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Nuclear Power

Nuclear Waste Containers Likely To Corrode

Thousands of containers of lethal nuclear waste are likely to fail before being safely sealed away underground, a devastating official report concludes. The unpublicised Report is by the Environment Agency, which has to approve any proposals for getting rid of the waste that remains deadly for tens of thousands of years.

The document effectively destroys Britain's already shaky disposal plans just as Ministers are preparing an expansion of nuclear power. It shows that many containers used to store the waste are made of second-rate materials, are handled carelessly, and are liable to corrode. The Report concludes: "It is cautious to assume a significant proportion will fail." It says computer models suggest up to 40 per cent of them could be at risk.

Britain's leading expert on nuclear waste yesterday called the report "devastating" and Peter Ainsworth, the Conservative Environment Spokesman, said he would write to Ministers to urge them to "make changes to ensure public safety". He added: "Such a warning from the Environment Agency must be taken extremely seriously. The failure of just one container could prove catastrophic."

Plutonium Shipments Stopped

Top-secret shipments of weapons-ready plutonium through British waters have been stopped, after their exposure by the Independent on Sunday. The Department for Transport (DfT) said that it had taken "regulatory action" to prohibit the shipments from Sellafield to Normandy on an unarmed old roll-on, roll-off ferry, with few safety or security features. The prohibition, the first of its kind, was imposed after complaints by the French nuclear safety authorities.

The shipments – denounced by nuclear weapons experts as "madness" and "totally irresponsible" – were carrying hundreds of kilograms of plutonium-dioxide powder, described as the ideal material for terrorists seeking to create a nuclear explosion or make a dirty bomb. Only 10kg of the plutonium, experts claim, would be needed to make a terrorist atomic weapon.

John Large, an independent nuclear expert, called it "the most dangerous and worst possible material you could ship". The first shipment – in the converted ferry Atlantic Osprey – was about to leave Cumbria for a French nuclear complex at Cap la Hague in March, when the plan was exposed in The IoS.

Taxpayers Pick Up the Tab at Sellafield


The consortium with a £20bn contract to clean up Britain's Sellafield nuclear plant has been handed a blank cheque by the Government to pay for future accidents there.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority wants the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to grant indemnity to Nuclear Management Partners Ltd.—the consortium that won PBO status in the Sellafield contract—against uninsurable claims arising from a nuclear incident that fall outside the protections offered by the Nuclear Installations Act and the Paris/Brussels Conventions.

“It would not be viable for any of the bidders to proceed without an indemnity because any fee earning benefits of the contract would be overwhelmed by the potential liabilities,” Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks informed the House of Commons..

Plans for £110m Waste Dump at Dounreay

PEOPLE living near the Dounreay nuclear plant say they will fight plans for a waste dump close to their homes, despite the scheme winning the conditional backing of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
SEPA says it supports proposals for a £110 million underground low-level radioactive waste store – the first of its type in Scotland – provided seven planning conditions are imposed to protect people and the environment.

But householders in Buldoo , Caithness, are trying to stop the construction of up to six shallow storage vaults, which they say would be outside Dounreay's licensed site and only 430 metres from the nearest house. They want a public inquiry.

The vaults would be part of the £2.9 billion decommissioning of Dounreay. Already, 38,000 cubic metres of low-level waste have been stored on the site, but storage there is nearing capacity and decommissioning will produce up to 175,000 cubic metres more. The Scottish Government has ruled out disposing of the waste elsewhere.

The site operator, Dounreay Site Restoration, applied for planning permission for the vaults in 2006 and, if approved, they could be used by 2014. The waste would be stored in drums and put inside cement-lined containers and then buried in a shallow covered pit.

Communities to be Bribed To Take Nuclear Waste

The UK Government has offered to pay communities to provide burial sites for waste, and made clear that it would press ahead with plans to build new nuclear power stations. Areas of the UK which offer sites will become involved in a "multi-billion-pound" project which will bring benefits such as hundreds of new, skilled jobs, Ministers said.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central, said: "Construction and operation of a geological disposal facility will be a multi-billion-pound high-technology project that will provide skilled employment for hundreds of people over many decades. It will contribute greatly to the local economy and wider socio-economic framework."

But critics accused the Government of offering "bribes" for taking waste which will remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. Greenpeace's nuclear campaigner Nathan Argent said: "Nuclear waste is a financial and geological nightmare. There is no plausible solution for our existing legacy waste, let alone the waste from new reactors, which will be at least three times more radioactive.

"This is not about finding a solution for nuclear waste. It's about bribing a community with £1bn of taxpayers' money to bury waste in their back garden. But there's no guarantee a willing community will come forward or that they'll be able to find a geologically suitable site anywhere in this country."

