Nuclear Power news

Second container possibly leaked at New Mexico nuclear dump

(Reuters) - A second container of plutonium-contaminated debris may have contributed to a radiation leak that has led to the indefinite suspension of operations at an underground nuclear waste dump in New Mexico, a U.S. Energy Department official said on Thursday.

Read more [Reuters]

Developing world revives nuclear power prospects, but yet to commit

LONDON (Reuters) - Developing nations are leading a revival of interest in nuclear power, say atomic plant builders, but orders remain elusive as more safety features post-Fukushima have inflated investment costs.

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Finnish government nods to Russia-backed nuclear plant, Greens quit

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The Finnish government has given conditional backing to an updated application from Finnish-Russian group Fennovoima to build a nuclear reactor in the north of the country, prompting the Greens to quit and weaken the ruling coalition.

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Spain's Almaraz I nuclear power station stopped after pressure drop: regulator

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's 1,000-MW Almaraz I nuclear power station was automatically shut down late on Wednesday after the protection system was triggered by a pressure drop in the reactor, the Nuclear Security Council reported.

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Not sure what to bring to the NY Climate Summit? Just ask Denmark.

Climate change is back on the global political agenda. On September 23rd, world leaders from government, finance, business and civil society will convene for the New York Climate Summit hosted by United Nations' Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. They are there to 'catalyse global action on climate change'.

Catalysing is certainly needed. With governments' and businesses' current level of inaction, we are heading for a climate catastrophe.

As the world's leaders prepare for another round of eloquent speeches, our question to them is simple: Exactly how and when is your country going to phase out fossil fuels? Please, may we see your plan?

The reality is that very few countries have such a plan. Which is incredible, given the current state of climate affairs. Denmark is one rare exception. The country has a plan, which outlines a transition to 100% renewable energy within a relatively short period of time. Ambitious? Yes. Unrealistic? Not at all. Here is how:

Hello clean energy

Denmark's Climate Plan provides a recipe for the fast-paced transformation of the country's entire energy system. Goodbye fossil fuels, hello 100% clean, renewable energy.

In just five years from now, half of Denmark's electricity will be produced from wind and by 2030 coal will be phased out entirely. By 2035 all of Denmark's energy demands in terms of electricity and heating will be met by renewable energy – and by 2050, at the latest, all of Denmark's energy will be clean, green and renewable.

Denmark will also reduce its domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 relative to 1990 levels. Without the use of carbon credits. That's ten years ahead of the proposed EU target.

Powered by the people

A dedicated commitment to renewable energy is the key ingredient in what has become known as 'The Danish Model'. And, for the Danes, the model is no sacrifice. The transition to clean energy is boosting employment, increasing exports, reducing fuel import expenses and reducing dependence on volatile fossil fuel prices.

Denmark's ambitious targets are, in part, the result of a decade-long, hugely successful people-led movement against nuclear power and in favour of renewable energy. The Climate Plan enjoys broad public support, and, in some respects, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is viewed as a matter of civic duty and national pride.

The Danes are not just passive consumers of energy, but active producers and owners too. Ordinary citizens own three quarters of Denmark's wind turbines.

No climate sceptics here

In Denmark, climate change is overwhelmingly perceived as a fact, so transitioning to renewable energy makes sense both morally and economically. As a result, the political debate between the Danish 'Left' and 'Right' has not been about if the country should transition to 100% renewable energy, but how fast. There were some minor skirmish about whether to include carbon capture and storage (CCS) or even nuclear. The latter suggestion, supported by only one political party, appears almost extremist in a country where nuclear power has been banned since 1985. 

Greening and growing

Importantly, Denmark's emissions reductions have not affected the economy negatively. Since 1980, the Danish energy consumption has remained relatively stable. Yet, over the same period, the Danish economy has grown by 78%. One reason for this is that Danish companies are subsidised for using renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency, which in turn increases their creativity and prompts energy savings.

Job creation is an explicit objective of the Danish Climate Plan, and because Denmark has invested heavily in the research and promotion of renewable energy, energy-efficient technologies and renewable heat supply systems. Every year, the sector is responsible for creating around 6,000-8,000 new jobs in a country of 5.5 million people.

