Tag Archives: MOX fuel

Demise: nuclear plutonium alive

South Carolina is suing the U.S. government to recover $100 million in fines it says the Department of Energy owes the state for failing to remove one metric ton of plutonium stored there.  The lawsuit was filed on August 7, 2017.

Congress approved fines of $1 million per day for the first 100 days of each year through 2021, beginning 2016, if the weapons-grade plutonium was not removed from the Savannah River Site at the state’s border with Georgia, the attorney general’s office said.   The federal government cannot break its obligations and “leave South Carolina as the permanent dumping ground for weapons-grade plutonium” said in the complaint.

Built in the 1950s, the U.S.-owned Savannah River Site processes and stores nuclear materialss.  A U.S. treaty with Russia in 2000 [The Plutonium Disposition Agreement]* required each country to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, left over from the Cold War.

The United States began building a mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility, known as the MOX project, at the Savannah River Site to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium by mixing it with uranium to form safer fuel pellets for use in commercial nuclear reactors.  But the project is years overdue and billions over budget, and the technology for the new fuel fabrication is not fully developed. Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2016 pulled out of the plutonium pact amid rising tensions over Ukraine and Syria.  The Trump administration proposed in the fiscal year 2018 budget to scrap the project and pursue diluting the plutonium and disposing it underground, an alternative called for by the Obama administration.

Excerpts from   Harriet McLeod, South Carolina seeks $100 million from U.S. over plutonium removal, Reuters,  Aug. 9, 2017

*through which the United States and Russia agreed to immobilize 68 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.

Get Used to It: Japan as Nuclear Weapon State

nucear fuel cycle image from federation of electric power companies of japan

See also Security Strategies of Threshold Nuclear Weapon States

Japan…had 54 reactors in operation before the Fukushima accident..,,. After the accident, which was of unprecedented scale, Japan promptly decided to stop all remaining nuclear power reactors in the country, but was not able to phase out nuclear energy like Germany. Instead, operation of these halted reactors has resumed since Shinzo Abe returned to the Prime Minister’s office in spite of massive protests and the objection of the majority of the public; Sendai 1 Reactor in Kagoshima Prefecture was restarted on August 11, 2015 and Sendai 2 Reactor successively went online on October 15, 2015….

Japan is the only country in the world that is permitted to reprocess its spent fuel, which means it can possess plutonium — a weapon-usable material…Originally, Japan envisioned fast breeder reactors (FBR) for generating electricity with plutonium separated from reprocessing. Japan’s sodium-cooled FBR Monju, which is supposed to produce more fuel than it consumes and thus is regarded as a dream reactor, has never been realized mainly because of insuperable technical problems, despite astronomical investment that exceeded 1 trillion Japanese Yen….

Meanwhile, it has never been easy to start up the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture. This reprocessing plant was initially planned to start its operation in 2000, but completion of reprocessing plant construction has been delayed more than twenty times. Moreover, the construction cost has surged up to approximately 22 billion USD, almost four times higher than the original cost planned back in 1989. And on November 16, 2015, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL), the operator of reprocessing plant, announced that the operation of the reprocessing plant is postponed again to as late as September 2018. JNFL’s President Kenji Kudo reported that a separate plant for producing MOX fuel had also been delayed by early 2019….

Nonetheless, the Japanese government still shows reluctance to withdraw from reprocessing with the excuse of its scarcity of natural resources. Without a technical way out, however, the plutonium stockpile of Japan continues to rise. As for July 2015, its plutonium stockpile reached 47.8 metric tons – 10.8 tons in Japan, 16.3 tons in France, and 20.7 tons in the United Kingdom –  the fifth largest next to the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and the United States. Considering the fact that Japan is not a nuclear-armed state, this number is obviously an outlier. For instance, Germany, which also does not possess nuclear weapons, only had 3 tons of separated plutonium at the end of 2013…. [B]oth Rokkasho Village and Aomori Prefecture intimidated the central government into adhering to [opening the Rokkasho reprocessing plant]. [T]hey contended that the more than 3,000 tons of spent fuel in the area should otherwise be transferred back to the reactors where the spent fuel was originally produced. This alternative however, is politically and technically implausible because the host communities of reactors also expect spent fuel to be removed from their backyards almost immediately…Japan’s unusual surplus of plutonium creates tremendous political pressures for the Japanese government. Japan’s neighbors like China and South Korea often become suspicious of Japan’s real reasons for having that amount of plutonium.

Furthermore, Japan’s recent performance triggered a backlash even from the IAEA, whose head is a former Japanese diplomat; 640 kilogram of unused plutonium was not included in Japan’s annual reports to IAEA in 2012 and 2013. IAEA experts criticized this as “inappropriate omission” though JAEC explained that the stock was part of MOX fuel stored in a reactor that was not in operation during that period of time, and accordingly assumed exempt from reporting requirements. Japan has insisted that it would be impossible to inappropriately separate plutonium at the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village under the IAEA’s 24-hour surveillance. However, surveillance burdens for safeguards have aggravated simply because of the absolute amount of stockpile.

