In early January, slightly elevated levels of iodine-131 were observed over northern and western Europe. The levels were measured during a temperature inversion, along with elevated levels of naturally occurring radioisotopes.
This, along with the deployment of an American WC-135 aircraft to the Mildenhall Royal Air Force Base in the UK, has led to speculation that the Russians have carried out a nuclear test. This is highly unlikely for several reasons.
[this article was originally published on blog.safecast.org. We thank the author and the editors.]
This grating inside Daiichi Unit 2 was likely melted by falling fuel debris (TEPCO photo)
— Yes, TEPCO has measured very high radiation inside Daichi Unit 2.
— No, it does’t mean radiation levels there are rising.
In response to visual investigation results and high radiation measurements recently taken by TEPCO inside Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2, many news outlets have published stories with headlines like “Fukushima nuclear reactor radiation at highest level since 2011 meltdown.” (The Guardian, Feb. 3, 2017).
This has led to a number of alarming stories claiming that radiation at Daiichi has “spiked” to unprecedented levels. That’s not what the findings indicate, however. In addition, Safecast’s own measurements, including our Pointcast realtime detector system have shown radiation levels near Daiichi to be steadily declining. As described in the Safecast Report, Vol.2, Section 2.1.4, TEPCO and its research partners have been developing robots and remote visualization devices to search for melted fuel debris deep inside the Daiichi reactor units, and to help plan for its eventual removal. On January 30th, 2017, a long telescoping device with a camera and radiation measurement device attached was inserted through an existing opening in the reactor containment of Unit 2 for the first time, and successfully extended approximately 8 meters into in an area known as the “pedestal,” to measure and take images from immediately below the damaged reactor pressure vessel (RPV). In addition to finding the area covered with molten material likely to be fuel debris, radiation levels of 530 Sieverts per hour were detected, which would be fatal to a person exposed for only a few seconds.
The recent investigation used existing openings in the Unit 2 reactor to obtain images an measurements inside the pedestal area.(TEPCO image)
The telescoping arm (in yellow) was designed to reach inside the pedestal area to obtain visual imagery and radiation measurements.(TEPCO image)
It must be stressed that radiation in this area has not been measured before, and it was expected to be extremely high. While 530 Sv/hr is the highest measured so far at Fukushima Daiichi, it does not mean that levels there are rising, but that a previously unmeasurable high-radiation area has finally been measured. Similar remote investigations are being planned for Daiichi Units 1 and 3. We should not be surprised if even higher radiation levels are found there, but only actual measurements will tell. Unit 4 was defuelled at the time of the accident, and though the reactor building exploded and the spent fuel pool was dangerously exposed, it did not suffer a meltdown, so similar investigations are not being conducted.
The “Scorpion” crawler robot is designed to be inserted through a pipe and to fold for operation. It’s deployment is likely to be further delayed.(IRID photo)
Under a consortium called IRID, TEPCO and its research partners have been developing robots and other devices to assist in investigations inside the damaged reactors, where radiation levels are too high to allow humans to safely enter. The recent investigations at Unit 2 were intended to help plan the travel path of a folding crawler robot called the “Scorpion.” This device is designed to crawl around on the metal grating deck inside the pedestal and gather further imagery and measurements. The recent investigations, however, have revealed a 1×1 meter section of the deck to be melted through, and much of the rest may be impassable for the robot. In addition, the high radiation levels will likely limit the amount of time the robot will be able to operate before malfunctioning to about 2 hours, instead of the planned 10 hours. Much more melted fuel debris is assumed to have settled beneath the pedestal grating on the concrete basemat of the reactor. It was hoped that the Scorpion would be able to provide imagery of this. Not surprisingly, TEPCO is once again revising its plans based on the recent findings. These investigations are technically quite impressive, but they have already been delayed for over a year due to the need to more adequately decontaminate the area where human workers must operate and to solve other technical problems. This recent imagery is extremely informative and helpful, and had been eagerly awaited by many concerned people, including Safecast. If nothing else, we have learned to be patient as TEPCO proceeds slowly and cautiously with this work. The process of removing melted fuel debris from the damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi is expected to take decades, and these recent findings remind us once again that TEPCO has little grounds for optimism about the challenges of this massive and technically unprecedented project.
