Delay at nuclear power plants

Delay at nuclear power plants

Published Date: 11 October 2008

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BRITISH Energy yesterday admitted that work had fallen behind schedule at its Hartlepool and Heysham 1 nuclear power plants and that they would be unlikely to return to service until early next year.

Maintenance work is also set to cost “marginally more” than estimated, the East Kilbride-headquartered company added.

British Energy, which last month agreed a £12.5billion takeover by France’s state-owned power group EDF, owns and runs the UK’s eight nuclear power stations, including Torness in East Lothian.


Brazil plans to build 50 more nuclear power plants

Brazil plans to build 50 more nuclear power plants

RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) — Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobao announced Friday Brazil plans to build 50 to 60 nuclear power plants in half a century, with each having capacity of 1,000 megawatts.

“The general idea is to build one plant per year,” he said during a visit to the construction site of Brazil’s third nuclear power plant, Angra 3.

The ambitious plan, a priority for the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has yet to be approved by Brazil’s National Council of Energy Policy, he added.

The construction of Angra 3 started in 1984, but was halted for21 years. The decision to resume the project and expand the nuclear program was welcomed by Brazil’s industrial sector as a way to prevent an energy crisis in future decades, but environmentalists warned of the problem of the residues storage.

Angra 1 and Angra 2, both located in the southeastern state of Rio De Janeiro, currently have a combined installed capacity of 2,000 megawatts.

Besides the three plants, four others, two in northeastern Brazil and two in the southeastern part, are due to start operation by 2020.

It is said Brazil’s environment ministry will not allow Angra 3to start operation until the residues problem is resolved.

According to Lobao, the construction of Angra 3 is due to be resumed in April 2009 and will take almost five years to complete, at a cost of 7 billion reais (3.7 billion U.S. dollars).

Nuclear power plants how things can go wrong Part III

By Carl Austin

This final opinion piece on nuclear power plants will consider natural disasters, terrorist events and how the cost of risk reduction determines how much safety is wan-anted.

An example of what Mother Nature can do to a power plant was seen at Big Creek One, a hydroelectric plant. A flash flood swept into the turbine hall and shorted out all of the control systems.

Even though buried under 20 feet of gravel, boulders and mud, the turbines ran on for over an hour, chewing up windings, control systems, and bearings. Siting a nuke plant will need to consider not just 100 year storms, which can happen three times next week for that matter, but the maximum possible storm � say a 15 inch dump on 2 square miles.

How deep will the water be when it gets to the plant? Will the control room survive and if not will the emergency shutdown systems survive long enough to effect a safe shutdown?

People go into a snit over earthquakes. Granted it is not wise to build over a fault zone, but it should be a simple design exercise to put in place an emergency shutdown procedure triggered by some level of shaking. Here in Idaho flooding and shaking are the most obvious natural risks, but one should also consider very carefully less well-known events such as an acoustic landslide, much like the Blackhawk slide in California.

Such slides can run for miles out from a mountain front at a slope of as little as 2 � degrees. A nuke plant should never be where such slides are possible.

Talking about terrorist activity involves a certain amount of caution, You do not want to lay out schemes and plans that will entice some nut case into trying an attack.

On the other hand, a terrorist group backed by a nation-state is going to be well financed, technically astute and will look at the nuke plant as a potential dirty bomb. The problem is to prevent a successful attack by a terrorist team.

Nuke plant designers generally haven’t the faintest idea how to go about designing structures to resist serious attack and local permitting agencies are equally inexperienced. Some things should be obvious. You design the control room to resist an external attack. This means properly designed walls, no blind spots, limitation on vehicle access, strict control over who and what enters the control room, absolute control over the ventilation system, doors that can not be opened by blowing the hinges off, the appropriate use of grenade traps, S-bend entries, triggering walls and so on, It must be physically impossible for a pickup truck with a camper or a Cat and trailer to get within 300 feet of the control room or containment vessel walls.

If you visit a power plant in northern Mexico, like Cerro Prieto, one of the first things you notice is a permanent military guard unit is stationed there. The control room crew should include armed guards who control all access to the control room and containment vessel and the control room crew should be proficient with arms as well.

