News December 2015

31 December 2015


Britain’s oldest nuclear plant closed on Wednesday, leaving in its wake a £700m decommissioning bill and further questions about the UK’s ability to keep the lights on. The closure of the Wylfa plant in Wales after 44 years of service puts more pressure on EDF Energy to take a final investment decision for new reactors at Hinkley in Somerset. The station on the island of Anglesey generated enough electricity to power 1m homes, and with a capacity of 1,000MW was once the largest facility of its kind in the world. But after an earlier life extension scheme expired, the last of the 26 British-designed Magnox reactors was switched off by the private consor tium that manages the plant for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). The site was due to close in 2010 but it was kept open for a further five years as fears mounted that Britain would face an electricity shortage because new atomic and gas-fired power plants were not being constructed. “Wylfa has been a terrific success story for Anglesey and the UK nuclear industry. We have generated safely and securely for many years, which is an excellent achievement,” said Stuart Law, the site director.

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Posted: 31 December 2015

30 December 2015


China is intent on exporting its nuclear expertise but in the UK scrutiny is increasing. Hinkley Point, in Somerset, is home to a working nuclear plant and twin disused Magnox reactors. Now David Cameron, UK prime minister, wants the site to host the first of a new generation of reactors that he envisages will replace Britain’s ageing nuclear fleet by 2030. Under a commercial pact struck during October’s state visit to London by Chinese president Xi Jinping, CGN will take a one-third stake in Hi nkley. Its state-owned rival, China National Nuclear Corporation, may also participate. A decade from now, assuming all goes to plan, Taishan’s distinctive egg-shaped reactor domes, double-hulled walls and monster turbines will dominate the shoreline of the Severn estuary. Hinkley Point C will supply 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity.Following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, few western countries have been building reactors. But the UK is pushing ahead with plans for 16 gigawatts of new capacity by 2025 – compared with 10GW now – supplying about one-sixth of its electricity needs. Behind this British nuclear renaissance are demanding targets to cut carbon emissions and a desire to reduce dependence on imported gas. Nuclear energy needs to be part of the mix because it is more reliable than renewables, which depend on sunshine, wind or tides, ministers say. It is controversial, however: many people are opposed on safety grounds, while some have raised national security concerns about allowing China to build plants in the country. China is already on a nuclear building spree. It is beginning construction of a reactor every few months to meet a goal – made all the more urgent by Beijing’s smog – of non-fossil fuels providing one-fifth of energy consumption by 2030. It also wants to export its nuclear construction expertise and, ultimately, its designs. And it senses an unprecedented commercial opportunity in Britain. Beijing hopes that its participation in Hinkley – and the chance to build its own Hualong One design at Bradwell in Essex – will help convince the world that the Chinese nuclear industry is on a par with its French and Japanese rivals. China is pushing its nuclear know-how aggressively around the world. It has high hopes for Latin America, despite its slowing economy. Under an agreement announced in November, CNNC will finance and build two nuclear power plants in Argentina, in a deal worth up to $15bn. The first plant will cost about $6bn and use Canadian “Candu” nuclear technology, while the second, like the proposed plant for Bradwell, will use the homegrown Hualong One reactor. Analysts also see potential demand in South Africa, where there are plans to add 9.6GW of new capacity. CGN can ill-afford errors at Taishan, one of three unfinished projects using a third-generation technology called the European pressurised reactor. Designed by Areva of France, these reactors are being touted as a revolution in nuclear power. But they have had a troubled start on projects at Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland. Taishan, too, has suffered delays, albeit not as bad as those in Europe. As a result, CGN is treading carefully. The Chinese plant’s targeted completion date, originally late 2013, has already been put back once, in part because of safety rules after Fukushima. Now it will probably come online in 2017 – though CGN will not say exactly when. There are worries, too, that Britain’s tilt towards China – and chancellor George Osborne’s embrace of its investment – will open the door to security risks. The UK shift has caused consternation in the US, which accuses China’s state-owned industry of benefiting from military-linked corporate espionage. Concerns have also been raised in Whitehall over the prospect of China being able to build digital loopholes into hardware it supplies, allowing Beijing to exploit vulnerabilities at nuclear plants. CNNC’s background as China’s nuclear weapons developer before it built the country’s civilian reactors has added to those fears.

