The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Rise of cheap renewables disrupts EU energy plans for 2030

By Frédéric Simon |

The rapid fall in costs of wind and solar power, combined with flexible demand technology, could replace “more than half” of coal and gas-powered electricity in Europe by 2030, according to new research published on Tuesday (21 November).

A report from consultants Artelys, to be unveiled in Brussels today, updates the cost projections that form the basis of the European Commission’s modelling for the EU’s energy and climate change goals up to 2030.

According to the analysis, the EU could confidently opt for a 61% share of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030, instead of the 49% currently foreseen in EU projections.

This would translate into an additional 265 million tonnes of avoided CO2 emissions, and savings of €600 million per year in energy system costs, the research found.

In fact, the falling costs of wind and solar power, combined with demand flexibility, means that it’s actually cheaper to go for 61% renewables and to decrease today’s level of gas generation by around 50%, the report found.

“The drop in the cost of clean technology has gone far beyond all expectations,” said Laurence Tubiana, the CEO of the European Climate Foundation (ECF), which commissioned the research. “The economics are now decisively tipping in favour of clean energy, making an even stronger case for higher EU ambition for 2030,” she added.

Tubiana’s words were echoed by Francesco Starace, the CEO of Italian power utility Enel, who recently took over the presidency of Eurelectric, the European power industry association.

In a recent interview with EURACTIV, Starace said progress in renewable energy technology had been “faster and deeper than expected” when Eurelectric last made projections for 2050.

“Today, [renewables] are clearly the winner of the cost per kilowatt hour battle,” said Starace, adding that carbon neutrality in the power sector was now achievable “certainly earlier than 2050”.

Apart from Poland, there are no plans to build new coal-fired power plants in Europe, says Francesco Starace. The hard question today is instead who will build a new gas power plant. “And many companies are not doing that either,” he told EURACTIV in an interview.

Clean energy package outdated before it is adopted

The report comes as EU lawmakers discuss proposals for a 2030 package of clean energy laws, which contain a 27% target for renewables in overall energy consumption and a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions.

But according to the research, these goals look outdated before they are formally adopted, and could even slow down the transition to a cleaner energy system. Current EU assumptions indeed foresee a carbon price of €27 per tonne of CO2 for 2030, a level considered insufficient to trigger a decisive shift away from coal generation.

“The European Commission seems to chronically underestimate just how great a positive impact sustainable renewable energy can have,” said Imke Luebbeke at the WWF European Policy Office.

“As this report shows, we can and must pull the plug on coal and crank up renewables way beyond the proposed 2030 target levels for the sake of Europeans’ health, taxpayers’ wallets and our shared climate,” she said.

Contacted by EURACTIV, the European Commission acknowledged the relevance of the report’s findings but declined to comment on the implications on the EU’s 2030 goals. Maroš Šefčovič, the EU Commission Vice-President in charge of the Energy Union, is expected to deliver a speech today at an event in Brussels where the report will be officially presented.

EXCLUSIVE / The European Commission is preparing an update of its low-carbon economy roadmap for 2050, acknowledging that the bloc’s current target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions at least 80% by mid-century are insufficient, has learned.

Displacing “more than half” of coal and gas

One of the report’s most striking findings is that cheap renewables and flexible demand could replace more than half of European coal and gas generation by 2030. As a consequence, power sector emissions could be be reduced almost twice as fast – from -30% to -55% in 2030 compared to 2015 levels.

And even with large shares of coal retiring, gas generation could still be cut in half by 2030, from 514 TWh today to 259 TWh, according to the research. This is because upgraded electricity grids and flexible demand solutions are expected to provide for more system balancing capacity at lower cost, decreasing the “bridging role” of natural gas in the transition to a carbon neutral power sector.

“Cheap renewables push out gas as well as coal,” said Jonathan Gaventa, director at E3G, a climate change think tank. “European countries should feel confident that they can phase out coal power without increasing energy security risks or new dependence on imported gas,” he said.

