UPDATE 2-Unions warn Areva nuclear waste container fault shows safety flaws
* Unions reveal incident with nuclear waste containers
* They warn cost cuts, redundancies jeopardise safety
* Regulator ASN inspected plant following union warning
* ASN says plant is safe but will be vigilant to warning (Adds detail about vitrification incident, union comment)
By Geert De Clercq
PARIS, March 23 (Reuters) – Flaws found in the production of nuclear waste containers highlight gaps in the safety culture at French nuclear group Areva’s nuclear waste recycling facility at La Hague in Normandy, the firm’s unions allege.
An internal document from the La Hague CHSCT Health and Safety Committee, which was seen by Reuters, says that in late 2016 the plant produced several substandard containers of vitrified highly radioactive waste.
Areva, which confirmed the incident, said that all units of the plant have appropriate staffing levels in line with safety guidelines. As soon as a problem was discovered, an investigation was launched and repairs were made, it added.
“The … site operates within strict safety rules which are absolutely not put into question,” an Areva spokeswoman said.
A top official for the French nuclear safety authority ASN told Reuters that about five containers had not been produced according to specifications, but denied there was a broader safety problem. It received the CHSCT note in November and had initiated a site inspection and met with management in December.
“We have not observed a deterioration of safety on the site,” Helene Heron, head of ASN’s Caen unit, which oversees La Hague said, adding that the regulator would be “vigilant” about the issues reported and may adapt some control processes.
Areva La Hague is one of the world’s biggest nuclear sites, recycling spent fuel for EDF and other power utilities abroad, including Japan. Its pools hold nearly 10,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel.
In its waste processing unit, Areva mixes calcified nuclear waste with molten glass, which is then poured into stainless steel containers destined for deep geological storage.
Areva fills hundreds of such containers every year and stores them on-site. Each container weighs 400 to 500 tonnes.
The five containers would be analysed, after which the company will decide what to do with them, Areva said.
“The workshop functions normally and preventive measures are being formulated in order to prevent such an incident from recurring,” Areva said.
However, Areva’s unions say that the incident is symptomatic of a slackening of the safety culture at La Hague, which they blame on redundancies and cost savings.
Areva employs some 4,000 staff at La Hague, but in a voluntary redundancy plan started in 2015, 346 jobs have been cut as part of a government-led recapitalisation and restructuring that aims to restore the balance sheet of Areva, whose equity has been wiped out by years of losses.
The CHSCT note, which is undated and unsigned, says “frantic cost-cutting is jeopardising long-established procedures” to prevent the risk of technical failures and human error.
The unions say that financial performance is now the main driving force behind the plant’s management, which leads to recurrent understaffing.
“We are launching a serious alert message: Until recently we pursued excellence in matters of safety, now we just try to be okay, which makes no sense in an industry that has no room for error,” the CHSCT note said.
Several work stations now have staffing levels that only respect minimal levels of security, that some on-call staff do not have the required skills or competencies and that management is relying on workers who are still in training, it added.
The Areva spokeswoman said that since 2015, Areva La Hague has been implementing a major restructuring plan that aims to boost its competitiveness and that it continues to invest 200 million euros ($216 million) a year to ensure the site’s safety.
The CHSCT document is highly unusual for the French nuclear industry, in which the unions are closer to management than in many French industries and typically never criticise the safety culture in their plants.
Jean-Claude Zerbib, a retired state nuclear agency CEA engineer who lives close to La Hague, said it is rare for the unions to agree on the same text, and even rarer for them to criticise management about safety.
“Generally, unions and management defend their shop.” ($1 = 0.9270 euros) (Editing by Andrew Callus/Adrian Croft/Alexander Smith)
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. is aiming to integrate its nuclear and power transmission and distribution businesses with other utilities to free up funds to use in dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.
According to TEPCO’s revised business turnaround plan announced Wednesday, the company will establish a consortium with other utilities to quickly facilitate its reorganization and integration plan.
The utility’s first major revision to the business turnaround plan since its formulation in January 2014 follows Japan’s industry ministry doubling its estimated total cost of the nuclear disaster cleanup to an estimated 22 trillion yen ($197 billion).
Once it finishes the overall revision, possibly in April, TEPCO intends to obtain government approval for the plan.
Under the revised plan, TEPCO is aiming to boost management efficiency and increase productivity to free up funds, and it will decide whether to postpone freeing itself from state control from the originally planned fiscal 2017 to the fiscal year starting April 2019.
The revised plan stresses the importance of reaching a basic agreement with Chubu Electric Power Co. to fully integrate their non-nuclear thermal power generation operations by this spring.
TEPCO is also planning to hold discussions with other utilities in the near future to promote the reorganization and integration of power transmission and distribution in the industry. The utility is considering acquiring related overseas operators over the medium- to long-term as part of the strategy.
The company also envisions reorganizing and integrating its nuclear operations in the future. It hopes to establish a consortium with domestic nuclear operators to secure talent and technologies, and develop new light-water reactors. The utility is also aiming to expand into overseas nuclear power generation markets, according to the plan.
The company will also seek cooperation from other power companies in reactivating its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture despite a public loss of confidence.
The prospect of the reactivation of the seven-reactor plant remains unclear with Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama having taken a cautious stance toward its restart. The latest plan does not set out a specific timeline.
