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                               NUCLEAR POWER


There are currently about 437 commercial nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries around the world, producing 13.5% of the world’s energy - 372,000MW. Sixteen countries depend on nuclear power for at least a quarter of their electricity.  France gets around three quarters of its power from nuclear energy - the USA  almost one fifth.  link  Safety, massive cost overruns and building delays are major problems for any future projects which would require huge government subsidies. No nuclear reactor has ever been built anywhere in the world without substantial government subsidy, and no reactor ever will be built without substantial government funding in future. Also private investors are not enamoured by nuclear power because construction risks are too high (with cost overruns and substantial delays all but guaranteed), and the political risks (with governments constantly changing their mind about levels of support) even higher. [The 104 nuclear reactors currently operating in the United States use between 25,000 and 27,500 tons of uranium oxide per year.] Thorium is considered a safer and cheaper alternative.
        
Recent news:

July 30 2014: Report paints bleak future for nuclear powerThe globe’s nuclear power industry is aging, plagued with high costs and construction delays, and generally on the decline. Nuclear power’s share in global energy production declined to 10.8% in 2013, down from 17.6% at its peak in 1996. “The industry has been in decline for a long time. It’s nothing new,” report lead author Mycle Schneider said. “The production of nuclear electricity peak was reached in 2006. For the number of nuclear reactors, peak was reached in 2002. For the share of nuclear power in global electricity generation, (peak) was reached in the middle of the 1990s. We’re talking about a 20-year decline of the role of nuclear power.”  link


      ________________________________________________

   Below:
  • Is nuclear power safe?
  • The Fukushima disaster
  • What is the real cost of nuclear?
  • Current situation in the USA
  • Is thorium fuel an alternative?
  • Waste storage - a problem for 60 years.
  • The French connection
  • Uranium
  • Elsewhere in the world

Is Nuclear Power safe?

What is called the "Third Generation" of nuclear plants is running into serious problems as countries envisage nuclear power solving energy shortages before 2020. A recent report suggests major setbacks for nuclear energy plans with flaws in US and French models 
(link) and Britain's nuclear regulator said he would not hesitate to halt construction if problems emerged as expected. (No British nuclear power station had ever been built on time.) link  Generation IV nuclear power reactors promises to be safer, more fuel efficient and less water intensive. An international task force is developing six nuclear reactor technologies for deployment between 2020 and 2030. Four are fast neutron reactors. All of these operate at higher temperatures than today's reactors. In particular, four are designated for hydrogen production. All six systems represent advances in sustainability, economics, safety, reliability and proliferation-resistance. Europe is pushing ahead with three of the fast reactor designs. link

It's certainly not as safe as it should be. An analysis by David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, counted 51 times that a reactor had been closed for a year or more. Thirty-six of those shutdowns were to restore an adequate level of safety by fixing flaws in equipment, procedures or training; 11 were to replace major components required for operations and safety; and 4 were for damage recovery. In all, of the 130 power reactors ever licensed, 41, were closed for at least a year. Thorium  Ten were closed twice. link    (USC - Safe? No. Safer? Yes.)  

Many of the world's 442 nuclear power reactors are by the sea, rather than by lakes or rivers, to ensure vast water supplies for cooling fuel rods in emergencies like that at the Fukushima plant on Japan's east coast. This exposes the dilemma of whether to build power plants on tsunami-prone coasts or inland sites where water supplies are unreliable, a problem likely to be aggravated by climate change, experts say. [Map of nuclear power plants around the globe suspect to earthquakes - link

Leukaemia. Evidence from government-sponsored studies in Germany suggests that young children who live close to nuclear power stations are twice as vulnerable to developing leukaemia. link

Note: The sole U.S. plant that enriches uranium for civilian power reactors, located in Paducah, Kentucky, accomplishes this via an energy-hogging process that consumes 15 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year and uses 26 million gallons of water per day. link
As with coal-fired plants, nuclear facilities can be considered a threat to our water needs. Progress’s Harris nuclear reactor in North Carolina, for example, sucks up 33 million gallons of water a day, with 17 million gallons lost to evaporation via its big cooling towers. If the south-eastern region of the U.S.A. is heading towards future droughts, as predicted, this will seriously affect water  availability for the public. Other concern at this particular plant highlight security issues at all nuclear plants, as this article identifies: "Guards sound alarm over security at Shearon Harris nuclear plant"

March 2010: Safety issues linger as nuclear reactors shrink in size. Based on technology which provides power for nuclear submarines, Russian and U.S. companies are looking at small nuclear reactors, a category defined as reactors making less than 300 megawatts of electricity, or the amount needed to power 300,000 American homes as green solutions. But there are still many risks and drawbacks. link

Three-Mile Island -  how serious?
There hasn't been a nuclear power plant built in the USA since 1979, the year Three Mile Island nuclear reactor at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania malfunctioned, sparking a meltdown that resulted in the release of radioactivity. It was the worst nuclear accident in US history. While the official government and nuclear response is that no-one was harmed  -
("
comprehensive investigations and assessments by several well‑respected organizations have concluded that in spite of serious damage to the reactor, most of the radiation was contained and that the actual release had negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or the environment"
 read) - an interview between Juan Gonzales and Harvey Wasserman (March 2009) indicates otherwise: Wasserman says: "In fact, there’s just been two new studies released in Harrisburg this week. One indicates that as much as a hundred times more radiation escaped than the government and the industry have been willing to admit. And the other is that the statistics clearly show ongoing problems of cancer, leukemia, other radiation-related diseases. The fact of the matter is that . . . this is the best-known, the most infamous industrial accident in US history, and yet the industry and the government refuse to get to the bottom of the situation". (read)

