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How much did USA’s failed plutonium project cost? Now a giveaway sale of MOX equipment

  • U.S. conversion factory’s equipment is on the auction block
  • After $8 billion spent, critics see sale at ‘giveaway prices’

Need some parts for a nuclear plant? The government has a few to spare.

Electrical transformers, motors, and pieces of special glove boxes designed to safely handle radioactive material are available as the government auctions off equipment from a now-abandoned nuclear project that was supposed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.

The online fire sale, which ended Thursday evening, is part of an effort to recoup some of the nearly $8 billion taxpayers spent on the so-called Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in Aiken, South Carolina, which sits partially finished.

The Trump administration pulled the plug on the project in 2018 following years of ballooning cost estimates and delays. Envisioned in 1999 with a price-tag of $620 million, it swelled to nearly $48 billion with an estimated completion date in the 2040s. Metric tons of plutonium transferred to the site for conversion remain there.

The thousands of items up for grabs are in their original packaging and “present a rare opportunity to acquire brand new equipment that is top nuclear grade,” said Diana Peterson, president of the auction company AW Properties Global, which has been awarded the subcontract to sell off the goods.

Plutonium Handling

Among the items are 101 pallets of glove box assembly kits — sealed boxes with two arm-length gloves attached to holes in the side, used to handle plutonium and other radioactive materials. The high bid was $20,000 as of Thursday afternoon.

A pair of 3,750 kilo-volt-ampere transformers is going for $70,000. Also available are 300,000 pounds of ventilation equipment, as well as reams of switches, control panels, valves, and electrical equipment.

To critics, the sale is a fitting capstone to a project they say has been beset by waste from the start.

“This give-away sale of equipment from the MOX debacle highlights the massive waste of money spent on equipment that was stockpiled willy-nilly just to spend annual budgets and enrich contractors,” said Tom Clements, director of Savannah River Site Watch, a non-profit public-interest group that monitors work at the sprawling site that made nuclear bomb materials in the 1950s.

There should be a “full accounting to the public about how much was spent on stockpiled MOX equipment, how much has been given away or scrapped, and how much is being sold at pennies on the dollar,” Clements said.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, the Energy Department arm responsible for the site, said the auction was being held in accordance with all government property regulations.

“Any inventory that could not be reused by our government, is going to auction as part of our commitment to recapitalize project value,” the agency said in a statement.

(Adds comment from NNSA in final two paragraphs.)

June 22, 2020 Posted by | - plutonium, business and costs, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Radioactive waste imported from Estonia for iconic Bears Ears, Utah?

Radioactive Waste May Be Dumped Near Bears Ears—Public Comments Requested https://www.adventure-journal.com/2020/06/radioactive-waste-may-be-dumped-near-bears-ears-public-comments-requested/    BY JUSTIN HOUSMAN   |   JUNE 3, 2020

June 6, 2020 Posted by | reprocessing, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

The Mayak nuclear reprocessing plant: Rosatom’s dirty face- and the courageous opposition

Anti–nuclear resistance in Russia: problems, protests, reprisals [Full Report 2020]    Report “Anti–nuclear resistance in Russia: problems, protests, reprisals” Produced by RSEU’s program “Against nuclear and radioaсtive threats”
Published: Saint Petersburg, Russia, 2020
“………The Mayak plant: Rosatom’s dirty face
The Mayak plant in the Chelyabinsk region is a nuclear waste reprocessing facility, arguably one of the places most negatively affected by the Russian nuclear industry. Firstly, radioactive waste was dumped into the Techa river from 1949 to 2004, which has been admitted by the company. According to subsequent reports by the local organisation For Nature however, the dumping has since been ongoing. (37)
 As a result, 35 villages around the river were evacuated and destroyed. Secondly, the explosion at the plant in 1957, known as the Kyshtym tragedy, is among the 20th century’s worst nuclear accidents. (38)
• One of the first organisations that raised the problem of radiation pollution in the Ural region was the Movement for Nuclear Safety , formed in 1989. During its work, the Movement was engaged in raising awareness, social protection of the affected population, and publishing dozens of reports. (39)
After unprecedented pressure and persecution, the organisation’s leader, Natalia Mironova, was forced to emigrate to the United States in 2013.
• Since 2000, another non–governmental organisation, Planet of Hope, has held thousands of consultations with affected citizens. Nadezhda Kutepova, a lawyer and head of the organisation, won more than 70 cases in defence of Mayak victims, including 2 cases in the European Court of Human Rights (40). However, some important cases have still not been resolved. These include 2nd generation victims, cases involving pregnant women who were affected during liquidation, as well as the many schoolchildren of Tatarskaya Karabolka village who were sent to harvest the contaminated crop after the accident. (41)
The state and Rosatom have reacted against the actions of Nadezhda Kutepova, persecuting both her and Planet of Hope. The organisation survived arbitrary inspections in 2004 and 2009, but was labelled a Foreign Agent in 2015 and closed in 2018. /42)
After being accused of ‘industrial espionage’ under the threat of criminal prosecution, Nadezhda was forced to flee the country with her children. She nevertheless continues her struggle to bring justice for the victims of Mayak
.• Since 2002, the public foundation For Nature has been disputing nuclear activity in the region. The organisation appealed to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on the import of spent nuclear fuel from the Paks nuclear power plant in Hungary. The court declared the Governmental Decree to be invalid, thus preventing the import of 370 tons of Hungarian radioactive waste. (43)
In March 2015, For Nature was also listed as a Foreign Agent and fined. (44)
In 2016, the court shut down the organisation. (45)
In its place, a social movement of the same name was formed, and continues to help the South Ural communities. (46)
11Struggle against nuclear repository