Stitched vertical panorama showing conditions underneath the Unit 2 RPV. (TEPCO photo)
In our honest opinion there is a man who is already doing it! His name is Franklin L. Haney and he is 75 years old.
This Chattanooga, Tennessee-based mogul picked up a nuclear power station in Hollywood, Alabama at an auction last week. Yes, you read well, a nuclear power station, for just 111 million dollars! That’s the famous never completed Bellefonte.
As reported by CGR (Global Construction Review) online magazine, Haney said “the rejuvenated plant would ‘transform communities’ hit by coal-plant closures in Alabama and Tennessee.” And “completing the plant will employ up to 4.000 people; while operating it would create 2.000 ‘permanent, high paying jobs’.”
But he will need to bring all his deal-making talents to bear on this new asset: construction of the 2,6 GW power station was halted in far 1988 and it is likely to request several billion dollars to get it completed, because unit 1 is deemed approximately 55% complete, and unit 2 approximately 35% complete, having for years been ransacked for spare parts.
In addition, to hold him to his promises regarding the site, the seller, state utility Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), stipulated that the buyer must invest at least 25 million dollars on the property within 5 years of closing the deal.
Well, imagine our shock, if this won’t happen!
We mean, we aren’t sufficiently oriented to wishful thinking about nuclear power to forget that business is business. And Mr Haney could always change his mind, provided he hasn’t already now (in a drawer somewhere) a different idea from that he has shown so far.
But let’s still dream for a while, with Haney’s words. “Today marks the first step of an exciting new journey for the people of Alabama and Tennessee,” he said in a statement. “The Bellefonte Nuclear Station will help transform communities across the region. This project will bring new life to the region by creating thousands of jobs while providing assured access to reliable, affordable, zero-emission energy.”
How not to agree?
Surprisingly this words match with some (not all) statements heard during the last presidential election campaign, about which we are standing with high hopes!
Hey, don’t take this as a galvanized reaction to the the news of November 9th, 2016. U.S. President-elected Donald J. Trump has still to demonstrate to be really ready and willing for a new cursus of energy policies, and only History will tell us if this shall be also in favor of a new nuclear renaissance for America.
And by the way, it’s hard to miss the fact that Mr Haney, a long time Democratic donor, funded the campaign for President Obama’s reelection 4 years ago. Not to say he has also been several times under reflectors due to the fact he has built his business around developing government-supported real estate projects – being even indicated as a “Government Landlord”.
And so on and on, you can find by yourselves a lot of interesting further information or silly yak-yak on the web. This is not the point.
We were simply wondering if Haney’s iniziative in coincidence of Trump’s election could be a symptom of a new sight on America’s energy future. In other words, if such a kind of investment is a claim of “innovative financing”; if it will possibly suggest some good ideas to the President-elected; and ultimately if it can really change the approach to nuclear power in the U.S. and, as a reflection, all over the World – maybe a tangible way to make America great again.
Well, our guess and hope is: yes, yes and yes!
11/25/2016 Update: Maria Korsnick, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, has recently discussed about the future of the American nuclear industry under Trump administration. You can watch the video of the interview at this link.
Hurricane Matthew affected the continental US last week, the first since 2005. It was a category 5 hurricane that caused more than 1000 deaths, mostly in Haiti, and about 7 billion dollars damage as a preliminary estimate.
As Matthew quickly moved toward Florida and the Carolinas, rigorous procedures to ensure safe operations of nuclear power plants in the affected areas were implemented.
Four NPP are located within the affected area: St. Lucie (FL), Robinson (SC), Harris and Brunswick (NC), for an overall capacity of about 5600 MW.
Previous hurricanes have shown that NPP are robust facilities able to withstand strong hurricane winds and storm surge , nevertheless the “unusual event” status – the lowest NRC’s emergency condition- was declared for all the plants .