February 2010: Quarter of U.S. nuclear plants found to be releasing radioactive tritium. Vermont Yankee is just the latest of dozens of U.S. nuclear plants to be found  leaking tritium raising concerns about nation's aging plants, many built in the 1960s and ’70s. Tritium, found in nature in tiny amounts and a product of nuclear fusion, has been linked to cancer if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin in large amounts. link  (Update Feb. 25 -In an unusual state foray into nuclear regulation, the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4  to block operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant after 2012, citing radioactive leaks, misstatements in testimony by plant officials and other problems. link)

BRITAIN: The BBC reported that it will take over 100 years before the toxic nuclear site at Sellafield (formerly Windscale) is safe. A spokesman for Sellafield Ltd said: "Sellafield isn't a place that can just be closed down. It is about the removal of plant and equipment from the building, it is about decontaminating and knocking them down, that takes decades. It has been estimated that it will cost 73bn ($136 bn) to decommission all nuclear civilian facilities in the UK. link

April 2011: In Southeastern US, extreme heat is a growing concern for nuclear plant operators. During July 2010, eight weeks of unrelenting heat forced TVA’s Browns Ferry to run at only half of its regular power. The total cost of the lost power over that time was more than $50 million, all of which was paid for by TVA's customers in Tennessee. With river water so warm, the nuclear plant couldn't draw in as much water as usual to cool the facility's three reactors, or else the water it pumped back into the river could be hot enough to harm the local ecosystem.  link  

The Fukushima disaster

August 2013: Fukushima leak much worse than believed. A nuclear expert has told the BBC that he believes the current water leaks at Fukushima are much worse than the authorities have stated.The independent consultant who has previously advised the French and German governments says water is leaking out all over the site and there are no accurate figures for radiation levels. Meanwhile the chairman of Japan's nuclear authority said that he feared there would be further leaks. The ongoing problems at the Fukushima plant increased in recent days when the Tokyo Electric Power Company admitted that around 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank on the site. link  (In Fukushima end-game, radiated water has nowhere to go link)

May 2012: Japanese appeal to UN Secretary General re: Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4. Recently, former diplomats and experts both in Japan and abroad stressed the extremely risky condition of the spent nuclear fuel pool and this is being widely reported by world media. Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), who is one of the best-known experts on spent nuclear fuel, stated that in Unit 4 there is spent nuclear fuel which contains Cesium-137 (Cs-137) that is equivalent to 10 times the amount that was released at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Nearly all of the 10,893 spent fuel assemblies at the Fukushima Daiichi plant sit in pools vulnerable to future earthquakes, with roughly 85 times more long-lived radioactivity than released at Chernobyl. link  

June  2013: After more than two years, radiation levels skyrocket at Fukushima: the accident is not contained. Record high levels of radioactive tritium have been observed in the harbor at Fukushima. The Japan Times notes the density of radioactive tritium in samples of seawater from near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant doubled over 10 days to hit a record 1,100 becquerels per liter, possibly indicating contaminated groundwater is seeping into the Pacific. link

“Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind says Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president. Scientific experts believe Japan's nuclear disaster to be far worse than governments are revealing to the public. “We have 20 nuclear cores exposed, the fuel pools have several cores each, that is 20 times the potential to be released than Chernobyl," said Gundersen. "The data I'm seeing shows that we are finding hot spots further away than we had from Chernobyl, and the amount of radiation in many of them was the amount that caused areas to be declared no-man's-land for Chernobyl. We are seeing square kilometres being found 60 to 70 kilometres away from the reactor. You can't clean all this up. We still have radioactive wild boar in Germany, 30 years after Chernobyl." link  The value of land made unusable after the Fukushima disaster, plus the cost of evacuating 80,000 people from around the stricken plant was between $70 billion and $250 billion, according to the Japan Centre for Economic Research, and that was only a small portion of what the ultimate costs would be .link  (Dismantling the crippled plant is expected to take at least 30 years)  

April 12: The upgrading of Japan's Fukushima incident to a level seven - the maximum - on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) -  puts it on a par with Chernobyl. A spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Company suggested it could even end up being worse than Chernobyl. link  [photo Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant reactor no. 4 (center) and no. 3 (L)  March 15.]

March 2011: Japan disaster - nuclear power's future compromised.  The troubles of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan have dealt a severe blow to the global nuclear industry, a powerful cartel of less than a dozen major state-owned or state-guided firms that have been trumpeting a nuclear-power renaissance. But the risks that reactors like Fukushima face from natural disasters are well-known. Indeed, they became evident six years ago, when the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 inundated India's second-largest nuclear complex, shutting down the Madras power station. Many nuclear-power plants are located along coastlines, because they are highly water-intensive. Yet natural disasters such as storms, hurricanes, and tsunamis are becoming more common, owing to climate change, which will also cause a rise in ocean levels, making seaside reactors even more vulnerable. The central dilemma of nuclear power in an increasingly water-stressed world is that it is a water-guzzler, yet vulnerable to water. link  


