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Moltex Energy’s nuclear pyroprocessing project with plutonium would produce weapons grade material and encourage weapons proliferation

Will Canada remain a credible nonproliferation partner?  https://thebulletin.org/2021/07/will-canada-remain-a-credible-nonproliferation-partner/

By Susan O’DonnellGordon Edwards | July 26, 2021 


Susan O’Donnell
Susan O’Donnell is a researcher specializing in technology adoption and environmental issues at the University of New Brunswick.

Gordon Edwards
Gordon Edwards is a mathematician, physicist, nuclear consultant, and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility,

The recent effort to persuade Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has stimulated a lively debate in the public sphere. At the same time, out of the spotlight, the start-up company Moltex Energy received a federal grant to develop a nuclear project in New Brunswick that experts say will undermine Canada’s credibility as a nonproliferation partner.

Moltex wants to extract plutonium from the thousands of used nuclear fuel bundles currently stored as “high-level radioactive waste” at the Point Lepreau reactor site on the Bay of Fundy. The idea is to use the plutonium as fuel for a new nuclear reactor, still in the design stage. If the project is successful, the entire package could be replicated and sold to other countries if the Government of Canada approves the sale.

The recent effort to persuade Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has stimulated a lively debate in the public sphere. At the same time, out of the spotlight, the start-up company Moltex Energy received a federal grant to develop a nuclear project in New Brunswick that experts say will undermine Canada’s credibility as a nonproliferation partner.

Moltex wants to extract plutonium from the thousands of used nuclear fuel bundles currently stored as “high-level radioactive waste” at the Point Lepreau reactor site on the Bay of Fundy. The idea is to use the plutonium as fuel for a new nuclear reactor, still in the design stage. If the project is successful, the entire package could be replicated and sold to other countries if the Government of Canada approves the sale.

On May 25, nine US nonproliferation experts sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing concern that by “backing spent-fuel reprocessing and plutonium extraction, the Government of Canada will undermine the global nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime that Canada has done so much to strengthen.”

The nine signatories to the letter include senior White House appointees and other US government advisers who worked under six US presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama; and who hold professorships at the Harvard Kennedy School, University of Maryland, Georgetown University, University of Texas at Austin, George Washington University, and Princeton University.

Plutonium is a human-made element created as a byproduct in every nuclear reactor. It’s a “Jekyll and Hyde” kind of material: on the one hand, it is the stuff that nuclear weapons are made from. On the other hand, it can be used as a nuclear fuel. The crucial question is, can you have one without the other?

India exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1974 using plutonium extracted from a “peaceful” Canadian nuclear reactor given as a gift many years earlier. In the months afterwards, it was discovered that South Korea, Pakistan, Taiwan, and Argentina—all of them customers of Canadian nuclear technology—were well on the way to replicating India’s achievement. Swift action by the US and its allies prevented these countries from acquiring the necessary plutonium extraction facilities (called “reprocessing plants”). To this day, South Korea is not allowed to extract plutonium from used nuclear fuel on its own territory—a long-lasting political legacy of the 1974 Indian explosion and its aftermath—due to proliferation concerns.

Several years after the Indian explosion, the US Carter administration ended federal support for civil reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in the US out of concern that it would contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons by making plutonium more available. At that time, Canada’s policy on reprocessing also changed to accord with the US policy—although no similar high-level announcement was made by the Canadian government.

Moltex is proposing to use a type of plutonium extraction technology called “pyroprocessing,” in which the solid used reactor fuel is converted to a liquid form, dissolved in a very hot bath of molten salt. What happens next is described by Moltex chairman and chief scientist Ian Scott in a recent article in Energy Intelligence. “We then—in a very, very simple process—extract the plutonium selectively from that molten metal. It’s literally a pot. You put the metal in, put salt in the top, mix them up, and the plutonium moves into the salt, and the salt’s our fuel. That’s it. … You tip the crucible and out pours the fuel for our reactor.”

The federal government recently supported the Moltex project with a $50.5-million grant, announced on March 18 by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc in Saint John.

