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Nuclear energy: myths and truths

February 12, 2012

“Nuclear energy is cheap”

Citibank: “New Nuclear – The Economics Say No” (PDF document)

“Three of the risks faced by developers — Construction, Power Price, and Operational — are so large and variable that individually they could each bring even the largest utility company to its knees financially.”
“Government policy remains that the private sector takes full exposure to the three main risks; Construction, Power Price and Operational. Nowhere in the world have nuclear power stations been built on this basis.
Nor will they be built in the UK — We see little if any prospect that new nuclear stations will be built in the UK by the private sector unless developers can lay off substantial elements of the three major risks.”


John Hutton, Ex-Business Secretary, 2008: “No nuclear plant had been built anywhere in the world without public money”.
2009: Former business secretary John Hutton rejects senior role with EDF Energy – Insiders say MP may have decided it is too soon after government dealings to take nuclear post

John Rowe, CEO of the largest nuclear operator in the United States, Exelon:

“At the present time, new reactors are not economical anyway. Natural gas-fired generation is now the economic way to produce low carbon electricity, and that will be true for about a decade”.
“In the long run, Exelon will be adding more gas, more wind and, if it becomes more economic, more solar to our fleet”.


“Loophole in energy bill could see UK taxpayers funding nuclear bailouts”

“Capping the insurance was a clear decision to provide a nonnegligible subsidy to the technology” said Klaus Toepfer, a former German environment minister.
“One estimate by a German think tank shows that coverage for every €1 trillion ($1.5 trillion) in estimated damages would theoretically cost annual insurance of €47 billion ($68.5 billion).”

“Labour and the nuclear lobby”

Chancellor Gordon Brown’s brother, Andrew, is EDF’s head of media relations in the UK.
Yvette Cooper, housing and planning minister, and wife of Mr Brown’s closest political ally Ed Balls, also has links to the nuclear industry.
Her father, ex-trade union official Tony Cooper, is the former chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, and is currently a director of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.


Blair aide gave me ultimatum to sign controversial uranium deal, Meacher claims

“I never expected the results to be the disaster they turned out to be. It’s an absolute, monumental scandal and what it shows is just how far governments are prepared to go to support the nuclear industry,” Mr Meacher said. “I will certainly be writing to the National Audit Office and contacting the chair of the Public Accounts Committee. It is quite simply an utter scandal that needs a thorough investigation.”


Wikipedia: Cost of electricity by source


“Nuclar energy is safe”

“Shiro Ogura, an engineer involved in the design of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, said that his bosses had told him that earthquakes of magnitude 8 or more could never happen, and so there had been no planning for such contingencies. Neither had the company factored tsunamis into the design of nuclear power plants, he said.
“Right before my retirement in 2002, the company reviewed for the first time whether plants can operate in case of a tsunami. But the size of tsunami that the company presumed was much smaller than that of this time”
Japanese engineer Masashi Goto, who helped design the containment vessel for Fukushima’s reactor core, says the design was not enough to withstand earthquakes or tsunamis and the plant’s builders, Toshiba, knew this. More on Mr Goto’s remarks to follow. (transcript by BBC)

“Fukushima Engineer Says He Helped Cover Up Flaw at Dai-Ichi Reactor No. 4”

Tanaka says the reactor pressure vessel inside Fukushima’s unit No. 4 was damaged at a Babcock-Hitachi foundry in Kure City, in Hiroshima prefecture, during the last step of a manufacturing process that took 2 1/2 years and cost tens of millions of dollars. If the mistake had been discovered, the company might have been bankrupted, he said.”
“The vessel had sagged so that its height and width differed by more than 34 millimeters, meaning it should have been scrapped, according to nuclear regulations. Rather than sacrifice years of work and risk the company’s survival, Tanaka’s boss asked him to reshape the vessel so that no-one would know it had ever been damaged. Tanaka had been working as an engineer for the company’s nuclear reactor division and was known for his programming skills.

“I saved the company billions of yen,” said Tanaka, who says he was paid a 3 million yen bonus and presented with a certificate acknowledging his “extraordinary” effort. “At the time, I felt like a hero,” he said.”

“Two years later Tanaka says he went to the Trade Ministry to report the cover-up he’d been involved in more than a decade earlier. The government refused to investigate and Hitachi denied his accusations, he said.

“They said, if Hitachi says they didn’t do it, then there’s no problem,” Tanaka said. “Companies don’t always tell the truth.”