The real costs of nuclear

"Despite industry efforts to frame nuclear energy as the cheapest option, the reality is that nuclear power’s very survival has required large and continuous government support,” writes Doug Koplow in a Christian Science Monitor article (no longer on line). Mr. Koplow tracks $178 billion in public subsidies for nuclear energy for the period from 1947 to 1999. Others have reached similar figures. Altogether, nuclear-industry bailouts in the 1970s and ’80s cost taxpayers and ratepayers in excess of $300 billion in 2006 dollars, according to three independent studies cited in a new nuclear-cost study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. In 2008 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported the average risk of default on government guarantees for nuclear projects was 50%. Mark Cooper, senior fellow at Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment, said that even if no loans were defaulted on, nuclear would be too expensive: Wall Street is unwilling to finance any new capital projects without a 100% federal guarantee. (Doug Koplow is president of the Boston energy consulting company Earth Track: more here for his analysis that nuclear power is still not viable without subsidies.)

Commercial nuclear power has thus far cost $492 billion dollars in the USA, $97 billion of which has been in the form of federal subsidies. This excluded costs such as health effects of radiation, accidents, adequate insurance, which could well total another $375 billion. This figure does not include the almost certain escalation in future waste and decommissioning costs. link 

March 2012: Decommissioning aging US reactors costly. The operators of 20 of the nation’s aging nuclear reactors, including some whose licenses expire soon, have not saved nearly enough money for prompt and proper dismantling. If it turns out that they must close, the owners intend to let them sit like industrial relics for 20 to 60 years or even longer while interest accrues in the reactors’ retirement accounts. Decommissioning a reactor is a painstaking and expensive process that involves taking down huge structures and transporting the radioactive materials to the few sites around the country that can bury them. The cost is projected at $400 million to $1 billion per reactor, which in some cases is more than what it cost to build the plants in the 1960s and ’70s. Mothballing the plants makes hundreds of acres of prime industrial land unavailable for decades and leaves open the possibility that radioactive contamination in the structures could spread. While the radioactivity levels decline over time, many communities worry about safe oversight. link

March 2010: Building a nuclear reactor today will involve dealing with tremendous financial uncertainty. Cost projections for nuclear plants keep going up because of variability in material costs, a new licensing process, limited suppliers for key parts, and inevitable delays in construction projects. The projected cost for two new reactors in Canada shot from $7 billion to $26 billion in just two years.  And in the United States, costs for two new reactors at the South Texas Project have ballooned from $5.4 billion to an estimated $18.2 billion since 2007. Neither of these reactors has been built, so there’s no way to predict what the final cost will be. But cost overruns are virtually certain in nuclear construction, which greatly increases the risk the nuclear companies will default on their loans. Private lenders are well aware of the risk of building new reactors, which is why they’re unwilling to finance the projects without government support. link    See also: October  2009: San Antonio, Texas, puts nuclear plant on hold over cost. One of the very first new nuclear power plants proposed to be built in the U.S. in over 30 years just hit a brick wall. link 
July 2009 - $26 billion
shock for two new plants put Canada's nuclear ambitions on hold. link 

July 2011: Nuclear power spiraling costs and delays. New delays and bumper cost overruns of EDF's new reactor in France make it very hard to believe that nuclear power can fulfil the promises its supporters make. The new nuclear plant being built by EDF in France is now four years behind schedule and €2.7bn over budget. The Flamanville fiasco shows once again that new nuclear power plants are not being built on time or on budget, diminishing the arguments in favour of them. The only other new nuclear plant being built in Europe is in Finland and like EDF a state-controlled French company where costs are now estimated at €5.6bn. That is four years late and €2.6bn over budget. link

June 2011: Decommissioning a nuclear plant can cost $1 billion and take decades. Although the usual critiques of nuclear generation revolve around safety risks and high construction fees, relatively little attention has been paid to what happens when a nuclear plant powers down for good. Spent fuel also creates new stockpiles of radioactive waste in need of disposal, with few options available. link

April 2014: Revised quake estimates add to nuclear costs. Owners of at least two dozen nuclear reactors across the U.S. have told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that they cannot show that their reactors would withstand the most severe earthquake that revised estimates say they might face, according to industry experts. As a result, the reactors’ owners will be required to undertake extensive analyses of their structures and components. Owners of some plants may be forced to make physical changes, and are likely to spend about $5 million each just for the analysis.  link

December 2010. Nuclear costs rise by 37% in 2010. Costs estimates for new nuclear power have risen by 37% according to the federal Energy Information Administration, while those for solar fell by 10-25%. link
 
August 2010: Nuclear energy globally is phasing down - there is no renaissance.
As of July 2010, a total of 439 nuclear power plants in just 30 of the world's countries have a net installed capacity of 373GW - just 1.2GW more than in 2006 - and meets 16% of the world's energy needs. At least 100 older and smaller reactors will most likely be closed over the next 10-15 years. link
  


Current situation in the US

October 2013: Electricity from nuclear is flat and market share is below 19% of US electricity, down 5% from its peak five years ago. link

June 2014: Hanford – America’s most contaminated nuclear waste siteDespite some progress, the site's most complicated and potentially dangerous waste issue - 56 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste sitting inside tanks at the centre of the site - is facing more problems. Hanford, in Washington state, has long been the most contaminated nuclear waste site in the US and critics say poor management has put the site in further danger. Clean-up operation  has already cost $40bn and is expected to continue for decades. Hanford is where the US produced plutonium used in the Manhattan Project, for the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, and for a Cold War stockpile. link

