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Japan and USA to continue agreement on nuclear fuel reprocessing

Nikkei Asian Review 25th Sept 2017, Japan and the U.S. will likely let their existing nuclear cooperation
agreement renew automatically when the pact expires next July, enabling
Tokyo to continue reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.

President Donald Trump’s administration has no intention of ending or renegotiating the deal, a
spokesperson at the U.S. State Department told The Nikkei Saturday. Since
the Japanese government has been seeking the pact’s renewal, there is now a
good chance that the treaty will simply remain in force without any
modifications.
https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/International-Relations/US-to-renew-nuclear-pact-with-Japan

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September 30, 2017 Posted by | Japan, politics international, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

The problem of plutonium: justification for its reprocessing is now dead

Forty years later, Japan’s breeder program, the original justification for its reprocessing program, is virtually dead.  

Forty years of impasse: The United States, Japan, and the plutonium problem http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00963402.2017.1364007   Masafumi Takubo &Frank von Hippel23 Aug 2017, Recently, records have been published from the internal discussions in the Carter administration (1977–80) on the feasibility of convincing Japan to halt its plutonium-separation program as the United States was in the process of doing domestically. Japan was deeply committed to its program, however, and President Carter was not willing to escalate to a point where the alliance relationship could be threatened. Forty years later, the economic, environmental, and nonproliferation arguments against Japan’s program have only been strengthened while Japan’s concern about being dependent on imports of uranium appears vastly overblown. Nevertheless, Japan’s example, as the only non-weapon state that still separates plutonium, continues to legitimize the launch of similar programs in other countries, some of which may be interested in obtaining a nuclear weapon option.

In June 2017, the National Security Archive, a nonprofit center in Washington, DC, posted four-decade-old documents from the Carter administration’s internal debate over how to best persuade Japan to defer its ambitious program to obtain separated plutonium by chemical reprocessing of spent power reactor fuel.11. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/nukevault/ebb597-Japanese-Plutonium-Overhang/.View all notes

Foreign civilian plutonium programs had become a high-level political issue in the United States after India used plutonium, nominally separated to provide startup fuel for a breeder reactor program in its first nuclear weapon test in 1974 (Perkovich 1999Perkovich, G. 1999India’s Nuclear BombOakland, CAUniversity of California Press. [Google Scholar]). The United States reversed its policy of encouraging the development of plutonium breeder reactors worldwide to avoid an anticipated shortage of uranium. The breeder reactors would convert abundant non-chain-reacting uranium 238 into chain-reacting plutonium and then use the plutonium as fuel, while conventional reactors are fueled primarily by chain-reacting uranium 235, which makes up only 0.7 percent of natural uranium.

The Ford administration (1974–77) blocked France’s plan to sell spent fuel reprocessing plants to South Korea and Pakistan but did not succeed in persuading Japan to abandon its nearly complete Tokai pilot reprocessing plant. Therefore, when the Carter administration took office in January 1977, it inherited the difficult plutonium discussion with Japan.

The earliest document in the newly released trove is a 19-page memo dated 24 January 1977, in which career State Department official Louis Nosenzo briefs the incoming Carter political appointees on the issue.22. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859705-Document-01-Louis-Nozenzo-Bureau-of-Political.View all notes His arguments are strikingly similar to those being made some 40 years later by United States and international nongovernmental organizations such as the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]) and by US government officials – most recently, members of the Obama administration.33. Japan Times, “U.S. would back a rethink of Japan’s plutonium recycling program: White House,” 21 May 2016.View all notes

These arguments are, in brief, that the separation and use of plutonium as a fuel is not economically competitive with simply storing the spent fuel until its radioactive heat generation has declined and a deep underground repository has been constructed for its final disposal. In this “once-through” fuel cycle, the plutonium remains mixed with the radioactive fission products in the intact spent fuel and therefore is relatively inaccessible for use in weapons.

The earliest document in the newly released trove is a 19-page memo dated 24 January 1977, in which career State Department official Louis Nosenzo briefs the incoming Carter political appointees on the issue.22. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859705-Document-01-Louis-Nozenzo-Bureau-of-Political.View all notes His arguments are strikingly similar to those being made some 40 years later by United States and international nongovernmental organizations such as the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]) and by US government officials – most recently, members of the Obama administration.33. Japan Times, “U.S. would back a rethink of Japan’s plutonium recycling program: White House,” 21 May 2016.View all notes

These arguments are, in brief, that the separation and use of plutonium as a fuel is not economically competitive with simply storing the spent fuel until its radioactive heat generation has declined and a deep underground repository has been constructed for its final disposal. In this “once-through” fuel cycle, the plutonium remains mixed with the radioactive fission products in the intact spent fuel and therefore is relatively inaccessible for use in weapons.

Presumably with tongue in cheek, he opined that “[s]pace limitations are a real problem only for countries like Luxemburg.” (Luxemburg, about equal in area to St. Louis, Missouri, did not and still does not have a nuclear program.) Subsequently, it was pointed out that the volume of an underground repository for highly radioactive waste is determined not by the volume of the waste but by its heat output; the waste has to be spread out to limit the temperature increase of the surrounding buffer clay and rock (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]). Reprocessing waste would contain all the heat-generating fission products in the original spent fuel, and the heat generated by the plutonium in one ton of spent MOX fuel would be about the same as the heat generated by the plutonium in the approximately seven tons of spent low-enriched uranium fuel from which the plutonium used to manufacture the fresh MOX fuel had been recovered.

With regard to the issue of the need for plutonium to provide startup fuel for breeder reactors, Nosenzo noted that “experimental breeders currently utilize uranium [highly enriched in the chain-reacting isotope uranium 235] rather than plutonium for start-up and this will probably also be true of commercial breeder start-up operations.”44. This was not entirely correct. Although the United States, Russian, and Chinese experimental and prototype breeder reactors started up with enriched uranium fuel and all breeder reactors could have been, plutonium fuel was used to start up the prototypes in France, Japan, and the United Kingdom. See International Fuel Cycle Evaluation, Fast Breeders(IAEA 1980IAEA. 1980International Fuel Cycle Evaluation, Fast Breeders. Vienna: International Atomic Energy Agency. [Google Scholar]) Table III. M. Ragheb, “Fermi I Fuel Meltdown Incident” (2014). Available at http://mragheb.com/NPRE%20457%20CSE%20462%20Safety%20Analysis%20of%20Nuclear%20Reactor%20Systems/Fermi%20I%20Fuel%20Meltdown%20Incident.pdf.View all notes

“[T]here is a strong need for a US position paper presenting the above rationale with supporting analysis,” Nosenzo wrote. “This would be of value, for example, with other governments in the nuclear suppliers context and more generally … for use by sympathetic foreign ministries attempting to cope effectively with their ministries of energy, of technology and of economics.”

The last point reflected the reality that the promotion of breeder reactors was central to the plans of powerful trade ministries around the world, including Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), and that foreign ministries sometimes use independent analyses to push back against positions of other ministries that seem extreme to them. A few years ago, an official of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, for example, privately described the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, the driving force behind South Korea’s demand for the same “right” to reprocess as Japan, as “our Taliban.”

Japan planned to start operation of its Tokai reprocessing plant later that spring, and it appeared clear to Nosenzo that it would be impossible to prevent the operation of the almost completed plant. Another memo cited Prime Minister Fukuda as publicly calling reprocessing a matter of “life and death” for Japan.55. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859730-Document-05-Memorandum-from-Ambassador-at-Large.View all notes Japan’s government had committed itself to achieving what Glenn Seaborg, chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission from 1961–71, had relentlessly promoted as a “plutonium economy,” in which the world would be powered by the element he had codiscovered.

Why would the Fukuda administration have seen the separation and use of plutonium as so critical? We believe that the Prime Minister had been convinced by Japan’s plutonium advocates that the country’s dependence on imported uranium would create an economic vulnerability such as the country had experienced during the 1973 Arab oil embargo, still a recent and painful memory. Indeed, according to a popular view in Japan, further back, in 1941, it was a US embargo on oil exports to Japan that had triggered Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The plutonium advocates argued that breeder reactors would eliminate resource-poor Japan’s vulnerability to a uranium cutoff by turning already imported uranium into a virtually inexhaustible supply of plutonium fuel for its reactors.

During the past 40 years, however, uranium has been abundant, cheap, and available from a variety of countries. Furthermore, as some foreign observers have suggested, if Japan was really concerned about possible disruptions of supply, it could have acquired a 50-year strategic reserve of uranium at a much lower cost than its plutonium program (Leventhal and Dolley 1994Leventhal, P., and S. Dolley1994. “A Japanese Strategic Uranium Reserve: A Safe and Economic Alternative to Plutonium.” Science & Global Security 5: 131. doi:10.1080/08929889408426412.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar]). Indeed, because of the low cost of uranium, globally, utilities have accumulated an inventory sufficient for about seven years. Although it took several years for Congress to accept the Carter administration’s proposal to end the US reprocessing and breeder reactor development programs, Congress did support the administration’s effort to discourage plutonium programs abroad. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978 required that nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries be renegotiated so that any spent fuel that had either originally been produced in the United States or had been irradiated in a reactor containing components or design information subject to US export controls could not be reprocessed without prior consent from the US government. Internally, however, the administration was divided over whether the United States could force its allies to accept such US control over their nuclear programs.

