Archive for November, 2012

USA nuclear power plants safety precautions

November 4, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and N.J. nuclear power plants: Keeping it cool in high winds , 28 OCTOBER 2012   BY ROBERT KINKEAD On Sunday, New Jersey’s four nuclear power stations, along with another dozen or so along the Eastern Seaboard,were prepped to deal with Hurricane Sandy as that massive storm crawls up the East Coast toward the Garden State.

Federal regulators require nuclear reactors to be in a safe shutdown condition at least two hours before hurricane force winds strike, according to Alec Marion, VP of nuclear operations at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an energy industry association.

Typically, plant operators begin shutting down reactors about 12 hours before winds exceeding 74 miles per hour arrive. One of the most significant challenges in the shutting down process is keeping the reactor core cool.  (more…)

Nuclear fusion – nowhere near even a feasibility study

November 4, 2012

Nuclear Fusion Project Struggles to Put the Pieces Together Scientific America, 27 Oct 12,Contracting woes may cause further delays for $19.4-billion ITER, a project designed to show the feasibility of nuclear fusion as a power source

By Geoff Brumfiel and Nature magazine The world’s largest scientific project is threatened with further delays, as agencies struggle to complete the design and sign contracts worth hundred of millions of euros with industrial partners, Nature has learned.

ITER is a massive project designed to show the feasibility of nuclear fusion as a power source. The device consists of a doughnut-shaped reactor called a tokamak, wrapped in superconducting magnets that squeeze and heat a plasma of hydrogen isotopes to the point of fusion. The result should be something that no experiment to date has been able to achieve: the controlled release of ten times more energy than is consumed.

That’s the dream. But so far, ITER has been consuming mostly money and time. (more…)

Price Anderson Act – the USA’s BIG nuclear subsidy

November 4, 2012

It is worth noting that Exelon, as an owner and operator of more nuclear power plants than any other American company, benefits to a considerable degree from what is potentially one of the largest government subsidies of energy production in world history, the Price Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act.

Nuclear Company Blasts Wind Industry Tax Incentive  KCET, by Chris Clarke
on October 23, 2012 The largest operator of nuclear power plants in the United States has blasted the Wind Production Tax Credit in a commissioned study…… (more…)

Continued downward slide of the global nuclear industry

November 4, 2012

World Nuclear Industry Status Report maps nuclear power’s global decline A new World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012, authored by Mycle Schneider with Antony Froggatt and Julie Hazemann, maps the continuing global decline of nuclear power. The report shows that nuclear’s future rests not on new construction, but that “Plant life extension seems the most likely survival strategy of the nuclear industry at this point” – a good reason to continue to block reactor license extensions. The report noted that: “Only seven reactors started up, while 19 were shut down in 2011.” By July 2012, “only two were started up, just compensating for two that were shut down so far this year”. Other highlights:

China is spending five times more on renewables than nuclear post-Fukushima with no new nuclear construction since 3/11; nine reactors have been listed as “under construction” for more than 20 years; four countries – Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Taiwan – will phase out nuclear power and five more to date – Egypt, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait and Thailand – have abandoned plans to develop, or re-develop nuclear power; new builds have been canceled in Brazil, France, India and the US; certification of new reactor technologies has been delayed numerous times; in the US, of the 28 license applications received, 16 were subsequently delayed and eight were suspended indefinitely or officially canceled; of the 59 units under construction in the world, at least 18 are experiencing multi-year delays, while the remaining 41 projects were started within the past five years or have not yet reached project start-up dates.

The nuclear fusion dream – just as elusive as ever

November 4, 2012

Fusion: Maybe Less Than 30 Years, But This Year Unlikely Bill Chameides Dean, Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, August 2012 No ignition at the U.S. National Ignition Facility , home to the world’s largest laser….. Scientists have been thinking about how to bring this game changer into the energy game for decades. (See fusion/fission timeline .) As far back as 1946, two British scientists — Sir George Paget Thomson and Moses Blackman — filed the first patent for a fusion power plant .

But there have been a couple of hold-ups . To get a fusion reaction started, you need to slam the hydrogen atoms together really, really hard and that requires a lot of energy. (In a hydrogen bomb, the fusion reaction gets ignited by an atomic bomb, using fission. Not exactly the preferred method for your local fusion power plant.)

Even trickier is controlling the fusion reaction. It’s one thing to make a fusion bomb, it’s a lot harder to get the reaction going and keep it under control in a way that the amount of energy extracted is larger than that expended to initiate and manage the reaction.

