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Sloppy safety and waste management at Electricite de France’s nuclear sites

Improve Nuclear Plant Maintenance Works, Watchdog Says, Francois de Beaupuy, Bloomberg News  (Bloomberg) 24 Jan 2020 — Electricite de France SA and its suppliers must improve maintenance operations at nuclear reactors and waste management because they have lost skills and become sloppy in recent years, the French nuclear safety authority said.

The warning reflects a string of incidents related to substandard manufacturing or installation of equipment at EDF and its suppliers. It underscores the difficulties the French nuclear giant faces in extending the lifetime of aging reactors and building new ones, prompting it to announce an action plan to revamp the industry’s skills.

“There’s a need to reinforce skills and some carelessness among some players in the industry,” Bernard Doroszczuk, chairman of Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, said at a press conference near Paris on Thursday. “There’s a lack of rigor in the oversight of safety by operators,” from manufacturing to welding to equipment tests “which must be corrected.”

Discussions are still going on with EDF regarding safety improvements, including ways to prevent or mitigate the impact outside its plants in case of a severe accident such as the meltdown of the radioactive fuel and its vessel, said Sylvie Cadet-Mercier, a commissioner of the regulator. A spokesman for the utility declined to comment…… https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/edf-must-improve-nuclear-plant-maintenance-works-watchdog-says-1.1378571

January 25, 2020 Posted by | France, safety, wastes | Leave a comment

India – a case study in regulatory capture by the nuclear industry

In a Season of Impetuous Lawmaking, whither Nuclear Safety? The Leaflet SONALI HURIA, January 22,2020
In this piece, the author while discussing the issues around nuclear safety, debates on why it is important to re-examine the proposed Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill for better regulation, transparency, and liability. SINCE returning to power last year with an overwhelming majority in the 2019 general elections, the Modi-led government has passed a series of legislations in rapid succession without any credible dialogue both within and outside Parliament – …………even as there has been exceptional eagerness to push these amendments and pass new legislation, including notifying the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 despite intense country-wide protests and a raging debate on its underlying intent, there are urgent issues, such as, nuclear safety, which remain in indefinite suspension.

The UPA-II government, under Dr Manmohan Singh, had introduced the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill in the Lok Sabha on 07 September 2011, aimed at replacing India’s existing nuclear regulator, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) with a purportedly improved and more autonomous Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) which would have the mandate to ‘regulate nuclear safety and activities related to nuclear material and facilities’.

The Bill, however, which had been referred to the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, did not come up for discussion before the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha, and subsequently, lapsed. The Standing Committee had reportedly endorsed the Bill with only minor suggestions for changes, while two members of the Committee from the CPI(M), gave dissent notes, arguing that the Bill provided ‘no substantive autonomy’ to the proposed NSRA. According to available information, in April 2017, the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh, in a written response to a question in the Lok Sabha had stated that a ‘fresh Bill’ similar to the earlier NSRA Bill, was ‘under examination’……….India’s nuclear regulatory framework has long been criticized for being so thoroughly enmeshed within the government structure so as to render its requisite independence, practically meaningless. Nuclear safety in India has been the remit of the AERB, which was set up in November of 1983 by an executive order of the Secretary of the DAE under Section 27 of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, with modifications made in April 2000 to “exclude all BARC facilities from (its) oversight, (following) the declaration of BARC as a nuclear weapons laboratory”.

The AERB has had the dishonourable reputation of being subservient to India’s exclusively public sector operators, which it is required to monitor, and is also acknowledged as suffering from an acute lack of independence from industry and government.

As things stand, the AERB is responsible for monitoring the safety of the various nuclear facilities operated by agencies such as, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), which fall under the purview of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). However, the Board is required to report to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), whose chairman is the Secretary of the DAE and one of whose members is the Chair of the NPCIL, and which overall, comes under the direct control of the Prime Minister of India. Thus, the regulatory board reports to the very agency it is required to assess and monitor in the interest of public safety.   

 Moreover, the AERB frequently draws upon the ‘expertise’ of scientists and engineers provided by the DAE – “almost 95% of the members in AERB’s review and advisory committees are drawn from among retired employees of the DAE, either from one of their research institutes like the Bhabha Atomic Research Center or a power generation company like the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd.” –  thus, calling into question the AERB’s functional autonomy.

