Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Nuclear Errors

The ill-advised rush towards a new generation of nuclear reactors in some parts of Europe (usually justified on grounds of emissions reduction or energy security, and conveniently ignoring reference to the unsustainable, hazardous nature of the energy source and its' uselessness in countering the decline of oil stocks/soaring oil prices) has hit further problems, as noted by Greenpeace:

French nuclear safety agency stops construction of 'flagship' nuclear reactor

The French nuclear safety agency, ASN, has ordered construction to be suspended on the new nuclear reactor being built in France – the same model that would most likely be built in the UK.

Flamanville's construction in northern France has run into the same kinds of problems plaguing the ongoing construction of the only other European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), Olkiluoto 3, in Finland.

The move by ASN follows the agency's discovery of chronic problems affecting the quality of construction work since building work commenced on Flamanville 3 in December 2007.

ASN's call to halt construction follows a series of letters from the agency to Flamanville's construction manager. In the letters, ASN inspectors highlighted a range of problems including non-conformities in the pinning of the steel framework of the concrete base slab, incorrectly positioned reinforcements, and inadequacy of technical inspections by both the construction companies and Electricité de France (EdF).

Inspectors also uncovered inconsistencies between the blueprint for reinforcement work and the plan for its practical implementation. The incorrect composition of concrete had been used, that may lead to cracks and rapid deterioration. Samples of concrete were also not collected properly, according to ASN.

Cracks have already been observed at part of the base slab beneath the reactor building. The supplier of the steel containment liner reportedly lacks the necessary qualifications. Fabrication of the liner was continuing despite quality failures demonstrating the lack of competence of the supplier. As a result, one-quarter of the welds of the steel liner of the reactor containment building were deficient.

Ben Ayliffe, head of Greenpeace's nuclear campaign, said: "The only two EPRs being built today are construction fiascos. The one in Finland is years behind schedule and billions over budget and only six months into the project in France building work has come screeching to a halt.

"This reactor design is fast becoming a by-word for incompetence, massive delays, spiralling costs and dodgy engineering. We only have a limited time and budget to stave off the most catastrophic effects of climate change and we should stop pouring money down the nuclear black hole."

Olkiluoto has been under construction for three years but has been blighted ever since the concrete was poured. Poor quality concrete, bad welds on the containment liner and low-quality reactor components are among its problems. The schedule for completion has been put back by more than two years and costs have nearly doubled to over Euro 5 billion.

Meanwhile, events in Slovenia have shown up the problems with the current generation of reactors in Europe :

A leak of coolant prompted Slovenia to completely shut down the reactor at its only nuclear power plant.

The European Commission said parts were still cooling after the shutdown, but the situation was under control.

It said there appears to have been no discharge into the environment at the Krsko plant, which supplies energy to Slovenia and Croatia.

The Commission alerted all 27 EU member states under its Ecurie early warning system for nuclear emergencies.

Slovenia's nuclear safety chief Andrej Stritar said there was a water leak from the primary circuit inside the containment area.

He said operators had shut down the plant safely.

"Situation is under control," he said in a statement. "The plant is in stable condition. There is no off-site impact and there is no need for off-site protective measures. "

The Krsko plant has a US-made pressurised water reactor.
Source - BBC

This comes in the wake of power cuts in parts of Britain after various nuclear and coal fired plants here shut down due to problems and maintenance. Gordon Brown, the beleaguered British Prime Minister has been loudly trumpeting his intention to ride roughshod over any objections to his leading the country down the hyper-expensive route to new nuclear plants. Maybe he feels he has to match the rhetoric of the reactionary regime in Italy. The following was an article by Alessandro Barbera in La Stampa:

Rome - Ever since 2001 there has been a breach among the centre-left parties. At that time those who favoured nuclear power plants were in a minority and afraid to come out into the open. During the electoral campaign, the option got into the programme of the Party of Freedom [PDL], and Giulio Tremonti [current economy minister] envisioned the building of nuclear power plants on the coast of Balkan countries. Now, seven years after the formal motions and 21 years after a referendum in which the Italians said no to the nuclear option, the new development minister, Claudio Scajola, definitively breaks the taboo at a meeting with Italian industrialists: "Before the end of this legislature, the cornerstone of a series of new power plants will be laid. Italy needs a shift in the energy field. And the shift must be made with determination and a sense of responsibility. Only nuclear power plants make it possible to have large-scale and secure energy at a competitive cost and with respect for the environment."

