Sticker Shock: The Soaring Costs Of Germany’s Nuclear Shutdown, Yale Environment 360 25 JUL 2016: REPORT German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2011 decision to rapidly phase out the country’s 17 nuclear power reactors has left the government and utilities with a massive problem: How to clean up and store large amounts of nuclear waste and other radioactive material. by joel stonington 26 july 16 The cavern of the salt mine is 2,159 feet beneath the surface of central Germany. Stepping out of a dust-covered Jeep on an underground road, we enter the grotto and are met by the sound of running water — a steady flow that adds up to 3,302 gallons per day.
“This is the biggest problem,” Ina Stelljes, spokesperson for the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, tells me, gesturing to a massive tank in the middle of the room where water waits to be pumped to the surface.
The leaking water wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for the 125,000 barrels of low- and medium-level nuclear waste stored a few hundred feet below. Most of the material originated from 14 nuclear power plants, and the German government secretly moved it to the mine from 1967 until 1978. For now, the water leaking into the mine is believed to be contained, although it remains unclear if water has seeped into areas with waste and rusted the barrels inside.
The mine — Asse II — has become a touchstone in the debate about nuclear waste in the wake of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2011 decision to end the use of nuclear power following Japan’s Fukushima disaster. The ongoing closures have created a new urgency to clean up these nuclear facilities and, most importantly, to find a way to safely store the additional radioactive waste from newly decommissioned nuclear reactors. Nine of the country’s 17 nuclear power reactors have been shut down and all are expected to be phased out by 2022.
In addition to Asse II, two other major lower-level nuclear waste sites exist in Germany, and a third has been approved. But the costs associated with nuclear waste sites are proving to be more expensive, controversial, and complex than originally expected.
And Germany still hasn’t figured out what to do with the high-level waste — mostly spent fuel rods — that is now in a dozen interim storage areas comprised of specialized warehouses near nuclear power plants. Any future waste repository will have to contain the radiation from spent uranium fuel for up to a million years.
Given the time frames involved, it’s not surprising that no country has built a final repository for high-level waste. In Germany, a government commission on highly radioactive nuclear waste spent the last two years working on a 700-page report, released this month, that was supposed to recommend a location. Instead, the report estimated that Germany’s final storage facility would be ready “in the next century.” Costs are expected to be astronomical.
“Nobody can say how much it will cost to store high-level waste. What we know is that it will be very costly – much higher costs can be expected than [what] the German ministry calculates,” said Claudia Kemfert, head of energy, transportation, and environment at the German Institute for Economic Research. The exact number, she said, “cannot be predicted, since experience shows that costs have always been higher than initially expected. ”
At the Asse II mine, roughly $680 million has been spent in the six years since the cleanup began, and the price tag for operations last year totaled $216 million. A 2015 report by Germany’s Environment Ministry noted, “There are currently no technical plans available for the envisaged waste recovery project which would allow a reliable estimate of the costs.”
No one expects to start moving the barrels at the mine until 2033, and estimates of finishing the process extend to 2065. Total costs for moving the waste to a future storage site will almost certainly be in the billions of dollars, with current estimates of just disposing of the recovered waste at $5.5 billion.
The waste issue is one reason nuclear power has been so controversial in Germany and why there is broad support among the public for phasing it out, with three-quarters of the German population saying they are in favor of Merkel’s decision, according to a survey this year by the Renewable Energy Hamburg Cluster.
“Nuclear in Germany is not popular,” Kemfert said. “Everybody knows it is dangerous and causes a lot of environmental difficulties. Nuclear has been replaced by renewables – we have no need for nuclear power any more.”…………..
With both nuclear waste storage and decommissioning, governments and power companies around the world have often opted for halfway solutions, storing waste in temporary depots and partially decommissioning plants. Worldwide, 447 operational nuclear reactors exist and an additional 157 are in various stages of decommissioning. Just 17 have been fully decommissioned.
In Europe, a recent report by the European Union Commission estimated that funds set aside for waste storage and decommissioning of nuclear plants in the EU’s 16 nuclear nations have fallen short by $137 billion. Dealing with nuclear waste in the United Kingdom is also a highly charged issue. At one location — a former weapons-manufacturing, fuel-reprocessing, and decommissioning site called Sellafield — the expected cleanup cost increased from $59 billion in 2005 to $155 billion in 2015. ……
despite recently completing a new plant, the United States is also struggling with decommissioning. The cost estimates of shuttering U.S. nuclear plants increased fourfold between 1988 and 2013, according toBloomberg News. Many governments are slowly starting to realize how much those costs have been underestimated.
As Antony Froggatt, a nuclear expert and researcher at Chatham House — a London-based think tank— put it, “The question is, how do you create a fair cost to cover what will happen far into the future?” http://e360.yale.edu/feature/soaring_cost_german_nuclear_shutdown/3019/
Sticker Shock: The Soaring Costs Of Germany’s Nuclear Shutdown, Yale Environment 360 25 JUL 2016: REPORT “…….In Germany, negotiations with utilities over who will pay the denuclearization costs have often centered on how much the utilities can afford. The four nuclear utilities in Germany – publicly-traded RWE; E.ON; EnBW, which is majority publicly-owned; and Swedish-owned Vattenfall – are struggling economically as decentralized wind and solar power have undercut wholesale electricity prices and eaten into profits. Last year, E.ON, Germany’s largest utility, lost $7.7 billion.