Dr A Gopalakrishnan, the former Chairman of the AERB has been at pains to explain how the present institutional setup makes nuclear safety regulation in India a ‘mere sham’ and that for the AERB to function effectively, the DAE’s hold on the Board needs to be urgently done away with. In 1995, during Dr Gopalakrishnan’s tenure as the nuclear regulator, the AERB had prepared a comprehensive ‘Document on Safety Issues in DAE Installations’ – a report detailing nearly 130 safety issues across India’s nuclear installations with 95 of them having been designated ‘top priority’, to which the first reactions from the NPCIL and BARC according to Dr Gopalakrishnan, were of denial and questioning AERB’s own technical expertise to review safety matters.

A 2012 Performance Audit Report on the AERB prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) and submitted to the Indian Parliament labelled the AERB a ‘subordinate office, exercising delegated functions of Central government and not that of the regulator’.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) scrutinizing the CAG report in 2013 castigated the Regulatory Board for failing to prepare a ‘comprehensive nuclear radiation safety policy despite a specific mandate in its constitution order of 1983’. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Peer Review of India’s Nuclear Regulatory Framework in 2015 was also categorical in asserting that the AERB was in need of being separated from ‘other entities having responsibilities or interests that could unduly influence its decision making’.

As has been pointed out by MV Ramana, physicist and author of The Power of Promise, there have been accidents of ‘varying severity’ at several of the nuclear facilities being operated by the DAE, yet the regulatory board has frequently been seen downplaying the seriousness of such incidents, “postponing essential repairs to suit the DAE’s time schedules, and allowing continued operation of installations when public safety considerations would warrant their immediate shutdown and repair”. The charade of the AERB’s professed independence is further underscored by its conspicuous silence on the recent cybersecurity breach at the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tirunelveli District in Tamil Nadu in October 2019.

It is these glaring frailties of the nuclear regulatory framework coupled with the obdurate insistence of the Central government to massively expand its activities along the entire nuclear fuel cycle, despite unsettled safety concerns, a long-standing and vociferous people’s resistance against uranium mining and nuclear energy projects, and concerns surrounding the health, environmental, economic, and democratic costs of this expansion, that make imperative, the need for a fiercely independent and non-partisan nuclear regulator.

Does the proposed NSRA fit the bill?

The NSRA Bill, 2011 upon its introduction, had failed to invoke any enthusiasm among independent experts, nuclear sector watchers, and civil society actors, and instead, was met with grim scepticism given that among other things, it made light of the principle of ‘separation’ as required under Article 8 of the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety to which India is a State Party.

The NSRA Bill provides for the establishment of a ‘Council of Nuclear Safety’, headed by the Prime Minister and comprised of five or more Union Ministers, the Cabinet Secretary, Chairman of the AEC, and other ‘eminent experts’ nominated by the Central government, which in turn, will constitute ‘search committees’ to select the Chair and Members of the proposed Regulatory Authority. Moreover, under Article 14 of the Bill, the Chairperson and Members of the NSRA can be removed by an order of the Central government.

Dr Gopalakrishnan argues that the Bill makes only an ornamental show of granting independence to the NSRA by requiring the Authority to report to the Parliament instead of a government department, ministry or official. Concomitantly, however, the Bill also unambiguously provides for the supersession of and the assumption of ‘all the powers, functions and duties’ of the Authority by the Central Government, if in its ‘opinion’ the Authority fails to function in concert with the provisions of the proposed Act, and, requires the Authority to seek approval of the central government prior to initiating any interaction with nuclear regulators of other countries and/or international organizations ‘engaged in activities relevant to…nuclear/radiation safety, physical security of nuclear material and facilities, transportation of nuclear and radioactive materials and nuclear and radiation safety and regulation’.

Article 20 (q) of the Bill mandates the NSRA to ‘discharge its functions and powers in a manner consistent with the international obligations of India’. This provision, argues Dr Gopalakrishnan is deeply worrisome for it “could mean, that if the Prime Minister has promised the French President in 2008 that India would buy six European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs)…(this) unilateral and personal commitment…will now (be) labelled ‘India’s international obligation’, and the NSRA cannot question, even on strong safety grounds, the setting up of those six EPR units, since that will violate the said clause of the Bill” – this might prove disastrous for both, public and environmental safety in the long term.

Experts argue that far from separating the regulator from the government, these provisions contained in the NSRA Bill will only mean absolute government control over nuclear regulation, including over appointment and dismissal procedures, thus, opening the way for ‘pliant technocrats’ to occupy prominent positions within the Authority.

The proposed Bill is also fuzzy on the question of which nuclear facilities will fall under the purview of the NSRA – it empowers, for instance, the central government to exempt “any nuclear material, radioactive material, facilities, premises and activities” from the jurisdiction of the Authority, on grounds of ‘national defence and security’. ……….

