Nuclear issues

February 6, 2015

Informational items on various aspects of the nuclear industry

nuke-hazards

Australia was the guinea pig population for Britain’s nuclear weapons tests radiation fallout

August 21, 2020
Paul Langley  Facebook , 5 July 20
It was Operation Buffalo’s series final tonight, on the ABC, so Im interrupting my thread on Fuk ( a crime which, were I just, would see me ban myself from this page) and I want to point out , yea, the British were the spies, and we were the guinea pigs and we did what they said or else.
As late as the 80s the Poms were threatening us with jail in our own land for speaking out it. And yea, the false fallout maps that were published and the real ones hidden, and readings which were under valued by 50%. Here’s the nine maps publically released by the Royal Commission.
Once, years ago, I printed each one onto its own sheet of transparent plastic sheet. There were 12 bombs, but only 9 fallout maps.
But laying those 9 transparent maps on top of one another results in the final combined map, which proves how cunning the British spies were who used us, On Her Majesty’s Service, as guinea pigs. Whereas had the Soviets done the deeds, the nuclear veterans would have been elevated as heroes, instead of traitors for trying to speak. For at least 2 of the bombs, the Poms put a few ton of coal at the base of the bomb towers. The coal vapourised when the bomb went off, and when it condensed again it formed a black sticky goo in small droplets, containing speckles of fission product throughout it. That is what made the Black Mist of 1953 so sticky. Yep, pretty war like and cunning, the British. I am ashamed to say. I wonder why they spared Perth.

Reality bats last-Small Nuclear Reactors just not economic for Australia (or anywhere else)

August 21, 2020
Small modular reactor rhetoric hits a hurdle  https://reneweconomy.com.au/small-modular-reactor-rhetoric-hits-a-hurdle-62196/    Jim Green, 23 June 2020, The promotion of ‘small modular reactors’ (SMRs) in Australia has been disrupted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). The latest GenCost report produced by the two agencies estimates a hopelessly uneconomic construction cost of A$16,304 per kilowatt (kW) for SMRs. But it throws the nuclear lobby a bone by hypothesising a drastic reduction in costs over the next decade. The A$16,304 estimate has been furiously attacked by, amongst others, conservative politicians involved in a federal nuclear inquiry last year, and the Bright New World (BNW) nuclear lobby group. The estimate has its origins in a commissioned report written by engineering company GHD. GHD provides the estimate without clearly explaining its origins or basis. And the latest CSIRO/AEMO report does no better than to state that the origins of the estimate are “unclear”. Thus nuclear lobbyists have leapt on that muddle-headedness and filled the void with their own lowball estimates of SMR costs.
Real-world data
Obviously, the starting point for any serious discussion about SMR costs would be the cost of operational SMRs – ignored by CSIRO/AEMO and by lobbyists such as BNW. There is just one operational SMR, Russia’s floating plant. Its estimated cost is US$740 million for a 70 MW plant. That equates to A$15,200 per kW – similar to the CSIRO/AEMO estimate of A$16,304 per kW. Over the course of construction, the cost quadrupled and a 2016 OECD Nuclear Energy Agency report said that electricity produced by the Russian floating plant is expected to cost about US$200 (A$288) per megawatt-hour (MWh) with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure. Figures on costs of SMRs under construction should also be considered – they are far more useful than the estimates of vendors and lobbyists, which invariably prove to be highly optimistic. The World Nuclear Association states that the cost of China’s high-temperature gas-cooled SMR (HTGR) is US$6,000 (A$8,600) per kW. Costs are reported to have nearly doubled, with increases arising from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and increased costs associated with project delays. The CAREM SMR under construction in Argentina illustrates the gap between SMR rhetoric and reality. In 2004, when the reactor was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated an overnight cost of USS$1,000 per kW for an integrated 300-MW plant (while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”). When construction began in 2014, the cost estimate was US$15,400 per kW (US$446 million / 29 MW). By April 2017, the cost estimate had increased US$21,900 (A$31,500) per kW (US$700 million / 32 MW). To the best of my knowledge, no other figures on SMR construction costs are publicly available. So the figures are: A$15,200 per kW for Russia’s light-water floating SMR A$8,600 per kW for China’s HTGR A$31,500 per kW for Argentina’s light-water SMR The average of those figures is A$18,400 per kW, which is higher than the CSIRO/AEMO figure of A$16,304 per kW and double BNW’s estimate of A$9,132 per kW. The CSIRO/AEMO report says that while there are SMRs under construction or nearing completion, “public cost data has not emerged from these early stage developments.” That simply isn’t true.
BNW’s imaginary reactor
BNW objects to CSIRO/AEMO basing their SMR cost estimate on a “hypothetical reactor”. But BNW does exactly the same, ignoring real-world cost estimates for SMRs under construction or in operation. BNW starts with the estimate of US company NuScale Power, which hopes to build SMRs but hasn’t yet begun construction of a single prototype. BNW adds a 50% ‘loading’ in recognition of past examples of nuclear reactor cost overruns. Thus BNW’s estimate for SMR construction costs is A$9,132 per kW. Two big problems: NuScale’s cost estimate is bollocks, and BNW’s proposed 50% loading doesn’t fit the recent pattern of nuclear costs increasing by far greater amounts. NuScale’s construction cost estimate of US$4,200 per kW is implausible. It is far lower than Lazard’s latest estimate of US$6,900-12,200 per kW for large reactors and far lower than the lowest estimate (US$12,300 per kW) of the cost of the two Vogtle AP1000 reactors under construction in Georgia (the only reactors under construction in the US). NuScale’s estimate (per kW) is just one-third of the cost of the Vogtle plant – despite the unavoidable diseconomies of scale with SMRs and despite the fact that independent assessmentsconclude that SMRs will be more expensive to build (per kW) than large reactors. Further, modular factory-line production techniques were trialled with the twin AP1000 Westinghouse reactor project in South Carolina – a project that was abandoned in 2017 after the expenditure of at least US$9 billion, bankrupting Westinghouse. Lazard estimates a levelised cost of US$118-192 per MWh for electricity from large nuclear plants. NuScale estimates a cost of US$65 per MWh for power from its first plant. Thus NuScale claims that its electricity will be 2-3 times cheaper than that from large nuclear plants, which is implausible. And even if NuScale achieved its cost estimate, it would still be higher than Lazard’s figures for wind power (US$28-54) and utility-scale solar (US$32-44). BNW claims that the CSIRO/AEMO levelised cost estimate of A$258-338 per MWh for SMRs is an “extreme overestimate”. But an analysis by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, prepared for the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated a cost of A$225 per MWh for a reactor based on the NuScale design, which is far closer to the CSIRO/AEMO estimate than it is to BNW’s estimate of A$123-128 per MWh with the potential to fall as low as A$60.
Cost overruns
BNW proposes adding a 50% ‘loading’ to NuScale’s cost estimate in recognition of past examples of reactor cost overruns, and claims that it is basing its calculations on “a first-of-a-kind vendor estimate [NuScale’s] with the maximum uncertainly associated with the Class of the estimate.” Huh? The general pattern is that early vendor estimates underestimate true costs by an order of magnitude, while estimates around the time of initial construction underestimate true costs by a factor of 2-4. Here are some recent examples of vastly greater cost increases than BNW allows for: * The estimated cost of the HTGR under construction in China has nearly doubled. The cost of Russia’s floating SMR quadrupled. * The estimated cost of Argentina’s SMR has increased 22-fold above early, speculative estimates and the cost increased by 66% from 2014, when construction began, to 2017. * The cost estimate for the Vogtle project in US state of Georgia (two AP1000 reactors) has doubled to more than US$13.5 billion per reactor and will increase further. In 2006, Westinghouse said it could build an AP1000 reactor for as little as US1.4 billion – 10 times lower than the current estimate for Vogtle. * The estimated combined cost of the two EPR reactors under construction in the UK, including finance costs, is £26.7 billion (the EU’s 2014 estimate of £24.5 billion plus a £2.2 billion increase announced in July 2017). In the mid-2000s, the estimated construction cost for one EPR reactor in the UK was £2 billion, almost seven times lower than the current estimate. * The estimated cost of about €12.4 billion for the only reactor under construction in France is 3.8 times greater than the original €3.3 billion estimate. * The estimated cost of about €11 billion for the only reactor under construction in Finland is 3.7 times greater than the original €3 billion estimate.
Timelines
BNW notes that timelines for deployment and construction are “extremely material” in terms of the application of learning rates to capital expenditure. BNW objected to the previous CSIRO/AEMO estimate of five years for construction of an SMR and proposed a “more probable” three-year estimate as well as an assumption that NuScale’s first reactor will begin generating power in 2026 even though construction has not yet begun. For reasons unexplained, CSIRO/AEMO also assume a three-year construction period in their latest report, and for reasons unexplained the operating life of an SMR is halved from 60 years to 30 years. None of the real-world evidence supports the arguments about construction timelines: * The construction period for the only operational SMR, Russia’s floating plant, was 12.5 years. * Argentina’s CAREM SMR was conceived in the 1980s, construction began in 2014, the 2017 start-up date was missed and subsequent start-up dates were missed. If the current schedule for a 2023 start-up is met it will be a nine-year construction project rather than the three years proposed by CSIRO/AEMO and BNW for construction of an SMR. Last year, work on the CAREM SMR was suspended, with Techint Engineering & Construction asking Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission to take urgent measures to mitigate the project’s serious financial breakdown. In April 2020, Argentina’s energy minister announced that work on CAREM would resume. * Construction of China’s HTGR SMR began in 2012, the 2017 start-up date was missed, and if the targeted late-2020 start-up is met it will be an eight-year construction project. * NuScale Power has been trying to progress its SMR ambitions for over a decade and hasn’t yet begun construction of a single prototype reactor. * The two large reactors under construction in the US are 5.5 years behind schedule and those under construction in France and Finland are 10 years behind schedule. * In 2007, EDF boasted that Britons would be using electricity from an EPR reactor at Hinkley Point to cook their Christmas turkeys in December 2017 – but construction didn’t even begin until December 2018.
Learning rates
In response to relentless attacks from far-right politicians and lobby groups such as BNW, the latest CSIRO/AEMO GenCost report makes the heroic assumption that SMR costs will fall from A$16,304 per kW to as little as A$7,140 per kW in 2030, with the levelised cost anywhere between A$129 and A$336 per MWh. The report states that SMRs were assigned a “higher learning rate (more consistent with an emerging technology) rather than being included in a broad nuclear category, with a low learning rate consistent with more mature large scale nuclear.” But there’s no empirical basis, nor any logical basis, for the learning rate assumed in the report. The cost reduction assumes that large numbers of SMRs will be built, and that costs will come down as efficiencies are found, production capacity is scaled up, etc. Large numbers of SMRs being built? Not according to expert opinion. A 2017 Lloyd’s Register report was based on the insights of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers, who predicted that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”. A 2014 report produced by Nuclear Energy Insider, drawing on interviews with more than 50 “leading specialists and decision makers”, noted a “pervasive sense of pessimism” about the future of SMRs. Last year, the North American Project Director for Nuclear Energy Insider said that there “is unprecedented growth in companies proposing design alternatives for the future of nuclear, but precious little progress in terms of market-ready solutions.” Will costs come down in the unlikely event that SMRs are built in significant numbers? For large nuclear reactors, the experience has been either a very slow learning rate with modest cost decreases, or a negative learning rate. If everything went astonishingly well for SMRs, it would take several rounds of learning to drastically cut costs to A$7,140 per kW. Several rounds of SMR construction by 2030, as assumed in the most optimistic scenario in the CSIRO/AEMO report? Obviously not. The report notes that it would take many years to achieve economies, but then ignores its own advice: “Constructing first-of-a-kind plant includes additional unforeseen costs associated with lack of experience in completing such projects on budget. SMR will not only be subject to first-of-a-kind costs in Australia but also the general engineering principle that building plant smaller leads to higher costs. SMRs may be able to overcome the scale problem by keeping the design of reactors constant and producing them in a series. This potential to modularise the technology is likely another source of lower cost estimates. However, even in the scenario where the industry reaches a scale where small modular reactors can be produced in series, this will take many years to achieve and therefore is not relevant to estimates of current costs (using our definition).” Even with heroic assumptions resulting in CSIRO/AEMO’s low-cost estimate of A$129 per MWh for SMRs in 2030, the cost is still far higher than the low-cost estimates for wind with two hours of battery storage (A$64), wind with six hours of pumped hydro storage (A$86), solar PV with two hours of battery storage (A$52) or solar PV with six hours of pumped hydro storage (A$84). And the CSIRO/AEMO high-cost estimate for SMRs in 2030 ($336 per MWh) is more than double the high estimates for solar PV or wind with 2-6 hours of storage (A$90-151).
Reality bats last
The economic claims of SMR enthusiasts are sharply contradicted by real-world data. And their propaganda campaign simply isn’t working – government funding and private-sector funding is pitiful when measured against the investments required to build SMR prototypes let alone fleets of SMRs and the infrastructure that would allow for mass production of SMR components. Wherever you look, there’s nothing to justify the hype of SMR enthusiasts. Argentina’s stalled SMR program is a joke. Plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant in China have been “dropped” according to the World Nuclear Association. Russia planned to have seven floating nuclear power plants by 2015, but only recently began operation of its first plant. South Korea won’t build any of its domestically-designed SMART SMRs in South Korea – “this is not practical or economic” according to the World Nuclear Association – and plans to establish an export market for SMART SMRs depend on a wing and a prayer … and on Saudi oil money which is currently in short supply. ‘Reality bats last’, nuclear advocate Barry Brook used to say a decade ago when a nuclear ‘renaissance’ was in full-swing. The reality is that the renaissance was short-lived, and global nuclear capacity fell by 0.6 gigawatts last year while renewable capacity increased by a record 201 gigawatts. Dr. Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter.

