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Sizing up the deadly and fake nuclear renaissance

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Two excellent resources to point to for those who want to shut down reactors and bury nuclear power once and for all. The first is ‘Quietly Into Disaster – A Plea For Survival’, a film well worth your while. It deals with facts and topics concerning nuclear fission: the damage done to health and environment, nuclear waste and politics, renewable energies, reactor safety, the serious implications of a nuclear accident and public resistance.

The second is the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 which provides a global overview of the history, the current status and the trends of nuclear power programmes worldwide. It examines nuclear reactor units in operation and under construction, includes an update on nuclear economics as well as an overview of the status, on-site and off-site, of the challenges triggered by the Fukushima disaster.

Nuclear Power Reactor Grid Connections and Shutdowns, 1956–2013. Source: World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 / IAEA-PRIS, MSC, 2013

Nuclear Power Reactor Grid Connections and Shutdowns, 1956–2013. Source: World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 / IAEA-PRIS, MSC, 2013

The Report has noted that:

“For various reasons in many nations, the nuclear industry cannot tell the truth about its progress, its promise or its perils. Its backers in government and in academia do no better.”

“During the rise and fall of the bubble formerly known as “the nuclear renaissance” in the U.S. many of their tools have been on full display. Academic and governmental studies a decade ago understated the likely cost of new reactors and overstated their potential contribution to fighting climate change.”

“Where the authors introduce judgment, they explain what they have done and why. The Report has a track record stretching back years. It is much better than the embarrassing exuberances of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Nuclear Association or the pronouncements of most national governments.”

“In short, the nuclear renaissance has always consisted entirely of the number of reactors whose excess costs governments were prepared to make mandatory for either customers or taxpayers.”

Written by makanaka

August 3, 2013 at 15:56

The Doomsday Clock moves to 5 minutes to midnight

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From six minutes to five. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock, a simple graphic which reminds us how close human civilisation is to extinguishing itself through its own inaction over its own violent means.

“It is five minutes to midnight. Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007,” said the statement.

The last time the Doomsday Clock minute hand moved was in January 2010, when the Clock’s minute hand was pushed back one minute from five to six minutes before midnight.

The January 10, 2012 Doomsday Clock followed an international symposium held on 09 January 2012. The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reviewed the implications of recent events and trends for the future of humanity with input from other experts on nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, climate change, and biosecurity.

Questions addressed on January 9th included: What is the future of nuclear power after Fukushima?; How are nuclear weapons to be managed in a world of increasing economic, political, and environmental volatility?; What are the links among climate change, resource scarcity, conflict, and nuclear weapons?; and, What is required for robust implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention?

President of the United States Barrack Obama delivers a press brief along with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon on January 5, 2012. President Obama and Secretary Panetta delivered remarks on the Defense Strategic Guidance for the Defense Department going forward. They were joined by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the members of the Joint Chiefs and Service Secretaries(DOD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)(RELEASED)

Despite the promise of a new spirit of international cooperation, and reductions in tensions between the United States and Russia, the Science and Security Board believes that the path toward a world free of nuclear weapons is not at all clear, and leadership is failing, according to the participants of the symposium.  The ratification in December 2010 of the New START treaty between Russia and the United States reversed the previous drift in US-Russia nuclear relations.

However, failure to act on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by leaders in the United States, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, and North Korea and on a treaty to cut off production of nuclear weapons material continues to leave the world at risk from continued development of nuclear weapons.  The world still has approximately 19,500 nuclear weapons, enough power to destroy the Earth’s inhabitants several times over.   The Nuclear Security Summit of 2010 shone a spotlight on securing all nuclear fissile material, but few actions have been taken.  The result is that it is still possible for radical groups to acquire and use highly enriched uranium and plutonium to wreak havoc in nuclear attacks.

Obstacles to a world free of nuclear weapons remain.  Among these are disagreements between the United States and Russia about the utility and purposes of missile defense, as well as insufficient transparency, planning, and cooperation among the nine nuclear weapons states to support a continuing drawdown.  The resulting distrust leads nearly all nuclear weapons states to hedge their bets by modernizing their nuclear arsenals.  While governments claim they are only ensuring the safety of their warheads through replacement of bomb components and launch systems, as the deliberate process of arms reduction proceeds, such developments appear to other states to be signs of substantial military build-ups.

The movement of the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock will be of no concern to the US Department of Defense and the current government of the United States of America. On 05 January 2012 US President Barack Obama presented at the Pentagon the document entitled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense”. Obama insisted that the US military budget would remain higher than those of the next 10 military powers combined.