These and other provisions of the Bill are a stark reminder that the DAE has no love lost for transparency and public oversight – take, for instance, Article 45 which requires the Chairperson, Members, and other employees of the Authority to sign a ‘declaration of fidelity and secrecy’ “to not communicate or allow to be communicated to any person not legally entitled to any information relating to the affairs of the Authority”. It is for these reasons that the former nuclear regulator, Dr Gopalakrishnan has described the proposed NSRA Bill as an exercise in ‘boxing in’ nuclear regulation “from all sides by government controls, diktats, and threats of retaliation”, thus making it even more emaciated than the existing nuclear regulator – the AERB. …..https://theleaflet.in/in-a-season-of-impetuous-lawmaking-whither-nuclear-safety/

 

January 23, 2020 Posted by | India, politics, Reference, safety | Leave a comment

$123 billion the cost of safety measures for Japan’s nuclear stations

Costs for managing Japan’s nuclear plants to total 13 trillion yen,  https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/01/8722fafaff9b-costs-for-managing-japans-nuclear-plants-to-total-13-trillion-yen.html
KYODO NEWS – Jan 15, 2020   The total costs to implement government-mandated safety measures, maintain facilities and decommission commercially operated nuclear power plants in Japan will reach around 13.46 trillion yen ($123 billion), a Kyodo News tally showed Wednesday.

The amount, which could balloon further and eventually lead to higher electricity fees, was calculated based on financial documents from 11 power companies that own 57 nuclear reactors at 19 plants, as well as interviews with the utilities.

Two years after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, the Japanese government introduced new safety standards which made measures against natural disasters and major accidents mandatory for restarting reactors.

The power companies have been given the option of either maintaining their idled nuclear power plants and restarting them once they had implemented the required safety measures, or decommissioning their plants. But it has become clear either choice required massive costs.

Of the total costs, 5.4 trillion yen was for safety measures implemented as of last month at 15 power plants they are trying to restart.

Decommissioning costs for 17 reactors belonging to nine nuclear power plants, which were deemed too expensive to implement safety measures for, totaled around 849.2 billion yen.

As the estimated costs for decommissioning the No. 1 to No. 4 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. differ, they were not included in the figure.

Maintenance costs, which will not only apply to restarted plants in operation but also to idled ones and those in the process of being decommissioned, are required for 54 reactors at 17 plants.

Those under construction were excluded. In the six years from fiscal 2013, when the new regulations were introduced, they totaled around 7.2 trillion yen.

The costs include labor, repairs and others considered nuclear power plant expenses as shown in each company’s annual securities report. But plant depreciation costs and a reserve for dismantling facilities were subtracted as they overlapped with some expenses for safety measures and decommissioning.

Maintenance fees will be required every year moving forward and are expected to continue to grow from the annual costs of around 1 trillion yen across the 11 utilities.

The total costs could further rise by several hundred billion yen as money needed to construct anti-terrorist facilities, also required under the new safety standards, was not included in the figures of some of the companies.

The majority of the 17 reactors at nine power plants slated for decommissioning are aging and they also include four at the Fukushima Daini complex, which local officials requested to be scrapped.

January 23, 2020 Posted by | business and costs, Japan, safety | Leave a comment

Unsafety of Russia’s November-class submarines

Sailing These Russian Nuclear Submarines Was Basically A Suicide Mission, Safety was sacrificed for the sake of performance. National Interest, by Sebastien Roblin, 22 Jan 2020

Key Point: The November-class submarined expanded Soviet influence, but at a cost.

The United States launched the first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, in 1954, revolutionizing undersea warfare. The Nautilus’s reactor allowed it operate underwater for months at a time, compared to the hours or days afforded conventional submarines. The following year, the Soviet Union began building its own nuclear submarine, the Project 627—known as the November class by NATO. The result was a boat with a few advantages compared to its American competition, but that also exhibited a disturbing tendency to catastrophic accidents that would prove characteristic of the burgeoning Soviet submarine fleet during the Cold War………

the power of the November class’s reactors was bought at the price of safety and reliability. A lack of radiation shielding resulted in frequent crew illness, and many of the boat suffered multiple reactor malfunctions over their lifetimes. This lack of reliability may explain why the Soviet Union dispatched conventional Foxtrot submarines instead of the November-class vessels during the Cuban Missile Crisis, despite the fact that the diesel boats needed to surface every few days, and for this reason were cornered and chased away by patrolling American ships.