Lower-latitude oceans drive complex changes in the Arctic Ocean,

August 21, 2020
Arctic Ocean changes driven by sub-Arctic seas   https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/uoaf-aoc071020.php  b  UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANK  New research explores how lower-latitude oceans drive complex changes in the Arctic Ocean, pushing the region into a new reality distinct from the 20th-century norm.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks and Finnish Meteorological Institute led the international effort, which included researchers from six countries. The first of several related papers was published this month in Frontiers in Marine Science.

Climate change is most pronounced in the Arctic. The Arctic Ocean, which covers less than 3% of the Earth’s surface, appears to be quite sensitive to abnormal conditions in lower-latitude oceans.

“With this in mind, the goal of our research was to illustrate the part of Arctic climate change driven by anomalous [different from the norm] influxes of oceanic water from the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, a process which we refer to as borealization,” said lead author Igor Polyakov, an oceanographer at UAF’s International Arctic Research Center and FMI.

Although the Arctic is often viewed as a single system that is impacted by climate change uniformly, the research stressed that the Arctic’s Amerasian Basin (influenced by Pacific waters) and its Eurasian Basin (influenced by Atlantic waters) tend to differ in their responses to climate change.

Since the first temperature and salinity measurements taken in the late 1800s, scientists have known that cold and relatively fresh water, which is lighter than salty water, floats at the surface of the Arctic Ocean. This fresh layer blocks the warmth of the deeper water from melting sea ice.

In the Eurasian Basin, that is changing. Abnormal influx of warm, salty Atlantic water destabilizes the water column, making it more susceptible to mixing. The cool, fresh protective upper ocean layer is weakening and the ice is becoming vulnerable to heat from deeper in the ocean. As mixing and sea ice decay continues, the process accelerates. The ocean becomes more biologically productive as deeper, nutrient-rich water reaches the surface.