The plant personnel made sure that all the equipment potentially affected by heavy wind and rain were secured and a “walkdown” inspection through the plants response to disaster condition was initiated, including assessing the availability of emergency diesel power generators for at least a week.
When Matthew made landfall in South Carolina, early on Saturday, Robinson plant safely shut down due to loss of power and flooding of transformers. Harris suffered power outage too, but was already shut down for scheduled refueling. Brunswick was instead fully operational but was required to modulate down to 50% capacity on Sunday in order to respond to reduced capacity of the grid. By Wednesday all nuclear plants exited their “unusual event” status and, after routine safety inspections, ramped back to full capacity.
Wind power is the fastest growing renewable source in the US. According to DOE scenarios of 20% wind power in the US by 2030 (2008, ), offshore wind should contribute with 54 GW. Most of this power should come from shallow to intermediate depth farms along the Atlantic coast, that has a potential capacity of 920 GW and the Gulf region, with a potential capacity of 460 GW . Incidentally, those regions are the preferred hurricanes corridors! Regardless the accuracy of these estimates and the feasibility of the envisioned goals, how would the wind farms stand a hurricane?
In August 2003, the typhoon Dujuan hit the southern part of China and caused severe damage to a wind farm located in the coastal area of the Guangdong province. The wind turbines were designed to survive a maximum gust of 70 m/s, but a maximum gust simultaneously with significant yaw error and rotor standstill had not been considered. The actual maximum gust did not exceed the design maximum gust of 70 m/s. Several wind vanes were damaged during the cyclone’s passage .
Few days later, typhoon Maemi almost flattened a wind farm on Miyakojima Island (Japan) .
While blades are relatively easy to replace, tower buckling is a severe damage that can require months to years for restoration .
At present there are no wind farms offshore the US East coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, but several are planned.
Thus a recent paper  estimated the resilience of offshore wind farms to storm conditions. Wind turbines are designed to operate with winds up to 25 m/s, over this threshold they shut down for safety reasons. The turbines currently on the market (Class 1) may (ideally, as Dujuan typhoon taught us) stand winds up to 70 m/s, but hurricane winds often exceed 80 m/s. Although the design of hurricane resilient turbines would be possible (Class S), this option comes with compromises on the productivity (i.e. they need stronger cut in wind to operate) besides higher costs .
Rose et al. (2012)  model both the risk from a single hurricane and the cumulative risk over the lifespan of a wind farm, through 4 sites offshore the Gulf and the Atlantic coast where farms are planned. Considering a farm size of 50 turbines, a considerable number of them is expected to be buckled down over a 20 years period by passing hurricanes: 16 out of 50 in Galveston County (TX) and 8 out of 50 in Dare County (NC), while numbers decrease in NJ and MA, where usually hurricanes loose strength.
Stronger hurricanes, category 4 and 5, cause more damage although occur less frequently. Overall, the damage occurrence over a turbine lifespan is dominated by one or two hurricanes. Most of the offshore wind potential is concentrated offshore Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. The same for hurricane occurrence, at least one every 4 years, thus making the risk of significant loss of the capital investment relevant over a 20 years long period.
Yawing wind turbines, i.e. those that can oscillate and move accommodating fast wind direction changes, have better chances of survival. This would come to the expense of providing them a power back up, worth $ 30.000-40.000 each. The overall additional costs to improve hurricane resilience are estimated in 20-30% for onshore turbines, something less for offshore.
Another concern of a massive penetration of wind farms in hurricane prone areas would be how to assure the stability of the grid, thus of the power supply, through the shutdown period or the even longer time span required to restore severely damaged turbines. Again, as the recent case of Southern Australia showed , a base load of non intermittent and programmable is required. Thus here we are again talking about conventional thermoelectric power, you would think. Indeed “new energy” is often synonym of new unreliable installations with expensive back-up powered by fossil fuels, at best by natural gas. No thanks: our mind always run back to nuclear power!
Shwartz M, Heimiller D, Haymes S, Musial W (2010) Assessment of Offshore Wind Energy Resources for the United States. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Gold- en, CO).
 Lindenberg S, Smith B, O’Dell K, DeMeo E, Ram B (2008) 20% Wind Energy by 2020: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to US. Electricity Supply (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO).