At the event, LeBlanc and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs described the Moltex project as “recycling” nuclear waste, although in fact barely one-half of one per cent of the used nuclear fuel is potentially available for use as new reactor fuel. That leaves a lot of radioactive waste left over.

From an international perspective, the government grant to Moltex can be seen as Canada sending a signal—giving a green light to plutonium extraction and the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel.

The US experts’ primary concern is that other countries could point to Canada’s support of the Moltex program to help justify its own plutonium acquisition programs. That could undo years of efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of countries that might want to join the ranks of unofficial nuclear weapons states such as Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. The Moltex project is especially irksome since its proposed pyroprocessing technology is very similar to the one that South Korea has been trying to deploy for almost 10 years.

In their letter, the American experts point out that Japan is currently the only nonnuclear-armed state that reprocesses spent nuclear fuel, a fact that is provoking both domestic and international controversy.

In a follow-up exchange, signatory Frank von Hippel of Princeton University explained that the international controversy is threefold: (1) The United States sees both a nuclear weapons proliferation danger from Japan’s plutonium stockpile and also a nuclear terrorism threat from the possible theft of separated plutonium; (2) China and South Korea see Japan’s plutonium stocks as a basis for a rapid nuclear weaponization; and (3) South Korea’s nuclear-energy R&D community is demanding that the US grant them the same right to separate plutonium as Japan enjoys.

Despite the alarm raised by the nine authors in their letter to Trudeau, they have received no reply from the government. The only response has come from the Moltex CEO Rory O’Sullivan. His reply to a Globe and Mail reporter is similar to his earlier rebuttal in The Hill Times published in his letter to the editor on April 5: the plutonium extracted in the Moltex facility would be “completely unsuitable for use in weapons.”

But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that “Nuclear weapons can be fabricated using plutonium containing virtually any combination of plutonium isotopes.” All plutonium is of equal “sensitivity” for purposes of IAEA safeguards in nonnuclear weapon states.

Similarly, a 2009 report by nonproliferation experts from six US national laboratories concluded that pyroprocessing is about as susceptible to misuse for nuclear weapons as the original reprocessing technology used by the military, called PUREX.

In 2011, a US State Department official responsible for US nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries went further by stating that pyroprocessing is just as dangerous from a proliferation point of view as any other kind of plutonium extraction technology, saying: “frankly and positively that pyro-processing is reprocessing. Period. Full stop.”

And, despite years of effort, the IAEA has not yet developed an approach to effectively safeguard pyroprocessing to prevent diversion of plutonium for illicit uses.

Given that history has shown the dangers of promoting the greater availability of plutonium, why is the federal government supporting pyroprocessing?

It is clear the nuclear lobby wants it. In the industry’s report, “Feasibility of Small Modular Reactor Development and Deployment in Canada,” released in March, the reprocessing (which they call “recycling”) of spent nuclear fuel is presented as a key element of the industry’s future plans.

Important national and international issues are at stake, and conscientious Canadians should sit up and take notice. Parliamentarians of all parties owe it to their constituents to demand more accountability. To date however, there has been no democratic open debate or public consultation over the path Canada is charting with nuclear energy.

Countless Canadians have urged Canada to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that came into force at the end of January this year. Ironically, the government has rebuffed these efforts, claiming that it does not want to “undermine” Canada’s long-standing effort to achieve a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty. Such a treaty would, if it ever saw the light of day (which seems increasingly unlikely), stop the production of weapons usable materials such as highly enriched uranium and (you guessed it) plutonium.

So, the Emperor not only has no clothes, but his right hand doesn’t know what his left hand is doing.

July 27, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Canada, Reference, reprocessing, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Scientists say New Brunswick’s plutonium plan is undermining the global nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime

Scientists say New Brunswick’s plutonium plan is undermining the global nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime,    https://nbmediacoop.org/2021/06/14/scientists-say-nbs-plutonium-plan-is-undermining-the-global-nuclear-weapons-non-proliferation-regime/ by Susan O’Donnell and Gordon EdwardsJune 14, 2021  The company Moltex Energy wants to extract plutonium from the thousands of used nuclear fuel bundles stored at Point Lepreau on the Bay of Fundy. They plan to use the plutonium as fuel for a new nuclear reactor, still in the design stage. If the project is successful, the entire package could be replicated and sold to other countries.