Over the almost 70-year pursuit of the fusionary holy grail, it’s been fairly common for scientists working on the problem to say that they’re about 30 years away from achieving a power plant based on fusion. (See here  and here .) The problem has been that while time has marched on, the 30-year horizon has remained fixed. Suffice to say it has proven to be a very tough problem….

Mountains of uranium tailings in East Kazakhstan

November 4, 2012

Josef Stalin’s nuclear legacy remains in East Kazakhstan, 9 October 2012  “…..It was over 20 years after the end of atomic testing in the Polygon that the world began to take notice, but Stalin’s legacy may yet have an impact that could threaten future generations across the globe. The mining of uranium to manufacture the atomic weapons tested in the Polygon has left a staggering 812 million tonnes of highly radioactive uranium tailings (waste byproduct). They lie in dilapidated dumps in four of the five Central Asian republics, posing not just an imminent threat to the environment but a potential flashpoint for violence and conflict.

The most dangerous radioactive waste storage sites are concentrated in the “Ferghana radioactive belt”, home to over ten million people in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Flash floods have on several occasions threatened to inundate some of these dumps, which would spread lethal radioactive pollution far and wide. The Ferghana Valley is not only one of the most polluted areas on Earth it is also one of the poorest. Continuing misuse of water resources could become a potential source of intra and even inter-state conflict between the upstream and downstream nations in the zone, in what is a seething hotbed for Islamic fundamentalism.

Stalin’s brutal collectivisation programme and rapid industrialisation of the USSR has created an atomic lake, an imploded mountain, a disappearing sea, a top-secret biological weapons-testing site, hundreds of millions of tonnes of radioactive waste, contaminated food, deformed babies and widespread illness and death. But his lasting legacy could well be regional or even international conflict.

• Readers of The Scotsman can purchase Stalin’s Legacy: The Soviet War on Nature by Struan Stevenson, published by Birlinn (RRP £20), at the special price of £15 (including free p&p in the UK), ISBN 9781780270906. Please call Booksource on 0845 370 0067 and quote reference SM912. Stevenson’s previous book Crying Forever raised around £62,000 all of which was donated via Mercy Corps to children’s hospitals and oncology hospitals in the Polygon.

Yes Virginia, you can make nuclear weapons fuel from Thorium

November 4, 2012

Thorium Nuclear Bombs (Shorter version)  Kevin Meyerson, 9 Oct 12, Thorium bred Uranium-233 can be used to make atomic bombs, despite what proponents may claim.

You don’t have to trust me on this, see what the experts at various institutions have to say below:

MIT Energy Initiative, The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

Appendix A starts on page 181 of the Appendices PDF file. The relevant statement from MIT is:

  • Proliferation And Security Groundrules:
    Irradiating thorium produces weapons-useable material. Policy decisions on appropriate ground rules are required before devoting significant resources toward such fuel cycles. U-233 can be treated two ways.
  • Analogous to U-235. If the U-235 content of uranium is less than 20% U-235 or less than 13% U-233 with the remainder being U-238, the uranium mixture is non-weapons material. However, isotopic dilution in U-238 can significantly compromise many of the benefits.
  • Analogous to plutonium. Plutonium can not be degraded thus enhanced safeguards are used. The same strategy can be used with U-233. A complicating factor (see below) is that U-233 is always contaminated with U-232 that has decay products that give off high energy gamma radiation which requires additional measures to protect worker health and safety. There has been no consensus on the safeguards / nonproliferation benefits of this radiation field.

The point being made here is that thorium can be used to make Uranium-233, which in turn can be used to make bombs. The complicating U-232 contamination mentioned above is what many of the thorium proponents refer to as making thorium resistant to proliferation. MIT has more to say about this proliferation protection in their summary:

On one hand, high radiation dose [from U-232 decay] provides self protection to separated fissile material against diversion and misuse. On the other hand, it makes the U-233 recycling more complex and costly.

The point here is that the U-233 is in fact subject to ‘diversion and misuse’ (like atomic bombs) if it can be separated out from the highly radioactive U-232 contaminants. If the U-232 is not somehow processed out, however, there is no way to operate the reactor for peaceful purposes, or otherwise.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Filtering contaminants out of thorium bred U-233 to make weapons grade fissile material is not rocket science. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) created a process to do this. They kindly wrote about it in a history included in the ORNL Review publication (search the long page for the words “THOREX” or “Uranium-233″):

By 1954, the Laboratory’s chemical technologists had completed a pilot plant demonstrating the ability of the THOREX process to separate thorium, protactinium, and uranium-233 from fission products and from each other. This process could isolate uranium-233 for weapons development and also for use as fuel in the proposed thorium breeder reactors.