In the city of Krasnoyarsk, Rosatom plans to build a national repository for high–level radioactive waste. A site has been selected on the banks of Siberia’s largest river, the Yenisei, only 40 km from the city. Environmental activists consider this project, if implemented,to be a crime against future generations and violates numerous Russian laws. Activists are also concerned that waste from Ukraine,Hungary, Bulgaria (and in the future from Belarus, Turkey, Bangladesh, and other countries) could be transported there as well. (47)

The community is understandably outraged, as no one wants to live in the world’s nuclear dump.Since 2013, for more than 7 years, the people of Krasnoyarsk have been protesting. To date, more than 146,000 people have signed the petition tothe President of the Russian Federation protesting against the construction of this federal nuclear repository. (48)
Most of the producing nuclear power plants are located in the European part of Russia, but the waste is going to be sent for ‘the rest of its lifetime’to Siberia. Local activists refer to this, with good reason, as Rosatom’s “nuclear colonisation” of Siberia. (49)
• In 2016, Fedor Maryasov, an independent journalist and leader of the protest, was accused of inciting hatred against ‘nuclear industry workers’as a social group. A criminal case was initiated under the article on extremism. (50)
The basis for thisaccusation was 125 publications on social networksand the press about nuclear topics. The activist’s apartment was searched and his computer seized,along with a printed report on Rosatom’s activities in the Krasnoyarsk region. (51)
The federal security service also issued Maryasovan official warning for treason. Only wide publicity in the media and the active support of human rights lawyers has thus far prevented further criminal prosecution of the activist. ……….”   https://www.facebook.com/notes/rna-international/antinuclear-resistance-in-russia-problems-protests-reprisals-full-report-2020/3498100043537008/

June 6, 2020 Posted by | environment, opposition to nuclear, Reference, reprocessing, Russia | Leave a comment

Green light for Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant, but is it viable?

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Aomori’s Rokkasho nuclear plant gets green light but hurdles remain,   Japan Times, BY ERIC JOHNSTON, STAFF WRITER, MAY 31, 2020, OSAKA – On May 13, the Nuclear Regulation Authority announced that the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, had met new safety standards created after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

The NRA’s approval means the long-troubled and controversial plant has moved closer to going into operation. Here’s a look at the Rokkasho plant and the problems it has faced.

What is the Rokkasho reprocessing plant?    The plant at Rokkasho is a 3.8 million square meter facility designed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s nuclear reactors.

Construction began in 1993. Once in operation, the plant’s maximum daily reprocessing capacity will be a cumulative total of 800 tons per year.

During reprocessing, uranium and plutonium are extracted, and the Rokkasho plant is expected to generate up to eight tons of plutonium annually. Both are then turned into a mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel at a separate MOX fabrication plant, also located in Rokkasho, for use in commercial reactors. Construction on the MOX facility began in 2010 and it’s expected to be completed in 2022.

The Rokkasho reprocessing plant can store up to 3,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s power plants on-site. It’s nearly full however, with over 2,900 tons of high-level waste already waiting to be reprocessed.

Why has it taken until now for the Rokkasho plant to secure approval from the nuclear watchdog?  Decades of technical problems and the new safety standards for nuclear power that went into effect after the 2011 triple meltdown at the power plant in Fukushima Prefecture have delayed Rokkasho’s completion date 24 times so far. It took six years for the plant to win approval under the post-3/11 safety standards.

There has also long been concern and unease over the entire project — and not just among traditional anti-nuclear activists — which the government has been forced to address. Japan is the only non-nuclear weapons state pursuing reprocessing. But as far back as the 1970s, as Japan was debating a nuclear reprocessing program, the United States became concerned about a plant producing plutonium that could be used for a nuclear weapons program.

The issue was raised at a Feb. 1, 1977, meeting between U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale and Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda.

“Reprocessing facilities which could produce weapons grade material are simply bomb factories,” noted a declassified U.S. State Department cable on the meeting. “We want to cooperate (with Japan) to keep the problem under control.”