And they are really happy too

Acting on climate change is often perceived as too hard and too costly, but the Danish example proves the opposite. It hasn't collapsed the economy, killed jobs or made people miserable. In fact, Denmark boasts the world's most liveable city (Copenhagen) and the world's happiest people (according to some surveys). Why on Earth would anyone not want to copy that? 

Kat Skeie is a Communications officer and Tarjei Haaland is a Climate campaigner at Greenpeace Nordic.

Denmark's long-term climate and energy targets include:

- 100% renewable energy by 2050

- 100% renewable energy in electricity and heating by 2035

- A complete phase-out of coal by 2030

- 40% reduction of domestic greenhouse gas emissions, relative to 1990 levels, by 2020

- 50% of electricity demands met by wind by 2020 (During December 2013, wind power provided no less than 55% of Denmark’s electricity, a record high)

Read more [Greenpeace international]

Happy nuclear free birthday to the people of Japan

Every birthday is special – but today Japan is celebrating something unique. Japan has been nuclear-free for one year.

Nuclear-free – a phrase that in its simplicity carries a devastating message for the worldwide nuclear industry, and an inspiring lesson for people across the globe. The future can indeed be free of the threat of another Fukushima disaster.

One year ago today, the last commercial nuclear reactor operating in Japan was shutdown. It joined the other 47 nuclear reactors that had been idled for most of the period since the devastating Fukushima catastrophe in March 2011.

Japan is the world's third largest economy, with 130 million people, and with the largest number of nuclear power plants after the United States and France.

Except none have operated for 12 months. And, not only were there were no electricity blackouts, but Japan came in second worldwide for installing solar PV in 2013 (only China installed more). This was a massive and rapid expansion.

In fact, the total collective time when Japan's 48 reactors have not been operating amounts to 152 years – over a century and a half when they generated zero electricity. (One reason why nuclear reactors are not built by the market but subsidized by the state and/or foisted onto ratepayers.)

What sort of industry can believe it still has a future when all of its nuclear assets stop generating, on average, for three and half years?

An industry that for decades has sucked billions from taxpayers and has defied logical justification, whether it be judged on economic, environmental, security or human health grounds.

And in Japan, the nuclear industry has collapsed. While the global nuclear industry was in decline before the Fukushima disaster, the impact of the catastrophe has accelerated the already rapid decline of the industry, and opened space for the major growth of renewables.

The majority of Japanese citizens, when polled, consistently oppose plans to restart the country's nuclear reactors. After all, Japan has functioned perfectly well for an entire year without nuclear electricity. Why risk another disaster with an outdated technology that is not needed?

In addition, the people's dedication to energy efficiency – the cheapest and quickest way to reduce costs and carbon emissions – has led to a reduction in electricity demand equal to 13 nuclear reactors. At the same time, citizens are installing thousands of micro solar PV every month.

Yes, there is a long way to go. A nation that for half a century based its energy policy on fossil fuels and nuclear power cannot turn overnight into a carbon-neutral, renewables paradise.

But Japan can move in that direction. Renewables are the current trend, and the future. In fact, it's a very near future, with the potential for renewable energy to supply more than 40% of Japan's electricity by 2020.

Efforts by the Abe government to fast track nuclear reactors back into operation have so far failed. Major obstacles remain for the two at the top of the restart list, the Sendai reactors in Kagoshima. Seismic and volcano risks remain ignored by the reactor owner and regulator – not a smart strategy for an industry that lost all public trust as a result of the human-made Fukushima catastrophe.

The tragedy of the 2011 Fukushima disaster continues to affect hundreds of thousands of people. If ever an entire nation deserved a happy birthday, today's one-year, nuclear-free anniversary Japan is it.

After all, out of the darkness of a nuclear catastrophe, Japan is marking the birth, one year ago, of the future: a future that is safe, clean, and renewable. A very, very, Happy Birthday to you, nuclear-free Japan.

Kendra Ulrich is an energy campaigner with Greenpeace International.