As the cleanup and decommissioning costs mount, TEPCO remains under state control with the Japanese government holding majority voting rights through the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp. The entity was established after the disaster to help the utility pay damages for the disaster.
TEPCO’s status has prompted concerns among other major utilities that even if they cooperate, profits generated through such arrangements could be used to pay for decommissioning and damages.
To ease such concerns, the revised turnaround plan says TEPCO will map out rules for government involvement and where the cost burden will fall.
Brazil’s government wants to auction the Angra III nuclear plant project by 2018, its deputy energy minister said, adding that Russian and Chinese investors are interested in finishing it.
The deputy minister, Paulo Pedrosa, expects Angra III to be completed by 2023. He also announced that the government has decided to retake Cia Energética de Minas Gerais’s power dams and put them up for auction. The contracts on the dams expired in 2015.
Angra Nuclear Power Plant is is located at the Central Nuclear Almirante Álvaro Alberto (CNAngra III) on the Itaorna Beach in Angra dos Reis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
It consists of two Pressurized water reactors, Angra I, with a net output of 637 MWe, first connected to the power grid in 1985 and Angra II, with a net output of 1,350 MWe, connected in 2000.
Work on a third reactor, Angra III, with a projected output of 1,405 MWe, began in 1984 but was halted in 1986. Work started again on 1 June 2010 for entry into service in 2015 and later delayed to 2018. ■
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York lawmakers are continuing to push for more details about the state’s decision to make utility consumers pay up to $7.6 billion over several years to subsidize aging upstate nuclear plants.
Democrats in the state Assembly on Wednesday will call on state utility regulators to publicly release the financial review that they used to justify the decision.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration argues the money will ensure the nuclear plants remain open and not be replaced by fossil fuel plants while the state shifts to greater renewable energy.
Some environmentalists and consumer advocates have objected, however, saying the investment amounts to a costly bailout for a hazardous industry.
During the long run-up to passage of the ratepayer-financed subsidies that will keep two money-losing Illinois nuclear plants open, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan was one of the most vocal critics of the legislation.
Now her office is defending the law in federal court.
After a few weeks of consideration, Madigan has decided to represent the state in a lawsuit brought by power generators that compete against nuclear plant owner Exelon. They’re challenging the constitutionality of the nuclear bailout portions of the Future Energy Jobs Act, signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner late last year and aimed at preserving Exelon’s Clinton and Quad Cities plants, which the company was set to shutter.
The attorney general could have recused herself and let outside lawyers represent the state in the litigation.
“The case is assigned to a unit of experienced lawyers within our office who defend the state and its agencies in court, including in lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of Illinois laws,” a Madigan spokeswoman said in an email.
For at least two years, Madigan’s office castigated the nuclear subsidies, which will be paid for via surcharges on electric bills statewide, as detrimental to consumers. At times, her representatives even questioned whether the concept would pass legal muster given that wholesale power markets are regulated by the federal government and not the states.
For its part, Exelon, which usually is at loggerheads with Madigan, professed not to be concerned.
“We have full confidence that the attorney general’s office will vigorously defend Illinois law,” a spokesman emailed.
Opposition to the subsidies, which will pump into Exelon’s coffers up to $235 million of extra revenue annually over the next decade beginning late this year, isn’t confined just to the Chicago company’s competitors.
In a court filing, an attorney for the official who functions as a sort of referee for the regional power market that includes Chicago wrote that Illinois’ nuclear subsidies are “incompatible” with the market’s design and “threaten (its) foundation.”
The independent market monitor for PJM Interconnection, which manages the multistate power grid from northern Illinois east to the mid-Atlantic, was harshly critical of the subsidies in his March 16 court filing. The attorney for market monitor Joseph Bowring explicitly repudiated Exelon’s claims that preserving at-risk nuclear plants was done for environmental reasons. In contrast to coal- and natural gas-fired plants, the nukes’ lack of carbon emissions help address climate change, according to supporters.
The subsidies, the filing stated, are “not designed to serve the public interest. (They) were requested by the owners of specific uneconomic generating units in order to improve the profitability of specific generating units. These subsidies were not requested to accomplish broader social goals. Broader social goals can be met with market-based mechanisms available to all market participants on a competitive basis and without discrimination.”
The strong words from the market monitor are noteworthy because in the past he’s staunchly supported Exelon-backed changes to PJM’s market design aimed mainly at boosting revenues for at-risk nukes.
Now, though, he sounds a lot like Attorney General Madigan.
In a state Senate committee hearing last May, Cara Hendrickson, chief of Madigan’s public interest division, said, “We are concerned about the zero emission credits (subsidies) because they interfere with the market. . . .Supply markets are set nationally. There was recently a report by PJM that indicated that state efforts to subsidize generation in the aggregate have a negative effect on the market overall. Exelon itself in other states has also made this argument as well.”
Hendrickson’s role for Madigan is different from her litigators who represent the state in legal matters. She is Madigan’s chief consumer advocate.
Still, Hendrickson’s words surely will be referenced by attorneys for the plaintiffs, which include Houston-based Dynegy, the main power generator in downstate Illinois, and Princeton, N.J.-based NRG Energy, an owner of coal- and natural gas-fired plants in northern Illinois.
The government is set to complete the agreement on two contracts with Russia regarding the Dabaa nuclear power plant within two months. The two contracts include provisions on technical support, operation, maintenance, and fuel depots.