…….. technical mishaps led to plans being made and then scrapped for many years, while arms control experts continued to worry that Japan could end up stockpiling plutonium that could lead to proliferation problems.

After the 2011 disaster, the NRA created tougher measures to minimize damage from natural disasters, forcing more construction and upgrades at the plant, leading to higher costs.

The Tokai plant halted operations in 2007. The decision to scrap it was made in 2014, as it was judged to be unable to meet the new safety standards. But little progress is being made, due to uncertainty over where to store all of the radioactive waste.

Safety concerns over the Rokkasho plant have remained, especially since 2017 when it was revealed that Japan Nuclear Fuel had not carried out mandatory safety standards for 14 years

By the time of the NRA announcement on May 13, the price tag for work at the Rokkasho plant had reached nearly ¥14 trillion.

What happens next?  The NRA is soliciting public comment on its decision until June 12, but the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry is expected to formally approve the decision. After that, the Aomori governor would be asked to give his approval, though that is not a legal requirement. The last bureaucratic hurdles would then have been cleared to start operations at the plant by the spring of 2022.

However, there are other issues that could force a delay to the start of reprocessing. Japan had originally envisioned MOX fuel powering between 16 and 18 of the nation’s 54 commercial reactors that were operating before 2011, in place of conventional uranium.

But only four reactors are using it out of the current total of nine officially in operation. MOX fuel is more expensive than conventional uranium fuel, raising questions about how much reprocessed fuel the facilities would need, or want…….

Japan finds itself caught between promises to the international community to reduce its plutonium stockpile through reprocessing at Rokkasho, and questions about whether MOX is still an economically, and politically, viable resource — given the expenses involved and the availability of other fossil fuel and renewable energy resourceshttps://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/05/31/national/social-issues/aomoris-rokkasho-nuclear-plant-gets-green-light-hurdles-remain/#.XtQfrTozbIU

June 1, 2020 Posted by | Japan, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Time that Japan faced up to the folly of its nuclear fuel cycle dream

As the situation stands, plutonium will start to pile up with no prospects of it being consumed. Reducing the amount produced is also an issue that needs to be addressed.

The United States and Britain have already pulled out of a nuclear fuel cycle.

May 19, 2020 Posted by | Japan, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing, a pointless effort , to postpone coping with plutonium trash

the project should not be kept alive through irresponsible collusion between the government and the power industry to avoid tackling this challenge.

Political leaders should make the tough decision as soon as possible to put the nation on a path toward a new energy future.

May 16, 2020 Posted by | Japan, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Rokkasho – Japan’s nuclear ‘pie in the sky’

VOX POPULI: Government, nuclear industry badly in need of a reality check   http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/13375632Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of The Asahi Shimbun., May 15, 2020  In his 1991 book “Rokkashomura no Kiroku” (Record of Rokkasho village), journalist Satoshi Kamata documented the displacement of residents for a planned large development project in the northern village.

Kamata reproduced an essay written by an elementary school pupil, whose school was earmarked for closure because of the megaproject.

“I detest development more than I could ever say,” the youngster wrote.

The villagers were promised a rosy future, with rows of factories turning their rural community into a vibrant urban center. But none of that happened, and the school closed in 1984.

“All that talk about the factories was a lie,” the child lamented. “I truly hate being made to feel so sad and lonely.”

Instead of this development project that never materialized, the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture ended up hosting a facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.

A series of delays held up the project for years, but the Nuclear Regulation Authority finally ruled the plant’s safety measures acceptable under its new standards on May 13.

The Rokkasho plant was meant to be the “nucleus” of the nation’s nuclear fuel recycling program of the future, with the purpose of minimizing nuclear waste by reusing spent fuel.

The reprocessed fuel was to be burned in fast-breeder reactors, but efforts to develop a viable fast-breeder reactor have gone nowhere. Attempts to use the reprocessed fuel in conventional nuclear reactors have also stalled.

The whole project has effectively become a proverbial pie in the sky.

But neither the government nor utilities would acknowledge this reality and review the project, apparently because they fear the issue of nuclear waste will become the focus of attention.

I wonder how long they are going to keep their heads in the sand without addressing the thorny problem of how to dispose of nuclear waste.

Here’s a riddle: What cannot be seen when your eyes are open, but can be seen when your eyes are closed? The answer is a dream.

Where the nuclear fuel recycling program is concerned, I imagine the nation’s nuclear community must be dreaming or hallucinating.

