Tag Archives: reprocessing

Sitting Still Nuclear Waste

Several options are available to immobilise waste resulting from nuclear fuel reprocessing. One of these is vitrification – a mature technology which has been used for high-level nuclear waste immobilization for over 50 years…Argentina is considering vitrification as a viable option for dealing with its high-level nuclear waste. The Argentine National Programme for Radioactive Waste Management aims to build capacities to implement vitrification processes for radioactive waste….
The vitrified radioactive waste is extremely durable, and ensures a high degree of environmental protection. Although the process of vitrification requires a high initial investment and then operational costs, waste vitrification has important advantages: it significantly reduces the volume of waste, and allows simple and cheap disposal possibilities. The overall cost of vitrified radioactive waste is usually lower than alternative options when transportation and disposal expenses are taken into account. For this reason, the process is very attractive for sates seeking effective and reliable immobilisation solutions for their radioactive waste stocks.

Excerpts from Taking a Closer Look at Vitrification: How the IAEA Helps Countries Utilise Advanced Immobilisation Technologies, IAEA Press Release, Mar. 24, 2017

Frenemies with Nuclear Benefits: 2015 US-China Nuclear Deal

Coolant pump  Nuclear Reactor AP 1000

President Obama intends to renew a nuclear cooperation agreement with China. The deal would allow Beijing to buy more U.S.-designed reactors and pursue a facility or the technology to reprocess plutonium from spent fuel. China would also be able to buy reactor coolant technology that experts say could be adapted to make its submarines quieter and harder to detect.,,

The Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group, argues that the new agreement will clear the way for U.S. companies to sell dozens of nuclear reactors to China, the biggest nuclear power market in the world.  Yet the new version of the nuclear accord — known as a 123 agreement under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 — would give China leeway to buy U.S. nuclear energy technology at a sensitive moment: The Obama administration has been trying to rally support among lawmakers and the public for a deal that would restrict Iran’s nuclear program — a deal negotiated with China’s support.,,,

If Congress rejects the deal, “that would allow another country with lower levels of proliferation controls to step in and fill that void,” said a senior administration official…

{T}he current nuclear agreement with China does not expire until the end of the year (2015),…
Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, has been urging lawmakers to insist on requiring advance consent for the reprocessing of spent fuel from U.S.-designed reactors into plutonium suitable for weapons. He also is concerned about the sale of certain nuclear energy technologies, especially coolant pumps with possible naval use.
Charlotte-based Curtiss-Wright developed advanced coolant pumps for the U.S. Navy’s submarines. The same plant produces a scaled-up version for the Westinghouse AP1000 series reactors, each of which uses four big pumps. These pumps reduce noises that would make a submarine easier to detect…..An Obama administration official said the reactor coolant pumps are much too big to fit into a submarine. However, a 2008 paper by two former nuclear submarine officers working on threat reduction said that “the reverse engineering would likely be difficult” but added that “certainly, the Chinese have already reversed engineered very complex imported technology in the aerospace and nuclear fields.”..

The United States has bilateral 123 agreements with 22 countries, plus Taiwan, for the peaceful use of nuclear power. Some countries that do not have such agreements, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Malaysia, have expressed interest in clearing obstacles to building nuclear reactors.

China and the United States reached a nuclear cooperation pact in 1985, before China agreed to safeguards with the International Atomic Energy Agency. IAEA safeguards went into force in 1989, but Congress imposed new restrictions after the Chinese government’s June 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square. The 123 agreement finally went into effect in March 1998; President Bill Clinton waived the 1989 sanctions after China pledged to end assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and nuclear cooperation with Iran.

In December 2006, Westinghouse Electric — majority-owned by Toshiba — signed an agreement to sell its AP1000 reactors to China. Four are under construction, six more are planned, and the company hopes to sell 30 others, according to an April report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS)….“Missile proliferation from Chinese entities is a continuing concern.” The United States wants China to refrain from selling missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons, a payload of 1,100 pounds, as far as 190 miles

China has a pilot plant engaged in reprocessing in Jiu Quan, a remote desert town in Gansu province. Satellite photos show that it is next to a former military reprocessing plant, according to Frank von Hippel, a Princeton University physics professor who specializes in nuclear arms control.