One of the final memos in the National Security Archives file, written in May 1980, toward the end of the Carter administration by Jerry Oplinger, a staffer on the National Security Council, criticized a proposal by Gerard Smith, President Carter’s ambassador at large for nuclear nonproliferation. Smith proposed that the administration provide blanket advance consent for spent fuel reprocessing in Western Europe and Japan.77. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859749-Document-22-Jerry-Oplinger-to-Leon-Billings-and.View all notes Oplinger characterized Smith’s proposal as “surrender” and argued that, even though the danger of further proliferation in Europe or by Japan was low, their examples could be used by other countries as a justification for launching their own plutonium programs.

The Carter administration did not surrender to the Japanese and the West European reprocessing lobbies but, in 1988, in exchange for added requirements for safeguards and physical protection of plutonium, the Reagan administration signed a renegotiated US–Japan agreement on nuclear cooperation with full, advance, programmatic consent to reprocessing by Japan for 30 years. In the original 1968 agreement, the United States had been given the right to review each Japanese shipment of spent fuel to the British and French reprocessing plants on a case-by-case basis and to make a joint determination on reprocessing in Japan. This right had allowed the United States to question whether Japan needed more separated plutonium. As a result of the 1988 agreement, by the time of the 2011 Fukushima accident, Japan had built up a stock of some 44 tons of separated plutonium, an amount sufficient for more than 5000 Nagasaki-type bombs (Japan Atomic Energy Commission 2012Japan Atomic Energy Commission. 2012. “The Current Situation of Plutonium Management in Japan,” September 11. [Google Scholar]), and the largest amount of MOX fuel it had loaded in a single year (2010) contained about one ton of plutonium (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]).

The initial period of the 1988 agreement will expire in 2018, after which either party may terminate it by giving six months written notice. This provides an opportunity for the US government to reraise the issue of reprocessing with Japan.

Unlike the 1968 agreement with Japan, the 1958 US–EURATOM agreement did not have a requirement of prior US consent for reprocessing of European spent fuel in West Europe. The Europeans refused to renegotiate this agreement, and, starting with President Carter, successive US presidents extended the US–EURATOM agreement by executive order year by year (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 1994Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Frans Berkhout and William Walker, “Atlantic Impasse,” September-October 1994. [Google Scholar]). Finally, in 1995, the Clinton administration negotiated language in a new agreement that the European reprocessors accepted as a commitment to noninterference (Behrens and Donnelly 1996Behrens, C. E., and W. H.Donnelly1996. “EURATOM and the United States: Renewing the Agreement for Nuclear Cooperation,” Congressional Research Service, April 26. Available at:https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metacrs312/m1/1/high_res_d/IB96001_1996Apr26.html; andhttp://ec.europa.eu/world/agreements/prepareCreateTreatiesWorkspace/treatiesGeneralData.do?step=0&redirect=true&treatyId=304 [Google Scholar]). By that time, the nonnuclear weapon states in Europe – notably Germany and Italy – had lost interest in breeder reactors and the only reprocessing plants listed in the agreement were those of United Kingdom and France. Reprocessing proponents in Japan often say that Japan is the only non-weapon state trusted by the international community to reprocess. In reality, Japan is the only non-weapon state that has not abandoned reprocessing because of its poor economics.

As Oplinger pointed out, Japan played a central role in sustaining large-scale reprocessing in Europe as well as at home. In addition to planning to build their own large reprocessing plant, Japan’s nuclear utilities provided capital, in the form of prepaid reprocessing contracts, for building large new merchant reprocessing plants in France and the United Kingdom. France also played a leading role in promoting reprocessing and in designing Japan’s reprocessing plant.

Oplinger insisted that the planned reprocessing programs in Europe and Japan would produce huge excesses of separated plutonium beyond the requirements of planned breeder programs: “Any one of these three projected plants would more than swamp the projected plutonium needs of all the breeder R&D programs in the world. Three of them would produce a vast surplus … amounting to several hundred tons by the year 2000.”

He attached a graph projecting that by the year 2000, the three plants would produce a surplus of 370 tons of separated plutonium beyond the requirements of breeder research and development. The actual stock of separated civilian plutonium in Europe and Japan in 2000 was huge – using the IAEA’s metric of 8 kilograms per bomb, enough for 20,000 Nagasaki bombs – but about half the amount projected in Oplinger’s memo (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]). This was due in part to operating problems with the UK reprocessing plant and delays in the operation of Japan’s large reprocessing plant. On the demand side, breeder use was much less than had been projected, but, in an attempt to deal with the surplus stocks, quite a bit of plutonium was fabricated into MOX and irradiated in Europe’s conventional reactors.

Forty years later, Japan’s breeder program, the original justification for its reprocessing program, is virtually dead.  Japan officially abandoned its Monju prototype breeder reactor in 2016 after two decades of failed efforts to restore it to operation after a 1995 leak of its sodium secondary coolant and a resulting fire. Japan’s government now talks of joining France in building a new Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) in France, and France’s nuclear establishment has welcomed the idea of Japan sharing the cost.8

8. See: https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20161022/p2a/00m/0na/005000c.View all notes The mission for ASTRID-type fast-neutron reactors would be to fission the plutonium and other long-lived transuranic elements in spent low-enriched uranium fuel and MOX fuel, for which Japan will have to build a new reprocessing plant. According to France’s 2006 radioactive waste law, ASTRID was supposed to be commissioned by the end of 2020.99. See: http://www.andra.fr/download/andra-international-en/document/editions/305va.pdf, Article 3.1.View all notes Its budget has been secured only for the design period extending to 2019, however. In an October 2016 briefing in Tokyo, the manager of the ASTRID program showed the project’s schedule with a “consolidation phase” beginning in 2020 (Devictor 2016Devictor, N.2016. “ASTRID: Expectations to Japanese Entities’ Participation.” Nuclear Energy Division, French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, TokyoOctober 27. Available at:http://www.meti.go.jp/committee/kenkyukai/energy/fr/pdf/002_02_02.pdf [Google Scholar]). The next day, the official in charge of nuclear issues at France’s embassy in Tokyo stated that ASTRID would not start up before 2033 (Félix 2016Félix, S. 2016. Interview with Mainichi Shimbun, October27in Japanese. Available at:http://mainichi.jp/articles/20161027/ddm/008/040/036000c [Google Scholar]). Thus, in 10 years, the schedule had slipped by 13 years. It has been obvious for four decades that breeder reactors and plutonium use as a reactor fuel will be uneconomic. The latest estimate of the total project cost for Japan’s Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, including construction, operation for 40 years, and decommissioning, is now 13.9 trillion yen ($125 billion), with the construction cost alone reaching 2.95 trillion yen ($27 billion), including 0.75 trillion yen for upgrades due to new safety regulations introduced after the Fukushima accident. The total project cost of the MOX fuel fabrication facility, including some 42 years of operation and decommissioning, is now estimated at 2.3 trillion yen ($21 billion) (Nuclear Reprocessing Organization of Japan 2017

Nuclear Reprocessing Organization of Japan, “Concerning the Project Cost of Reprocessing, Etc.” July 2017 (in Japanese). [Google Scholar]). In the United States, after it became clear in 1977 that reprocessing and breeder reactors made no economic sense and could create a proliferation nightmare, it took only about five years for the government and utilities to agree to abandon both programs, despite the fact that industry had spent about $1.3 billion in 2017 dollars on construction of a reprocessing plant in South Carolina (GAO 1984GAO. 1984Status and Commercial Potential of the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant, US General Accounting Office. Available at:http://www.gao.gov/assets/150/141343.pdf, p. 11. [Google Scholar]), and the government had spent $4.2 billion on the Clinch River Demonstration Breeder Reactor project (Peach How could Japan’s government have allowed reprocessing advocates to drive its electric-power utilities to pursue its hugely costly plutonium program over 40 years?

For context, it must be remembered that the United States, a nuclear superpower, has been much more concerned about nuclear proliferation and terrorism than Japan. Tetsuya Endo, a former diplomat involved in the negotiations of the 1988 agreement, depicted the difference in the attitude of the two governments as follows:

Whereas the criterion of the United States, in particular that of the US government … is security (nuclear proliferation is one aspect of it), that of the Japan side is nuclear energy. … [I]t can be summarized as security vs. energy supply and the direction of interests are rather out of alignment. (Endo 2014Endo, T. 2014Formation Process and Issues from Now on of the 1988 Japan-US Nuclear Agreement (Revised Edition). Tokyo: Japan Institute of International Affairs. In Japanese:http://www2.jiia.or.jp/pdf/resarch/H25_US-JPN_nuclear_agreement/140212_US-JPN_nuclear_energy_agreement.pdf [Google Scholar])As we have seen, in the United States, after India’s 1974 nuclear test, both the Ford and Carter administrations considered the spread of reprocessing a very serious security issue. Indeed, a ship that entered a Japanese port on 16 October 1976 to transport spent fuel to the United Kingdom could not leave for nine days due to the Ford administration’s objections (Ibara 1984

Ibara, T. 1984Twilight of the Nuclear Power KingdomTokyoNihon Hyoron Sha. in Japanese. [Google Scholar]). In Japan, the US concerns about nuclear proliferation and terrorism have been generally considered interference in Japan’s energy policy by a country that possesses one of the worlds’ largest nuclear arsenals. Even the eyes of parliament members opposed to reprocessing, antinuclear weapon activists and the media sometimes got blurred by this nationalistic sentiment.