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Posted: 30 December 2015

29 December 2015


The news that radioactive discharges into the Blackwater estuary from the former Bradwell nuclear power station now seem set to continue for a further 4 years was met with indignation by the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANNG). ‘This is scandalous’, said Varrie Blowers, Secretary of BANNG. ‘The deadline for the entry of the former Bradwell nuclear power station into its Care and Maintenace (C & M) state keeps shifting. At the Local Communities Liaison Committee (LCLC) meeting on 3 June, it was announced that the deadline had changed from the much-vaunted date of 2015. It has now changed again: from 2017 to 2019. And no real reasons have been given. I would hazard a guess that there are still big problems with the experimental accelerated dissolution process for the fuel element debris (FED).

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Posted: 29 December 2015

28 December 2015


FRESH fears over security around Britain’s nuclear plants were raised last night after police arrested three men near Sellafield. The base is on a heightened alert following last month’s terror attacks in Paris, in which 130 people were killed and hundreds wounded. The North West Counter Terrorism Unit revealed that the three were detained in woodland close to the high-security site after a tip-off from a concerned passer-by. The arrests happened in the early hours of Monday, December 7, but the details have only now been released. The men were arrested by the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, based at Sellafield, before being passed by Cumbria Police to the North West Counter Terrorism Unit for questioning. Police said there was no indication of a threat to the public and the men were later released without charge. In 2011, five men were arrested under the Terrorism Act near Sellafield but were later released without charge. These new arrests come amid recent fears that Britain is a nuclear terror target.

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Posted: 28 December 2015

27 December 2015


BRITAIN faces a real terror threat over its huge stockpile of plutonium – the biggest in the world – but ministers still have no clear plan for disposing of the nuclear material, a leading expert has warned. According to official figures more than 126 tonnes of civil plutonium was being held in the UK as of December 2014, with just 3-4 kg of the substance needed to power a nuclear weapon. The world’s largest store of the radioactive substance is held in Britain after successive governments accumulated plutonium from the 1950s onwards when it was widely believed to be a miracle replacement energy source for oil, coal and gas. But attempts to use plutonium – among the world’s most toxic substances – as a fuel have routinely been abandoned with Britain’s experimental nuclear power plants now closed following a lack of success. With terror groups such as the brutal Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists showing an increasing appetite for getting their hands on a nuclear weapon, or radioactive material for use in a ‘dirty’ bomb, an expert has warned the UK’s plutonium stockpile “absolutely” presents a terror threat to Britain. Independent nuclear consultant John Large told “The Government still has no definite option for actually dissipating or getting rid of plutonium other than storing it and eventually putting it in a deep hole. “At the moment it stores it in what it claims to be a secure location in Sellafield and that is apparently guarded but it still certainly doesn’t have a programme in place. “We haven’t really solved the problem of what to do with it so at the moment the storage of plutonium is open to some doubt and the question of malicious terrorist attack.”

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Posted: 27 December 2015

26 December 2015

Nukes vs Climate

Nuclear power is often touted as being an important tool in the array of measures needed to help prevent climate change. Some environmentalists and climate scientists have recently been gaining attention because of their support for nuclear power as a tool for helping reduce our CO2 emissions. However, even though the goal of dramatically reducing CO2 emissions is critically important, there are still many reasons to be skeptical of nuclear power as the solution for creating a long-term sustainable energy system.

