News December 2016

31 December 2016


SHARES in Toshiba, the prime mover behind plans for a nuclear power station in west Cumbria, have gone into freefall. Forty per cent has been wiped off the Japanese company’s value after it said on Monday that its US subsidiary, Westinghouse Electric, may have overpaid by several billions of dollars for another nuclear construction and services business. To compound matters, the company is embroiled in an accounting scandal. Its shares plunged to 259 yen (£1.81) on Thursday before staging a modest recovery on Friday. It is not clear what, if any, impact the crisis will have on plans for a £10bn nuclear power station at Moorside, Sellafield. However, the agency Moody’s has downgraded Toshiba’s ratings and warned that the writedown could affect the company’s ability to pay its debts. Toshiba holds a 60 per cent stake in Moorside developer NuGen, alongside ENGIE of France. A decision on whether to proceed with the project is due in 2018. NuGen has been seeking further backers for the scheme and is understood to have held talks about potential investment from the Korea Electrical Power Corporation.

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Posted: 31 December 2016

30 December 2016


Toshiba puts UK’s nuclear power plans under threat: Fears that crisis will halt Japanese firm’s investment in British plant. Toshiba owns a 60 per cent stake in the planned £10billion NuGen nuclear power project in Moorside, Cumbria, which aims to supply power for about 6million homes from 2025. But shares plunged at Toshiba for the third day running yesterday after it warned of a multi-billion dollar write-down involving its US nuclear subsidiary. Forty per cent has been wiped off the company’s value since it said on Monday that its US nuclear subsidiary Westinghouse Electric may have overpaid by several billions of dollars for another nuclear construction and services business. Westinghouse UK is providing the reactors for the planned project in Cumbria, the rest of which is owned by French company Engie, and would be one of Europe’s largest nuclear power plants. Moody’s investor service has downgraded Toshiba’s ratings and warned the writedown could affect the company’s ability to pay its debts, little over a year after its finances were seriously hit by an accounting scandal. Justin Bowden, the GMB union’s national secretary for energy, said: ‘It needs to be established as soon as possible whether or not the collapsing Toshiba share price, in particular in relation to its Westinghouse operation, has any implications, and if so what these are for the extremely important Westinghouse project.’

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Posted: 30 December 2016

29 December 2016


“Serious industrial unrest” at Europe’s biggest nuclear site could threaten the Conservatives’ chances of winning a forthcoming byelection, unions have warned. The byelection in the marginal Cumbrian seat of Copeland has been described as “Theresa May’s to lose”. But the Conservative candidate hoping to overturn Labour’s 2,564 majority will have to explain to thousands of workers at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site why the government is trying to downgrade their final-salary pension scheme. Trade unions representing many of Sellafield’s 10,000 workers have written to the government warning they cannot support either of the options being considered.

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Posted: 29 December 2016

28 December 2016

Nuclear Safety

Whitehall is investigating the nuclear regulator after The Times revealed that several serious accidents had been dismissed as posing no safety risk. The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has come under fire from experts who argue it is too close to the industry to police it rigorously. Yesterday an investigation disclosed that the inadvertent discharge of a torpedo at a nuclear submarine docks in Plymouth, a complete power cut at the country’s nuclear weapons base and the contamination of at least 15 workers with radioactive material were among the events it had said were of no concern. Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for the ONR, are understood to be looking into whether the regulator is doing enough to keep the country’s reactors, nuclear processing sites and military bases safe. Although the number of publicly acknowledged accidents has been stable for more than a decade, the rate of incidents judged to be “of no nuclear safety significance” has crept up to more than one a day over the last five years. Nuclear experts, however, called on the government to launch a review. Stephen Thomas, emeritus professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, said the news had reinforced his suspicions that “the first priority for the ONR is not to frighten the horses”. He said the body had previously ignored warnings about the safety of extending the lifespan of the AGR, an old reactor design that is still in use at seven sites in the UK, as well as the reliability of the newer EPR model, the latest version of which is due to be installed at Hinkley Point C. “Ironically, since they became an independent body rather than being part of the Health and Safety Executive [in 2014], they seem to have got worse,” Professor Thomas said. “Independence is just a cheap and easy way for government to wash its hands of its rightful responsibility.” Earlier this year the ONR appointed as its chief executive a career civil servant with no background in nuclear engineering. David Toke, reader in energy politics at the University of Aberdeen and a member of the Nuclear Consulting Group, said this suggested that nuclear safety issues were a “low priority” for the organisation. “Of course there should be more attention to this issue and a discussion about whether the de facto slide towards less nuclear safety in the UK is a good one,” he said.