May 16, 2020 Posted by | Japan, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Canada on verge of investing in plutonium

Gordon Edwards <ccnr@web.ca>\, 26 Apr 2020, It seems that the two SMNR (Small Modular Nuclear Reactor) entrepreneurs in New Brunswick (Canada), along with other nuclear “players” worldwide, are trying to revitalize the “plutonium economy” — a nuclear industry dream from the distant past that many believed had been laid to rest because of the failure of plutonium-based breeder reactors almost everywhere – e.g. USA, France, Britain, Japan …

One of the newly proposed NB SMNR prototypes, the ARC-100 reactor (100 megawatts of electricity) is a liquid sodium-cooled SMNR that is based on the 1964 EBR-2 reactor – Experimental Breeder Reactor #2. (Its predecessor, the EBR-1 breeder reactor, had a partial meltdown in 1955, and the Fermi-1 breeder reactor near Detroit, also modelled on the EBR-2, had a partial meltdown in 1966.) The ACR-100 is designed with the capability and explicit intention of reusing or recycling irradiated CANDU fuel.
The other newly proposed NB SMNR prototype is the Moltex “Stable Salt Reactor” (SSR) — also a “fast reactor”, cooled by molten salt, that is likewise intended to re-use or recycle irradiated CANDU fuel.
The “re-use” (or “recycling”) of “spent nuclear fuel”, also called “used nuclear fuel” or “irradiated nuclear fuel”, is industry code for plutonium extraction. The idea is to transition from uranium to plutonium as a nuclear fuel, because uranium supplies will not outlast dwindling oil supplies. Breeder reactors are designed to use plutonium as a fuel and create (“breed”) even more plutonium while doing so.
The only way you can re-use or recycle existing used nuclear fuel is to somehow access the unused “fissile material” in the used fuel, which means mainly plutonium.  This involves a chemical procedure called “reprocessing” which was banned in the late 1970s by the Carter administration in the USA and the first PE Trudeau administration in Canada. South Korea and Taiwan were likewise forbidden (with pressure from the US) to pursue this avenue.
Argonne Laboratories in US, and the South Korean government, have been developing (for over ten years now) a new wrinkle on the reprocessing operation which they call “pyroprocessing” in an effort to overcome the existing prohibitions on reprocessing and restart the “plutonium economy”. That phrase refers to a world whereby plutonium is the primary nuclear fuel in the future rather than natural or slightly enriched uranium. Plutonium, a derivative of uranium that does not exist in nature but is created inside every nuclear reactor fuelled with uranium, would thereby become an article of commerce.
Another wrinkle on this general ambition is the so-called “thorium cycle”. Thorium is a naturally-occurring element that can be converted (inside a nuclear reactor) into a human-made fissile material called uranium-233. This type of uranium is not found in nature. Like plutonium, uranium-233 can be used for nuclear weapons or as nuclear fuel. Although the materials are different, the ambition is the same — instead of the plutonium economy one could imagine an economy based on uranium-233.
The problems associated with both recycling schemes (the plutonium cycle and the thorium cycle) are
(1) the dangerous and polluting necessity of “opening up” the used nuclear fuel in order to extract the desired plutonium or U-233, and (2) the creation of a civilian traffic in highly dangerous materials (plutonium and U-233) that can be used by governments or criminals or terrorists to make powerful nuclear weapons without the need for terribly sophisticated or readily detectable infrastructure.
By the way, in terms of nuclear reactors (whether small or large), whenever you see the phrase “fast reactor” or “advanced reactor” or “breeder reactor” or “thorium reactor”, please be advised that such terminology is industry code for recycling — either plutonium or uranium-233.  Also, any “sodium-cooled” reactors are in this same category.
By the way, in terms of nuclear reactors (whether small or large), whenever you see the phrase “fast reactor” or “advanced reactor” or “breeder reactor” or “thorium reactor”, please be advised that such terminology is industry code for recycling — either plutonium or uranium-233.  Also, any “sodium-cooled” reactors are in this same category.

April 26, 2020 Posted by | - plutonium, Canada, Reference, reprocessing, thorium | 1 Comment

UK govt again to try “astronomically expensive” plutonium reprocessing nuclear reactors

Westminster relaunches plutonium reactors despite ‘disastrous’ experience, The National, 26 April, 20 By Rob Edwards  This article was brought to you by The Ferret.

THE UK Government is trying to resurrect plutonium-powered reactors despite abandoning a multi-billion bid to make them work in Scotland.

Documents released by the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) under freedom of information law reveal that fast reactors, which can burn and breed plutonium, are among “advanced nuclear technologies” being backed by UK ministers.

Two experimental fast reactors were built and tested at a cost of £4 billion over four decades at Dounreay in Caithness. But the programme was closed in 1994 as uneconomic after a series of accidents and leaks.

Now ONR has been funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in London to boost its capacity to regulate new designs of fast reactors, along with other advanced nuclear technologies.

Campaigners have condemned the moves to rehabilitate plutonium as a nuclear fuel as “astronomically expensive”, “disastrous” and “mind-boggling”. They point out that it can be made into nuclear bombs and is highly toxic – and the UK has 140 tonnes of it…….