“Cost-effective renewable power, demand-side flexibility and electricity grids can pick up the slack. Infrastructure planners need to get to grips with this new reality, or they risk wasting money on utterly unnecessary gas pipelines and LNG terminals,” Gaventa said.

Wind turbines installed up to fifteen years ago required heavy state subsidies, usually in the form of feed-in tariffs, remarks Giles Dickson. But this is no longer the case, he says, urging governments to use market-based systems like auctions, which guarantee stable revenues.

The massive potential of power grids to reduce CO2 emissions was confirmed by ENTSO-E, the European association of transmission network operators. According to ENTSO-E’s 10-year network development plan, published in 2016, grids can deliver a reduction of CO2 emissions in the range of 50 to 80%, depending on the vision, notably due to increased sharing of resources across borders.

This means a corresponding decrease in the “need for extra, often polluting generation plants” that are needed for back up electricity generation when the wind is not blowing or the sun not shining, said Claire Camus, head of communication at ENTSO-E.

Structural overcapacity

On the whole, the rise of cheap renewables, combined with greater end-use efficiency and better grids, is confronting Europe with a structural overcapacity in power generation, the report warned, calling on policymakers to adopt policies for an orderly phase out of coal.

“Phasing out depreciated, high-carbon generation assets is critical to making space for investments in renewable electricity and moving to a cleaner, smarter and cheaper energy system,” the report said. It did however warn of “a high likelihood” that decision-makers will continue to rely on “out-of-date understanding of power market economics when deciding on EU and national energy policies”.

This was confirmed by Francesco Starace of Eurelectric in his earlier interview. “I think the industry has lost some time in trying to resist what happened in technology, in denying what happened in the environment, so we had to catch up.

“We now see it clearly,” he said.


November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Whitehouse Opening Remarks in EPW Subcommittee Hearing on Clean Air & Nuclear Safety Pt 2

November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Whitehouse Remarks in EPW Subcommittee on Clean Air & Nuclear Safety (Cost/benefit issue)

Published on 20 Nov 2017

Senator Whitehouse questions Davis Henry of Henry Brick Company, Christopher J. Kersting of Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), Paul Williams of the United States Stove Company, Emily Hammond of the George Washington University Law School, and John Walke of Natural Resources Defense Council.

November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Nuclear Prisoners” by Hisao

Published on 20 Nov 2017

Lyrics: (in Japanese and English)


福一の プルサーマル 三号機


風評で 被曝体験 尚も且つ

Nuclear test
from uranium
to plutonium

human experiments
to Nagasaki
Hukuichi’s pluthermal unit 3

First life
20 years

40 years?
Artificial quake
Exposure experience still in reputational


金儲け 壊す目的 再稼働

The Atomic-bombs
excluding Tokyo n’

Air raid alarms
shouldn’t ring if
Money making purpose reactivated to break



November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

First Nations and Allies Unite for a Non-Nuclear Ontario

On Nov. 8 – 9, 2017, First Nations and allies united to call for a phase-out of Ontario’s nuclear stations and a move to a 100% renewable future. They called on Premier Wynne to make a deal with Quebec to purchase its suplus renewable water power at a fraction of the cost of extending the Pickering or rebuilding the Darlington Nuclear Stations. Please sign the petitions: and

November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Climate Without Borders: Meet a Meteorologist Who Dares to Say “Climate Change” in Weather Reports

As Democracy Now! broadcasts from the UN climate summit in Bonn, we look at how climate-related Hurricanes have devastated parts of the United States, but weather presenters still rarely utter the words: “climate change.” We speak with Jill Peeters, a weather presenter in Belgium who is also the founder of Climate Without Borders.

November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The consensus is clear: there is no upside to a nuclear Brexit Clare Moody

This government must heed the warnings – leaving the treaty on nuclear energy, safety and research is complicated and the potential consequences disastrous Cabinet resignations, a government with no majority in the Commons, a make-or break-budget for the chancellor and a fast-approaching Brexit negotiating deadline means it is easy for issues to slip out of the public consciousness. Against this READ MORE [PAYWALL]


November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

McClaughry: A global renewable energy power play

Tue, 11/21/2017 – 4:06am —

by John McClaughry Here’s an interesting insight into the arcane world of global renewable energy politics, based on the October 30 column in Forbes by widely-read energy blogger Rod Adams. Last week the annual “Conference of Parties” (COP23), the consultative body for the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change, convened in Bonn, Germany.  For the past eight years a business-oriented Sustainable Innovation Forum (SIF) has been held alongside the COP, cosponsored by the U.S.-led advocacy group Climate Action and the UN Environment Program (UNEP).