August 2012: U.S. freezes all nuclear power plant licensing decisions. A ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit led federal nuclear regulators to freeze at least 19 final reactor licensing decisions in response to the ruling that spent nuclear fuel stored on-site at nuclear power plants “poses a dangerous, long-term health and environmental risk.”  The court noted that, after decades of failure to site a permanent geologic repository, including 20 years of working on the now-abandoned Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, the NRC “has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository.”Therefore, it is possible that spent fuel will be stored at reactor sites “on a permanent basis,” the court said. link


The hold-up with new reactors in the USA

April 2010: Design for new nuclear reactor less safe than America's current fleet
A coalition of 12 environmental groups put U.S. nuclear energy regulators on the hot seat this week by declaring that the leading design for new reactors is unsafe and appealing to officials to investigate.  [AP1000 Oversight Group press release]  

June  2011: Westinghouse AP 1000  reactor design critically flawed.- NC WARN

December 2011: Westinghouse AP1000 design approved. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the radical new reactor design, clearing away a major obstacle for two utilities to begin construction in South Carolina and Georgia. In an unusual step, the commission waived the usual 30-day waiting period before its approval becomes official, so its decision will be effective in about a week. That moves the utilities closer to the point where they can start pouring concrete for safety-related parts of the plant. The four reactors to be built are the only survivors in what had been envisioned as a bigger field of new plants that narrowed over the last three years as investors ran into financial and other obstacles. In fact, it is not clear whether ground will be broken on any additional reactors soon; industry experts say the biggest obstacle is that the price of natural gas remains quite low, making it difficult to produce electricity from a reactor at a price competitive with electricity from a gas-burning plant. Congress has approved $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for new reactors and there is considerable support for even more, but not clear that borrowers will emerge. link   

February 2010: To understand why the U.S. hasn't built a nuclear reactor in three decades, the Vogtle power plant in Georgia is an excellent reminder of the insanity of nuclear economics. The plant's original cost estimate was less than $1 billion for four reactors. Its eventual price tag in 1989 was nearly $9 billion, for only two reactors. But now there's widespread chatter about a nuclear renaissance, so the Southern Co. with Obama administration loan guarantees, is finally trying to build the other two reactors at Vogtle. The estimated cost: $14 billion. Recent studies have priced new nuclear power at 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, about four times the cost of producing juice with new wind or coal plants, or 10 times the cost of reducing the need for electricity through investments in efficiency. link



March  2011: Current status of nuclear waste in USA.
As of March 2011, the U.S has 71,862 tons of hot radioactive waste, but no place to permanently store the material, which stays dangerous for tens of thousands of years. Plans to store nuclear waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain have been abandoned, but even if a facility had been built there, America already has more waste than it could have handled. Three-quarters of the waste sits in water-filled cooling pools like those at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Japan, outside the thick concrete-and-steel barriers meant to guard against a radioactive release from a nuclear reactor. The rest of the spent fuel from commercial U.S. reactors has been put into dry cask storage, but regulators only envision those as a solution for about a century and the waste would eventually have to be deposited into a Yucca-like facility. Meanwhile, the industry’s collective pile of waste is growing by about 2,200 tons a year; experts say some of the pools in the United States contain four times the amount of spent fuel that they were designed to handle. link  

October 2013: America's radioactive waste growing. About 13% of America’s 70,000 metric tons of the radioactive waste is stashed in pools of water or in special casks at the atomic plants in Illinois that produced it, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group. That’s the most held in any state. Across the country, atomic power plants have become de facto major radioactive waste-management operations. With no place to send their waste, power plants in 30 states which generate about 20% of the nation’s electricity are doubling as dumps for spent fuel that remains dangerous for thousands of years. The spent fuel needs repackaging every 100 years for half a million years in the future. link

                      Georgia's controversial new Vogtle plant.

February  2014: Georgia nuclear plant back in news.The Energy Department is poised to approve $6.5 billion in federal loan guarantees for the first nuclear power plant built from scratch in the USA in more than three decades. The $14 billion Vogtle nuclear plant is now under construction in eastern Georgia. An $8.3 billion loan guarantee was tentatively approved for the project in 2010 as part of President Obama’s pledge to expand nuclear power and other energy sources. More than two dozen nuclear reactors have been proposed in recent years, but experts now say it is likely that only five or six new reactors will be completed by the end of the decade. The once-expected nuclear power boom has been plagued by a series of problems, from the prolonged economic downturn to a sharp drop in natural gas prices and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. link

March 2012: The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted to allow construction of two nuclear reactors near Augusta, Georgia based on the AP1000 type nuclear reactors designed by Westinghouse. link    (According to the US Dept. of Energy, the last reactor built in the USDA was the ‘River Bend’ plant in Louisiana; its construction began in 1977.)