Government sources said that Egyptian and Russian officials are meeting daily, in presence of the technical advisor for the project, WorleyParsons, and the legal adviser, Shearman & Sterling, to finalise the rest of the contracts.
The sources added that the two parties expect the contracts to be ready within two months. After the draft is completed, the contract will be sent to the State Council for approval.
The commercial contract between Egypt and Russia to establish, supply, and operate the Dabaa nuclear plant includes four agreements: the main establishment, fuel supply, technical support during operation, and establishing storage for consumer fuel.
Following the State Council’s approval, the Egyptian presidency will organise an inauguration ceremony attended by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Russian president Vladimir Putin. This is expected to take place in June, according to the sources.
They furthermore said that talks and consultations are ongoing egarding the spare parts of the plant and the details of their shipment, next to penalties for non-compliance regarding timely payment of instalments.
The sources added that the discussions with the Russian side are very clear and that both parties share the same concept, which is to reach the best technical, financial, and legal solutions in the contract to avoid future problems.
Egypt signed an agreement with Russia to establish a nuclear power plant in Dabaa with a capacity of 4,800MW for 30bn.
Russia will provide a government loan of 25bn to finance equipment and services for construction and operation.
The loan is used to finance 85% of the value of each contract to implement works, services, and shipments of the project. The Egyptian side will pay the remaining amount, representing 15% in the form of instalments. The amount will be paid for the benefit of the authorised Russian institutions in a way that suits the contracts, in the form of an advance or any payment that is made later after implementing works and services and delivering supplies. The term of the loan is 13 years over the period from 2016 until 2028, at a 3% annual interest rate.
India could launch a pre-emptive first strike against Pakistan if it feared a nuclear attack was imminent, a leading nuclear strategist has suggested.
This first strike, however, will not be aimed at urban centres and conventional targets but against Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal. The strategic assessment is in clear contrast to New Delhi’s ‘no-first strike’ policy of 2003.
“There is increasing evidence that India will not allow Pakistan to go first,” Vipin Narang, a nuclear strategist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said at a conference on nuclear policy hosted by Carnegie, a think tank, on Monday, according to the Hindustan Times.
“India’s opening salvo may not be conventional strikes trying to pick off just Nasr batteries (launch vehicles for Pakistan’s tactical battlefield nuclear warheads) in the theatre, but a full ‘comprehensive counterforce strike’ that attempts to completely disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons so that India does…
Original published: 21 March 2017 5:21 pm Read the full Karachi News here
Editor: zhangrui 丨CRI
China has decided not to participate in the new round of negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban treaty over a disagreement regarding the process for eliminating the weapons.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying made the statement at a regular press conference on Monday.
Hua said China consistently upholds and actively advocates a final comprehensive ban on and total destruction of nuclear weapons. But she emphasized that China also believes that disarmament cannot be achieved overnight, and must be pressed ahead in a gradual and incremental way following the principle of safeguarding global strategic stability and compromising the security of no country.
The choice has been made to maintain the current international arms control and disarmament regime and move ahead nuclear disarmament in a gradual and incremental way. It demonstrates China’s responsible attitude towards maintaining global strategic balance and stability, added Hua.
All five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, the U.S, the U.K., Russia and France – will not attend the new round of negotiations scheduled on March 27.
Here is a roughly translated report from the independent radiation monitoring and safety NGO CRIIRAD dated from the 12 March 2017 asking questions about the missing data measurements and unaccounted isotope measurements.
Clarification of CRIIRAD about the releases of a nuclear reactor in Norway
There has been confusion for a few days on
social networks, and messages that are very Worrying as “Alert in
this day (12 March 2017) it is learned that Norway has contaminated
all of Europe with radioactive iodine 131 for several weeks (it is even said that contamination began at the end of October).. “.
This is a confusion between two events:
Iodine-131 (artificial radioactive isotope) has been detected at low levels in the ambient air of several European countries in January 2017. The exact origin of iodine-131 is not
known and several hypotheses are possible. See CRIIRAD press release
of February 14, 2017.
There was an incident on a nuclear reactor in Norway in October 2016, but there is not, to our knowledge, an Incident or Accident currently operating in Norway and the measuring
stations whose the results are published on the website of the European network EURDEP do not show currently abnormal radioactivity in Norway or on nearby countries.
Releases of iodine 131 from a Norwegian reactor
in October 2016 :
There was, on 24 October 2016 at 13:45 hours a significant incident on the EIT nuclear reactor at Halden South –East of Oslo in Norway, when handling the spent fuel. The Norwegian Radiological Protection reported this incident in a Press release of
25 October 2016 .
This incident, which led to the evacuation of the personnel and resulted in radioactivity released into the atmosphere.
The Norwegian authorities have estimated the release to 150 million becquerels for iodine 131 and 24 million becquerels for iodine 132. It should be noted that the document does
not specify how these estimates have been carried out, nor their level of reliability. It is surprising that Authorities did not show the Status of other releasable radioactive substances (tritium,Carbon 14, radioactive rare gases). Fortunately, the situation has
been finally kept under control. The “incident” of October 2016 poses many Safety issues (Origin of the incident), lack of transparency (the operator declared the incident 20 hours later), insufficient monitoring data (No evaluation of all Radioactive discharges).”
