News April 2014

30 April 2014

Energy Costs

Energy bills are likely to rise twice as fast as the government forecasts this decade because households are not buying new efficient appliances that are supposed to save them money, a new report warns on Wednesday. Ministers claimed last year that energy bills would rise by £64 over the rest of the decade – from £1,267 in 2013 to £1,331 in 2020. It said that the costs of green subsidies would be partially offset by consumers using less energy as they trade in old fridges, TVs and lights for new efficient models. But new analysis by centre-left think tank IPPR for campaign group Global Action Plan finds that bills are likely to increase by a further £63, because consumers will buy fewer efficient products than expected. Slow roll-out of regulation, confusing product labelling and consumers saving their cash after the economic downturn are all likely to result in savings from product efficiency being 40pc less than the £158 that the government had forecast, it found.

[Read more…]

Posted: 30 April 2014

29 April 2014

Magnox

The bidders who lost out on a £7bn deal to decommission Britain’s oldest nuclear power plants have mounted a legal challenge, raising further questions over the way the government awards large and sensitive public-sector contracts. Energy Solutions, a Salt Lake City-based company, is taking the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to court after losing the 14-year contract to engineering company Babcock and Texas-based Fluor. The deal is one of the largest government contracts ever put out to tender and involves cleaning 12 of Britain’s 25 nuclear sites, including Sizewell, Hinkley and Dungeness. Energy Solutions declined to comment but a spokesperson said the legal action spoke for itself. The move to try to force the NDA to reverse its decision will raise concerns of a repeat of the West Coast main line rail franchising debacle two years ago. Energy Solutions alleges that the assessments done by the NDA, the government-funded body responsible for making the decision, were incorrect and came to the wrong conclusion. The claim is thought to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds. CH2M Hill, which competed in a second consortium including Serco and Areva, is also considering mounting a legal challenge. Rolls-Royce, which competed in a third consortium involving Amec and Atkins, is also weighing action. A Rolls-Royce spokesman said it was “taking time to consider and review its options.”

[Read more…]

Posted: 29 April 2014

28 April 2014

Sizewell

Nuclear safety officials have increased the emergency planning area for the Sizewell power station complex, but say the risk of a radiation leak from the coastal site has decreased. After lengthy consultation, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has decided to dispense with its circular 2.4 kilometre zone and to replace it with one based largely on postcodes. This will mean that parts of the emergency plan zone will stretch up to around 3km from the power stations and both Leiston and the majority of nearby Aldringham will in future be included in it. Plans will now have to be drawn up to evacuate both communities should an incident occur. The ONR said the increase in the overall planning area does not reflect an increased risk to the public from the Sizewell site and “the overall hazard has significantly reduced”.

[Read more…]

Posted: 28 April 2014

27 April 2014

Energy Policy

Bruce Davis, Abundance Generation: Onshore wind power is cheaper and fairer than the alternatives. It is vote-chasing of the worst kind to abandon it now. Onshore wind is good for our energy infrastructure for two reasons; it is the most efficient and cost effective of the available and scaleable renewable technologies, and it is the best way that the challenger energy brands – Ovo, Co-operative Energy, Ecotricity and Good Energy – can mount a serious attempt to compete with the so-called Big Six on equal terms. They need to be able to build generation capacity to protect themselves against the worst excesses of the Big Six and their market power. Onshore wind is easily the cheapest, most efficient form of renewable energy we have, and we have lots of it, being characterised as the Saudi Arabia of wind. Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, points out the contradictions in the Government’s energy policy: “The coalition Government clearly has a blind spot on energy policy when it promotes fracking and building a new nuclear reactor while ignoring the obvious choices. Onshore wind is one of the cheapest forms of low carbon energy available and will generate sustainable jobs as well as clean, renewable energy. The coalition Government is scrapping plans to build clean, safe, wind farms in Somerset preferring instead to pay twice the market price for electricity from the proposed Hinkley C reactor on the Somerset coast.