The four companies have already set aside $45 billion for decommissioning nuclear power plants. But in April, Germany’s Commission to Review the Financing for the Phase-Out of Nuclear Energy recommended that the utilities pay an additional $26.4 billion into a government-controlled fund meant to cover the costs of long-term storage of nuclear waste.
The utilities were unhappy with the commission’s conclusions and released a joint statement saying $26.4 billion would “overburden energy companies’ economic capabilities.” Even so, few experts expect those sums to cover the total eventual costs.
“Some billions now are better than making them bankrupt,” said Michael Mueller, who chairs a government commission on highly radioactive nuclear waste. “So, it’s a compromise that had to be made.”
The utilities are clear about where they see the responsibility: “The temporary and final storage of nuclear waste in Germany is an operative task of the German government, which is politically responsible for this,” the utilities said in a statement. Indeed, if the commission’s recommendation becomes law, then the German government will be on the hook for any storage costs beyond the $26.4 billion paid by the utilities.
“Asse II shows us that radioactive waste storage is a complex problem that is not just about dumping it somewhere,” said Jan Haverkamp, a nuclear energy expert at Greenpeace. “There are many open questions, and those questions are going to lead to a lot more costs………” http://e360.yale.edu/feature/soaring_cost_german_nuclear_shutdown/3019/
Spent Nuclear Fuel Rods and Storage Pools: A Deadly and Unnecessary Risk in the United States. Based on an Institute for Policy Studies report by Robert Alvarez entitled “Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools in the U.S.: Reducing the Deadly Risks of Storage.”
“…….New York. If a spent fuel fire were to happen at one of the two Indian Point nuclear reactors located 25 miles from New York City, it could result in as many as 5,600 cancer deaths and $461 billion in damages. Indian Point spent fuel storage has about three times more radioactivity than the combined total in the spent fuel pools at the four troubled Fukushima reactors.
Los Angeles. The spent fuel at Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors have nearly 2.7 times more radioactivity than the combined total in the spent fuel pools at the four troubled Fukushima reactors.
Miami. Turkey Point reactors 65 miles from Miami have 2.5 times more radioactivity than the combined total in the spent fuel pools at the four troubled Fukushima reactors.
Dallas. The Comanche Peak nuclear station 60 miles southwest of Dallas has spent fuel that contains about 2.3 times more radioactivity than the combined total in the spent fuel pools at the four troubled Fukushima reactors.
Atlanta. The Vogtle nuclear reactors near Augusta are 147 miles northeast of Atlanta. These reactors have generated 2.5 times more radioactivity than the combined total in the spent fuel pools at the four troubled Fukushima reactors. https://ratical.org/radiation/NuclearExtinction/IPS-RA-ReportFactSheet.pdf
Spent Nuclear Fuel Rods and Storage Pools: A Deadly and Unnecessary Risk in the United States. Based on an Institute for Policy Studies report by Robert Alvarez entitled “Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools in the U.S.: Reducing the Deadly Risks of Storage.”
Ì More than 30 million highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods are submerged in vulnerable storage pools at reactors all over the United States. These pools at 51 sites contain some the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet. Yet, they are stored under unsafe conditions, vulnerable to attacks and natural disasters.
Ì Spent nuclear fuel rods have enough pop to cause a catastrophic radiation fire, a nuclear chain reaction, or explosion. As the Fukushima Dai-Ichi tragedy shows, the risk to the public is all too real.
Ì Spent nuclear fuel rods are so deadly that a motorcyclist blasting past them at 60 mph at a distance of one foot would be killed from the effects of that fleeting radiation exposure.
Ì The metal tubing that holds the spent nuclear fuel is thinner than a credit card. This thin sheath is the only major barrier preventing the escape of radioactive materials. Cracked or damaged metal tubing that was holding deadly nuclear material at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear reactors resulted in the release of an enormous amount radioactivity, much of which seeped into air, soil, and nearby ocean water.
Ì Approximately 75 percent of U.S. spent nuclear fuel rods are kept tightly packed together in storage racks, submerged in pools located at nuclear reactors. These storage facilities resemble large above-ground swimming pools and this practice puts the American public at risk. Spent fuel storage pools are often housed in buildings no more secure than a car dealership. Instead, these fuel rods should be safely stored in dry, hardened, and sealed storage casks.
Ì Spent fuel storage pools are vulnerable. Massive land contamination, radiation injuries, and myriad deaths would result from a terrorist attack, earthquake, or even a prolonged electricity blackout — as happened at the Fukushima DaiIchi reactor site in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami. Pools need electricity to pump water to cool the rods, as well as to maintain a high water level to diffuse the escape of radiation. Despite these dangers, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) doesn’t require nuclear reactor operators to even have back-up power supplies for these spent-fuel pools to prevent disaster.
Ì If the water in a spent nuclear fuel pool drains to six feet above the fuel rods, it would give off life-threatening radiation doses to workers on site. These pools were originally designed to hold less than one fifth of the radioactive material they now contain.
Ì If the water were to drain entirely from a spent fuel pool, it could trigger a catastrophic radioactive fire that would spew toxins and render hundreds of thousands of square miles uninhabitable. The devastated area would be larger than the wasteland that resulted from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.