The past decade, dominated by the “global war on terror” and the simultaneous wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, saw military spending in the US soar by more than 80%. The plan being implemented by Obama will maintain military spending at this unprecedentedly high level, even as the White House and the US Congress prepare to slash core social programs and benefits, including Medicare and Social Security.

See Defense.gov News Article: ‘Obama: Defense Strategy Will Maintain U.S. Military Pre-eminence’
See ‘You Can’t Have It All’ in Foreign Policy
See ‘New US defense policy challenges trust’ in People’s Daily Online
See ‘Pentagon plan changes game in Asia’ in People’s Daily Online

Powerful corporate interests are pleased with the new document, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense”, and its promise of continued spending on a new stealth bomber, submarines, star wars technology and other air and sea weapons systems that are seen as the most efficient means of aggressively projecting US military might. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directly addressed these interests, declaring the Pentagon’s commitment to “preserving the health and viability of the nation’s defense industrial base.”

In his appearance at the Pentagon, Obama repeated his assertion that, based on the withdrawal from Iraq and the minimal troop reductions in Afghanistan, “the tides of war are receding”. On the contrary, the defense strategic guidance demonstrates that US imperialism remains committed to the use of armed force to assert its hegemony over the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia, even as it gears up its war machine for an armed confrontation with China.

Commenting on the Doomsday Clock announcement, Lawrence Krauss, co-chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Board of Sponsors said: “Unfortunately, Einstein’s statement in 1946 that ‘everything has changed, save the way we think,’ remains true. The provisional developments of 2 years ago have not been sustained, and it makes sense to move the clock closer to midnight, back to the value it had in 2007. Faced with clear and present dangers of nuclear proliferation and climate change, and the need to find sustainable and safe sources of energy, world leads are failing to change business as usual. Inaction on key issues including climate change, and rising international tensions motivate the movement of the clock. As we see it, the major challenge at the heart of humanity’s survival in the 21st century is how to meet energy needs for economic growth in developing and industrial countries without further damaging the climate, exposing people to loss of health and community, and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons, and in fact setting the stage for global reductions.”

France nuclear emergency Marcoule

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Update5: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has two articles relevant to the Marcoule explosion. In ‘Regime change for nuclear security’, two important questions are asked about the status and safety of fissile materials.

World map of nuclear states and countries with fissile materials (France in focus). Graphic: Fissile Materials Working Group

Irma Arguello, founder and chair of the Nonproliferation for Global Security Foundation (NPSGlobal), a private, nonprofit initiative; and international partner of the Fissile Materials Working Group, has written in the article that the term ‘nuclear security’ covers a vast swath of issues, including the prevention of, detection of, and response to criminal acts involving nuclear materials, radioactive materials, and facilities associated with nuclear and radioactive materials. Unsurprisingly, an intricate constellation of international instruments – mostly voluntary and nonbinding – is used to reduce the risks of nuclear terrorism and to reduce the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials and technology. Some of these are:

The Doomsday Clock that is the logo of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It is six minutes to midnight

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, enforced since 1987.
The 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.
The 2003 Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and its supplementary, Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources of 2004.
The 2004 UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls on states to take “adequate and effective” measures to prevent terrorism and proliferation.
The 2001 UN Security Council Resolution 1373.
The 2009 UN Security Council Resolution 1887, which assesses threats to global security derived from terrorism.
The Proliferation Security Initiative of 2003, focused on the interdiction of suspicious materials related to weapons of mass destruction during transport.
The 2002 G-8 Global Partnership, which uses fund-raising to support safety, disarmament, and nonproliferation projects.
The 2006 Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, an information-exchange initiative.

The aggregation of such tools, together with individual nations’ own laws, comprise the current nuclear security regime – a regime of overlapping efforts and initiatives, overwhelming bureaucratic burdens, a host of voluntary and nonbinding “commitments,” challenges to efficiency, a lack of authority to deal with transgressions, and a lack of consensus on key issues (like sovereign rights versus multilateral control). So, given the enormity of the nuclear security complex, how internally coherent is the nuclear security regime? More important, can it cope with current and future challenges?

In the second article, ‘Nature and malice: Confronting multiple hazards to nuclear power infrastructure’, Igor Khripunov and Duyeon Kim make several interlinked points. These are: (1) as the IAEA has suggested, the lessons of Fukushima that need particular study are “those pertaining to multiple severe hazards” that might afflict a nuclear power plant; (2) such complex hazards can emerge from natural disaster, sabotage by terrorists or other malcontents, or be a combination of natural events and intentional acts; (3) nuclear safety and security staffs – whose cultures are quite different – should be trained to interact with one another as they respond to all three types of severe hazards.

