in reactor construction starts: 50 from 2007-2011 compared to 31 from 2012-2016. Last year, there were just three construction starts.

Hollow, pyrrhic victories

Most of the nuclear industry’s wins in 2016 may turn out to be hollow and pyrrhic.

The decision to go ahead with two EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in the UK may be a blessing or a curse for the industry. Other EPR projects face mounting problems – long delays; spectacular cost increases; ongoing inquiries into the integrity of EPR pressure vessels; and in the case of the EPR under construction in Finland, litigation.

EDF faces additional problems as a result of Brexit, the UK’s impending withdrawal from the European Union, which will, significantly, include withdrawal from the Euratom treaty. The post-referendum fall in the value of Sterling will cut its income, while costs will remain roughly level; EDF’s ability to import skilled workers to build the reactors is also in doubt. And the Euratom exit creates a host of additional uncertainties.

And even if construction at Hinkley Point goes to plan and to budget, the obscene subsidies will turn the British public against nuclear power for decades to come. Eight of the UK’s 15 power reactors are scheduled to be shut down over the next decade, and it’s unlikely that new reactors will keep pace with closures.

Toshiba’s problems, meanwhile, are adding significant doubt to the future of the Moorside nuclear project next to the notorious Sellafield site in Cumbria, where the company is meant to be building three Westinghouse AP1000 units.

Last August, Russia announced plans for 11 new reactors but there is no likelihood that all will be built and every likelihood that few if any will be built. Already there is some backsliding from the August 2016 announcement.

In a November 2016 referendum, voters in Switzerland rejected a proposal to impose time limits on the operation of the country’s five power reactors. Nonetheless, pre-Fukushima plans for new reactors have been abandoned. Switzerland is tracking towards a nuclear phase-out by attrition. One of its five reactors is to be closed in 2019, and the others will likely all be closed by the end of the 2020s (or by 2034 according to Nuclear Energy Insider) … much the same outcome as that envisaged in the defeated referendum proposal.

The nuclear industry in Sweden certainly had some wins in 2016, but they may not amount to much. There is no longer an end-date for nuclear energy in Sweden other than a non-binding aspiration to exit the industry by mid-century and a (contradictory) aspiration to be 100% renewable-energy powered by 2040; existing reactors can be replaced with new ones (at the same sites); and a nuclear capacity tax will be abolished.

But there are no plans for new reactors and no likelihood of any in the foreseeable future. Keeping existing reactors operating is proving quite a challenge. One reactor closed in 2015 (leaving Sweden with nine), and three more closures are scheduled by the end of 2020.

South Africa formally launches new build programme’, Nuclear Engineering Internationalreported in December 2016. But in fact, plans to build new reactors have been deferred – the latest projection is 1.4 GW of new nuclear capacity by 2037 followed by more later – and plans for new reactors may be scrapped altogether once President Jacob Zuma is ousted.

Corruption has undermined South Africa’s nuclear new-build program and developments in a widespread kick-back and bribery corruption scandal in Brazil’s nuclear program was one of the biggest stories of 2016. Corruption has claimed numerous scalps – not least Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, considered the father of Brazil’s nuclear program, who was sentenced to 43 years in prison in August 2016. The partially-built Angra-3 reactor remains frozen due to the corruption scandal and a lack of funding.

Belgium: 10-year extensions for two of Belgium’s seven reactors were approved in late-2015. But all reactors are still scheduled to closed by the end of 2025. There has been ongoing controversy over the safety of Belgium’s reactors – in particular Doel-3 and Tihange-2 – including strenuous efforts by politicians and the public in neighboring countries to force the closure of the reactors.

USA: The nuclear industry had a couple of wins last year, convincing state legislatures in New York and Illinois to stump up billions to keep ageing reactors operating. However the number of operable reactors has decreased from 104 to 99 in recent years and the pattern of slow decline is certain to continue – 44 out of the 99 reactors have been operating for 40 years or more.

Misery

In some other important nuclear countries, there were no victories for the nuclear industry last year, pyrrhic or otherwise … just misery.

France: The French nuclear industry is in its “worst situation ever”, former EDF director Gérard Magnin said last November. Just one reactor is under construction – the Flamanville EPR that is many years behind schedule and three times over-budget.

EDF will need to spend around €100 billion (US$107 billion) upgrading its fleet of 58 reactors by 2030, the country’s state audit office has said, to meet new safety requirements and to extend the lives of the units beyond 40 years.

In 2015, concerns about the integrity of some EPR pressure vessels were revealed, prompting investigations that are still ongoing. Last year, the scandal was magnified when the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) announced that at least 400 of the 10,000 quality documents reviewed by Areva contained anomalies, affecting a range of reactor components in many countries.