There are no technical issues for separating out Uranium-233 for weapons development.

UK National Nuclear Laboratory

The United Kingdom’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) prepared a position paper on the thorium nuclear fuel cycle. It is pretty straightforward:

Contrary to that which many proponents of thorium claim, U-233 should be regarded as posing a definite proliferation risk.For a thorium fuel cycle which falls short of a breeding cycle, uranium fuel would always be needed to supplement the fissile material and there will always be significant (though reduced) plutonium production.

NNL believes that U-233 should be regarded as posing a comparable level of proliferation risk to High Enriched Uranium (HEU) and comparable with the U-Pu fuel cycle at best; this view is consistent with the IAEA, who under the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, categorise U-233 on the same basis as plutonium. Attempts to lower the fissile content of uranium by adding U-238 are considered to offer only weak protection, as the U-233 could be separated in a centrifuge cascade in the same way that U-235 is separated from U-238 in the standard uranium fuel cycle.

The argument that the high U-232 content would be self- protecting are considered to be over-stated.
 NNL’s view is that thorium systems are no more proliferation resistant than U-Pu systems though they may offer limited benefits in some circumstances.

Here are some comments from other resources:

Oak Ridge National Labs U-233 Disposition Project Update (PDF, see page 3)

Officials draw the veil over Fukushima radiation’s health effects

November 4, 2012

Officials from Fukushima Prefecture have admitted that they conducted secret meetings with 19 health experts and government officials, discussing the impact of radiation on human health, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The meetings were held before official meetings, and participants were instructed not to tell anyone that they had
participated. Meeting materials were collected after the meeting so that they could not be removed from the room, and no minutes were kept.

Fukushima  Nuclear Crisis Update for October 2nd to October 4th, 2012 Greenpeace International,  by Christine McCann – October 5, 2012 ”…..As duties are transferred from the now defunct Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) to the newly-created Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), the Nuclear Energy Library, which gave the public access to over 40,000 documents relating to nuclear power, will close.

The Library was created in 1997 to create transparency after a leak and subsequent cover-up at the Monju fast-breeder. It was heavily visited in the period following the Fukushima nuclear disaster; many documents there are not available online. Experts are criticizing the decision.
Kenji Sumita, former head of the NSC, said, “An access point for ordinary citizens to obtain information about nuclear power should be maintained. The NRA’s response is simply shabby, and to restore confidence in nuclear power, it should be quickly reopened.”

Yukiko Miki, head of Information Clearinghouse Japan, agreed: “It’s unforgivable for the level of information release to fall below the level seen before the Fukushima nuclear accident.”..

Officials from Fukushima Prefecture have admitted that they conducted secret meetings with 19 health experts and government officials, discussing the impact of radiation on human health, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The meetings were held before official meetings, and participants were instructed not to tell anyone that they had
participated. Meeting materials were collected after the meeting so that they could not be removed from the room, and no minutes werekept.

A Prefectural official has admitted that it was a mistake, saying, “We can’t argue if we are blamed for holding secret meetings. We regret having such gatherings; we’ll not hold such meetings anymore.”….

Human Rights for Fukushima Prefecture?

November 4, 2012

Human Rights Now (3 September 2012)【Statement】Request for the Radical Reform of the Health Check System including Thyroid Examination for the Affected People by the Nuclear Power Plant Accident  “…..HRN requests to Fukushima prefecture to:

1. Conduct the thyroid examination for children at least once a year for the “early identification” and “early treatment.” Especially when the thyroid nodules or cysts are recognized, establish and implement the system quickly;

2. Expand the thyroid examination to adults, and also conduct the blood and urine examinations;

3. Provide information of the thyroid examination and others (such as blood examination and thyroid sonogram) conducted by the prefecture to first-person or their parents, and provide explanation if requested;

4. Store the result of the thyroid examination over a long period of time for the future follow-up and comparison, and disclose the information of the examination result when requested by the examinees or their parents, without asking the information disclose procedure. Also, take necessary measures so that other municipalities and medical institutes that will provide the health examinations can share the data.