It is too soon to talk about sites, or investments, but there are already plans. The third Berlusconi government relies on third-generation power plants . These are not yet "at zero risk," but according to specialists, they come very close to it. It is this type of power plant that, under an accord the Prodi Government signed in Nice last fall, ENEL [Italian Electricity Corporation] has started building on French soil along with the EDF [French Electricity Corporation]. It is called the Evolutionary Power Reactor, and the first one is being built at Flamanville, Normandy. The real model of what the Berlusconi government proposes lies further to the north: at Okiluoto, Finland, where the Green-backed conservative government has said yes to the construction of a power station financed by a consortium of electric enterprises which have acquired exploitation rights in advance.

As was to be expected, major companies like ENEL, ENI [Italian Oil Corporation], or Edison [second largest energy company in Italy in the field of electricity and natural gas] say they are ready right away. On the other hand, thanks to an amendment passed by the then Berlusconi Government, since 2004 only ENEL invests in nuclear power plants outside Italy. Now, following its takeover of Spain's ENDESA [National Electricity Enterprise], ENEL is among Europe's major builders of nuclear power plants: it owns nine working power plants and is building five more. ENEL Deputy Manager Fulvio Conti is sure that five years would be enough for one to be built in Italy. Deputy Minister for Productive Activities Adolfo Urso, who had favoured nuclear power plants all along, is more cautious: "Let us say that, what with projects and licenses, it will take up to seven years."

If the Union of Christian Democrats and Centrists [UDC], through its secretary, Lorenzo Cesa, says that it has "all along been for" a return to nuclear power, the centre-left says no to Scajola's statement. For the first time in a long time, opposition to nuclear power plants runs from the Democratic Party [PD] to the Communist Renewal, and comprises the Greens, the World Wildlife Fund, and all the environmentalists. "At last the government has said something that will make it lose votes," Veltroni's [PD chairman] right-hand man Ermete Realacci says. Roberto Seta, the PD's man in charge of the environment, is even more explicit: "It is an old, ideological, unrealistic, and unpopular proposition." In the PD, however, there are people who, like Pierluigi Bersani, speak in a different tone: "It is the Prodi Government that has taken the first steps towards third-generation nuclear power stations," people on the staff of the former prime minister say. Actually, in the PD's programme there is a yes to this type of technology which, however, will not be available according to specialists, for another 15 years. Theoretically speaking, though, science may shoot ahead: yesterday, for example, Il Sole 24 Ore on-line recounted a successful experiment of cold fusion at Osaka University: the dream of all environmentalists. However, a possible nuclear power plant is the one Scajola proposes. It remains to be seen whether the cornerstone of a nuclear station will really be laid in Italy. Urso safeguards himself: "Let us not forget that, two years ago Albania, was available for this project."

Source: La Stampa website, Turin, in Italian 23 May 08

It seems once again that the ruling class of Europe are reaching for an expensively marketed technical fix that will not only not solve the most pressing energy related problems, but will create and sustain a whole series of new and continuing problems like waste disposal, security of supply, runaway costs, lack of resilience and vulnerability to attack.

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At 2:01 pm, Anonymous Kai Schwandes said...

Hi Greenman, sorry to use the comment section but could not find a way to contact you otherwise. Your link to the Green Party of the UA is not correct - the proper URL is thought you might wanted to know. Kai Schwandes, North Carolina Delegate to the US GP National Committee.

At 3:06 pm, Blogger greenman said...

Hi Kai, now I'm confused! I carry links to both the Federal Green orgs in the US - Green Party of The United States *and* The Greens/Green Party USA - the link I have for Green Party of The US is the same as the one you have given....


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