However, American scientists and non-proliferation experts say that Canadian government support for the Moltex plutonium-extraction project is undermining the global nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime. Plutonium is the primary nuclear explosive material in the world’s arsenals of nuclear weapons.

On March 18 this year, federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced a $50.5 million grant for the Moltex project, adding to the $5 million the New Brunswick government gave the company in 2018. During the announcement, LeBlanc and Premier Blaine Higgs described the Moltex project as “recycling” nuclear waste, although less than one percent of the used nuclear fuel is potentially available for use as new reactor fuel, leaving a lot of radioactive waste leftovers.

On May 25, nine US non-proliferation experts sent an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau expressing concern that by “backing spent-fuel reprocessing and plutonium extraction, the government of Canada will undermine the global nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime that Canada has done so much to strengthen.”

The nine signatories to the letter include senior White House scientist appointees and other US government advisors who worked under six US presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama; and who hold professorships at the Harvard Kennedy School, University of Maryland, Georgetown University, University of Texas at Austin, George Washington University and Princeton University.

Plutonium is a human-made element created as a byproduct in every nuclear reactor. India exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1974 using plutonium extracted from a “peaceful” Canadian nuclear reactor given as a gift many years earlier. In the months afterwards, it was discovered that South Korea, Pakistan, Taiwan and Argentina – all customers of Canadian nuclear technology – were well on the way to replicating India’s achievement.

The US and its allies acted swiftly to prevent these countries from acquiring the necessary plutonium extraction facilities. To this day South Korea is not allowed to extract plutonium from used nuclear fuel on its own territory due to proliferation concerns.

Several years after the Indian explosion, the US Carter administration ended federal support for civil reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in the US out of concern that making plutonium more available would contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. At that time, Canada’s policy on reprocessing also changed to accord with the US policy.

Moltex is proposing extract plutonium at Point Lepreau using “pyroprocessing,” in which the solid used reactor fuel is converted to a liquid form, dissolved in a very hot bath of molten salt. What happens next was described by Moltex Chairman and Chief Scientist Ian Scott in a recent article in Energy Intelligence. “We then — in a very, very simple process — extract the plutonium selectively from that molten metal. It’s literally a pot. You put the metal in, put salt in the top, mix them up, and the plutonium moves into the salt, and the salt’s our fuel. That’s it … You tip the crucible and out pours the fuel for our reactor.”

From an international perspective, the federal support of the Moltex project can be seen as Canada sending a signal – giving a green light to plutonium extraction and the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel.

The US experts are concerned other countries could point to Canada’s support of the Moltex project to help justify their own plutonium acquisition programs. That could undo years of efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of countries that might want to join the ranks of unofficial nuclear weapons states. The Moltex project is especially irksome since its proposed pyroprocessing technology is very similar to the one South Korea has been trying to deploy for almost 10 years.

Despite the alarm raised by the nine experts in their letter to Trudeau, the government has not yet responded. The only response has come from the industry, Moltex CEO Rory O’Sullivan. His reply to a Globe and Mail reporter: the plutonium extracted in the Moltex facility would be “completely unsuitable for use in weapons.”

But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that “Nuclear weapons can be fabricated using plutonium containing virtually any combination of plutonium isotopes.” All plutonium is of equal “sensitivity” for purposes of IAEA safeguards in non-nuclear weapon States.

Similarly, a 2009 report by non-proliferation experts from six US national laboratories concluded that pyroprocessing is about as susceptible to misuse for nuclear weapons as the original reprocessing technology used by the military.

In 2011, a US State Department official responsible stated that pyroprocessing is just as dangerous from a proliferation point of view as any other kind of plutonium extraction technology, saying “frankly and positively that pyroprocessing is reprocessing. Period. Full stop.”