The Norwegian NGO Bellona had expressed concern in 2004 about the Safety and Denounced the escapes of Heavy water and the high tritium releases (Radioactive isotope of hydrogen).
In the case of discharges of iodine-131 of 24 October 2016, in Norway, measurement stations of iodine 131 in particulate form located at Osteras, about 100 kilometers north – West of Halden and Arland, to 500 kilometers to the north had not highlighted measurable impact. (data available on the website EURDEP).
Iodine-131 particulate has indeed been detected on the air filters of the October 17 to 24, 2016 with values of the order of 0.37 to 0.45 μBq/m3, but the measurement period stopped Around 6am so It was before the official time of release On the following two weeks , published levels of Iodine 131 were lower than detection limits between <0,3 µBq/m3 and These results raise a number of questions.
It is surprising, for example, to note the absence of sampling for the Osteras station during the period of supposed releases. Indeed, the analyzes focus on a first filter for
the period from 17 to October 24th at 6:34 am, then a second filter of 25 October at 11 H30 to 26 October at 10 H49. There is therefore no measure from October 24 at 6:35 am to October 25 at 11:29 am?
It is also possible to deplore the absence of measurement of iodine-131 in gaseous form which is in many cases predominant by contribution to the particular form .
And of course, it should be emphasized that the measuring stations are at a great distance from the plant and do not count of the air quality within a radius of a few kilometers.
To date, there is nothing to make the link between the iodine 131 from the Halden reactor in Norway in October
2016 and the detection of iodine 131 in the atmosphere of European
countries in January 2017.
Let’s remember that the Half-life of iodine-131 is 8 days. The activity of iodine-131 rejected on 24 October 2016 would therefore be divided by a factor of 1300 to 15 January 2017 . In addition, the highest levels of particulate iodine 131detected in Europe in January 2017 were in Poland (5.9 μBq / m3).
However, it would be desirable for independent analyzes to be carried out in the vicinity of the Halden reactor in order to assess the levels of exposure of local residents (air, soil,
precipitation and food chain analyzes).
CHAREYRON, engineer in nuclear physics, director of the CRIIRAD
laboratory with technical support from Jérémie MOTTE, environmental
engineer, head of the CRIIRAD air monitoring department.
Report in French; http://balises.criirad.org/pdf/2017-03-14_Note_CRIIRAD_Norvege.pdf
Report from the NRPA in Norway from 13th February 2017 with an introduction (with links to other evidence and articles gathered) can be found here; https://nuclear-news.net/2017/03/12/fuel-error-at-ife-halden-the-handling-of-the-incident-nrpa-report-in-english/
Photo: Dr. J. Enkhsaikhan
By Dr. J. Enkhsaikhan
Note: Dr. J. Enkhsaikhan is Chairman of Blue Banner NGO and former Permanent Representative of Mongolia to the United Nations in New York and Vienna. This article comes in run-up to the UN General Assembly’s two sessions – scheduled for March 27-31 and June 15-July 7 – to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.
ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (IDN-INPS) – Some believe that those that do not possess nuclear weapons have no basis to demand that those that do possess alter their nuclear policies. However, as the three recent international conferences on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons vividly demonstrated yet again, the detonation of a nuclear weapon, intentionally or otherwise, will have catastrophic consequences with far-reaching climatic, genetic and other devastating effects.
This, of course, will surely trigger a chain reaction of its own as well. Therefore global nuclear disarmament cannot be the exclusive domain of nuclear weapon states and their allies. Moreover, Article VI of the NPT commits all of its states parties to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”. The establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones is one of the concrete regional measures of promoting nuclear non-proliferation and contributing to greater confidence.
Though in the post-cold war period nuclear weapons have been reduced to around 15.000 worldwide, the number of nuclear weapons possessors has increased. The race to modernize such weapons, to “perfect” the means of their delivery and to regulate their destructive capacity is making them more “useable,” thus making deterrence doctrines even more dangerous.
That is why in response to a lack of tangible progress in nuclear disarmament, the non-nuclear-weapon states and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have launched a campaign aimed at starting without delay international negotiations to prohibit and abolish such weapons. This has found reflection in the recently adopted resolution of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) “Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations”.
As in other cases, Mongolia’s policies are connected with its geographical location and is a microcosm of the major events of a particular time period. In many cases, its policies are reflections of or reactions to the events happening in its immediate neighborhood, i.e. in Russia and China, in their mutual relations as well as with other major powers.
From the point of view of nuclear risks, Mongolia’s geographical and geopolitical location is unenviable. However that does not mean that it has to be a prisoner of geography and doomed to geographical determinism. On the contrary, its location demands that it be more creative so as not to be harmed or used to harm others.
Hence Mongolia tries, to the extent possible, to influence events in order to reduce possible unforeseen risks for itself. It could choose either to be passively affected by the perils of the nuclear age or try to play a somewhat active role by promoting its national interests and, mindful of the past history, by contributing to shaping its own future. Mongolia chose the latter.
Reminder of the recent risky past
During the cold war Mongolia was a Soviet satellite and closely followed pro-soviet policies. Thus, though Mongolia was against nuclear weapon tests in general, it condemned all such tests except for those of the Soviets, which had been conducted not far from the Mongolian territory. At that time it was considered politically incorrect to condemn Soviet tests since, Mongolia believed, Soviet nuclear weapons balanced the US, NATO and Chinese forces, and served as a “guarantee of world peace and stability”.