This year the Forum accepted the World Nuclear Association as a Gold Sponsor. But then UNEP demanded that the Forum reject any participation by the nuclear trade association. Its spokesman said “we prioritise the renewables revolution, such as wind and solar energy…Our work on the nuclear sector is limited.”

It’s limited all right – to zero.

Adams reports that among the gold-level sponsors that SIF accepted were BMW and Toyota, whose profits come from fossil fuel burning engines, and Orstead, a utility that operates coal-fired power stations. Why did UNEP not veto those?

The answer seems to be that the auto manufacturers and utility acknowledge that their use of petroleum and coal is destroying the planet – UNEP’s mantra – and they’re seeking absolution for their guilt. And nuclear? The nuclear industry is proud that it emits virtually no carbon dioxide – no guilt, and no absolution needed.

Beneath this theological level, UNEP (along with the American climate change organizations) is passionately anti-nuclear. Why? Because the prospect of clean, safe, cheap 21st century nuclear electricity not only threatens to displace coal and petroleum, which is fine with the activists, but it also threatens to put an end to the subsidy-driven wind and solar carnival, which is not.

Adams quotes Kirsty Gogan, global director of Energy for Humanity, as saying “by blocking nuclear from the conversation, and insisting on a conditional, renewables-only, response to climate change, UNEP have displayed a dangerous ideological agenda that undermines its own credibility.”

But there are some climate change warriors who urge greater reliance on nuclear power. The most prominent is renowned climatologist Dr. James Hansen, the now-retired head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He is the man who made “global warming”, later rechristened “climate change”, a global issue, in his 1988 testimony before a Senate Committee including his soon-to-be most ardent disciple, Al Gore.

Hansen is so passionate a believer in fossil-fuel-caused climate change that he has been arrested in protests against mountaintop coal mining and the Keystone pipeline. But he understands that attempting to maintain an acceptable level of civilization by relying on activist-approved renewables is, to use his term, “crazy”.

In 2013 Hansen co-authored an open letter to policy makers, which stated that “continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.” In a Scientific American report (12/4/15) Hansen said “Nuclear, especially next-generation nuclear, has tremendous potential to be part of the solution to climate change .The dangers of fossil fuels are staring us in the face. So for us to say we won’t use all the tools [such as nuclear energy] to solve the problem is crazy.”

Seven years prior to that, on a website titled “Tell the Truth to Obama”, Hansen said “The [$25 billion Federal nuclear waste disposal] fund should be used to develop fast reactors that eat nuclear waste and thorium reactors to prevent the creation of new long-lived nuclear waste… Accelerated development of fast and thorium reactors will allow the US to fulfill its obligations to dispose of the nuclear waste, and open up a source of carbon-free energy that can last centuries, even millennia.”

Here are three takeaways:

First, intermittent, diffuse, and non-dispatchable wind and solar electricity can be valuable in certain remote locations, and even for homesteads, but it simply can’t be relied upon to power a modern electric grid – and in fact, it’s already causing serious grid stability problems. Nuclear stations deliver steady, safe, reliable dispatchable baseload power to the grid, accompanied by almost no greenhouse gas emissions (mainly from trucks and equipment used in mining uranium ore.)

Second, we are long overdue to knock down the daunting regulatory barriers to licensing and building the Generation 4 nuclear plants that James Hansen urgently recommends.

Third, climate change activists who irrationally oppose even the discussion of anything nuclear deserve to be disregarded.

In addition, the Trump administration should reduce the U.S. contribution to the UN Environment Program, and let the renewable-industrial complex pick up the slack.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen institute ( (link is external)).

