Category Archives: Nuclear Energy

First Floating Nuclear Plant on the Block

Akademik Lomonosov artistic depiction. Image from wikipedia

Russian State Expert Examination Board (Glavgosexpertiza) has announced that the floating nuclear power plant  meets construction standards. The authority said on 9 December it had approved the project in Russia’s northernmost city of Pevek that is being funded by Rosenergoatom, the nuclear power plant operator subsidiary of Rosatom.  Currently moored at the Baltiysky Zavod shipyard in Saint Petersburg, Akademik Lomonosov houses two 35 MW KLT-40S nuclear reactors, similar to those used in Russia’s nuclear-powered ice breakers

The plant is intended to replace the outgoing capacity of the Bilibino nuclear power plant in the Chukotka district. The first Bilibino unit is scheduled to be shut down in 2019 and the whole plant will be shut down in 2021.

Excerpts from First Floating Nuclear Power Plant Akademik Lomonosov, Nuclear News, Jan. 11, 2018

Environmental groups like Bellona are not convineced that the plant is safe.  According to Bellona,   in August 2017, Rosatom responded to pressure from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to delay fueling the plant with its uranium fuel until it had cleared its coast…It has now apparently been settled that the Akademik Lomonosov will be loaded at Atomflot, Russia’s nuclear icebreaker in Murmansk, by fuel that will arrive separately…The overall cost for the Academic Lomonosov, both the plant and infrastructure for its Far Eastern port, are expected to top $530 million – which is almost four times as expensive as it was projected to be in 2006.  In the end, that may weigh in on the cheap side. The costs of decommissioning the vessel have not yet been weighed, nor have the costs of cleaning up a nuclear accident on a stretch of land as remote as the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Excerpts from Bellona.org

The Geopolitics of Enriched Uranium: controlling Urenco

Image from URENCO.

The Japanese government has entered into negotiations to acquire U.K.-based Urenco, a major European producer of enriched uranium, in a deal that is expected to be worth several billions of dollars.  The state-owned Japan Bank for International Cooperation is expected to make an offer together with U.S. nuclear energy company Centrus Energy [formely known as United States Enrichment Corporation].  The not-so-ulterior motive is to block companies from Russia and China — two countries that are increasing their influence in the global nuclear power market — from taking control of the company.

The Japanese government is holding talks with major shareholders of Urenco, sources close to the matter said. Ownership of Urenco is evenly split by three parties — the governments of the U.K. and the Netherlands as well as German electric utilities including RWE.The German side is exploring a sale as the government plans to phase out nuclear power. The U.K. government, working on fiscal consolidation, is also looking for a buyer.  Urenco is engaged in turning natural uranium into enriched uranium, which is critical in generating nuclear power [and nuclear weapons]. The company ranks second in the world after Tenex — a unit of Russian nuclear concern Rosatom — in terms of capacity to produce enriched uranium, holding a global share of around 30%…

According to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, China had 35 nuclear reactors in operation as of January 2017, while Russia had 30. Including reactors in the planning stage, however, the numbers grow to 82 in China and 55 in Russia, surpassing Japan’s 53.

Excerpts from Japan in talks over bid for UK uranium powerhouse, NIkkei Asian Review, Jan. 19, 2018

The Right to Drinkable Water and Uranium Mining in the USA

image from http://postcardy.blogspot.com/2015/02/map-southern-utah-and-northern-arizona.html

[T]he uranium mining industry in the United States is renewing a push into the areas adjacent to Navajo Nation, Utah: the Grand Canyon watershed to the west, where a new uranium mine is preparing to open, and the Bears Ears National Monument to the north.

The Trump administration is set to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent in February 2018, potentially opening more than a million acres to mining, drilling and other industrial activity….[T]here were more than 300 uranium mining claims inside the monument, according to data from Utah’s Bureau of Land Management (B.L.M.) office that was reviewed by The New York Times.  The vast majority of those claims fall neatly outside the new boundaries of Bears Ears set by the [Trump] administration. And an examination of local B.L.M. records, including those not yet entered into the agency’s land and mineral use authorizations database, shows that about a third of the claims are linked to Energy Fuels, a Canadian uranium producer. Energy Fuels also owns the Grand Canyon mine, where groundwater has already flooded the main shaft.

Energy Fuels, together with other mining groups, lobbied extensively for a reduction of Bears Ears, preparing maps that marked the areas it wanted removed from the monument and distributing them during a visit to the monument by Mr. Zinke, Energy Secretary,  in May 2017.