Ì Life-threatening incidents have occurred at multiple U.S. spent fuel storage pools. In Haddam Neck, Connecticut, a pool sprung a leak in August 1984. About 200,000 gallons of water drained in just 20 minutes, according the NRC.
Ì Dry cask storage is a much safer alternative to pools — which were originally designed to hold less than one-fifth of what they now contain. It doesn’t rely upon a constant supply of electricity or water, and it also can be stored in separate blast-proof containers, making it less susceptible to terrorist attack or earthquakes.
Ì Over the next 10 years, we could remove all spent fuel older than five years for a cost of $3 billion-$7 billion. The cost of fixing America’s nuclear vulnerabilities may be high, but the price of doing too little is incalculable……..https://ratical.org/radiation/NuclearExtinction/IPS-RA-ReportFactSheet.pdf
There are good reasons for California to phase out nuclear power, Huffington Post, Johann Saathoff,MP German BundestagCoordinator of energy policy for the Social Democratic Party in the German Bundestag 07/22/2016 “……..In Germany the transition to renewable energies is proceeding although there are challenges to overcome. Two thirds of electricity in Germany is currently generated from renewables. We do not expect demand for electricity to fall in the future. Coupling the electricity market sector (including electric mobility) and the heat market will create overcapacity. This will be a good thing and any overcapacity can be put to good use in the electricity market.
One of the greatest obstacles at present to expanding renewables is the failure to expand existing and build new power grids. The energy transition and the decentralised production of electricity involves the need to adapt the entire power supply system in Germany and renew large parts. Up to now power stations have been located in the vicinity of the major power consumers; in future power stations will be much smaller and distributed throughout the country. They will also not supply electricity on a continuous basis. Sector coupling between the electricity market, heat market and mobility means that fewer networks have to be built since part of the electricity can be consumed locally.
It is important to ensure, however, that security of supply is guaranteed as the production of renewable energy increases. There is therefore a need for an intelligent grid with intelligent, i.e. controllable, electricity meters at least for the big energy consumers. Up to now the production of electricity has been geared to consumption. In the new energy world it will be possible to adjust the consumption curve to the production curve. It will be possible, as an example, for cold stores to be cooled down further at times when there is too much power in the grid. They will not then need any power if a few hours later there is too little power in the grid. For the operator of the cold store there will be a commercial incentive in the form of lower prices if he adjusts the way he runs his cold store to comply with the electricity market.
The cold store would thus function as a type of energy store. This, along with other storage systems such as pumped hydroelectric and compressed air energy storage, chemical storage and power-to-gas and power-to-heat plants, will become increasingly important with the growth of renewable energy and in the context of supply security. In the transitional phase, security of supply can be ensured locally by small modular gas power stations.
In Germany there is a broad consensus in society in favour of the phasing out of nuclear power by 2022. The reasons for phasing out nuclear power for us are the same as in California and elsewhere: the lack of a solution regarding the storage of nuclear waste, environmental damage and the risk of accidents. The danger of an accident comes from human error in operating the plant, a lack of maintenance and wear. In the past there was also a failure to properly appreciate the danger of terrorist attacks. These dangers apply to the plant itself, to the energy supply for the region in question and to the nation as a whole. Phasing out nuclear power and changing over to decentralised renewable energy removes a central target of attack from potential aggressors. Thus the energy transition also contributes to national security.
There may be a consensus within society in favour of the energy transition and the resulting structural changes that are required, but the state needs to be proactive in the process in order to ensure that this consensus is maintained. This means that people employed up to now in the nuclear sector must be given prospects for the future and those regions which have benefitted in economic terms up to now from nuclear power stations must be shown other options for economic development. One way would be to provide incentives in these regions for building production facilities for storage systems, cabling, wind farms or parts thereof.
One possibility for ensuring people’s support for the energy transition is to encourage them to be actively involved in citizens’ energy companies. This means they have a direct stake in the commercial success of the energy transition. In addition or perhaps alternatively the local authorities as the real agencies responsible for providing public services and representatives of local citizens, should hold large stakes in these energy companies. In this way all citizens participate in the energy transition, not just those who can afford to invest…..http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-saathoff/there-are-good-reasons-fo_b_11133916.html
the pact has had deadly consequences. For years, the Soviet Union’s political and scientific leadership withheld the effects of extreme exposure to radiation on the health of the city’s inhabitants, and their future offspring.
From the late 1940s, people here started to get sick and die: the victims of long-term exposure to radiation.
While accurate data is not available thanks to the authorities’ extreme secrecy and frequent denials, the gravestones of many young residents in Ozersk’s cemetery bear witness to the secret the Soviets tried to bury alongside victims of the Mayak plant.
It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend how the residents of City 40 can continue to live in a place they know is slowly killing them.
Hot Docs 2016 Trailers: CITY 40
The graveyard of the Earth’: inside City 40, Russia’s deadly nuclear secret https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jul/20/graveyard-earth-inside-city-40-ozersk-russia-deadly-secret-nuclear
Ozersk, codenamed City 40, was the birthplace of the Soviet nuclear weapons programme. Now it is one of the most contaminated places on the planet – so why do so many residents still view it as a fenced-inparadise? Samira Goetsche Continue reading
According to the House of Lords register of interests, around 15% of sitting members are directors of, or shareholders in, companies that are either directly contracted to the Trident programme or invest in it.