Read more [Greenpeace international]

Belgium’s nuclear reactors are phasing themselves out

On Wednesday 10 September 2014, Greenpeace activists in Brussels visited the politicians currently negotiating a new federal governmental agreement about the country's nuclear power supply. We were there to make it clear that nuclear power is not only dangerous but also unreliable.

Belgium's over-dependence on nuclear power has resulted in a potentially severe energy supply problem. Politicians are now panicking and confusing the cause of the problem with the solution.

Monty Python in the great kingdom of Belgium

This is the impression we get from the government negotiations currently taking place in Belgium. A cartoon summarized it this way:

"So finally we will extend the lifetime of the oldest reactors!"

"Oh, but why not extend the lifetime of the younger reactors?"

"Because they are obsolete!"

Indeed, the party leaders negotiating the new agreement said they intend to extend the lifetime of two 40-year-old reactors, Doel 1 and 2. Only a few months ago, the previous government had confirmed that all nuclear reactors reaching the age of 40 would be phased out, with the exception of the Tihange 1 reactor, which can remain open for 50 years.

The politicians are changing the phase-out policy because of the forced shut down of three other reactors. Two, Doel 3 and Tihange 2, were off line nearly a year between 2012 and 2013, due to the discovery of thousands of cracks in the reactors' steel containment vessels. They were shut down again in March 2014, and so far it appears they may never restart again.

To add to the woes of politicians and the nuclear industry, sabotage on 5 Aug. by an unidentified member of staff severely damaged the steam turbine of the Doel 4 reactor, causing its automatic shut down. Nobody knows when it will be able to restart, but it will certainly not be before the end of the year.

Three reactors down, four to go...

This brings us to the Doel 1 and 2 reactors, which, according to the Belgian nuclear phase-out law, must be decommissioned at the age of 40 in 2015. However, because no one expected that 3000 MW of electricity from Doel 3, Doel 4 and Tihange 2 would be unavailable, the grid operator has said it cannot guarantee the security of electricity supply at all times during the next two winters.

This has inspired the politicians to reconsider the nuclear phase-out law and to grant lifetime extensions to Doel 1 and 2.

In order to convince the party leaders and future ministers of the new government not to make this mistake, Greenpeace activists blocked the entrance of the building where the negotiations were taking place.

Before they were able to enter the building, and in front of massive media attention, the politicians listened to us. Our talks were short but to the point and most of the politicians were open to our arguments:

  • The reason for the potential electricity supply problem is Belgium's excessive dependency (55%) on unreliable nuclear power.
  • A political decision to extend the lifetime of two old reactors will not mitigate this acute supply problem. It will take at least a year to implement the necessary safety upgrades, and to order and fabricate new fuel for them.
  • Extending the legally fixed phase-out calendar will undermine investment in real climate solutions such as energy efficiency and renewables.

The negotiators later emphasized to the press that they had not yet taken a final decision on the lifetime extension. Watch this space.

Eloi Glorieux is Senior Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Belgium.

Read more [Greenpeace international]

United Kingdom: Friends of the Earth's shift on nuclear should be celebrated, not denied

Guardian: Nuclear power in the UK has turned out much safer than environmentalists worried it would be. Friends of the Earth, which feared the threat of a catastrophic Chernobyl-style meltdown in the UK, is now less concerned. Fear of nuclear armageddon was a driving force for the green movement in the UK – Greenpeace has its name for a reason. But Friends of the Earth have revealed that their old ideological opposition to nuclear has crumbled, to be replaced by a new pragmatic opposition based on cost...

Late Fukushima manager flagged risks of Japan's big nuclear plants

TOKYO (Reuters) - The late manager of Japan's destroyed Fukushima plant questioned the safety of large nuclear facilities, documents showed on Thursday, potentially affecting the debate over the restart of the world's biggest nuclear power station.

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Discovered Microbes Could Help Dispose of Nuclear Waste

Nature World: Researchers have recently stumbled upon tiny single-celled organisms living underground that could aid in the disposal of radioactive waste, potentially making "green" power plants that are more viable and less harmful to the environment. While nuclear power plants themselves have always been valued for their extreme efficiency and relatively "green" nature - with little need for fossil fuels or the release of greenhouse gases - the disposal of their dangerous waste has always been a daunting...