And, despite years of effort, the IAEA has not yet developed an approach to effectively safeguard pyroprocessing to prevent diversion of plutonium for illicit uses.

Given that history has shown the dangers of promoting the greater availability of plutonium, why is the federal government supporting pyroprocessing?

The answer: the Canadian nuclear lobby wants it. In the nuclear industry’s report released in March, “Feasibility of Small Modular Reactor Development and Deployment in Canada,” reprocessing (which they call “recycling”) spent nuclear fuel is presented as key to the industry’s future plans.

To date however, there has been no democratic open debate or public consultation over the path Canada is charting with nuclear energy. Important national and international issues are at stake, and conscientious New Brunswickers and all Canadians should sit up and take notice. Political representatives in the Canadian Parliament and the New Brunswick Legislature owe it to their constituents to demand more accountability and ask why our governments are supporting a plutonium-extraction project that raises such serious international concerns.

Susan O’Donnell, a Fredericton-based researcher specializing in technology adoption and environmental issues, is the lead researcher for the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick. Gordon Edwards is a Montreal-based mathematician, physicist, nuclear consultant, and President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. 

June 24, 2021 Posted by | Canada, reprocessing | Leave a comment

The fiasco of nuclear preprocessing: UK, Japan, USA.

Part one | The slow violence of SA’s nuclear waste,

Part one of this four-part story considers the imminent danger involved in storing used radioactive materials, a dilemma growing at a rate of more than 32 tonnes a year. New Frame , By: Neil Overy, 8 Mar 21

”……………..This is a process by which fission products are chemically separated out of used fuel rods to extract any unused uranium. This alleged solution to the problem of high-level waste has been one of the illusionary solutions Eskom has regularly mooted and just as regularly abandoned because of the colossal costs and serious dangers involved in reprocessing. 

In the United Kingdom, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, opened at huge cost in 1994, closed in 2018 having reached none of its intended reprocessing targets. Its decommissioning is now set to cost taxpayers at least $5.5 billion and take up to 100 years to complete. In Japan, construction of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant began in 1993 and was supposed to be completed by 1997. Incredibly, the plant is still not complete – its completion date has been postponed 25 times – and it is now expected to be operational in 2023, 26 years late and tens of billions of dollars over budget. 

Even when operational, large quantities of dangerously radioactive waste, which needs to be stored for thousands of years, remains. Some of this waste is separated plutonium, a fissile material used in nuclear bombs, which presents a very serious security risk. This is precisely why reprocessing has never been authorised in the United States. As the Union of Concerned Scientists conclude, reprocessing is “dangerous, dirty and expensive”. Quite clearly, reprocessing is not an option South Africa should consider. …… https://www.newframe.com/part-1-the-slow-violence-of-sas-nuclear-waste/?fbclid=IwAR0TEdv3xITKJISxqQs_UwdO9JB4m5LkPABzUl9b6R_nYVZKdL2S2ikp-MA

April 15, 2021 Posted by | 2 WORLD, reprocessing | Leave a comment

The US Energy Department’s renewed promotion of plutonium-fueled reactors. 

Plutonium programs in East Asia and Idaho will challenge the Biden administration, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Frank N. von Hippel | April 12, 2021  ”’…………. The US Energy Department’s renewed promotion of plutonium-fueled reactors. The US plutonium breeder reactor development program was ended by Congress in 1983. A decade later, the Clinton Administration shut down the Idaho National Laboratory’s Experimental Breeder Reactor II for lack of mission. At the time, I was working in the White House and supported that decision.

The nuclear-energy divisions at the Energy Department’s Argonne and Idaho National Laboratories refused to give up, however. They continued to produce articles promoting sodium-cooled reactors and laboratory studies on “pyroprocessing,” a small-scale technology used to separate plutonium from the fuel of the Experimental Breeder Reactor II .