Specifically Barclays and HSBC. A report by Don’t Bank on the Bomb details the involvement of major financial institutions in the western nuclear weapons industry.
The truth about Trident: the shocking fact that would turn us all against paying for nukes, The Canary, JULY 18TH, 2016 STEVE TOPPLE As parliament debates the renewal of Trident, the UK’s “nuclear deterrent” – the arguments surrounding the controversial weapons system rage as fiercely as ever. But there’s one aspect which has been repeatedly overlooked. UK banks not only finance our nuclear deterrent, but also our supposed “enemy” Russia’s as well, and senior politicians enjoy a direct financial profit through keeping Trident.
The name Trident refers to the nuclear missiles that are carried on four Vanguard-Class submarines. Based out of Faslane, on the Clyde in Scotland, at any one time, there is one submarine on active patrol, another in service, another preparing to patrol and a final one on exercise.
Each submarine can carry 16 Trident missiles (but since 2010 this has been reduced to eight), and each missile can hold 40 warheads.
The cost of replacing the Trident system with “Successor” (which is what the parliamentary debate on Monday is about) is disputed. The official Ministry of Defence (MoD) line is £41 bn per submarine. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) says the true cost is around £205 bn for all four, when you included the cost of their upkeep.
The mainstream arguments for and against Trident are fairly clear cut………
However, there are two arguments that both sides fail to acknowledge – maybe because if they did, it would bring the whole military industry into question. The role of multinational banks and senior UK politicians.
All aboard the Westminster gravy train
The main companies involved in Trident are US multinational Lockheed Martin (who produce the missiles), BAE Systems, Babcock & Wilcox and Rolls-Royce – who are involved in the Successor programme – and also names like Bechtel, Honeywell, Raytheon and Serco who are contracted or subcontracted in relation to the current Trident system.
According to the House of Lords register of interests, around 15% of sitting members are directors of, or shareholders in, companies that are either directly contracted to the Trident programme or invest in it.
Prominent names include Lord Hollick, a Labour Peer who is a director of Honeywell. Lord (William) Hague, chair of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). RUSI, who are supposedly impartial US and UK government defence advisors, are sponsored by Babcock, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Rolls-Royce.
But one of the most telling individuals is Labour’s Lord Hutton, defence secretary under Gordon Brown. He is an adviser to Bechtel, consultant for Lockheed Martin and chair of the Nuclear Industries Association (NIA). The revolving door (the phrase used to describe MP’s who, once finished in parliament, go into jobs related to their previous role) has never spun so quickly.
It may be no wonder then, that the majority of parliament (excluding the SNP and the Green party) are supportive of renewing Trident.
With reference to the role of multinational financial institutions, all the companies listed above, aside from being involved in Trident, share one other common denominator. They are all financed, or owned, by UK banks. Specifically Barclays and HSBC. A report by Don’t Bank on the Bomb details the involvement of major financial institutions in the western nuclear weapons industry. http://www.thecanary.co/2016/07/18/truth-trident-shocking-fact-turn-us-paying-nukes/
A Rethink of Nuclear Risk Assessment, ETH Zurich, Department of Management, Technology and Economics 11.07.2016
1. Chernobyl, Ukraine (1986) – $259 billion
2. Fukushima, Japan (2011) – $166 billion
3. Tsuruga, Japan (1995) – $15.5 billion
4. TMI, Pennsylvania, USA (1979) – $11 billion
5. Beloyarsk, USSR (1977) – $3.5 billion
6. Sellafield, UK (1969) – $2.5 billion
7. Athens, Alabama, USA (1985) – $2.1 billion
8. Jaslovske Bohunice, Czechoslovakia (1977) – $2 billion
9. Sellafield, UK (1968) – $1.9 billion
10. Sellafield, UK (1971) – $1.3 billion
11. Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA (1986) – $1.2 billion
12. Chapelcross, UK (1967) – $1.1 billion
13. Chernobyl, Ukraine (1982) – $1.1 billion
14. Pickering, Canada (1983) – $1 billion
15. Sellafield, UK (1973) – $1 billion
An open-source database of all 216 analysed events is available athttps://innovwiki.ethz.ch/index.php/Nuclear_events_database, containing dates, locations, cost in US dollars, and official magnitude ratings. This is the largest public database of nuclear accidents ever compiled. https://www.mtec.ethz.ch/news/d-mtec-news/2016/07/a-rethink-of-nuclear-risk-assessment.html
A Rethink of Nuclear Risk Assessment, ETH Zurich, Department of Management, Technology and Economics 11.07.2016 Prof. Didier Sornette and Dr Spencer Wheatley, D-MTEC and a researcher at the University of Sussex, England, have carried out the biggest-ever statistical analysis of historical nuclear accidents. It suggests that nuclear power is a currently underappreciated extreme risk and that major changes will be needed to prevent future disasters.
A team of risk experts at the University of Sussex, in England, and ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, have analysed more than 200 nuclear accidents, and – estimating and controlling for effects of industry responses to previous disasters – provide a grim assessment of the risk of nuclear power: The next disaster on the scale of Chernobyl or Fukushima may happen much sooner than the public realizes.