United Kingdom: Friends of the Earth denies dropping nuclear power opposition

Guardian: Friends of the Earth has denied dropping its opposition to nuclear power after the BBC reported that the green group had made a “huge and controversial shift” in its stance. A news bulletin on Radio 4’s Today programme said that the group had revealed it was no longer opposed to nuclear power in principle, describing as a “significant shift” for the organisation, which has campaigned against nuclear power since it was founded in 1969. Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s environment analyst, reported:...

Nuclear option to climate change

Albany Times Union: When she headed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton, Carol Browner was at best uneasy about nuclear power, like nearly all environmentalists. But years later, as she became more and more convinced that time was running short to combat man-climate change, she broke ranks and changed her mind. In an interview Tuesday during a gathering of power industry executives at the Gideon Putnam Hotel, Browner said the time has come to "double down" on nuclear power as...

Japanese regulator caves to the nuclear industry and government pressure – but still no restart for Sendai

As with all things nuclear, things are not always what they seem.

Good example - today's decision on the so called restarting of the Sendai reactors by the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA), the best nuclear regulator in the world, according to the Abe government.

The five NRA commissioners decided that a proposal submitted by Kyushu Electric, owner of the Sendai reactors, complies with new guidelines brought in after the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear catastrophe.

What the commissioners actually did was capitulate to pressure from Japan's infamous nuclear village – the same industry and government alliance that created the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The decision really means that Kyushu Electric has moved restarting the Sendai reactors forward a bit, but it's still not a restart approval. It doesn't mean the NRA has certified the reactors as safe to operate or that they will restart anytime soon.

Why the confusion?

In part, it's a savvy political strategy and a deliberate effort by the regulator, acting for the nuclear utilities and the Abe government, to signal that nuclear power is back in Japan.

The timing is no accident. In a few days, Japan celebrates an entire year without a single commercial nuclear reactor operating. It's a powerful symbolic moment and a concrete demonstration that nuclear power, and its inherent risks, is unnecessary for the third largest global economy, with a population of 130 million people.

This is a major body blow to the nuclear industry both in Japan and globally. It's a lesson the nuclear industry and its government backers would rather the public did not learn.

When the Ohi 4 reactor in Fukui prefecture was shut down on September 15th 2013, Japan became completely nuclear-free. A year later Japan is still nuclear-free. Many of the remaining 48 nuclear power reactors in Japan will stay shutdown permanently. Most of those that may restart will not do so for years to come.

The Abe government is desperate to prevent people from grasping that the world's third largest nuclear reactor program has failed to generate any electricity for 12 months. In that year, there have been no blackouts or brownouts, the trains still run, the lights still turn on, and smart phones are still charged.

Most people in Japan understand that the declared government policy, that nuclear power is an essential and a stable source of energy, is a myth. They will not be fooled.

The majority of the public are demanding no nuclear reactor restarts, an end to nuclear power, and a future energy system based on efficiency and renewables.

In fact, they are already creating this clean energy future with massive growth in solar PV, and significant reductions in energy demand since the Fukushima disaster.

Nuclear regulation worldwide exists to give the impression that nuclear power can be managed safely and without risk of severe accident. That is not the same as actually assuring safety and no severe risk of accidents.

The Japanese NRA, created from the discredited agencies that contributed to the Fukushima catastrophe, in the past months has revealed that it takes the side of industry instead of standing up for public safety.

The decision today highlights this wider truth. The NRA is still reviewing many remaining unresolved safety issues that scientists and citizens groups are also challenging.

So flawed is the safety case for Sendai that local citizens are seeking an injunction against Kyushu Electric and the government to stop them from operating the plant.

No restart reflects public opinion

The latest polling shows 59% of Japanese people oppose restarting nuclear reactors, including Sendai. The NRA decision ignores the majority opinion.

The people of Japan, still suffering the ongoing tragedy of Fukushima, understand that the NRA is not protecting the public but only the interests of an industry in crisis.

The plan of the Abe administration and electric utilities to return Japan to nuclear power is in disarray, with no early restart for the Sendai reactors, and ever-increasing challenges for the other 46 reactors.