November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) has published several reports over the last few years. They discuss geopolitics and related themes, one of which is the likelihood of nuclear war or accident, including what it means for long-term survival.

Experts say that even a so-called limited exchange or accident would be catastrophic. For example, a recent paper in Earth’s Futurec alculates that the most optimistic scenario of a “small,” regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan would wipe out millions of people through famine and result in a nuclear winter. An exchange between the USA and Russia, for instance, could be even bigger and more devastating.

America’s ongoing “Asia Pivot” encourages China to build up its arsenals. Proxy wars in Syria and Ukraine with Russia and continuing tensions with North Korea also increase the risk of brinkmanship and miscalculation between those nuclear powers.

Britain’s Role 

By training rebels in Syria and armed forces in Ukraine, the UK is particularly responsible for contributing to escalating tensions. Britain remains one of the USA’s closest allies and enjoys a “special relationship” with the US. It serves as a proxy for US Trident nuclear weapons systems. The UK’s Vanguard submarines host US-supplied Trident II D5 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. In 2016, a dummy ICBM was launched by the UK at a test target off the coast of Africa. It self-destructed and headed for Florida, according to news reports. The event took place a time when the British government voted to upgrade Trident in violation of Britain’s Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations and at a time when the newly-appointed Prime Minister, Theresa May (not yet elected), answered “Yes,” when asked by a member of Parliament if she would launch a nuclear missile and kill hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Let’s look at some examples of the UK MoD’s admissions that: 1) the world is getting more dangerous, 2) it is likely that some states will use nuclear weapons at some point, 3) brinksmanship increases the risk of miscalculation, and 4) that such events threaten human existence. These admissions are startling for a number of reasons: the MoD possesses nuclear weapons, yet acknowledges their danger; the media fail to report on these matters, despite their coming from establishment sources; and governments are not inherently compelled by this information to de-escalate.

“Doomsday Scenarios.”

Every few years, the MoD updates its studies concerning the nature of global developments. The third edition of the Strategic Trends Programme predicts trends between the years 2007-2036. It states (MoD’s emphases):

Accelerating nuclear proliferation will create a more complex and dangerous strategic environment, with the likely clustering of nuclear-armed states in regions that have significant potential for instability or have fears about foreign intervention. For example, North Korean, Pakistani and potentially, Iranian nuclear weapon capability will increase significantly the risks of conflict in Asia if a system of mutual deterrence does not emerge. In addition, nuclear possession may lead to greater adventurism and irresponsible conventional and irregular behaviour, to the point of brinkmanship and misunderstanding. Finally, there is a possibility that neutron technologies may reemerge as potential deterrent and warfighting options.

Neutron weapons supposedly kill living things but do not harm property. The report also notes a potential “revival of interest” among “developed states” in “neutron and smarter nuclear technologies.” Neutron bombs could become “a weapon of choice for extreme ethnic cleansing in an increasingly populated world.” The document concludes rather casually, stating: “Many of the concerns over the development of new technologies lie in their safety, including the potential for disastrous outcomes, planned and unplanned.” Note the word planned. It goes on to say: “Various doomsday scenarios arising in relation to these and other areas of development present the possibility of catastrophic impacts, ultimately including the end of the world, or at least of humanity.”

Will the US or Israel get impatience and attack Iran or North Korea? The now-archived Future of Character of Conflict (2010) predicts trends out to 2035 and states:

The risk of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) use will endure; indeed increase, over the long term. The strategic anxiety and potential instability caused by CBRN proliferation is typified by international frustration over Iran and North Korea, with the risks of pre-emptive action and regional arms races, and where soft power alone has not been notably successful.

Soft power refers to economic and diplomatic coercion. As the US expands its global reach, other countries might seek possession of nuclear weapons to deter the USA: “[t]he possession of nuclear weapons, perceived as essential for survival and status, will remain a goal of many aspiring powers.”