Their worrying conclusion is that, while nuclear accidents have substantially decreased in frequency, this has been accomplished by the suppression of moderate-to-large events. They estimate that Fukushima- and Chernobyl-scale disasters are still more likely than not once or twice per century, and that accidents on the scale of the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island in the USA (a damage cost of about 10 Billion USD) are more likely than not to occur every 10-20 years.
As Dr Spencer Wheatley, the lead author, explains: “We have found that the risk level for nuclear power is extremely high. Although we were able to detect the positive impact of the industry responses to accidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, these did not sufficiently remove the possibility of extreme disasters such as Fukushima. To remove such a possibility would likely require enormous changes to the current fleet of reactors, which is predominantly second-generation technology.”
The studies, published in two papers in the summer issues of the journalsEnergy Research & Social Science and Risk Analysis, put fresh pressure on the nuclear industry to be more transparent with data on incidents. The articles have also been picked up by popular media, e.g. very recently by the German “Spiegel Online” (in German).
“Flawed and woefully incomplete” public data from the nuclear industry is leading to an over-confident attitude to risk, the study warns. The research team points to the fact that their own independent analysis contains three times as much data as that provided publicly by the industry itself. This is probably because the International Atomic Energy Agency, which compiles the reports, has a dual role of regulating the sector and promoting it.
The research team for this new study gathered their data from reports, academic papers, press releases, public documents and newspaper articles. The result is a dataset that is unprecedented – being twice the size of the next largest independent analysis. Further, the authors emphasize that the dataset is an important resource that needs to be continually developed and shared with the public.
Professor Benjamin Sovacool of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, who co-authored the studies, says: “Our results are sobering. They suggest that the standard methodology used by the International Atomic Energy Agency to predict accidents and incidents – particularly when focusing on consequences of extreme events – is problematic. The next nuclear accident may be much sooner or more severe than the public realizes.”
The team also calls for a fundamental rethink of how accidents are rated, arguing that the current method (the discrete seven-point INES scale) is highly imprecise, poorly defined, and often inconsistent.
In their new analysis, the research team provides a cost in US dollars for each incident, taking into account factors such as destruction of property, the cost of emergency response, environmental remediation, evacuation, fines, and insurance claims. And for each death, they added a cost of $6 million, which is the figure used by the US government to calculate the value of a human life.
That new analysis showed that the Fukushima accident in 2011 and the Chernobyl accident in 1986 cost a combined $425 billion – five times the sum of all the other events put together.
However, these two extremes are rated 7 – the maximum severity level – on the INES scale. Fukushima alone would need a score of between 10 and 11 to represent the true magnitude of consequences……..https://www.mtec.ethz.ch/news/d-mtec-news/2016/07/a-rethink-of-nuclear-risk-assessment.html
The world is poised to take the strongest action of this year against climate change, WP, By Chris Mooney July 18 When the world moved to phase out ozone-destroying chlorofluorcarbons, or CFCs, it solved one enormous and urgent environmental problem — but it left behind another. CFCs were bad for the ozone layer and also caused a great deal of global warming to boot. But a key substitute — hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs — spare the ozone layer but are still powerful greenhouse warming agents.
That’s why diplomats and leading national ministers have assembled in Vienna this week for negotiations under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that led to the phaseout of CFCs and is now aiming its sights at HFCs. If an amendment to the treaty can be adopted this year, advocates say, it could represent the single largest tangible piece of climate progress in all of 2016.
HFCs are used in refrigerants in car and home air conditioners, as well as in foams, solvents and other products. They are being used more and more — in large part because they are the heirs to the CFC phaseout — and when they get into the atmosphere, they are far more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet.
According to the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, which focuses on the issue, the “most abundant and fastest growing” of these gases, HFC-134a, remains in the atmosphere for 13.4 years (not nearly as long as carbon dioxide) but causes 1,300 times as much warming as carbon dioxide does over a span of 100 years. One recent study noted that by 2050, if nothing is done, HFC-134a could add 9 to 19 percent to the warming caused by carbon dioxide.
For the broader group of HFCs, one recent study found that HFC emissions as a whole grew from 198 million tons (as measured in carbon-dioxide equivalents) in 2007, to 275 million tons by 2012.
“The HFCs effect now is very small. The problem with the HFCs is it’s the fastest-growing greenhouse gas,” said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “So by banning HFCs, you prevent another disaster downstream. It could be as high as half to one degree [Celsius] by the end of the century.”
Data like these explain why diplomats and leading national ministers have assembled in Vienna this week for negotiations under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that led to the phaseout of CFCs and is now aiming its sights at HFCs. And signs look positive that a phase-down amendment could happen this year, giving a key boost to climate-change momentum, said Durwood Zaelke, head of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development……….
Granted, an amendment to phase out HFCs is not expected to be formally adopted this month in Vienna. Rather, that is more likely to occur at a second meeting, in October, in Kigali, Rwanda, meeting observers say.
If it is successful, then when the parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meet in Marrakesh, Morocco, in November to start the process of putting the Paris agreement into action, they will be riding a wave of accomplishment and be able to think rather optimistically about the work before them. Doniger wrote recently that achieving an HFC phaseout would represent “the biggest climate protection achievement of 2016.”
