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On requiring insurance for nuclear power stations

What a plan, eh?

Never let it be said that Germany doesn’t have the good of all at heart. Thus it is with Günther Oettinger’s proposal to harmonise the cost of nuclear insurance across the European Union, and preferably beyond if he could.

Not content with Germany’s utterly daft decision to abandon nuclear power generation, the European Commissioner for Energy now wishes to make it prohibitively expensive for everyone else by promising to impose mandatory disaster insurance on all nuclear power plants.

Oettinger believes the current, quite limited, insurance most countries have – in Bulgaria, for instance, it is just €49m (£40m) per plant, and in France €90m – amounts to a hidden subsidy for nuclear.

Unfair, he cries. Something must be done, especially as Germany has decided to go down the costly alternative route of investment in renewables for its future energy needs. If Germans are to pay through the nose for their energy, then so must everyone else, nicht wahr?

Apparently, German economists have crunched the numbers and determined that the costs of a Fukushima in a densely populated part of Europe could be as high as €5 trillion, or about double the size of German GDP.

I’m not entirely sure how they reach this number, but plainly it would be completely uninsurable. Even Munich Re, the reinsurer for Fukushima, would struggle with that one.

If the effect was to stop future nuclear development in its tracks, that would presumably count as the right outcome. Those Germans; they certainly know what’s good for you.

Didn’t The Guardian look a long way for Fukushima experts?

Some nuclear experts say Tepco, still reeling from international criticism of its inability to stem massive leaks of contaminated water into the Pacific ocean, is deliberately playing down the risks.

“A task like this has never been done before, and obviously it is extremely dangerous,” said Charles Perrow, an emeritus professor at Yale University.

“I would be reassured if experts from other nations were allowed to inspect the site, make recommendations and observe the process. Or better yet, do the work. Rather than damage the nation’s pride, it would increase other nations’ confidence in the ability of Tepco to handle the job.”

Shaun Burnie, a nuclear consultant, said Tepco had “clearly demonstrated its inability” to manage the cleanup.

“Does that mean they cannot be trusted to remove the fuel from Fukushima?” he asked. “That’s irrelevant. They are going to remove the fuel and therefore the question is whether their plan is the best option without risk.

“They have to remove the fuel as early as possible – the risk from major structural failure leading to pool collapse is a greater threat than leaving the fuel in situ.

“The probability that the operation will go wrong in some way given the unique challenges and Tepco’s track record must be considered a real risk.”

As we noted yesterday, Charles Perrow is a retired sociology professor. Just the person we want commenting on nuclear engineering really. And Shaun Burnie?

Shaun Burnie has worked on nuclear power and energy for more than 25 years. He has worked for Greenpeace International for 20 years as a campaigner and head of policy, and is currently a consultant to the organisation. He has worked at the United Nations in New York, Geneva and Vienna on nuclear safety and proliferation issues, and lobbied governments in Asia, the Middle East, North and Central America, and Europe. His specialist area is the nuclear fuel cycle in East Asia having worked in the region for 20 years. As head of nuclear campaigns at Greenpeace International and as a consultant he has worked on nuclear power and climate policy, including critical analysis of the Clean Development Mechanism and the Sectoral Approaches in the post-2012 Kyoto framework. Â He has written over 100 papers on nuclear issues during the past quarter century, including for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Japan Focus, and Asia online. He has Masters in War Studies from King’s College London. He lives with his family in the west of Scotland.

He’s not really a nuclear consultant, is he? He’s an anti-nuclear campaigner and appears to have been one all his working life.

So well done to the Guardian for uncovering those sources then. And why didn’t they actually bother to ask a nuclear engineer?

Err, Why?

A key concern is that another major earthquake could cause cracks in the pool, which is nearly 100 feet above the ground, allow the cooling water to escape and expose the rods to the air. That would allow the zirconium alloy cladding to ignite and release radioactive material into the air.

does not spontaneously combust on exposure to air. Heck, I’d be long dead if it did, having handled a few hundred tonnes in my time. Yes, even the sort of tubes that they’re talking about here.