In the 1960s, during the Sino-Soviet dispute, Mongolia found itself involuntarily involved in it and, by implication, in their military standoff. When China developed nuclear weapons and the Sino-Soviet dispute turned into border clashes in 1969, the Soviets briefly entertained the idea or, at least made believe, of contemplating a preemptive strike against China’s fledgling nuclear weapons facilities and communicated their thoughts to its Warsaw Pact allies. The Soviets also approached the US for its possible reaction.
A preemptive strike would surely have had a devastating effect on international relations, especially on Mongolia since the Chinese side was well aware of the Soviet bases in Mongolia and the dual use weapons placed therein, and surely had plans to take counter measures. Mongolia’s role was that of a pawn that was to support the Soviet forces and their military activities. The US arsenal was also trained in the Soviet bases in Mongolia.
The US response to the Soviets was that it would not idly sit by was perhaps decisive in avoiding a possible catastrophe. Had the conflict occurred, it would have made the 1962 Caribbean missile crisis a mere footnote in the annals of XX century history. This was an important lesson for Mongolia not to blindly side with one of the belligerent nuclear powers.
New security environment
The end of the cold war in early 1990s, normalization of Sino-Russian relations and withdrawal of Russian military bases and troops from Mongolia have radically changed the country’s external security environment. Mongolia was no longer a junior partner of a nuclear weapon state.
Moreover, its two neighbors have committed not to use territories or airspace of their neighboring third states against each other. Mongolia, in its turn, declared that henceforth it would pursue balanced relations with its neighbors and maintain neutrality in possible bilateral disputes between Russia and China that did not directly affect Mongolia’s vital interests.
Mongolia takes a stand
Mindful of the lessons of the cold war period, in September 1992 Mongolia declared itself a single-State nuclear-weapon-free zone (SS-NWFZ) and pledged to work to have that status internationally guaranteed. The gist was to underline that it did not have nuclear weapons on its territory and that no country near or far would be allowed to place such weapons on its territory. In practice this meant that no nuclear weapon threat would emanate from the Mongolian territory, which in size is as large as the territories of UK, France, Germany and Italy taken together. Thus Mongolia intended to serve as a positive contributor to the common cause of promoting greater confidence, predictability and stability.
Selection of path to achieve the goal
Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of the most pressing international issues and can only be achieved by joint efforts and with the participation of the nuclear weapon states. In Mongolia’s case it was the first time that due to its geopolitical location a country decided to establish a SS-NWFZ despite the somewhat reluctance of the P5 to accept the novelty of this status in international relations. They saw it as precedent-setting for other small or island states to follow suit and declare their territories SS-NWFZs and expect security assurances from the P5 (five permanent members of the Security Council: USA, Russia, China, Britain and France).
To achieve its aim and contribute to the common efforts, Mongolia chose to follow the path of engagement, dialogue, ‘strategic patience’ and search for compromise. Working in that spirit with the P5 and other members of the United Nations, it was able to have the UNGA adopt in 1998 a resolution entitled “Mongolia’s international security and nuclear-weapon-free status” that welcomed its policy as contributing to stability and predictability in the region and even inscribed the issue on its agenda.
On its part, in February 2000 the State Great Hural (parliament) adopted a law that criminalized acts that would violate the nuclear-weapon-free status. It also formally outlawed the stationing and transit through its territory of nuclear weapons by any means. Mindful of the importance of the issue for the society as a whole, the law empowered NGOs and even individual persons, within the mandate provided by the legislation, to exercise public oversight of the implementation of the law and submit suggestions or proposals thereon to relevant state authorities.
Blue Banner NGO, established in 2005 for the purpose of promoting the country’s nuclear-weapon-free status, has three times initiated consideration by the Mongolian authorities on the implementation of the legislation and has submitted recommendations to the Government regarding the needed follow-up measures.
Numerous bilateral, trilateral and P5+Mongolia meetings were held to find a common ground and agreement on the issue. As a result of these meetings, Mongolia agreed to not insist on a legally-binding treaty that would define its unique status provided that the P5 would pledge to respect Mongolia’s status and refrain from any act that would contribute to its violation. In September 2012 the P5 and Mongolia signed parallel declarations on the understandings reached, underlining the utility of pursuing interests of all involved through dialogue, by political and diplomatic means.
In practical terms the P5 joint declaration meant that Mongolia would be an area of stability and predictability since none of the P5 would involve the country in their future nuclear rivalries, including in possible regional defense system(s), or counter defense system(s). In that sense the joint P5 declaration did not only serve the national interests of Mongolia, but also, in an age when time and space have become important strategic military assets, served the interests of regional stability and predictability; through the joint declaration the P5 and Mongolia also reassured each other that Mongolia and its vast territory would not be used against one other.
At present Mongolia is working to make the SS-NWFZ status an organic part of the East Asian security arrangement. As a Mongolian proverb says, a duck is calm when the lake is calm. This provides the country with the opportunity to spend less on its defenses (less than 1 percent of the state’s budget) and more on addressing the country’s developmental challenges, promoting human development and furthering human security for every member of the society, as prescribed in the Sustainable Development Goals.
