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.
Times 28th Dec 2016 read more »
The nuclear watchdog has been accused of playing down dozens of potentially dangerous blunders at military bases and power plants. In one case, a torpedo was accidentally fired by a Navy ship at the nuclear submarine dock in Plymouth. There were also three road accidents involving trucks carrying radioactive material.
Daily Mail 27th Dec 2016 read more »
Daily Mail 27th Dec 2016 read more »
Between 2012 and 2015 the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) recorded 973 “anomalies”. However they were either rated zero or left unrated on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) meaning they were regarded as having “no nuclear safety significance”. An engineer told The Times: “I do believe that the ONR downplays the incidents’ severity and the incompetence that has led to these events.”
Express 27th Dec 2016 read more »
A torpedo was inadvertently fired at the nuclear submarine dock in Plymouth. And, in a separate incident, a dockyard worker in the city breathed in radioactive material, an investigation of incidents involving the nuclear industry has found. But in both cases, The Times reports, the nuclear safety regulator deemed the incidents as being of no nuclear safety significance. The decision that these and dozens more apparent safety breaches at nuclear installations around the country pose no danger has alarmed some scientists, who told the newspaper they should have been taken much more seriously.
Plymouth Herald 27th Dec 2016 read more »
A shock warning from Toshiba that it may have to write down billions of dollars after the purchase of an American nuclear power company went sour has hit its shares. The Japanese conglomerate said cost overruns on power projects handled by a nuclear construction business bought from Chicago Bridge & Iron would be much greater than expected. It will be another blow for the group, which is recovering from a $1.3 billion accounting scandal as well as a writedown of more than $2 billion for its nuclear business in the last financial year. Satoshi Tsunakawa, the chief executive who took over in June after his predecessor embarked on a series of restructuring steps to clean up the books, said the company would look at some kind of strategy to boost capital. The deal between CB&I and Toshiba’s Westinghouse division has been fraught since at least July. The two have been in dispute over who should shoulder liabilities related to overruns and over calculations for working capital. Toshiba bought Westinghouse from British Nuclear Fuels a decade ago in a deal that has come to be seen by some as a mistake by the British government to sell its US-based nuclear power station construction business. Masahiko Ishino, an analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Center, said the focus may soon shift to whether Toshiba will sell businesses.
Times 28th Dec 2016 read more »
Projects that CB&I Stone & Webster is working on have been hit by delays and cost overruns. In dueling legal claims, Westinghouse and Chicago Bridge & Iron have been disputing how expensive the delays will be and which company should take the financial hit. The purchase was a gamble from the start: The Toshiba subsidiary was paying relatively little to buy the business, but its ultimate costs could end up being many times higher if things went badly. That outcome now looks likely. “Westinghouse has found that the cost to complete the U.S. projects will far surpass the original estimates, mainly due to increases in key project parameters, resulting in far lower asset value than originally determined,” Toshiba said on Tuesday. In the United States, Westinghouse has been working with CB&I Stone & Webster on two projects to expand existing nuclear power stations by building new reactors. The projects, at the V.C. Summer station in South Carolina and the Alvin W. Vogtle plant in Georgia, are several years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
New York Times 27th Dec 2016 read more »
Toshiba Corp said it may have to book several billion dollars in charges related to a U.S. nuclear power plant construction company acquisition, sending its stock tumbling 12 percent and rekindling concerns about its accounting acumen. The Japanese group said cost overruns at U.S. power projects handled by the CB&I Stone & Webster Inc business it acquired last December from Chicago Bridge & Iron Company NV (CB&I) would be much greater than initially expected, potentially requiring a huge write down.
Reuters 27th Dec 2016 read more »
Toshiba shares dived more than 20% on Wednesday in their second straight double-digit plunge as the company said it may book a one-time loss of several billion dollars over its US nuclear business. Toshiba’s stock price dropped by 20.42% to 311.60 yen, the largest fall allowed for a single day, about 30 minutes after the opening bell, as the company failed to remove investor worries over the potential risk. On Tuesday the Tokyo-based conglomerate said costs linked to the acquisition in 2015 by its US subsidiary of a nuclear service company would possibly come to “several billion US dollars, resulting in a negative impact on Toshiba’s financial results”.