The Uranium Producers of America, an industry group, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw regulations proposed by the Obama administration to strengthen groundwater protections at uranium mines. Mining groups have also waged a six-year legal battle against a moratorium on new uranium mining on more than a million acres of land adjacent to the Grand Canyon…

Supporters of the mining say that a revival of domestic uranium production, which has declined by 90 percent since 1980 amid slumping prices and foreign competition, will make the United States a larger player in the global uranium market.  It would expand the country’s energy independence, they say, and give a lift to nuclear power, still a pillar of carbon-free power generation. Canada, Kazakhstan, Australia, Russia and a few other countries now supply most of America’s nuclear fuel.

The dwindling domestic market was thrust into the spotlight by the contentious 2010 decision under the Obama administrationthat allowed Russia’s nuclear agency to buy Uranium One, a company that has amassed production facilities in the United States. The Justice Department is examining allegations that donations to the Clinton Foundation were tied to that decision.

“If we consider nuclear a clean energy, if people are serious about that, domestic uranium has to be in the equation,” said Jon J. Indall, a lawyer for Uranium Producers of America. “But the proposed regulations would have had a devastating impact on our industry.” “Countries like Kazakhstan, they’re not under the same environmental standards. We want a level playing field.”…

In Sanders, Arizona, hundreds of people were exposed to potentially dangerous levels of uranium in their drinking water for years, until testing by a doctoral researcher at Northern Arizona University named Tommy Rock exposed the contamination.  “I was shocked,” Mr. Rock said. “I wasn’t expecting that reading at all.”

Mr. Rock and other scientists say they suspect a link to the 1979 breach of a wastewater pond at a uranium mill in Church Rock, N.M., now a Superfund site. That accident is considered the single largest release of radioactive material in American history, surpassing the crisis at Three Mile Island.

It wasn’t until 2003, however, that testing by state regulators picked up uranium levels in Sanders’s tap water. Still, the community was not told. Erin Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, said the department had urged the now-defunct local water company for years to address the contamination, but it had been up to that company to notify its customers….The town’s school district, whose wells were also contaminated with uranium, received little state or federal assistance. It shut off its water fountains and handed out bottled water to its 800 elementary and middle-school students.  “I still don’t trust the water,” said Shanon Sangster, who still sends her 10-year-old daughter, Shania, to school with bottled water. “It’s like we are all scarred by it, by the uranium.”

Excerpts from HIROKO TABUCHIJAN,  Uranium Miners Pushed Hard for a Comeback. They Got Their Wish,  NY Times, Jan. 13, 2018

Fake Nuclear Leaks:

Nuclear plant, Belarus. Image from wikipedia

Russia, which for years has used its vast supply of natural gas as a political lever with energy-hungry Europe, is building a nuclear power plant in Moscow-friendly Belarus. Neighboring Lithuania and Poland are so determined to escape Russia’s clutch that they refused to buy electricity from the plant.

Still, the $11 billion Ostrovets nuclear-power project, 30 miles from Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, is fueling fears in the Baltic republic. Lithuanians say they don’t think Moscow would actually trigger a nuclear accident but they do worry about a panic-inducing warning of a leak—real or not.  “Even a fake message about the disaster could trigger a lot of damage to our country,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė. “We treat this as a national security threat.”  Evacuating Vilnius would be massively disruptive, lower the country’s defenses, and increase its vulnerability to potential covert action by Russia…

Infrastructure projects are seen as potential weapons in other parts of the world. South Korea so fears North Korea will use its Imnam hydroelectric dam to try to flood Seoul that it spent $429 million building its own dam in defense. China’s new artificial islands in the South China Sea are seen by the U.S. and its allies as permanent aircraft carriers…

European officials are divided over the potential threat from the Ostrovets plant. Rosatom has projects around Europe, including nuclear power plants under construction in Hungary and Finland. Accidents are bad for business, even false alarms, say energy experts.

Excerpts from Russia Nuclear Plant Worries Europe, Wall Street Journal,  Dec. 24, 2017

The Other Nuclear Korea

Artist’s concept of Shin-Kori Units 5 and 6.

The building of two South Korean nuclear reactors stopped suddenly in July 2017, after Moon Jae-in, the country’s left-leaning anti-nuclear president, ordered a pause to the project to give a citizen-jury time to consider its merits. …On October 20, 2017, after the jury endorsed the construction of the two reactors, Shin Kori 5 and 6….Mr Moon had pledged to scrap before he was elected in May. In June, however, he said he wanted to “generate a social consensus” by delegating the final decision to a 471-strong jury picked by a polling company. Its members were given a month to study materials prepared by scientists and activists before debating the project for three days. In the final vote, 60% backed the new reactors, although more than half of them said South Korea should reduce its overall reliance on nuclear energy. Only 10% said the nuclear industry should grow…

Anti-nuclear campaigners have voiced louder concerns since the Fukushima disaster in neighbouring Japan in 2011 and a 5.8 magnitude earthquake last year in the southern city of Gyeongju, close to some of South Korea’s 24 reactors. A corruption scandal in the industry and the revelation in 2012 that some safety certificates for reactor parts were forged amplified their doubts.

