Nuclear: Mickey Mouse energy solutionToday's big stories from the nuclear industry:

EDF nuclear reactor carries 'Chernobyl-size' explosion risk

‘French anti-nuclear campaigners claim a new power plant being built in Normandy carries an accident risk of "Chernobyl proportions". Sortir du Nucléaire, a protest network, says leaked confidential documents show that tests on the third-generation pressurised water reactor present a potentially catastrophic scenario. The network has eight internal papers showing the results of tests on the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) that, it claims, reveal defects in the mechanism that controls the nuclear reaction. These defects, it says, could cause an explosion sending a massive cloud of radiation into the atmosphere. The documents, leaked by an insider at the French electricity firm EDF, which will run the new Flamanville 3 power station, date from between 2004 and 2009. "They show the main arguments in favour of the EPR ... are false," a spokesperson for Sortir du Nucléaire said. The news will cause consternation among campaigners against nuclear power in the UK as EDF is one of several companies hoping to build the next generation of British reactors over the next seven years. Philippe Brousse, Sortir du Nucléaire's director, said the documents revealed that in certain circumstances, the reactor ejected the cluster rods that regulate the nuclear reaction, causing a leak of coolant and, eventually, an explosion.’

France nuke meet heralds contracts war with the US

‘The International Conference on Civil Nuclear Energy in Paris on March 8 and 9 is being viewed as the precursor to a full-blown nuclear reactors contracts war between France and the US. France, a world leader in adopting civilian nuclear energy technology to generate power, says it wants countries embarking on building nuclear reactors to have 360-degree access to civilian nuclear technology--including the rights to reprocess spent fuel. The US, on the other hand, is organising a nuclear security conference in Washington next month that will feature the world's top leaders, including US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But the reason France is pushing its civilian nuclear agenda hard is that its largest private and public sector nuclear reactor companies - including the partly state-owned Areva which has won six multi-billion dollar contracts in India - are losing out to US pressure in emerging markets around the world. France is also engaged in a bitter contracts war with the US in India, which has embarked on a large $ 30-billion civilian nuclear energy programme soon after a joint statement between PM Singh and the then US President George W. Bush in July 2005. Soon after the NSG approval, France and Russia signed major nuclear deals with India, as part of which Areva had been allocated the nuclear project site at Jaitapur (Maharashtra) to construct two nuclear power plants initially.’

BNFL memoir revives nuclear safety fears

‘The autobiography of a former director of British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) is likely to reignite fears about the safety of nuclear power, as Britain prepares for a new generation of reactors, by exposing the panic that rocked the industry two decades ago when a link was suggested between radiation and childhood leukaemia. At its height, workers at Sellafield were advised not to have children, while bosses at the Cumbrian nuclear complex even proposed establishing a sperm bank or calling for "radiation volunteers" from among older workers in order to reduce levels of exposure for workers of child-bearing age. The Tenth Child, by Harold Bolter, a former chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, reveals the extent of concern within the industry following a damaging report into clusters of illness around the Cumbrian reprocessing facility in the 1990s. It comes as Britain prepares to build up to half a dozen nuclear power stations, some of them possibly sited in that area. Greenpeace said last night that there should be a major review of nuclear plants before any decision was made to construct new ones. Ben Ayliffe, senior energy campaigner, said: "The nuclear industry has a long history of evasion and dishonesty… Greenpeace is reviving its call for a public inquiry into all impacts of nuclear power - including health effects."’

South Korea's nuclear dreams hinge on new deal with US

‘SEOUL, March 7 (AFP) -- South Korea, which has spent decades developing nuclear power to make up for its lack of oil, now hopes to become a global leader in atomic energy as the world turns away from fossil fuels. A Seoul-led consortium, triumphing over more experienced competitors, won a 20.4 billion dollar contract last December to build four nuclear plants in the United Arab Emirates. The deal will make South Korea the world's sixth exporter of reactors after the United States, France, Russia, Canada and Japan. It hopes to export 80 reactors worth 400 billion dollars by 2030. President Lee Myung-Bak has described atomic energy as a new growth engine. "Nuclear power is a great tool to make up for the lethal weakness of a country that does not produce a single drop of oil," he said in January. The industry guarantees huge benefits at relatively little cost and creates high-quality jobs, Lee said. But a growing radioactive waste stockpile which already amounts to 10,800 tonnes, coupled with a US ban on reprocessing, is fuelling uncertainty about the industry's future.’