By contrast, increased influx of warm, relatively fresh Pacific water and local processes like sea ice melt and accumulation of river water make the separation between the surface and deep layers more pronounced on the Amerasian side of the Arctic. As the pool of fresh water grows, it limits mixing and the movement of nutrients to the surface, potentially making the region less biologically productive.

The study also explores how these physical changes impact other components of the Arctic system, including chemical composition and biological communities.

Retreating sea ice allows more light to penetrate into the ocean. Changes in circulation patterns and water column structure control availability of nutrients. In some regions, organisms at the base of the food web are becoming more productive. Many marine organisms from sub-Arctic latitudes are moving north, in some cases replacing the local Arctic species.

“In many respects, the Arctic Ocean now looks like a new ocean,” said Polyakov.

These differences change our ability to predict weather, currents and the behavior of sea ice. There are major implications for Arctic residents, fisheries, tourism and navigation.

This study focused on rather large-scale changes in the Arctic Ocean, and its findings do not necessarily represent conditions in nearshore waters where people live and hunt.

The study stressed the importance of future scientific monitoring to understand how this new realm affects links between the ocean, ice and atmosphere.

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Co-authors of the paper include Matthew Alkire, Bodil Bluhm, Kristina Brown, Eddy Carmack, Melissa Chierici, Seth Danielson, Ingrid Ellingsen, Elizaveta Ershova, Katarina Gårdfeldt, Randi Ingvaldsen, Andrey V. Pnyushkov, Dag Slagstad and Paul Wassmann.

British soldiers the guinea pigs for testing effects of nuclear radiation

August 21, 2020
  “My task was to go in and pick up all the radioactive debris, load them into my truck and take them to the decontamination centre. “I had no protection whatsoever. The only people who had protection on Christmas Island were civilian AWREs – Atomic Weapons Research Establishment people.”  A study undertaken by Sue Rabbitt Roff, a social scientist at Dundee University in 1999, found that of 2,261 children born to veterans, 39% were born with serious medical conditions. By contrast, the national incidence figure in Britain is around 2.5%. “I want them to apologise to all the nuclear veterans for using us as experiments,” he said.    I still maintain that they wanted to find out the level of radiation that a person could survive the nuclear bombs with. I want them to apologise to all the nuclear veterans for using us as experiments’, says Fife Christmas Island veteran,   https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/fife/1377815/i-want-them-to-apologise-to-all-the-nuclear-veterans-for-using-us-as-experiments-says-fife-christmas-island-veteran/ July 4 2020  Michael Alexander. Here’s why nuclear test veteran Dave Whyte from Fife intends to campaign for justice “until the end” In the 18 years that Christmas Island veteran Dave Whyte from Fife has been campaigning for “justice” for Britain’s nuclear test veterans, he has never held back with the language he has used to describe the Ministry of Defence’s treatment of British soldiers during the nuclear tests of the 1950s. He has compared the nuclear tests with the “experiments of Nazi Doctor Joseph Mengele”, accused the MoD of treating soldiers as “guinea pigs” and made comparisons with the aftermath of “Chernobyl”. He blames his exposure to the fallout from five atomic and hydrogen bomb blasts in 1958 for a catalogue of health problems he’s experienced over the years including the loss of all his teeth at 25 and the discovery in his mid-30s that he was sterile. The Ministry of Defence, meanwhile, has said there is no valid evidence linking the nuclear tests to ill health. But despite numerous attempts at legal action against the MoD over the years, which, he admits have “hit every brick wall available”, the now 83-year-old, of Kirkcaldy, is refusing to give up as he continues searching for an admission that he, and thousands of other servicemen – now dwindling in numbers – were exposed to more radiation than the authorities have ever admitted. Born and raised in Montrose before a spell living in Edinburgh and Germany where his sergeant major father served with the Royal Artillery, Mr Whyte was 22-years-old and serving with the Royal Engineers when he was sent to Christmas Island in the South Pacific in 1958. The Cold War was at its height and Mr Whyte was stationed there, off the north-eastern coast of Australia, to assist with British nuclear tests. His job was to collect samples afterwards. At the time the stakes were high. Amid real fears that the Cold War could escalate into open warfare with the USSR, Britain was determined that it should have its own nuclear deterrent. In all, Britain and the USA caused some 40 nuclear test explosions in the Pacific region between 1952 and 1962. Something like 21,000 British servicemen were exposed to these explosions. But little did Mr Whyte and his colleagues realise that in years to come, some would suffer ill health and in some cases premature death. Some would suffer from rare forms of leukaemia. Others reported congenital deformities in their children with a disproportionate number of stillbirths. “I was at Grapple Y – the largest hydrogen bomb exploded by Britain,” said Mr Whyte. Read the rest of this entry »

The Arctic’s climate disaster-Verkhoyansk goes from record cold to record heat

August 21, 2020

A Disastrous Summer in the Arctic, https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-a-warming-planet/a-disastrous-summer-in-the-arctic?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=tny&utm_mailing=TNY_Daily_062720&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_medium=email&bxid=5bea00ac3f92a404693b7a69&cndid=46508601&hasha=c25c4ad8a3e4cbc8faed20a1376eed39&hashb=637cacb29baeeb67e63d66fee2c449133fb8087a&hashc=4df42b687b9cea804c58e24a5a8eb39e5e143c4b6f747bc38a3be837d323c31f&esrc=home&utm_term=TNY_Daily

The Record, 28 June 20,The remote Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, three thousand miles east of Moscow and six miles north of the Arctic Circle, has long held the record, with another Siberian town, for the coldest inhabited place in the world. The record was set in 1892, when the temperature dropped to ninety below zero Fahrenheit, although these days winter temperatures are noticeably milder, hovering around fifty below. Last Saturday, Verkhoyansk claimed a new record: the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, with an observation of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit—the same temperature was recorded that day in Las Vegas. Miami has only hit a hundred degrees once since 1896. “This has been an unusually hot spring in Siberia,”  Randy Cerveny, the World Meteorological Organization’s rapporteur of weather and climate extremes, said. “The coinciding lack of underlying snow in the region, combined with over-all global temperature increases, undoubtedly helped play a critical role in causing this extreme.” Siberia, in other words, is in the midst of an astonishing and historic heat wave.

Anthropogenic climate change is causing the Arctic to heat up twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Climate models had predicted this phenomenon, known as Arctic amplification, but they did not predict how fast the warming would occur. Although Verkhoyansk has seen hot temperatures in the past, Saturday’s 100.4-degree record follows a wildly warm year across the region. Since December, temperatures in western Siberia have been eighteen degrees above normal. Since January, the mean temperature across Siberia has been at least 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the long-term average. As the meteorologist Jeff Berardelli reported for CBS, the heat that has fallen on Russia in 2020 “is so remarkable that it matches what’s projected to be normal by the year 2100, if current trends in heat-trapping carbon emissions continue.”  By April, owing to the heat, wildfires across the region were larger and more numerous than they were at the same time last year, when the Russian government eventually had to send military aircrafts to battle vast blazes. The scale of the current wildfires—with towering plumes of smoke visible for thousands of miles on satellite images—suggest that this summer could be worse. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, they will also be more complicated to fight.

Toward the end of May, as the sun stopped dropping below the horizon, the heat continued. In the town of Khatanga, far north of the Arctic Circle, the temperature hit seventy-eight degrees Fahrenheit, or forty-six degrees above normal, topping the previous record by twenty-four degrees. The heat and fires are also hastening the dissolution of Siberian permafrost, perennially frozen ground that, when thawed, unleashes more greenhouse gases and dramatically destabilizes the land, with grave consequences. On May 29th, outside Norilsk, the northernmost city in the world, the thawing ground buckled, causing an oil-storage tank to collapse and spew more than a hundred and fifty thousand barrels, or twenty-one thousand tons, of diesel fuel into the Ambarnaya River.   The spill was the largest to ever occur in the Russian Arctic.