In fact, the frequent, catastrophic disasters onboard the Project 627 boats seem almost like gruesome public service announcements for everything that could conceivably go wrong with nuclear submarines. Many of the accidents reflected not only technological flaws, but the weak safety culture of the Soviet Navy………..

This is just an accounting of major accidents on the November-class boats—more occurred on Echo- and Hotel-class submarines equipped with the same nuclear reactors. Submarine operations are, of course, inherently risky; the U.S. Navy also lost two submarines during the 1960s, though it hasn’t lost any since.

The November-class submarines may not have been particularly silent hunters, but they nonetheless marked a breakthrough in providing the Soviet submarine fleet global reach while operating submerged. They also provided painful lessons, paid in human lives lost or irreparably injured, in the risks inherent to exploiting nuclear power, and in the high price to be paid for technical errors and lax safety procedures. https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/sailing-these-russian-nuclear-submarines-was-basically-suicide-mission-115661

January 23, 2020 Posted by | Russia, safety | Leave a comment

Anxiety in Belarus and Lithuania, over new Chernobyl-style nuclear power station

January 20, 2020 Posted by | Belarus, safety | Leave a comment

California fights NASA over toxic Santa Susana nuclear site

California, NASA Clash Over Cleanup at Nuclear, Rocket Site,   https://news.bloombergenvironment.com/environment-and-energy/california-nasa-clash-over-cleanup-at-nuclear-rocket-site

  • California says the space agency is not adhering to past agreements
  • NASA needs to redraft a cleanup plan, toxics agency says

California’s toxics agency is opposing a revised NASA cleanup plan to remove contamination at a former rocket and energy research site where a partial meltdown happened decades ago, calling the federal agency’s proposal irregular, infeasible, and legally deficient.

It’s the latest fight in a long tussle over the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a 2,850-acre site in Simi Valley near Los Angeles, where an estimated 17,000 rockets engine tests occurred. The lab, which operated from 1948 to 2006, was also home to 10 nuclear reactors where the Energy Department and what is now the Boeing Co. did energy research.

The site experienced a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959, but evidence wasn’t revealed until 20 years later. Cleanup work has been ongoing since the 1960s.

Cesium-137

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration agreed to a consent order in 2010 with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control requiring soil remediation of the site, which was contaminated with 16 radiologicals like cesium-137, and 116 chemicals.

A final environmental review was completed in 2014, but the space agency issued a separate draft cleanup plan in October based on new data showing more contamination.

The draft plan provides options for how much soil would be excavated. One option, the one that reflects the agreement in original administrative order on consent with the state, calls for excavating 870,000 cubic yards, an increase from the 500,000 cubic yards estimated in the 2014 plan to meet the standard agreed upon with the state. The other options call for removing lesser amounts, down to 176,500 cubic yards. The plan also considers a no-action alternative.

NASA said in the draft supplemental environmental impact statement that it hasn’t chosen a preferred option yet.

In a letter sent to NASA Jan. 8, the Department of Toxic Substances Control asked the space agency to revise its cleanup plans to reflect the original administrative order on consent, known as an AOC.

State Agency Rejects Other Options

“NASA must also be aware that DTSC is not open to considering NASA cleanup alternatives which are non-compliant with the AOC,” the letter said. “DTSC also will not renegotiate the binding AOC soil cleanup commitments to accommodate challenges NASA claims will be posed by the [Santa Susana Field Laboratory] cleanup implementation.”

The letter criticized some of NASA’s options as irregular because they called for decreased cleanup when contamination had ncreased. It called excavating less contaminated soil than called for in the 2010 agreement infeasible.

“NASA has failed to provide a rational explanation or data to support the [DSEIS] irregularities and unexplained reversal,” DTSC wrote, calling the plan “legally deficient.”

In its draft cleanup plan, NASA said it would be hard to find adequate backfill to support vegetation in areas that were excavated.

A NASA spokeswoman said Jan. 14 that the agency was reviewing comments made about the draft plan and valued input from all stakeholders.

“NASA is eager to work with DTSC and the community to implement a cleanup that is based in science, technically achievable, and is protective of the surrounding community and the natural environment,” Jennifer Stanfield wrote in an email.

NASA didn’t immediately respond to a question about other cleanup sites where revisions to agreements were being sought. DTSC couldn’t immediately say if the space agency had sought changes at other state cleanup sites.

Groups Back Cleanup Agreement

Community, environmental, and justice groups say the 2010 plan reached with the state is adequate and that NASA has no authority to decide how much contamination it must remove.