To understand how a failure to provide for appropriate security can lead to disaster, it is suggested the skeptic read Chapter One in Tom Clancy’s book, Red Storm Rising.

All risk can never be eliminated short of not building the plant. What is done is to balance the cost of security and safety versus the acceptable dollar amount of damage and the dollar value of lives lost that still gives the desired return on the investment.

Down-winders are of great worth to themselves and their families but they are not worth much when calculating how much will be spent for safety and security. Think NIMBY!

Carl F. Austin is a Goose Creek rancher, geothermal explorationist and a lot of other things.



[Rachel’s introduction: Despite millions of dollars of high-priced hype, the “new generation” of “standardized design” nuclear power plants actually does not exist.]

By Harvey Wasserman

A devastating blow to the much-hyped revival of atomic power has been delivered by an unlikely source — the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC says the “standardized” designs on which the entire premise of returning nuclear power to center stage is based have massive holes in them, and may not be ready for approval for years to come.

Delivered by one of America’s most notoriously docile agencies, the NRC’s warning essentially says: that all cost estimates for new nuclear reactors — and all licensing and construction schedules — are completely up for grabs, and have no reliable basis in fact. Thus any comparisons between future atomic reactors and renewable technologies are moot at best. And any “hard number” basis for independent financing for future nukes may not be available for years to come, if ever.

These key points have been raised in searing testimony before state regulators by Jim Warren of the North Carolina Waste and Awareness Reduction Network and Tom Clements of the South Carolina Friends of the Earth, and by others now challenging proposed state-based financing for new Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors. The NRC gave conditional “certification” to this “standardized” design in 2004, allowing design work to continue. But as recently as June 27, the NRC has issued written warnings that hundreds of key design components remain without official approval. Indeed, Westinghouse has been forced to actually withdraw numerous key designs, throwing the entire permitting process into chaos.

The catastrophic outcome of similar problems has already become tangible. After two years under construction, the first “new generation” French reactor being built in Finland is already more than two years behind schedule, and more than $2.5 billion over budget. The scenario is reminiscent of the economic disaster that hit scores of “first generation” reactors, which came in massively over budget and, in many cases, decades behind promised completion dates.

In North and South Carolina, public interest groups are demanding the revocation of some $230 million in pre-construction costs already approved by state regulators for two proposed Duke Energy reactors. In both those states, as well as in Florida, Alabama and Georgia, Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors have been presented to regulatory commissions to be financed by ratepayers as they are being built.

This astounding pro-utility scheme forces electric consumers to pay billions of dollars for nuclear plants that may never operate, and whose costs are indeterminate. Sometimes called Construction Work in Progress, it lets utilities raise rates to pay for site clearing, project planning, and down payments on large equipment and heavy reactor components, such as pressure vessels, pumps and generators, that can involve hundreds of millions of dollars, even before the projects get final federal approval. The process in essence gives utilities an incentive to drive up construction costs as much as they can. It allows them to force ratepayers to cover legal fees incurred by the utilities to defend themselves against lawsuits by those very ratepayers. And the public is stuck with the bill for whatever is spent, even if the reactor never opens — or if it melts down before it recoups its construction costs, as did Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island Unit Two in 1979, which self-destructed after just three months of operation.

According to Warren and Clements, Duke Energy and its cohorts have “filed some 6,500 pages of Westinghouse’s technical design documents as the major component of applications” to build new reactors. “Of the 172 interconnected Westinghouse documents,” say NCWARN and FOE, “only 21 have been certified.” And most of what has been certified, they add, rely on systems that are unapproved, and that are key to the guts of the reactor, including such major components as the “reactor building, control room, cooling system, engineering designs, plant- wide alarm systems, piping and conduit.”

In other words, despite millions of dollars of high-priced hype, the “new generation” of “standardized design” power plants actually does not exist. The plans for these reactors have not been finalized by the builders themselves, nor have they been approved by the regulators. There is no operating prototype of a Westinghouse AP-1000 from which to draw actual data about how safely these plants might actually operate, what their environmental impact might be, or what they might cost to build or run.