Norilsk, which was constructed in the nineteen-thirties by prisoners of a nearby Gulag camp, Norillag, was already one of the most polluted places in the world. Most of its hundred and seventy-seven thousand residents work for Norilsk Nickel, the company that owns the collapsed oil tank. Its massive mining and metallurgy complex alone is worth two per cent of Russia’s G.D.P. The city contributes a fifth of the global nickel supply and nearly half of the world’s palladium, a metal used to make catalytic converters. Factories billow clouds of sulfur dioxide incessantly, and the resulting acid rain has turned the city and its surroundings into an industrial wasteland, with no green space or parks, just dirt and dead trees. Life expectancy in Norilsk is twenty years shorter than it is in the United States. The last time the town made the news, before the oil spill, was exactly a year ago, when an emaciated polar bear, a refugee from its melting home, was photographed rummaging through the city dump.

Norilsk Nickel’s executives have tried to skirt responsibility for the oil spill by blaming the thawing permafrost—or, as a press release stated, “a sudden sinking of the storage tank’s pillars, which served accident-free for more than thirty years.”

But the thaw did not happen unexpectedly, out of nowhere. Buildings in Norilsk have collapsed because of the sagging ground. Russian and international experts have been aware of the risks that rapidly thawing permafrost represents for more than a decade. A 2017 report from an Arctic Council working group said that “communities and infrastructure built on frozen soils are significantly affected by thawing permafrost, one of the most economically costly impacts of climate change in the Arctic.” They found that thawing permafrost could contaminate freshwater, when previously frozen industrial and municipal waste is released, and that the bearing capacity of building foundations has declined by forty to fifty per cent in some Siberian settlements since the nineteen-sixties. They also noted that “the vast Bovanenkovo gas field in western Siberia has seen a recent increase in landslides related to thawing permafrost.” The authors of a 2018 paper, published in Nature Communications, found that “45% of the hydrocarbon extraction fields in the Russian Arctic are in regions where thaw-related ground instability can cause severe damage to the built environment.” The paper continued, “Alarmingly, these figures are not reduced substantially even if the climate change targets of the Paris Agreement are reached.”

In early June, President Vladimir Putin declared a national emergency, and scolded local authorities for their slow response to the spill. The Kremlin allegedly found out about the spill two days after the fact, from pictures of a crimson river posted on social media. Although the Russian prosecutor general’s office agreed, in a preliminary finding, that the thawing permafrost was a contributing factor to the spill, investigators also said that the fuel-storage tank had needed repairs since 2018. They arrested four employees of the power plant on charges of violating environmental regulations. Norilsk Nickel denied the accusations but said that the company is coöperating with law-enforcement agencies and has launched “a full and thorough investigation.” “We fully accept our responsibility for the event,” the company said in a statement provided to the Guardian. Vladimir Potanin, the president of Norilsk Nickel and the richest man in Russia, said that the company will pay for the full cost of the disaster, which he estimated at ten billion rubles, or a hundred and forty-six million dollars. (A Russian environmental watchdog, Rosprirodnadzor, put the cost at around one and a half billion dollars.) Putin, meanwhile, publicly lambasted Potanin for the disaster, emphasizing that it was his company’s negligence that led to the spill. “If you replaced them in time,” Putin said, in a video call in early June, referring to the aging oil-storage tank, “there wouldn’t have been the damage to the environment and your company wouldn’t have to carry such costs.”

The company’s initial response efforts—floating booms to contain the spill—largely failed. By June 9th, the oil had entered the forty-three-mile-long Lake Pyasino, which borders a nature preserve and flows into the Pyasino River. “Once it enters that river system, it can’t be stopped,” Rob Huebert, an Arctic expert at the University of Calgary, said. “The oil could then make its way to the Arctic Ocean.” On June 11th, Russia’s investigative committee charged Norilsk’s mayor with criminal negligence, for his botched response to the disaster. Last Friday, in another video call, Putin’s emergencies minister reported that response teams had collected 3.6 million cubic feet of polluted soil and 1.1 million cubic feet of contaminated water. The company will construct a pipeline to pump the contaminated muck to unspecified disposal sites. But the region will remain toxic. Diesel oil seeps into river banks. Even if the oil is contained to the lake, the contamination can never be fully removed. Some of it will make its way through the food chain. Wildlife—fish, birds, reindeer—could suffer for decades. “You can’t ever really clean a spill up,” Huebert said. Putin, in the call, emphasized that work must continue until the damage is remedied. “Obviously, the disaster has brought dire consequences for the environment and severely impacted biodiversity in water bodies,” he said. “It will take a lot of time to reclaim and restore the environment.”

Putin, however, is not known for his environmentalism. His anger and concern about the Norilsk oil spill might have more to do with how much it exposed his government, making visible the overwhelming economic and environmental risks facing oil, gas, and mineral development in Siberia if temperatures there continue to rise. “The Russians’ continued development of oil and gas in the central Arctic region is their economic future,” Huebert said. “The Russians’ interest in all this is to keep the oil flowing, whatever it takes.” But sixty per cent of Russia is permafrost. Although much of the newest oil and gas infrastructure in the Far North has been engineered with climate change in mind, temperatures are currently on track to far exceed projections. Perhaps that is why the Kremlin did, finally, officially ratify the Paris accord last October. And yet the Kremlin continues to incentivize increased oil and gas development in eastern Siberia and the Arctic, which will lead to more greenhouse-gas emissions, which will continue speeding up the permafrost thaw.

Is South Korea’s nuclear industry a model for others to follow?

August 21, 2020

Jim Green, Nuclear Monitor #844, 25 May 2017, https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/844/south-koreas-nuclear-industry-model-others-follow

As the nuclear power crisis has unfolded in recent months ‒ engulfing major nuclear companies and utilities in the US, Japan and France ‒ South Korea’s nuclear industry has been held up as a model for others to follow. US nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger, for example, explains ‘why Korea won’: “Korea is winning the global competition to build new nuclear plants against China and Russia despite being a fraction of the size, at just 50 million people, and energy-poor. It has done so through focus: standard design, standard construction of plants, standard operation and standard regulation.”1

But South Korea’s nuclear industry is scandal-plagued, it hasn’t won any bids to build reactors overseas since 2009, and it is more than a stretch to describe it as “world class” as nuclear advocate Rod Adams would have you believe.2 Public and political support has been in freefall over the past five years because of the Fukushima disaster and a domestic nuclear corruption scandal (see the following article in this issue of the Nuclear Monitor). In the coming years, nuclear power’s contribution to domestic electricity supply is likely to decline and there is little likelihood that an export industry will flourish. Moreover, with public support for the nuclear industry in freefall, the government has little hope of achieving its aim of securing a site for a high-level nuclear waste repository by 2028.

Korea Times noted on April 21 that every major candidate in South Korea’s presidential election promised to stop building new nuclear reactors and to close down older ones.3 The winner of the May 9 presidential election, Moon Jae-in, who stood as the candidate of the Democratic Party of Korea, is a former human rights lawyer. World Nuclear News reported that Moon was one of seven presidential candidates who signed an agreement in March for a “common policy” to phase out nuclear power.4 During the election campaign, Moon said he would scrap plans for new reactors ‒ including Shin Kori units 5 and 6 ‒ while immediately closing the Wolsong-1 reactor.4 (In February 2017, the Seoul Administrative Court ordered the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission to cancel its decision to extend the lifespan of Wolsong-1 because legal procedures had not been followed in the decision-making process.) Moon also said he would block lifespan extensions for the older reactors at the Kori plant5 ‒ the four Kori reactors were grid-connected between 1977 and 1985. Read the rest of this entry »

South Pole warming at triple the global average

August 21, 2020

Nowhere to hide’: South Pole warms up with climate change a factor, https://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/nowhere-to-hide-south-pole-warms-up-with-climate-change-a-factor-20200629-p55797.html, by Peter Hannam, June 30, 2020  The South Pole, the most remote part of the planet, has been warming at triple the global average, as natural variability joins with climate change to produce an abrupt shift in temperature trends.The findings, published Tuesday in the Nature Climate Change journal, show surface temperatures at the South Pole were stable in the first couple of decades of instrument records into the 1980s.