I’d be really, really, grateful is someone could tell m where this story is coming from. Here’s the actualy skinny on Zr and zircalloy:

Massive zirconium metal scrap can be handled, shipped, and stored with no evidence of combustion or pyrophoricity hazards. Mechanically produced fine scrap such as shavings, turnings, or powders can burn but are not pyrophoric unless the particle diameter is less than 54 Powders with particle diameters less than 54 can be both pyrophoric and explosive. Pyrophoric powders should be collected and stored underwater or under inert gas cover to reduce the flammability hazard. Opening sealed containers of zirconium stored underwater should be attempted with caution since hydrogen may be present. The factors that influence the ignition temperature have been explored in depth and recommendations are included for the safe handling, shipping, and storage of pyrophoric or flammable zirconium.

The powder is nasty stuff. Solids, as we have here, is not.

Now, anything at all will burn if you get it hot enough but surely no one is trying to state that after a couple of years in those ponds then the zircalloy will still be hot enough to ignite are they? If this were true then we’d never be able to refuel a reactor would we? For as soon as we draw out a tube then it will go bang.

Is there something I’ve missed here? Or are these people really talking bollocks of such amazing size?

Others have issued even more dire warnings, with Charles Perrow, a professor emeritus at Yale University, warning: “The radiation emitted from all these rods, if they are not continually cool and kept separate, would require the evacuation of surrounding areas, including Tokyo.

“Because of the radiation at the site, the 6,375 rods in the common storage pool could not be continuously cooled; they would fission and all of humanity will be threatened, for thousands of years.”

Charles Perrow is a sociologist for fuck’s sake!

It is so fun being attacked isn’t it?

A September 2013 Forbes magazine article takes the opposing side of the argument about how dangerous Fukushima is to people and to the ocean. According to Tim Worstall, “… the dangers are somewhere between vanishingly trivial and non-existent. Indeed, an entirely reasonable and sensible solution to the radioactive water at the plant would be to simply dump it all into the ocean.” 5

Mr. Worstall’s suggestion is to filter out as much radioactive material as possible, dilute what’s left, and dump it in the Pacific. Bingo, the problem is solved. By the way, it should be noted that Forbes is not the only capitalist tool mouthing off about Fukushima as a non-issue benign situation.

So, why then is TEPCO storing all of the radioactive material in hundreds of storage tanks? Are they too stupid to realize all they have to do is filter out some radiation and then dump it into the ocean? Boy, oh boy, the TEPCO operators are dumber than anyone, especially Mr. Worstall, could’ve ever guessed, by not taking advantage of his clever idea.

So much fun.

For what is it that Tepco is doing with that radioactive water?

Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Friday resumed testing of the ALPS water processing system and add a new ALPS machine next September, raising hopes that radiation in the water churned out by the Fukushima No. 1 plant can be reduced to safer levels.

Because ALPS (short for advanced liquid processing system) can remove all radioactive materials except tritium, it can sharply reduce the seriousness of any environmental pollution being caused by water leaks at the plant.

The purpose of ALPS is to “clean up the increasing amounts of tainted water as much as possible to reduce the risk. In that sense, it may sound strange to say that (reactivating it) is a matter of national importance in various ways, but it has that aspect,” Shunichi Tanaka, head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, told reporters Wednesday.

Filtering the radiation out of the water. Game set and match to me I think?

And, now Japan is once again about to enter a new nuclear dimension, as TEPCO gets ready to remove 400 fuel rods from the rickety, collapsing Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Reactor 4 Building, which is currently tipping and sinking. A decent-sized earthquake would likely topple the entire structure, and the consequences are unthinkable, possibly creating havoc on the order of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs.

And where on Earth does that come from? Does Robert Hunziker actually believe that fuel rods will go bang?

George gets one right


Thorium reactors use an element that’s already extracted in large quantities as an unwanted byproduct of other mining industries.

I haven’t run the numbers but I think it would be true to say that you could power a fleet of thorium reactors for some decent amount of time off the wastes that people are currently paying to have stored securely.