Update4: There is a critical note emerging in the French media about the Marcoule nuclear fuel plant explosion. Le Figaro has run a longish report quoting ecologists in France who are demanding ‘transparency’ from the Sarkozy government on the incident: “Marcoule : les écologistes réclament la transparence”.

In translation, Le Figaro has said that Cécile Duflot, national secretary of the Greens Europe Ecologie (EELV), said on the iTV Energy Minister Eric Besson “makes fun of the world when he said that the explosion of a furnace that burns waste irradiated is not a nuclear incident or accident. “The boss of EELV also the responsibility of leading authorities in the flow of information. “This is not to the public or local officials to seek information, it must come from the authorities and in real time,” insists Cécile Duflot. “We need people living around nuclear facilities and the whole country are aware of plans to be implemented in case of accident.”

The Association France Nature Environnement does say it is  “not surprised” by the accident of Marcoule. “It must be remembered that in France there are three reported incidents per day in the nuclear industry, and we know that this area tends to under-report such incidents,” said BFM-TV Benoît Hartmann, the spokeswoman the association. It also reviews the difference between incident and nuclear accident.

Picture taken in June 2009 of operators dismantling one of the rooms of the plant in Marcoule. Photo: AFP PHOTO/CEA/Celine Jandaureck

On the government side, Minister for Ecology Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet was expected in the late afternoon on the Marcoule site. According to his office, she will participate in “an accurate assessment of potential radiological impacts of this accident,” knowing that “no impact on the outside has been detected.” Information confirmed by the director of plant safety at the IRSN (institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire) on LCI.

The well-known daily Le Monde has reported that after the accident in Fukushima, the explosion near the French nuclear site is “a further illustration that an accident is unfortunately possible. It’s beyond our means,” said Corinne Lepage, former Minister of environment and President of CAP 21, on her Twitter account. “How many accidents, explosions, human dramas before starting the transition energy and finally ask the people if he is willing to take risks?” asked the Left Party in a statement.

Before stating: “Get away from the nuclear! Other energy choices are possible, we can not wait!” The Association France Nature Environment also said in a statement that “this new accident highlights the problems of risk control and nuclear technology in France.” “Without prejudice to the extent” of this accident, “we see that nuclear accidents at Chernobyl or Fukushima. Even in the Gard we are not immune,” said Catherine Grèze. She said “it is urgent to rethink our energy policy and nuclear power, to move towards a policy that does not pose a sword of Damocles over the heads of our citizens.”

The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has assured that there was “no discharge outside” following the explosion that took place in a waste treatment facility operated by Socodei, a subsidiary of EDF. “‘No radioactive release according to the CEA…But who can still rely on such statements,” said Denis Baupin, assistant ecologist at the town hall of Paris, in a message broadcast on his Twitter account.

Satellite image of the Marcoule fuel plant site

Actu-Environnement, a news website for environmental scientists, technicians and development workers, reported that the fatal accident on the central processing of radioactive waste in Marcoule (Gard) has revived, if there was need to, the debate on nuclear power. “The government procrastinate by talking of an industrial accident. The site was under increased surveillance since 2008.” Given the finding of “gaps in the safety culture within the installation Centraco, the ASN has been led in 2008 to seek strong commitments to the operator.

ASN has found, through its inspections and analysis of a succession of events in the installation, failure of control operations and coordination, insufficient knowledge of the safety standard by operating personnel and a lack of safety culture within the facility,” stated the ASN in its report on nuclear safety in 2008. Eleven incidents with a level 1 were found in 2008. Thus, the operator [Areva through its subsidiary, see below] to set up an action plan. “In a new meeting between the ASN and CEO Centraco held in late 2010, the ASN asked for real ownership by the operator of its action plan to improving the safety and commitment at management to implement safety”.

Update3: Unlike the operation of nuclear reactors, the ‘back end’ – spent fuel reprocessing – is inconspicuous. The public know little about these plants, the kind of materials that pass through them, the safety measures they need, the hazards they represent. The nuclear industry likes to keep it that way. The nuclear industry is a worldwide club of nuclear technology suppliers, power companies, regulators and administrators. They work under several layers of secrecy and obfuscation, most of these depending on technical and scientific sophistry. This is part of what makes this club so dangerous.

