News August 2013

31 August 2013


Sellafield nuclear plant workers have launched a campaign to attract fresh investment to the site. They are calling for a new nuclear power station in the area and the possible reuse of plutonium stocks. The Sellafield Workers Campaign said the plant could generate more than £1bn locally over the next five years. The Department for Energy and Climate Change acknowledged Cumbria’s role, but said the decision about the location of new plants was up to developers. Unite union national officer Kevin Coyne said without the investment, Cumbria would become an “economic wilderness”. Dr Ruth Balogh, nuclear issues campaigner for West Cumbria and North Lakes Friends of the Earth, rejected suggestions that Cumbria needed a new nuclear plant. She said: “They are wrong about the ‘economic wasteland’. The decline of jobs at Sellafield is not a steep decline. “We need to really grasp that Sellafield is a nuclear waste facility and we have to look after it properly.” She said the Friends of the Earth group believed the only safe way to deal with plutonium was to immobilise it. Dr Balogh said they had also published a report that suggested Cumbria could produce enough renewable energy to meet the population’s demands without the need for new nuclear developments.

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Posted: 31 August 2013

30 August 2013


The decision to approve the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station application was made on 19 March, and two JRs were launched against it. One was by the Irish equivalent of the National Trust on the ground that Ireland should have been consulted on transboundary effects and the second was by Greenpeace, on an alleged breach of policy on long-term storage of nuclear waste. The two Hinkley Point C claims have both been rolled up (i.e. the arguments as to whether they should be heard have been combined with the hearing itself) and listed for 5-6 December.

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Posted: 30 August 2013

29 August 2013


Option papers for the long-term management of radioactive material produced and stored at Dounreay were published by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) in 2011 and 2012. The material, owned by the NDA, included ‘Exotic Fuels and Nuclear Material’ described as comprising unirradiated plutonium and high enriched uranium fuels and irradiated (spent) high enriched uranium fuel – the latter from the Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) and other experimental work at Dounreay. In February this year the NDA announced that, for these exotic fuels, ‘the option for this material which best meets our objectives, is for it to be transported to Sellafield for long term management’. Yet behind the scenes plans indicate that some of Dounreay’s exotic material – specifically the irradiated (spent) fuel assemblies containing highly enriched uranium (HEU) – may well be shipped to the United States. Such plans, conspicuous by their absence in any NDA document, originated in November 2011 with an application by NAC International (acting on behalf of the US Department of Energy) to America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for authorisation ‘to package and ship from Dounreay to the Savannah River site in Aiken, South Carolina five special fuel assemblies in a one-time shipment’. Authorisation was granted by NRC in January 2012 for the shipment to be made – up to the end of 2013 – but uncertainties about transport schedules have resulted in a further application being submitted to NRC by NAC International in June 2013 for the authorisation to be extended to 31st December 2014.

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Posted: 29 August 2013

28 August 2013

Energy Costs

A Labour Party commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector would add £125 to consumer energy bills by 2030, argues the Conservative Party. But the estimate relies on the assumption that the cost of wholesale electricity will remain the same – one of several factors that ensure the Conservatives’ figure is six times higher than a previous analysis suggests. The figure appears on a new website from Conservative Party headquarters, which claims Labour’s proposed policies will cost voters more in the future. The Conservatives aren’t the only ones to estimate the cost of the decarbonisation target – the Committee on Climate Change has also done it. But the committee thinks the cost to the consumer will be six times smaller. Using Poyry’s report as well as other analysis – and taking the changing price of electricity into account – the CCC estimated that an extra £20 will be needed per household in 2030 to pay for the decarbonisation target. This is six times smaller than the Tories’ estimate of £125. The CCC’s assumptions can probably be questioned as well – predicting future energy prices is a pretty subjective exercise. But overall, the Conservatives’ calculation does seem to have some gaps in it – ignoring the caveats that were clearly highlighted in its source material.