Certainly I know some bods currently scratching their heads over what to do with a few hundred tonnes of thorium in a waste stream……

Patriotism, refuge, scoundrel

How’s this for a turn-up for the books? A Conservative Chancellor, promoter of free markets and defender of national sovereignty, is boasting of “allowing” (a euphemism, it seems, for “begging”) a totalitarian Communist country to build nuclear power stations in Britain.

It will all start – under a deal expected to be finalised next week – with the state-owned China General Nuclear Power joining the equally nationalised Electricité de France (EDF) in constructing a £14 billion brace of reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset. The Chinese will have a minority share in the project, but have made it clear – and George Osborne accepts this – that they should have a controlling interest in future schemes.

So, much of Britain’s highly sensitive nuclear industry – which sprang from the atomic bomb programme – is effectively to be owned by two foreign powers, one the country’s oldest traditional enemy, the other a bitter Cold War opponent. Few other nations, and certainly not China, would dream of permitting anything of the kind. Doesn’t Mr Osborne see that this could be a bit radioactive, shall we say?

As Mr. Lean goes on to point out the Chinese are the only people currently building nuclear plants on time and to budget. What with this division and specialisation of labour stuff sounds like a good idea to trade with them really.

But no, better by far to deride them as greasy foreigners who shouldn’t be allowed to sully our green and pleasant land with their money and expertise. Pretty transparent really…

The latest disaster at Fukushima

The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has said another tank holding highly contaminated water is leaking, and that some of the liquid may have reached the Pacific Ocean, the second such breach in less than two months.

Not good.

Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, said the water that leaked contained 200,000 becquerels per litre of beta-emitting radioactive isotopes including strontium 90. The legal limit for strontium 90 is 30 becquerels per litre

Not nice stuff.

The operator of the meltdown-plagued Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant says at least 430 liters (110 gallons)

Back to sleep everyone. And it would have been nice of the Telegraph to give us the volume of the material, wouldn’t it?

It’s the equivalent of dropping 5 million bananas into the Pacific Ocean.

Numerate journalist of the day

The Plutonium Finishing Plant at Hanford is one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world. From 1944 to 1989 it produced 74,000 tons of weapons-grade plutonium-239.

No, really, just no

I might, just, believe 740 tonnes, given that a reasonable estimate of extant plutonium is in the 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes range. But I think that it\’s more likely to be 74,000 kilograms.

Sellafield nuclear waste

Before everyone gets hyper about this:

The nuclear company Sellafield Ltd has been fined £700,000 and ordered to pay more than £72,000 costs for sending bags of radioactive waste to a landfill site.

The bags, which contained waste such as plastic, tissues and clothing, should have been sent to a specialist facility that treats and stores low-level radioactive waste, but management and operational failings led to them being sent to Lillyhall landfill site in Workington, Cumbria.

Amount of harm done to anyone:  zero. Potential harm done to anyone or the environment. Zero.

When talking about low level waste we\’re talking about something marginally more radioactive than Cornwall.

The real problem here was the system: this waste should not have been sent to where it was. Thus the fines. On the \”what the fuck are you playing at?\” basis, not the actual danger.

From the Annals of Atrocious Science: Uranium in Iraq

Iraq is suffering from depleted uranium (DU) pollution in many regions and the effects of this may harm public health through poisoning and increased incidence of various cancers and birth defects. DU is a known carcinogenic agent. About 1200 tonnes of ammunition were dropped on Iraq during the Gulf Wars of 1991 and 2003. As a result, contamination occurred in more than 350 sites in Iraq. Currently, Iraqis are facing about 140,000 cases of cancer, with 7000 to 8000 new ones registered each year. In Baghdad cancer incidences per 100,000 population have increased, just as they have also increased in Basra. The overall incidence of breast and lung cancer, Leukaemia and Lymphoma, has doubled, even tripled. The situation in Mosul city is similar to other regions. Before the Gulf Wars Mosul had a higher rate of cancer, but the rate of cancer has further increased since the Gulf Wars.