March 2013:More delays and higher costs:  $740 million added to cost and an extra 19 months longer to complete.  link  

May 2011:
 
Risk from spent nuclear reactor fuel is greater in U.S. than in Japan.
The threat of a catastrophic release of radioactive materials from a spent fuel pool at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant is dwarfed by the risk posed by such pools in the United States, which are typically filled with far more radioactive material, according to a study just released. The report recommends that the United States transfer most of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel from pools filled with cooling water to dry sealed steel casks to limit the risk of an accident resulting from an earthquake, terrorism or other event. link

November 2009: Nuclear costly and inefficient response to global warming. According to a new report, if the U.S. wants to help stop global warming, nuclear power is not the way to go. The Environmental California Research & Policy Center concluded  that launching a nuclear power industry nearly from the ground up is too slow and expensive a process. Energy efficiency standards and renewable energy options are better solutions, researchers said. Building a reactor would probably take around a decade – 2016 at the earliest, the study suggested. Without an existing infrastructure, manufacturing reactor parts with the dearth of trained personnel would be difficult. But even if the nuclear industry managed to build 100 reactors by 2030, the total power produced would reduce total U.S. emissions only 12% over the next 20 years. link

August 2010: US Nuclear giant moving to wind link

February 2010: As the US government increases loan guarantees for nuclear reactors from $18.5 billion to $54.5 billion, where is nuclear power really heading? Opponents of nuclear energy say that the power source is far from clean, and that spending the billions of dollars on renewable sources like wind and solar power would make a much bigger dent in carbon emissions without problematic issues of waste disposal and nuclear weapons proliferation. Nonetheless, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the president are making it clear that they intend to move forward. Thus, the question arises: After more than a decade without any new nuclear plants coming online in the U.S., what exactly would new nuclear power look like? 
The existing U.S. nuclear power industry provides about 20% of all electricity generated in the country. Nuclear has been largely quiet in recent years, though - the last nuclear reactor to come online was the Watts Bar plant in Tennessee, which began operation in 1996. More recently, attempts to build new nuclear reactors have been stymied by skyrocketing cost estimates.

Funding for new nuclear plants in the USA:  July 2008 A one-sentence provision buried in the Senate’s recently passed energy bill, inserted without debate at the urging of the nuclear power industry, could make builders of new nuclear plants eligible for tens of billions of dollars in government loan guarantees. Lobbyists have told lawmakers and administration officials in recent weeks that the nuclear industry needs as much as $50 billion in loan guarantees over the next two years to finance a major expansion. link  Update: Feb. 2009 - The Senate-House conference committee axed a proposal in the Obama stimulus bill to include $50 billion in federal loan guarantees that could have been utilized by the nuclear and coal industries as well as for renewable energy projects.  link 


Thorium power as an alternative


China could be taking one of the first substantial steps in a new type nuclear race. The fuel is abundant and distributed across the world, there is no real possibility of creating weapons-grade material as part of  the process and the waste remains toxic for hundreds rather than thousands of years. (Pictured at left  - thorium pellets.)  Also  the power stations are small and present no risk  of massive explosions. This could fairly soon be reality judging from a little-noticed development in China last month. China is aiming to build a prototype within five years that can produce electricity at for as little as 6.8p per kilowatt hour (much cheaper than the retail price of power in the UK today). Thorium, which is found in large quantities across much of the world, could be used to create nuclear energy in various ways. LTFR (liquid-fluoride thorium reactor) technology was developed by the US military in the 1950s and 1960s and was shown to have many benefits.  For example, reactors of this type can be smaller than conventional uranium reactors, partly thanks to their low-pressure operation. Despite its early promise, research into liquid-fluoride thorium reactors was abandoned, the most likely reason being that the technology offered no potential for producing nuclear weapons. Despite not making a ripple in the wider press, there's a chance this development could be very significant.

March 2014: China advances thorium plans. In an effort to reduce the number of coal-fired plants, the Chinese government has brought forward by 15 years the deadline to develop a nuclear power plant using the radioactive element thorium instead of uranium.  in an attempt to reduce its reliance on coal and to cut air pollution.  A team of researchers in Shanghai has now been told it has 10 instead of 25 years to develop the world's first such plant. link

December 2013: Thorium alternative revives nuclear prospects. Enthusiasm for exploiting thorium as an alternative to uranium is on the rise across the world. Uranium-poor India has a long-term research effort under way and has decided thorium will become the mainstay of its nuclear energy industry later this century. France has a research program. Companies in the United States, Australia, Norway and the Czech Republic are working on reactor designs or thorium fuel technology. A new generation of scientists and nuclear engineers argue that thorium could be the key to realizing a dream of safe, cheap and plentiful nuclear power for an energy hungry world. Energy from thorium is not just scientific theory. In April 2013, Thor Energy, a private Norwegian company, began producing power from thorium - named after the Norse god of thunder - at the Halden test reactor in Norway. link  

September 2012: UK report on Thorium prospects. A British report says Thorium has theoretical advantages regarding sustainability, reducing radiotoxicity and reducing proliferation risk, but some justification for these benefits are often overstated." The report notes that thorium's advantages would be most noticeable in reactor types other than the conventional solid fuel, water-cooled reactors used in almost all of the world's commercial nuclear electricity stations today. link

Meanwhile development is planned for Japan. iThEMS (International Thorium Energy and Molen-Salt Technology Inc.) a private Japanese company aims to produce a small (10 MW) reactor within five years, however they need $300 million to push ahead - link

November 2011: India plans 'safer' nuclear plant powered by thorium. Officials are currently selecting a site for the reactor, which would be the first of its kind, using thorium for the bulk of its fuel instead of uranium, the fuel for conventional reactors. They plan to have the plant up and running by the end of the decade. link  