Nevertheless, reprocessing is enormously costly and the willingness of Japan’s government to force its nuclear utilities to accept the cost requires explanation.

One explanation, offered by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) (Japan Atomic Energy Commission 2005Japan Atomic Energy Commission. 2005Framework for Nuclear Energy PolicyOctober 11. Available at:http://www.aec.go.jp/jicst/NC/tyoki/tyoki_e.htm. [Google Scholar]), involves the political challenge of negotiating arrangements for storing spent fuel indefinitely at reactor sites. The government and utilities had promised the host communities and prefectures that spent fuel would be removed from the sites. The reprocessing policy provided destinations – first Europe and the Tokai pilot plant, and then the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. The JAEC argued that, since it would take years to negotiate indefinite onsite storage of spent fuel, nuclear power plants with no place to put spent fuel in the meantime would be shut down one after another, which would result in an economic loss even greater than the cost of reprocessing.

Japan’s nuclear utilities have had to increase on-site storage of spent fuel in any case due to delays in the startup of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which was originally to start commercial operations in 1997. Indeed, the utilities have adopted the dangerous US practice of dense-packing their spent-fuel cooling pools with used fuel assemblies. Storing spent fuel in dry casks, onsite or offsite, cooled by natural convection of air would be much safer (von Hippel and Schoeppner 2016von Hippel, F., and M.Schoeppner2016. “Reducing the Danger from Fires in Spent Fuel Pools.” Science & Global Security 24: 141173. Available at:http://scienceandglobalsecurity.org/archive/sgs24vonhippel.pdf. doi:10.1080/08929882.2016.1235382.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). In the United States, spent fuel is transferred to onsite dry cask storage after the dense-packed pools become completely full. It’s better to make this transfer as soon as the spent fuel gets cool enough. Such a shift to a policy of accelerated dry cask storage would require stronger nuclear safety regulation in both countries (Lyman, Schoeppner, and von Hippel 2017Lyman, E.M. Schoeppner, and F. von Hippel2017. “Nuclear Safety Regulation in the post-Fukushima Era.” Science 356: 808809. doi:10.1126/science.aal4890.[Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Second, there is the bureaucratic explanation. The bureaucracy has more power over policy in Japan than in the United States. In Japan, when a new prime minister is elected in the Diet, only the ministers change whereas, in the United States with a two-party system, policy making is shared by Congress and the executive branch to a greater extent, and a new president routinely replaces more than 4000 officials at the top of the bureaucracy.1010. See: “Help Wanted: 4,000 Presidential Appointees” (Center for Presidential Transition, 16 March 2016) at: http://presidentialtransition.org/blog/posts/160316_help-wanted-4000-appointees.php.View all notes (This works both for the better and worse as can be observed in the current US administration.) Also, in Japan, unlike the United States, the bureaucracy is closed. There are virtually no mixed careers, with people working both inside and outside the bureaucracy (Tanaka 2009Tanaka, H. 2009. “The Civil Service System and Governance in Japan.” Available at:http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/apcity/unpan039129.pdf. [Google Scholar]).

Third, the provision of electric power has been a heavily regulated regional monopoly in Japan. Utilities therefore have been able to pass the extra costs of reprocessing on to consumers without eroding their own profits. This monopoly structure also has given utilities enormous power both locally and nationally, making it possible for them to influence both election results and the policy-making process. Thus, even if the original reprocessing policy was made by bureaucrats, it is now very difficult to change because of this complicated web of influence.

Japan has been gradually shifting toward deregulation, especially since the Fukushima accident, but a law has been passed to protect reprocessing by requiring the utilities to pay in advance, at the time of irradiation, for reprocessing the spent fuel and fabricating the recovered plutonium into MOX fuel (Suzuki and Takubo 2016Suzuki, T., and M. Takubo2016. “Japan’s New Law on Funding Plutonium Reprocessing,” May 26. Available at:http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2016/05/japans_new_law_on_funding.html. [Google Scholar]). The fact that nuclear utilities didn’t fight openly against this law, which will make them pay extra costs in the deregulated market, suggests that they expect the government to come up with a system of spreading the cost to consumers purchasing electricity generated by nonnuclear power producers, for example with a charge for electricity transmission and distribution, which will continue to be regulated.

Plutonium separation programs also persist in France, India, and Russia. China, too, has had a reprocessing policy for decades, although a small industrial reprocessing plant is only at the site-preparation stage and a site has not yet been found for a proposed large reprocessing plant that is to be bought from France. Central bureaucracies have great power in these countries, as they do in Japan. France’s government-owned utility has made clear that, where it has the choice – as it has had in the United Kingdom, whose nuclear power plants it also operates – it will opt out of reprocessing. This is one of the reasons why reprocessing will end in the United Kingdom over the next few years as the preexisting contracts are fulfilled (IPFM 2015

IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]).

A final explanation put forward from time to time for the persistence of reprocessing in Japan is that Japan’s security establishment wants to keep open a nuclear weapon option. There already are about 10 tons of separated plutonium in Japan, however (with an additional 37 tons of Japanese plutonium in France and the United Kingdom), and the design capacity of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant to separate eight tons of plutonium, enough to make 1000 nuclear warheads per year, is far greater than Japan could possibly need for a nuclear weapon option. Also, Japan already has a centrifuge enrichment plant much larger than that planned by Iran. Iran’s program precipitated an international crisis because of proliferation concerns. Japan’s plant, like Iran’s, is designed to produce low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants, but the cascades could be quickly reorganized to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for 10 bombs per year from natural uranium. Japan plans to expand this enrichment capacity more than 10-fold.1111. For Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited’s current and planned enrichment capacities, see: http://www.jnfl.co.jp/en/business/uran/. It takes about 5000 separative work units (SWUs) to produce enough HEU for a first-generation nuclear weapon – defined by the IAEA to be highly enriched uranium (usually assumed to be 90 percent enriched in U-235) containing 25 kilograms of U-235.View all notes It is therefore hard to imagine that the hugely costly Rokkasho reprocessing project is continuing because security officials are secretly pushing for it.

The idea that Japan is maintaining a nuclear weapon option has negative effects for Japan’s security, however, raising suspicions among its neighbors and legitimizing arguments in South Korea that it should acquire its own nuclear weapon option. It also undermines nuclear disarmament. According to the New York Times, when President Obama considered adopting a no-first-use policy before leaving office, Secretary of State John Kerry “argued that Japan would be unnerved by any diminution of the American nuclear umbrella, and perhaps be tempted to obtain their own weapon” (Sanger and Broad 2016Sanger, D., and W. Broad2016. “Obama Unlikely to Vow No First Use of Nuclear Weapons.” New York TimesSeptember 5. Available at:https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/06/science/obama-unlikely-to-vow-no-first-use-of-nuclear-weapons.html [Google Scholar]). It’s about time for both the security officials and antinuclear weapon movements to examine this concern more seriously.

Given the terrible economics of reprocessing, its end in Japan and France should only be a matter of time. As the 40-year-long impasse over Japan’s program demonstrates, however, the inevitable can take a very long time, while the costs and dangers continue to accumulate. The world has been fortunate that the stubborn refusals of Japan and France to abandon their failing reprocessing programs have not resulted in a proliferation of plutonium programs, or the theft and use of their plutonium by terrorists. The South Korean election of President Moon Jae-in – who holds antinuclear-power views – may result in a decrease in pressure from Seoul for the “right” to reprocess.

The combined effects of the “invisible hand” of economics and US policy therefore have thus far been remarkably successful in blocking the spread of reprocessing to non-weapon states other than Japan. China’s growing influence in the international nuclear-energy industry and its planned reprocessing program, including the construction of a large French-designed reprocessing plant, could soon, however, pose a new challenge to this nonproliferation success story. Decisions by France and Japan to take their completely failed reprocessing programs off costly government-provided life support might convince China to rethink its policy.

September 16, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, history, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Japan’s Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant runs into trouble yet again

Nuclear plant operator halts uranium production, https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20170903_04/The operator of a uranium enrichment plant in northern Japan has suspended uranium production to see if there are problems with its quality control system.

The plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture, is the only commercial facility in Japan to enrich uranium for nuclear power generation. A division of Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited that operates the plant was ordered to improve its quality control system last year.

It reported to the president that steps were taken, which turned out not to be true.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority then approved measures to prevent similar irregularities. The operator met the government requirements for producing uranium in May.

In one of a series of safety mishaps, a fire started at an emergency power generator. The operator had failed to replace parts for 28 years, more than 10 years longer than recommended by the manufacturer.