In fact, as the NRC’s June 27 letter notes, Westinghouse has been forced to withdraw key technical documents from the regulatory process. The NRC says this means design approval for the AP-1000 might not come until 2012.

The problem extends to other designs. According to Michael Mariotte of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, the “Evolutionary Power Reactor” proposed for Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, “is way behind in certification” causing delays in the licensing process. Similar problems have arisen with the “Economic Simplified Boiling War Reactor” design proposed for North Anna, Virginia and Fermi, Michigan. “All of these utilities seem to want standardization for the other guy, not for themselves, so most of them are making changes to the ‘standardized’ designs, says Mariotte. “Even the ABWR,” being planned for a site in south Texas, which has actually been built before, “has design issues” that have caused delays.

The problem, says Mariotte, “is that the NRC is still trying to go ahead and do licensing even with the designs not certified. This is going to lead to a big mess later on.”

But in the meantime, Public Service Commissions like the one in Florida, have given preliminary approval to reactor proposals whose projected costs have more than doubled in just one year. Florida Power & Light’s two proposed reactors at Turkey Point, on the border of the Everglades National Park, are listed as costing somewhere between $6 billion and $9 billion. FP&L refuses to commit to a firm price, and is demanding south Florida ratepayers foot an unknowable bill for gargantuan projects whose costs are virtually certain to skyrocket long before the NRC approves the actual reactor designs. By contrast, the “huge” preliminary deal just reached between Florida, environmentalists and U.S. Sugar to buy some 180,000 acres of land to save the Everglades is now estimated at less than $2 billion, less than one-sixth the minimum estimated cost of the two reactors proposed for Turkey Point.

In the larger picture, the depth of this scam is staggering. With no finalized design, and no firm price tag, a second generation of nuclear power plants is now being put on the tab of southeastern citizens whose rates have already begun to skyrocket. These reactor projects cannot get private financing, and cannot proceed without either massive federal subsidies and loan guarantees, or a flood of these state-based give-aways. They also cannot get private insurance against future melt-downs, and have no solution for their radioactive waste problem. Current estimates for finishing the proposed Yucca Mountain national waste repository, also yet to be licensed, are soaring toward $100 billion, even though it, too, may never open.

By contrast, firm costs for proposed wind farms, solar panels, increased efficiency and other green sources are proven and reliable. These projects are easily financed by private investors lining up to become involved. Some $6 billion in new wind farms are under construction or on order in the United States alone. They are established and profitable, and can in many cases can be up and running in less than a year.

The high-profile campaign to paint atomic energy as some kind of answer to America’s energy problems has hit the iceberg of its economic impossibilities. The atomic “renaissance” has no tangible approved design, and no firm construction or operating costs to present. There are no reliable new reactor construction schedules, except to know that it will be at least ten years before the first one could conceivably come on line, and that its price tag is unknowable.

In short, the “nuclear renaissance” is perched atop a gigantic technical and economic chasm that looms larger every day, and that could soon swallow the entire idea of building more reactors.

Harvey Wasserman, a co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy, is editing the web site. He is the author of SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030 He can be reached at

Accidents Make Nuclear Questions Bigger

Accidents Make Nuclear Questions Bigger

by Julio Godoy

PARIS – The recent proliferation of accidents at nuclear power plants in France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Slovenia and elsewhere in Europe has made calls for greater reliance on nuclear energy questionable, experts say.0731 07

Several accidents were reported in mid-July at three nuclear power plants in the south of France. They came days after President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Jul. 3 that his government had decided to construct a new nuclear power plant.

In one accident at Tricastin on Jul. 7, up to 30,000 litres of a solution contaminated with more than 70 kilograms of uranium leaked into ground water. The plant is located near the medieval city Avignon, 530 km south of Paris, in a densely populated area with intensive agriculture.

The leak forced authorities to ban use of water for agricultural and domestic purposes around the plant for several days. The accident drew sharp criticism of Electricité de France, the state-owned power generation monopoly. It first concealed the leak, and reacted to it several hours after it had happened.

At the same plant, about 100 workers were contaminated with radioactive dust containing during maintenance operations Jul. 23.

Five days earlier, another uranium leak occurred at the Romans-sur-Isère plant, some 80 km north-east of Tricastin. Some reports suggested that this leak has been continuing for years.