OK, fair enough. Worth researching certainly.

Soil samples were collected from three sites around Mosul (Adayah, Damerchy and Rehanyah), Soil samples were selected from some of the most extensively contaminated areas throughout the province of Nineveh around Mosul city. Mosul is the provincial capital of Nineveh, northern Iraq. Its geographical coordinates are: 36° 20? 6” North, 43° 7? 8” East, in the Nineveh Governorate with latitude of 36.37 (36° 22? 0?N) and a longitude of 43.15 (43° 8? 60 E). The sites selected were at Adayah, a landfill site for radioactive waste; Rehanyah, a former centre of research of nuclear military products; and Damerchy, a site used for military activities in 2003 and in subsequent years.


We\’re going to research the effects of DU by not looking at DU but at a radioactive disposal site and a nuclear research lab?

North Korea does have a point here

About giving up nuclear weapons:

The North\’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper rejected as groundless and unacceptable the US and South Korean condition that it agree to dismantle its nuclear weapons and suspend missile launches.

\”If the DPRK sits at a table with the US it has to be a dialogue between nuclear weapons states, not one side forcing the other to dismantle nuclear weapons,\” the newspaper said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People\’s Republic of Korea.

The point being that it has never signed the non-proliferation treaty thus is not bound by its provisions. Iran has and therefore is. But it\’s a fairly basic idea in international law that a State is not bound by treaties that it hasn\’t signed.

Glencore\’s nuclear deal with Iran

The Telegraph reports:

The Swiss trading group had a barter agreement with the Iranian Aluminium Company (Iralco), under which Glencore provided alumina – used to make aluminium – in return for a smaller amount of the metal, sources told Reuters.

Iralco itself had a contract to supply aluminium to Iran Centrifuge Technology Co (TESA), a subsidiary of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation. That body leads its nuclear programme and has been subject to UN sanctions since 2006.

I have more on this over here.

Not an uncommon type of deal in the metals game. And alumina is not subject to nuclear stylee sanctions either. Very high purity aluminium tubes are, yes. But not alumina.

Getting Iran\’s nuclear stuff wrong again

The latest report is that Irtan is now running a heavy water plant.

According to the Institute for Science and International Security, a US think tank, if the heavy-water plant reaches full capacity, it would produce about 20lb of plutonium a year.

No, just no.

A heavy water plant produces heavy water. This can then be used in a particular type of reactor. One that uses natural uranium rather than enriched. And the wastes from that particular type of reactor then contain rather more plutonium and tritium than is usual from other types of reactor. And then you\’ve got to extract the plutonium from those wastes.

The country still lacks the technology to reprocess plutonium and use it for a weapon.

That heavy water plant does not produce plutonium at all.

It is one of the steps along they way to being able to produce it, yes. But it\’s also one of the steps along the way to a possible civilian nuclear programme too.

My personal view is that yes, of course they\’re trying to make a bomb or three. But I do wish the technical details of the reporting about it were better.

On these nuclear subsidies

Gargantuan sums of money, yes. But then so are the promises being doled out to renewables. What\’s really interesting though is the form:

Under the proposed funding system, called contracts for difference, companies such as EDF that build and operate nuclear reactors would be guaranteed a minimum \”strike\” price for the energy they generate.

If the market price falls below this strike price, the difference will be made up by a surcharge on customer bills; if the market price rises higher then the generator will have to refund the difference.

The point being that this is exactly what Peter Hain is calling for over the Severn Barrage. Which he insists is not a government subsidy at all of course. And it\’s only a minor difference of form from the subsidies that renewables get….the minor difference being that renewables don\’t have to cough up if prices rise above their guaranteed price.

All of which leads to an interesting conclusion.

We who don\’t think that any of them should get subsidy are still being logically consistent. No one should be getting those subsidies. If climate change really is a problem then whack on a carbon tax and may the best man win.