ONR released 23 documents about advanced nuclear technologies in response to a freedom of information request by Dr David Lowry, a London-based research fellow at the US Institute for Resource and Security Studies. They include redacted minutes and notes of meetings from 2019 discussing fast reactors, and are being published by The Ferret.

One note of a meeting in November 2019 shows that ONR attempted to access a huge database on fast reactors maintained by the UK Government’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) in Warrington, Cheshire…..

Two companies have so far won funding under this heading to help develop fast reactors that can burn plutonium. The US power company, Westinghouse, is proposing lead-cooled fast reactors, while another US company called Advanced Reactor Concepts wants to build sodium-cooled fast reactors.

In November 2019 BEIS also announced an £18 million grant to a consortium led by reactor manufacturer, Rolls Royce, to develop a “small modular reactor designed and manufactured in the UK capable of producing cost effective electricity”.

According to Dr Lowry, fast reactors would require building a plutonium fuel fabrication plant. Such plants are “astronomically expensive” and have proved “technical and financial disasters” in the past, he said.

“Any such fabrication plant would be an inevitable target for terrorists wanting to create spectacular iconic disruption of such a high profile plutonium plant, with devastating human health and environmental hazards.”

Lowry was originally told by ONR that it held no documents on advanced nuclear technologies. As well as redacting the 23 documents that have now been released, the nuclear safety regulator is withholding a further 13 documents as commercially confidential – a claim that Lowry dismissed as “fatuous nonsense”.

THE veteran nuclear critic and respected author, Walt Patterson, argued that no fast reactor programme in the world had worked since the 1950s. Even if it did, it would take “centuries” to burn the UK’s 140 tonne plutonium stockpile, and create more radioactive waste with nowhere to go, he said.

“Extraordinary – they never learn do they? I remain perpetually gobsmacked at the lobbying power of the nuclear obsessives,” he told The Ferret. “The mind continue to boggle.”

The Edinburgh-based nuclear consultant, Pete Roche, suggested that renewable energy was the cheapest and most sustainable solution to climate change. “The UK Government seems to be planning some kind of low carbon dystopia with nuclear reactors getting smaller, some of which at least will be fuelled by plutonium,” he said.

“The idea of weapons-useable plutonium fuel being transported on our roads should send shivers down the spine of security experts and emergency planners.”

Another nuclear expert and critic, Dr Ian Fairlie, described BEIS’s renewed interest in fast reactors as problematic. “Experience with them over many years in the US, Russia, France and the UK has shown them to be disastrous and a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

This is not the view taken by the UK Nuclear Industry Association, which brings together nuclear companies. It wants to see the UK’s plutonium being used in reactors rather than disposed of as waste……

“The Scottish Government remains opposed to new nuclear power plants in Scotland,” a spokesperson told The Ferret. “The Scottish Government believes our long term energy needs can be met without the need for new nuclear capacity.”

The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy did not respond to repeated requests to comment. https://www.thenational.scot/news/18405852.westminster-relaunches-plutonium-reactors-despite-disastrous-experience/

April 26, 2020 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, reprocessing, UK | Leave a comment

Russia gambles on safety and cost, in extending life of fast breeder reactor

One of Russia’s fast neutron reactors granted a runtime extension https://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/2020-04-one-of-russias-fast-neutron-reactors-granted-a-runtime-extension

Russia’s nuclear regulator has agreed to extend the operational lifetime of 39-year-old experimental reactor as part of a wide-ranging modernization program at the Beloyarsk nuclear plan.   April 8, 2020 by Charles Digges

The reactor, a BN-600, is a powerful sodium-cooled fast-breeder and its continued operation marks a step by Russia toward developing a closed nuclear fuel cycle, a subject of concern among some environmentalists and nonproliferation experts.

Fast breeder reactors form the backbone of Russia’s “proryv” or “breakthrough” program, which aims to develop reactors that do not produce nuclear waste. In simple terms, these breeders are theoretically designed to burn the spent nuclear fuel they produce, thus closing the nuclear fuel cycle and creating nearly limitless supplies of energy.

But the technology has been hard to perfect. Russia is alone among nuclear nations in actually running fast-breeders with any success. Yet they have still not been able to close the nuclear fuel cycle entirely.

Under the new order, the BN-600 reactor, which began operations in 1981, would continue to function until 2025, at which point the Beloyarsk plant’s operators say it will be evaluated for yet another extension that would see it run until 2040.

The Beloyarsk plant is the site of another fast-breeder reactor, the BN-800, which began commercial operations 2016 after several long delays. The plant also hosts two AMB supercritical water reactors, one of which ceased operations in 1983, the other in 1990.

At the moment, technicians at the plant have been isolated on site to prevent their exposure to the coronavirus, which has driven most of the world’s population indoors and shuttered much of the international economy.