Excerpts from Steven Mufson, Obama’s quiet nuclear deal with China raises proliferation concerns,   Washington Post  May 10, 2015

Nuclear Waste from Britain to Japan on the Pacific Grebe

pacific grebe.  Image from http://www.marinetraffic.com

Making the Rounds Around the World: Nuclear Waste

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. said Thursday that 28 canisters of high-level radioactive waste produced through the reprocessing of spent Japanese nuclear fuel in Britain will arrive in Aomori Prefecture in the latter half of February.  The 28 canisters of vitrified radioactive waste include 14 for Kansai Electric Power Co. and seven each for Chubu Electric Power Co. and Chugoku Electric Power Co.

The freighter Pacific Grebe carrying the waste left the port of Barrow on Wednesday Jan, 9, 2013) and will travel to Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, via the Panama Canal, Japan Nuclear Fuel said.  It will be the third time that vitrified radioactive waste will be brought to Japan from Britain.

Japan has received 104 canisters of such waste from Britain and plans to receive around 800 more. The 104 canisters have been stored at a facility in the village of Rokkasho.

Reprocessed nuclear waste to arrive in Aomori from Britain in late February, The Japan Times, Jan. 11, 2012

See also 

Making the Rounds Around the World: Nuclear Waste

Nuclear Trains, No: the costs and perils of defunct nuclear programs

UK, A plan to transport 44 tonnes of radioactive uranium and plutonium by train has run into opposition from councils worried about accidents and terrorist attacks.  The UK government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) plans to make about 50 rail shipments over the next five years from the Dounreay nuclear site in Caithness to the Sellafield reprocessing complex in Cumbria.  It wants to process material left over from Britain’s long-abandoned fast breeder reactor programme – a class of reactors that aim to produce more fuel as they operate – to extract plutonium and uranium for re-use or disposal. But councils say this is dangerous and risks theft of nuclear material by terrorists en route, arguing the material should be treated as waste and “immobilised” at Dounreay.  A consultation on the plan is due to end on 31 August, and, if agreed, shipments will begin next year. The NDA argues there is a “clear and compelling strategic case” for moving the material 500km (310 miles) south. The safety record for transporting nuclear flasks is “well proven” and the environmental impact of the shipments will be “minimal”, the NDA says. Sending the material to Sellafield will cost about-

Nuclear Deals: India and the Nuclear Suppliers Group

Confident in the large market it offers to the world’s nuclear suppliers, India has decided to shrug off new restrictions by a 46-nation cartel on the transfer of uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies that potentially have military applications.

India, which has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) on the grounds that it is discriminatory, pulled off a diplomatic coup in 2008 by securing a special waiver from the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).  Following a plenary in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the NSG announced on Jun. 24 that it would “strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies,” diluting the clean waiver granted to India and exempting it from full-scope international safeguards.  Nuclear energy experts in India told IPS that the NSG’s move may be prompted by commercial concerns and an attempt to squeeze India into buying nuclear equipment in a market rapidly narrowing down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

“Given the present climate for nuclear energy, countries like France, Russia and the United States, which have already signed major nuclear commerce deals with India, are unlikely to back off”….India has ambitious plans to raise its nuclear power generation from the current 4.7 gigawatts to over 20 Gw by 2020. Besides Areva, Russia’s Rosatom and General Electric from the U.S. are among corporations negotiating for deals worth more than 100 billion dollars.

In an apparent warning to the NSG, India’s foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told television interviewers on Sunday that there are “leverages” that could be applies to countries unwilling to enter into nuclear commerce with India.  Rao said the U.S., Russia and France had, since the NSG announced its new policy, made known that they would stand by their commitments to India.  French ambassador to India Jerome Bonnafont confirmed in a Jul. 1 press statement that “this NSG decision in no way undermines the parameters of our bilateral cooperation,” and that France remained “committed to the full implementation of our cooperation agreement on the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy signed on Sep. 30, 2008.”Coming after the decision of exemption from the full-scope safeguards clause, adopted in favour of India in September 2008, it (NSG decision) does not undermine the principles of this exemption,” the statement said.