But those who think that such guaranteed prices are just fine face a logical problem. This nuclear subsidy is structured in very much the same manner as renewables subsidies. Rather tougher than them in fact. So there\’s no, if anyone is going to consistent, argument against such subsidies.

Is there?

In which I suggest that perhaps the regulators might like to pull their fingers out?

So Hitachi is going to build nukes in the UK.


Hitachi unveils £20bn plan to build nuclear reactors in the UK
Japan’s Hitachi has revived Britain’s ailing nuclear power ambitions with plans to invest £20bn in building at least four reactors in the UK.


And now for the bad bit.

Major obstacles remain before Hitachi can take a final investment decision or begin construction, however. The company has yet to begin the process of securing design approval to use its Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) in the UK, which could take up to four years.

\”Securing design approval\”. Those regulations that Heseltine and all to the left of him insist do not affect business in this country. Spotty berks with clipboards insisting that the hand washing sink must be no more than 3 metres from the reactor and no less than 2.

However, sources suggested approval could come more quickly given the ABWR is licenced for use in countries including the US, and Hitachi has four of the reactors operating in Japan, which were built on time and on budget.

Great. They work. Tell the berks to fuck off and send in the bulldozers immediately.

No, just say no

Russia offers to build Britain\’s nuclear power stations
Moscow has offered to help Britain build nuclear power stations in partnership with Rolls-Royce, Russia’s deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov has said.

God alone knows what Rolls Royce is doing with this deal. But no, just no, for two reasons.

1) If you think the Russian oil and gas business is bad then you just wait and see what the nuclear side is like. A ghastly, appalling, money pit of bribery and corruption. I do know, I have been involved with it.

2) You\’d never get any reactor built in Britain if it had the word \”Russian\” associated with it. Doesn\’t matter if they\’re the finest engineers on the planet (they\’re not, although they\’re good), all you\’ve got to do to close the entire programme or idea down is to utter one single word.


Serious nuclear pollution

Is this the most polluted place on Earth? The Russian lake where an hour on the beach would kill you

Lake Karachay was a dumping ground for one of the Soviet Union\’s biggest nuclear weapons facilities
A string of accidents and disasters has left the surrounding regime completely contaminated with radioactive waste

Yeah, the place is badly polluted. Quite possibly it is the most polluted place on Earth. Drove past it once, my escort and driver notably insisting that we had to wind the windows up.

Do note that it wasn\’t capitalism or the pursuit of profit that caused it though. State planning entirely responsible.

Funny nuclear numbers

One of these two numbers is wrong.

The politicians of Cumbria County Council have cooled on the idea of burying hundreds of thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste but a kilometre beneath their feet.

Initially tempted by the huge economic benefits a £12bn nuclear research and disposal would bring, councillors now seem dismayed that the waste wouldn\’t be considered safe for another 100,000 years.

There are hundreds of thousands of tonnes of low level nuclear waste. This is entirely true.

But it\’s the high level (essentially, but not exclusively, the used fuel rods themselves) which \”are not safe for 100,000 years\”. Although it\’s a very much shorter period than that for them to be less radioactive than the rock they were originally made from.

But there ain\’t hundreds of thousands of tonnes of that high level waste. To get to that sort of weight you\’ve got to include the bed linen used by people having certain radiotherapies etc. It just ain\’t the same stuff at all.

Radioactive tuna from Fukushima!

Disastrous, nuclear power must obviously be banned immediately!

Cesium-137 has a radioactive half-life of about 30 years, and traces of the isotope still persist from above-ground nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s and \’60s. But cesium-134, which has a half-life of only two years, \”is inarguably from Fukushima Daiichi,\” Stanford University marine ecologist Dan Madigan told CNN.

Madigan is the lead author of a paper published in this week\’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One of his co-authors, Nicholas Fisher, said levels of both isotopes detected in fish caught in August 2011 are one-thirtieth the amount of naturally occurring radioactive potassium found in all marine life. It\’s also about 2.5% of the more restrictive limits Japan imposed on fish caught for human consumption after the accident.


Chris Busby\’s paper explaining how this will kill millions will be published real soon now.