But the jury was probably swayed by economic arguments. Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, the state-run company in charge of the Shin Kori project, claimed it had already spent 1.6trn won ($1.4bn) on the reactors, which were 30% complete. South Korea is the world’s second biggest importer of liquefied natural gas and its fourth largest importer of coal. Hydroelectric and renewable energy provides only 6% of its electricity. So nuclear, which accounts for 27% of its electricity supply, helps to guard against volatile import prices, says Kerry-Anne Shanks of Wood Mackenzie, a consultancy. “Nuclear plants are expensive to build but they’re cheap to run,” she says. The industry also argued that axing the reactors would threaten deals to export nuclear technology…[Owning of nuclear technology makes South Korea a Threshold Nuclear Weapons State.]

Excerpts from Energy in South Korea: People Power, Economist, Oct.28, 2017

The Burial: nuclear waste of Fukushima

piles of radioactive waste from Fukushima, image from japan times.

The Japanese government on November 17, 2017 began the disposal of low-level radioactive waste generated by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, more than six years after the crisis triggered by the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

A disposal site in Fukushima Prefecture accepted the first shipment of the waste, which contains radioactive cesium exceeding 8,000 becquerels and up to 100,000 becquerels per kilogram, and includes rice straw, sludge and ash from waste incineration.

The Environment Ministry is in charge of the disposal of the waste, amounting to about 200,000 tons in 11 prefectures across the country as of the end of September 2017, Most of the waste, 170,000 tons, is in the prefecture hosting the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Under the ministry’s policy, the waste is to be disposed of in each prefecture. However, Fukushima is the only prefecture where its disposal has started, while the other prefectures have met with opposition from local residents. In Fukushima, it will take six years to finish bringing the waste that has been stored in the prefecture into the disposal site, the ministry said.

Excerpt from NationalDisposal of low-level radioactive waste from Fukushima nuclear disaster begins, Japan Times, Nov. 18, 2017

Nuclear Testing and Radioactive Leaks

US Geological Survey showing the location of seismic activity at the time of the 2017 North Korean Nuclear Test

A fresh nuclear test at North Korea’s mountainous testing site could trigger a leak of radioactive material, South Korea’s chief meteorologist has warned.A hollow space of up to 100m in length in the bottom of Mount Mantap could implode, Nam Jae-cheol said. Pyongyang’s last nuclear test in early September 2017 appeared to have triggered several landslides.

North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006, using the same site test each time.  “There is a hollow space, which measures about 60 to 100 metres in length, at the bottom of Mount Mantap in the Punggye-ri site,” Mr Nam was quoted by South Korean news agency Yonhap as saying.”Should another nuke test occur, there is the possibility of a collapse,” he warned.  The Punggye-ri test site, situated in mountainous terrain in the north-east of the country, is thought to be Pyongyang’s main nuclear facility and the only active nuclear testing site in the world.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper reported on October 27, 2017 that Chinese geologists warned North Korean officials after the September 2017 test that additional tests there could lead to a massive collapse and a leak of radioactive waste…

Pyongyang might soon launch a satellite – widely seen as a test of the country’s ballistic missile technology.

Excerpts from North Korea: Fresh test could trigger radioactive leak, South says, BBC, Oct. 2017

Earthquake Qualified Nuclear Power Plants

Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant Armenia, Image from wikipedia

The fate of the 41-year-old Armenian Nuclear Power Plant (ANPP), commonly known as Metsamor, is up for debate yet again as reports have emerged questioning whether the Armenian government will abandon plans for renewal or replacement altogether.  Metsamor, which is the only nuclear energy plant in the South Caucasus and one of the five remaining Soviet nuclear reactors of its kind, provides energy to 40% of Armenian consumers. Despite its critical role in Armenia’s modern energy economy, its aging design and proximity to earthquake-prone areas make it among the most dangerous nuclear plants in the world.

Built in 1976, the plant was shut down in 1989 by Soviet officials, following the devastating Spitak Earthquake. However, the economic difficulty and energy scarcity in Armenia after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, motivated the new Armenian government to relaunch the second of the plant’s two units.  Since then, the reactor’s operations have been a contentious issue both domestically and internationally. The issue was even addressed in an impending EU-Armenia trade agreement, where a 350-page, publicly-released draft text stipulated the reactor should be closed and replaced (though practical measures in enforcing this were notably vague).