Guardian 28th Dec 2016 read more »
BBC 28th Dec 2016 read more »
FT 28th Dec 2016 read more »
“No system of safeguards that can be devised will of itself provide an effective guarantee against the production of atomic weapons by a nation bent on aggression.” — Harry S Truman. The quote above echoes apprehensions expressed by many disarmament advocates since the dawn of the atomic age that inadequate application of nuclear safeguards remains unable to stop nuclear weapons proliferation or the motivation to build them. Time has proved that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguards could not stop North Korea and other countries from developing nuclear weapons. There are nine countries that possess nuclear weapons today. The widespread use of fissile material constitutes grave proliferation risks. The dangers of diversion or theft of fissile materials are very high at three different stages of the nuclear fuel cycle: uranium enrichment process, reprocessing of spent nuclear fuels and mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) fabrication in reactor fuel assemblies. MOX plants pose added security risks because of the presence of separated plutonium oxide that can be used to build weapons. It is argued that the IAEA’s safeguards can detect any clandestine removal of a ‘significant quantity’ (SQ) of fissile material and prevent its use for nuclear explosive devices. Depending on the type of nuclear materials, the IAEA guidelines adjust the amount that qualifies as an SQ. A number of techniques — detectors, surveillance cameras and environmental samples — are used to obtain information about nuclear materials or undeclared operations of the facilities. However, more than five and a half decades after its establishment, the IAEA has not been able to fulfil its responsibilities even at existing nuclear fuel-cycle facilities effectively. IAEA officials have also acknowledged that they cannot meet the goal of above 90 percent probability of detecting the diversion of fissile materials. So the IAEA has lowered the detection standards, aka the Accountancy Verification Goal (AVG), which can easily be satisfied by current safeguards.
Daily Times 28th Dec 2016 read more »
Haunting footage shows the decaying remains of a deserted city which was built to develop nuclear bombs during the Cold War. The mysterious Chinese city, called 404, has been abandoned for years, with derelict buildings falling into ruin, public squares left eerily desolate and vegetation overgrown. Buildings once used in the early stages of China’s nuclear weapons programme still contain equipment. Set in the Gobi Desert, the ghost town was once home to the country’s top nuclear experts and was named after a company owned by the China National Nuclear Corporation.
Daily Mirror 27th Dec 2016 read more »
Renewables – tidal
Developers of a proposed world-first tidal energy lagoon in Swansea Bay have been forced to delay their construction schedule until 2018 at the earliest as the Government wavers over whether to subsidise the project. The project, devised by entrepreneur Mark Shorrock, was originally slated to start construction in spring 2015 but has been repeatedly delayed as political enthusiasm waned. In recent weeks, Tidal Lagoon Power has quietly updated its website to delete a reference to aiming to start construction work on site in 2017, amid little sign that the Government is close to green-lighting the £1.3bn development. The company confirmed spring 2018 was now the earliest possible start date as it expected to take 12 months from getting the go-ahead from Government to starting construction, which will then take four years. In the spring the Government commissioned former energy minister Charles Hendry to conduct an independent review of the case for tidal lagoons. The review was due to be submitted in November, but was delayed until after the autumn statement, apparently under pressure from Government. Ministers have said the review will be published “soon” and that they will take time to consider its findings. Tidal Lagoon Power got planning consent for the Swansea project in June 2015 but faces another outstanding obstacle in the need for a marine licence from Natural Resources Wales, which has raised concerns that the project could kill thousands of migratory salmon and trout. The company disputes the analysis, saying it will have “minimal impacts on fish”, that the planning consent was granted on that basis and that “a host of world-leading fish experts” agree with its assessment.
Telegraph 27th Dec 2016 read more »