Sendai may make headlines in Japan and elsewhere today as a step toward restarts, but it does not change that for an entire year, as of September 15th, Japan will have been nuclear-free.

This is in large part due to the commitment of the people of Japan who have taken to the streets to protest nuclear restarts, have fought and won in courts, have massively reduced energy demand, and rapidly expanded clean, renewable solar PV.

This is impressive leadership from the people has advanced Japan's future despite the determination of the Abe Government and dirty energy industries to drag Japan backward into the energy dark ages.

The people have proven their commitment to a clean energy future, and they've shown the world that it is possible. It is happening now.

Kendra Ulrich is an energy campaigner with Greenpeace International.

Read more [Greenpeace international]

Fukushima fallout continues: now cleanup workers claim unpaid wages

Guardian: The legal net has started to tighten around the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as victims of the accident, and those responsible for clearing it up, take their grievances to the courts. Last week, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said it would not contend a court ruling ordering it to pay almost $500,000 in compensation to the family of a woman who killed herself two months after being forced to flee her home near the plant. That claim, which could pave the way for similar...

While govts back fossils fuels and nuclear, popular renewables boom

Ecologist: Consumers around the world want their electricity to come from renewable sources, writes Paul Brown. Yet governments from the UK to Australia are defying the popular will as they push for fossil fuels and nuclear power. The good news? Renewable energy is surging ahead regardless. All sectors agreed that there should be support for alternative energies. Subsidies for more fuel efficient and solar had wide public support. This cut across voters of all parties and no party. Public support for...

BP ruling raises liability stakes for high-risk industries

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. court ruling that dramatically ramped up BP Plc's potential penalties for the 2010 Gulf oil spill could create new liability risks not just for deep water drillers but also for other industries like mining and nuclear power generation.

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Could be years before New Mexico nuclear waste dump fully reopens, official says

(Reuters) - It may be years before an underground nuclear waste dump in New Mexico shuttered by a radiation leak is fully operational, and costs for decontamination and other activities to restore the facility are not yet clear, U.S. Energy Department officials said.

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Japan may push for closure of ageing reactors: Nikkei

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan will push nuclear operators to draft plans to deal witholder reactors, including the option of scrapping those that are too old or too costly to refurbish to new standards imposed after the Fukushima disaster, the Nikkei reported on Friday.

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Japan to push for closure of ageing reactors: Nikkei

Reuters: Japan will push nuclear operators to draft plans to scrap a quarter of the country's 48 reactors, which are either too old or too costly to upgrade to meet new standards imposed after the Fukushima disaster, the Nikkei reported on Friday. The government is betting that by forcing older units considered more vulnerable to disaster to shut down it may gain public support to restart newer units, the Nikkei reported. All reactors in Japan have been shut down after the 2011 nuclear crisis at Fukushima...

Fukushima workers sue Tepco over unpaid wages, reliance on contractors

IWAKI Japan (Reuters) - A group of Fukushima workers on Wednesday sued Tokyo Electric for unpaid wages in a potentially precedent-setting legal challenge to the utility and its reliance on contractors to shut down a nuclear plant destroyed by the industry's worst accident since Chernobyl.

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Fukushima workers sue Tepco over unpaid wages, reliance on contractors

Reuters: A group of Fukushima workers on Wednesday sued Tokyo Electric for unpaid wages in a potentially precedent-setting legal challenge to the utility and its reliance on contractors to shut down a nuclear plant destroyed by the industry's worst accident since Chernobyl. The lawsuit, filed by two current and two former Fukushima workers, claims that Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc and its contractors failed to ensure workers are paid promised hazard allowances, a court filing showed. The workers say...