Unless enforcement mechanisms are imposed, will arms controls and treaties be effective? Out to the year 2040, says the MoD’s fourth edition of its now-withdrawn Strategic Trends Programme, “[t]he likelihood of nuclear weapons usage will increase.” It goes on (MoD’s emphases):

Broader participation in arms control may be achieved, although this is unlikely to reduce the probability of conflict. Effective ballistic missile defence systems will have the long-term potential to undermine the viability of some states’ nuclear deterrence.

Could that last statement refer to ICBMs being integrated into a so-called defense shield and used by the few countries that possess them against ones that do not? What is the likelihood of nuclear weapons being used for warfighting? Finally, Future Operating Environment 2035 states:

Some commentators believe it is increasingly likely that a range of state actors may use tactical nuclear weapons as part of their strategy against non-nuclear and conventional threats coming from any environment, severe cyber attacks. Limited tactical nuclear exchanges in conventional conflicts by 2035 also cannot be ruled out, and some non-Western states may even use such strikes as a way of limiting or de-escalating conflict.


These analyses and admissions on behalf of the UK MoD and its reliance on US-produced weapons systems should serve as enough of a warning to scholars and anti-nuclear weapons campaigners to suggest that, as long as weapons of mass destruction exist and as long as international treaties have no enforcement mechanisms with regards the powerful countries, the clock to midnight will continue ticking.

November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

UPDATE 1-EDF reports quality control failings regarding some rods at nuclear reactors

* EDF says no operational impact

* Was notified by Areva of the flaws

* Quality control shortcomings found related to 14 rods

* EDF cut 2018 earnings forecast last week (Adds detail, background)

PARIS, Nov 21 (Reuters) – EDF said on Tuesday it had been informed about shortcomings found in quality controls on a small number of rods installed at its French nuclear sites.

EDF said the discovery was made by nuclear equipment manufacturer Areva on 14 of 2,600,000 rods installed at its reactors across France.

“Areva notified the EDF Group of quality control deviations on certain rods used to manufacture fuel assemblies. The supplier is not able to demonstrate that quality control substantiating leak tightness of these rods has been properly performed,” EDF said in a statement.

The rods involved are in use at the Golfech 2, Flamanville 1 and Cattenom 3 reactors, while 11 others were not installed. EDF said the findings would have no operational impact.

France depends on nuclear power for more than 75 percent of its electricity, and EDF union members have warned of a risk of blackouts this winter due to nuclear reactor outages.

Last week, EDF said future nuclear reactor maintenance outages could be longer than expected and that these could weigh on its 2018 core earnings.

EDF lowered its 2018 core earnings forecast to a range of 14.6-15.3 billion euros ($17.2-$18 billion) from at least 15.2 billion.

November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Contradictory Radiation Reports Flag Russian Nuclear Plant

Nov 21, 2017

Just weeks after Russia’s nuclear energy corporation said radiation levels were normal, the country’s meteorological service said it had registered extreme levels of radiation in the Urals two months ago.

European radiation monitors detected a cloud of radioactive material originating in Russia’s southern Urals over two dozen European countries in late September and early October. The material could have come from “a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing or the production of radioactive sources.

Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom said the release of the radioactive material, Ruthenium 106 or Ru-106, was in line with natural background radiation, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported at the time.

On Monday, Russia’s Federal Meteorological Service said it had registered extreme levels of Ru-106 across several locations in late September. The highest levels of the radioisotope — 986 times the norm — were located in Chelyabinsk region, the site of the Mayak nuclear facility.

Mayak makes components for nuclear weapons and processes spent nuclear fuel. One of its storage facilities exploded in 1957 — a fact that went unreported until three decades later.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Mayak said it was not the source of the excess Ru-106 concentration.

Greenpeace in Russia said it planned to ask prosecutors to launch an inquiry into whether officials concealed a nuclear incident.

“Even taking into account that the observed concentration over Europe is small, tens of millions of people were impacted, and some of them will no doubt have health problems,” it said in a statement Monday.

Meanwhile, Chelyabinsk officials played down the dangers of excess radiation, saying they would have been ordered to evacuate if the levels were dangerous.

“The sources of this damaging information are in France, where there’s a nuclear waste processing facility that competes with our Mayak,” Yevgeny Savchenko, the region’s public security minister, told the regional news website on Tuesday.