During the Trump administration, this low-level effort broke out. With the Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy headed by a former Idaho National Lab staffer and help from Idaho’s two Senators, the Energy Department and Congress were persuaded to approve the first steps toward construction at the Idaho National Laboratory of a larger version of the decommissioned Experimental Breeder Reactor II.

 The new reactor, misleadingly labeled the “Versatile Test Reactor,” would be built by Bechtel with design support by GE-Hitachi and Bill Gates’ Terrapower. The Energy Department awarded contracts to the Battelle Energy Alliance and to university nuclear-engineering departments in Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Oregon to develop proposals for how to use the Versatile Test Reactor.

The current estimated cost of the Versatile Test Reactor is $2.6-5.8 billion, and it is to be fueled with plutonium. The Idaho National Laboratory’s hope is to convince Congress to commit to funding its construction in 2021.

The Energy Department also committed $80 million to co-fund the construction of a 345-megawatt-electric (MWe) “Natrium” (Latin for sodium) demonstration liquid-sodium-cooled power reactor proposed by GE-Hitachi and Terrapower which it hopes Congress would increase to $1.6 billion. It also committed $25 million each to Advanced Reactor Concepts and General Atomics to design small sodium-cooled reactors. And it has subsidized Oklo, a $25-million startup company financed by the Koch family, to construct a 1.5 MWe “microreactor” on the Idaho National Laboratory’s site to demonstrate an extravagantly costly power source for remote regions.


In all these reactors, the chain reaction would be sustained by fast neutrons unlike the slow neutrons that sustain the chain reactions in water-cooled reactors. The Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy has justified the need for the Versatile Test Reactor by the fast-neutron reactors whose construction it is supporting. In this way, it has “bootstraping” the Versatile Test Reactor by creating a need for it that would not otherwise exist.

This program also is undermining US nonproliferation policy..………..https://thebulletin.org/2021/04/plutonium-programs-in-east-asia-and-idaho-will-challenge-the-biden-administration/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=MondayNewsletter04122021&utm_content=NuclearRisk_EastAsia_04122021

April 13, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, reprocessing, USA | 1 Comment

Japan’s hugely costly nuclear reprocessing program.

Plutonium programs in East Asia and Idaho will challenge the Biden administration, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Frank N. von Hippel | April 12, 2021,  ”………………Japan’s hugely costly reprocessing program. The United States has been trying to persuade Japan to abandon reprocessing ever since 1977. At the time, then prime minister Takeo Fukuda described plutonium breeder reactors as a matter of “life and death” for Japan’s energy future and steamrolled the Carter administration into accepting the startup of Japan’s pilot reprocessing plant. Today, Japan is the only non-nuclear-armed state that separates plutonium. Despite the absence of any economic or environmental justification, the policy grinds ahead due to a combination of bureaucratic commitments and the dependence of a rural region on the jobs and tax income associated with the hugely costly program. The dynamics are similar to those that have kept the three huge US nuclear-weapon laboratories flourishing despite the end of the Cold War.

For three decades, Japan has been building, fixing mistakes, and making safety upgrades on a large plutonium recycle complex in Rokkasho Village in the poor prefecture of Aomori on the northern tip of the main island, Honshu. The capital cost of the complex has climbed to $30 billion. Operation of the reprocessing plant is currently planned for 2023.

A facility for fabricating the recovered plutonium into mixed-oxide plutonium-uranium fuel for water-cooled power reactors is under construction on the same site (Figure 3 on original). The cost of operating the complex is projected to average about $3 billion per year. Over the 40-year design life of the plant, it is expected to process about 300 tons of plutonium—enough to make 40,000 Nagasaki bombs. What could possibly go wrong?

Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission reports that, because of the failures and delays of its plutonium useage programs, as of the end of 2019, Japan owned a stock of 45.5 tons of separated plutonium: 9.9 tons in Japan with the remainder in France and the United Kingdom where Japan sent thousands of tons of spent fuel during the 1990s to be reprocessed.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations pressed Tokyo to revise its reprocessing policy, especially after Japan’s decision to decommission its failed prototype breeder reactor in 2016.