A record-breaking cold for a spell then made way for even warmer temperature anomalies from the early 2000s. For the 1989-2018 period, the mercury rose an average of 0.6 degrees per decade, or three times the global warming rate, the researchers found.

The report on the flipping of temperature trends at the most southerly point comes as abnormal warmth continues to bake the planet’s other polar extreme. The Russian town of Verkhoyansk last week reported 38 degrees, the warmest reading ever recorded within the Arctic Circle.

For Antarctica, the recent accelerated warming is estimated to be about two-thirds the result of natural variability with the role of rising greenhouse gases contributing about one-third, said Kyle Clem, a post-doctoral research fellow at New Zealand’s Victoria University.

The rapid warming “lies within the upper bounds of natural variability”, Dr Clem said. “It’s extremely rare and it appears very likely that humans played a role.”

The research shows “there’s no place on earth that’s immune to global warming”, he said. “There’s nowhere to hide – not even up on the Antarctic Plateau.”

Sitting at 2835 metres above sea level – or 600 metres higher than Mt Kosciuszko – on a rocky continent, the South Pole is exposed to different weather processes than its polar opposite. By contrast, the North Pole rests on shifting sea ice with the seabed more than four kilometres below.

Dr Clem, along with other researchers from the US and the UK, found changing circulation patterns in the Pacific and Southern Ocean determine which parts of Antarctica warm or cool.

For instance, the western tropical Pacific has periods when is warmer or cooler than usual.

The warmer period – known as the negative phase of the so-called Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation – set in about 2000. During this phase, there is more storm activity in the tropics which in turn spawns more high- and low-pressure systems that send heat far into the high latitudes.

The circumpolar westerly winds, which have been strengthening and contracting polewards under climate change – also play a role in amplifying the transfer of warmth into Antarctica.

When those two patterns align, as they have in recent decades, the South Pole warms but some parts, such as western Antarctica warm at a slow pace or even cool, as the frigid air shifts around.

Michael Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, said the study provided “a very detailed and useful analysis” of the forces at play in the far south.

If anything, though, the researchers’ use of model simulations to reach conclusions about regional trends probably understates the role of human-caused climate change.

“In short, what the authors attribute to natural internal cycles might just be a shift in atmospheric circulation that is actually due to human-caused climate change but isn’t accurately captured in the average over models,” Professor Mann said, in an email that included those italics.

The recent polar extremes – including eastern Siberian temperatures above 40 degrees – were important because “what happens in the poles doesn’t stay in the poles”, the prominent climate scientist said.

Changes at the South Pole itself were not as critical as the warming of the Southern Ocean, which is leading to the collapse of the West Antarctic ice shelves and the destabilisation of the interior ice sheet.

“This was not well predicted by climate models, meaning we are further along when it comes to the destabilisation of ice sheets and the commitment to rising sea levels than we expected to be at this point,” Professor Mann said.

SOUTH KOREA’S CORRUPT AND DANGEROUS NUCLEAR INDUSTRY

August 21, 2020

During the eighteen months from the beginning of 2012 to mid- 2013, major corruption incidents occurred in the nuclear power industry in every country currently seeking to export nuclear reactors: the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Russia, France, and China….. “In the Korean case, systemic nuclear industry corruption was found

Supplementary Submission to the Victorian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Environment and Planning
Inquiry into Nuclear Prohibition Friends of the Earth Australia www.nuclear.foe.org.au
 June 2020  – Extract 

 SOUTH KOREA’S CORRUPT AND DANGEROUS NUCLEAR INDUSTRY

South Korea’s reactor project in the UAE is years behind schedule: the start-up of the first reactor has not yet occurred despite initially being scheduled for 2017. The project has been promoted as a US$20 billion (A$29 billion) contract but costs have undoubtedly increased. The World Nuclear Industry Status Report gives a figure of €24.4 billion (A$40 billion).[1]

[1] https://www.worldnuclearreport.org/The-World-Nuclear-Industry-Status-Report-2017-HTML.html

[2] KBS, 8 May 2020, ‘S. Korea Unveils Energy Plan to Reduce Coal-powered, Nuclear Power Plants’, http://world.kbs.co.kr/service/news_view.htm

The following articles discuss:

  1. The endemic corruption in South Korea’s nuclear industry.
  2. The business model which sacrifices safety in order to improve economics (the CEO of French nuclear utility Areva likened Korea’s AP1400 reactor design to ‘a car without airbags and safety belts.'[1])
  3. The level of state-sponsored skullduggery associated with South Korea’s nuclear industry is almost beyond belief, even extending to a secret military side-agreement to the UAE reactor contract which was agreed without the knowledge or agreement of South Korea’s parliament

Nuclear corruption and the partial reform of South Korea’s nuclear mafia

Jim Green, Nuclear Monitor #887, 17 June 2020, https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/887/nuclear-monitor-887-17-june-2020

The corrupt behavior of Japan’s ‘nuclear village’ ‒ and the very existence of the nuclear village ‒ were root causes of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster and a string of earlier accidents.1 In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, academic Richard Tanter identified a worldwide pattern of nuclear corruption:2

“During the eighteen months from the beginning of 2012 to mid- 2013, major corruption incidents occurred in the nuclear power industry in every country currently seeking to export nuclear reactors: the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Russia, France, and China. A number of other countries that operate or plan to have nuclear power plants also had major corruption cases, including Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Pakistan; moreover, serious allegations of corruption were raised in Egypt, India, Jordan, Nigeria, Slovakia, South Africa, and Taiwan.

 “In the Korean case, systemic nuclear industry corruption was found; in Canada, deep corporate corruption within the largest nuclear engineering corporation was one matter, and bribery of nuclear technology consuming countries’ senior ministers was another. In Russia, the issue was persistent, deep seated, and widespread corruption in state-owned and private nuclear industry companies, with profound implications for the safety of Russian nuclear industry exports.

South Korea is slowly phasing out its nuclear power industry. In the late 2000s, it was anticipated that South Korea’s nuclear capacity would rise from 18 gigawatts (GW) to 43 GW by 2030. The current plan is to reduce the number of reactors from a peak of 26 in 2024 to 17 reactors (approx. 17 GW) in 2034.[2] Thus the ambitions have been more than halved. In recent years the South Korean government has shut down the Kori-1 and Wolsong-1 reactors, and suspended or cancelled plans for six further reactors.

“Two cases in nuclear technology importing countries, Lithuania and Bulgaria, revealed large-scale bribery involving government, the nuclear industry, and foreign (US and Russian) companies.

 “Post-Soviet bloc geostrategic energy interests are central to both stories. The profound influence of organized crime in national energy policy, and on a transnational basis, is revealed in the Bulgarian and Russian cases. Suspicions are widespread and allegations common in the cases of India, Taiwan, and Bangladesh, but confirmed evidence remains weak.”