A fourth accident occurred at the plant at Saint Alban, in the same region, 115 km north of Tricastin. Fifteen workers were exposed to radioactive dust.

Environmental groups say similar incidents occurred during July at the nuclear power plants at Nogent sur Seine, 80 km southeast of Paris, and Gravelines, near the border with Belgium.

“In less than 15 days, we have received information of the accidental contamination of 126 persons working in nuclear power plants,” says Bruno Chareyron, an engineer in nuclear physics, and director of research at the independent investigative commission on radioactivity CRIIRAD (after its French name).

Chareyron told IPS that CRIIRAD had knowledge of other leaks in Tricastin last year. “Carbone 14 and tritium were released into the atmosphere,” he said. “This time, uranium leaked for several hours before the authorities were warned and precaution measures were put in place.”

According to CRIIRAD, the Jul. 7 leak represented at least 17 times the maximum radioactivity allowed legally for a whole year.

Annie Thábaud-Mony, a physician at the French National Institute for Medical and Health Research, says contamination of workers “confronted regularly with important irradiation increases the risks of contracting diseases associated with ionising radiation, such as cancers and disorders affecting the human reproductive cycles.”

All facilities involved in the accidents are the property of AREVA, the state-owned monopoly which constructs nuclear power plants in France. AREVA is also involved in the construction of nuclear power plants abroad.

The new power plant announced by Sarkozy will use pressurised water reactor (PWR) technology. Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, had decided in 2006 to construct the first PWR in Flamanville on the northwest Atlantic coast, by the English Channel.

The PWR in Flamanville is under construction, and is expected to go into production in 2012, and produce 1,600 megawatts of electricity. But the project has been hit by delays, and construction began really only in December last year.

“We want that nuclear energy be one of the main answers to the oil crisis we are facing today,” Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced. France has long relied on nuclear energy. A total of 58 nuclear power plants produce some 63,000 megawatts, 80 percent of the electricity consumed in France.

But, like all other countries using nuclear energy, France has not found a solution to the disposal of nuclear waste. And, judging by the recent string of accidents, it cannot claim that its nuclear power plants are absolutely safe.

“All these accidents show that, beyond the official incantations praising nuclear power, this technology remains a source of pollution, enormous dangers, and very difficult to deal with,” Fréderic Marillier of Greenpeace France told IPS.

Marillier says that some 900 incidents officially classified as unimportant occur in French nuclear power plants on average every year, in addition to “constant leaks around their facilities.”

Greenpeace has called for a suspension of the PWR programme. It points out that a PWR reactor under construction in Finland, in which AREVA is a partner, has faced numerous setbacks, and will go into production only in 2011, after more than two years delay and a 50 percent increase in construction costs.

Numerous accidents in European nuclear power plants have occurred in recent months. In Sweden, a fire broke out Jul. 11 at the plant at Ringhals, near the city Göteborg. In Spain, accidents led politicians and environmentalists to call for closing the nuclear power plant at Cofrentes, 70 km west of the Mediterranean city Valencia.

As at Tricastin, several accidents took place at Cofrentes, one of seven Spanish nuclear power plants. First, radioactive material was found just outside the plant. Later, on Jul. 13, the plant was automatically shut down after an abnormal surge of power was registered.

Fernando Giner, mayor of Vallada town 60 km south of the plant, says at least 22 accidents have been registered at the Cofrentes plant since January 2007. Giner, member of the right-wing Popular party, has urged the government to close down the plant.

In Germany, two nuclear power plants near Hamburg had to close in March. But leading members of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have been calling for reversal of a decision taken in 2000 to phase out nuclear power by 2022. That decision was taken by the coalition government of the time, formed by the SPD and the Green party.

“The retreat from the phasing out will come,” former chancellor Helmut Schmidt from the SPD said in an interview with the conservative weekly Die Zeit. “I find it surprising that Germans believe, in contrast to all other industrialised nations, that they can get by without nuclear power.”

Schmidt admitted that nuclear power brings environmental and health risks. “But there is nothing in the world, not even love, that is without risk.”

© 2008 Inter Press Service