In France, the way this club operates has been doubly dangeous because local anti-nuclear groups have hardly been heard, their small influence in no way comparable to the powerful French nuclear lobby and its mighty propaganda machine. Until Fukushima, decades of nuclear brainwashing had succeeded in making the population, if not supportive, at least passive and resigned, and accepting of the widely-spread myth of climate-friendly nuclear power. That has changed, slowly but perceptibly. The Marcoule explosion of 2011 September 12 will change it further.

Until more information is released through official sources or through the network of anti-nuke campaign groups, here is useful background information on the Marcoule plant, its operator Areva and its lousy safety record.

The MELOX plant, an Areva subsidiary, is the world leader in the market for the fabrication of recycled nuclear fuel (MOX). it makes 46% of the world’s Mixed Oxide fuel (MOX). To support business development, Areva has said, the MELOX plant, with a production capacity of 195 metric tons per year, launched a three-year investment plan at the end of 2009 to increase production capacity and flexibility, in particular to meet demand for “multi-design/multi-customer” fuel fabrication. Approximately 850 employees work at the site, in addition to nearly 400 indirect jobs. Areva expects the workforce to rise to 900 employees by 2015.

Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication – world total 420 tons (metric tons of initial heavy metal MTIHM/year)

Country – Owner/Controller – Plant Name/Location – Capacity [MTIHM/year]
BelgiumBelgonucléaire SADessel (closes July 31, 2006) – 37
FranceAreva NCCadarache (somewhat closed) – (40)
FranceMELOX SA (100% Areva NC) – Marcoule195
IndiaDAE Nuclear Fuel ComplexTarapur50
JapanJNCTokai-Mura10
United KingdomBritish Nuclear Fuels, LtdSellafield128

Areva nuclear power operations. Source: Areva annual report

Incidents/Events in the last five years at the MELOX MOX fuel fabrication plant, Marcoule (Gard, France):

1. Contamination incident at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On June 28, 2011, a mechanical failure of an assembly bench caused a radioactive contamination event at the fuel assembly stage of the MELOX MOX fuel plant. Seventeen workers could return to their workplaces after medical checks. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN July 5, 2011)
2. MELOX SA new owner of MELOX MOX fuel plant – On Sep. 3, 2010, the Ministry of Ecology approved the ownership change of the MELOX Marcoule plant from Areva NC to MELOX SA, a 100% owned subsidiary of Areva NC. (Journal Officiel Sep. 5, 2010)
3. Worker contaminated in glove box accident at MELOX fuel fabrication plant – On Feb. 9, 2010, a worker was contaminated when the glove box he was using was damaged in an accident. The worker was transfered to a specialized medical service in the Paris area. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN Feb. 11, 2010)
4. MOX fuel lots mixed up at MELOX fuel fabrication plant – On Oct. 20, 2009, three baskets carrying MOX fuel pellets were mixed up at the Marcoule MOX plant. The error was not detected until Oct. 29, 2009. ASN rated the incident level 1 on the INES scale. (ASN Nov. 6, 2009)
5. Violation of criticality rules at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On March 3, 2009, the amount of fissile material located in a working station exceeded the permissible limit by 1%. No criticality occured, as the limit is set at half the amount required to initiate a criticality. Areva had initially rated the event level 1 on the INES scale. In view of the violation of several safety requirements that led to the event, the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) changed the rating to level 2 on the INES scale. (Areva March 4, 2009; ASN March 19, 2009)
6. Spill at Marcoule waste water treatment plant – On July 17, 2007, three cubic meters of waste water with a specific activity of approx. 40 Bq/cm3 spilled inside the building; only some dozen litres reached the outside of the building. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale.
7. Violation of criticality rules at MELOX MOX fuel plant – On May 29, 2007, an automatic transport cart carrying plutonium oxide was permitted to enter an already loaded working station. No criticality occured. The incident was rated INES 1. (ASN July 9, 2007)
8. Government authorizes further capacity increase for MELOX MOX fuel plant – On April 26, 2007, Areva received government approval for the requested capacity increase of the MELOX MOX fuel plant from 145 to 195 tHM/a. (Areva April 27, 2007)
9. Public Inquiry into further extension of MELOX MOX fuel plant – On Feb. 2, 2006, the Vice Minister of Industry announced the start of the public consultation process regarding the increase of capacity from 145 to 195 tHM/a. The public inquiry was held from April 18 to June 17, 2006.
[Source: WISE Uranium Project]

Areva's graphical description of its nuclear technologies and fuels cycle. Source: Areva 2010 Reference Document

According to Areva, MOX fuel (Mixed Oxide fuel) is a mixture of approximately 93% depleted uranium powder and 7% plutonium oxide powder. Areva is the world leader in the manufacture of MOX fuel with almost 1,570 tons of heavy metal (tML) and more than 3,000 assemblies produced since the Areva MELOX plant was put online in 1995. In 2009, approximately 139 tons of MOX were produced worldwide, 134 tML of which at the MELOX plant, representing a market share of around 95% for Areva.