Anne Lauvergeon: champion of the nuclear option

‘She has been ranked by Forbes as one of the world’s ten most powerful women, ahead of Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and the Queen, but Anne Lauvergeon looks puzzled by the idea. ‘I don’t really know what that means,’ the chief executive of Areva says. ‘My six-year-old son thinks it means I must have very big muscles.’ In terms of industrial muscle, he is not wrong. Since the creation of Areva in 2001 from a disparate jumble of French state-owned industrial assets, ‘Atomic Anne’ has forged the world’s biggest builder of nuclear reactors, a global powerhouse with more than 75,000 staff and an order book worth more than euros 43 billion. One, moreover, that is intent on getting bigger. Globally, the number of reactors is expected to swell from today’s 435 in 31 countries to 568 in 42 countries by 2020, equivalent to one new reactor a month for the next decade. Ms Lauvergeon wants Areva, which is 90 per cent-owned by the French Government, to build one third of them and to supply the uranium fuel and process the waste afterwards. ‘It’s a Nespresso model,’ she says. ‘We make the coffee makers, the capsules and we can even recycle them.’ With four reactors already on order for the UK worth about £4 billion each, the commercial opportunities are obvious. But that industrial muscle has been put to the test in what is the biggest battle of Ms Lauvergeon’s career ‘” not with foreign competitors but with other powerful players in France’s state-controlled energy industry.’

Zombie Power: Abandoned Nuclear Projects Rise From Their 1970's Graves

‘Dave Levitan writing for SolveClimate has published an excellent survey of what the future may hold for the 'More than 60 proposed US nuclear projects, scrapped in the 1970s and early 1980s.' Some are nothing more than unapproved plans on paper (there was no CAD back then - so hand drawn), others are in various states of completion and "mothballed," some were started up but not commissioned for long term use, and some were demolished, with scrap sold. Now, several of these long-buried projects are once again rising from the earth. Let's review the variety of reasons that these 60 zombies were buried in the first place and whether there is anything to fear. First, a few factual reminders to save our commenting readers some time. France is the size of Texas and has a far smaller nuclear capacity than the USA currently does. Uranium mining can be as damaging to the environment and property values as mountain top removal - even worse it it is done in drought plagued regions. New best practices must be defined to make it sustainable. There have been plenty of accidental releases of radiation at operating plants in the USA and around the world, but never has there been a serious release of nuclear fuel during transportation or when stored as 'waste' in the USA.’

The future of spent nuclear fuel - A blue ribbon commission will hold its first meeting March 25-26 in Washington, DC

‘A panel of nuclear energy experts appointed by the federal government will take up the issue of what to do with 60,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel. Appointed by Department of Energy Sec. Steven Chu, the 15 members of a Blue Ribbon Commission will look at a broad range of options for managing the material and related nuclear waste from the nation’s nuclear reactors. The one choice they won’t have is to use Yucca Mountain in Nevada. That option is off the table. The panel was appointed Jan 29 with the objective of coming up with solutions to dealing with spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. The ‘Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future’ will conduct a comprehensive review for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. Within 18 months it will produce a draft report on alternatives for storage, reprocessing, and disposal of civilian and defense spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. A final report is due in January 2012. The Commission is being co-chaired by former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. The other 13 members of the Commission include a wide range of expertise. [See list of members at end of this blog post.]

Sarkozy hosts conference on nuclear energy

‘AFP - Nations hungry for new energy sources gather this week in France, which sees a blooming market for its big nuclear energy companies but is also anxious to curb the spread of atomic weapons. In response to growing demand for renewable fuels, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will welcome delegates from Syria, former pariah Libya, and about 60 other countries on Monday for a two-day conference on access to nuclear power. "The peaceful use of nuclear power should not be confined to a handful of states that already hold the technology," said a French government statement announcing the talks. France, the world's second-biggest nuclear power producer, "has expressed its willingness to assist any country wishing to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes which fully abide by their non-proliferation obligations." The conference comes at a sensitive time for nuclear diplomacy. France is leading efforts for fresh UN sanctions against Iran for its nuclear programme, which some world powers suspect is aimed at developing an atomic weapon. Syria has been investigated by the UN nuclear watchdog (IAEA) on allegations that it was building a covert nuclear reactor at a site bombed in 2007 by Israel -- another guest at the conference, which will be presided over by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano. Libya committed in 2004 to scrapping its nuclear programme in order to normalise its broken ties with the United States and other powers. The two join the conference alongside emerging economies China, Russia, Brazil and others.’