For years, Armenian officials have pledged to build a new nuclear plant, which was originally scheduled to expire in 2016, but in 2015, an extension was granted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) allowing the site to continue operating until 2027…

Replacing the plant will require serious investment—around five billion dollars—which would fund a medium capacity plant (600 megawatts). Closing the plant would deprive millions of people of electricity, without a viable alternative, and would deal a blow to the security of the country.

Excerpts from The Uncertain Fate of Armenia’s Nuclear Power Plant, The Armenian Weekly, Oct. 20, 2017

Nuclear States in the Making: Argentina

Argentina's CAREM small modular reactor. Image from http://www.ansnuclearcafe.org

When we say Argentina is a nuclear power we are not referring to the club of those armed with bombs but rather the similarly small group of countries that generate electricity from nuclear power. Moreover unlike many of those in retreat from an activity they hate to need, Argentina without any fanfare has added a third reactor to its existing two reactors.

Argentina has also been active in nuclear power generation & research and uranium mining since the middle of last century. Some 10% of current electricity needs are met from nuclear power stations in the country. The Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica (CNEA – Atomic Energy Commission) was set up in 1950 to oversee nuclear R&D, including construction of several research reactors. Currently, five research reactors are operated by CNEA and others.

Another is planned, similar to the Opal reactor built in Australia by Argentina’s INVAP. An example of the country’s membership of the front ranks of nuclear technology nations is that Argentina’s CAREM small modular reactor design is under consideration for massive desalination projects in Saudi Arabia.

The goal of Argentina’s government…is for nuclear power to be part of an expansion in generating capacity to meet rising demand. The government signed co-operation agreements with China and UAE and Argentina received a $240m loan from the development bank of Latin America to extend the life of an existing reactor.

Excerpts from Nuclear Energy and Uranium in Argentina, BNamericas.com
Friday, October 13, 2017

How to Flirt with Disaster and Pay: the class actions of Fukushima refugees

image with wikipedia

Negligence by the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. caused the triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a court ruled on October 10, 2017 in the biggest class-action suit related to the March 2011 accident.

The Fukushima District Court ordered the government and Tepco to pay a total of Yen 498 million ($4.4 million) plus delinquency charges to 2,907 people who fled the radiation that was released into the air and water after a tsunami flooded the power plant, knocking out the power to the vital cooling system. It was the second time a court found the government responsible for failing to prepare adequately for the likelihood of a large tsunami wave hitting the plant.

If Japan’s government had ordered Tepco to make sure the plant was ready to withstand a tsunami wave of 15.7 meters (51.5 feet), Tepco would have made sure critical instruments were waterproof, Tuesday’s ruling said.”The accident, triggered by total loss of power, could have been avoided, ” Judge Hideki Kanazawa said.

The compensation represents a small fraction of the damages the residents had sought. They also wanted compensation for every month that radiation levels stay above normal, but the court rejected that claim. Still, with some 30 class-action lawsuits so far brought by more than 10,000 affected residents. The October 11, 2017 ruling is a sign additional compensation costs could weigh on both the government and Tepco for years to come.  Tepco has so far paid more than Yen7.6 trillion ($67 billion) in compensation to residents affected by the accident, and has been struggling to clean up the reactors — a daunting technological task that could take decades.

As of September 2017, nearly 55,000 Fukushima residents are registered as evacuees, meaning they can’t return home and haven’t settled permanently elsewhere.

The plaintiffs argued the government and Tepco failed to give adequate attention to studies that said a major tsunami could occur in the area of the plant. One 2002 study by the government’s Earthquake Research Promotion Unit said there was a 20% chance of a magnitude 8 tsunami-triggering earthquake in the area off Fukushima within 30 years. Another study by Tepco’s senior safety engineer in 2007 found there was about a 10% chance that a tsunami could breach Fukushima Daiichi’s defenses within 50 years.

The defendants said the scientific basis for such predictions was unclear, and even if the calculations were correct, the chance was too low to require immediate steps in response. The government said it wasn’t until after the accident that it gained the ability to force Tepco to take anti-flooding measures. Both argued the compensation already being paid to displaced people was adequate.

On March 11, 2011, a tsunami triggered by an earthquake flooded the Fukushima Daiichi plant, knocking out auxiliary power sources that were supposed to keep the reactors’ cooling systems running. Three reactors melted down.

Excerpts from Redress Ordered In Fukushima Case, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 11, 2017