Areva’s 2010 Reference Document said: “The production of MOX assemblies is handled by the MELOX plant at the Marcoule site (France – Gard region). The world leader on the MOX market, the AREVA MELOX plant has grown its capacity since 2003 in order to meet increased demand. Annual licensing therefore moved from 145 tons of heavy metal to 195 tons in 2006. Since the Areva Cadarache plant ceased production in July 2003, Areva has brought together MOX production in its MELOX plant.”

We can see clearly the links to the USA and Japanese nuclear industries from these statements in the Areva 2010 Reference Document: “In France, 21 reactors have been technically adapted to cope with this type of fuel. These reactors produce around 7% of the national electricity production. EDF licensing requests for using other reactors are pending. Japan plans to use MOX fuel in 16 to 20 reactors by 2010. A MOX fabrication plant with a capacity of around 130 tons/year is in the planning stages for the Rokkasho-Mura site. Operated by JNFL, it will benefit from an Areva technology transfer. In the United States, in partnership with the Shaw Group and on behalf of the US Department of Energy (DOE), Areva is pursuing the construction of an MFFF plant (Mixed Fuel Fabrication Facility) to manufacture MOX using plutonium of military origin.”

Update2: There’s still little official news being released by France’s government and nuclear authorities on the Marcoule reprocessing plant explosion. The word from the N-safety organisations is as follows: (1) the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has in a new statement said that the explosion occurred in a furnace used for the treatment of low level radioactive waste; (2) according to [French nuclear agency] ASN, the main radionuclide present in the waste materials in the oven is cobalt-60. Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN) has confirmed that there has not been any release of radioactivity from the site and that there is no prospect of any release. According to ASN, the incident has ended. The cause of the explosion is currently unknown and is under investigation.

These statements have not helped inform a Euro and global public fearful of new nuclear disasters, just six months after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima nuclear power plant. A look at this twitter trendmap shows why.

The Guardian has commented that the Marcoule accident came just a week after the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, bucked the anti-nuclear trend following Japan’s Fukushima disaster and pledged €1bn (£860m) of new investment in atomic power. Despite growing worldwide concern about the safety of nuclear plants – Germany has announced it is phasing its nuclear plants out — Sarkozy said the moratorium on new nuclear reactors adopted by some countries since the Japanese nuclear crisis in March “makes no sense”. “There is no alternative to nuclear energy today,” he told journalists at the time. “We are going to devote €1bn to the nuclear programme of the future, particularly fourth-generation technology.” He also promised “substantial resources” to strengthen research into nuclear safety and a further €1.3bn investment in renewable energy.

Greenpeace has urged the French government to ensure local people are kept fully up to date with the situation and the potential radioactive releases. “Information is still emerging and we do not know the cause of the explosion, but it serves as yet another tragic reminder of the dangers of nuclear power and the urgent need for governments to follow the lead taken by Germany in phasing it out.” It should be noted that this installations on the Marcoule site has not been included in the stress tests of nuclear facilities requested by the French government, nor in the last inspections by the Nuclear Safety Authority.

Authoritative background on the huge Marcoule plant is to be found in the documentation by the International Panel on Fissile Materials. “France initiated a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing program to provide plutonium for its nuclear weapons program in Marcoule in 1958. Later, the vision of the rapid introduction of plutonium-fuelled fast-neutron breeder reactors drove the large-scale separation of plutonium for civilian purposes, starting with the opening of the La Hague plant in 1966, financed under the military and civilian budgets of the Atomic Energy Commission (Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique, CEA). This effort initially was supported broadly by neighboring European countries who contributed to the French fast breeder project and, along with Japan, signed up for French reprocessing services in the 1970s.”

Workers at the Marcoule Nuclear Plant. Photo: TPM Idea Lab

France’s first reprocessing plant was the Usine de Plutonium 1 (UP1, Plutonium Factory 1) at Marcoule. Thirteen thousand tons of reactor fuel from gas-graphite plutonium production and power reactors was reprocessed there between 1958 and late 1997. Today the site hosts a huge decommissioning and clean-up effort. In 2003, the clean up, including waste management, was estimated to eventually cost about €6 billion ($6 billion) and is currently expected last till 2040. In 2005, these costs and liabilities were transferred from the government-owned nuclear-services conglomerate, AREVA NC, to the CEA.