Since Tanter’s 2013 article, more information has surfaced regarding corruption in Russia’s nuclear industry3-4 and Russia’s nuclear dealings with India.5-7 The corruption associated with the abandoned Westinghouse nuclear power project in South Carolina is gradually coming to light.8 Corruption has been uncovered in the nuclear programs of South Africa9-15, Brazil16, Ukraine17 and, no doubt, elsewhere.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) noted in its 2015 Nuclear Technology Review that counterfeit, fraudulent and suspect items (CFSIs) “are becoming an increasing concern for operating organizations and regulators”18 And again in 2019, an IAEA report noted that CFSIs “are of increasing concern in the nuclear industry and generally throughout the industrial and commercial supply chains.”19 The 2019 report noted that CFSIs “can pose immediate and potential threats to worker safety, facility performance, the public and the environment, and they can negatively impact facility costs.”

 “Post-Soviet bloc geostrategic energy interests are central to both stories. The profound influence of organized crime in national energy policy, and on a transnational basis, is revealed in the Bulgarian and Russian cases. Suspicions are widespread and allegations common in the cases of India, Taiwan, and Bangladesh, but confirmed evidence remains weak.”

“The sequence of events that led to the station blackout began on 4 February 2012 when the management carried out a planned shutdown of the reactor for refuelling. On 9 February, the plant suffered a loss of power due to human error during a test of the main generator. After this, one of the two emergency diesel generators failed to start. The other generator was undergoing maintenance. In addition, the connection to one of the offsite auxiliary transformers failed to work as it had not been properly set up after maintenance; and the other offsite transformer was just entering maintenance. This caused a station blackout lasting 11 minutes 43 seconds. Cooling was lost for 11 minutes. The plant manager only reported the event to the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission on 12 March, more than one month later. … The plant manager justified the decision not to report the blackout on the risk of loss of public confidence and of credibility of the plant with the management of the operating company.”

Not long after, a much broader pattern of corruption began to come to light:

“Investigations of 101 companies revealed a wide range of illegal activities including bribery, overpaying, preferential treatment and favouritism, limiting competition in bidding, accepting parts with fraudulent or even no certificate, and collusion by parties in the falsification of testing reports.”

An investigation by the Korea Institute for Nuclear Safety showed that 2,114 test reports had been falsified by material suppliers and equipment manufacturers; that a further 62 equipment qualification documents (environmental and seismic qualification) were falsified between 1996 and 2012; and that a further 3,408 test reports and 53 qualification reports could not be verified or were unclear.22,23 Over 7,000 reactor parts were replaced in the aftermath of the scandal.23

Andrews-Speed details the corruption that probably had the greatest consequences for reactor safety:22

[1] Nucleonics Week (2010) : No core catcher, double containment for UAE reactors, South Koreans say, April 22, 2010.

“A very special case of systematic counterfeiting came to light in May 2013 when it was revealed that safety-grade control cable installed in four reactors had been falsely certified. The supplier of the cable was a Korean company, JS Cable. In 2004, KHNP decided for the first time to purchase cable from a domestic rather than foreign supplier. JS Cable submitted a bid to KEPCO E&C, despite not having the capability to make cable to the required specifications. KHNP awarded the contract to JS Cable with the first delivery due in 2017, on the condition that the cable met the required standards.

An investigation by the Korea Institute for Nuclear Safety showed that 2,114 test reports had been falsified by material suppliers and equipment manufacturers; that a further 62 equipment qualification documents (environmental and seismic qualification) were falsified between 1996 and 2012; and that a further 3,408 test reports and 53 qualification reports could not be verified or were unclear.22,23 Over 7,000 reactor parts were replaced in the aftermath of the scandal.23

“JS Cable chose Saehan TEP to test the cable, but this firm lacked the capacity to undertake the required loss of coolant testing. So Saehan TEP outsourced the process to the Canadian testing firm, RCM Technologies (RCMT). RCMT tested six samples, but only one passed. JS Cable sent six further samples. Only two passed, but these two samples were illegitimate as they had not been exposed to radiation before testing. In response, KHNP instructed KEPCO E&C to make the test results acceptable. So KEPCO E&C, Saehan TEP and JS cable agreed together to modify the test reports from RCMT to show that all the samples met the required standards.”

The corruption also affected South Korea’s reactor construction project in the UAE. Hyundai Heavy Industries employees offered bribes to KHNP officials in charge of the supply of parts for reactors to be exported to the UAE.24 And ‒ incredibly ‒ the reactor contract was underpinned by a secret military side-agreement, signed without the knowledge or approval of South Korea’s National Assembly, and containing a clause that does not require approval from the National Assembly to engage in conflict, should there be a request for military assistance from the UAE.25-28 The pact includes a clause that would obligate South Korea to intervene militarily to protect the UAE in the event of a crisis, in addition to the deployment of South Korean special forces and the ongoing supply of military equipment.25

Structural problems

Andrews-Speed describes the interlinking elements of South Korea’s ‘nuclear mafia’ involving nuclear power companies, research centers, regulators, government, and educational institutions. He notes that the country’s nuclear industry possesses some special features that make it particularly prone to corruption, relating to the structure and governance of the industry, and its close links with the government.

Both KHNP and KEPCO E&C are monopolists in their fields, and both suffer from poor corporate governance and weak internal management:22

“The poor corporate governance has its roots in the way in which the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy is directly involved in the management of KEPCO and its subsidiaries and in the political nature of appointments of many board members and senior managers. The weak internal management was particularly pertinent to safety because, before it was amended in 2014, the Act on Nuclear Safety and Security did not address the safety standards of parts and equipment. Thus, the selling of sub-standard components was not illegal and the task of supply chain oversight was left to KHNP to manage.”

Improvements and lingering problems

Andrews-Speed notes that the Kori-1 blackout and the systemic supply-chain corruption led to efforts to curb corruption. These included revisions to the Nuclear Safety Act giving greater powers to the newly created Nuclear Safety and Security Commission; placing new reporting obligations on all actors in the nuclear supply chain; and broader legislation and regulations governing public procurement, the conduct of public officials and corruption.

But it is doubtful whether these reforms are sufficient:22

“The principal obstacles to progress relate to power and structure. The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission lacks the authority of nuclear regulators in some other countries for a number of reasons

First, after 2013 the status of the Commission Chair was reduced from Ministerial to Vice-Ministerial level and their reporting line was changed from the President to the Prime Minister. The reason for this change of status related more to the career mobility of civil servants than to the governance of nuclear safety. Nevertheless, the consequences for the authority of the Commission have been significant. It cannot now issue any regulations without the approval of the Ministry of Justice and other Ministries. This results in delay and occasional suppression of new regulations. In addition, it has been alleged that the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission redacts and sanitizes the safety reports of the Korea Institute Nuclear Safety. The consequences of this practice on safety are exacerbated by the ability of ministries, politicians and KEPCO subsidiaries to block the tough enforcement of safety standards.

“Second, the National Assembly provides little oversight of the Commission. Instead, authority lies solely with the government. Finally, the term of the Commission Chair is just three years which is shorter than that of the nation’s president which is five years. This contrasts with the situation in the USA, for example, where the Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is appointed for a five-year term, one year longer than that of the US President. As a result, Korean Presidents have significant influence over the nuclear regulator given their remit to appoint all nine members of the Commission. Taken together, these three factors enhance the power of the executive over the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.

“The structural weaknesses within Korea’s nuclear industry are multiple. The Ministries of Finance and Strategy and of Trade, Industry and Energy exert excessive influence over state-owned enterprises, including KHNP and KEPCO E&C. These two corporations not only have strong monopolistic positions but KHNP combines the roles of constructor, owner and operator of nuclear power plants. In addition, KHNP exerts undue influence over KEPCO E&C. This strong triangular relationship between government and two monopolists persists today and forms the core of Korea’s ‘nuclear mafia’. Only radical structural and governance reform can address this fundamental weakness.

 “Further compounding factors include: the corporate culture of KEPCO and its subsidiaries that emphasizes the need for conformity; the weak culture of accountability that arises in part from the absence of a strong law providing for punitive damages; and the general standard of personal and corporate ethics in Korea.”