At the regional level, Mongolian NGO Blue Banner is working with the like-minded NGOs and think tanks of Northeast Asia to promote the idea and elaborate the basic elements of a possible regional NWFZ, mindful, of course, of the region’s specific needs and challenges. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 March 2017]
Photo: Dr. J. Enkhsaikhan.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) ” Donald Trump promised to bring back coal jobs, but even the country’s third-largest coal producer appears to be hedging its bets on a comeback. Kentucky is on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable: opening the door to nuclear power.
The Republican-controlled state legislature is close to lifting its decades-long moratorium on nuclear energy in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. Politicians from both parties have promised for years to revive the struggling coal industry, with Trump famously billing himself as “the last shot for miners.” But as the coal industry continues its slide, even Republican lawmakers are acknowledging a need for alternatives.
“There are other factors other than the administration in the White House that controls this. There are banks that are reluctant at this point to give loans for coal-fired furnaces,” said Republican state Sen. Danny Carroll, who sponsored the bill. “You look at the jobs that were lost, you look at the production of coal and how that has declined, we’ve got to learn lessons from that and we’ve got to have a third option.”
Kentucky’s coal industry has been steadily declining for decades. Coal mining employment has fallen from 31,000 in 1990 to just over 6,300. Just three years ago, coal-fired power plants provided 93 percent of the state’s electricity. Today, that has fallen to 83 percent, according to the Kentucky Coal Association, as older plants are being shut down and replaced by natural gas.
Kentucky is one of 15 states that restrict the construction of new nuclear power facilities according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wisconsin lifted its ban last year. Nationwide, there are 61 nuclear power plants with 99 nuclear reactors in 30 states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The bill has passed the state Senate and could get a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. It’s unclear if Republican Gov. Matt Bevin would sign the bill. A spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
The bill has been pushed by local government and business leaders in the western part of the state, which was home to one of the few uranium enrichment plants in the country before it closed in 2013. That left the area teeming with a skilled workforce with no hope of employment in their field.
“Without that moratorium lifted, we absolutely have no opportunity,” said Bob Leeper, the judge executive for McCracken County and a former state senator who has pushed to lift the moratorium for years.
But Kentucky has been burned by the nuclear industry in the past. In the 1960s, seeking to lure the emerging nuclear energy industry into the state, Kentucky set up a place to store toxic waste. From 1963 to 1977, more than 800 corporations dumped 4.7 million cubic feet of radioactive waste at the site, but no nuclear reactor was ever built. The Maxey Flats site is closed, but its contaminated soil, surface water and groundwater resulted in an expensive state and federal cleanup.
“This is the Faustian bargain we engage in. We get cheap energy, but we saddle future generations with millennia responsibility of being mature enough to properly manage waste we are generating,” said Tom Fitzgerald, executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council which has opposed lifting the moratorium.
Even if the ban is lifted, a nuclear power plant could still take more than 10 years to develop given the rigorous permitting process. And construction would be expensive, which would threaten to drive up electricity rates to pay for it. That is of particular concern to the state’s manufacturing sector, which uses large amounts of electricity in their production processes.
The bill requires state officials to review the state’s permitting process to ensure costs and “environmental consequences” are taken into account. That was enough for Fitzgerald to be “neutral” on the bill.
The Kentucky Coal Association is also neutral, although president Tyler White said they were not happy with the bill.
“We think there are more realistic policies that we should be pursuing in Frankfort than nuclear,” he said.
After a radioactive disaster destroys your hometown, when is the right time to return? We meet residents of Fukushima grappling with a choice; return and rebuild their broken community, or stay away.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 – 21:30
When Hisao Sasaki returned to his home after years away, one of the first things he noticed was the smell. Rats and other small animals that that been living there had caused a stench through the whole house.
But despite the rats, wild boar and radiation threat – Hisao has been preparing to return home, a difficult decision thousands of survivors are facing today.
Six years ago this week, the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 people, and triggered nuclear meltdowns and the discharge of radioactive material from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Hisao’s hometown of Namie, which is 11 kilometres away from the nuclear site, was damaged and contaminated by the disaster – forcing its 21,000 residents to move to different towns outside the radioactive zone. They were provided with subsidised housing by the government, while billions of dollars was spent decontaminating the town.
Six years on, the government says Namie is now safe to live in again, and is encouraging families like the Sasakis to return and resume their lives as they were before. In 12 months, the government will cut off subsidies for people who have decided to stay outside the town.
Hisao Sasaki pulls crops from his garden in Namie, which he has been testing for radioactivity.
Namie will be officially re-opened at the end of March, and Hisao is in the process of restoring his home. He’s excited to move back there, saying he felt uncomfortable in the cramped apartment where he lived in the years following the disaster.
“I’ve never lived away from Namie before,” he says. “I think it is best to live in your own part of the country and speak your own dialect. I think it’s one of the secrets of good health.”
In Japan, families tend to maintain strong ties to their communities. For Hisao, moving back to Namie is as much an emotional decision, as it is one of logistics or convenience.
“We are the third generation of our family living here,” he says. “It’s the house that our ancestors built, my father built. If we let it go, that’s it, so I can’t let that happen.”
For many former residents, the government’s call to return presents a confronting question; re-occupy their homes, but potentially risk their health by exposure to radioactivity. Or stay away, and deal with the loss and heartbreak of that decision.