CERN’s collider just got more powerful

If CERN was able to uncover the elusive Higgs boson in 2012 with only half the energy its Large Hadron Collider is capable of, why does it need so much more energy for its next set of experiments?  The 27km Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, will be operating at much higher beam energy when it restarts in April 2015.  Why is more energy important? “It all comes down to E = mc2,” says physicist Josh Thompson, citing Albert Einstein’s famous equation.  So far, the LHC has run at 8 TeV (tera electron Volts). That’s the “E” (Energy). During this next run, the “E” will be 13 TeV.  “When we get more ‘E’ we can hopefully get more ‘m’ [mass] stuff coming out,” says Thompson, a Cornell University post-doctoral research associate currently based at CERN. And not just more mass, but probably heavier mass, heavier particles that could finally prove the existence of “dark matter”. Be cool  Astrophysicists tell us that the matter we ... Show more
Read more [ sci & tech]

Fukushima accepts 'temporary' radioactive waste storage

Agence France-Presse: The governor of disaster-struck Fukushima agreed Monday to accept the "temporary" storage of nuclear waste from the Japanese accident, paving the way for an end to a years-long standoff. Yuhei Sato has been cajoled and lavished with the promises of subsidies if he accepts a central government plan to build a depot on land near the battered Fukushima Daiichi plant. "I have made an agonising decision to accept plans to construct temporary storage facilities in order to achieve recovery in the...

A doomed Earth of science fiction may well become a reality

Guardian: There’s a scene in the newly-restored science fiction classic The Day the Earth Caught Fire (premiered last week in the summer open air cinema at the British Museum) when The Daily Express’s fictional, bull-nosed science reporter, Bill Maguire, barks at a newsroom junior to fetch him information on the melting points of various substances. It’s to illustrate a spread in the paper which is investigating how massive nuclear tests have shifted the planet on its axis, causing chaotic weather and a heat...

Fukushima fallout: Resentment grows in nearby Japanese city

IWAKI Japan (Reuters) - Like many of her neighbours, Satomi Inokoshi worries that her gritty hometown is being spoiled by the newcomers and the money that have rolled into Iwaki since the Fukushima nuclear disaster almost three and a half years ago.

Read more [Reuters]

Nuclear waste is allowed above ground indefinitely

New York Times: As the country struggles to find a place to bury spent nuclear fuel, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided that nuclear waste from power plants can be stored above ground in containers that can be maintained and guarded indefinitely. The decision, in a unanimous vote of the commission on Tuesday, means that new nuclear plants can be built and old ones can expand their operations despite the lack of a long-term plan for disposing of the waste. The chairwoman of the commission, who voted...

TED Talks: Can we prevent end of the world? – Martin Rees

Blue and Green: In this week’s featured TED talk Lord Martin Rees, astronomer royal and former master of Trinity College, Cambridge, describes the existential threats that could spell the end of humanity. This century, he observes, is the first where the fate of the entire world lies in the hands of just one species – ours. While we all worry about minor dangers, our species is in denial about the possibility of truly cataclysmic scenarios. “It’s not just the nuclear threat,” he explains. “In our interconnected...

Floating nuclear power stations - history's warnings

After an unsuccessful try at selling floating nuclear power stations all over the world, including to Indonesia and Cape Verde, Rosatom, the main nuclear operator in Russia, is now trying to tie up a deal with China.

Russia is currently finishing the construction of the Akademik Lomonosov, whose two adapted KLT-40 reactors run on 14,1% enriched uranium (just low enough to "make it unattractive for production of mass destruction weapons"). The reactors are to deliver 70 MW of electricity to the Siberian town of Vilyuchinsk. The reactor can be categorised as second generation. Not really the latest technology.

There has been one "floater" before in history: the US MH-1A mounted on an old Liberty barge called "Sturgis", which provided the Panama canal zone with 10 MW electricity from 1968 to 1976. This was a one-loop pressurized water reactor that, after it was taken out of operation, received so much damage during a storm on its voyage back to the US that it needed structural repairs before it could go to its temporary mooring place in the James River outside Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Storms are, of course, a bit of a different risk for ships than for land-based nuclear power stations - who had thought of that? The fuel of the "Sturgis"was unloaded and now awaits some kind of final disposal in Oak Ridge... if there ever is some kind of final disposal, of course.

The ship itself will have to be dismantled in the coming four years in Galveston, Texas. That will be almost 40 years after it was taken out of operation!

One keeps wondering: why do engineers constantly come up with these kinds of ideas when there are suitable and clean alternatives? The floater looks like just another form of nuclear addiction.