“The ozone treaty has been effectively a climate treaty also,” he said in an interview. “So it can be another win for the climate from the treaty that saved the ozone layer.”
Read more at Energy & Environment:
The diversity of life across much of Earth has plunged below ‘safe’ levels https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/07/18/this-could-do-more-to-save-the-planet-this-year-than-any-other-action/
Using Trident would be illegal, so let’s phase it out https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/15/trident-illegal-nuclear-britain-arsenal Geoffrey Robertson, 15 July 16
Nuclear doom is nearer than most of us believe, experts warn. Britain must set a moral lead by becoming the first of the ‘big five’ powers to reduce its arsenal The most portentous decision for every new prime minister is what to write in the secret “letter of last resort” to Trident submarine commanders telling them what to do with their nuclear missiles if the British government is wiped out. In Monday’s debate on the renewal of Trident, Theresa May should tell parliament what life-or-death decision she has made in her letters of last resort.
It is said that Margaret Thatcher ordered our nukes, trained on Moscow, to be fired so as to cause maximum destruction to the enemy – ie to its civilians. That order, even for a nuclear “second strike”, would today be illegal.
It is ironic that although Chilcot produced so much condemnation of Blair for joining an unlawful war, MPs are now being asked to vote for a weapons system that cannot be used without committing a crime against humanity. This was defined in 1998 by the Rome Statute, which set up the international criminal court, as “a systematic attack directed against a civilian population, resulting in extermination or torture, or an inhumane act intentionally causing great suffering”.
The same statute additionally makes it a war crime to intentionally launch an attack in the knowledge that it would cause incidental loss of civilian life or severe damage to the natural environment, out of proportion to military advantage.
Trident’s 200 thermonuclear bombs, each 10 times more powerful than those that struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are illegal because they cannot discriminate between military targets and hospitals, churches and schools; because of their capacity to cause untold human suffering for generations to come; and because their consequences (eg ionising radiation, which tortures victims and lingers for half a century) are beyond the control or knowledge of the attacker, who cannot judge the proportionality of their use.
As the international court of justice put it, back in 1996: “The destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in space or time. They have the potential to destroy all civilisation and the entire ecosystem of the planet.”
So why is our law-abiding government spending tens of billions on a weapons system that cannot lawfully be used?
First, because its advisers wrongly think that nuclear weapons are legal in certain circumstances. Back in that 1996 case, the UK argued that it could lawfully drop “a low-yield nuclear weapon against warships on the high seas or troops in sparsely populated areas”.
This scenario has now been shown up as fantastical: “first use” in these circumstances by the UK would trigger a nuclear reprisal with inevitable damage to the atmosphere, the oceans and the “sparsely populated” area (which would henceforth be entirely unpopulated). In any event, Trident’s weapon-bays will not carry “low-yield” bombs, and if they did the result would be better achieved by conventional weapons, making nuclear deployment unnecessary and disproportionate.
The world court ruled that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would “generally” be contrary to war law but might be lawful “in extreme circumstances of self-defence, in which the very survival of a state would be at stake”. This was a time-warped view of war law in 1996 that is not tenable today. The court, to be fair, predicted as much, saying that it expected international law to “develop” towards a total ban on the use of the bomb. It soon did, with the Rome Statute and subsequent development of the principle that a state has no right to preserve itself at the expense of damage to other states and to the rights to life of millions of citizens.
It is absurd to suggest that it would have been lawful for Hitler, his back to the bunker wall, to start a nuclear Götterdämmerung to save the Nazi state (Nuremberg decided it was not lawful for him even to fire doodlebugs). Given what we now know about the uncontrollable and devastating propensities of modern nuclear weapons, it is unlawful to fire them at all.
There is a further legal reason for allowing Trident to wear out. It is Article VI of the nuclear proliferation treaty (NPT), by which parties undertake to proceed in good faith to “general and complete” nuclear disarmament.
The world court’s 1996 ruling decided that this imposed not a “mere” obligation but a binding legal obligation on existing nuclear states to reduce the number of their bombs gradually, to zero. It is contrary to the spirit of article VI to upgrade rather than downgrade the fleet.
A decision to phase out Trident would help Britain recover some of the clout it has lost through Brexit. It would show moral leadership, and shame other nuclear powers that have failed to live up to their NPT obligations (especially the US; President Obama’s Nobel prize was prematurely awarded in part for envisaging “a world without nuclear weapons”).
Moral leadership from a nuclear-weapons state is urgently needed. The latest US defence budget allocates $1tn for future modernisation of its nukes and it has acquired new sites for them, in Poland and Romania. President Putin has promised in return a new generation of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. The American most knowledgeable on the subject – Bill Clinton’s defence secretary William J Perry – has just published a book warning that “nuclear doom” is closer today than it ever was during the cold war.
Although possession of nuclear weapons is not per se unlawful, the UK is under a duty to reduce its arsenal: the vice of refurbishing Trident is that it encourages other states to do the same, and remains a constant stimulus for countries – particularly in the Middle East and Asia – to acquire arsenals of their own.
When negotiating to buy Polaris (Trident’s predecessor), back in 1962, Harold Macmillan confided in his diary that “the whole thing is ridiculous”, but consoled himself with the thought that “countries which have played a great role in history must retain their dignity”.