“This raises certain flags.”

November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Russia confirms spike in radioactivity in the Urals

Originally published November 21, 2017 MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities have confirmed reports of a spike in radioactivity in the air over the Ural Mountains.

France’s nuclear safety agency earlier this month recorded radioactivity in the area between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains from a suspected accident involving nuclear fuel or the production of radioactive material. It said the release of the isotope Ruthenium-106 posed no health or environmental risks to European countries.

The Russian Meteorological Service said in a statement Tuesday that it recorded the release of Ruthenium-106 in the southern Urals in late September and classified it as “extremely high contamination.”

After the first reports, Russia’s state-controlled Rosatom corporation said in a statement last month that it hadn’t come from its facilities.

November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Nuclear safety board warns of trouble ahead at Hanford, but could lose role under Trump

An unfinished $16.8 billion complex to treat chemical and radioactive waste at the Hanford site in Central Washington continues to have problems that risk explosions and radioactive releases from unintended nuclear reactions, according to a Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report.

The board’s findings are at odds with a much more optimistic assessment offered by the U.S. Energy Department of the efforts to treat the toxic leftovers of decades of atomic weapons production. In a written statement last February, the Energy Department said major problems previously identified by the safety board had been “resolved,” and found that design work could resume on what the department calls a critical pre-treatment plant needed to process highly radioactive waste.

The latest report is more sobering news for a project conceived more than two decades ago whose costs have increased significantly and has had repeated delays because of safety concerns.

The report’s release comes at a difficult time for the board. The Trump administration is considering a proposal to downsize or abolish the board, which for nearly 30 years has provided independent oversight of defense nuclear sites across the country. The board’s backers say this report — challenging Energy Department assumptions — is more evidence of its vital review role.

“They don’t want to hear what the board has to say, but they absolutely need to,” said Dirk Dunning, a retired Oregon Department of Energy engineer who worked on Hanford issues for more than 20 years.

The board has been deeply involved in keeping watch over the development of Hanford’s waste-treatment complex, the largest of its kind in the world, on which ground was broken in 2002 on 65 acres of the nuclear reservation. The goal is to transform 56 million gallons of chemical and radioactive waste into glass rods that can be safely put into long-term storage. The process requires a hugely complex engineering effort because in part to the wide range of waste materials stored in 177 underground tanks, more than a third of which have leaked over the years.

But safety concerns, including those cited in the latest board report, have plagued the pre-treatment facility for years even as billions of dollars have been budgeted for engineering, labor, equipment and other costs.

“There are all the same issues and they still haven’t been addressed,” said Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge, a public interest group that has advocated for whistleblowers, workers and accountability during the cleanup.

An Energy Department spokeswoman at Hanford’s Office of River Protection said the board’s analysis will be taken into consideration when design work resumes. But it still is unclear when that may happen.

The spokeswoman, Yvonne Levardi, said that when the Energy Department determines that a plant problem has been resolved, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is fixed but that enough progress has been made to resume design work.

During World War II, Hanford was claimed by the federal government as a secret site for producing plutonium that was used in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Nine reactors would eventually operate at Hanford, with the last one shut down in 1987.

The pre-treatment plant has long been designated as a key part of the cleanup. It will concentrate, and then filter out solid high-level radioactive waste that is some of the most challenging material stored in the tanks.

When completed, the pre-treatment plant is designed to contain more than 100 miles of piping and four huge stainless-steel tanks — each able to hold 375,000 gallons of waste — that will sit behind steel-laced concrete walls that workers cannot access.

The project is being run by Bechtel National, the lead contractor. By 2010, whistleblowers and the federal safety board had raised concerns over the risks of explosions from the buildup of hydrogen gas in the pipes and the potential for radioactive releases from unintended nuclear chain reactions, known as criticality hazards.

The design challenges have prompted a workaround to process what’s known as low-activity waste — material containing small concentrations of radionuclides requiring less protection for public health than highly radioactive waste. That work is expected to begin by 2022. But the deadline to open the pre-treatment facility has been pushed until 2036. It is intended to handle all waste, including highly radioactive material, such as spent fuel from nuclear reactors.