Both Areva and EDF are financially stressed, to put it mildly – hence a taxpayer-funded bailout agreed last year. A government-led rescue of Areva and the wider nuclear industry may cost the state as much as €10-billion, Reuters reported in January 2017, and in addition to its “dire financial state, Areva is beset by technical, regulatory and legal problems.”

French finance authorities raided the offices of EDF in July 2016 as part of a probe into EDF’s disclosure of information to the market regarding domestic nuclear maintenance costs as well as planned reactors in the UK.

Last year, former Areva chief executive Anne Lauvergeon was placed under formal investigation for the “publication of inaccurate accounts” and the “spreading of false information” in relation to the acquisition of a number of African uranium mines.

Japan: Only two of the country’s 42 ‘operable’ reactors are actually operating. The future of Japan’s nuclear program remains a guessing game, but projections are being steadily reduced. According to the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency and the IAEA, installed capacity of 42.4 GW in 2014 could fall to as little as 7.6 GW by 2035 “as reactors are permanently shut down owing to a range of factors including location near active faults, technology, age and local political resistance.”

Another reactor was permanently shut down in 2016 (Ikata-1) in addition to five shut-downs in 2015 and the six Fukushima Daiichi reactors shut down in the aftermath of the March 2011 disaster. Japan also decided last year to permanently shut down the troubled Monju fast breeder reactor. For all the rhetoric about Generation IV fast reactors, and the US$100+ billion invested worldwide, only five such reactors are operating worldwide (three of them experimental) and only one is under construction (in India).

Late last year, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry revised the estimated cost of decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and compensating victims of the disaster, to around US$187 bnillion (€175 bn). The latest estimate is four times greater than estimates provided in 2011/12. Indirect costs (e.g. fuel imports, adverse impacts on agriculture and fishing, etc.) are likely to exceed the direct clean-up and compensation costs.

India has 22 operable reactors (6.2 GW capacity) and five under construction. In early 2015, India claimed to have resolved one of the major obstacles to foreign investment by announcing measures to circumvent a liability law which does not completely absolve suppliers of responsibility for accidents. But that hasn’t led to any construction starts; indeed the last construction start was in 2011.

Newcomer countries: The WNA claims that “over 45 countries are actively considering embarking upon nuclear power programmes.” Codswallop. Only two newcomer countries are actually building reactors – Belarus and the United Arab Emirates. Numerous potential newcomers have deferred or abandoned nuclear plans over the past two years, including Chile, Indonesia, Vietnam and Lithuania (which operated reactors until 2009).

Newcomers will be few and far between. Moreover, some countries – including Germany, Belgium, and Taiwan – are deliberately phasing out nuclear power, while nuclear power faces attritional phase-outs in some other countries (e.g. Switzerland).

The July 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report noted that over the past two decades, only two countries started power reactors for the first time (Romania in 1996 and Iran in 2011) while two countries closed theirs (Kazakhstan and Lithuania).

China: With 35 operable power reactors (up from 30 at the start of 2016), 22 under construction, and many more in the pipeline, China remains the only country with significant nuclear expansion plans. There are indications of a slow-down with only two construction starts in 2016. There were 25 construction starts from 2008-2010 and 15 in the six years since………..   http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2988607/not_just_toshiba_the_global_nuclear_industry_is_in_crisis_everywhere.html

February 4, 2017 Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs, politics | Leave a comment

UK government’s work on Small Modular Nuclear reactors (SMRs) has slowed down

flag-UKSmall Modular Reactors NuClearNewsNo92 February 2017  Scotland Engineering giant Rolls-Royce is teaming up with a host of rivals including Amec Foster Wheeler and Arup and nuclear specialist Nuvia to develop mini-nuclear reactors. Rolls Royce believes the so-called next generation technology could text-SMRssupport as many as 40,000 jobs if the industry flourishes. The consortium is entering a £250m competition started last March by the Government, which wants to find the best SMR design for civil use. It is hoped the technology will be more cost-effective than conventional plants. (1) The companies believe SMRs will strengthen the UK’s energy security by reducing reliance on foreign gas imports and smoothing out the impact of ‘intermittent generation’ technologies.

In November 2015, the British government announced plans to invest at least £250 million over the next five years in a nuclear research and development program including a competition to identify the best value SMR design for the UK. Rolls-Royce submitted a paper to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, outlining its plan to develop a fleet of 7 GWe of SMRs with its partners. Other participants in the UK’s SMR competition include French-owned EDF Energy and its Chinese partner CNNC, Westinghouse and US developer NuScale Power. (2)

In the US NuScale has formally completed its design submission to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The 12,000-page application will now undergo a lengthy review by the NRC, which must approve the design before construction can begin. (3)

According to City AM the Government’s work on SMRs appears to have slowed down, and many companies were expecting mention of plans in the industrial strategy published in January, but there was nothing specific. (4)