A half-century later, the best way for Britain to regain its dignity post-Brexit is not to throw vast sums of money away on a weapon that cannot lawfully be used, but rather to appear as the first of the “big five” powers to shoulder its legal obligation to disarm under article VI of the NPT. It will be many years before the mushroom cloud becomes a hallucination, but at least Britain would be able to boast that it had led the way.
FOR GENERAL ATOMICS, SMALLER NUCLEAR PLANTS ARE BEAUTIFUL, San Diego Union Tribune But can its technology work? And is it even needed? BY ROB NIKOLEWSKI July 15, 2016 The scientists and engineers at General Atomics think the future of nuclear energy is coming on the back of a flatbed truck.
And the leadership at the San Diego-based company, which has been developing nuclear technologies for more than 60 years, has already spent millions in the expectation that its ambitious plans for the next generation of reactors will actually work.
“We have technology that we think is going to qualitatively change the game,” saidChristina Back, vice president of nuclear technologies and materials at General Atomics……..it’s designed to produce a reactor that’s so compact that the company’s handout material shows it being transported by tractor-trailer.
But EM² is still a long way from becoming a day-to-day reality in a fast-changing energy landscape.
Just building a prototype, Back said, is at least 10 years away and, “we’re looking at 2030-ish” before a commercial reactor could be up and running using EM² technology……And there are no guarantees the design will work……
Here in the United States, natural gas may pose an even greater challenge. Techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have unlocked vast amounts of natural gas in North America and the increased supply has lowered prices. Utilities are increasingly turning to natural gas-fired power plants to generate electricity, at least in large part, because gas burns much cleaner than coal.
Where does that leave nuclear?…….. nuclear has long faced intense opposition from those who consider it an inherently dangerous source of power and the EM² technology is being developed at a time when nuclear plants are getting shut down in places such as Illinois, Vermontand New York.
The environment for nuclear power in California is even more daunting……Critics of nuclear power point to the falling costs and rising production numbers for renewable energy, as well as a mandate from the California Public Utilities Commission ordering the state’s big three investor-owned utilities to add 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage to their grids by the end of the decade.
The Grim Task Awaiting Theresa May: Preparing for Nuclear Armageddon In her first hours as Britain’s new prime minister, May will take part in a time-honored tradition: Handwriting what’s known as a “Letter of Last Resort.”Politico Magazine By Garrett M. Graff July 14, 2016 If tradition holds, in her first hours as the United Kingdom’s new prime minister, Theresa May will meet with the British defense leadership and receive an eye-opening briefing about the nation’s nuclear plans.
Sir Nicholas Houghton, the 61-year-old chief of the Defence Staff who is due to retire this month to become the constable of the Tower of London, will, as one of his final acts, walk Prime Minister May through the country’s nuclear plans and the damage that could result in the event of nuclear attack on her country.
Then, amidst the all the public pomp and circumstance of assuming her office and determining a course of action for the country following the world-changing “Brexit” vote, one of the first things May will be tasked with doing in her new office is perhaps the most grim duty of any head government official in the world: Handwriting what’s known as a “Letter of Last Resort”—the secret instructions, to be remain sealed until after Armageddon, about what the nation’s submarine commanders should do with the UK’s nuclear weapons, housed on their subs, if the country has been destroyed. Actually, she’ll write four of them—all identical—one to each sub commander in the U.K. fleet.
Throughout the Cold War, each nuclear power struggled to figure out how it would approach Armageddon. The Soviet Union ultimately built a rocket that could beam launch orders to Soviet silos even after the human chain of command had been destroyed, a “Dead Hand” machine ultimately uncovered by nuclear historian Bruce Blair in 1993 and made famous by journalist David Hoffman’s eponymous 2009 book. The United States, meanwhile, built a complex network of planes, trains, ships, communication networks and bunkers that could ensure control over the nation’s nuclear systems even amidst a devastating attack.
The British approached a nuclear holocaust differently, and in an appropriately British fashion. Rather than rely on high-tech gadgetry, their prime ministers handwrote “Letters of Last Resort,” and then locked those letters inside of a safe inside of another safe, and placed them in the control rooms of the nation’s nuclear submarines. The safes will only be accessible to the sub’s commander and deputy, who must decide together when Britain has been entirely destroyed.
Britain has long charted its own course when it comes to nuclear weapons, so much so that the secrets of one prime minister often surprise the next………
as the scale of nuclear devastation began to boggle the imagination, Britain faced a unique threat among the nuclear superpowers: Its comparatively tiny island—and its heavily concentrated population and government centers—could be easily obliterated by the power of later generations of atomic and hydrogen bombs. Whereas even a relatively large attack might have left much of the United States or the Soviet Union untouched and allow enough survivors to reconstitute the so-called “National Command Authority,” the military and civilian leaders who can order a nuclear launch, and plan a retaliatory strike, even a small-scale surprise attack from the Soviet Union would have likely destroyed all remnants of Whitehall and the British command chain. Plus, given its geographic proximity to the Soviet Union, Soviet subs, bombers and ICBMs could strike quickly, with little warning and little time to evacuate the nation’s leadership to protective bunkers readied in the English countryside.
And thus was born the tradition of the “Letter of Last Resort.”