[Read more…]

Posted: 27 April 2014

26 April 2014

Chernobyl

The 28th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine will be marked on 26 April as the country goes through yet another convulsion – though this time not a nuclear one. A $2.1bn (£1.2bn) project aimed at building a contamination shield around the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, which is just 130km (80 miles) from Kiev, could be delayed another two years because of the increasing tensions between Ukraine and Russia. Originally, the plan was to construct a contamination shield, which would last 100 years, around Chernobyl by 2015. This is now expected to be delayed until 2017, putting locals at further risk of radiation poisoning. To mark the 28th and possibly most turbulent anniversary of the nuclear accident, IBTimes UK looks at the facts behind the disaster and its repercussions.The disaster killed 31 people almost immediately – almost all of them reactor staff and emergency workers. Between 30 and 50 emergency workers died shortly afterwards from acute radiation. Exactly how many people suffered from radiation poisoning, and to what extent, is not known. A 2005 report by WHO said that up to 4,000 people were expected to die from radiation exposure. Exact figures of those who became sick or died are difficult to ascertain because of Soviet secrecy at the time of the disaster. WHO estimated there have been approximately 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer – mostly in children – caused by the contamination. Nine children have died. Even children born after 1986 have been affected. A 200% increase in birth defects and a 250% increase in birth deformities have been reported.

[Read more…]

Posted: 26 April 2014

25 April 2014

Decommissioning

A quick shout out to Dr David Lowry, the foremost scourge of the UK’s nuclear authorities. His dogged use of the Freedom of Information Act is why we know the extent of the private-sector mismanagement of the £70bn clean-up of the Sellafield plant in Cumbria. Among his latest treasure trove is a Nuclear Decommissioning Authority briefing to government from December. There is a tiny detail that shows just how much financial risk companies such as the US engineer Bechtel and Britain’s Atkins are taking on these huge nuclear decontamination deals: it costs every consortium £15m to £20m when they bid for these deals. That is a scandalous sum for even big businesses to have to risk on the bid alone.

[Read more…]

Posted: 25 April 2014

24 April 2014

Sellafield

SAVINGS of £7m have been made as a major nuclear clean up project in Cumbria was completed four years early. One of the UK’s top 10 nuclear safety risks has been significantly reduced after a project to repackage historic plutonium-contaminated filters at Sellafield was completed four years early. The work involved removing the filters from a building deemed no longer fit-for-purpose, repackaging them and placing them in a more modern store. The filters had been removed from facilities around the site during the 1970s and 1980s and placed into storage. The project, which is a part of a wider programme to remove plutonium contaminated material from across the Sellafield site, was completed in February this year – four years ahead of schedule – saving around £7m on the original cost estimate.

[Read more…]

Posted: 24 April 2014

23 April 2014

Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) a dismal failure

The Government has launched a consultation to seek responses to an application submitted by the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) for a regulatory justification decision in relation to the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR). The consultation runs until 13th May 2014.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) has published a briefing which provides an overview and model response to the consultation. It is available here.

Chair of the UK and Ireland NFLA, Councillor Mark Hackett, writing in The Ecologist, says the design is a dismal failure in Japan, costs more than alternatives, and brings serious health hazards.

Posted: 23 April 2014

Hinkley – Extremely bad value for consumers

Evidence has poured into the European Commission as it investigates whether the deal with EDF on Hinkley Point C breaks EU competition rules. Many objectors,   who made submissions by 7th April, claim that the contract will wreck Europe’s chance of building up renewable energies to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

In a damning and succinct demolition of the UK Government’s case in favour of state-aid for Hinkley C, Friends of the Earth (FOE) show how the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC’s) central projections assumes a tailing off in the growth of renewables after 2020. Such projections are out of step with reality around the world as installation of wind power and solar power accelerates and nuclear electricity production actually falls. The UK Government clearly favours nuclear over renewables as it commits the consumer to paying massive bills for Hinkley C (from 2023) but has no plans for any premium prices for renewables after 2020. It seems the Government doesn’t expect renewable costs to fall, but does expect that nuclear costs will!

FOE dismisses the notion that offering the Hinkley C developers £92.50/MWh over 35 years with a £10 billion loan guarantee, could be justified on environmental grounds. They say the deal ‘represents extremely bad value for UK citizens‘ because the cost of various renewable energy technologies will be far cheaper with costs falling fast by the time that Hinkley C is deployed.

FoE says while it supports interventions in the electricity market to drive decarbonisation, nuclear power has problems with nuclear waste for which there is no robust plan for safe management over the timescales required, along with other risks and impacts, which are unnecessary because there are multiple other pathways to decarbonisation, at similar or lower cost.

FoE argues that the amount of new-build renewables plus nuclear will be limited by the Treasury’s Levy Control Framework (LCF). If Hinkley is built, then from 2023 (or later) it will be competing directly with renewable generation for a limited pot of subsidy. DECC’s own analysis shows there are multiple routes to decarbonisation, so we could meet the same objectives with more renewables and less nuclear, but DECC’s central projection for electricity generation to 2030 assumes a tailing off in growth in renewables after 2020, and a rapid growth in nuclear post 2025. Yet it would be more realistic to assume continued growth in UK renewables capacity on a similar or faster growth trajectory, given the falling costs of the main renewable technologies.