Perhaps in response to this pressure, in 2018, Japan’s cabinet declared:

“The Japanese government remains committed to the policy of not possessing plutonium without specific purposes on the premise of peaceful use of plutonium and work[s] to reduce of the size of [its] plutonium stockpile.”

A step toward reductions that is being discussed would be for Japan to pay the United Kingdom to take title to and dispose of the 22 tons of Japanese plutonium stranded there after the UK mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant was found to be inoperable. Japan’s separated plutonium in France is slowly being returned to Japan in mixed-oxide fuel for use in reactors licensed to use such fuel.

If, as currently planned, Japan operates the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant at its design capacity of more than seven tons of plutonium separated per year, however, its rate of plutonium separation will greatly exceed Japan’s rate of plutonium use.  Four of Japan’s currently operating reactors are licensed to use mixed-oxide fuel but loaded only 40 percent as much mixed-oxide fuel as planned in 2018-19 and none in 2020. Two more reactors that can use mixed-oxide are expected to receive permission to restart in the next few years. In 2010, Japan’s Federation of Electric Power Companies projected that the six reactors would use 2.6 tons of plutonium per year. If the much-delayed Ohma reactor, which is under construction and designed to be able to use a full core of mixed-oxide fuel, comes into operation in 2028 as currently planned, and all these reactors use as much mixed-oxide fuel as possible, Japan’s plutonium usage rate would still ramp up to only 4.3 tons per year in 2033. (At the end of 2020 the Federation of Electric Power Companies announced its hope to increase the number of mixed-oxide-using reactors to 12 by 2030 but did not list the five additional reactors, saying only, “we will release it as soon as it is ready.”)

As of June 2020, construction at Rokkasho on the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility that will process the plutonium separated by the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant was only 12 percent complete. It was still just a hole in the ground containing some concrete work with its likely completion years behind the currently planned 2023 operation date of the reprocessing plant.

Thus, as happened in Russia and the United Kingdom, the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant could operate indefinitely separating plutonium without the mixed-oxide plant operating. The reprocessing plant includes storage for “working stocks” containing up to 30 tons of unirradiated plutonium. If and when it begins operating, the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant will itself have additional working stocks of at least several tons of plutonium. Therefore, even if Japan transfers title to the plutonium it has stranded in the United Kingdom and manages to work down its stock in France, the growth of its stock in Japan could offset those reductions.

The Biden administration should urge Japan’s government to “bite the bullet” and begin the painful but necessary process of unwinding its costly and dangerous plutonium program. A first step would be to change Japan’s radioactive waste law to allow its nuclear utilities to use the planned national deep repository for direct disposal of their spent fuel.

In the meantime, most of Japan’s spent fuel will have to be stored on site in dry casks, as has become standard practice in the United States and most other countries with nuclear power reactors. Because of its safety advantages relative to storage in dense-packed pools, the communities that host Japan’s nuclear power plant are moving toward acceptance of dry-cask storage. During the 2011 Fukushima accident, the water in a dense-packed pool became dangerously low. Had the spent fuel been uncovered and caught on fire, the population requiring relocation could have been ten to hundreds of times larger ………….https://thebulletin.org/2021/04/plutonium-programs-in-east-asia-and-idaho-will-challenge-the-biden-administration/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=MondayNewsletter04122021&utm_content=NuclearRisk_EastAsia_04122021

April 13, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

December 29, 2020 Posted by | environment, opposition to nuclear, Reference, reprocessing, Russia | Leave a comment

USA revives plan for fast nuclear reactor, despite terrorism risks

November 21, 2020 Posted by | reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Japan now has enough plutonium to make about 6,000 atomic bombs

Japan Sticks to Nuclear Fuel Recycling Plan Despite Plutonium Stockpile

Japan now has 45.5 tons of separated plutonium, enough to make about 6,000 atomic bombs.  https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/japan-sticks-to-nuclear-fuel-recycling-plan-despite-plutonium-stockpile/

By Mari Yamaguchi, October 21, 2020   Japan’s government said Wednesday it will pursue a nuclear fuel recycling program that would involve extracting plutonium from spent fuel, despite international concerns about the country’s already huge plutonium stockpile and lack of prospects for effectively consuming it as nuclear fuel.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Katsunobu, at a meeting with the governor of Aomori prefecture, home to Japan’s pending nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, reaffirmed that new Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s government will pursue the country’s nuclear energy policy.