Officials at the authority said they wonder if the operator has the ability to determine problems and challenges. Japan Nuclear Fuel decided to take uranium out from enrichment facilities and once again check quality control problems.

September 4, 2017 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Debunking the hype about Generation IV “new nuclear”

James Hansen’s Generation IV nuclear fallacies and fantasies, REneweconomy, Jim Green, 28 Aug 2017http://reneweconomy.com.au/james-hansens-generation-iv-nuclear-fallacies-fantasies-70309/

The two young co-founders of nuclear engineering start-up Transatomic Power were embarrassed earlier this year when their claims about their molten salt reactor design were debunked, forcing some major retractions.

The claims of MIT nuclear engineering graduates Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie were trumpeted in MIT’s Technology Review under the headline, ‘What if we could build a nuclear reactor that costs half as much, consumes nuclear waste, and will never melt down?’

MIT physics professor Kord Smith debunked a number of Transatomic’s key claims. Smith says he asked Transatomic to run a test which, he says, confirmed that “their claims were completely untrue.”

Kennedy Maize wrote about Transatomic’s troubles in Power Magazine: “[T]his was another case of technology hubris, an all-to-common malady in energy, where hyperbolic claims are frequent and technology journalists all too credulous.” Pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman said that “other start-ups with audacious claims are likely to receive similar levels of scrutiny” and that it “may have the effect of putting other nuclear energy entrepreneurs on notice that they too may get the same enhanced levels of analysis of their claims.”

Well, yes, others making false claims about Generation IV reactor concepts might receive similar levels of scrutiny … or they might not. Arguably the greatest sin of the Transatomic founders was not that they inadvertently made false claims, but that they are young, and in Dewan’s case, female. Ageing men seem to have a free pass to peddle as much misinformation as they like without the public shaming that the Transatomic founders have been subjected to. A case in point is climate scientist James Hansen ‒ you’d struggle to find any critical commentary of his nuclear misinformation outside the environmental and anti-nuclear literature.

Hansen states that 115 new reactor start-ups would be required each year to 2050 to replace fossil fuel electricity generation ‒ a total of about 4,000 reactors. Let’s assume that Generation IV reactors do the heavy lifting, and let’s generously assume that mass production of Generation IV reactors begins in 2030. That would necessitate about 200 reactor start-ups per year from 2030 to 2050 ‒ or four every week. Good luck with that.

Moreover, the assumption that mass production of Generation IV reactors might begin in or around 2030 is unrealistic. A report by a French government authority, the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, states: “There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen.”

Likewise, a US Government Accountability Office report on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other ‘advanced’ reactor concepts in the US concluded: “Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs. It is a multi-decade process …”

An analysis recently published in the peer-reviewed literature found that the US government has wasted billions of dollars on Generation IV R&D with little to show for it. Lead researcher Dr Ahmed Abdulla, from the University of California, said that “despite repeated commitments to non-light water reactors, and substantial investments … (more than $2 billion of public money), no such design is remotely ready for deployment today.”……  http://reneweconomy.com.au/james-hansens-generation-iv-nuclear-fallacies-fantasies-70309/

August 28, 2017 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, spinbuster | Leave a comment

Pyroprocessing causes MORE nuclear wastes, not less

The Pyroprocessing Files http://allthingsnuclear.org/elyman/the-pyroprocessing-files. ED LYMAN, SENIOR SCIENTIST | AUGUST 12, 2017, The ARTICLE BY RALPH VARTABEDIAN in the Los Angeles Times highlights the failure of the Department of Energy’s decades-long effort to chemically process a stockpile of spent nuclear fuel at Idaho National Laboratory, ostensibly to convert the waste to forms that would be safer for disposal in a geologic repository. A secondary goal was to demonstrate the viability of a new type of processing spent fuel—so-called pyroprocessing. Instead, it has demonstrated the numerous shortcomings of this technology.

It is particularly important to disseminate accurate information about the failure of this DOE program to dispel some of the myths about pyroprocessing. The concept of the “Integral Fast Reactor”—a metal-fueled fast neutron reactor with co-located pyroprocessing and fuel fabrication facilities—has attracted numerous staunch advocates.

In addition to Argonne National Laboratory, which first developed the technology, the concept has been promoted in the popular media (most notably in the 2013 documentary Pandora’s Promise) and by GE-Hitachi, which seeks to commercialize a similar system. South Korea has long sought to be able to implement the technology, and countries such as China, Japan and Russia all have expressed interest in pursuing it. But this interest has been driven largely by idealized studies on paper and not by facts derived from actual experience.

DOE internal documents reveal problems

The LA Times article refers to a June 2017 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report that draws on documents that UCS received in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. UCS initiated the request in 2015 to seek information that could shed light on DOE’s troubled program for pyroprocessing 26 metric tons of “sodium-bonded” metallic spent fuel from the shutdown Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II).

Pyroprocessing is a form of spent fuel reprocessing that dissolves metal-based spent fuel in a molten salt bath (as distinguished from conventional reprocessing, which dissolves spent fuel in water-based acid solutions). Understandably, given all its problems, DOE has been reluctant to release public information on this program, which has largely operated under the radar since 2000.

The FOIA documents we obtained have revealed yet another DOE tale of vast sums of public money being wasted on an unproven technology that has fallen far short of the unrealistic projections that DOE used to sell the project to Congress, the state of Idaho and the public. However, it is not too late to pull the plug on this program, and potentially save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

History of the pyroprocessing program

DOE originally initiated the pyroprocessing program for EBR-II spent fuel in the mid-1990s as a consolation prize to Argonne-West National Laboratory (now part of present-day Idaho National Laboratory) after it cancelled the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) program. The idea was that the metal-based spent fuel from the reactor could be pyroprocessed in a facility connected to the reactor, which would extract plutonium, uranium and other elements to be fabricated into new reactor fuel. In theory, this could be a system that could convert its nuclear waste into usable fuel on site and thus could be largely self-contained. Pyroprocessing was billed as a simpler, cheaper and more compact alternative to the conventional aqueous reprocessing plants that have been operated in France, the United Kingdom, Japan and other countries.

Although DOE shut down the EBR-II in 1994 (the reactor part of the IFR program), it allowed work at the pyroprocessing facility to proceed. It justified this by asserting that the leftover spent fuel from the EBR-II could not be directly disposed of in the planned Yucca Mountain repository because of the potential safety issues associated with presence of metallic sodium in the spent fuel elements, which was used to “bond” the fuel to the metallic cladding that encased it. (Metallic sodium reacts violently with water and air.)

Pyroprocessing would separate the sodium from other spent fuel constituents and neutralize it. DOE decided in 2000 to use pyroprocessing for the entire inventory of leftover EBR-II spent fuel – both “driver” and “blanket” fuel – even though it acknowledged that there were simpler methods to remove the sodium from the lightly irradiated blanket fuel, which constituted nearly 90% of the inventory.

Little progress, big cost overruns

However, as the FOIA documents reveal in detail, the pyroprocessing technology simply has not worked well and has fallen far short of initial predictions (Figure 1) (Refs. 1-3). Although DOE initially claimed that the entire inventory would be processed by 2007, as of the end of Fiscal Year 2016, only about 15% of the roughly 26 metric tons of spent fuel had been processed. Over $210 million has been spent, at an average cost of over $60,000 per kilogram of fuel treated. At this rate, it will take until the end of the century to complete pyroprocessing of the entire inventory, at an additional cost of over $1 billion.

But even that assumes, unrealistically, that the equipment will continue to be usable for this extended time period. Moreover, there is a significant fraction of spent fuel in storage that has degraded and may not be a candidate for pyroprocessing in any event (Ref. 4). The long time to completion is problematic because DOE has an agreement with the state of Idaho to remove all spent fuel from the state by the year 2035. The FOIA documents reveal that DOE is well aware that it is not on track to comply with this obligation (Ref 5). Yet DOE has not made any public statements to that effect and continues to insist that it can meet the deadline.

More waste, not less

 An impure uranium waste product is deposited on a cathode in a  pyroprocessing cell (Source: Idaho National Lab)

What exactly is the pyroprocessing of this fuelaccomplishing? Instead of making management and disposal of the spent fuel simpler and safer, it has created an even bigger mess. Pyroprocessing separates the spent fuel into three principal waste streams. The first is an enriched uranium metal material called the “spent fuel treatment product.” Because this material contains unacceptably high levels of plutonium and other contaminants, the uranium cannot be used to make new nuclear fuel unless it is further purified; thus it is a waste product. Meanwhile, the material is accumulating and taking up precious space at INL storage facilities, causing its own safety issues.

The second waste stream is the molten salt bath that is used to dissolve the spent fuel. Fission products and plutonium have accumulated in this salt for 20 years. Eventually it will have to be removed and safely disposed of. But for various reasons—including cost and a lack of available space for the necessary equipment—INL is reconsidering the original plan to convert this waste into a stable ceramic waste form. Instead, it may just allow it to cool until it hardens and then directly dispose of it in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico (Ref. 6).