“Fukushima: Mark 1 Nuclear Reactor Design Caused GE Scientist To Quit In Protest”

“Thirty-five years ago, Dale G. Bridenbaugh and two of his colleagues at General Electric resigned from their jobs after becoming increasingly convinced that the nuclear reactor design they were reviewing — the Mark 1 — was so flawed it could lead to a devastating accident.”
Bridenbaugh: “The problems we identified in 1975 were that, in doing the design of the containment, they did not take into account the dynamic loads that could be experienced with a loss of coolant,” Bridenbaugh told ABC News in an interview. “The impact loads the containment would receive by this very rapid release of energy could tear the containment apart and create an uncontrolled release.”


“Fukushima nuclear plant owner falsified inspection records”

“Tokyo Electric Power Co injected air into the containment vessel of Fukushima reactor No 1 to artificially “lower the leak rate”. When caught, the company expressed its “sincere apologies for conducting dishonest practices”.

The misconduct came to light in 2002 after whistleblowers working for General Electric, which designed the reactor, complained to the Japanese government. Another GE employee later confessed that he had falsified records of inspections of reactor No1 in 1989 – at the request of TEPCO officials. He also admitted to falsifying other inspection reports, also on request of the client. After that incident TEPCO was forced to shut down 17 reactors, albeit temporarily.”

In 2007, TEPCO ran into trouble again after misinforming government officials about breakdowns at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, which had been damaged after a magnitude 6.8 quake. In a cable released by WikiLeaks, a US official said: “TEPCO issued a corrected statement on July 18 in which it admitted it miscalculated the amount of radiation leakage.”

WikiLeaks cables also reveal that Japan was warned in 2009 that its power plants could not withstand powerful earthquakes.


“Hermann Behmel, 71, is no environmental activist. In fact the geologist, who teaches at the University of Stuttgart, has nothing against nuclear power plants.
The government of Germany’s southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg asked him for his advice 40 years ago, when plans were on the table to build the Neckarwestheim 2 nuclear power plant, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Stuttgart. Behmel and two colleagues evaluated the site from a geological perspective between 1974 and 1976. Their assessment was unanimous. “The place is a geological time bomb,” says Behmel.
But the plant was built nevertheless. The geological assessment disappeared into a file cabinet and Behmel stopped receiving commissions from the government.

In November 2002, a crater 18 meters (59 feet) deep opened up in a field about five kilometers from Neckarwestheim. It happened “completely without warning,” says Behmel.
The plant’s cooling tower has already sunk by 40 centimeters. “If the layers of rock give way here, all of the cables could be ripped out,” the geologist warns.”

“A quarter of U.S. nuclear plants not reporting equipment defects, report finds”

More than a quarter of U.S. nuclear plant operators have failed to properly tell regulators about equipment defects that could imperil reactor safety, according to a report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inspector general.
Operators of U.S. nuclear power plants are supposed to tell the NRC when pieces of equipment “contain defects that could create a substantial safety hazard,” regulations say.


“A IS FOR ATOM”, documentary by Adam Curtis (BBC):

“But two large American corporations, Westinghouse and General electric, had already invested millions of dollars in nuclear technology. For them, there was no way back. In 1961, the new chief executive of General Electric told his staff “we’re going to ram this nuclear thing through” (20:30).
“And in 1971 the Atomic Energy Commission did a series of tests of Emergency Core Cooling systems. Accidents were simulated. In each case the emergency systems worked – but the water failed to fill the core. Often being forced out under pressure.
As one of the AEC scientists (Robert Pollard) says in the film: “We discovered that our theoretical calculations didn’t have a strong correlation with reality. But we just couldn’t admit to the public that all these safety systems we told you about might not do any good” (37:15)


“In 1972, the first warning was issued about the vulnerability of the sort of General Electric reactors used in Fukushima in Japan”

Safety inspectors at America’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) warned as early as 1972 that the General Electric reactors, which did away with the traditional large containment domes, were more vulnerable to explosion and more vulnerable to the release of radiation if a meltdown occurred.
Michael Mariotte, director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said: “The concern has been there all along that this containment building was not strong enough and the pressure containment system was not robust enough to prevent an explosion.”
Mariotte’s group has made public a 1972 letter from an AEC inspector, Stephen Hanauer, recommending the design be discontinued.

The early warning about the reactor design was reinforced in 1986 when Harold Denton, then the top safety official at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), warned of a high risk of failure of the mark one containment system.
“Mark one containment, especially being smaller with lower design pressure, in spite of the suppression pool… you’ll find something like a 90% probability of that containment failing,” he told an industry trade group at the time.


Peter Bradford, a former commissioner at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said questions have been raised for years about whether spent fuel is being safely stored at U.S. power plants.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission pretty bluntly shunted those questions aside,” Bradford told Reuters Insider TV. Bradford said the commission even tried to prevent the publication of a study of the issue completed by the National Academy of Sciences.
“That kind of complacency, the sense that everything is good enough already, is very unlikely to persist in the wake of these events” in Japan, said Bradford, who is now an adjunct professor at the Vermont Law School.