“The government will firmly promote our nuclear energy policy and fuel cycle programs,” Kato said. He said Japan will make effort to reduce volume and toxicity of high-level nuclear waste, and extract plutonium from spent fuel from a resource conservation point of view.

critics say continuation of spent fuel reprocessing only adds to Japan’s already large plutonium stockpile. Japan also lacks a final repository for high-level nuclear waste.

Wednesday’s meeting came after the Nuclear Regulation Authority granted a safety approval this past summer for the Rokkasho fuel reprocessing plant, operated by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., located in northern Japan, for a planned launch in 2022. The authority also gave a preliminary permit for the Rokkasho MOX fuel production plant, also planned for completion in 2022.

Japan now has 45.5 tons of separated plutonium — 8.9 tons at home, and 36.6 tons in Britain and France, where spent fuel from Japanese nuclear plants has been reprocessed and stored because Japan lacks a plant to produce MOX fuel containing plutonium at home. The amount is enough to make about 6,000 atomic bombs.

Despite security concerns raised by Washington and others, the stockpile is hardly decreasing due to difficulties in achieving a full nuclear fuel recycling program and slow restarts of reactors amid setbacks from the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Japan reprocesses spent fuel, instead of disposing it as waste, to extract plutonium and uranium to make MOX fuel for reuse, while the U.S. discontinued the costly and challenging program. Allowed under international safeguard rules, Japan is the only non-nuclear weapons state that separates plutonium for peaceful purposes, though the same technology can make atomic bombs.

October 22, 2020 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Japanese government dangles financial carrot to persuade reluctant communities to take nuclear wastess

But there is no prospect for the establishment of such a recycling system which would allow for disposing only of the waste from reprocessing and recycling.

Eventually, Japan, like most other countries with nuclear power plants, will be forced to map out plans for “direct disposal,” or disposing of spent fuel from nuclear reactors in underground repositories.

Hokkaido Governor Suzuki has taken a dim view of the financial incentive offered to encourage local governments to apply for the first stage of the selection process, criticizing the proposed subsidies as “a wad of cash used as a powerful carrot.”

 

September 22, 2020 Posted by | Japan, politics, reprocessing, wastes | 5 Comments

USA.Federal Bill to promote nuclear waste borehole system, and the dubious plan for reprocessing

September 22, 2020 Posted by | politics, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Japan’s Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant delayed, for the 25th time!

 

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

Local approval still needed, as Japan’s nuclear regulators OK fuel reprocessing plant, despite safety concerns

Nuclear regulators OK fuel reprocessing plant,  NHK, 29 Jul 20, Japan’s nuclear regulators have given a firm the green light to complete the construction of a fuel reprocessing plant, which is the centerpiece of the government’s nuclear fuel recycling policy.The plant in Aomori Prefecture, northeastern Japan, is operated by Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited. The facility is designed to extract plutonium for recycling from spent nuclear fuel generated by power plants…….

The regulators said on Wednesday that they had received about 760 opinions, and that many of them were about safety. The risk of radioactive materials leaking out was among the concerns.

The regulators concluded that the operator had measures in place to deal with the concerns, and said the firm’s application had been approved.

Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited wants to complete construction by September 2021, and launch operations in 2022. But the construction work, which began 27 years ago, has been delayed by problems. That has caused the cost to balloon to more than 130 billion dollars.

Plans to use the reprocessed plutonium are not moving forward as initially outlined.

The government and energy firm also still need to obtain local approval.  https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20200729_20/

July 30, 2020 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plutonium Handling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Adds comment from NNSA in final two paragraphs.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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