The third waste stream consists of the leftover metal cladding tubes that encased the nuclear fuel, and the metal plenums that extended above the fuel region, which are contaminated with fission products and sodium. The original plan was to convert these scraps into a stable, homogeneous waste form. But the FOIA documents reveal that DOE is also reconsidering this plan, and considering redefining this material as transuranic or low-level waste so it could be disposed of without further processing in WIPP or a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility. Storage of the accumulating metal scrap material is also becoming an increasing burden at INL (Ref. 7).

In other words, pyroprocessing has taken one potentially difficult form of nuclear waste and converted it into multiple challenging forms of nuclear waste. DOE has spent hundreds of millions of dollars only to magnify, rather than simplify, the waste problem. This is especially outrageous in light of other FOIA documents that indicate that DOE never definitively concluded that the sodium-bonded spent fuel was unsafe to directly dispose of in the first place. But it insisted on pursuing pyroprocessing rather than conducting studies that might have shown it was unnecessary.

Everyone with an interest in pyroprocessing should reassess their views given the real-world problems experienced in implementing the technology over the last 20 years at INL. They should also note that the variant of the process being used to treat the EBR-II spent fuel is less complex than the process that would be needed to extract plutonium and other actinides to produce fresh fuel for fast reactors. In other words, the technology is a long way from being demonstrated as a practical approach for electricity production. It makes much more sense to pursue improvements in once-through nuclear power systems than to waste any more time and money on reprocessing technologies that pose proliferation, security and safety risks. DOE continues to consider alternatives to pyroprocessing for the blanket fuel (Ref. 8). It should give serious thought to the possibility of direct disposal of the remaining inventory without processing.

Links to FOIA documents

Below are links to some of the documents that UCS obtained from its FOIA request. We will provide more documents and analyses of them soon.

August 14, 2017 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

In the effort to deal with nuclear waste, pyroprocessing created even more problems

Since the project began 17 years ago, 15% of the waste has been processed, an average of one-fourth of a metric ton per year. That’s 20 times slower than originally expected, a pace that would stretch the work into the next century — long past the 2035 deadline.

Lyman said he was determined to explore the Idaho program in light of increasing interest in the scientific and regulatory communities in advanced nuclear reactors — including breeder reactors — and what he believed was misleading information by advocates.

The Idaho National Lab created a ‘wonder fuel.’ Now, it’s radioactive waste that won’t go away, http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-na-idaho-nuclear-waste-2017-story.html, Ralph VartabedianContact Reporter, 13 Aug 17  In the early days of atomic energy, the federal government powered up an experimental reactor in Idaho with an ambitious goal: create a “wonder fuel” for the nation.

The reactor was one of the nation’s first “breeder” reactors — designed to make its own new plutonium fuel while it generated electricity, solving what scientists at the time thought was a looming shortage of uranium for power plants and nuclear weapons.

It went into operation in 1964 and kept the lights burning at the sprawling national laboratory for three decades.

But enthusiasm eventually waned for the breeder reactor program owing to safety concerns, high costs and an adequate supply of uranium. Today, its only legacy is 26 metric tons of highly radioactive waste. What to do with that spent fuel is causing the federal government deepening political, technical, legal and financial headaches.

The reactor was shut down in 1994. Under a legal settlement with Idaho regulators the next year, the Department of Energy pledged to have the waste treated and ready to transport out of the state by 2035.

The chances of that happening now appear slim. A special treatment plant is having so many problems and delays that it could take many decades past the deadline to finish the job.

“The process doesn’t work,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has documented the problems in a new report. “It turned out to be harder to execute and less reliable than they promised.”

Many of the cleanup efforts, like the one in Idaho, are years or even decades behind schedule, reflecting practices that were far too optimistic when it came to technology, costs and management know-how.

Jim Owendoff, the acting chief of the Energy Department’s environmental management program, recently ordered a 45-day review of the entire $6-billion-a-year radiation cleanup effort. “What I am looking at is how we can be more timely in our decision-making,” he said in a department newsletter.

The Idaho reactor, located at the 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory, was designed to produce electricity while it “breeds” new fuel by allowing fast-moving neutrons to convert non-fissionable uranium into fissionable plutonium.

But the complexity of breeder reactors led to safety problems.

Only one breeder reactor ever went into commercial operation in the U.S. — the Enrico Fermi I near Detroit, which suffered a partial core meltdown in 1966. Construction of a breeder reactor on the Clinch River in Tennessee was stopped in 1983.

A reactor using similar technology above the San Fernando Valley experienced fuel core damage in 1959 that is believed to have released radioactive iodine into the air.

Ultimately, the nation never faced a shortage of uranium fuel, and now the Energy Department is spending billions of dollars to manage its surplus plutonium. Unlike uranium, the “wonder fuel,” as the lab called it, was bonded to sodium to improve heat transfer inside the reactor.

The sodium has presented an unusual waste problem.

Sodium is a highly reactive element that can become explosive when it comes in contact with water and is potentially too unstable to put in any future underground dump — such as the one proposed at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

To remove the bonded sodium, the government used a complex process, known as pyroprocessing, which was developed to also separate plutonium from the spent fuel. The spent fuel parts from the reactor are placed in a chemical bath and subjected to an electrical current, which draws off the sodium onto another material. The process is similar to electroplating a kitchen faucet.

Back in 2000, the project managers estimated in an environmental report that they could treat 5 metric tons annually and complete the job in six years.

But privately, the department estimated that it would take more than twice that long, according to internal documents that Lyman obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Even that was unrealistic, because it assumed that the treatment plant could work around the clock every day of the year, without down time for maintenance or allowance for breakdowns. Lyman found that during one year — 2012 — no waste at all was processed.

Since the project began 17 years ago, 15% of the waste has been processed, an average of one-fourth of a metric ton per year. That’s 20 times slower than originally expected, a pace that would stretch the work into the next century — long past the 2035 deadline.

The problem with the breeder reactor waste is just one of many environmental issues at the lab, located on a high desert plateau near Idaho Falls. The federal government gifted the Idaho lab with additional radioactive waste for decades.

After the highly contaminated Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver was shut down in 1993, the waste was shipped to Idaho. The Navy has been sending in its spent fuel from nuclear-powered ships.

The lab is dealing with tons of waste containing artificial elements, so-called transuranic waste. The Energy Department promised to move an average of 2,000 cubic meters to a special dump in New Mexico, but it has missed that goal for several years, because of an underground explosion at the dump. The Energy Department declined to answer specific questions about the breeder waste cleanup, citing the sensitivity of nuclear technology. It blamed the slow pace of cleanup on inadequate funding but said it was still trying to meet the deadline.

“When the implementation plan for the treatment of the [spent fuel] was developed in 2000, there was very limited nuclear energy research and development being performed in the United States,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.

“The funding for this program has been limited in favor of other research and development activities. The Department remains strongly committed to the treatment of this fuel in time to meet its commitments to the State of Idaho.”

Susan Burke, who monitors the cleanup at the laboratory for the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, said the state will continue to demand that the waste be ready for shipment out of Idaho by 2035.

“The Energy Department is doing the best it can, but our expectation is that they will have to meet the settlement agreement,” she said.

Idaho watchdogs are skeptical.

“There is some bad faith here on the part of the Energy Department,” said Beatrice Brailsford, nuclear program director at the Snake River Alliance, a group that monitors the lab. “The department is misleading the public. Not much information has been given out, but enough to be skeptical that the technology works well enough to meet the settlement.”

Lab officials declined to comment.

Lyman said he was determined to explore the Idaho program in light of increasing interest in the scientific and regulatory communities in advanced nuclear reactors — including breeder reactors — and what he believed was misleading information by advocates.

He presented a technical paper about pyroprocessing at a conference held in July by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Lyman said he believes the Energy Department has little chance of success in the program.

“They are just blowing smoke,” he said. “It is a failure and they can’t admit it, because they don’t have a backup plan that would satisfy the state.”

August 14, 2017 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Costs of building Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant now 4 times greater

Cost of building nuclear fuel reprocessing plant up 4-fold, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, July 4, 2017 Construction costs for the long-delayed spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, are likely to rise to 2.9 trillion yen ($25.67 billion), about four times the initial estimate, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL) has disclosed.

The company attributes the latest cost estimate increase of 750 billion yen, revealed July 3, to the necessity of meeting more stringent safety standards introduced after the 2011 nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture.

Estimated construction costs previously stood at 2.193 trillion yen as of 2005.

The total cost of the project, including operating the plant for 40 years and then decommissioning it, was initially estimated at 12.6 trillion yen.

However, it is expected to rise to 13.9 trillion due to the increase in maintenance and personnel costs.

The major electric power companies that jointly set up JNFL have to cover those costs, but ultimately consumers will shoulder the burden in the form of electricity rates.

JNFL is constructing the plant in the village of Rokkasho, with the Nuclear Reprocessing Organization of Japan (NURO) contracted to handle the fuel reprocessing……..  Even if the NRA approves the new safety measures in the screening, the approval is expected to be made this autumn at the earliest, meaning the latest completion target of September 2018 is likely to be missed. http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201707040050.html 

July 5, 2017 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

A Pox on the Mox – Trump budget to stop Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility

Platts 23rd May 2017  The Trump administration is proposing to end construction of a facility deigned to convert 34 mt of plutonium from surplus nuclear weapons to nuclear reactor fuel, concluding it would “be irresponsible to pursue this approach when a more cost-effective alternative exists.”