“Japan nuclear firm admits missing safety checks at disaster-hit plant”

One month before the tsunami, government regulators approved a Tepco request to prolong the life of one of its six reactors by another decade, despite warnings that its backup power generator contained stress cracks, making them more vulnerable to water damage.
Weeks later, Tepco admitted it had failed to inspect 33 pieces of equipment inside the plant’s cooling systems, including water pumps, according to the nuclear safety agency’s website.


Daniel Hirsch, a lecturer in nuclear policy at UC Santa Cruz speaks about the concerns some had about building the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo during a Senate hearing at the state Capitol on Monday:

“Possible Source of Leaks at Spent Fuel Pools at Fukushima”

When the gates are closed, they are made watertight by an inflatable seal, similar to a bicycle innertube, that runs around the sides and bottom of the gates. Electric air pumps are used to inflate these seals and keep them inflated as air leaks out of them over time.
These pumps are powered by electricity from the power grid, and not by backup diesel power or batteries. So once the power grid in Japan was knocked out, these seals could not be inflated if they lost air over time. If these seals lost air they could lead to significant water loss from the pool, even if there were no direct physical damage to the pool from the earthquake or tsunami. This may be what happened at pool 4, and could affect the other pools as well


“Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report” (chapter 3):

“It is important to recognize, however, that the Reactor Safety Study did not address the consequences of terrorist attacks.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its contractors have periodically reanalyzed the safety of spent nuclear fuel storage (see Benjamin et al., 1979; BNL, 1987, 1997; USNRC, 1983, 2001a, 2003b). All of these studies suggest that a loss-of-pool-coolant event could trigger a zirconium cladding fire in the exposed spent fuel. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission considered such an accident to be so unlikely that no specific action was warranted.

The overall conclusion of the study [NUREG-1738, 2001] was that the risk of a spent fuel pool accident leading to a zirconium cladding fire was low despite the large consequences because the predicted frequency of such accidents was very low. [!!!] The study also concluded, however, that the consequences of a zirconium cladding fire in a spent fuel pool could be serious and, that once the fuel was uncovered, it might take only a few hours for the most recently discharged spent fuel rods to ignite.

A paper by Alvarez et al. (2003a) took the analyses in NUREG-1738 to their logical ends in fight of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: Namely, what would happen if there were a loss-of-pool-
coolant event that drained the spent fuel pool? Such an event was not considered in NUREG-1738 […] Alvarez and his co-authors concluded that such an event would lead to the rapid heat-up of spent fuel in a dense-packed pool to temperatures at which the zirconium alloy cladding would catch fire and release many of the fuel’s fission products, particularly cesium-137. They suggested that the fire could spread to the older spent fuel, resulting in long-term contamination consequences that were worse than those from the Chemobyl accident.
The Alvarez et al. (2003a) paper received extensive attention and comments, including a comment from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff. None of the commentators challenged the main conclusion of the Alvarez et al. paper that a severe loss-of-pool-coolant accident might lead to a spent fuel fire in a dense-packed pool. Rather, the commentators challenged the likelihood that such an event could occur through accident or sabotage, the assumptions used to calculate the offsite consequences of such an event, and the cost-effectiveness of the authors’ proposal to move spent fuel into dry cask storage. One commentator summarized these differences in a single sentence (Benjamin, 2003, p. 53): “In a nutshell, [Alvarez et al.] correctly identify a problem that needs to be addressed, but they do not adequately demonstrate that the proposed solution is cost-effective or that it is optimal.”



CBS: Whistleblower says “the books are being cooked” — “You can see a Fukushima happening here in the U.S.” — “They wired my car for firebombing” (VIDEO)

Watts Bar, in Spring City, Tenn., is the last nuclear plant to be licensed in the U.S., and a textbook study of the pros and cons of nuclear power. It provides electricity to some 9 million people in seven states, yet is dogged with a long history of safety issues and whistle-blower lawsuits — including six by a 71-year-old great-grandmother named Ann Harris. […]

What was the turning point in her work? “Basically,” she replied, “the books are being cooked. People are saying things, they swear under oath it’s been done, and it hadn’t been done.”

When Harris refused to sign a multimillion-dollar construction contract riddled with errors, she said, Tennessee Valley Authority executives told her that her career was over. Instead, it sparked a 28-year crusade devoted to preventing a nuclear accident.

Harris said, “You can see a Fukushima happening here in the U.S.” So it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of – “When,” […]

There have certainly been attempts at intimidation, recrimination and really, threats on your life?

Harris responded, “Yes. They ran me off the road. They wired my car for firebombing. They dropped the universal joint out of my car.”


Hiroshi Nakajima, former Director General WHO:
“For atomic affairs, military use and civil use, they [IAEA] have the authority” (minute 4:55)