The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Documents reveal poor performance of Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX)

MOXMOX Contractor Slammed for Poor Performance   By: Lydia Dennett, 2 May 16 Investigator, POGO  Documents obtained by Savannah River Site Watch are providing even more evidence than is already out there that it is time for Congress to follow the Department of Energy’s recommendation and cancel the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) for good.

“Overall performance is below the level needed for successful project completion, as culminated in cost overruns and schedule delays,” the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) wrote in its analysis of the contractor in charge of constructing MOX.

According to the NNSA documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act and released by Savannah River Site Watch, the MOX contractor, CB&I AREVA MOX Services (CB&I), received only 49 percent of the possible award fee. This dock in award fee was due to concerning findings regarding DB&I’s management of the project, including the fact that the contractor failed to adequately perform random drug testing of its employees. However, CB&I still received $4.33 million of the possible $8.86 million in award fees.

CB&I has now been the MOX contractor for over nine years. The project’s estimated total life-cycle cost (which includes construction and operating the plant for 20 years) has gone from $4 billion to a whopping $25 billion. But even $25 billion may not be enough.Independent cost estimates have found that unless annual appropriations more than double over the next few years, the whole MOX project could cost as much as $110 billion and won’t be complete until 2100. Government officials have further noted that the contractor is running at a 25 percent rework rate, meaning approximately one quarter of the work done on the MOX facility will have to be re-done.

The MOX project is a multi-billion dollar boondoggle that, even if completed, will not be able to complete its mission. Just this year the Administration announced they believe it would be in the best interest of taxpayers to pursue an alternative plan, but it’s up to Congress to make the final cut. With the contractor performing so poorly, and the cost mounting with every delay and mistake, it’s time to make the fiscally responsible decision and end MOX.

May 4, 2016 Posted by | technology, USA | Leave a comment

China planning Floating Nuclear Power Plants

floating nuclear powership ChinaChina to Develop Floating Nuclear Power Plants, NYT, By MICHAEL FORSYTHE APRIL 22, 2016 HONG KONG — All the radar systems, lighthouses, barracks, ports and airfields that China has set up on its newly built island chain in the South China Sea require tremendous amounts of electricity, which is hard to come by in a place hundreds of miles from the country’s power grid.

Beijing may have come up with a solution: floating nuclear power plants.

A state-owned company, China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, is planning to build a fleet of the vessels to provide electricity to remote locations including offshore oil platforms and the contentious man-made islands, the state-run newspaper Global Times reported on Friday.

The paper quoted an executive at the company, Liu Zhengguo, as saying that “demand is pretty strong” for the floating power stations, which would be built by one of its subsidiaries.

In January, Xu Dazhe, the director of the China Atomic Energy Authority,told reporters in Beijing that China was planning to develop offshore floating nuclear energy plants, saying they “must undergo a rigorous, scientific evaluation,” but also linking these to China’s desire to become a “maritime power.”……

Typhoons regularly cross the South China Sea, and ships and submarines that run on nuclear power generally have the means to quickly sail away from a storm. It is unclear how mobile or seaworthy these reactor ships will be. Safety regulations for the seaborne reactors are being drawn up and reviewed, Global Times said, quoting Tang Bo, an official at China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and the director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that in the event of a major nuclear accident at a floating barge, like a meltdown of the reactor core, winds could carry radioactivity to large population centers.

“The floating nuke accident scenario also carries with it the potential for molten parts of the reactor core burning through the bottom of the barge to reach the water below,” Mr. Lochbaum wrote in an email. “The water is good for cooling, but not good for containment.”……..

Gregory B. Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at C.S.I.S. said it was too soon to tell how a possible deployment of the floating nuclear power stations would play out in the complicated politics of the South China Sea, though he said it was “potentially worrisome.”

“But it appears that the idea hasn’t gotten any farther than conceptualization yet, so we seem to have years to wait before we find out,” Mr. Poling wrote in an email.

A rendering of a possible Chinese floating nuclear power station was published on the English-language website of Global Times’s parent company, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily. The image showed the small ship or barge next to a pier, surrounded by what looked like floating ice.

April 23, 2016 Posted by | China, technology | Leave a comment

Nuclear industry up to their old tricks, spruiking “new nuclear”

Thorium reactors Some enthusiasts prefer fueling reactors with thorium – an element 3x as abundant as uranium but even more uneconomic to use. India has for decades failed to commercialize breeder reactors to exploit its thorium deposits.

But thorium can’t fuel a reactor by itself: rather, a uranium- or plutonium-fueled reactor can convert thorium-232 into fissionable (and plutonium-like, highly bomb-usable) uranium-233. Thorium’s proliferation [8], waste, safety, and cost problems differ only in detail from uranium’s: e.g., thorium ore makes less mill waste, but highly radioactive U-232 makes fabricating or reprocessing U-233 fuel hard and costly.


‘New’ nuclear reactors? Same old story, Ecologist, Amory Lovins 12th April 2016 The nuclear industry is forever reinventing itself with one brilliant ‘new’ idea after another, Amory Lovins wrote in this classic 2009 essay. But whether it’s touting the wonders of future SMRs, IFRs or LFTRs, the reality never changes: the reactors they are building right now are over time, over budget and beset by serious, entirely unforeseen technical problems….. Continue reading

April 15, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, reprocessing, technology, thorium | Leave a comment

The folly of wasting time and money on EPR nuclear reactor

posterdontnukeclimate1115Nuclear power and climate change Too little, too late
According to the International Energy Agency, to avert catastrophic climate change the world has only until 2017 to stop investments in fossil-fuelled power plants and start reducing global emissions of heat-trapping gases. A single new nuclear power plant takes more than a decade to go from inception to operation. Building a thousand large new reactors, as suggested by some scenarios put forward by the International Energy Agency, would take at least four decades and yet only cut global CO2 emissions by a mere 4.5%. 
This means new nuclear reactors will make zero contribution to meeting the climate change deadline, but nuclear investments would divert money and time from renewable energy and energy-saving technologies — the technologies that can deliver more solution per dollar, and do it much faster

 The EPR nuclear reactor A dangerous waste of time and money NIRS Briefing January 2012  The French EPR* is a nuclear reactor design that is aggressively marketed by the French companies Areva and EDF. Despite the companies’ marketing spin, not only is the reactor hazardous, it is also more costly and takes longer to build than renewable-energy alternatives. While no EPR is currently operating anywhere in the world, four reactors are under construction in Finland (Olkiluoto 3, construction started in 2005), France (Flamanville 3, 2007) and China (Taishan 1 and 2, 2009-10). The projects have failed to meet nuclear safety standards in design and construction, with recurring construction defects and subsequent cover-ups, as well as ballooning costs and timelines that have already slipped significantly.

Flawed and risky design The EPR design, which was supposed to be completed and ready for construction in the early 2000s, remains unfinished. The design has numerous flaws:
 • The EPR is the first reactor design proposed that is to be controlled by fully computerised systems both during normal operation and during accidents. Areva’s original design for the computer systems has been found to violate just about every basic principle of nuclear safety, and many regulators are requiring an analogue back-up system. Using several complex software systems to control a nuclear power plant introduces an enormous amount of potential errors and unpredictable interactions. As of November 2011, no approved design of the control systems exists, even though Areva has been working on this system for years. In addition, in many of the EPR components Areva is proposing to use off-the-shelf computer systems that do not comply with nuclear safety standards.

Continue reading

April 15, 2016 Posted by | Reference, technology | Leave a comment

$Billions being spent on research for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, that are unlikely to be viable

smaller ones generate less power than large ones, and therefore more are required to meet the same energy needs. Multiple SMRs may actually present a higher risk than a single large reactor, especially if plant owners try to cut costs by reducing support staff or safety equipment per reactor.’

text-SMRsTheir report concludes:

‘Unless a number of optimistic assumptions are realised, SMRs are not likely to be a viable solution to the economic and safety problems faced by nuclear power.’  

Big Nuke in big push for small nuclear reactors near towns,8873 Climate News Network 13 April 2016  Global nuclear companies are meeting this week to discuss licensing the controversial small modular reactors that would be sited near towns. Paul Brown reports.

CONCERNS ARE being raised about the billions of dollars being spent on research to design and build small nuclear reactors for electricity production The world’s big powers are in a race to build a new series of small reactors, which they believe will combine with renewables to create a low-carbon future for the planet.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) have hardly been heard of by the public, but many billions of dollars are being spent in the U.S., China, Russia, the UK and France on research and development.

The nuclear industry believes the first reactors can be deployed as early as 2025 and the plan is for them to be sited close to towns to produce the local electricity supply.

This week, leaders of companies from across the globe are meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, to assess progress on prototypes and to address the all-important question of licensing these new designs for safety.

The U.S. government has already put $217 million into one commercial design and is offering billions of dollars in loan guarantees for others.

Preferred designs  The UK government has just announced a competition to get the best design, and has put £250 million into a fund to pay for research and development over the next five years.

Preferred designs will be picked later this year and the UK plans to be a world leader in the technology, exporting small reactors across the world, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The industry says the smallest reactors could be produced on a factory production line and transported by large lorry, and the larger ones could be produced as prefabricated components to be assembled on site. This would vastly reduce both building costs and construction time.

In an editorial, the Nuclear Energy Insider newspaper expresses its enthusiasm for the strategy, but calls for

‘… more resources to accelerate the development and approval of SMR designs so that consumers can benefit from lower costs and the UK’s nuclear renaissance can be cemented.’

The newspaper claims that the new designs will produce power at one-third of the cost of the planned Hinkley Point reactors in southwest England, where the 3,200 megawatt output will cost double the current market price of electricity.

So far, there has been no reaction from the British public to this commitment to a new generation of nuclear reactors, but that will no doubt come later this year when the Government names the sites where it plans to build the SMRs.

Most likely locations for the first prototypes will be at existing nuclear sites where old reactors have been shut down or nuclear fuel is made. Another alternative is the land owned by the military, where no planning permission will be required — although this might not go down well with the public.

The new reactors can have an output of anything from 10 to 300 megawatts. This ranges from the needs of a small town to a very large one.

To be cost-effective, they need to be placed near towns, producing electricity where it is needed. What the local population will say to having a nuclear power station in their midst is hard to say; wind farms in Britain have raised such opposition that the government has allowed people to veto them.

The alternative is to group a whole series of these small reactors together so that they produce the same power as a large reactor, but critics wonder how this will keep down costs and are concerned about safety. Would a group of reactors need to be under a concrete shield to contain any accidental release of radioactivity?

Enthusiasts for the technology point out that small reactors are not new, with hundreds in operation across the world as power plants for submarines and icebreakers.

Critics accept that while the technology is known to work, the costs are unknown. Small reactors are for military use and so economic considerations do not apply in the same way.

Efficiency and cost

British members of parliament on the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee were keen on the idea. Their report enthused that SMRs are designed in a way that allows them to be manufactured at a plant, brought to site fully constructed, and installed module by module, thereby potentially improving manufacturing efficiency and cost, while reducing construction time and financing costs.

The U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists points out the difficulties of placing small reactors close to centres of population and doubts that they can produce power more cheaply than larger ones. It points out that existing commercial reactors originally got bigger and bigger to produce economies of scale.

The scientists accept industry claims that smaller reactors are inherently less dangerous than larger ones, but argue:

‘While this is true it is misleading, because smaller ones generate less power than large ones, and therefore more are required to meet the same energy needs. Multiple SMRs may actually present a higher risk than a single large reactor, especially if plant owners try to cut costs by reducing support staff or safety equipment per reactor.’

Their report concludes:

‘Unless a number of optimistic assumptions are realised, SMRs are not likely to be a viable solution to the economic and safety problems faced by nuclear power.’,8873

April 13, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

USA Energy Dept moving away from dangerous MOX nuclear fuel plan

MOXRadioactive Pork Finally on the Chopping Block Project On Government Oversight.  By: Lydia Dennett 9 Feb 16 A “Sensitive But Unclassified” document from the Secretary of Energy, obtained by the Project On Government Oversight, indicates that the Department is concerned that parochial interests in Congress may thwart their plans to kill the MOX program.

The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) is the result of a bilateral agreement with Russia in which both countries agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of nuclear weapons grade plutonium. In 2002 the U.S. decided to construct the MOX facility to convert this dangerous material into fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors. But now, 14 years later, the MOX program is almost 3,000 percent over budget, lacks even a single potential customer for the fuel, and could actually be putting our nuclear material at risk.

The November 2015 memorandum from Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz to President Obama states that MOX is a “high-priority ‘hot potato’ issue” for this Congress and indicates that the Department is finally beginning to shift focus and funding away from MOX and toward a plutonium disposition process that will actually work: “We are working with our appropriators and other stakeholders to shift our plutonium disposition strategy from MOX power reactor fuel to dilution and underground disposal. This is much faster and cheaper.”

Last year, an independent study performed by the Aerospace Corporation confirmed that the cost of finishing construction of MOX and operating the plant for the next 20 years will be at least $47.5 billion and could be as much as $114 billion depending on annual funding from Congress. That would be in addition to the $5 billion already spent on the project. MOX was originally expected to cost a mere $1.6 billion.

Despite the project’s long history of skyrocketing costs, safety and security concerns, and construction problems, it has been kept alive in large part by political officials who have an interest in making sure funding for the project continues.

Problems with the MOX program were first raised in the early 2000s by then-Representative David Hobsen (R-OH), who was serving as Chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee at the time. His efforts to halt construction of the MOX facility were stalled in 2006 due to pressure from the Department of Energy, the Administration, and his own party.He was told that canceling the project would hurt then-South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s chances of being reelected.

In 2013, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC)placed a hold on the president’s nomination for Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz until Moniz promised to finish the MOX plant. Graham eventually relented and removed the hold but remains one of the most outspoken supporters for the project along with Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Representative Rick Allen (R-GA).

Representatives Wilson and Allen recently denounced the dilution and underground disposal method, which would involve mixing the weapons grade plutonium with other materials before sending it to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), an underground repository in New Mexico. The Aerospace Corporation found that this method would cost $17 billion over its lifetime as opposed to the $47.5 billion needed to complete the MOX project.

The Center for Public Integrity has previously detailed the long history of lobbying and campaign donations to the South Carolina members by large companies with a financial interest in the MOX project. Many of these same officials bill themselves as budget hawks, committed to limited federal spending while, at the same time, supporting this multi-billion dollar boondoggle.

Secretary Moniz’s November memo to the president references this difficult history. “While Senate appropriators agree with us, the House appropriators are concerned about alienating the South Carolina delegation.”

One of the concerns raised by Representative Wilson and others is that moving away from the MOX strategy will require re-opening negotiations with Russia, something Wilson told the Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor (behind a paywall) “the U.S. should avoid.” Although the Energy Department acknowledges that US-Russia relations are “complicated,” Moniz’s memo confirms that the Energy Department’s Russian partners “are amenable to discussion.”

POGO is pleased to see the Energy Department formally move away from the MOX program and begin working toward a cheaper, faster, and less risky strategy for disposing this dangerous material.

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Dangerous, pointless nuclear race in East Asia

The plutonium plans of each of the three East Asian countries, reinforced by worst-case assumptions about the intentions of the others, are further destabilizing an increasingly unstable region.

The ultimate goal, however, should be to end the costly, dangerous, pointless industry of plutonium separation. The U.S. has pursued that goal since 1974, when India used plutonium from its nominally civilian breeder reactor development program to launch a nuclear weapons program. Since that time, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other countries have abandoned their reprocessing programs and the United Kingdom has decided to do so as well.

A Little-Known Nuclear Race Taking Place in East Asia Is Dangerous and Pointless 5 Apr 16   Frank von HippelSenior Research Physicist, Emeritus, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University   Fumihiko YoshidaVisiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace   

plutonium238_1Plutonium was first produced and separated during America’s World War II nuclear weapons project. Its destructive power became apparent at the end of the war when, in one-millionth of a second, one kilogram of plutonium in the Nagasaki bomb fissioned and destroyed the city below.

Today, a number of countries — including France and Japan — are separating plutonium from the spent fuel of their reactors and building dangerous stockpiles of this weapon-usable nuclear material with no good economic purpose.

Japan, the only non-nuclear weapons state that separates plutonium today, has accumulated almost 50 metric tons. Last month, Japan shipped more than 700 pounds of mostly weapons-grade plutonium — enough for about 50 nuclear bombs — to a more secure location in the U.S. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been simultaneously pushing through a law to guarantee funding for a new spent fuel “reprocessing” plant designed to separate hundreds of tons of plutonium for use in reactor fuel.

Meanwhile, China’s new five-year plan includes a proposal to buy a reprocessing plant from France that will separate plutonium that will probably accumulate like Japan’s. And South Korea insists that it should have the same right to separate plutonium as Japan.

These plans and desires are troubling. As President Obama said during the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, “We know that just the smallest amount of plutonium — about the size of an apple — could kill hundreds of thousands and spark a global crisis … We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists.”

Nuclear scientists working on weapons in the U.S. during World War II had a vision that plutonium could have a peaceful use. They proposed a plutonium “breeder” reactor that would convert uranium-238 into chain-reacting plutonium whose fission could power civilization for millennia. During the 1960s, this vision infected the global nuclear energy establishment. Since the 1970s, industrialized countries havespent about $100 billion on attempts to commercialize breeder reactors. Fortunately, this effort failed. We now understand the increased dangers of nuclear terrorism and proliferation that would have resulted had plutonium, a nuclear weapons material, become a commodity like petroleum. Conventional reactors are fueled by low-enriched uranium that is not usable in weapons.

In the absence of breeders, however, France has been continuing to separate plutonium and using it to fuel some of its conventional reactors; Japan has been trying less successfully to do the same.

The plutonium-uranium “mixed oxide” fuel produced in this way costs 10 timesmore than the low-enriched uranium that is the primary fuel for conventional reactors. But France’s government insists that Électricité de France continue to fund the bankrupt government-owned company AREVA to separate plutonium from EDF’s spent fuel. Meanwhile, Japan’s government is obliging its utilities to separate more plutonium as well. Globally, including failed plutonium programs in Russia and the United Kingdom, a surplus of more than 250 tons of plutonium — enough for 30,000 Nagasaki-type nuclear weapons — has been accumulated in civilian plutonium programs.

How can one explain the continuing interest in France, Russia, Japan, China and South Korea in separating plutonium? Institutional inertia is most of the answer in France and Russia but, in East Asia, the original use of plutonium — nuclear weapons — is also a factor. In South Korea, demands that the nation should have the right to be able to separate plutonium peak after North Korean nuclear tests. Security experts in Japan also increasingly justify its plutonium program as providing a latent nuclear deterrent against North Korea and China. China’s nuclear energy establishment is still enthralled with breeder reactors, but some analystsworry that China could use the reprocessing plant it plans to buy from France to quickly build up its nuclear weapons stockpile to the same scale as those of Russia and the United States.

The plutonium plans of each of the three East Asian countries, reinforced by worst-case assumptions about the intentions of the others, are further destabilizing an increasingly unstable region.

The United States cannot dictate to any of these countries. But it has a lot of leverage by virtue of being South Korea and Japan’s most important military ally and its agreements on peaceful nuclear cooperation with both.

 The Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of Japan and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy can continue indefinitely, but either country can terminate it starting in 2018. On March 17, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman indicated that the U.S. was planning on using this leverage to force a discussion of Japan’s plutonium program. At the very least, the U.S. should demand that Japan focus on disposing of its already separated plutonium before separating more. After all, Japan’s Toyota invented the “Just-in-Time” system for minimizing inventories.

In the recently completed negotiations over the renewal of the U.S.-Republic of Korea Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, the two countries kicked the issue of South Korea’s demand for the right to reprocess spent fuel down the road by launching a joint 10-year study of the “feasibility” of South Korea’s proposed program.

If the U.S. cannot convince France to hold off selling a reprocessing plant to China, it should at least insist that, as a part of the deal, both countries commit to “just-in-time” plutonium separation — that is, no stockpiling.

The ultimate goal, however, should be to end the costly, dangerous, pointless industry of plutonium separation. The U.S. has pursued that goal since 1974, when India used plutonium from its nominally civilian breeder reactor development program to launch a nuclear weapons program. Since that time, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other countries have abandoned their reprocessing programs and the United Kingdom has decided to do so as well.

The U.S. must continue to press the holdouts.

April 6, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, ASIA, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Would UK government impose Small Nuclear Reactors on communities?

text-SMRsexperts have warned that new power stations must not be imposed on local communities.
the small reactors will fail because they will be overtaken by other technology before they can be built.
Small nuclear reactors were tried and tested in the 1980s. They failed as they were too expensive and reactors became large because of economies of scale.
“Rather than focusing on a plan that revolves around wishing nuclear power will work and things that may well not be operating for decades, the government should be focussing on what works right now. That’s homegrown, renewable power that is falling in cost, smart efficient buildings, and creating connectors with Europe so that we can import and export renewable power when we need to.” 
flag-UKMini nuclear power stations in UK towns move one step closer, Telegraph UK,  Kate McCann, senior political correspondent 2 APRIL 2016  Mini nuclear power stations in towns around the UK have moved a step closer after it emerged the Government is assessing suitable sites to push ahead with a build……….. campaigners are warning the plans could mean communities have new power stations forced on them if suitable sites are identified nearby.The Sunday Telegraph understands that sites in Wales, including the site of a former reactor at Trawsfynydd, and in the North of England where ex-nuclear or coal-fired power stations were stationed are being looked at as possible options.
Other areas including Bradwell, Hartlepool, Heysham, Oldbury, Sizewell, Sellafield and Wylfa are also thought to be possibilities. Small modular reactors are attractive because they can be built in factories and assembled on-site. They take less time to develop than conventional nuclear power stations but they produce much less power – meaning there must be more of them to generate sustainable energy and they must be built close to the communities they serve.

A former Government advisor warned the plans were dropped under the Coalition after pressure from Liberal Democrat Ministers because of fears that communities would reject nuclear power stations close to towns.

But in the Budget in March, George Osborne announced a funding competition to get the industry off the ground in the UK.

The document revealed: “The government is launching the first stage of a competition to identify a small modular nuclear reactor to be built in the UK, and will publish an SMR delivery roadmap later this year. It will also allocate at least £30m of funding for research and development in advanced nuclear  manufacturing.”

A number of companies are already working on plans for the small power stations…………..experts have warned that new power stations must not be imposed on local communities.

Liberal Democrat energy spokesman Lynne Featherstone said: “It is just striking how little regard the Conservatives have for communities around this country, and the ridiculous lengths they’ll go to to avoid positive investment in renewables. Continue reading

April 4, 2016 Posted by | technology, UK | Leave a comment

New design nuclear reactors not happening for a long time (if at all)

Amid a Graying Fleet of Nuclear Plants, a Hunt for Solutions, NYT,  By HENRY FOUNTAIN MARCH 21, 2016“……….The industry and the  Department of Energy are also pinning their hopes on the development of less conventional reactor designs that are meant to be safer and cheaper to build and operate. Yet it is unclear whether any new designs could reach the market in time to make a dent in the generating capacity lost as plants are closed.Some in the industry are bullish, including Southern, which announced in January that it would receive up to $40 million from the Department of Energy to develop an advanced reactor that uses molten salt as a coolant instead of water, which all current designs use.

“Our target is — can we really move the process forward and have a commercial option by 2030?” Mr. Kuczynski said. To do that, he and others say, the pace of the design process, and of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s review process, needs to be sped up.

But some say the shortened timetables are unrealistic, given safety and other concerns and the need to test new designs before seeking approval from the commission.

“It’s a 25-year process, no matter what,” said Michael McGough, the chief commercial officer of NuScale Power, which is the furthest along among companies working on less conventional reactors. NuScale’s design, called asmall modular reactor, uses water as a coolant, but the units are far smaller than current reactors and have advanced safety features. They could be built largely in a factory, saving money, and up to 12 of them could be installed at one site.

Mr. McGough knows all about long timetables; NuScale’s design has been under development since 2000……

Many in the industry hope that extending the licenses of existing reactors will forestall at least some closings. Nuclear plants were originally licensed for 40 years, but almost all have sought and received 20-year extensions.

The regulatory commission has begun researching what would be required to extend a plant’s life to 80 years. “We’re asking very basic questions, like how long can a reactor vessel remain acceptable since it’s being bombarded by neutrons,” said Scott Burnell, a spokesman………

Given the relatively poor economics of nuclear power, however, even if plant could be licensed to operate up to 80 years, the question remains whether it would be financially worthwhile for it to do so, especially if expensive work is required. Skeptics cite two American plants that have been closed for economic reasons since 2012, after their licenses were extended to 60 years.

Similar economic uncertainties surround the latest generation of reactors, the Westinghouse AP1000……..

“What eventually happens with the four AP1000s will be very important,” said Matthew McKinzie, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If the economics of extending the lifetime of a plant to 80 years are poor, then what does that say about the economics of a new plant?”

Critics of nuclear power say that novel designs like molten salt reactors raise new issues, especially regarding safety, that will require much time to evaluate.

“A regulator can’t accept paper studies saying that a reactor is supersafe,” said Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “They need documentation, experimental data.”

“The industry and Department of Energy have this fantasy that you can have some general design-neutral licensing process,” he added………..

March 23, 2016 Posted by | technology, USA | Leave a comment

Rolls Royce touts “football fields” of mini nuclear reactors for Britain

SMR football stadium

The UK’s current plans for a new wave of huge nuclear power stations is spinning out of control. The first, Hinkley Point in Somerset, was set to start generating in 2017 but questions over design and financing of the £18bn, 3,200 megawatt plant have put it years behind schedule.

The scheme was thrown into further doubt earlier this month when the finance director of EDF, the French company which will build Hinkley Point, quit over fears the company’s balance sheet could not withstand the huge costs.

Rolls Royce believes a series of mini reactors – known as “small modular reactors” (SMRs) – are a more viable medium-term solution to Britain’s looming energy crisis, although the first crop of new large reactors will still need to be deployed……..

Rolls has submitted detailed designs to the Government for SMRs capable of generating 220MW, that could be doubled up to 440 megawatts on plants covering 10 football fields ……
Last week’s Budget gave a nod towards the developing SMRs, with the Chancellor pledging £30m for a competition to find the best value designs. – Telegraph UK 19 March 16 

March 20, 2016 Posted by | technology, UK | Leave a comment

Armed UK vessels secretly take weapons grade plutonium from Japan to USA

The Pacific Egret and its escort ship Pacific Heron are reportedly lightly armed UK flagged vessels and arrived in Kobe port from Barrow-in-Furness, England on March 4th. The Egret docked in Tokai for pre-transport logistics last week. Both ships after departing Tokai port will sail together most likely through the South Pacific to the east coast of the United States.

ship radiationNPT and Nuclear Security Risks’ Exposed by Secret Plutonium Shipment: NGOsMarch 18, 2016 Tokyo- (PanOrient News) A coalition of five non-governmental organizations warned today that a shipment of weapons-grade plutonium scheduled to
depart the port of the Japanese Tokai nuclear station in Ibaraki prefecture this coming weekend highlights the failure, but also the proliferation risks, of the current Japanese nuclear policy. 

A cargo of 331kg of plutonium will be loaded on to the Pacific Egret, an armed British nuclear transport ship, prior to departure under armed escort to the United States. It will be the largest shipment of separated plutonium since 1.8 tons of plutonium was delivered to Japan by controversial Akatsuki-maru in 1992. The two month voyage to the Joint Base Charleston-Weapons Station will then see the plutonium dumped at the Department of Energy Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina. The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for the shipment, has identified that storage in Japan poses a security risk justifying its removal.

The organizations, Citizen Nuclear Information Center (Japan); Green Action (Japan); Savannah River Site Watch (U.S.); CORE (England), and Greenpeace, said in a statement they condemn the shipment as a dangerous distraction from the major problem in Japan which is its overall nuclear energy policy, where over 9 tons of plutonium remains stockpiled and there are plans to produce many tons more during the coming decade. The representatives of the five organizations have worked together over the past quarter century against Japan`s plutonium and nuclear fuel cycle program.

 Two-hundred and thirty six kilograms of the Tokai plutonium was supplied to Japan from the UK, with 2 kilograms from France and the remainder from the U.S. for neutronic testing purposes at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency Fast Critical Assembly facility at Tokai-mura in Ibaraki, the statement said noting that the facility has been used as a basis for Japan`s failed fast breeder reactor program, in particular the MONJU reactor.For more than five decades, Japanese nuclear policy has been based on the production and use of plutonium as a nuclear fuel. However, “the failure” of both its breeder program and plans to use plutonium as mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in light water reactors, has led to Japan acquiring the largest stockpile of weapons usable plutonium of any non nuclear weapon state.

For the U.S. and Japanese government, the Tokai shipment will be mistakenly hailed as demonstrating their commitment to reducing the threat from fissile materials, the statement noted. Both Prime Minister Abe and President Obama plan to announce the ‘success’ of the removal from Japan, at the fourth Nuclear Security Summit from March 31st -April 1st in Washington, D.C., while Japan will be desperate to avoid any discussion of the proliferation and security threat posed by its plutonium fuel cycle program.

“If 331 kg of plutonium warrants removal from Japan on the grounds of its vulnerability and in the interests of securing nuclear weapons material, then there is no credible justification for Japan’s current program and future plans to increase its plutonium stockpiling. Hailing a shipment of hundreds of kilograms of plutonium as a triumph for nuclear security, while ignoring over 9 tons of the weapons material stockpiled in Japan and in a region of rising tensions, is not just a failure of nuclear non proliferation and security policy but a dangerous delusion,” said Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, who is currently in Japan. ……..

The Pacific Egret and its escort ship Pacific Heron are reportedly lightly armed UK flagged vessels and arrived in Kobe port from Barrow-in-Furness, England on March 4th. The Egret docked in Tokai for pre-transport logistics last week. Both ships after departing Tokai port will sail together most likely through the South Pacific to the east coast of the United States.

March 19, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, reprocessing, safety, USA, wastes | 1 Comment

Failure of Japanese nuclear reprocessing plan. What to do with all that plutonium?

NPT and Nuclear Security Risks’ Exposed by Secret Plutonium Shipment: NGOs, March 18, 2016 Tokyo- (PanOrient News) “……..In total, Japan`s current stockpile is around 46,700 kg, of which 9,528kg is located in Japan, the remaining balance being stored in France and the UK. The shipment from Tokai port will reduce its stockpile to 9,197 kg. Less than 8kg is sufficient for one nuclear weapon. While the Tokai shipment consists of weapons grade plutonium, and the vast bulk of Japan`s remaining stockpile is designated reactor-grade plutonium, from a security and non proliferation perspective there is no practical distinction and reactor-grade plutonium is capable of being used for the manufacture of nuclear weapons — a point highlighted by Shigeru Ishiba, a former Liberal Democratic Party Defense Minister, when speaking in 2011 described Japan`s nuclear energy program as “a tacit nuclear deterrent”, the statement said.

Sellafield-reprocessingTwo reactors, Takahama 3 and 4, owned by Kansai Electric, began operation in January and February 2016 loaded with plutonium MOX fuel, with unit 3 operating with 24 assemblies containing 1,088kg of plutonium and unit 4 with 4 assemblies containing 184kg of plutonium. Unit 4 shutdown due to an electrical failure three days after start up, while unit 3 was forced to shutdown on March 10th following a court order. Both reactors remain shutdown and are subject of a court injunction preventing operation issued by the Otsu district court, Shiga prefecture on March 9th. They are expected to be non operational for many months. Of the 26 reactors under review by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), Ikata-3, Genkai-3 and Tomari-3 are all intended to operate with plutonium MOX fuel.

“On current plans, and if ever the Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant begins operation, Japan`s program could yield as much as 93,000kg by 2025 – most of which will remain unused. The reactor program in Japan is in crisis with no credible program for either restarting most reactors or using large amounts of this plutonium. If ever there was a time to abandon its current doomed nuclear energy policy, it is now. The Obama administration in its last year has an opportunity to step up and actively reduce the spiraling proliferation dynamic in East Asia – this should be top of the agenda in Washington instead of being ignored. The next step is to challenge the basis of the U.S.-Japan nuclear cooperation agreement which runs to 2018 – approval for Japan to continue acquiring plutonium must be reversed,” said Burnie.

The Department of Energy has no plans for final disposal of the Japanese plutonium, which will be added to the existing stockpile of 13 tons at the SRS, demonstrating that the shipment is largely a commercial dumping operation to secure funds for the beleaguered weapons material production site near Aiken, South Carolina, as pointed out by Savannah River Site Watch, the organizations said…….  .

March 19, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, reprocessing, wastes | Leave a comment

NASA and Rosatom want nuclear rockets to take astronauts to Mars

Nasa wants to use nuclear rockets to get to Mars: Space agency claims the technique is ‘most effective way’ of reaching red planet

  • Nuclear propulsion weighs almost half as much as a chemical rocket
  • Nasa is also are planning to build rockets powered by nuclear fission
  • They hope it could be used to carry astronauts to the red planet in 2033
  • Follows news this week that Russia plans to test a nuclear engine in 2018


Nuclear thermal propulsion is ‘the most effective’ way of sending humans to Mars.

That’s according to Nasa administrator and former astronaut, Charles Bolden, who made the statement when speaking to Congress this week.    

‘We are on a journey to Mars and most people believe that, in the end, nuclear thermal propulsion will be the most effective form of propulsion to get there,’ he said.

Kiriyenko--tsarHe didn’t, however, expand on details on how quickly Nasa hoped the technology could get astronauts to Mars.  ……..’A nuclear power unit makes it possible to reach Mars in a matter of one to one and a half months, providing capability for manoeuvring and acceleration,’ Sergey Kirienko, head of Rosatom told RT .

March 19, 2016 Posted by | Russia, technology, USA | Leave a comment

USA worried about weapons proliferation risks in China’s Nuclear Recycling plan

China’s Plans to Recycle Nuclear Fuel Raise Concerns U.S. energy secretary airs worries about proliferation risks ahead of nuclear-security summit  WSJ, By BRIAN SPEGELE, 17 MAR 16,  BEIJING—China’s plans to process spent nuclear fuel into plutonium that could be used in weapons is drawing concern from the U.S. that Beijing is heightening the risk of nuclear proliferation.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, in Beijing for talks, said Thursday that China’s plans to build a nuclear-recycling facility present challenges to global efforts to control the spread of potentially dangerous materials……..

Mr. Moniz’s comments marked a rare public expression by the Obama administration of concern over China’s reprocessing plans. The differences, which the governments have discussed privately, are being aired ahead of a visit by President Xi Jinping to Washington this month for a summit with President Barack Obama and other world leaders on nuclear security.

The issue comes down to the different choices countries make over how to handle potentially dangerous waste created by commercial nuclear reactors. In the U.S., spent fuel is treated as sensitive material and is stored, and reprocessing is banned out of proliferation concerns.

Elsewhere, including in France and Japan, spent fuel is recycled to extract plutonium to be used in nuclear reactors. The U.S.’s concern is that the bigger the stockpiles of plutonium, the higher the risk that some of it could be refined for use in nuclear weapons or taken by terrorists……

U.S. concerns about nuclear reprocessing and proliferation are particularly acute in the Asia-Pacific region, “where the perception is there is less international cooperation, less transparency,” said Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace………

larger Chinese stockpiles of isolated plutonium could prompt Japan, especially, to build up its caches.

Civilian plutonium stockpiles reached 271 metric tons by the end of 2014, up from around 150 metric tons in the 1990s, the International Panel on Fissile Materials, an independent group looking at nonproliferation policy, said in its latest annual report.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported in September that construction of China’s reprocessing facility may start in 2020 and take a decade to complete. The project is expected to have a processing capacity of 800 metric tons of spent fuel a year…..

Previously, the U.S. has questioned the economic viability of such projects, which are expensive to build and operate, as well as proliferation issues, Ernest Moniz said……

Mr. Hibbs from the Carnegie center said China’s decision to pursue reprocessing couldn’t be justified on economic or commercial grounds, given the billions of dollars needed to construct one large-scale facility. But China may be acting strategically, guaranteeing future fuel supply by recycling, he added.

Last June, state-owned China National Nuclear Corp. and France’sAreva SA agreed to speed up negotiations on building the facility. Areva didn’t respond to a request for comment on Mr. Moniz’s remarks and CNNC said its press officers weren’t available.

Write to Brian Spegele at

March 18, 2016 Posted by | China, politics international, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Dead nuclear reactors floating in space – a hazard for the future

Dozens of dead nuclear reactors are floating in space and they’ll eventually hit the Earth
Rebecca Harrington  
At the height of our adoration of atomic energy, space agencies experimented with launching nuclear-powered spacecraft into orbit around the Earth.

It makes sense if you think about it.

Radioactive materials, like uranium-235, can power a tiny satellite for years. They’re more reliable than batteries and provide more energy than solar panels.

But back then, space-faring nations weren’t as concerned with radioactive waste. Nuclear disasters like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl hadn’t happened yet, and now we’re much more worried about radiation exposure.

That’s why the last nuclear-powered satellite, launched by the Soviet Union, blasted into orbit in 1988.

More than 30 different nuclear reactor-powered satellites still orbit the Earth. The US only ever launched one while the USSR launched all the rest.

Those nuclear reactors are similar to the ones in nuclear power plants on the ground. Uranium-235 undergoes fission, where its nucleus splits, giving off energy. This energy can be converted into electricity to power satellite instruments, or your house.

America’s uranium-fueled SNAP-10A entered into an orbit of 575 miles above the Earth in 1965. It operated for 43 days before it stopped responding. It’s now in a slow trajectory to hit the ground in about 3,000 years. By then, hopefully its radioactive cargo will be mostly harmless.

But if any of these nuclear reactor-powered satellites collide with another object in space, or suddenly crash to the ground, they could release radioactivity.

The Soviet Union had a few such mishaps since it launched all those nuclear satellites. In 1978, its spy satellite COSMOS 954 crashed into the Northwest Territories, scattering radioactivity across almost 48,000 square miles. Russia had to pay Canada $10 million for the damage.

And in 1995, NASA scientists found a cloud of liquid, radioactive sodium and potassium coolant in orbit. The space agency eventually figured out it came from the Soviet satellite Cosmos 1900. Something else in space crashed into it, causing the nuclear reactor to leak. The cloud of radioactive fluids is still floating up there, and space agencies continue to monitor it.

The good news is that all these dead nuclear reactor-powered satellites are in orbits higher than 430 miles. There’s barely any air molecules at that height to slow down the satellites, so it should take them hundreds or thousands of years to wind their way back to Earth — at which point much of their radioactive contents will have significantly decayed.

But NASA and Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, are reportedly looking into building nuclear engines again: This time they want to build hyper-efficient rockets that might one day take humans to Mars.

If this sounds like science fiction, it’s not. NASA built several perfectly functional nuclear rocket engines from 1955 through 1973.

Here’s one called NERVA being test-fired in the desert:

Those programs ended abruptly, however, because of environmental and budget concerns.

It remains to be seen if NASA or Roscosmos can keep funding, public support, and safety moving in its favor.

March 11, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment


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