The administration, which Tuesday unveiled its proposed fiscal 2018 budget, said it will direct CB&I Areva MOX Services to develop a plan “as soon as practical,” to halt construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and securely shut the facility by late 2018.

The 2018 fiscal year starts October 1. Congress must authorize and appropriate fiscal 2018 spending and the president must sign the budget bill. The $340 million that Congress appropriated in an omnibus budget resolution for fiscal 2017 was earmarked primarily for the installation of ductwork and to seal openings in the facility used during
construction.

The fiscal 2018 proposal states appropriations for the MOX project after this fiscal year are “to be determined,” with no dollar amount specified. A justification for terminating the MOX project that the US Department of Energy provided Tuesday noted that the facility’s $4.8 billion cost projected in 2007, with a startup date of 2015, had ballooned
to $17.2 billion by 2016, with 2048 the earliest date, by which mix-oxide fuel could be produced. DOE now estimates the completion cost at up to $26 billion.

DOE noted that analysis it and “external independent analyses” have conducted “have consistently concluded that the MOX approach to plutonium disposition is significantly costlier and would require a much higher annual budget than an alternate disposition method, ‘Dilute and Dispose.'”  https://www.platts.com/latest-news

May 26, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, reprocessing, USA | 1 Comment

Japan’s very big problem of nuclear wastes from its failed Tokai Reprocessing Plant

The three-tier disposal scheme for the waste generated by the Tokai Reprocessing Plant is based on radiation level.

Waste with the highest radiation level, which will fill some 30,000 drums, will be buried more than 300 meters underground.

Mid-level waste, which will fill about 24,000 containers, is expected to be buried several dozens of meters underground.

Low-level waste, involving another 81,000 drums, will be buried close to the surface, the JAEA said. In the meantime, the plant’s tainted equipment and facilities will need to be decontaminated and scrapped before being filled with cement and mortar and put in drums for transport to a final disposal site.

The big problem is, there has been little progress in deciding where to bury the drums because they can’t find anyone willing to accept them.

Closure of Tokai Reprocessing Plant to cost an estimated ¥800 billion: JAEA source http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/04/23/national/closure-tokai-reprocessing-plant-cost-estimated-%C2%A5800-billion-jaea-source/#.WP_gPUWGPGg The Japan Atomic Energy Agency has revealed that the scrapping of the Tokai Reprocessing Plant, the nation’s first facility for reusing spent nuclear fuel, will cost an estimated ¥800 billion, an official said.

The state-backed JAEA did not reveal the cost to taxpayers in 2014, when it made the decision to shut down the plant in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, over a 70-year period.

The facility started operation in 1977 as part of Japan’s desire to establish a nuclear fuel cycle, in which all spent fuel is reprocessed to extract its plutonium and uranium to make more fuel. The policy is designed to ensure resource-dependent Japan uses its nuclear fuel as efficiently as possible.

The JAEA decided to scrap the sprawling plant after it became too costly to run under the more stringent safety rules introduced following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis. The facility comprises around 30 buildings and has large areas rife with contamination caused by its task of disassembling spent nuclear fuel.

According to the official, the startling decommissioning estimate is based on an estimate the agency made in 2003. The JAEA is finalizing the assessment and on course to submit it for approval by the Nuclear Regulation Authority as early as June.

The three-tier disposal scheme for the waste generated by the Tokai Reprocessing Plant is based on radiation level.

Waste with the highest radiation level, which will fill some 30,000 drums, will be buried more than 300 meters underground.

Mid-level waste, which will fill about 24,000 containers, is expected to be buried several dozens of meters underground.

Low-level waste, involving another 81,000 drums, will be buried close to the surface, the JAEA said. In the meantime, the plant’s tainted equipment and facilities will need to be decontaminated and scrapped before being filled with cement and mortar and put in drums for transport to a final disposal site.

The big problem is, there has been little progress in deciding where to bury the drums because they can’t find anyone willing to accept them.

Despite the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the government is trying to resume nuclear power generation and continue its pursuit of a nuclear fuel cycle.

This policy, however, has experienced setbacks from the recent decision to decommission the Monju fast-breeder reactor, an experimental facility in Fukui Prefecture that was considered key to the nuclear fuel cycle plan.

And the completion of a new fuel reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has also been largely behind schedule for years.

In the meantime, public concerns about the safety of atomic power remain strong at a time when the government is aiming to make it account for 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity supply by 2030.

The new estimate for decommissioning the Tokai Reprocessing Plant includes ¥330 billion for storing waste underground, ¥166 billion for decontaminating and dismantling the facility, and ¥87 billion for transportation costs.

The JAEA facility is not to be confused with the private uranium-processing facility in Tokai where a fatal criticality accident occurred in 1999.

April 26, 2017 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing, wastes | Leave a comment

South Korea is trying to develop nuclear reprocessing technology other countries have failed at

US expert: uranium price falling, why is S. Korea seeking expensive spent fuel processing facilities? The Hankyoreh, 7 Mar 17

Frank von Hippel says South Korea is trying to develop two kinds of technology other countries have failed at

“The price of uranium is gradually falling, and it costs twice as much to acquire spent fuel processing facilities for running a fast reactor. I don’t understand why [South Korea] is trying to acquire such expensive facilities,” said Frank von Hippel, 80, a professor at Princeton University, during a lecture at a seminar called “Truth and Lies about Pyroprocessing” that was held at the Daejeon Youth We Can Center on Feb. 28. Von Hippel is the American nuclear expert who first proposed the term “proliferation resistance.”

“The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute is trying to develop the two technologies that all other advanced countries have failed to develop, which is to say reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and liquid sodium-cooled fast reactors. While they claim to be pursuing nuclear fuel reprocessing as a way to manage nuclear waste, this doesn’t improve the problem but only makes it worse while incurring tremendous costs,” von Hippel warned.

“I don’t think the Trump administration and the Republicans are going to change the Obama administration’s nuclear policy [of non-proliferation],” he said. …..

“The Idaho National Laboratory promised to process 25 tons of spent nuclear fuel using pyroprocessing in five years, but they only processed five tons in 16 years, which cost a huge amount of money,” he went on to say.

The plan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and to build fast reactors derives from false predictions about the future, von Hippel explains. In the 1950s, Americans expected that energy demand would double every decade, but the current energy demand is only twice what it was in the 1960s. The American nuclear energy establishment projected in the 1960s that nuclear energy would cover 100% of future energy demand, but at present nuclear power only provides 20% of energy in the US and just 10% of energy worldwide.

The plan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel for use also derived from concerns about the depletion of uranium reserves and rising prices. But the dreaded rise in prices never materialized because predictions about the rate of increase of nuclear plants were way off and because the output of uranium mines has not decreased. “Currently, the cost of uranium only accounts for 1% of the cost that goes into producing electricity at nuclear plants. Even if spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed and used at fast reactors, it will only be about 2%. Not only is this a small percentage of the total cost, but it will only make the cost of generation more expensive. I don‘t know if it’s necessary to acquire high-cost facilities,” van Hippel said.

Along with the high cost, there are high risks, which means that hardly any countries are interested in building fast reactors, von Hippel contends. France’s fast reactor Superphenix cost 100 trillion won to develop but only operated at 8% before being decommissioned, and Japan’s Monju nuclear plant operated at just 1% for 20 years before it was decided last year to shut it down. The UK is also planning to end operations in 2018. China operated a pilot fast reactor in 2011, but after producing 20kg of plutonium, a small amount, it concluded that the benefits were marginal and suspended the program. Russia continues to operate these reactors, but there have reportedly been 15 fires at sodium fast reactors……

In von Hippel’s view, the most affordable policy for managing spent nuclear fuel is first storing nuclear waste in dry casks and then burying those casks deep underground in disposal sites that have been prudently designed with engineered barriers.http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_international/785468.html

March 8, 2017 Posted by | reprocessing, South Korea | Leave a comment

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority approves closure of Monju nuclear reprocessing reactor by next April

monju-plant-in-tsuruga-fukui-prefectureNuclear watchdog approves scrapping Monju reactor  https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20161228_19/ Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has approved the government’s decision to scrap the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor. The education, science and technology ministry briefed the NRA on Wednesday about the government’s decision last week about the troubled reactor in Fukui Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said the decision is in line with the recommendation it made in November last year.
In it, the NRA urged an overhaul of a research and development project involving the reactor. It said scrapping the reactor would be an option unless a new operator were found for it.

The ministry also told the NRA on Wednesday that it will draw up a basic plan for decommissioning the reactor by next April.

It added that to eliminate possible safety risks soon, it will instruct reactor operator Japan Atomic Energy Agency to remove nuclear fuel from the reactor in about 5 and half years.

Tanaka asked the ministry to oversee the decommissioning process to ensure safety. He said the NRA will study whether relevant laws should be amended to step up regulation. He added that it may also set up an expert team to monitor the process.