  1. Telegraph 8th Jan 2017 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/01/08/rolls-royce-partners-rivals-mininuclear-reactors/
  2. World Nuclear News 9th Jan 2017 http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Rolls-Royce-names-partnersfor-UK-SMR-09011701.html
  3. NPR 13th Jan 2017 http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/13/509673094/miniaturized-nuclearpower-plant-u-s-reviewing-proposed-design
  4. City AM 8th Jan 2017 http://www.cityam.com/256579/rolls-royce-launches-partnership-engineering-giantsamec http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo92.pdf

February 4, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, politics, technology, UK | Leave a comment

Delays, ballooning costs, stall Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors

Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors Stalled by Costly Delays, Bloomberg, by Stephen Stapczynski February 3, 2017, 

  • Toshiba seen booking billions in impairment on nuclear unit
  • Shadows of Fukushima impair industry push on new age reactors

reactor-generations

Costly delays, growing complexity and new safety requirements in the wake of the triple meltdown at Fukushima are conspiring to thwart a new age of nuclear reactor construction.

So-called generation III+ reactors were supposed to have simpler designs and safety features to avoid the kind of disaster seen in Japan almost six years ago. With their development, the industry heralded the dawn of a new era of cheaper, easier-to-build atomic plants.

Instead, the new reactors are running afoul of tighter regulations and unfamiliar designs, delaying completions and raising questions on whether the breakthroughs are too complex and expensive to be realized without state aid. The developments have left the industry’s pioneers, including Areva SA and Westinghouse Electric Co., struggling to complete long-delayed projects while construction elsewhere gains pace.

“The cost overrun situation is driven by a near-perfect storm of societal risk aversion to nuclear causing ultra-restrictive regulatory requirements, construction complexity, and lack of nuclear construction experience by the industry,” said Lake Barrett, a former official at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Toshiba Corp., Japan’s biggest maker of nuclear power plants, is the latest to join a list of companies facing impairments in the pursuit of cutting-edge reactors…….

Ballooning Costs

In 2015, the investment cost to develop a new nuclear plant was $5,828 per kilowatt, up from $2,065 in 1998, according to a World Nuclear Associationreport. In Europe, construction of a new nuclear facility in France seen costing $7,202 per kilowatt, compared with $2,280……..

“I don’t know of any recent examples of new, large, complex technological construction projects that have come in on time and on budget,” Allison Macfarlane, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said by e-mail.

The industry has no agreed-upon definition for generation III+. Broadly, the reactors are expected to withstand an airplane strike and the cooling systems should operate for at least three days without electricity…….https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-02/costly-delays-upset-reactor-renaissance-keeping-nuclear-at-bay

February 4, 2017 Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs, technology | Leave a comment

Uranium companies having ‘worst time ever’

fearuranium-oreNot just Toshiba – the global nuclear industry is in crisis everywhere, Ecologist, Jim Green 3rd February 2017   “………..”It has never been a worse time for uranium miners”said Alexander Molyneux from Paladin Energy in October 2016.

“No major commodity had a worse 2016 than uranium”, Bloomberg said in January 2017. “In fact, the element used to make nuclear fuel has had a pretty dismal decade.”

Uranium mining ramped up 5-10 years ago in anticipation of the nuclear renaissance that never materialised. Hence a glut, hence the low price. The price has fallen for seven of the past nine years. The spot price fell 41% in 2016, sinking to a 12-year low (US$18 / lb U3O8 in November).

The spot price averaged about $26 last year, and is expected to average just $23 in 2017 according to the median forecast of analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg in December 2016. “I don’t think there’s a mine profitable at current spot prices”, Leigh Curyer from Canadian uranium miner NexGen Energy told Bloomberg.

The long-term contract price fell from $44 in January 2016 to $30 in December. It would need to double to encourage the development of new mines. KPMG noted in December that “uranium producers are expected to reduce production and cut costs through 2017 and 2018, with high cost mines likely to scale back or close. New projects are expected to remain on hold.” RBC expects the sector will be oversupplied until around 2024.

The uranium enrichment industry is in much the same place as uranium mining. The spot uranium enrichment price has fallen consistently since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and it fell by a third between early 2015 and late 2016 to reach an all-time low.

And since cheap, abundant enrichment capacity can substitute for newly mined uranium (either by extracting more uranium-235 during uranium enrichment, or re-enriching tails), this has and will continue to keep uranium prices downhttp://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2988607/not_just_toshiba_the_global_nuclear_industry_is_in_crisis_everywhere.html

February 4, 2017 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Uranium | Leave a comment

American nuclear electric companies watching Toshiba Corp. with dismay

Toshiba nuclear write-off spooks Southeast power companies                                          Kristi E. Swartz, E&E News reporter, February 3, 2017

February 4, 2017 Posted by | general | Leave a comment