For Shigeko Watanabe, another former Namie resident, the idea of returning brings back traumatic memories.
When the earthquake struck Namie, her first memory is trying to protect her mother-in-law; “it shook three times – the fear I had in those two minutes was extraordinary.”
Now living in Iwaki, a town 60 kilometres away, Shigeko is enjoying her new life – living with her husband Takemasa and his 97-year-old mother. While she says her heart is still in Namie, Shigeko can’t imagine trying to restart her life in the town, after what she went through there.
There’s another issue families like the Watanabe’s must face, now that the town is being re-opened – the financial difficulty of staying outside of Namie once the government subsidies end.
For families struggling with the question of whether to return home, the time to decide is running out.
Currently, less than 20 per cent of Namie’s former residents say they’ll return. Many are unconvinced by the government’s claim that the town is now safe.
Abandoned playground in Namie, Fukushima.
“They’re saying it’s safe, but they haven’t shown us specific figures and the effects,” says one young woman. “That still leaves me concerned. Living at what radiation level, for how long, causes what effects?”
If these people don’t return, can the town ever been the same for families like the Sasakis, and others that do?
And for those that do return, can the town ever be truly safe – with contaminated waste dump areas and highly radioactive areas nearby?
One way Hisao Sasaki is trying to prove to former residents of Namie that the town is safe to live in, is by growing and tending a large vegetable garden on his property.
He is on a mission to prove that food from the town, which has been shunned since the nuclear disaster, is safe to eat.
Hisao has been able produce clean rice and certain vegetables, however high levels of radiation has been found in mushrooms and citrus fruits from his garden – a sign that perhaps the Fukushima area is not as decontaminated as the government is saying.
“I felt this area was safe, but it still has a poor reputation,” he says. “I’m going to keep growing crops until we are told they are safe, until everyone, including the people in this area, are convinced of their safety.”
Despite Hisao’s determination to return to Namie, where he feels most at home, he is aware that the town can never feel as safe and comfortable as it once did.
“Even though they finished decontamination and told us we can go back, the place that triggered this catastrophe is still unstable,” he says. “So I still feel anxious.”
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 4:37 AM
TOKYO (AP) — Troubled Japanese nuclear and electronics company Toshiba Corp. said Tuesday it was considering selling its money-losing Westinghouse operations in the U.S. President Satoshi Tsunakawa said the company was looking at selling its majority stake in Westinghouse and making a priority trying to get the energy giant’s battered results off its books. “We want to deal with this properly,” he said at a news conference after the company won approval for a second delay in reporting its earnings for October-December. “We are working on nurturing our growth businesses to return to stable growth by fiscal years 2018 and 2019,” Tsunakwa added, reiterating apologies to stakeholders.
Toshiba had been scheduled to report earnings Tuesday, after delaying the report due in February because of auditing problems. It now has until April 11 to produce the report. The company released a plan saying it was speeding up its review of the U.S. nuclear business, including possibly selling Westinghouse. It said it intends to expand in renewable energy while also working on its nuclear business in Japan to try to restore stable growth. Toshiba is expecting a group net loss of 500 billion yen ($4.3 billion) for April-December of last year, including a 712.5 billion yen ($6.2 billion) hit from its embattled nuclear business. Its chairman has resigned to take responsibility for the company’s troubles. Toshiba acquired Westinghouse in 2006 with much fanfare, making nuclear power an important part of its business strategy. But that was before the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, which has boosted the costs of the business because of growing safety concerns and regulations, and a souring of sentiment toward nuclear power in some countries, such as Germany. Westinghouse’s purchase in 2015 of CB&I Stone & Webster, a nuclear construction and services business, was meant to win more business in decontamination, decommissioning and plant projects, but it just amplified those problems. Auditors questioned Toshiba’s latest reporting on the acquisition of CB&I Stone & Webster after a whistleblower, an employee at Westinghouse, wrote a letter to the Westinghouse president. Toshiba said it was further investigating the acquisition, since a preliminary probe added to suspicions that some of the whistleblower’s allegations of wrongdoing might be true. The company’s reputation has also been tarnished in recent years by a scandal over the doctoring of accounting books to meet unrealistic profit targets. The latest news pushed Toshiba’s share price down about 8 percent earlier Tuesday, though it recovered lost ground later in the day, gaining 0.5 percent. The company has said it will no longer take on new reactor construction projects and will focus on maintaining the reactors it already has. But it is also involved in the decommissioning of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, which suffered multiple meltdowns after the March 2011 tsunami. Toshiba faces the risk of being delisted in Tokyo, It has already sold part of its chip business, and its president has said it is thinking about selling all of it to mend its finances. It sold its household appliance unit to Midea of China, which is maintaining the Toshiba brand name. It also is selling its entire 65 percent stake in a medical equipment leasing company to Japanese camera maker Canon Inc. ___ Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/yuri-kageyama
It is tempting for the United States to exploit its superiority in cyberwarfare to hobble the nuclear forces of North Korea or other opponents. As a new form of missile defense, cyberwarfare seems to offer the possibility of preventing nuclear strikes without the firing of a single nuclear warhead.
But as with many things involving nuclear weaponry, escalation of this strategy has a downside: United States forces are also vulnerable to such attacks.