For more on this see nuClear News No.61 and the joint submission by Nuclear Free Local Authorities, Cities for a Nuclear Free Europe and Stop Hinkley to the European Commission. 

Posted: 23 April 2014

23 April 2014

Time to end reprocessing at Sellafield

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has launched a consultation on whether to allow the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) not to reprocess small quantities of overseas origin oxide fuels that are either not economic or not possible to reprocess in Sellafield’s Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) before its currently scheduled closure date of 2018. The consultation closes on 28th May 2014.

DECC says around 300 tonnes of overseas origin spent fuel still remain to be reprocessed, but 30 tonnes of this fuel is made up of small amounts of prototype fuels, experimental fuels, MOX (plutonium) fuels and some materials leftover from research programmes, which would be challenging to deal with through reprocessing, before the planned closure of THORP in 2018. It is thought that around 25 tonnes of this spent fuel is probably spent MoX fuel from Germany.

What the NDA wants to do is to send back to the customer countries an amount of waste and plutonium equivalent to the amount which would be sent back if the spent fuel was reprocessed. This is known as ‘virtual reprocessing’. The NDA says that if THORP were to operate beyond 2018 it would need to build replacement storage tanks for the highly active liquid waste at a cost of around £500m. High level liquid waste generates its own heat, so has to be constantly cooled, which is why the storage tanks are so expensive.

This consultation begs the question: if the Government can sanction “virtual reprocessing” for 30 tonnes of residual spent fuel why can’t the same be done now for the remaining 300 tonnes of overseas fuel and any remaining AGR spent fuel which is still slated for reprocessing so that THORP can shut now? After all, nobody needs any more plutonium.

The UK, as a signatory to the 1998 Sintra Agreement of the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, is committed to achieving “progressive and substantial reductions of discharges, emissions and losses of radioactive substances, with the ultimate aim of concentrations in the environment … close to zero for artificial radioactive substances” by the year 2020. The UK Government’s first Strategy for Radioactive Discharges published in 2002 in response to this commitment said that THORP would close in 2016 unless it found new business. No new business has been found. Given that there is likely to be a time lag due to the need for a post operational clean-out before some radioactive discharges can be stopped after closure, the plant needs to cease operations as soon as possible for the UK to meet its international obligations. (See NFLA / KIMO report on radioactive discharge concerns at Sellafield to the OSPAR, Commission Radioactive Substances Committee, February 2014)

Worse still, the other older reprocessing plant at Sellafield – the Magnox reprocessing plant – which is currently scheduled for closure in 2019, is now unlikely to close before 2022 due to technical problems. (CORE Press Release 16th April 2014) In fact the most recent Magnox Operating Plan (known as MOP9) says the plant may continue operating until 2028 if it performs badly.

While the NDA blames poor throughput for not being able to end Magnox reprocessing by 2012 as originally planned, it has already extended the life of the Wylfa Magnox nuclear station on Anglesey, from March 2010 to September 2014 and is now hoping to continue generating electricity until December 2015 subject to acceptance by the Office for Nuclear Regulation NDA Business Plan (ONR) of the Periodic Safety Review (PSR) and acceptance by DECC of the Business Case. (See NDA Business Plan 2014-17 page 29) The NDA has also started transporting breeder fuel from Dounreay in the north of Scotland to Sellafield for reprocessing, further adding to the inventory of spent fuel to be reprocessed before the Magnox reprocessing plant closes. After Magnox reprocessing ends there are expected to be around five years of continuing radioactive discharges to the Irish Sea due to post-operational clean out.

When it became clear it was not going to be possible to complete the reprocessing of all Magnox spent fuel by 2012, the NDA should have looked seriously at alternative options. Instead it has been extending the life of reactors, and transporting breeder fuel from Scotland which the plant had not been originally scheduled to reprocess.

Reprocessing of Magnox spent fuel has, in the past, been regarded as essential, because it begins to corrode once it has been wetted. Former Sellafield operator, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) finally admitted in 2003 that dry storage would be technically feasible, should the Magnox reprocessing plant break down, having previously claimed Magnox spent fuel MUST be reprocessed. Encapsulating the spent fuel in concrete has also been considered as an alternative fuel management option.

MOP9 now states that:

The possibility of drying and containerising wetted fuel is currently under development. The work is at a stage where the option is considered technically feasible, further detailed design would be required if it were decided to implement this option.”

Time for the UK to prioritise meeting its international commitments and end reprocessing at Sellafield as soon as possible.

Posted: 23 April 2014