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Posted: 28 December 2016

27 December 2016

Nuclear Accidents

The nuclear safety regulator has been accused of turning a blind eye to dozens of serious mistakes at power plants and military bases. A torpedo inadvertently fired by a Navy warship at the nuclear submarine dock in Plymouth and three road accidents involving vehicles carrying radioactive material were among the events dismissed as posing no danger. Analysis by The Times shows that while the number of safety incidents formally declared by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has been stable for a decade, the rate of faults recorded by the watchdog has doubled since 2010 to more than one a day. Between 2012 and 2015 the ONR gave 973 “anomalies” an International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) score of zero or left them unrated, meaning they were judged to have been of “no nuclear safety significance”. Among them were: Four cases where tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, was found at elevated levels in groundwater around the Dungeness B reactor in Kent; At least 70 safety incidents on the UK’s main nuclear warhead base at Aldermaston, Berkshire, including the contamination of several workers and a power cut across the site; An accident where a vehicle carrying nuclear material on the M1 hit a lorry, and another where a transport lorry flipped over, damaging two containers holding radioactive chemicals; Uranium “sludge” and an unstable form of caesium left in bin bags at Springfields, a former power plant, and Amersham nuclear materials factory; At least a dozen leaks of radioactive substances and more than 30 fires at power stations, including an event where a control panel at the Sellafield site was burnt out. Experts on the nuclear industry said it was extraordinary that these events had been dismissed so lightly. Some said they were concerned that the ONR’s close ties to the industry had compromised its willingness to expose mistakes. One experienced engineer, speaking anonymously, said: “I do believe that the ONR downplays the incidents’ severity and the incompetence that has led to these events.” A former member of the government’s nuclear safety advisory committee said the events looked like “strange anomalies” that should have been taken much more seriously. The document shows that radiation alarms at Britain’s ports and airports were set off on 15 separate occasions by packages that were not supposed to contain any radioactive material, including four at Heathrow. It also reveals that a contractor at Harwell swallowed plutonium, a worker at the Devonport nuclear submarine base in Plymouth breathed in an unstable isotope of cobalt and 13 others at various sites had worryingly high radiation counts found in urine. Sellafield, a fuel reprocessing centre and former reactor in Cumbria that has been called the world’s riskiest nuclear site, recorded 167 problems, by far the largest number. These included several power cuts, ground contaminations, unplanned shutdowns and a complete loss of cooling water around the reactor. The ONR works closely with the 37 nuclear sites it regulates and asks them to help to draw up safety plans. This relationship has been too cosy for some experts, who worry that the ONR is letting too many accidents around reactors slip under the radar.

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Posted: 27 December 2016

26 December 2016


There’s widespread concern about the role Communist China may play in the new nuclear power stations planned at Hinkley Point (in Somerset), Sizewell (Suffolk) and Bradwell (Essex). Many experts say it’s a criminal risk to Britain’s national security because China is well known for cyber-espionage. Undaunted, Maldon District Council, which covers Bradwell, is ready to cash in, offering councillors free lessons in Mandarin. This has angered environment expert Professor Andy Blowers, who believes that — in any language — it is suicidal to hand the Bradwell site ‘lock, stock and barrel’ to Chinese investors.

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Posted: 26 December 2016

24 December 2016

Horizon & NuGen

Japan and the UK will expand their existing collaboration in civil nuclear activities – including decommissioning, research and development, and nuclear new build – through a memorandum of cooperation signed yesterday in Tokyo. The document states, “Both sides reaffirm to each other their desire to increase commercial and research collaboration, and to develop their strategic partnership in this field, which both sides recognise as of important mutual benefit.”The memorandum covers cooperation on decommissioning and decontamination, research and development, and global safety and security practices. In a statement, the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said, “The UK is a world leader in nuclear decommissioning and waste management, and closer collaboration with Japan will deliver real benefits for both countries in ensuring a sustainable future for nuclear power.” The agreement also covers nuclear new build. It notes that two Japan-led consortia – Horizon and NuGen – are developing proposals to construct new nuclear power projects in the UK. “Horizon’s proposed project on Anglesey and NuGen’s proposed project in Cumbria could create up to 20,000 jobs in the UK and provide close to 15% of the UK’s electricity needs,” BEIS noted. “It is also estimated that they would bring around £20 billion ($25 billion) worth of contracts to the UK’s supply chain companies.”

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Posted: 24 December 2016

23 December 2016

New Nuclear

Britain and Japan have signed an agreement that significantly expands cooperation in the nuclear energy sector and paves the way for Japanese companies to construct nuclear plants in the UK. It also covers cooperation in the areas of decommissioning and decontamination and it is anticipated that the deal will give British companies with advanced technologies greater access to projects at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where three of the six reactors suffered melt-downs after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. One of the key components of the agreement is the proposals by Hitachi and Toshiba to build new reactors in Britain. Horizon Nuclear Power, bought by Hitachi from a German company in 2012, has delivered the outline of a project at Wylfa Newydd in Wales, and has plans to build as many as six reactors in the UK. Toshiba joint venture NuGeneration is planning a nuclear plant in Cumbria and is considering additional projects. The two governments are to review investment and lending for Horizon through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the Development Bank of Japan. Financing of the project from the Japanese side is expected to reach Y1 trillion (£7 billion). Japan is particularly keen for the projects to go ahead after its previous attempt to export nuclear energy technology, to Vietnam, fell through.

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Posted: 23 December 2016

22 December 2016


THE routes nuclear waste from other power plants will travel to reach Bradwell have been revealed. Controversial plans to allow Magnox to remove a planning condition barring it from storing waste removed from other plants was approved by Essex County Council in August. The intermediate level waste, which would come from Sizewell in Suffolk and Dungeness in Kent, typically consists of sludge, sand, gravel and metal. As part of the approval Magnox is required to provide the route the waste will travel once in the Dengie after arriving by train and road. County Hall will have to approve the plans before any movement begins. Some waste will arrive by train to Southminster railway station. Once it has arrived it will be taken via the B1018, Steeple Road, Foxhall Road, Batt’s Road, Bradwell Road, Steeple Road, Maldon Road, Trusses Road and the Bradwell Site Approach Road.

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Posted: 22 December 2016

21 December 2016

Nuclear Investment

The UK government should utilise pension scheme demand for infrastructure to help fund a new nuclear power plant in North Wales, according to the chief executive of the Pensions Infrastructure Platform (PiP). Mike Weston, who has led the PiP since its formation in 2014, said the government should consider a similar funding structure to that employed in 2015 when securing institutional backing for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, a project to modernise London’s sewers. The site for the nuclear power station in Wylfa Newydd on the island of Anglesey is owned by Hitachi. The company is reportedly in talks with the Japanese government to secure funding for its construction, but Weston argued that it could be an ideal investment for UK pension funds.

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Posted: 21 December 2016