Nuclear Decommissioining Costs Spiral

 The cost of decommissioning nuclear power stations is “spiralling out of control” after an official admission that an estimate of £73billion was set to rise. The figure, published in January, was an increase of £12billion on the previous estimate made in 2003, but a senior official at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said that he believed the cost would continue to escalate.

Director Jim Morse said: “I think itÂ’s a high probability that in the short term it will undoubtedly go up. We've still a lot to discover. We haven't started waste retrieval in those parts of the estate where the degradation and radioactive decay has been at its greatest." 

He estimated that the extra cost would run into billions but admitted that he could not be sure how much the total would be. "No-one's done this before," he added. 

Friends of the Earth nuclear campaigner Neil Crumpton said: “Nuclear and fossil fuel power generation pose an enormous threat to the environment – and their cost to the economy is spiralling out of control.

“The UK Government must come forward with a comprehensive programme of action to cut energy waste and exploit the UK’s considerable potential for generating renewable power from wind, waves and the sun.

“The Government must seize the opportunity to make the UK a world leader in developing a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy – and create a safer and cleaner future for us all.”

New Nuclear Power Plant Costs Underestimated

The Government has vastly underestimated the cost of building a new generation of nuclear power plants, according to the head of the world's largest power company.  Wulf Bernotat, chairman and chief executive of E.ON, the German energy giant that owns Powergen,  thinks the cost per plant could be as high as €6 billion (£4.8 billion) - nearly double the Government's latest £2.8 billion estimate.

His figures indicate that the cost of replacing Britain's ten nuclear power stations could reach £48 billion, excluding the cost of decommissioning ageing reactors or dealing with nuclear waste. “We are talking easily about €5 billion to €6 billion [each],” Dr Bernotat said.

E.ON's cost estimates provoked an angry response from anti-nuclear campaigners. Tim Jackson, of the Sustainable Development Commission, said: “Combined with the myriad concerns about the legacy of nuclear waste, it should now be clear that a new generation of nuclear plants is the wrong option.”

Dr Bernotat's estimates are based on E.ON's experience as a partner in the construction of a nuclear plant in Finland to a French design viewed as the most likely for deployment in Britain. He estimated the cost of that project at €4.5 billion.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform said the £2.8 billion figure, contained in a White Paper published in January, was an estimate and that the final costs would hinge on many factors. 

Dounreay Stockpile Details Withheld


THE UK Atomic Energy Authority has succeeded in keeping private details about enriched uranium and plutonium stockpiles at Dounreay. Disclosing the information could help terrorists gain access to potential bomb-making materials, deputy UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has ruled.

In the first case of its kind, Mr Thomas upheld the UKAEA's refusal to hand over seven files to Edinburgh-based environmental journalist Rob Edwards. Mr Thomas claimed disclosure could have "a far-reaching impact on the national security of the UK".

Mr Edwards had sought information relating to fissile materials held at the UKAEA's defunct fast-reactor site. After having his initial request knocked back in March 2006, he used Freedom of Information legislation in a bid to force the UKAEA to hand over the data.

Defects Found in French Nuclear Reactors

The French nuclear safety agency has uncovered a series of defects in the construction of a reactor in Normandy considered to be the template for the next generation of stations due to be built in Britain.

The agency, ASN, says that a quarter of the welds seen in its steel liner – a crucial line of defence if there were to be an accident – are not in accordance with welding norms, and that cracks have been found it its concrete base, also essential for containing radioactivity.

The reports – in a series of letters covering inspections made between December and last month – will cause particular concern because similar defects have been listed in a previous report by the Finnish safety authority into the only other reactor of its type being built anywhere in the world.

The earlier report helped put the Finnish reactor, on the island of Olkiluoto in the Gulf of Bothnia, two years behind schedule, three years after construction began. It is also believed to have helped increase its cost by more than 50 per cent. Similar delays and cost overruns here would play havoc with the Government's nuclear programme, and could even lead to it being abandoned.

Dounreay In Another Cover -Up


THE UKAEA has denied trying to keep industry regulators in the dark about a glitch which occurred during the clean-up of a ntaminated shielded cell at a Dounreay waste-handling plant.

The problem occurred when clean water was accidentally fed into the cell in the currently mothballed cementation plant which processes intermediate-level waste from the site's decommissioning.

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate – part of the Health and Safety Inspectorate – is unhappy not to have been told about the incident by the UKAEA. The first it knew about the incident was in an anonymous tip-off a week or so after it happened.

An unplanned £4 million-plus clean-up was mounted after the accidental spill of a quantity of highly-active waste in the cell in September 2005. The leak of about 400 litres of the water into the sump of the cell was spotted on August 20 last year.