"The Green Alternative" -  a link to Thorium Energy Inc
A fact sheet produced by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Physicians for Social Responsibility, however, claims that thorium fuel is not a panacea for nuclear power with problems both of cost and safety. link 

   ________________________________________________________

July 2012: Are fast-breeder reactors the answer to nuclear waste? Plutonium is the nuclear nightmare, so science is looking – again – to fast-breeder reactors. A typical 1,000MW reactor produces 27 tons of spent fuel a year. None of it yet has a home. If not used as a fuel, it will need to be kept isolated for thousands of years to protect humans and wildlife. Burial deep underground seems the obvious solution, but nobody has yet built a geological repository. Fast-breeder technology is almost as old as nuclear power. As only fast reactors can consume the plutonium, critics argue that, even if it works properly, mox fuel is an expensive way of generating not much energy, while leaving most of the plutonium intact, albeit in a less dangerous form. Theoretically at least, fast reactors can keep recycling their own fuel until all the plutonium is gone, generating electricity all the while. Britain’s huge plutonium stockpile makes it a vast energy resource. David MacKay, Britain’s chief scientist recently said British plutonium contains enough energy to run the country’s electricity grid for 500 years. link

Nuclear waste - a problem for 60 years

As of May 2013, the U.S. nuclear industry had 69,720 tons of uranium waste with 49,620 tons in pools and 20,100 in dry storage, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute industry group. Spent nuclear fuel is about 95% uranium. About 1% is other heavy elements such as curium, americium and plutonium-239. Each has an extremely long half-life, some take hundreds of thousands of years to lose all of their radioactive potency. link

February 2014: Partial nuclear waste solution. Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds in New Mexico left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste. The salt beds, which have the consistency of crumbly rock so far down in the earth, are what the federal government sees as a natural sealant for the radioactive material left over from making nuclear weapons. The process is deceptively simple: Plutonium waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory and a variety of defense projects is packed into holes bored into the walls of rooms carved from salt. At a rate of six inches a year, the salt closes in on the waste and encapsulates it for what engineers say will be millions of years. However the material buried is limited by law to plutonium waste from making weapons, which is exceptionally long-lived but not highly radioactive. The waste from spent nuclear fuel, which is far more radioactive in its first few centuries, is not permitted as yet. ink   (Concern at first leak reported February 2014 -  link)

June  2013: As US reactors close, waste mounts. As more nuclear reactors across America are closed, the problem of what to do with their waste is becoming more urgent. Nuclear waste is accumulating in steel and concrete storage casks at reactor sites around the country. But the casks, sealed boxes of many tons, cannot be sent to any repository because they are not compatible. Nuclear utilities have announced the retirement of an additional four reactors so far this year, which leaves three more sites without an operating reactor. Before that development, there were nine such sites, with about 2,800 tons of fuel in 248 casks. With Yucca excluded as a repository, selecting and opening a new site for permanent disposal would most likely take decades at least. link

Illegal dumping at sea 

In Italy, an informant from the Calabrian mafia said the mafia had muscled in on the lucrative business of radioactive waste disposal. He said that instead of getting rid of the material safely, he blew up the vessel out at sea, off the Calabrian coast. He also says he was responsible for sinking two other ships containing toxic waste. As many as 30 ships could be involved. BBC   Somalian coast: Ahmedou Ould-Abdalla, the UN envoy to Somalia said: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is lead, heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it." Seemingly European hospitals and factories pass it onto the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. After the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. link

September 2012: Nuclear waste dumped in Arctic Ocean claim. Enormous quantities of decommissioned of Russian nuclear reactor and radioactive waste were dumped into the Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia over the course of decades, according to documents given to Norwegian officials by Russian authorities and published in Norwegian media. link

July 2011: After years of inaction, the EU commits itself to a final disposal of nuclear waste. EU member states agreed that radioactive waste from Europe's 143 nuclear reactors must in future be buried in secure bunkers. The new rules force national nuclear authorities to draw up disposal plans by 2015, which will be vetted by Europe's Energy Commissioner. A statement by the EU Council of Ministers said that the plans would need to cover: the management of fuel and waste, licensing, control and inspections, enforcement, public information, consultation, financing and the establishment of independent regulatory authorities. The 14 member states using nuclear power currently store their radioactive waste in surface bunkers or warehouses for decades while it cools down.  link

November 2010: EU faces problem of waste storage. With a ban on exporting nuclear waste, fourteen of the 27 EU countries will confront how to store waste produced from 143 reactors. Currently there are no long-term storage sites. link  (Pictured: Nuclear waste storage at Germany's Gorleben site.)