The two reprocessing sites, La Hague and Marcoule, contain over 90 percent of France’s radioactive waste inventory. Their inventories include spent fuel, separated plutonium, large quantities of liquid and vitrified high level waste, and various types of intermediate, transuranic and low level radioactive wastes. A significant fraction of these wastes remains unconditioned. Conditioning techniques have been under development for decades. In view of changing standards, much of the waste that was conditioned between the 1950s and the 1970s will have to be reconditioned. [This information has come from the International Panel on Fissile Materials, Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing in France (2008 April)]

Update1: The first images about the Marcoule explosion have become available, thanks to MaxiSciences. See the photostrip below (captions in French and translated English). Not surprisingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), still has not even a mention of the problem on its website. The IAEA doesn’t have Fukushima on its main page either. The ‘Atoms For Peace’ agency, set up 54 years ago “to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies”, has a lot of catching up to do.

Voici les premières images de la centrale nucléaire de Marcoule où a eu lieu ce matin un accident meurtrier. (L) Des employés prennent des mesures par sécurité, (M) Les photographes ne peuvent pas dépasser un certain périmètre, (R) Un homme réalise des mesures de la radioactivité. (L) Employees take safety precautions, (M) Photographers are stopped from entering the area, (R) A man measures radioactivity. Photos: MaxiSciences

Sciencemag has reported that on its home page, France’s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) says that no radioactivity appears to have leaked from the site. The plant, called Centraco, is owned by Socodei, a daughter company of French energy giant EDF (Electricite de France SA). According to Socodei’s website, Centraco “processes scrap metal in its melting plant and combustible waste in its incinerating plant. … The objective is to reduce waste volume, recycle whenever possible, and condition the remainder as ultimate waste packages accepted by the French national agency for radioactive waste management (ANDRA).”

Location of Marcoule. Graphic: Ladepeche.fr

News reports coming in about the explosion at Marcoule, southern France, are still sketchy. One death and several injuries are reported. France’s nuclear safety agency ASN (Autorité de sûreté nucléaire) has issued a short early statement to say there is no radiation threat. This is to be taken as a pre-emptive statement. As we know from the terrible record of nuclear power the world over, the Marcoule falout will become clear in the next days and weeks. [see the detailed Fukushima page and running post].

Reuters has reported that one person was killed in an explosion at the nuclear site of Marcoule in southern France, France’s ASN nuclear watchdog said on Monday, but there was no leak of radioactive material. Marcoule is a nuclear waste management site that does not include any reactors. The explosion took place near a furnace, an ASN spokesperson told Reuters.

Electricite de France SA (EDF) is described in the European bourses as a France-based integrated energy operator active in the generation, distribution, transmission and supply of energy services. It generates energy using nuclear technology, as well as thermal, hydroelectric and other renewable sources. The company is involved in energy generation and energy sales.

Early news in the French press:

Ladepeche.fr – Gard. Un mort dans l’explosion d’un four sur un site nucléaire: Un four a explosé, ce lundi, sur le site nucléaire de Marcoule dans le Gard, entraînant la mort d’un homme et en blessant quatre, dont un grièvement. Alors que la préfecture et les pompiers craignaient une fuite radioactive, l’Autorié de sûreté nucléaire (ASN), EDF et le ministère de l’Ecologie précisent que l’accident n’a provoqué aucune fuite, ni chimique, ni radioactive.

Nuclear centres in France. Graphic: Le Monde

Le site de Marcoule est un centre de traitement de déchets d’une filiale d’EDF. L’incident a eu lieu vers 11h45 dans le centre Centraco, de la société Socodei, a déclaré un porte-parole du Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA). “Pour l’instant, il n’y a pas de rejets à l’extérieur”, a-t-il ajouté. Il a également signalé qu’un périmètre de sécurité a été mis en place en raison des risques de fuite, ce que dément le Midi-Libre.

Europe 1 – Gard : explosion sur un site nucléaire

Le Monde – Explosion d’un four et risque de fuite radioactive sur le site nucléaire de Marcoule

BBC News has provided some useful background on Marcoule – the site is one of the oldest in France, and played a significant role in the development of the French nuclear and thermonuclear deterrents. It opened in 1956 – well after the US began the era of nuclear armaments, at a time when France was among the nations looking to gain their own seat at the nuclear table.