Excerpts from  Eunjung Lim, Japan’s Nuclear Trilemma,  Jan. 19, 2016

Why Japan Tries to Like its Monju

Monju. image from wikipedia

Monju  is a Japanese sodium-cooled fast reactor, located in Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant, Fukui Prefecture..  Monju is a sodium cooled, MOX-fueled, loop-type reactor with three primary coolant loops…The reactor has been inoperative for most of the time since it has been built [due to accidents and resulting public suspicion].  On December 8, 1995, the reactor suffered a serious accident. Intense vibration caused a thermowell inside a pipe carrying sodium coolant to break… [T]he sodium was not radioactive. However, there was massive public outrage in Japan when it was revealed that Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC), the semigovernmental agency then in charge of Monju, had tried to cover up the extent of the accident and resulting damage. This coverup included falsifying reports and the editing of a videotape taken immediately after the accident, as well as issuing a gag order that aimed to stop employees revealing that tapes had been edited.

More  Problems

On 16 February 2012 Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agenbcy reported that a sodium-detector malfunctioned.

On 30 April 2013 an operating error rendered two of the three emergency generators unusable

On Monday 16 September 2013 before 3 a.m. the data transmission of the reactor stopped to the government’s Emergency Response Support System.

Excerpts from Wikipedia

A panel of experts set up by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has begun discussions on what should be done about the Monju reactor. The panel is expected to reach a conclusion by the summer 2016.  Since 2012, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has repeatedly conducted on-the-spot inspections of Monju, which is now operated by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA). Every time these inspections were conducted, however, they have identified faulty maintenance checks of the reactor and others that violated related laws and regulations.,Monju’s maintenance and inspection program was drawn up in 2009. What is a serious issue is the program had a large number of defects.About 50,000 pieces of equipment must be inspected at the reactor. Without a carefully thought-out plan, these inspections will be far from smooth. It is crucial to review the maintenance and inspection plan, which is the foundation for ensuring safety…

Under the government’s Strategic Energy Plan, Monju is considered a key research base to reduce the volume of nuclear waste. The development of nuclear reactors similar to Monju is under way in Russia, China and India, as uranium resources can be effectively utilized with the fast breeder reactor.  Can Japan afford to stop development of the fast breeder reactor and let these countries lead the way? This is indeed a crucial moment.

New organization needed to regain public trust in Monju management, The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan 18, 2015

The Nuclear Lobby

The report of the Center for International Policy provides a profile of the nuclear weapons lobby, noting along the way that in a constrained budgetary environment different parts of the lobby may either collaborate to promote higher nuclear weapons spending or compete for their share of a shrinking pie.

• The Pentagon and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration are scheduled to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on nuclear weapons projects over the next decade and beyond, including $68 billion to develop and purchase a new generation of nuclear bombers; $347 billion to purchase and operate 12 new ballistic missile submarines; and billions more on new nuclear weapons facilities.

• In the 2012 election cycle, the top 14 nuclear weapons contractors gave a total of $2.9 million to key members of Congress with decision making power over nuclear weapons spending. These firms have donated $18.7 million to these same members of Congress over the course of their careers.

• More than half of the contributions cited above went to members of the four key subcommittees with jurisdiction over nuclear weapons spending – the Strategic Forces Subcommittees of the Armed Services Committees in each house and the Energy and Water Subcommittees of the Appropriations Committees in each house. Total contributions by major nuclear weapons contractors to members of these four subcommittees have been over $1.6 million in the 2012 election cycle thus far, and $11.7 lifetime to these same members.

• Of the 14 nuclear weapons contractors tracked in this report, Lockheed Martin has been the biggest contributor to key members of Congress with influence over nuclear weapons spending. So far during the 2012 election cycle, Lockheed Martin has donated $535,000 to these key members; other major donors include Honeywell International, $464,582; Northrop Grumman, $464,000; and Boeing, $336,750.

• Leading advocates of high levels of nuclear weapons spending have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from major nuclear weapons contractors in the course of their careers…..

Policy Recommendations

• Reduce the ballistic missile submarine force. The ballistic missile submarine force should be reduced from 12 boats to eight, with additional warheads carried in each boat. This would save $18 billion over the next decade while sustaining the capability to deploy the number of warheads called for under the New START treaty.

• Postpone new nuclear bomber plans. Plans for a new nuclear bomber should be shelved, at a savings of $18 billion over the next decade. At a minimum, the bomber should not be made nuclear-capable.

• Cancel the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility.  There is no circumstance under which it will be necessary to build large numbers of new plutonium “pits” or triggers for nuclear warheads. Therefore, the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility at Los Alamos National Laboratories should be cancelled, at a savings of $5 billion over the next decade.

• Cancel building the Mixed Oxide (MOX ) facility.  Plutonium waste from nuclear warheads can be neutralized without building the multi-billion dollar MOX facility. It too should be cancelled, at a savings of at least $4.9 billion in construction costs over the next twenty years.

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The top 14 nuclear weapons contractors employ 137 lobbyists who formerly worked for key nuclear weapons decision makers. The majority of the revolving door lobbyists – 96 – worked for key members of Congress or key Congressional Committees; 26 revolving door lobbyists worked for one of the military services; and 24 revolving door lobbyists worked for the Department of Defense or the Department of Energy. Some lobbyists worked for one or more Congressional offices or agencies before leaving government, and many now work for more than one major nuclear weapons contractor.   There are 19 revolving door lobbyists working for major nuclear weapons contractors who were staffers for members of the Energy and Water Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee – the committee that controls spending on the nuclear warhead complex.

Excerpt William D. Hartung and Christine Anderson, Bombs Versus Budgets: Inside the Nuclear Weapons Lobby, Center for International Policy, June 2012

See also Nuclear Weapons Establishment

Zero nuclear weapons?

The Public has the Right to Know who has Nuclear Weapons

Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building (pdf)