Excerpt, Ranjit Devraj, INDIA: Unfazed by Nuclear Suppliers’ New Rules, Inter Press Service, July 6, 2011



India-United States Nuclear Deal

The United States has been eager to strengthen its cooperation with India, which it views as a strategic hedge against China. Since the early 2000s India and the United States have tried to concoct ways to cooperate in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. This has not been easy, though, because of United States and international non-proliferation standards.

The United States Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 as it amended the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 imposed the adoption of safeguards as a prerequisite for nuclear exports to NNWS. For the United States to export nuclear materials and technologies to a NNWS a cooperation agreement with that state must be concluded. The United States has signed about 27 cooperation agreements with NNWS and a cooperation agreement with India lasted from 1963 to 1993. The United States supported the Indian nuclear program since its beginnings in the mid-1950s by helping to build a nuclear power reactor — the Tarapur nuclear power reactor. India’s ‘peaceful’ nuclear explosion in 1974 provided incontrovertible evidence of what was known to be inevitable: nuclear technology transferred for peaceful purposes can be diverted to military use. As a response to the Indian nuclear test, the United States cooperated with other countries to develop the NSG. The establishment of the NSG hampered India’s imports of nuclear-related technologies and materials. The United States cooperation with India had now to be based on a series of exceptions to the general United States non-proliferation laws.

On July 18, 2005, the prime minister of India and the president of the United States adopted a joint statement on cooperation including the field of nuclear energy. The joint statement accords to India the status of a legitimate NWS. India agrees to assume the same responsibilities and practices as other NWS with advanced nuclear technology. These responsibilities and practices include:

• separation of civilian facilities from military nuclear facilities and programs;

• placement of civilian nuclear facilities under the IAEA safeguards;

• adherence to the 1997 additional protocol with respect to civilian nuclear facilities;

• maintenance of the Indian moratorium on nuclear testing;

• commitment to continue negotiations for the conclusion of a FMCT;

• commitment not to transfer enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not have such technologies and to support international efforts to limit the spread of such technologies; and

• application of the NSG and the MTCR guidelines.

Moving from a joint statement to a bilateral agreement was fraught with difficulties. There was a concern that exceptions made for India would fuel demands for exceptions for other countries that have acquired nuclear weapons outside the NPT. Including India in the nuclear non-proliferation order (NPO), as a NWS, could generate a bad precedent as it would signal to other states that their developing nuclear weapons applications can be forgiven and potentially rewarded.

The agreement was adopted on August 3, 2007. Both the parties recognize that nuclear energy can help meet growing energy demands in a cleaner and more efficient manner and contribute to energy security. The agreement is a cooperation agreement on the civilian use of nuclear energy and it is understood that a line of separation should exist between the civil and the military programs in both the states. None of the technologies or materials to be traded and exchanged, based on the agreement, is to be used for military purposes. The agreement covers all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle. The United States conveys its commitment “to the reliable supply of fuel to India.”

In return, India undertakes to place its civilian nuclear facilities in perpetuity under India-specific safeguards negotiated between India and the IAEA. State parties grant each other consent to reprocess or otherwise alter the form and content of the material transferred between them. In this respect, India will establish a national reprocessing facility dedicated to the reprocessing of nuclear material under IAEA safeguards.

The agreement provides for the storage of nuclear materials transferred under the agreement that must be subject to the IAEA physical protection requirements, and for the protection of environment, health and safety. Specific provisions for the termination of the agreement, addressing the return of material and equipment, are included. Based on the safeguards agreement negotiated between India and the IAEA, India has placed fourteen nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards. Furthermore, after intensive lobbying by the United States, India ‘received clearance’ in the NSG based on which India can receive now nuclear equipment and materials from states that belong to the group.

Excerpt from Nuclear Weapons: Justice and the Law by Elli Louka (forthcoming summer 2011)