The earliest reactors generated first data and then plutonium for the first successful French test in 1960. Other defence-oriented reactors followed – and as the world contemplated a new generation of much bigger bombs with much bigger destructive capacity, a new reactor at Marcoule was built to produce tritium, fuel for hydrogen (or thermonuclear) weapons. On the civilian side, the site also housed the experimental Phenix fast-breeeder reactor, and – since 1995 – it has combined fissile uranium and plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, which can be used in nuclear power stations.

The Marcoule site dates back the dawn of the French nuclear age. Photo: BBC News

CBC has reported that the Marcoule site does not include any nuclear power reactors. It is involved with the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, and operates a pressurized water reactor used to produce tritium. The site is located in the Gard region of France, in Langedoc Roussillon, near the Mediterranean Sea. Midi Libre, a local paper in Montpellier, near the site, says the explosion occurred at 11:45 a.m. local time.

The report said one person was seriously injured and has been airlifted to a hospital in Montpellier. Three others were taken to a local hospital. No evacuation notice was given to the local area but a security perimeter around the site has been established, according to reports.

World Nuclear News has a short item – details of the event come from the French nuclear safety regulator, the ASN. It said that the incident occurred at the Centraco facility where low-level radiaoctive wastes is prepared for packing and disposal. This includes items such as equipment, filters and clothing from power plants, universities and hospitals. The facility is operated by Socodei, part of the EDF group. ASN said that its preliminary information was that the furnace used to melt lightly contaminated scrap metal had suffered an explosion. Its first assessment was that one worker was killed and four more injured, one of those seriously.

Nuclear centres in France. Graphic: Ladepeche.fr

RFI English has reported the French government as having said that there are no signs of a radiation leak after a blast at the Marcoule nuclear site in the Rhone Valley on Monday. At least one person died and four more were injured following the explosion of a furnace used to melt down radioactive material. One of the injured is said to be in a critical condition.

Bloomberg cites a spokeswoman for France’s Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet having confirmed that there has been an explosion and said that the minister will visit the site. France’s ASN nuclear safety watchdog said that it will make a statement on the incident. France, which has more nuclear reactors than any other European country, is carrying out safety checks on atomic installations to evaluate dangers from earthquakes and flooding.

News reports two months ago said that the UK is relying on EDF to build the first nuclear power stations for a generation in Suffolk and Somerset by 2018. However, suspicions are growing that EDF is preparing to delay Britain’s new plants substantially, having said it will issue a “revised timetable” for the UK in the autumn. It was understood by the British media that British officials are now working on the assumption that new nuclear will not arrive in the UK until after 2020. The reports had said costs in France have already doubled and construction is severely delayed at EDF’s flagship plant in Flamanville, which will be its first new plant in more than 15 years. Back when construction started in 2006, EDF thought it would cost just €3.3bn (£2.9bn) and take under five years to build. Until last year, EDF was still insisting that Flamanville would be ready by 2012.

Fukushima nuclear emergency, Japan

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18 December 2011: You will find the Updates archive, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.

Street lights shine in the abandoned town of Iitate, outside the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, in northeast Japan. Residents were forced to evacuate the town after radiation levels from the leaking plant exceeded those inside the exclusion zone. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

More than nine months have passed since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and triggered a still-unresolved disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. This set of news reports, news features and editorial in the Mainichi Daily News reveals the chronic deception and criminal corporate irresponsibility that continue to hinder all meaningful effort to mitigate the meltdown, and to obstruct at all costs the truth.

Mainichi Daily News has said that the government has declared a stable “cold shutdown” at the plant, representing a major milestone in its handling of the disaster. The public has keenly waited for the nuclear reactors to be brought under stable control, but Japan is still standing on thin ice and is miles away from a situation where it can really declare that the crisis is under control.

In the meantime, rebuilding the lives of residents near the crippled plants has been an urgent critical challenge. On the occasion of its latest political declaration, the government needs to renew its resolve to settle the crisis and achieve regional recovery. The disaster-hit reactors are certainly now in a more stable condition. However, the phrase “cold shutdown” usually refers to suspension of a sound reactor. The fact that the government is attempting to apply this term in a severe accident in which three reactors have suffered core meltdowns should be called into question. The government should rather explain in detail the possibility of any additional explosions and whether a recriticality accident has been ruled out.