One indication of ongoing problems ‒ and efforts to resolve them ‒ was the awarding of ‘prize money’ to 14 whistleblowers in 2019 for reporting violations of nuclear or radiation safety laws to the Nuclear Safety and Security Committee.29

There were another six arrests related to nuclear corruption in 2018 ‒ an outcome that only scratched the surface of the problems according to a whistleblower.30

A recent example of violations of safety regulations occurred at the Hanbit-1 reactor on 10 May 2019. The reactor’s thermal output exceeded safety limits but was kept running for nearly 12 hours when it should have been shut down manually at once.31 In addition, the control rods were operated by a person who does not hold a Reactor Operator’s license.32

References: Read the rest of this entry »

Why we must fight miners’ push to fast-track uranium mines

June 21, 2020

Expensive, dirty and dangerous: why we must fight miners’ push to fast-track uranium mines  https://theconversation.com/expensive-dirty-and-dangerous-why-we-must-fight-miners-push-to-fast-track-uranium-mines-139966?fbclid=IwAR173tiUPtRX3YkqQh5VlmoWHWWCUHxSFtCFxFIxKtuvI3IaghgbGhAEBAM, Gavin Mudd, Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering, RMIT University, June 18, 2020    Of all the elements on Earth, none is more strictly controlled under law than uranium. A plethora of international agreements govern its sale and use in energy, research and nuclear weapons.

Australian environmental law considers nuclear actions, such as uranium mining, as a “matter of national environmental significance” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. This means uranium involves matters of national and international concern for which the Australian government is solely responsible.

The states, which own minerals, cannot exercise such oversight on uranium exports and use. So any new uranium mine needs both state and federal environmental approvals.

The Minerals Council of Australia wants to change this. In a submission to a ten-year review of the EPBC Act, the council argues that uranium’s special treatment is redundant, as environmental risks are already addressed in state approval processes.

On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that BHP’s proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam copper-uranium-gold-silver mine in South Australia was one of 15 major projects set to be fast-tracked for environmental approval. This would include a single, joint state and federal assessment.

But responsibility and past performance make a compelling case to maintain our federal environmental laws more than ever. Here’s why uranium mining must remain a federal issue.

Our international obligations

Australia is a signatory to several international treaties, conventions and agreements concerning nuclear activities and uranium mining and export.

These include safeguards to ensure Australian uranium is used only for peaceful nuclear power or research, and not military uses.

As of the end of 2018, the nuclear material safeguarded under international agreements derived from our uranium exports totalled 212,052 tonnes – including 201.6 tonnes of separated plutonium.

Making sure our uranium trading partners don’t redirect that material for the wrong purpose has been the raison d’être of our nuclear foreign policy since 1977. It’s clearly a national legal and moral obligation, and something the states simply cannot do.

In response, a spokesperson for the Minerals Council of Australia said a national mechanism to manage safeguards already exists through the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, adding:

Uranium is further regulated through the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) […] under the provisions of the ARPANS Regulations 1999. The object of the ARPANS Act is “to protect the health and safety of people, and to protect the environment, from the harmful effects of radiation”.

But ARPANSA regulates radiation safety and not uranium exports. If uranium mining was removed as a nuclear action, then there would be no public process involving our uranium exports – creating more secrecy and reducing scrutiny.

Successful rehabilitation has yet to be seen

Uranium mines are difficult to rehabilitate at the end of their lives. In my 24 years of research, including visiting most sites, I’ve yet to see a successful case study of Australia’s 11 major uranium mines or numerous small sites.

For example, the Rum Jungle mine near Darwin, which operated from 1954 to 1971, left a toxic legacy of acidic and radioactive drainage and a biologically dead Finniss River.

As a military project for the Cold War, it was Australian government-owned, but operated under contract by a company owned by Rio Tinto. The site was rehabilitated with taxpayer money from 1983-86, but by the mid-1990s the works were failing, and pollution levels were again rising.
The Northern Territory government is proposing a new round of rehabilitation. After accounting for inflation to 2019 dollars, Rum Jungle has cost taxpayers A$875 million for a return of A$139 million. The next round of rehabilitation is expected to cost many millions more.

The former Mary Kathleen mine, also part of Rio Tinto’s corporate history, operated from 1958-63 and 1976-82.

Rehabilitation works were completed by 1986 and won national engineering awards for excellence. But by the late 1990s, acid seepage problems emerged from the tailings dam (where mining by-products are stored) and overlying grasses were absorbing toxic heavy metals, creating a risk for grazing cattle.

Rare earth metals are also present in these tailings, leading to the possibility the tailings will be reprocessed to fund the next round of rehabilitation. The site remains in limbo, despite its Instagram fame.

Both Rum Jungle and Mary Kathleen were rehabilitated to the standards of their day, but they have not withstood the test of time.

Australia’s biggest uranium mine, Ranger, is fast approaching the end of its operating life.

Rio Tinto is also the majority owner of Ranger. Despite Ranger’s recent losses, Rio has retained control and given Ranger hundreds of millions of dollars towards ensuring site operations and rehabilitation.

In recent years the cost of rehabilitation has soared from A$565 million in 2011 to A$897 million in 2019, over which time A$603 million has been spent on rehabilitation works.

Site rehabilitation is required to be complete by January 2026, with Rio Tinto and Ranger assuming 25 years of monitoring – although plans and funding for this are still being finalised.

The legal requirement is that no contaminants should cause environmental impacts for 10,000 years, and no other mine has ever faced such a hurdle.

Recently, it emerged that Ranger had not agreed to continue its share of funding the scientific research required for the rehabilitation – an issue still unresolved. So despite promises of world’s best ever rehabilitation, concerns remain.

The Conversation contacted Rio Tinto to respond, and it referred us to Energy Resources Australia (ERA), which operates Ranger. An ERA spokesperson stated:

Since 1994, ERA has made an annual contribution to research into the environmental effects of uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region under an agreement with the Commonwealth. The agreement provides for a review of funding contributions at fixed periods or at either party’s request to acknowledge changes in Ranger operations.

ERA is required to cease processing in January 2021 in accordance with the expiration of its Authority to Operate under the Commonwealth Atomic Energy Act. Given the impending cessation in processing, ERA believes it is appropriate and reasonable to review the current research funding arrangements.

ERA has followed due process in this matter and welcomes the Commonwealth’s decision to support a process of mediation to resolve the issue.

No other former uranium mine in Australia can claim long-term rehabilitation success. Nabarlek, Radium Hill-Port Pirie, South Alligator Valley and other small mines all have issues such as erosion, weeds, remaining infrastructure, radiation hot-spots and/or water contamination. They all require ongoing surveillance.

Uranium mining is set to be outcompeted

Australia’s uranium export revenue from 1977 to December A$2019 was A$29.4 billion. Lithium has now overtaken uranium in export revenue – from 2017 to 2019, lithium earned Australia two to three times our uranium exports.

Even if Olympic Dam expands (and especially if it stops extracting uranium in favour of tellurium, cobalt and rare earths also present), this trend is expected to increase in the coming years as Ranger closes and the world transitions to renewable energy and electric vehicles to help address climate change.

In response, the Minerals Council of Australia stated that lithium’s contribution to large-scale electricity storage is just beginning, arguing:

With the development of new nuclear technologies such as small modular and micro reactors, the prospects for the future of both uranium and lithium are positive and no one should be picking winners apart from the market.
Ultimately, uranium remains an element with immense potential for misuse – as seen with North Korea and other rogue nuclear states. Federal oversight of uranium mining must remain. After all, the price of peace is eternal vigilance.