Jan Haverkamp is nuclear expert consultant at Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe

Read more [Greenpeace international]

Activists hail San Onofre nuclear power plant reactor shutdown

Guardian: America's nuclear reactor fleet moved deeper into middle-aged crisis on Friday when operators decide to shut down two reactors at the troubled San Onofre power plant in California. They were the third and fourth reactors to be permanently retired this year, underlining the harsh economics facing America's ageing fleet of nuclear reactors, forced to pay for expensive upkeep at a time of increased competition from cheap natural gas and renewable energy. The two reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear...

U.S. inspector wanted reactor shut on quake fears: report

(Reuters) - A federal nuclear inspector urged U.S. regulators to shut down a California nuclear power plant until tests showed its reactors could withstand shocks from nearby earthquake faults, according to the Associated Press and an environmental group.

Read more [Reuters]

Czech nuclear envoy has interesting insights into the problems with nuclear power

On 10 April of this year, the mammoth Czech utility CEZ cancelled its tender for two new reactors at the Temelín nuclear power station after the government had declared it would not subsidise the effort.

That also meant the end to the mandate of the Czech government's nuclear envoy Václav Bartuška. He had to oversee that the whole project - tendering and policy development - made sense. His final report makes for interesting reading. An English translation is here.

Bartuška concludes: “I do not want Temelín 3+4 in a country that does not have a ready network of motorways, high speed trains, the basic infrastructure of a modern state.”

His first conclusion is that decisions on nuclear power are only made by presidents and prime ministers, not by private firms or banks. Those latter are only prepared to participate if there are “clear conditions and guarantees promised by the sovereign power.”

He notes that with the Temelín tender the tiny Czech Republic rocketed itself from being a country not used to attention from superpowers to being very visible. In 2011, its Prime Minister suddenly was talking with the presidents of France, the USA and Russia. No wonder, Temelín 3+4 was the only open nuclear tender in the world. During his January 2010 to June 2014 mandate, Bartuška himself spoke with all the CEOs of Areva, Westinghouse and Rosatom, and visited all their generation 3 and 3+ construction sites, most of them several times.

The diplomat never made it a secret that he was pro-nuclear. That makes his conclusions the more revealing. He uncovers that where all three nuclear giants argue that their offer would be a standarised design, none of them in fact was. For example, Areva's EPR in Taishan, China is 450 MWt more powerful than the one at its project in Olkiluoto, Finland. “That is a lot in a field, where a fifteen meter reactor is measured with the accuracy of a tenth of a millimetre.” Areva confirmed to him that only 50% of the nuclear island is the same.

At Rosatom, he notes, that not only is there no idea about costs, but there is also a “healthy rivalry” among three branches of Rosatom (Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod) that delivers different designs with different safety concepts.

Bartuška talked about cost overruns during his first visit with the project manager of the Leningradskaya 2 plant: “We have a delay of around three years,” the project manager said.  “How much more expensive will the project be?” I asked. “Nothing. It will cost exactly the same,” he answered.  I do not have a more concise summary of the differences between our candidates.

We had in the tender a private firm (Westinghouse), a state company (Areva) and a ministry (Rosatom). Asking about some things – for instance the price of delay – sometimes just made no sense.” Ah, such a refreshing breeze! He then adds: “When I was last year for the third time at Leningradskaya II, the shift against the original time-table was four years.”

While describing Westinghouse, he explains how in the market economy, supplier chains tend to unravel and that in a globalised world it is very difficult to control where and how production of parts takes place: The time when producers indeed produced their reactors and key-components (for instance like Westinghouse in long ago times), is over. It is difficult to get back [to that time], if the only decisive criterion is the lowest price.”

He blames the structural delays and cost overruns in construction on the loss of technical knowledge and skills in the West and the unpredictability of the liberalised electricity market.

That is where he diverts from our analysis: we believe the problem does not lie outside, but is inherently one of nuclear technology itself.

Wise words from a keen observer. The Bulgarian, Finnish, French, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish, Slovenian, Slovak, and the UK governments are well advised to read this report.