Imagine the panic if we had suddenly learned during the Cold War that a bulwark of America’s nuclear deterrence could not even get off the ground because of an exploitable deficiency in its control network.
We had such an Achilles’ heel not so long ago. Minuteman missiles were vulnerable to a disabling cyberattack, and no one realized it for many years. If not for a curious and persistent President Barack Obama, it might never have been discovered and rectified.
In 2010, 50 nuclear-armed Minuteman missiles sitting in underground silos in Wyoming mysteriously disappeared from their launching crews’ monitors for nearly an hour. The crews could not have fired the missiles on presidential orders or discerned whether an enemy was trying to launch them. Was this a technical malfunction or was it something sinister? Had a hacker discovered an electronic back door to cut the links? For all the crews knew, someone had put all 50 missiles into countdown to launch. The missiles were designed to fire instantly as soon as they received a short stream of computer code, and they are indifferent about the code’s source.
It was a harrowing scene, and apprehension rippled all the way to the White House. Hackers were constantly bombarding our nuclear networks, and it was considered possible that they had breached the firewalls. The Air Force quickly determined that an improperly installed circuit card in an underground computer was responsible for the lockout, and the problem was fixed.But President Obama was not satisfied and ordered investigators to continue to look for similar vulnerabilities. Sure enough, they turned up deficiencies, according to officials involved in the investigation.
One of these deficiencies involved the Minuteman silos, whose internet connections could have allowed hackers to cause the missiles’ flight guidance systems to shut down, putting them out of commission and requiring days or weeks to repair.
These were not the first cases of cybervulnerability. In the mid-1990s, the Pentagon uncovered an astonishing firewall breach that could have allowed outside hackers to gain control over the key naval radio transmitter in Maine used to send launching orders to ballistic missile submarines patrolling the Atlantic. So alarming was this discovery, which I learned about from interviews with military officials, that the Navy radically redesigned procedures so that submarine crews would never accept a launching order that came out of the blue unless it could be verified through a second source.
Cyberwarfare raises a host of other fears. Could a foreign agent launch another country’s missiles against a third country? We don’t know. Could a launch be set off by false early warning data that had been corrupted by hackers? This is an especially grave concern because the president has only three to six minutes to decide how to respond to an apparent nuclear attack.
This is the stuff of nightmares, and there will always be some doubt about our vulnerability. We lack adequate control over the supply chain for nuclear components — from design to manufacture to maintenance. We get much of our hardware and software off-the-shelf from commercial sources that could be infected by malware. We nevertheless routinely use them in critical networks. This loose security invites an attempt at an attack with catastrophic consequences. The risk would grow exponentially if an insider, wittingly or not, shares passwords, inserts infected thumb drives or otherwise facilitates illicit access to critical computers.
One stopgap remedy is to take United States and Russian strategic nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert. Given the risks, it is dangerous to keep missiles in this physical state, and to maintain plans for launching them on early indications of an attack. Questions abound about the susceptibility to hacking of tens of thousands of miles of underground cabling and the backup radio antennas used for launching Minuteman missiles. They (and their Russian counterparts) should be taken off alert. Better yet, we should eliminate silo-based missiles and quick-launch procedures on all sides.
But this is just a start. We need to conduct a comprehensive examination of the threat and develop a remediation plan. We need to better understand the unintended consequences of cyberwarfare — such as possibly weakening another nation’s safeguards against unauthorized launching. We need to improve control over our nuclear supply chain. And it is time to reach an agreement with our rivals on the red lines. The reddest line should put nuclear networks off limits to cyberintrusion. Despite its allure, cyberwarfare risks causing nuclear pandemonium.
Europe funds €5m project on reactor core monitoring
14 March 2017
Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, will coordinate a €5.1m ($5.4m) research and innovation project funded by the European Commission to improve nuclear safety. The four-year Cortex project – funded within the EU’s Horizon2020 program – aims to develop “beyond state-of-the-art” reactor core monitoring techniques that can detect and characterise operational problems in nuclear plants before they can affect plant safety or availability.
Photo: Christophe Demazière
Cortex (core monitoring techniques and experimental validation and demonstration) is managed by Paolo Vinai and Christophe Demazière, professors in the department of physics at Chalmers and also involves Professor Imre Pazsit who is head of subatomic and plasma physics at the department of physics. Sweden’s Ringhals nuclear power plant is part of the advisory group.
?“We believe that these techniques can be applied to both the existing fleet of operating nuclear reactors and the ones that will be built in the future. This will contribute to a lowering of the CO2 footprint on the environment, and to a more reliable production of cheap base-load electricity for the consumers. An additional aspect is the ageing fleet of reactors in Europe: operational problems are expected to be more frequent in these plants and we need to detect such problems at an early stage”, said Demazière.
The project is a large international collaboration involving 17 European partners, two partners from Japan, and one partner from the USA. The consortium consists of several research groups from academia, research institutes, safety and technical organisations, and private companies servicing the nuclear industry. In addition, this project is in line with the expertise and competence developed at Chalmers by Professor Imre Pázsit, who is also involved in the project.
“The scope of the research is very interdisciplinary. The project will combine the work of experts in different fields spanning from nuclear reactor physics to artificial intelligence and from computational to experimental physics. An advisory end-user group will help keep the research aligned with the needs of the nuclear industry and to maximize the impact in terms of industrial innovation”, said Vinai.