South Australia targeted: easy to later bring international waste in to nuclear dump

June 21, 2020
Name withheld. to Senate Committee on  National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 [Provisions] Submission 39  Excerpt The amendment to the Bill put forward by the now Minister of Resources Keith Bill should be rescinded and here are the reasons why. First and foremost there was NO Broad Community Support achieved. [The writer now gives an account of the requirement for community support for the nuclear waste facility:  Support “would need to be in the vicinity of 65%, and that submissions and ‘neighbouring views’ would also be taken into consideration.” – and that this support was not achieved] So why was Kimba announced as the dump site if this stipulation was not fulfilled? To understand it, first you must understand the history behind the dump proposal. HISTORY This whole dump proposal has been flawed from the very start. It is the exact same proposal put forward in Parliament in the 1980’s and hasn’t changed. The recurrent statement of “we only have a small amount of Intermediate Level Waste so that can “tag-a-long” or “co-locate” with the Low Level Waste” was used back then and continues to be used right now 40 years later! If you consider that, back in the 1980’s the proposed dump concept was to be only operating for 50 years, as they also stated that by that time the Intermediate Level Waste would be dealt with before its closure. Think about it – that means the preparation should ALREADY be in place RIGHT NOW according to their statements – ready for 2030! And yet NOTHING has been done in that regard!! We still have the Woomera Waste still sitting in Woomera, when it was stated by the Federal Government at that time (1994), that it would only be “temporary” for 2 – 3 years maximum! Moving on 25 years plus – and it still remains in Woomera. Past behaviour is a good predictor of future behaviour. It should be noted that the waste in Woomera – the CSIRO waste from Melbourne Fishermans Bend and the St. Mary’s waste from St. Mary’s Defence Base NSW – were placed in Woomera AS A RESULT of a NSW Environmental Court Case brought onto ANSTO Lucas Heights by the Sutherland Shire Council.The CSIRO waste was from the cleanup of Fishermans Bend in Victoria – where in fact only 200 of these drums contained radioactive waste according to the then Transport code of a minimum exceeding 70,000 Becquerels per kilogram to be considered a radioactive substance! But due to the media coverage and the concern by the public, all 9726 x 205L of the drums were classified as radioactive and then taken by consignment to ANSTO Lucas Heights NSW for storage. They werenstored on site for 4 years at ANSTO Lucas Heights (1990 -1994). It was only when Lucas Heights agreed to take the waste from St Mary’s Defence Base NSW (1991) that Sutherland Shire Council brought a court case up against ANSTO Lucas Heights from taking waste from other entities.The Case was won by Sutherland Council, and although ANSTO was swift to change the Federal Act thereafter so that such jurisdictional action would never happen again. The Federal Government sought a suitable Commonwealth site to place the Fishermans Bend and St Marys Bend waste at short notice – which was Woomera in SA. At the time, the Feds were in negotiation with Northern Territory with regards to a dump site in NT, which fell through. The waste remains separately stored in Woomera – although ANSTO was commissioned to condition the St Mary’s Defence waste before it was transported to Woomera. https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Pu blications_Archive/online/RadioactiveWaste Almost every state in Australia has been the target of this dump in the past. This is the second time SA has been targeted.And each and every time the establishment of the dump has failed.Why is this? Because it is a flawed proposal. Trotting out the exact same proposal since 1980’s shows that. The only change this time round is for nomination by land owners to nominate their land for the dump this time! 28 sites all around Australia were nominated in the nomination period 2nd March 2015 to 5th May 2015. It was the 13th November 2015 when the then resources minister Josh Frydenberg announce 6 sites around Australia which the Federal Government had deemed suitable. https://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=a80c7b35-3fdc-4502-8febd8381b03dae3& subId=565152 “Submission “Submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Site Selection Process for a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility Radioactive Waste Management Taskforce April 2018” Annexure 6 – Chronology of site selection process. Coincidentally, the South Australian Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle was established on 19th March 2015. The final report of this Royal Commission was presented to the SA premier Jay Weatherill on 9th May 2016. From October 2016 to November 2016, with final result obtained and given to the Premier of SA on 6th November 2016 a citizen’s jury decided a NO MEANS NO to SA becoming an International Dump site. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-06/sa-citizens-juryvote- against-storing-nuclear-waste/7999262  The then opposition leader Stephen Marshall reaffirmed this stance 5 days later 11th November 2016 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-11/opposition-says-it-will-vote-against-sa-nuclear-wastedump/    8016818?fbclid=IwAR1CiCk6Y1je4l1ZUtpvlJqYT4rHeKcqreHAXtVJ1xZxpKNfHZ6xfToZxVA Why is this important? Because of the timeline! There is NO WAY ON EARTH that South Australia was NOT BEING TARGETED! And even today, there are South Australians who believe that the International AND National Nuclear Dump targeting in South Australia had been put to bed back in November 2016! That this was ONE FIGHT instead of TWO However, it has to be noted, that when Mike Rann fought to stop the Federal Government putting a dump into South Australia in the early 2000’s, there was a push by an international group called PANGEA with a leaked media video, which is intent on establishing an International Nuclear Dump in Australia. The group is now called itself ARIUS, since 2012, and is alive and kicking as witnessed in the Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle 2016. TECHNICAL SUITABILITY So why is the Federal Government so hell bent on putting this nuclear waste onto South Australia? Surely World’s Best Practise would dictate that the best site would be closer to the main site of generation and not over 1700kms across the country and into another state! Less transport and less handling required meaning less human error and mistakes. Which is a perfect time to reiterate ARPANSA’s definition of nuclear waste – “Radioactive waste is material that has no foreseeable use and contains radioactive materials with activities or activity concentrations at levels high enough that regulatory oversight is needed to ensure safety.” https://www.arpansa.gov.au/understandingradiation/ radiation-sources/more-radiation-sources/radioactive-waste-safety/frequently-askedquestions Why was Sallys Flat NSW which was ONE of the SIX sites deemed suitable by the Federal Government not hounded like the South Australian sites were? Sallys Flat is only 260 kms from Lucas Heights. Even Oman Ama QLD which is another of the SIX sites deemed suitable by the Federal Government is closer at 780kms! The site at Kimba is over 1700kms away!Over 90% of all Australia’s nuclear waste (non-mining) is generated on site at Lucas Heights NSW for the production of nuclear medical isotopes predominately. And these isotopes are predominately used for diagnostic imaging, and to a much, much smaller extent for treatment. How much nuclear waste does South Australia actually have itself? Back in 2003 Mike Rann was reported as stating thatSouth Australia itself had only enough nuclear waste to fill one 44 gallon drum! And today it isn’t much more than that! https://www.abc.net.au/news/2003-06-03/rannrejects-waste-dump-threats/1864470“States and territories are responsible for managing a range of radioactive waste holdings, accounting for about one per cent of total radioactive waste holdings in Australia.”…according to the DIIS – “Australian Radioactive Waste Management Framework April 2018” page 7 https://www.industry.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019- 04/australian_radioactive_waste_management_framework.pdf…… Lucas Heights was built with ample space so that they could take care of all of the waste they generated on site. It was only with the build of the OPAL reactor which replaced the aging HIFAR reactor that it was thought that the waste could go elsewhere, to pacify the nearby population as a compromise of the build of the new reactor. But the premise still remains, and Lucas Heights has enough space to deal with their own was for up to 100 years. Since Lucas Heights was built in 1958 there is still plenty of space and time for this research reactor to find a proper solution to this nuclear waste once and for all. Not to bury it somewhere out of sight and out of mind , so it is essentially abandoned. If push comes to shove with Government funding, do you think the proposed nuclear dump will be a priority? This dump simply gives Lucas Heights licence to continue and indeed even increase nuclear waste production. And then consider the criteria for acceptance of nuclear waste at the proposed dump. These can easily be changed with a stroke of a pen. No liquid now, but that can be changed. No mining waste now, but that can be changed. No High Level Nuclear Waste now, but that can be changed. Just as the management and ownership of the dump can change, should the financing prove too much for the Federal Government. They have off loaded other Government owned entities before, no different with nuclear waste. And there in comes International Nuclear Waste through the backdoor.