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Posted: 28 August 2013

27 August 2013

Nuclear Accidents

Benjamin Sovacool: Last week’s new crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan saw radioactive water leak again from the crippled facility, raising fears that groundwater flowing into the Pacific Ocean could be contaminated. The Japanese government also raised the international incident level – the scale used to assess nuclear accidents – from one to three out of seven. The original nuclear meltdown following the 2011 Japanese earthquake was scaled seven. Even if Fukushima was ultimately caused by the 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, accidents such as this beg the question: can nuclear energy ever be truly safe? There are three reasons to think that nuclear accidents are common, and could increase – and it’s not because of the technology. Let’s have a look at the evidence. First, people are fallible, even at nuclear reactors. Operator error is still a very common factor in incidents and accidents. Second, big accidents almost always have very small beginnings. Nuclear power plants are so complex that relatively simple things — shirt tails, fuses, light bulbs, mice, cats, and candles — can disrupt the entire system. And finally, many failures are those of organisations more than technology. Given the right event, all these factors can lead to system-wide failure.

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Posted: 27 August 2013

26 August 2013

Energy Policy

Nuclear may become obsolete. The UK risks missing out on the benefits of solar power by focusing too much on energy sources such as nuclear, according to the Scottish entrepreneur behind one of America’s fastest growing retail solar panel companies. “It alarms me to read the UK debate where there is talk about further subsidies to support a new nuclear plant that will generate its first electrons in 2023,” said Andrew Birch, chief executive of Sungevity, a solar company in San Francisco. “Given the proven cost curve in solar, that nuclear plant could be obsolete before it’s even switched on. Politicians must be careful not to lock Britons into 20th century energy prices.”

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Posted: 26 August 2013

25 August 2013

New Nukes

Sir John Armitt has 47 years in the construction industry have included high-profile road and rail schemes and chairing the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the body that built the 2012 Games’ venues.This week he is expected to bring that experience to bear with a long-awaited report for Labour on what Britain should do about breaking the infrastructure deadlock. Armitt is clear: politics must be taken out of the process. Delivering big projects successfully needs consensus, just as it did for the Olympics. Muddling along is no longer an option in planning and executing key projects such as HS2 or new nuclear power stations. Armitt said plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations in this country are an opportunity for Britain to become a world leader in the sector. “Ten new power stations would create a continuity of knowledge and that’s something we would be able to sell overseas,” he said.

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Posted: 25 August 2013

24 August 2013


Two reactors at Heysham 1 nuclear power station were shut down after an electrical fault in a gas turbine set off a sprinkler system on Thursday. Firefighters were called at 22:27 BST and four crews were sent to the scene from Lancaster, Bispham and Fulwood. EDF Energy, which operates the plant, said it had been shut down as a precaution.

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Posted: 24 August 2013

23 August 2013


SELLAFIELD is taking on 120 new apprentices – its highest number for 30 years. It comes as a massive boost for youth employment in the area and has been warmly welcomed by the government. Aged between 16 and 18, the young recruits will embark on a three-year training course, with nuclear industry jobs guaranteed if they come through with flying colours. Sellafield’s new managing director, Tony Price, says there will be jobs on the site for many years ahead and a young local workforce is key.

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Posted: 23 August 2013

22 August 2013

Energy Costs

Letter: The British public should be wary of those who claim that fracking will keep energy costs down. Way back in 1971, newspapers declared that “nuclear energy may soon be so cheap that the power can be virtually given away”. I was not convinced. Years later, in 1987, scientists said: “In the case of Sizewell, the benefits are the likelihood of cheaper electricity.” But electricity prices kept pace with inflation between 1971 and 1987 and have outstripped inflation in recent years. Now I see David Cameron (Comment, August 12) saying that fracking has the “real potential to drive energy bills down”, while yesterday, Derek Lickorish, chairman of the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, said: “The potential of shale gas to reduce energy bills had been ignored” (report, August 21). We’ve heard it all before.

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Posted: 22 August 2013