But Rosenergoatom, Russia’s nuclear utility still maintains high hopes for the safety and modernization plan, of which the BN-600’s runtime extension is a part. So far, the modernization plan, which began in 2009 has included the installation of a reactor emergency protection system, an emergency dampening system using an air heat exchanger and a back-up reactor control panel.

In addition, a large amount of work has been carried out on the inspection and replacement of equipment, including the replacement of the reactor’s steam generators.

But many environmental groups, Bellona among them, consider reactor runtime extensions to be worrisome territory. As the world’s nuclear reactor fleet begins to age, runtime extensions throughout the world have become routine business.

Yet because commercial power-producing nuclear reactors have only been around for a little more than four decades, the industry can’t make safe bets on their behavior over longer periods of time than that.

In particular, data on how reactor cores – which are largely irreplaceable – age over time is extremely scarce. While certain characteristics of core aging can be simulated in test reactors, such simulations can’t take all variables into account.

Individual national regulatory bodies also set the criteria for whether or not reactors are granted runtime extensions – meaning that what Japan or France consider to be safe grounds for an extension might differ from what Russia or the United States deem safe.

But as the history of Chernobyl and Fukushima show, the fallout from nuclear disasters doesn’t respect international boundaries.

However, because nuclear reactors typically cost billions of dollars to build, there is less incentive to construct new ones to replace the old. But as Chernobyl and Fukushima also showed, such decisions could cost more than the short-term savings they provide.

 

April 9, 2020 Posted by | reprocessing, Russia | Leave a comment

Japan’s paralysis over what to do with the nuclear industry’s plutonium wastes


Review the nation’s quest for a nuclear fuel cycle  
 https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2020/02/20/editorials/review-nations-quest-nuclear-fuel-cycle/#.XlBKh2gzbIU     The uncertain fate of the spent mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel removed from two nuclear power reactors in western Japan last month — for the first time since the commercial use of plutonium-uranium fuel in light water reactors began about a decade ago — is yet another sign of the stalemate over the government’s nuclear fuel cycle policy. While the government maintains that all spent nuclear fuel will be reprocessed for reuse as fuel for nuclear reactors, there are no facilities in this country that can reprocess spent MOX fuel so it will remain indefinitely in storage pools at the nuclear plants.

A reprocessing plant owned by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. that is under construction in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, can only handle spent uranium fuel. No concrete plans have been made for building a second plant capable of reprocessing spent MOX fuel. Completion of the Rokkasho plant itself has been delayed for years amid an endless series of technical glitches resulting in huge cost overruns since construction began in the early 1990s. When the plant is completed and begins operating it will likely only add to Japan’s plutonium stockpile. This is because the use of plutonium in MOX fuel remains sluggish due to the slow restart of reactors idled following the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
Instead of shelving hard decisions on the nuclear fuel cycle policy any further, the government and the power industry need to candidly assess the prospects of the policy and proceed with a long-overdue review.
Under the policy that touts efficient use of uranium resources, fuel assemblies spent at nuclear power plants will be removed from the reactors to extract plutonium, which will be blended with uranium to make the MOX fuel. What were removed from the reactors at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata reactor in Ehime Prefecture and Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture in January are the MOX fuel rods that were installed in 2010. The government maintains that it’s technologically feasible to reprocess spent MOX fuel, but experts are doubtful about the efficiency of this practice.
Initially, the policy assumed a transition to fast-breeder reactors in Japan’s nuclear power generation. Touted to produce more plutonium than it consumes as fuel, a fast-breeder reactor was deemed a dream technology in this resource-scarce country. However, Monju, the nation’s sole prototype fast-breeder reactor — on which more than ¥1 trillion was spent — was decommissioned in 2016 after sitting idle for much of the time since it first went online in 1994 due to a series of accidents and troubles. The government sought to continue research on next-generation fast reactors in a joint project with France, but that bid has been in limbo since Paris decided to substantially scale back the project in light of the abundance of  uranium resources, which cast doubts over its economic feasibility.
As completion of the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho continues to be pushed back, some 15,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel is stored at nuclear power plants across Japan. Combined with 3,000 tons kept in the storage pool at the Rokkasho plant, the total comes to around 18,000 tons. The volume will only increase if more reactors are restarted without the launch of the reprocessing plant, and the capacity of storage pools at power plants is limited.
On the other hand, Japan is under pressure to utilize its 45-ton stockpile of plutonium as fuel due to proliferation concerns. As the Monju project went nowhere, the government and the power industry have pursued the use of MOX fuel in conventional light water reactors since around 2010. However, the use of MOX fuels has remained slow following the shuttering of most of the nation’s nuclear plants after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Currently, MOX fuel is used in only four reactors across the country — far below the 16 to 18 planned prior to the Fukushima accident. There are also doubts about the economic viability of the use of MOX fuel, which is more costly than conventional nuclear fuel.
It seems clear that the nuclear fuel cycle policy is stuck in a stalemate, but neither the government nor the power industry will accept that — apparently because abandoning the program would seriously impact nuclear energy policy. An alternative to reprocessing is to bury the spent fuel deep underground — a method reportedly adopted in some countries. But then the spent fuel — which has so far been stored as a resource to be processed for reuse — will be turned into nuclear waste, raising the politically sensitive question of where to dispose of it. That, however, is a question that cannot be averted given Japan’s use of nuclear power. It should not be used as an excuse for maintaining the quest for the elusive nuclear fuel cycle. It’s time to review the policy.