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Posted: 26 December 2015

24 December 2015

Nukes vs Climate

Linda Gunter In response to the Dec. 13 column on nuclear power: In 2003 an MIT study recognized that to achieve a significant CO2 reduction, a new reactor would have to come on line every two weeks. With existing construction delays and ballooning cost overruns, it’s an impossible target. The myth that Germany’s renunciation of nuclear led to increased use of coal is contradicted by the facts. Germany is a net exporter of electricity, which has driven a recent increase in coal production. Last August, the world’s largest investment bank, USB, urged investors to join the renewable revolution. USB predicted large-scale centralized power stations like nuclear and coal would soon be not relevant. Solar storage has arrived. In India, wind energy has overtaken nuclear’s contribution to electricity consumption. Nuclear energy is not carbon-free. Uranium, like coal, is mined, releasing CO2, along with radioactive gases, liquids and sludges. No safe, permanent storage solution has been found for radioactive waste

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Posted: 24 December 2015

23 December 2015


The nuclear disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011 shook the world. It might seem a very long way from this Severn-side town, but Lydney is making plans for its own emergency procedure should the unimaginable happen. It’s not such a preposterous idea as you might think. Horizon Nuclear Power announced plans in 2011 to develop a massive new nuclear electricity generating capacity across its two sites, Anglesey and Oldbury by 2025.

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Posted: 23 December 2015

22 December 2015

Nukes vs Climate

Peter Bradford: In the 15th year of the era formerly known as “the nuclear renaissance,” not a single molecule of carbon dioxide emission has been avoided by a renaissance reactor built in the United States or in Europe. Unless the 40-year-old Watts Bar 2 reactor scheduled to operate in Tennessee early in 2016 is called “renaissance,” this situation will not change for several more years. Climate change, so urgent and so seemingly intractable, has become the last refuge of nuclear charlatans throughout the Western world. From well-meaning ideologues and editorial writers claiming that the unknowable is theirs to state with certainty, to paid advocates more skilled in pleasing and persuading government officials than furthering consumer and environmental well-being, prophetic arguments have swollen from a stream to a river and now merge with the Seine in Paris, threatening to submerge the world under a layer of nonsense rising as inexorably as the seas themselves. James Hansen, perhaps the most visible of the climate scientists who advocate heavy reliance on breeder or other innovative reactor designs without paying any attention to their track record of long and costly failure, has become ever more reminiscent of Groucho Marx leaping from a paramour’s bed to confront a disbelieving husband with: “Who are you going to believe, me or your eyes?” The op-ed that Hansen and three other scientists signed from Paris says that by building 115 reactors per year from now until 2050, we could eliminate fossil fuels from the electric sector. What these four nuclear horsemen don’t mention is that, using the cost of Britain’s proposed Hinkley station as a proxy (even though breeders and their attendant reprocessing facilities would surely cost more), this commitment would cost some $2 trillion per year, or $70 trillion altogether. Making assumptions about renewables and efficiency plus electrical storage capacity that are more plausible than Hansen’s assumptions about an immediate reversal in the fortunes of breeder reactors, equivalent carbon reductions can be achieved at much lower cost and in less time, leaving money over for continuing research and development, even nuclear R&D.

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Posted: 22 December 2015

21 December 2015

Energy Policy

The rest of the world is powering ahead on renewables and we’re being left behind,’ writes Green party leader Natalie Bennett. Small- and medium-sized enterprises around the country who’ve invested in training staff – and could be taking on many more apprentices to improve Britain’s skill base – for solar installation and home energy efficiency could be given a secure future by a sensible response to the feed-in tariff consultation and a recognition that housing is part of our national infrastructure and desperately needs investment. That investment could tackle Britain’s awful, indefensible excess winter deaths – the reality that many people, particularly older people, are in homes that are impossible, or too expensive, to heat, and are dying and suffering serious ill health as a consequence. Investment in local public transport – buses, local trains, walking and cycling – could tackle social exclusion (two-thirds of jobseekers don’t have access to a car), cut the toll of air pollution deaths, and reduce the pressure on the NHS from obesity and diabetes. Support for community energy schemes would not only give us a decentralised, resilient energy supply but ensure people can invest in their local communities, and keep that money circulating locally, rather than swishing off into tax havens. In short, tackling climate change isn’t a cost to bear but an opportunity to rework our economy and society so that it creates jobs people can build a life on, ensures households are warm and comfortable and communities prosperous, and our air is breathable.

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Posted: 21 December 2015