New estimates pointing to more contamination than previously thought also mean NASA should redouble cleanup efforts, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Committee to Bridge the Gap said in a comment letter to NASA about its draft supplemental environmental impact statement (DSEIS).

“The decision by the Trump Administration NASA to issue this DSEIS sets the stage for abandoning huge amounts of chemically hazardous material and would consign this important land in Southern California, set in the midst of millions of California residents, to never be cleaned up,” the groups wrote.

The new plan wasn’t a surprise. A NASA inspector general report issued in March said the cleanup would take too long and would be too costly and stringent. The Department of Energy is also seeking to reduce its cleanup obligations.

For its part, the toxics agency plans to issue a final environmental impact report this summer that “fully complies with and implements” the 2010 agreement, DTSC spokesman Russ Edmondson said in an email.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily C. Dooley at edooley@bloombergenvironment.com, To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Sylvia Carignan at scarignan@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com

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January 18, 2020 Posted by | safety, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

No chance of re-using spent mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, its storage highly dangerous

 

January 18, 2020 Posted by | Japan, politics, safety, technology | Leave a comment

Japanese Only Operational Nuclear Reactor Shut

Japanese Only Operational Nuclear Reactor Shut, Increasing Fuel Costs,  By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com  A Japanese high court has ordered local utility Shikoku Electric Power Company to continue idling its only operational nuclear reactor until the company provides a satisfactory proof that the reactor is safe.The extended shutdown of the nuclear reactor would lead to higher fuel costs for the Japanese utility.

Shikoku Electric Power’s only operational reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant in western Japan was taken offline at the end of December for regular maintenance. The utility planned to restart the reactor within two months, but the Hiroshima High Court has just ruled that the utility had not provided sufficient guarantees that the reactor would be safe in case of earthquakes or volcano eruptions……..

Public opposition to nuclear energy is creating uncertainty about how much nuclear generation capacity Japan will restore.

Japan spent an additional annual average of around US$30 billion for fossil fuel imports in the three years after the Fukushima accident, according to EIA estimates.

The country is also looking at alternative energy sources, including hydrogen, in order to reduce its fossil fuels import bill as the future of many of its nuclear reactors is still uncertain.  https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Japanese-Only-Operational-Nuclear-Reactor-Shut-Increasing-Fuel-Costs.html

January 18, 2020 Posted by | Japan, safety | Leave a comment

Nuclear reactors for the gulf region could be an even worse threat than global heating

January 18, 2020 Posted by | safety, United Arab Emirates | Leave a comment

Over 32,000 potassium iodide pills ordered in 2 days after Pickering nuclear power plant alert error  

January 16, 2020 Posted by | Canada, incidents | Leave a comment

The fallout from a false nuclear alarm 

The fallout from a false nuclear alarm  The Conversation, Jack L. Rozdilsky
Associate Professor of Disaster and Emergency Management, York University, CanadaJanuary 14, 2020
   On Sunday at 7:23 a.m., residents of the Greater Toronto Area were abruptly awakened by an alert issued by Ontario’s Emergency Alert Ready System stating: “An incident was reported at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. There has been NO abnormal release of radioactivity from the station and emergency staff are responding to the situation.”At 8:06 a.m., the Ontario Power Generation released a statement that the alert was issued in error and that there was no danger to the public or the environment. At 9:11 a.m., another message from the Provincial Alert Ready System stated that the initial nuclear alert was “in error.”………..

Other false nuclear alerts This false alarm is not the first time that a nuclear-related alert has been issued during in error during an exercise. In January 2018, an alert was issued in Hawaii warning of an impending ballistic missile attack. Thirty-eight minutes later, the alert was rescinded as a false alarm.

In the Hawaii case, similar to what happened in Ontario on January 12, a public alert was accidentally issued during a routine internal test of the Emergency Alert System. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency released a statement that the false alert was due to human error.

Jeopardizing trust

Within hours of the false nuclear alarm, the office of Ontario’s Solicitor General released a statement of apology and said a full investigation has been launched into the error made during the routine training exercise. Those initial actions are only the first steps in attempting to repair the damage.

If we take the incident in Hawaii as a guide, the fallout was far-reaching. In the immediate term, all upcoming emergency drills and exercises were suspended. Changes were put in place, such as a two-person verification rule along with a new cancellation command system for public alerts. As the false alarm became a scandal, state-level emergency management officials resigned. Human error and poor software design were identified as root causes, and investigations suggested revamping the system, specifically in terms of oversight of the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System in the United States.