December 30, 2016 Posted by | decommission reactor, Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Monju closure marks the end of the failed “nuclear fuel cycle” dream

fast-breeder-MonjuJapan pulls plug on Monju, ending US$8.5 billion nuclear self-sufficiency push, South China Morning Post,  21 December, 2016 

Japan on Wednesday formally pulled the plug on an US$8.5 billion nuclear power project designed to realise a long-term aim for energy self-sufficiency after decades of development that yielded little electricity but plenty of controversy.

The move to shut the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor in Fukui prefecture west of Tokyo adds to a list of failed attempts around the world to make the technology commercially viable and potentially cut stockpiles of dangerous nuclear waste……

The plant was built to burn plutonium derived from the waste of reactors at Japan’s conventional nuclear plants and create more fuel than it used, closing the so-called nuclear fuel cycle and giving a country that relies on overseas supplies for most of its energy needs a home-grown electricity source.

With Monju’s shutdown, Japan’s taxpayers are now left with an estimated bill of at least 375 billion yen (US$3.2 billion) to decommission its reactor, on top of the 1 trillion yen (US$8.5 billion) spent on the project.

Japan is still committed to trying to make the technology work and will build a new experimental research reactor at Monju, the government said.

But critics within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) think it will be another futile attempt.

“We need to terminate the impossible dream of the nuclear fuel cycle. The fast breeder reactor is not going to be commercially viable. We know it. We all know it,” senior LDP lawmaker Taro Kono said recently at an event in Tokyo.  http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/east-asia/article/2056403/japan-pulls-plug-monju-ending-us85-billion-nuclear-self?utm_source=edm&utm_medium=edm&utm_content=20161222&utm_campaign=scmp_today

December 24, 2016 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Financial disaster of America’s failed Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX)

MOXhighly-recommendedNuke Fuel Facility Costs Ten Times Estimate, is 41 Years Behind Schedule http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/nuclear-security/2016/nuke-fuel-facility-costs-ten-times-estimate-41-years-behind-schedule.html?referrer=https://t.co/yn7hBkHF1d   By: Lydia Dennett | October 13, 2016   Imagine you have a contractor working on your house. They quoted you a price and told you the project would be done in no time. Sure, you realize costs will probably go up some and the schedule will slip due to an unexpected problem or two. But months turn into years, years turn into a decade, and now, 14 years later, you find that they’ve already spent five times their original estimate and they aren’t even halfway done!

That’s the situation the Department of Energy is facing with the contractor building a nuclear fuel facility in South Carolina. The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, known as MOX, is a multi-billion dollar boondoggle that is behind schedule, is over budget, and will never be able to complete its mission. Now the Army Corps of Engineers has released an independent cost estimate for the project that reveals things are even worse than we thought.

MOX was originally conceived as part of an agreement between the United States and Russia in which each country pledged to dispose of weapons grade plutonium. But that was back in 2000. As cost overruns and the technical failure has become clear, the Department of Energy asked Congress to cancel the program this year. The South Carolina delegation, defending jobs in their districts, pushed back and claimed doing so would violate the agreement. Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he would be withdrawing from the agreement.

Without Russia being party to the agreement, the last remaining pretense for this boondoggle is shattered.

Congress will soon be reviewing the budget for fiscal year 2018 and should ensure that funding for this project is ended once and for all.

The new independent cost estimate shows that finishing the construction of the MOX facility has gone from $1.6 billion to a staggering $17 billion—more than 10 times the original projection. And while the facility was supposed to be fully constructed in 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers stated that MOX won’t be finished and ready for operations until 2048—putting it 41 years behind schedule.

But even if Congress decides to accept spending $17 billion in taxpayer dollars and waiting 41 extra years for the facility, the project will never work.

MOX technology dates back to the 1960s and has caused experts to raise concerns about the technical viability of the U.S. facility should it ever be completed and become operational. In 2014, Energy Department experts concluded that U.S. implementation of MOX technology still remains a “significant risk.” Moreover, even if the facility were to work perfectly and produce the mixed oxide fuel as intended, there aren’t any commercial nuclear reactor companies interested in purchasing it. In 2008, the project lost its only potential customer and hasn’t been able to find a single replacement.

What is even more unbelievable is that $17 billion isn’t even the bottom line for this monstrosity. Other independent estimates have found that over the facility’s lifetime, which includes the costs of operating the plant for 20 years on top of construction costs, MOX will cost taxpayers $110 billion.

The fact that these cost estimates come from independent sources is important. For the last several years the contractor in charge of the MOX project, CB&I AREVA MOX Services, has been spreading misleading facts and figures about the project’s true costs.

These contractor statements have been proven wrong time and time again by the Department of Energy, independent sources, and reality. The new Army Corps analysis exposes just how the contractors’ optimistic estimates border on delusional. For example, the contractors stated earlier this year that finishing the job will cost $3 billion; the Army Corps found the contractors’ estimate should have come closer to $10 billion. The contractors’ calculation, they found, had serious problems which led to the inaccuracies. “The MOX Services estimate-at-completion is not credible because it was developed using unrealistic production and productivity rates, artificially low escalation, inappropriate allocation of management reserves and contingency that is not time phased across the project duration, and lack of escalation applied to these reserves,” the Army Corps’ report stated. Based on their calculations the MOX project is only 28 percent complete, not 48 percent as the contractor has asserted.

What CB&I AREVA MOX Services also seem to conveniently forget in its calculations is that the project is running on at least a 25 percent rework rate, meaning approximately a quarter of the work already done will have to be re-done—the project takes one step back for every four steps forward. This includes everything from walls that were installed incorrectly to piping that was ordered but didn’t meet specifications.

These kinds of mistakes led to CB&I AREVA MOX Services receiving only half of its possible contract award fee in 2015.  “Overall performance is below the level needed for successful project completion, as culminated in cost overruns and schedule delays,” thegovernment documents stated. They cited the contractor’s poor management of the project and failure to adequately perform random drug testing. Still, CB&I AREVA MOX Services received $4.33 million of the possible $8.86 million in bonuses for that year.

It may seem remarkable that CB&I AREVA MOX Services has managed to retain the contract after so many missteps, but it could be the result of a very successful lobbying effort. The two companies that make up CB&I AREVA MOX Services, Chicago Bridge & Iron Works (CB&I) and AREVA, spent a total of $2.4 million lobbying the government in 2015 on various issues including the MOX project. In the first two quarters of 2016 alone the groups have spent $1.4 million. That amount doubles when including other organizations, like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, that listed MOX as a lobbying objective.

The contractor has effectively lined up several Senators and Representatives who have made sure that taxpayer dollars continue to flow to the MOX project, and thus to CB&I AREVA MOX Services. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Scott (R-SC), and Representatives Joe Wilson (R-SC), James Clyburn (D-SC), and Rick Allen (R-GA) have done their best to support MOX. During the budget process this year, Wilson wrote a letter to the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development urging them to continue funding the MOX program. Clyburn and Allen also signed the letter. It comes as no surprise that Representatives Wilson and Clyburn as well as Senator Scott are among the AREVA Group’s top recipients for campaign donations. Also on the list are Representatives Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee which determines annual funding for MOX. At this point the MOX project is nothing more than pork barrel politics.

“We are confident [the MOX project] is not feasible in this environment. We are going down a road spending money on something that will never happen. Unfortunately, that seems to us to be a very large waste of taxpayer money,’’ DOE Associate Deputy Secretary John MacWilliams told The State reporter Sammy Fretwell on a tour of the construction site.

MOX is unaffordable, 41 years behind schedule, and will never work. And now that Russia has withdrawn from the agreement, the United States would be the only ones trying to uphold it. Congress’s decision to continue funding this disaster was based on grossly inaccurate information about both the cost and performance of this project. But they have time to revisit this decision with unbiased facts and analysis before the next budget decisions need to be made. There are cheaper and faster ways to dispose of the plutonium, methods that the Energy Department is already exploring. There is no reason Congress should continue forcing taxpayers to fund such an obvious boondoggle.

By: Lydia Dennett, Investigator

Lydia Dennett is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Lydia works on safety and security of nuclear weapons and power facilities, foreign lobbying and influence, and works with Department of Veterans Affairs whistleblowers.

October 19, 2016 Posted by | reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Fast nuclear reactors might be hyped up, but their future looks gloomy

Nuclear: The slow death of fast reactors Jim Green, 5 Oct 2016, RenewEconomy,http://reneweconomy.com.au/2016/nuclear-the-slow-death-of-fast-reactors-21046

Generation IV ‘fast breeder’ reactors have long been promoted by nuclear enthusiasts, writes Jim Green, but Japan’s decision to abandon the Monju fast reactor is another nail in the coffin for this failed technology.

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Fast neutron reactors are “poised to become mainstream” according to the World Nuclear Association. The Association lists eight “current” fast reactors although three of them are not operating. That leaves just five fast reactors ‒ three of them experimental.

Fast reactors aren’t becoming mainstream. One after another country has abandoned the technology. Nuclear physicist Thomas Cochransummarises the history: “Fast reactor development programs failed in the: 1) United States; 2) France; 3) United Kingdom; 4) Germany; 5) Japan; 6) Italy; 7) Soviet Union/Russia 8) U.S. Navy and 9) the Soviet Navy. The program in India is showing no signs of success and the program in China is only at a very early stage of development.”