HRN requests to the state to:

1. From the position of protecting the residents’ rights to health around the nuclear power plant accident, as a responsibility of the state, construct the guidelines regarding health checks, examination, and medical treatment promptly. In the course of that, take into account the international perception and the good practice of medical policies, taken by the related countries of the Chernobyl accident;

2. Publish guidelines about the information disclosure of the result of health examinations including the thyroid examination, and instruct the prefecture;

3. As a state, commit to the health checks of the prefecture, and request the drastic reform and improvement of the examination system, based on the above mentioned recommendations towards Fukushima prefecture;

4. Provide a financial support to the municipalities in Fukushima prefecture to enable them to establish the examination systems including the thyroid examination and the internal exposure examination; secure the base hospitals of the health examinations including the thyroid examination in all areas in Japan, and provide a financial support so that the affected people are able to take necessary examinations, such as thyroid and internal exposure examinations, for free at least once a year, regardless of their living place.

HRN requests to Mr. Shunichi Yamashita (the head of the Exploratory Committee on the “Fukushima Health Management Survey,” the vice-president of the Fukushima Medical University, and the president of theRadiation Medical Science Center for the Fukushima health management survey) to:

1. Officially withdraw the announcement (dated 16 January 2012) sent to the members of the Japan Thyroid Association.

These recommendations are all important to protect the right to people’s health (Article 25 of the Constitution, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights), therefore, prompt improvement and implementation are required.

The growing nuclear waste crisis is stalling the nuclear industry

November 4, 2012

Nuclear industry slowed by its own waste By Kristi Swartz The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 23 Sept 12, “…..NO MAGIC BULLET’ Utilities store a total of 2,000-2,300 metric tons of used nuclear fuel a year, according to industry figures. That adds up to about 65,000 metric tons of radioactive waste currently sitting at nuclear plants.
“If we reject long-term storage, we’re left with dry casking, and that’s it,” said Cham Dallas, a professor and director at the University of Georgia’s Institute for Health Management and Mass Destruction Defense. “Yes, it’s probably safe, but can we continue this policy for an infinite number of years?”
The concerns over safely handling nuclear waste are many.
Used nuclear fuel is very concentrated. This means the amount of waste is very small, but it requires more effort to keep it protected. Some of the material loses its radioactivity after just a few days, but other parts of the fuel remain toxic.
Scientists warn of the dangers of what’s known as “re-racking.” Utilities typically shut down a reactor every 18 months to remove about one-third of the spent (yet still radioactive) fuel rods and replace them with new ones. The removed rods are placed into large racks and then submerged under water, where they stay for five years or longer. The pools were designed as a temporary cooling basin, but utilities have been able to store more fuel rods by “re-racking,” or reorganizing the way the rods sit in the pool. But the closer together the fuel rods sit, the greater the heat source. “These pools have become sources of radioactivity much larger than the reactor itself,” said Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear physicist who runs the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research — a Takoma Park, Md., nonprofit that focuses on the security aspects of nuclear weapons production and nuclear technology.
Keeping used fuel in dry casks at dozens of reactor sites is a temporary solution that even supporters of the nuclear industry warn isn’t secure. The concern? That the dry casks could be stolen and the spent fuel offered on the black market. “It’s a local option gone bad,” UGA’s Dallas said. “Eventually somebody’s going to foul up, and [the spent fuel] gets out and is sold somewhere.”
Dominant long-term solutions, such as recycling the radioactive fuel or moving the waste to a central repository, still raise concerns.
“Thinking about just transporting it, it’s incredibly dangerous,” said Courtney Hanson, public outreach coordinator at Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions. “Putting nuclear waste on the train, on a semi-truck that’s going to drive across the interstate: Regardless of whether there’s high-level security, accidents happen.”
Recycling the fuel — putting it through a large chemical processing plant — separates the uranium and plutonium, both of which can be used again. But the rest of the material is waste that remains very hot and radioactive. This material must be packaged in something that is stable, such as glass, and left to decay, scientists and industry experts said. That decay process takes a few hundred years…….
Buzz Miller, executive vice president of nuclear development for Georgia Power and its sister company, Southern Nuclear, said he’s confident someone will come up with a technically sound solution to store the used fuel long term. Meanwhile, he said, there’s plenty of room to store the rods at the plant.
“From our view, our job is to maintain them safely and securely, and there’s no question we can do that, whether it’s in the pools or in the dry cask,” Miller said. “I believe, in time, we’ll come up with solutions that we haven’t even thought of.”