The bottom line is that a false alarm for an incident at a nuclear power station erodes public safety efforts. Fortunately, the risks realized from the Ontario emergency alert were not related to actual radioactive fallout. The fallout from the false alarm is that the public’s trust in emergency alert systems was jeopardized. https://theconversation.com/the-fallout-from-a-false-nuclear-alarm-129766

January 14, 2020 Posted by | Canada, politics, safety | 1 Comment

Canadians got a false alert about a nuclear power plant incident

January 13, 2020 Posted by | Canada, safety | Leave a comment

A nuclear accident in Essex would be catastrophic

January 13, 2020 Posted by | safety, UK | Leave a comment

Two earthquakes strike near Iran nuclear plant

January 9, 2020 Posted by | Iran, safety | Leave a comment

Environmental and technical worries, as Russia extends the life of old Kola Nuclear Power Plant

One of Russia’s oldest nuclear reactors set to run until 2034  https://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/2020-01-one-of-russias-oldest-nuclear-reactors-set-to-run-until-2034

The second reactor unit at the Kola Nuclear Power plant near Murmansk has received the nod from Russian regulators to operate until 2034, making it one of the longest running commercial reactors in the world and raising a host of environmental and technical concerns. January 2, 2020 by Charles Digges

The second reactor unit at the Kola Nuclear Power plant near Murmansk has received the nod from Russian regulators to operate until 2034, making it one of the longest running commercial reactors in the world and raising a host of environmental and technical concerns.

Currently, the longest serving reactor ever is the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in the United States, which, after running for 49 years, was finally shut down in 2018. Should the Kola plant’s No 2 reactor run out the term of its new lifetime extension, it would be 59 by the time it is retired.

Kola’s No 2 reactor, which came online in 1975, is not alone. The plant’s other three units, which are all VVER-440 reactors, are likewise operating on sometimes numerous lifetime extensions that would bring them to ripe old age before their operations are stopped. The No 1 reactor at the Kola plant, which started generating power 1973, was granted a second runtime extension two years ago, and won’t retire until 2033. The No 3 and No 4 reactors – which came online in the early 1980s – will operate until 2027 and 2029, respectively.

The prolonged operations of these reactors has been cause for concern among some experts, who say that bringing the units into step with current industry safety demands is difficult, given their aging design.

n the shadow of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, which resulted in a triple reactor meltdown, worldwide nuclear building standards have tightened across the board in ways that some fear have left the Kola Nuclear Power Plant’s reactors behind.

Yet more and more often, extending runtime extensions is becoming a general practice throughout the nuclear industry – and not only in Russia. Throughout central and western Europe, there are some 90 nuclear reactors that are currently under review for lifespan extensions, including many in countries like France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland. Six of the 15 Soviet-built nuclear reactors in Ukraine are operating on extended lifespans, with the remaining expected to follow.

For its part, Germany has elected altogether to shutter its nuclear power plants – a goal it hopes to reach by 2022. But the move is proving politically and technically complex. The waste resulting from the closures – thought to eventually comprise some 2,000 containers – must be stored in safely the same spot for 1 million years, and experts are short on ideas about where, exactly, to do that. The costs, too, are astronomical, with the phase-out expected to reach nearly $73 billion.

t is expenses like these that are so deviling to Russia’s nuclear industry, which has failed to build up a robust savings account for decommissioning expenses. Like other countries, Russia collects decommissioning funding through electricity tariffs charged to customers. But unlike other countries, Russia has only been doing this since 1995, shortly after the fall of the Soviet regime and the introduction of a market-based economy. As a result, issuing lifetime extension to elderly reactors offers Moscow a cheap – and what many countries consider a safe ­– alternative to the more costly route of dismantlement.

Still, environmentalists are right to be nervous. Scientific research on how nuclear reactors age – and on the kinds of problems that emerge as they do – has come mostly from studies in research reactors. While these studies have offered some insight on how reactors weather over time, many experts say that the data on how commercial reactors behave in their twilight years are still too inconclusive to be trusted.

But Rosatom officials insist that the extended reactors at the Kola Nuclear Power Plant are safe, and offers figures to back up its claims. According to a report in the Barents Observer, the corporation spent some 4.5 billion rubles – or about $72 million – on upgrades to the No 2 reactor before regulatory officials granted the runtime extension. Plant officials likewise eliminated numerous safety violations and are in the process of eliminating them.

January 4, 2020 Posted by | Russia, safety | Leave a comment