It has become a moment when British leaders must wrestle personally with the awesome new responsibilities embodied in their nuclear control………
one might draw some clues from her legislative agenda in the weeks ahead: She’s said she’s eager to push ahead with replacing the aging Vanguard submarines, which will be obsolete in the middle of the next decade. Maintaining the nation’s nuclear deterrence will likely to cost north of $250 billion, but she’s said it’s critical to Britain’s international role post-Brexit. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/07/the-grim-task-awaiting-teresa-may-preparing-for-nuclear-armageddon-214049#ixzz4EQ4PMC9e
Russia Is Building a Nuclear Space Bomber, The Daily Beast, DAVID AXE, 14 JULY 16 Kremlin claims about a spacecraft that could fire weapons anywhere on Earth within two hours may have just kick-started a nuclear arms race in space. The Russian military claims it’s making progress on a space plane similar to the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B robotic mini-shuttle.
That in itself isn’t terribly surprising or even, for the United States, particularly worrisome. Lots of governments and even private companies are working on space planesthat can launch from rockets or runways, boost into orbit for a period of time then return to Earth for quick refurbishment and re-use.
The tech is pretty basic. But alone among space-plane developers, the Kremlin is proposing to arm its space plane. With nukes. That’s not only a gross violation of international law, it represents a fairly profound act of hypocrisy on Russia’s part. It wasn’t long ago that the Russian government accused the United States of weaponizing space by sending aloft the nimble, versatile X-37B, basically a quarter-size, remote-controlled version of the Space Shuttle that could, in theory, carry weapons—but does not.
To be clear, a nuclear-armed space plane would be dangerously destabilizing, as it would totally upset the current, tenuous balance of power between the United States and Russia. The Pentagon could respond to a Russian orbital nuke bomber by quickly deploying a space bomber of its own. In other words, an atomic arms race… in space—a development no one should welcome.
Lt. Col. Aleksei Solodovnikov, a rocketry instructor at the Russian Strategic Missile Forces Academy in St. Petersburg who is overseeing the space plane’s development, said the orbital bomber would be flight-ready by 2020. It’s unclear how much money the Kremlin is investing in the project, and how serious senior officers are about actually deploying the space plane, if and when Solodovnikov and his team finish it.
In any event, the military space plane could give Russia a potentially history-altering nuclear first-strike capability.
“The idea is that the bomber will take off from a normal home airfield to patrol Russian airspace,” Solodovnikov said, according to Sputnik, a government-owned news site. “Upon command, it will ascend into outer space, strike a target with nuclear warheads and then return to its home base.”
Thanks to its orbital capability, the bomber would be able to nuke any target on Earth no longer than two hours after taking off, Solodovnikov claimed.
The Russian craft could be closer to Virgin’s family of reusable space planes—the experimental SpaceShipOne and the larger SpaceShipTwo, which is designed to carry paying tourists to the edge of space……..
In 1967, the United States and Russia and 102 other countries signed the Outer Space Treaty, which bans the explicit militarization of space. “States parties to the treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner,” the treaty reads.
Forty-nine years later, the United States, Russia, and China between them operate hundreds of military satellites. A few have inherently aggressive design features, such as the ability to maneuver close to other spacecraft and potentially disable them by way of extendable claw arms.
But none are solely and strictly offensive weapons. And certainly none pack city-destroying nuclear weapons that can rain down just an hour or so after the command is given. Earth’s surface teems with weaponry, but the world has, so far, managed to keep Earth’s orbit pretty much arms-free.
After the U.S. Air Force launched the X-37B—for scientific purposes, officials claimed—for the first time in April 2010, Russian experts accused the Americans of possibly sneaking a weapon into orbit. The X-37B could “strike global blows on surface targets,” warned Konstantin Sivkov from the Academy for Geopolitical Problems.…….
But the Kremlin’s space-bomber would be a weapon—unambiguously so—and would shatter a half-century of mostly-peaceful space exploration, undoubtedly sparking a terrible diplomatic row and potentially driving the United States and Russia closer to open conflict… on Earth’s surface. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/14/russia-is-building-a-nuclear-space-bomber.html
While no sodium-cooled reactors currently operate in the United States, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is working with industry on a number of “advanced” reactor designs, including the Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactor (SFR). One of the SFR’s safety advantages, to quote the DOE, is that the design provides a “Long grace period for corrective action, if needed.” SRE’s meltdown transpired over a two-week period. Fermi Unit 1 had indications of inadequate core cooling in June that were repeated in August and dismissed until extensive damage occurred in October 1966. The “if needed” grace period is never long enough when warning sign after warning sign is dismissed or ignored.
DOE did acknowledge some “challenges” for the SFR: their higher speed and higher energy neutrons can embrittle and degrade nearby materials, liquid sodium coolant reactors with air and water and degrades concrete, and the opaqueness of the liquid sodium coolant complicates in-service inspections and maintenance.
Thank goodness for the “Long grace period for corrective actions, if needed.” That and the fact that SFRs only operate in cyberspace where the primary threat is carpal tunnel syndrome
Nuclear Plant Accidents: Fermi Unit 1, Union of Concerned Scientists Dave Lochbaum, director, Nuclear Safety Project | July 12, 2016, Disaster by Design
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