February 22, 2020 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Nuclear recycling is a bad idea

This “interim storage” initiative is a statement of the failure of the nuclear industry and the federal government to address the most toxic waste we have ever created.
Nuclear power: Recycling a bad idea, Citizens Awareness Network By DEB KATZ, 1/26/2020Nuclear industry advocates always seem to come up with grand ideas that nuclear power will “solve” our energy problems. Now it’s a solution to climate change.
Their solutions always downplay any problems with high-level nuclear waste claiming that nuclear power is safe and finding a solution for its toxic waste is easy. If it’s so easy, why don’t they have a workable solution? Is it really just peoples’ unreasonable fears that obstruct the industry and the federal government from creating a final solution?

Originally we were told that there was no waste problem because the waste would be reprocessed and used again in bombs and new “breeder” reactors. That idea failed! Miserably! The only reprocessing facility for commercial nuclear waste that ever existed was West Valley in upstate New York and it shuttered after only five years because it contaminated the land and water around it with radiation. It remains a Superfund site to this day. Without the technology to safely reprocess it, nuclear fuel waste remains in fuel pools and dry storage at reactor sites all over the country.

Because of the threat of nuclear proliferation, where the waste is stolen and used as bomb material by evil forces, President Jimmy Carter ended the research on reprocessing and breeder reactors. Suddenly there was a “waste problem.” Carter commissioned a study to determine the best way to deal with the problem. The level of naivety, arrogance and thoughtlessness is remarkable. Some of the ideas included sending the waste into space, but a payload accident could contaminate the planet; placing the waste in a hole in Antarctica or Greenland ice and letting it melt down into the ocean bed was considered, but the waste would contaminate the ocean. Carter’s commission finally settled on deep geological burial in a hole or an abandoned mine.
All this was codified under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA). Once established, investigations began to determine the best dump site/s. But every state that was identified as a potential site for a repository threatened to sue. Instituting the NWPA was in crisis. The NWPA was amended and Congress targeted Yucca Mountain because
Nevada had little political clout at the time.
After spending $14 billion of taxpayer money developing Yucca Mountain, it failed to meet the necessary criteria for safe isolation of the deadly material. With the failure of the federal government and the nuclear industry to establish Yucca Mountain as the national repository for nuclear waste, nuclear corporations were forced to establish onsite storage at their operating and shuttered reactor sites. Six out of nine reactors in New England have shuttered due to significant public opposition and their inability to compete with gas and renewables. These six sites are in varying degrees of cleanup. Without a “solution” as to dealing with the nuclear waste, these sites have devolved into ad hoc nuclear waste dumps. All have created onsite storage for their high level waste. It costs a lot to store the waste onsite — at least $5 million out of pocket for each year. This waste could remain onsite for decades if not centuries. So costs could really add up for corporations without any revenue. Naivety, arrogance, and thoughtlessness add up to a lot of money!

With waste piling up at shuttered reactor sites throughout the country, the industry has a perception problem. This is not a favorable image for an industry trying to reinvent itself as the answer to global warming. So what’s the industry’s answer? It wants to create “interim storage” dump sites in west Texas and New Mexico in working poor, Hispanic communities to make this problem disappear. These sites don’t have to meet the strict environmental standards that sunk Yucca Mountain— i.e., isolation from the environment for 1,000 years and isolation from groundwater for 10,000 years.

This “interim storage” initiative is a statement of the failure of the nuclear industry and the federal government to address the most toxic waste we have ever created. We don’t need more nukes; we don’t need half baked “solutions”. We need a commitment to put our best minds to solve this thorny problem. What is needed is a scientifically sound and environmentally just solution, not more magic or wish fulfillment. A qualified “panel” must be established and funded to create the standards required to meet the health and safety of the public and the planet, not the profit-driven, short-sighted monetary bottom line of a moribund industry.

Deb Katz is the executive director of the Citizens Awareness Network, which was founded locally in 1991 and has offices in Shelburne Falls and Rowe. Here’s a link to our website www.nukebusters.org.