Police on duty at a roadblock at the edge of the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, at Namie, in northeast Japan. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

Simulations suggest that nuclear fuel has melted inside the reactor containment vessels, eroding their concrete floors. Although Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, has indicated that melted fuel has also been cooled down by water, this is nothing but speculation. We urge the utility and the government to find a way to ascertain the precise condition of the fuel.

Mainichi Daily News has reported that conditions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are far worse than its operator or the government has admitted, according to freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, who spent more than a month working undercover at the power station. “Absolutely no progress is being made” towards the final resolution of the crisis, Suzuki told reporters at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan news conference on Dec. 15. Suzuki, 55, worked for a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary as a general laborer there from July 13 to Aug. 22, documenting sloppy repair work, companies including plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) playing fast and loose with their workers’ radiation doses, and a marked concern for appearances over the safety of employees or the public.

An earthquake-damaged grave is seen at a cemetery in the abandoned town of Katsurao, outside the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, in northeast Japan. The town was abandoned when radiation levels became unsafe for long term exposure. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

For example, the no-entry zones around the plant – the 20-kilometer radius exclusion zone and the extension covering most of the village of Iitate and other municipalities – have more to do with convenience that actual safety, Suzuki says. The situation at the plant itself is no better, where he says much of the work is simply “for show,” fraught with corporate jealousies and secretiveness and “completely different” from the “all-Japan” cooperative effort being presented by the government.

“Reactor makers Toshiba and Hitachi (brought in to help resolve the crisis) each have their own technology, and they don’t talk to each other. Toshiba doesn’t tell Hitachi what it’s doing, and Hitachi doesn’t tell Toshiba what it’s doing.” Meanwhile, despite there being no concrete data on the state of the reactor cores, claims by the government and TEPCO that the disaster is under control and that the reactors are on-schedule for a cold shutdown by the year’s end have promoted a breakneck work schedule, leading to shoddy repairs and habitual disregard for worker safety, he said. “Working at Fukushima is equivalent to being given an order to die,” Suzuki quoted one nuclear-related company source as saying.

At a Tokyo market, a smartphone shows radiation test results by the grower of a package of Maitake mushrooms, showing them as free of radioactive contamination. Many consumers worry about the safety of food from Fukushima and surrounding prefectures, although produce and fish found to be above government-set limits for contamination are barred from the market. Mushrooms, for example, harvested in and around Fukushima are frequently found to be contaminated and barred from the market. Sept. 12, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Shizuo Kambayashi

Kenichi Oshima is currently a professor at Ritsumeikan University. After long years of nuclear power research, he had learned that the actual cost of maintaining nuclear power in Japan was twice as high as what government and electric power companies had publicly announced, the Mainichi Daily News has reported. In March 2010, published his findings in a book, but found himself under fire at a time when pro-nuclear energy was becoming even stronger. In September the same year, during a meeting of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, his comments were rejected and even mocked. “Do you call this research?” he was told and few even cared to look at his findings.

Following the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Oshima’s situation drastically changed. He was selected as a member of two expert governmental committees to serve as a critical analyst of Japan’s current nuclear power stance. The group will openly release all internal debates and documents, Oshima says. He is now more optimistic than ever that the time to destroy the “cheap and safe” nuclear power myth will eventually come.

Workers in protective suits and masks wait to enter the emergency operation center at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Japan. Nov. 12, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / David Guttenfelder, Pool

A sober and critical editorial in the Mainichi Daily News has said that Britain has already abandoned developing fast-breeder nuclear reactors, and is set to give up nuclear fuel reprocessing as well. Moreover, its planned construction of a facility to dispose of radioactive waste including plutonium is likely to materialize even though it is still at a planning phase.

In contrast, there are no prospects that Japan can build a disposal facility. However, for Japan to call for operations at the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Fukui Prefecture and the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho to be carried out as planned, would be like putting the cart before the horse as it appears the country is incapable of building a disposal facility.

Plutonium is directly related to security issues. The U.K. possesses nuclear weapons but Japan does not. One may wonder whether Japan’s independence will be threatened if it abandons nuclear fuel recycling and loses its ability to produce plutonium. Even though it is an important point of contention the issue should not be used as a reason to underestimate the harm of plutonium.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano who is in charge of energy policy, Goshi Hosono, state minister for handling the nuclear crisis, and Yoshito Sengoku, second-in-command in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Committee, have been hearing the views of experts on the issue. It is not enough for the government to talk only about the dream of “prosperity” built on dependence on nuclear power. Japan’s ability to overcome the mess that follows such prosperity is now being tested.

More updates, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.

Written by makanaka

March 17, 2011 at 22:20

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