Some skeptics question whether the pre-treatment plant will eventually be abandoned in favor of alternative technologies.

“It is a massive project, and a lot of very serious issues have to be worked out before it can operate,” said Rick Schapira, a former deputy general counsel for the board. “If they can’t be addressed, you have to look to other ways to treat the waste.”

But the Energy Department statement released in February called resolution of the pre-treatment plant issues “critically important” to the overall mission. It said that the department had confirmed design, process changes and safety controls to address the potential for criticality and hydrogen buildups in pipes and vessels that posed an explosion risk.

“I could not be prouder of our … technical and nuclear safety teams for their focus and commitment to resolve these technical issues,” Bill Hamel, the assistant project manager for Hanford’s waste treatment plant, said in the statement.

The board’s review of that work was completed in June, and delivered Oct. 12 to James Owendoff, an acting assistant energy secretary. It is unclear why the board waited more than three months to formally deliver the report. A board spokeswoman did not return a reporter’s phone calls seeking comment for this story.

The board report cites 14 remaining problems. They range from a mixing system that may not operate reliably to a “lack of sufficient technical rigor” in safety assumptions required to handle heavy plutonium particles that pose a risk of criticality.

Washington state’s Department of Ecology also monitors Hanford.

Dan McDonald, a state project manager, had not seen the latest report until a reporter sent it to him. He did not dispute the board’s findings but said that he feels that significant progress has been made toward resolving the problems at the pre-treatment plant.

“Nothing in this report is new business for me,” McDonald said.

The Hanford report is the kind of tough-edged review that has long characterized the board’s work. But the board now faces critics, some from within its own ranks, who call for an end to these independent reviews.

In a June 29 letter to the Office of Management and Budget, safety board chairman Sean Sullivan called the board “a relic of the Cold War-era defense establishment” that is no longer needed by an Energy Department that has developed its own internal regulation. News of the letter was first reported last month by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative organization based in Washington, D.C.

Sullivan is one of five board members who serve five-year terms. They are backed by a professional staff of more than 100 able to dive into the formidable challenges of the federal nuclear-weapons sites.

The board members are appointed by the president, with no more than three members of any one party able to serve at the same time. President Barack Obama named Sullivan — a Republican attorney and retired Navy submarine officer — to the board in 2012. President Donald Trump appointed him chairman in January.

The board has no regulatory powers to require the Energy Department to take action. But its reports are made public and the Energy Department is required to respond to the panel’s formal recommendations.

The board also has provided an important forum for whistleblowers when they found that Energy Department and contractors ignored their concerns.

In 2011, the board — in response to whistleblower allegations — released a harsh assessment of a “failed safety culture” at the Hanford waste-treatment complex. The board found that technical objections were “discouraged, if not opposed or rejected without review.” This had a “substantial probability” of jeopardizing the project mission, the report found.

Schapira, the former board deputy general counsel, participated in the Hanford whistleblower investigation. He said that report was an important document that led to a broader review of the Energy Department’s safety culture at other nuclear sites.

Schapira, who retired from the board in 2013, said it also triggered a “buzz saw of opposition” from contractors who have pushed Congress to revise the board statutes. Those critics now appear to have an ally in Sullivan who, in keeping with Trump’s goal of downsizing the executive branch, suggested that the board be shut down, folded into the Energy Department or reduced in size.

“It’s a pretty shocking letter,” Schapira said, referring to the June letter. “One could construe from it that he was appointed to undo the board.”

The board also is facing pressure from the Energy Department to change how it does business.

In an Oct. 13 meeting with board members, Energy Department Undersecretary Frank Klotz recommended ending public disclosure of weekly and monthly accounts of safety issues at federal facilities, according to a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The center reported that board members briefly circulated a proposal to accommodate Klotz’s request, and then dropped it from consideration.

Schapira, who stays in touch with former colleagues, said professional staff members are frustrated by what they view as the politicalization of the board and the increasing difficulty of addressing technical problems that some board members don’t want to hear about.