Jan Haverkamp is a nuclear expert consultant with Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe

[Image: Temelin nuclear power plant. Copyright Jan Haverkamp/Greenpeace]

Read more [Greenpeace international]

Nuclear power: reliably unreliable

With wind power filling the energy gap left by shutdown nuclear reactors in the UK, and police investigating allegations of sabotage at a reactor in Belgium, the myth of "reliable" nuclear energy is being exposed like never before.

The nuclear industry tells us that nuclear power is a reliable energy source, that it offers "energy security". Tell that to Belgium and the UK who are seeing significant parts of their nuclear fleet shutdown.

It's been confirmed that the major damage that shut down Belgium's Doel 4 reactor was caused by sabotage. Meanwhile, cracks found in two other reactors – Tihange 2 and Doel 3 - means they may never reopen. The three reactors make up over half of the country's nuclear power output.

(Worryingly, there are 22 other reactors around the world that share the same design as Tihange 2 and Doel 3.)

In the UK, four nuclear reactors – at Heysham and Hartlepool – are out of action while defects are investigated.

There have previously been issues with nuclear power plants being closed in EU and USA at times of drought because of water shortages.

What fills the energy gap while these "reliable" nuclear reactors are shut down?

Belgium is having to rely on electricity from its neighbours. So much for nuclear power giving the country energy security.

In the UK, things are much more optimistic. Renewable energy has come to the rescue. "Demand is low at this time of year, and a lot of wind power is being generated right now," said the UK's National Grid. Electricity supplies have been unaffected.

What lessons can we learn here?

Firstly, the idea that nuclear power is a reliable energy source that offers energy security is a myth, particularly in a world where aging nuclear reactors are coming to the end of their lives.

Secondly, we see a reversal of the view that renewables need to be supported by nuclear power. Although nuclear and wind power do not have the same generation characteristics, nuclear reactors now needing to lean on renewables means the nuclear industry has a big problem.

More and more nuclear reactors will be closing in the coming years as they reach retirement age. The nuclear industry simply can't build replacement reactors quickly or cheaply enough to fill the gap.

That's a gap that renewables and energy efficiency can exploit safely and reliably. As the recently released 2014 World Nuclear Industry Status Report says

[B]ig thermal plants running whenever they're available are replaced by cheaper-to-run portfolios of renewables, mostly variable renewables, that add up to "virtual baseload" supply—collectively providing reliable electricity from a shifting mix of resources. This way of operating the grid is analogous to a symphony orchestra (as Rocky Mountain Institute's Clay Stranger puts it): no instrument plays all the time, but with a good score and conductor, beautiful music is continuously produced. This approach is unfamiliar to traditional utilities, but it works.

The wind across the UK is playing some beautiful music right now.

Here we have yet more reasons to abandon nuclear power. It's not reliable and does not guarantee energy security. It's not your friend and is going to let you down sooner or later.

Justin McKeating is a nuclear blogger for Greenpeace International, based in the UK.

Read more [Greenpeace international]

U.S. inspector wanted reactor shut on quake fears report

(Reuters) - A federal nuclear inspector urged U.S. regulators to shut down a California nuclear power plant until tests showed its reactors could withstand shocks from nearby earthquake faults, according to the Associated Press and an environmental group.

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U.S. inspector wanted reactor shut on quake fears report

Reuters: A federal nuclear inspector urged U.S. regulators to shut down a California nuclear power plant until tests showed its reactors could withstand shocks from nearby earthquake faults, according to the Associated Press and an environmental group. Michael Peck's call to close the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County was in a report he made to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2013, the AP reported on Monday, a day after a strong earthquake shook California's Napa Valley region. ...

U.S. inspector wanted reactor shut on quake fears: report

(Reuters) - A federal nuclear inspector urged U.S. regulators to shut down a California nuclear power plant until tests showed its reactors could withstand shocks from nearby earthquake faults, according to the Associated Press and an environmental group.

Read more [Reuters]

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Air testing lapse at N.M. nuclear waste dump blamed on staff vacancy

(Reuters) - State regulators failed to collect air samples in the week following a radiation release at a New Mexico nuclear waste dump because of a vacancy in the office responsible for monitoring the site at the time, a state official said on Friday.

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US Sent Thousands of Sailors To Help With Fukushima Relief. Did Radiation Make Them Sick?

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