March 2010: Utah: Nuclear waste burial scrutinized. More than 10,000 drums of nuclear waste that have been buried in Utah are likely to include some material that is so radioactive state law forbids its burial, a report released Wednesday by the group Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah says.  link

Yucca Mountain

August 2103: Yucca depository decision revived. Appeals court says it’s time to approve or deny Yucca Mountain once and for all. A U.S. appeals court says Nuclear Regulatory Commission is legally obligated to finish the application process for the Yucca Mountain site, and to deny or approve the license. The suit to force the NRC to finish the process was brought by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and other parties including Washington state and South Carolina.  link

May 2014: Tiny nuclear waste fee added up to billions. The tiny one quarter of a penny per kWh on consumers' bills added up to $43 over the decades. About $12 billion was spent on developing Yucca Mountain, There is virtually no plan moving forward in Washington to build a dump or even a temporary central storage site. The $31-billion trust fund will continue to accrue interest and is available to help build a dump at some point, though it is probably not enough. Experts had estimated that the Yucca Mountain project would cost at least $100 billion. link

January 2010: Yucca Mountain's future on hold. Expert panel to examine nuclear waste options. The U.S. Department of Energy announced the formation of a blue ribbon commission to evaluate policy options for a safe, long-term solution to America' growing piles of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs. The commission's interim report is due in July 2011. The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, ANA, is critical that membership of commission is not balanced as there is no member of the panel who represents communities near nuclear weapons sites.  link  

Government estimates put the Yucca Mountain project's total costs at $96.2 billion. About $13.5 billion already has been spentYucca Mountain has a limit, in any case, of 70,000 tons. Since 1999, radioactive items from military facilities lie far below the desert floor in a 250 million-year-old salt bed in New Mexico. By law this site can only handle defense-generated waste. 

May 2011. A Government Accountability Office report says decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository program was made for policy reasons, not technical or safety reasons. link


Nuclear waste storage: bad news from Sweden
. A Swedish method of storage using copper-coated containers is being studied. The containers would be buried
500 metres underground for 100,000 years. (Plutonium, unfortunately, is still dangerous after 250,000 years). The project hopes to store high-level nuclear waste. The thickness of the copper surrounding the waste is planned to be five centimetres thick  One scientist says that in the worst case, the containers may only last 1,000 years. According to the paper, the copper would need to be one metre thick to stay safe for 100,000 years. That’s a lot of copper - the storage containers each weigh 25 tonnes. link   However, examination of copper artifacts from a 15th- century galleon raised from Stockholm harbour, has shown a level of decay that challenges the scientific wisdom that copper corrodes only when exposed to oxygen. link

Sweden leads the way in burying its depleted nuclear waste  -  more

January 2010: Germany's endless search for a nuclear waste dump.  As with Yucca Mountain in the USA, Germany has been looking for a permanent storage site for its nuclear waste for over 30 years. If Germany's nuclear phase-out continues as planned, at least 17,200 tons of spent fuel rods will have to be disposed of, not to mention the irradiated tubes, filters and parts of the reactor vessels of decommissioned nuclear power plants. Instead of geology and nuclear physics, partisan politics and power struggles shaped the search for permanent repositories from the start, which is why a feasible solution hasn't been found to this day. To protect future generations, a site must be found where radioactive waste can be allowed to slowly decay over hundreds of thousands of years, far away from any living creatures. This permanent repository will still have to be impervious to water in the year 8010.  link

West Valley [New York State] is a complex radioactive waste site with long-lasting nuclear waste mainly from atomic weapons and power production and some other generators. The site has high-level, so-called “low-level” transuranic and mixed (radioactive and hazardous) wastes buried, stored and leaking. Burial of radioactive waste in 20-30 foot deep trenches began in the early 1960s and continued until 1974 when water filled up the trenches, burst through the trench caps and flowed into surrounding streams that run into Cattaraugus Creek, through Zoar Valley and the Reservation of the Seneca Nation of Indians, into Lake Erie, upstream of the intake water intake for Buffalo and other major cities in the US and Canada. Hearings on cleaning up this site took place in Spring 2009 and public comment has been extended to September 8 2009link

Information on history and regulation in the U.S.A.  here

The French connection

Former vice-president Cheney, in a May 8 2008 interview with CNN: "Right now we've got waste piling up at reactors all over the country. Eventually, there ought to be a permanent repository. The French do this very successfully and very safely in an environmentally sound, sane manner. We need to be able to do the same thing." 

"The facts regarding the French repository program contradict Vice-President Cheney," said Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of IEER  (Institute for Energy & Environmental Research), who has written widely on nuclear waste issues. "France has no repository, and their siting program faces huge domestic opposition. The controversy that surrounds waste management is a thorn in the side of the French nuclear industry." link  
Thousands of canisters of highly radioactive waste from the world’s most nuclear-energized nation lie, silent and deadly, in Normandy. Above ground, cows graze and Atlantic waves crash into heather-covered hills.
The spent fuel, vitrified into blocks of black glass that will remain dangerous for thousands of years, is in “interim storage.” Like nearly all the world’s nuclear waste, it is still waiting for the long-term disposal solution that has eluded scientists and governments in the six decades since the atomic era began. Few people have been talking about the “back end,” which is industry-speak for the hundreds of thousands of tons of waste that nuclear plants produce each year, and the lucrative, secretive business of storing it away. Recycling, however, produces plutonium that could be used in nuclear weapons, so the United States bans it, fearing proliferation. And not all waste can be reprocessed. The deadliest bits, such as fuel rod casings and other reactor parts as well as concentrated fuel residue containing plutonium and highly enriched uranium, must be sealed and stored away."  link    

France's nuclear failures: The great illusion of nuclear energy - pdf

Also the French are in violation of EU pollution regulations - largely because the waste contains the dangerous isotope technetium, which so far no one has found a way to remove. In addition to pollution problems, the reprocessing of nuclear waste isolates plutonium. Currently, France has 80 tons of it socked away, enough to make 10,000 nuclear bombs. "They store it in what looks like 11,000 sugar cans," says Arjun Makhijani. President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. "It's a huge security issue."