“A number of them are very demoralized,” Schapira said.

November 19, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Fukushima Cleanup Is Progressing, But at a Painstaking Pace

Earlier this year, remotely piloted robots transmitted what officials believe was a direct view of melted radioactive fuel inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant’s destroyed reactors—a major discovery, but one that took a long and painful six years to achieve. In the meantime, the program to clean up the destroyed reactors has seen numerous setbacks and concerns, including delays on Japanese electrical utility Tepco’s timetable to begin removing the highly radioactive fuel and continued leakage of small amounts of radioactive substances.

Japanese officials are now hoping that they can convince a skeptical public that the worst of the disaster is over, the New York Times reported, but it’s not clear whether it’s too late despite the deployment of 7,000 workers and massive resources to return the region to something approaching normal. Per the Times, officials admit the recovery plan—involving the complete destruction of the plant, rather than simply building a concrete sarcophagus around it as the Russians did in Chernobyl—will take decades and tens of billions of dollars. Currently, Tepco plans to begin removing waste from one of the three contaminated reactors at the plant by 2021, “though they have yet to choose which one.”

“Until now, we didn’t know exactly where the fuel was, or what it looked like,” Tepco manager Takahiro Kimoto told the Times. “Now that we have seen it, we can make plans to retrieve it.”

“They are being very methodical—too slow, some would say—in making a careful effort to avoid any missteps or nasty surprises,” Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear safety director David Lochbaum added. “They want to regain trust. They have learned that trust can be lost much quicker than it can be recovered.”

Currently, radiation levels are so high in the ruined facility that it fries robots sent in within a matter of hours, which will necessitate developing a new generation of droids with even higher radiation tolerances. Authorities have built a crane on the roof of one melted-down reactor, unit No. 3, to remove fuel, reported, though it will not actually be in use until at least April 2018. Disposal of low level waste such as “rice straw, sludge and ash from waste incineration” has only just begun, the Japan Times wrote. The eventual disposal of more dangerous waste will be much more difficult.

At the same time, criticism of the government’s approach is also mounting with concerns it is pressuring residents to return to an area where radiation exposure remains many times the international standard.

November 19, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

GE sued for Fukushima disaster

Lawsuit alleges unsafe design, cost cutting

Brian Dowling Saturday, November 18, 2017

Japanese property owners and businesses near the Fukushima nuclear plant that melted down after a devastating 2011 tsunami filed a $500 million class-action lawsuit against General Electric for negligently designing the doomed plant.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in federal court in Boston, claims the explosions and release of radioactive material at the Fukushima reactors — likely the most costly industrial accident in history at $200 billion — were caused by GE’s unsafe design of the reactors and further efforts to cut costs that also undercut safety during the construction of the plant.

As a result, the area around Fukushima, according to the lawsuit, became a “ghost town.”

“There are no people. Roads are guarded by men in hazmat suits. And no one will ever live there again,” the lawsuit said.

GE said in a statement it became aware of the lawsuit today and is “thoroughly reviewing the matter.”

The company pushed into the nuclear industry in the 1960s and offered a “cheap reactor … with a significantly smaller, but less safe containment than industry standard” that safety experts repeatedly raised concerns about, the lawsuit said.

GE designed all six reactors at Fukushima — building two on site and advising on the construction of the rest. Original designs for the power plant called for it to be built near a bluff 115 feet above sea level. But GE — to save money — lowered the bluff to 80 feet, court papers say, “dramatically increasing the flood risk.”

Backup systems in the event of a problem at the nuclear plant were also woefully lacking, causing the cooling system to fail, the suit states.

All this was done in an earthquake-prone region, the Japanese residents and business owners say. Fukushima was built on a 13-foot bluff with a plan to handle 101⁄2-foot waves, the lawsuit said.

The March 2011 earthquake that crippled the power plant unleashed a 45-foot tsunami.

The lawsuit follows the conclusion of two others this year in Japan against the power plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the government, resulting in payouts of $335,000 and $4.4 million for residents who were forced from their homes.

November 19, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment