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The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Failure of Japan’s 20 year, costly, nuclear reprocessing project

en-433551-thumbx300-monjuCostly Japanese prototype nuclear reactor shuts down  http://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2016/09/costly-japanese-prototype-nuclear-reactor-shuts-down/ By Jack Loughran, September 21, 2016

The Monju nuclear reactor in Japan, which has operated for less than a year in more than two decades at a cost of 1tn yen (£7.6bn), is set to be scrapped. The prototype fast-breeder reactor was designed to burn plutonium from spent fuel at conventional reactors to create more fuel than it consumes.

The process is appealing to a country whose limited resources force it to rely on imports for virtually all its oil and gas needs.

But Tokyo believes it would be difficult to gain public support to spend several hundred billion yen to upgrade the Monju facility, which has been plagued by accidents, missteps and falsification of documents.

There is also a strong anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan in reaction to the 2011 Fukushima atomic disaster, and calls to decommission Monju have been growing in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, with scant results from using around 20 billion yen of public money a year for maintenance alone.

Science Minister Hirokazu Matsuno, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko and others had decided to shift policy away from developing Monju, a fast-breeder nuclear reactor in the west of the country, the government said.

They had also agreed to keep the nuclear fuel cycle intact and would set up a committee to decide a policy for future fast-breeder development by the end of the year.

A formal decision to decommission Monju is likely to be made by the end of the year, government officials said.

The decision would have no impact on Japan’s nuclear recycling policy as Tokyo would continue to co-develop a fast-breeder demonstration reactor that has been proposed in France, while research will continue at another experimental fast-breeder reactor, Joyo, which was a predecessor of Monju.

“The move will not have an impact on nuclear fuel balance or nuclear fuel cycle technology development or Japan’s international cooperation,” said Tomoko Murakami, nuclear energy manager at the country’s Institute of Energy Economics.

Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan had planned to build a commercial fast-breeder before 2050, but according to the International Energy Agency that project may be delayed, given the difficulties at Monju.

The fallout from the Fukushima disaster is continuing. Specialised robots have been developed to retrieve some of the radioactive material from the ill-fated plant but they have been repeatedly unable to complete their task because the high levels of radiation destroys their circuitry.

September 23, 2016 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Nuclear reprocessing a failure as a method of dealing with radioactive wastes

Where will SA put lethal nuclear waste?, BD Live, BY NEIL OVERY  SEPTEMBER 20 2016, “……THE UK’s Thorp reprocessing plant, built at great cost in the 1990s, is due to close in 2018, leaving a decommissioning nightmare estimated to take at least 100 years to complete, at huge cost. In Japan, the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, which was due to open in 2008 at a cost of R100bn, has yet to open and has so far cost nearly R400bn over a 26-year period.

France, the only country that reprocesses nuclear fuel on a significant scale, has only been able to do so because of a huge subsidy from the state-owned energy company, EDF.

Despite initial hopes, a large quantity of highly radioactive waste that still needs disposing remains after processing. There are also serious security considerations, because reprocessing high-level waste results in the creation of separated plutonium, which could be stolen and worked into a simple, dirty bomb. The very existence of separated plutonium eases nuclear proliferation.

Nuclear proponents often champion so-called “fast reactors” as a different form of reprocessing that could solve the waste problem. These reactors are designed to burn more plutonium than they breed.

But after 50 years of research and vast expense, not one has operated commercially due to the high costs associated with running them and the fact that they still produce significant quantities of high-level waste that needs disposal. Due to these chronic limitations, most have closed down.

The Kalkar fast reactor in Germany, which cost R100bn to build, never operated and was sold at a huge loss in 1995 and converted into an amusement park.

The US National Academy of Sciences stated in 2008 that the reprocessing of nuclear fuel makes nuclear energy “more expensive, more proliferation-prone and more controversial”……

The US has tried, and after spending the equivalent of R1.4-trillion, has given up. In 2002, Yucca Mountain in Nevada was identified as the site for an underground repository for high-level waste. Despite tens of thousands of pages of scientific research and countless investigations, no agreement has been reached about whether it is safe to store high-level nuclear waste underground. The site was closed in 2011 by the Obama administration.

In Onkalo, Finland, a R75bn underground repository is being built, despite significant opposition.

Similar options are being considered in the UK, France and Sweden.

No one knows, however, if waste can be stored safely underground for tens of thousands of years…….. http://www.bdlive.co.za/opinion/2016/09/20/where-will-sa-put-lethal-nuclear-waste

September 21, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

America giving up on the Mixed Oxide Nuclear Fuel (MOX) boondoggle

“The first question I asked was why if she mistakenly skipped over MOX. This is the largest federal construction project in the nation right now,” Jameson said. “The answer was no. She [National Nuclear Administration Principal Deputy Administrator Madelyn Creedon ]said they left it out on purpose, that they’re trying to get rid of it so they weren’t going to talk about it.”

to box up the project and move to another method of plutonium disposal known as dilute and dispose.

The NNSA has said the alternative is cheaper, citing life-cycle costs of MOX in the $50 billion to $60 billion range.

MOXAiken official: Savannah River Site’s MOX purposefully left out of NNSA discussion http://www.aikenstandard.com/article/20160914/AIK0101/160919745 Thomas Gardiner  Email  @TGardiner_AS  The speaker from the National Nuclear Security Administration at the Energy Communities Alliance meeting in Arlington, Virginia, this week intentionally snubbed the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, or MOX, under construction at the Savannah River Site, one Aiken official said.

Due to its relation to the Site, Aiken has delegate members that make up the ECA, an organization of local governments adjacent to or affected by Department of Energy activities that meet to discuss issues, establish policy positions and promote community interests.

On Tuesday, Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Jameson and Aiken County Councilman Chuck Smith were both in attendance, where National Nuclear Administration Principal Deputy Administrator Madelyn Creedon addressed NNSA projects nationwide.

But Jameson said even with Smith, who is the current ECA chairman, seated just down the table from her, Creedon deliberately passed over the MOX project.

“The first question I asked was why if she mistakenly skipped over MOX. This is the largest federal construction project in the nation right now,” Jameson said. “The answer was no. She said they left it out on purpose, that they’re trying to get rid of it so they weren’t going to talk about it.”

Nearly $5 billion has been poured into the monolithic building thus far, setting the stage for ripe political debate.

Legislators that include U.S. Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., along with U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., have battled the NNSA and the Obama administration, who have driven for months to box up the project and move to another method of plutonium disposal known as dilute and dispose.

The NNSA has said the alternative is cheaper, citing life-cycle costs of MOX in the $50 billion to $60 billion range.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz mirrored Creedon’s presentation this week with his own comments at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Moniz said, “We are in no man’s land, where we spend enough money to not get anywhere. There is no way that Congress is going to commit to spending a billion dollars a year for half a century to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium.”

MOX is part of a plutonium disposal agreement with Russia inked in 2000. In the interest of non-proliferation, the two nations bilaterally agreed to destroy or disposition plutonium that would never again be usable in nuclear weapons.

According to Congressional testimony by Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator Retired Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, USAF in May, the Obama administration wants to move away from MOX to the dilute and dispose method, which doesn’t change the physical properties or chemical makeup of the plutonium, without getting approval of the Russians

Reports in Russian media said President Vladimir Putin sees the move to dilute and dispose as being outside of the agreement.

Moniz responded to Russian complications at the Carnegie Endowment.

“We do have a few other issues to deal with Russia at this time, and it’s maybe not the most (favorable) time for that question, as President Putin has pointed out,” he said.

Meanwhile, Congress is currently funding MOX at about $350 million a year, which, according to the NNSA, is enough to keep the construction going, even if it is at a trickle. Funding for 2017 is not yet official but is included in all versions of the National Defense Authorization Act bill for the year. That bill is in inter-chamber conference, and legislators are hopeful it will be brought to the floor next week.

Nearly $5 billion has been poured into the monolithic building thus far, setting the stage for ripe political debate.

Legislators that include U.S. Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., along with U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., have battled the NNSA and the Obama administration, who have driven for months to box up the project and move to another method of plutonium disposal known as dilute and dispose.

The NNSA has said the alternative is cheaper, citing life-cycle costs of MOX in the $50 billion to $60 billion range.

Life-cycle costs, however, are estimates from the time ground is broken until the mission is completed and the building’s purpose has been fulfilled entirely. Those costs can change drastically over time, especially considering what Jameson called the “slow-build” approach.

“I like to look at it this way,” Jameson said. “My wife and I were married 39 years ago. I know about how much our bills are, like mortgage payments, electricity, car payments and so on. Our wedding cost about $4,000 then, but would you ever say that the life-cycle cost of our wedding was $1.2 million?”

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz mirrored Creedon’s presentation this week with his own comments at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Moniz said, “We are in no man’s land, where we spend enough money to not get anywhere. There is no way that Congress is going to commit to spending a billion dollars a year for half a century to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium.”

MOX is part of a plutonium disposal agreement with Russia inked in 2000. In the interest of non-proliferation, the two nations bilaterally agreed to destroy or disposition plutonium that would never again be usable in nuclear weapons.

According to Congressional testimony by Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator Retired Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, USAF in May, the Obama administration wants to move away from MOX to the dilute and dispose method, which doesn’t change the physical properties or chemical makeup of the plutonium, without getting approval of the Russians.

Reports in Russian media said President Vladimir Putin sees the move to dilute and dispose as being outside of the agreement.

Moniz responded to Russian complications at the Carnegie Endowment.

“We do have a few other issues to deal with Russia at this time, and it’s maybe not the most (favorable) time for that question, as President Putin has pointed out,” he said.

 

Meanwhile, Congress is currently funding MOX at about $350 million a year, which, according to the NNSA, is enough to keep the construction going, even if it is at a trickle. Funding for 2017 is not yet official but is included in all versions of the National Defense Authorization Act bill for the year. That bill is in inter-chamber conference, and legislators are hopeful it will be brought to the floor next week.

 

Thomas Gardiner covers energy, science and health topics for the Aiken Standard.

September 17, 2016 Posted by | reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Britain’s national disgrace: nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield

The National Audit Office (NAO) stated these tanks pose “significant risks to people and the
environment”. One official review published in The Lancet concluded that, at worst, an explosive release from the tanks could kill two million Britons and require the evacuation of an area reaching from Glasgow to Liverpool. These dangerous tanks have also been the subject of repeated complaints from Ireland and Norway who fear their countries could be contaminated if explosions or fires were to occur.

In short, the practice of reprocessing at Sellafield has been and remains a monumental national disgrace.

Sellafield-reprocessing

Especially serious are the ~20 large holding tanks at Sellafield containing thousands of litres of extremely radiotoxic fission products. Discussing these tanks, the previous management consortium Nuclear Management Partners stated in 2012:

“there is a mass of very hazardous [nuclear] waste onsite in storage conditions that are extraordinarily vulnerable, and in facilities that are well past their designated life.”

most of all, we should recognize that nuclear policies, in both weapons and energy, have poorly served the nation.


sellafield-2011Sellafield exposed: the nonsense of nuclear fuel reprocessing
 
http://www.theecologist.org/reviews/2988095/sellafield_exposed_the_nonsense_of_nuclear_fuel_reprocessing.html  Ian Fairlie  6th September 2016   Last night’s BBC Panorama programme did a good job at lifting the lid on Britain’s ongoing nuclear disaster that is Sellafield, writes Ian Fairlie. But it failed to expose the full scandal of the UK’s ‘reprocessing’ of spent fuel into 50 tonnes of plutonium, enough to build 20,000 nuclear bombs – while leaving £100s of billions of maintenance and cleanup costs to future generations.

Many readers will have seen the interesting Panorama programme on the poor safety record at Sellafield broadcast on BBC1 last night.

The BBC press release stated this was a “special investigation into the shocking state of Britain’s most hazardous nuclear plant” – and it certainly was.

The most important of several whistleblower revelations was that the previous US managers had been shocked at the state of the plant when they took over its running in 2008.

Although the programme producers are to be congratulated for tackling the subject, it was only 30 minutes long and tells only a fragment of the whole sorry story.

This article tries to give more background information, and importantly, more analysis and explanation. The full story would require several books, and provide exceedingly painful reading.

What is reprocessing for? Continue reading

September 7, 2016 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, UK, wastes | Leave a comment

The end of the line for Japan’s super expensive nuclear reprocessing project?

Monju has drifted on for years after its future was clearly in doubt. A decision now to terminate the project seems sensible. Such a decision should also prompt the government to stop and consider whether its nuclear fuel cycle still makes sense.

fast-breeder-Monju


flag-japanMonju and the nuclear fuel cycle
 http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2016/09/04/editorials/monju-nuclear-fuel-cycle/#.V8yFTFt97Gg Media reports that the government is finally weighing whether to pull the plug on the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, due to the massive cost needed to restart the long-dormant facility, should come as no surprise. Once touted as a “dream reactor” for an energy-scarce country that produces more plutonium than it consumes as fuel, Monju has been a nightmare for national nuclear power policy for the past two decades.

The sole prototype reactor for this kind of technology has been in operation a mere 250 days since it first reached criticality in 1994. It has mostly been offline since a 1995 sodium coolant leak and fire. Its government-backed operator has been declared unfit by nuclear power regulators to run the trouble-prone reactor, and the education and science ministry, in charge of the project, has not been able to find a viable solution.

More than ¥1 trillion in taxpayer money has so far been spent on Monju, and maintenance alone costs ¥20 billion a year. Restarting the reactor under the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s new safety standards would cost another several hundred billion yen, including the expense of replacing its long-unused fuel as well as its aging components — though there would still be no guarantee that it would complete its mission of commercializing fast-breeder reactor technology.

The Abe administration may think that writing off the ill-fated costly project, even with the projected ¥300 billion cost of decommissioning the facility over 30 years, will help win more public support for its policy of seeking to reactivate the nation’s conventional reactors — most of which remain idled in the wake of the 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No. 1 plant — once they’ve cleared the NRA screening. Public concerns over the safety of nuclear energy remain strong after the Fukushima disaster, with media surveys showing a large portion of respondents still opposed putting the idled reactors back online.

If it is going to decide to decommission the Monju reactor, however, the government should also rethink its pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle — in which spent fuel from nuclear power plants is reprocessed to extract plutonium for reuse as fuel. Monju, which runs on plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, has been a core component of the program. As Monju remained dormant for more than 20 years, the government and power companies have shifted the focus of the policy to using MOX fuel at regular nuclear power plants. The No. 3 reactor at Shikoku Electric Power’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture, which resumed operation in August, runs on MOX fuel. The government apparently thinks the Monju program is no longer essential to the policy.

But the nuclear fuel cycle itself has proven elusive, and some say the policy has already collapsed. It is still nowhere in sight when the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture — another key component in the program and whose construction began in 1993 — will be ready for operation.

After its scheduled completion in 1997 has been delayed by more than 20 times due to a series of technical glitches and other problems, its construction cost has ballooned three times the original projection to ¥2.2 trillion.

If indeed the Rokkasho facility is completed and starts reprocessing spent fuel from power plants across the country, the Ikata power plant is currently the only one in operation that consumes plutonium-uranium fuel. It’s not clear how many more will be up and running in the years ahead given the slow pace of restarting the idled reactors, and the Rokkasho facility operating without a sufficient number of reactors using MOX fuel would only add to Japan’s stockpile of unused plutonium — which has already hit 48 tons.

If it’s the cost problem that’s finally spelling doom for the Monju project, the government and power companies should also consider the cost-efficiency of the nuclear fuel cycle program, including the extra cost of reprocessing spent fuel into MOX fuel. They should also think about whether the program is compatible with the government’s stated policy — though its commitment may be in doubt — of seeking to reduce Japan’s dependency on nuclear power as an energy source.

Monju has drifted on for years after its future was clearly in doubt. A decision now to terminate the project seems sensible. Such a decision should also prompt the government to stop and consider whether its nuclear fuel cycle still makes sense.

September 5, 2016 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Monju: the failing nuclear reprocessing dream

Nuclear Holy Grail Slips Away From Japan With Operator Elusive http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-31/nuclear-holy-grail-slips-away-from-japan-with-operator-elusive  sstapczynski  

  • Japan to pick a new operator for Monju fast-breeder reactor
  • The prototype plant has cost more than $9 billion amid delays

Japan is missing its own deadline to find a new operator for a prototype nuclear power program that’s failed to succeed in the two decades since it was built, threatening the resource-poor country’s support of a technology other nations have abandoned.

fast-breeder-Monju

The country’s nuclear regulator demanded in November a replacement for the government-backed Japan Atomic Energy Agency be found within six months for the Monju fast-breeder reactor. Monju, which has functioned for less than a year since its completion more than 20 years ago, now faces the possibility of being scrapped.

The so-called fast-breeder reactor — a cornerstone of its atomic energy strategy dating back to the 1950s — uses spent nuclear fuel from other plants and is designed to produce more atomic fuel that it consumes. The reactor, named after the Buddhist deity of wisdom, has cost the nation more than 1 trillion yen ($9 billion) and has barely operated since it first generated electricity in 1995.

 “The potential closure of Monju would be a major blow not just to the fast-breeder community in Japan, but also those supporting reprocessing of spent fuel,” M. V. Ramana, a professor at Princeton University’s Nuclear Futures Laboratory, said by e-mail. “I wonder if the government will allow Monju to be shut down? I would expect that they will simply create a new agency to oversee Monju.”

1950s Strategy

Monju is currently operated by the JAEA, a quasi-government organization that is under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. JAEA declined to comment. The nation’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, didn’t respond to e-mailed questions regarding the status of Monju.

“We don’t have plans to decommission the reactor,” said Hiroki Takaya, director of the ministry’s International Nuclear and Fusion Energy Affairs Division, which oversees Monju. “We are exploring many different options for who will operate the reactor — either a new entity or an existing company.”

The NRA said in November the science ministry must find a new operator or consider closure. The ministry drafted a set of criteria for a new operator, but have yet to name a replacement, it said on May 27. The ministry hopes to find an operator as soon as possible, but hasn’t set a concrete deadline.

 “These turn out to be very expensive technologies to build,” Allison MacFarlane, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said by e-mail. “Many countries have tried over and over. What is truly impressive is that these many governments continue to fund a demonstrably failed technology.”

June 1, 2016 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | 1 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.

nuclear-dream-1

‘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

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  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-von-hippel/nuclear-race-asia_b_9609116.html 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

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.http://www.panorientnews.com/en/news.php?k=2485

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…….  .http://www.panorientnews.com/en/news.php?k=2485

March 19, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, reprocessing, wastes | 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 brian.spegele@wsj.com   http://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-plans-to-recycle-nuclear-fuel-raise-concerns-1458228504

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

PRISM and Pyropressing – untested , toxic and dangerous new nuclear toys

PRISMPRISM BURNS AND BREEDS PLUTONIUM MIXED WITH URANIUM AND ZIRCONIUM, THE MOST TOXIC AND DANGEROUS MAN MADE ELEMENT ON EARTH

What the pro nuclear apologists don’t talk about is just as important as what they do focus on. Because the PRISM reactor requires a mixed fuel, which has not yet been perfected and must still be ‘designed’ and experimented with, this reactor also requires a very dangerous pyroprocessing technique, which requires huge amounts of energy and must be done remotely, because it so toxic and radioactive.  To create the fuel to burn in nuclear reactors required building two massive coal fired plants that were dedicated just to running Savannah River nuclear fuels site. How much energy will this ‘new’ fuel processing technique take, and how many coal fired plants must be dedicated to it?
 pyroreprocessing
The technical challenges include the fact that it would require converting the plutonium powder into a metal alloy, with uranium and zirconium. This would be a large-scale industrial activity on its own that would create “a likely large amount of plutonium-contaminated salt waste,” Simper said.
Now PRISM requires the making of radioactive fuel as well, which must also be ‘manufactured’ using even more toxic and dangerous processes than what has come before. PRISM does not burn pure plutonium, as it requires a ‘mix’ of things, which must be manufactured, in a process that has not yet been perfected. The processing and burning of plutonium, will release plutonium into the environment, guaranteed.
http://agreenroad.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/prism-liquid-sodium-cooled-small.html

February 15, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

The decline of the South Carolina Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication (MOX) Nuclear Reprocessing Facility

MOXHalf-Built Nuclear Fuel Plant in South Carolina Faces Test on Its Future, NYT, By JAMES RISEN FEB. 8, 2016 WASHINGTON — Time may finally be running out on the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, a multibillion-dollar, over-budget federal project that has been hard to kill.

The Energy Department has already spent about $4.5 billion on the half-built plant near Aiken, S.C., designed to make commercial reactor fuel out of plutonium from nuclear bombs. New estimates place the ultimate cost of the facility at between $9.4 billion and $21 billion, and the outlay for the overall program, including related costs, could go as high as $30 billion.

Officials warn that the delays in the so-called MOX program are so bad that the plant may not be ready to turn the first warhead into fuel until 2040.

So in the budget that the Obama administration will present on Tuesday, the Energy Department proposes abandoning it. Energy officials want to spend only the money necessary to wind down the MOX program while the government shifts to a different method of disposing of the plutonium……..

The struggle is a case study in the difficulty of cutting unnecessary or wasteful federal programs, with the added twist that proponents of keeping the plant include some of the Republican Party’s most determined opponents of government spending, like Representative Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican whose district includes Aiken……..

Two companies involved with the plant’s construction are among Mr. Wilson’s biggest contributors, according to campaign records. Chicago Bridge and Iron, one of the two companies that own the main contractor for the facility, gave $10,000 to Mr. Wilson’s 2014 re-election campaign, and the other owner, Areva Group, donated $8,000, according to campaign records.

“Programs like this stay in the budget when they become jobs programs, and then senior members of Congress try to protect them, even if they have no redeeming value,” said David Hobson, a former Republican congressman from Ohio who said he tried and failed to kill the MOX program while he was in the House. “Where are all the budget hawks on this?”……..

The Obama administration has wanted to get rid of the program for years. In a budget request three years ago, it said the idea of making reactor fuel “may be unaffordable.” But Congress has repeatedly restored funding.

The plant is being built to comply with an agreement with Russia in 2000, when both countries said they would eliminate 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium from their nuclear arsenals. Construction started during the George W. Bush administration, but has been plagued by long delays, cost overruns and little interest from commercial nuclear plants in buying the fuel that the plant was designed to produce.

Even proponents of the program have long said the Energy Department badly managed it………..

Giving up on the plant means the administration will abandon plans to turn the weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors, and will instead switch to a process that dilutes the plutonium into nuclear waste.

The Energy Department would like to move that nuclear waste to a facility near Carlsbad, N.M., where it would be stored deep underground in salt formations. The administration says it can get rid of the weapons material under the alternative approach for about $300 million to $400 million a year, compared with $800 million to $1 billion a year under MOX………. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/us/politics/half-built-nuclear-fuel-plant-in-south-carolina-faces-test-on-its-future.html?_r=0

February 10, 2016 Posted by | reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Nuclear waste repositary still needed: reprocessing is no answer to radioactive trash problem

EU paints challenging picture of Europe’s nuclear future, Energy  Post. February 2, 2016 by  “……….Limited prospects for recycling nuclear fuel

France is the only country in Europe that is still working towards a fully closed fuel cycle with fast neutron reactors and advanced reprocessing technology. Other countries use open cycles.

France will be the only country to operate reprocessing facilities after 2018 (when those in the UK are shut down). The partially closed cycle that technology currently permits “is not expected to give a major reduction of the final disposal solution footprint in comparison to an open cycle”.

The future of recycled nuclear fuel is limited by the lack of fast-breeder reactors, more safety requirements, a higher risk of proliferation, lower competitiveness, and the fact that it still requires a final waste depository……. http://www.energypost.eu/exclusive-eu-paints-challenging-picture-europes-nuclear-future/

nuclear-chain-not-cycle

February 3, 2016 Posted by | EUROPE, reprocessing | Leave a comment