January 27, 2020 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, USA | 1 Comment

The failure of nuclear reprocessing and the “Plutonium Economy”

Paul Richards The Plutonium Economy failed.  nuclear fuel cycle watch australia, 25 Oct 19

No one on the planet has been able to run unspent nuclear fuel through twice, and make it economically viable, let alone the countless times needed to make it ecologically viable.

It costs more to run unspent fuel through once more than to

• mine uranium,
• process for shipping
• process into yellowcake
• make into rods
• ship rods onsite to reactors

There is little to NO CHANCE of doing that again, and again.

Business history shows this wasn’t possible when;

• uranium was at its peak in price in 1980

2019, about to enter the third decade of the 21C, where commodities exchanges show nuclear fuel it is;

• LOWEST PRICE than in all of economic history,

and yet it still can’t compete with any other energy sources.

Nuclear apologists are a joke, delusional.

The nuclear sales executives of the nuclear estate have been busy rebranding, white and greenwashing their product is ever since Ronald Reagan announced The Plutonium Economy failed.

In point of fact, carbon fuel, gas spinning a turbine, has been producing cheaper energy fully levelized for three decades than any nuclear reactor.

Large scale

• solar PV and
• on-offshore wind turbines
• reached PARITY with
• carbon fuel NATURAL GAS

late last decade on an LCOE basis.

For this whole decade these;

• renewable systems
• fully lifecycle factored
• are cheaper than even carbon fuels
• NATURAL GAS

October 26, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, reprocessing | Leave a comment

France’s plan for a Generation IV nuclear reactor bites the dust

France drops plans to build sodium-cooled nuclear reactor. PARIS (Reuters) – France’s CEA nuclear agency has dropped plans to build a prototype sodium-cooled nuclear reactor, it said on Friday, after decades of research and hundreds of millions of euros in development costs.

Confirming a report in daily newspaper Le Monde, the state agency said it would finalize research in so-called “fourth generation” reactors in the ASTRID (Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration) project this year and is no longer planning to build a prototype in the short or medium term.

“In the current energy market situation, the perspective of industrial development of fourth-generation reactors is not planned before the second half of this century,” the CEA said.

In November last year the CEA had already said it was considering reducing ASTRID’s capacity to a 100-200 megawatt (MW) research model from the commercial-size 600 MW originally planned.

Le Monde quoted a CEA source as saying that the project is dead and that the agency is spending no more time or money on it.

Sodium-cooled fast-breeder reactors are one of several new designs that could succeed the pressurized water reactors (PWR) that drive most of the world’s nuclear plants. [tinyurl.com/y84d2hvc]

In theory, breeders could turn nuclear waste into fuel and make France self-sufficient in energy for decades, but uranium prices have been on a downward slope for a decade, undermining the economic rationale for fast-breeder technology.

There are also serious safety concerns about using sodium instead of water as a reactor coolant.

Since sodium remains liquid at high temperatures – instead of turning into steam – sodium reactors do not need the heavy pressurized hulls of PWRs. But sodium burns on contact with air and explodes when plunged into water.

An earlier French model was scrapped in the 1980s after encountering major technical problems.

The ASTRID project was granted a 652 million euro ($723 million) budget in 2010. By the end of 2017 investment in the project had reached 738 million euros, according to public auditor data quoted by Le Monde.

The CEA said a revised program would be proposed by the end of the year for research into fourth-generation reactors beyond 2020, in line with the government’s long-term energy strategy.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Leigh Thomas and David Goodman                    at top   https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-nuclearpower-astrid/france-drops-plans-to-build-sodium-cooled-nuclear-reactor-idUSKCN1VK0MC

August 31, 2019 Posted by | France, reprocessing | Leave a comment

France’s sodium-cooled fast Nuclear reactor turns out to be a dud. Cancelled

News1 29th Aug 2019 The Astrid Fast Reactor Project is shut down by the Atomic EnergyCommission. A blow to the future of the sector. This was to be the nextstep in the development of the French nuclear industry, one that wouldallow it to project into the future, but which is likely never to see the
light of day. According to our information, the Astrid Fast Neutron Reactor
(RNR) project is being abandoned by the Atomic Energy and Alternative
Energies Commission (CEA), which is nevertheless at the origin.

https://www.news1.news/2019/08/france-abandons-the-fourth-generation-of-reactors.html

Le Monde 29th Aug 2019 Astrid, the acronym for Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration, is a sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype project to be built at the Marcoule nuclear site in the Gard.

The objective of this new generation is to use depleted uranium and plutonium as fuel, in other words to reuse the radioactive materials from the electricity generation of the current nuclear fleet and largely stored at the La Hague site. (Channel), operated by Orano (formerly Areva).

https://www.lemonde.fr/economie/article/2019/08/29/nucleaire-la-france-abandonne-la-quatrieme-generation-de-reacteurs_5504233_3234.html

August 31, 2019 Posted by | France, reprocessing | Leave a comment