The latest setback was the decision of the Japanese government at an extraordinary Cabinet meeting on September 21 to abandon plans to restart the Monju fast breeder reactor.

Monju reached criticality in 1994 but was shut down in December 1995 after a sodium coolant leak and fire. The reactor didn’t restart until May 2010, and it was shut down again three months later after a fuel handling machine was accidentally dropped in the reactor during a refuelling outage. In November 2012, it was revealed that Japan Atomic Energy Agency had failed to conduct regular inspections of almost 10,000 out of a total 39,000 pieces of equipment at Monju, including safety-critical equipment.

In November 2015, the Nuclear Regulation Authority declared that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency was “not qualified as an entity to safely operate” Monju. Education minister Hirokazu Matsuno said on 21 September 2016 that attempts to find an alternative operator have been unsuccessful.

The government has already spent 1.2 trillion yen (US$12bn) on Monju. The government calculated that it would cost another 600 billion yen (US$6bn) to restart Monju and keep it operating for another 10 years.

Decommissioning also has a hefty price-tag ‒ far more than for conventional light-water reactors. According to a 2012estimate by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, decommissioning Monju will cost an estimated 300 billion yen (US$3bn).

India’s failed fast reactor program   India’s fast reactor program has been a failure. The budget for the Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) was approved in 1971 but the reactor was delayed repeatedly, attaining first criticality in 1985. It took until 1997 for the FBTR to start supplying a small amount of electricity to the grid. The FBTR’s operations have been marred by several accidents.

Preliminary design work for a larger Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) began in 1985, expenditures on the reactor began in 1987/88 and construction began in 2004 ‒ but the reactor still hasn’t started up. Construction has taken more than twice the expected period. In July 2016, the Indian government announced yet another delay, and there is scepticism that the scheduled start-up in March 2017 will be realised. The PFBR’s cost estimate has gone up by 62%.

India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has for decades projected the construction of hundreds of fast reactors ‒ for example a 2004 DAE document projected 262.5 gigawatts (GW) of fast reactor capacity by 2050. But India has a track record of making absurd projections for both fast reactors and light-water reactors ‒ and failing to meet those targets by orders of magnitude.

Academic M.V. Ramana writes: “Breeder reactors have always underpinned the DAE’s claims about generating large quantities of electricity. Today, more than six decades after the grand plans for growth were first announced, that promise is yet to be fulfilled. The latest announcement about the delay in the PFBR is yet another reminder that breeder reactors in India, like elsewhere, are best regarded as a failed technology and that it is time to give up on them.”

Russia’s snail-paced program  Russia’s fast reactor program is the only one that could be described as anything other than an abject failure. But it hasn’t been a roaring success either.

Three fast reactors are in operation in Russia ‒ BOR-60 (start-up in 1969), BN-600 (1980) and BN-800 (2014). There have been 27sodium leaks in the BN-600 reactor, five of them in systems with radioactive sodium, and 14 leaks were accompanied by burning of sodium.

The Russian government published a decree in August 2016 outlining plans to build 11 new reactors over the next 14 years. Of the 11 proposed new reactors, three are fast reactors: BREST-300 near Tomsk in Siberia, and two BN-1200 fast reactors near Ekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk, near the Ural mountains. However, like India, the Russian government has a track record of projecting rapid and substantial nuclear power expansion ‒ and failing miserably to meet the targets.

As Vladimir Slivyak recently noted in Nuclear Monitor: “While Russian plans looks big on paper, it’s unlikely that this program will be implemented. It’s very likely that the current economic crisis, the deepest in history since the USSR collapsed, will axe the most of new reactors.”

While the August 2016 decree signals new interest in reviving the BN-1200 reactor project, it was indefinitely suspended in 2014, with Rosatom citing the need to improve fuel for the reactor and amid speculation about the cost-effectiveness of the project.

In 2014, Rosenergoatom spokesperson Andrey Timonov said the BN-800 reactor, which started up in 2014, “must answer questions about the economic viability of potential fast reactors because at the moment ‘fast’ technology essentially loses this indicator [when compared with] commercial VVER units.”

 

China’s program going nowhere fast   Australian nuclear lobbyist Geoff Russell cites the World Nuclear Association(WNA) in support of his claim that China expect fast reactors “to be dominating the market by about 2030 and they’ll be mass produced.”

Does the WNA paper support the claim? Not at all. China has a 20 MWe experimental fast reactor, which operated for a total of less than one month in the 63 months from criticality in July 2010 to October 2015. For every hour the reactor operated in 2015, it was offline for five hours, and there were three recorded reactor trips.

China also has plans to build a 600 MWe ‘Demonstration Fast Reactor’ and then a 1,000 MWe commercial-scale fast reactor. Whether those reactors will be built remains uncertain ‒ the projects have not been approved ‒ and it would be another giant leap from a single commercial-scale fast reactor to a fleet of them.

According to the WNA, a decision to proceed with or cancel the 1,000 MWe fast reactor will not be made until 2020, and if it proceeds, construction could begin in 2028 and operation could begin in about 2034.

So China might have one commercial-scale fast reactor by 2034 ‒ but probably won’t. Russell’s claim that fast reactors will be “dominating the market by about 2030” is unbridled jiggery-pokery.

According to the WNA, China envisages 40 GW of fast reactor capacity by 2050. A far more likely scenario is that China will have 0 GW of fast reactor capacity by 2050. And even if the 40 GW target was reached, it would still only represent aroundone-sixth of total nuclear capacity in China in 2050 ‒ fast reactors still wouldn’t be “dominating the market” even if capacity grows by orders of magnitude from 0.02 GW (the experimental reactor that is usually offline) to 40 GW.

 Travelling-waves and the non-existent ‘integral fast reactor’

Perhaps the travelling-wave fast reactor popularised by Bill Gates will come to the rescue? Or perhaps not. According to theWNA, China General Nuclear Power and Xiamen University are reported to be cooperating on R&D, but the Ministry of Science and Technology, China National Nuclear Corporation, and the State Nuclear Power Technology Company are all skeptical of the travelling-wave reactor concept.

Perhaps the ‘integral fast reactor’ (IFR) championed by James Hansen will come to the rescue? Or perhaps not. The UK and US governments have been considering building IFRs (specifically GE Hitachi’s ‘PRISM’ design) for plutonium disposition ‒ but it is almost certain that both countries will choose different methods to manage plutonium stockpiles.

In South Australia, nuclear lobbyists united behind a push for IFRs/PRISMs, and they would have expected to persuade a stridently pro-nuclear Royal Commission to endorse their ideas. But the Royal Commission completely rejected the proposal, noting in its May 2016report that advanced fast reactors are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future; that the development of such a first-of-a-kind project would have high commercial and technical risk; that there is no licensed, commercially proven design and development to that point would require substantial capital investment; and that electricity generated from such reactors has not been demonstrated to be cost competitive with current light water reactor designs.

A future for fast reactors?

Just 400 reactor-years of worldwide experience have been gained with fast reactors. There is 42 times more experience with conventional reactors (16,850 reactor-years). And most of the experience with fast reactors suggests they are more trouble than they are worth.

Apart from the countries mentioned above, there is very little interest in pursuing fast reactor technology. Germany, the UK and the UScancelled their prototype breeder reactor programs in the 1980s and 1990s.

France is considering building a fast reactor (ASTRID) despite the country’s unhappy experience with the Phénix and Superphénix reactors. But a decision on whether to construct ASTRID will not be made until 2019/20.

The performance of the Superphénix reactor was as dismal as Monju. Superphénix was meant to be the world’s first commercial fast reactor but in the 13 years of its miserable existence it rarely operated ‒ its ‘Energy Unavailability Factor’ was 90.8% according to the IAEA. Note that the fast reactor lobbyists complain about the intermittency of wind and solar!

A 2010 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists summarised the worldwide failure of fast reactor technology: “After six decades and the expenditure of the equivalent of about $100 billion, the promise of breeder reactors remains largely unfulfilled. … The breeder reactor dream is not dead, but it has receded far into the future. In the 1970s, breeder advocates were predicting that the world would have thousands of breeder reactors operating this decade. Today, they are predicting commercialization by approximately 2050.”

Allison MacFarlane, former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, recently made this sarcastic assessment of fast reactor technology: “These turn out to be very expensive technologies to build. Many countries have tried over and over. What is truly impressive is that these many governments continue to fund a demonstrably failed technology.”

While fast reactors face a bleak future, the rhetoric will persist. Australian academic Barry Brook wrote a puff-piece about fast reactors for the Murdoch press in 2009. On the same day he said on his website that “although it’s not made abundantly clear in the article”, he expects conventional reactors to play the major role for the next two to three decades but chose to emphasise fast reactors “to try to hook the fresh fish”.

So that’s the nuclear lobbyists’ game plan − making overblown claims about fast reactors and other Generation IV reactor concepts, pretending that they are near-term prospects, and being less than “abundantly clear” about the truth.

Dr Jim Green is the national anti-nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter published by the World Information Service on Energy.

October 5, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

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