October 2009: France launches inquiry into claims spent fuel from French energy giant's nuclear reactors dumped in metal containers in Siberia. link 

Uranium mining hazards

The United States imports the bulk of its nuclear fuel, but there are large deposits of uranium, mostly in the western part of the country, that could be mined. link  About 62% of the world's production of uranium from mines comes from Canada, Australia and Kazakhstan. link
   
Traditionally, uranium has been extracted from open-pits and underground mines. In the past decade, alternative techniques such in-situ leach mining, in which solutions are injected into underground deposits to dissolve uranium, have become more widely used. Most mines in the U.S. have shut down and imports account for about three-fourths of the roughly 16 metric tons of refined uranium used domestically each year, Canada being the largest single supplier. The milling (refining) process extracts uranium oxide (U3O8) from ore to form yellowcake, a yellow or brown powder that contains about 90% uranium oxide. Conventional mining techniques generate a substantial quantity of mill tailings waste during the milling phase, because the usable portion is generally less than one percent of the ore. The total volume of mill tailings generated in the U.S. is over 95% of the volume of all radioactive waste from all stages of the nuclear weapons and power production. While the hazard per gram of mill tailings is low relative to most other radioactive wastes, the large volume and lack of regulations until 1980 have resulted in widespread environmental contamination. Moreover, the half-lives of the principal radioactive components of mill tailings, thorium-230 and radium-226 are long, being about 75,000 years and 1,600 years respectively. The most serious health hazard associated with uranium mining is lung cancer due to inhaling uranium decay products. Uranium mill tailings contain radioactive materials, notably radium-226, and heavy metals (e.g., manganese and molybdenum) which can leach into groundwater. Near tailings piles, water samples have shown levels of some contaminants at hundreds of times the government's acceptable level for drinking water. Mining and milling operations in the U.S. have disproportionately affected indigenous populations around the globe. For example, nearly one third of all mill tailings from abandoned mill operations are on lands of the Navajo nation alone. Many Native Americans have died of lung cancers linked to their work in uranium mines. Others continue to suffer the effects of land and water contamination due to seepage and spills from tailings piles. link  (Pictured, the Ranger Uranium mine in Australia's Northern Territory, which reported in March 2009 about 100,000 litres of contaminated water seeped  from a tailings dam at the mine every day - link)  

July 2013: Decreasing supplies of uranium contradict expansion plans. The US, China, and India all plan to dramatically ramp up nuclear power production in coming decades, but their energy strategies completely overlook potential uranium supply challenges. A new  study, based on an analysis of global deposit depletion profiles from past and present uranium mining, forecasts a global uranium mining peak of approximately 58 kilotonnes (kton) by 2015, declining gradually to 54 ktons by 2025, after which production would drop more steeply to at most 41 ktons around 2030, with warnings of an imminent supply gap that will result in spiralling fuel costs in the next decades. Uranium producers must extract lower grade uranium which generates less energy than higher grades. On average, the study finds only 50-70% of initial uranium resource estimates can be extracted. link

Activists warn US lawmakers of uranium mining perils. (Feb. 2009) Seventy percent of uranium-rich areas are situated on land inhabited by low-income indigenous communities in places such as Niger and aboriginal lands in Australia. link

Elsewhere in the world

December 2013: Sellafield nuclear clean-up bill rises over 70 billion. The bill for cleaning up the huge Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria will rise even higher than its current estimated level of 70 billion. Sellafield is regarded as the most dangerous and polluted industrial site in western Europe, not least because it houses 120 tonnes of plutonium, the largest civilian stockpile in the world. link

July 2011:Germany’s phase-out of nuclear power will speed up the low-carbon economy. Germany is already able to supply its power needs on its own without nuclear. The country has been mostly a net exporter of power over the last decade. Depending on time of day and year, households and industry consume power from 40,000 to 80,000 Megawatts. Even if all 17 nuclear power stations were shut down at once, coal, gas, and renewables still provide a capacity of 81,000 Megawatts. Also the nuclear phase-out does not jeopardize Germany’s ambitious climate action efforts: reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 and by at least 80% by 2050. By rules of the EU carbon market, emissions from the energy sector are capped. Even if coal were to replace nuclear capacity, emissions will have to be reduced within the entire sector, either by shifting to natural gas or by replacing old coal plants with more efficient ones. link

Elsewhere in the worldAs of February 2011,there are now over 440 commercial nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries, with 377,000 MWe of total capacity. They provide about 14% of the world's electricity as continuous, reliable base-load power, and their efficiency is increasing.  56 countries operate a total of about 250 research reactors and a further 180 nuclear reactors power some 140 ships and submarines. Sixteen countries depend on nuclear power for at least a quarter of their electricity.  France gets around three quarters of its power from nuclear energy, while Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovenia and Ukraine get one third or more. Japan, Germany and Finland get more than a quarter of their power from nuclear energy, while in the USA one fifth is from nuclear. Among countries which do not host nuclear power plants, Italy gets about 10% of its power from nuclear, and Denmark about 8% .link.  
The average construction time for nuclear plants has increased from 66 months for completions in the mid 1970s, to 116 months (nearly 10 years) for completions between 1995 and 2000

             Nuclear Information and Resource Service - link
             Recommended link for information on nuclear history etc: Mother Jones



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