 Clausen N, et al. (2007) Wind farms in regions exposed to tropical cyclones. (Germanischer Lloyd WindEnergie GmbH, Hamburg) European Wind Energy Conference and Exhibition.
Takahara K, et al. (2004) Damages of wind turbine on Miyakojima Island by Typhoon Maemi in 2003.
 Rose, S., Jaramillo, P., Small, M. J., Grossmann, I., & Apt, J. (2012). Quantifying the hurricane risk to offshore wind turbines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(9), 3247-3252.
 Musial, W. (2011). Large-Scale Offshore Wind Power in the United States: Assessment of Opportunities and Barriers. DIANE Publishing
Since 40 years, IAEA develops and maintains a comprehensive database focused on nuclear power plants worldwide, namely PRIS (Power Reactor Information System). We have collected and analysed data starting from 2005 up to date. You can find here below shown in 5 graphs some information on new power reactors connected to the grid, those under construction, those being decommissioned on schedule, or those retired in advance. We have not taken into account the Japanese reactors not in permanent shutdown. Since Fukushima accident and the following ban on NPP operations, 4 Japanese NPP have restarted. All of these between last summer and a few days ago. We have considered the remaining ones – not yet restarted neither yet in permanent shutdown – in a sort of Limbo: in fact, they are operable, but still waiting for the authorities and politicians’ starting signal.
As can be seen in Figure 1, the new installed nuclear power from January 2005 to January 2016 amounts to 37,9 GWe, a value which exceeds the reduced capacity from permanent shutdowns by 8,1 GWe. Let’s consider the state-by-state contribution to the new installed reactors (Figure 2). China remarkably drives overall NPP replacement with roughly 18 GWe of new capacity connected to the grid, and with an average construction duration just above 5 years. In the same time frame, South Korea follows it by return, with an average schedule duration just below 6 years.
By analyzing the year-by-year progress (Figure 3), two notable aspects deserve our attention. First of all, we observe a significant drop of installed nuclear capacity in 2011, mainly as a direct or indirect consequence of the Japanese 11th March earthquake and tsunami: among the thirteen permanent shutdowns in that year, four are from the site of Fukushima Daiichi, while eight are from German power plants which have been forced to early retire due to the political decision to accelerate the country’s nuclear phase-out. The second interesting aspect is the outstanding amount of new capacity connected to the grid in 2015, which doubled the results of the previous year.
What could we expect for the near future? Is the 2015’s achievement just a flash in the pan, or can we say that it is the restart of the nuclear renaissance? To answer the question we ought to look at the amount construction starts in the last ten years. As can be seen in Figure 4, in four years from 2007 to 2010 the construction of nuclear power plants has experienced tremendous growth. After that, in some ways all construction plans have suffered from the impact of the Fukushima accident. However, there is a bunch of eleven Chinese reactors still under construction, starting from 2009-2010. So, taking into account the average duration of NPP construction in China – very short time, as per performances consolidated over the past ten years – as well as the number of reactors which are about to be completed in India, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, UAE and USA, for the next two years we expect results equal to those for the last, or even more. Figure 5 shows the state-by-state summary of the total capacity for all nuclear reactors under construction, as of January 2016.
In short, the race to nuclear power plants is currently destined to take place primarily on the racetracks of the Far East (from 2016 to 2020, six to eight nuclear reactors will probably be approved each year in China). And this despite the current slowdown in economic growth – also felt over there. The situation is made even more interesting by the fact that the countries chasing China are almost exclusively the emerging ones – some of these are “in the early days of development”.
Nothing new on the western front? Actually something is moving. Even if we are forced to admit that all factors against are dominant, at the moment. And perhaps it is time to fully review the role of nuclear power production in modernized countries, paving definitely the way for advanced nuclear systems – not necessarily always large. But that’s another story, about which we will not dwell here. That’s all folks, for now.
How Obama’s administration is undermining the best non proliferation project ever, in the most unfortunate time.
While the Cold War’s winds are blowing again over relations between the U.S. and Russia since after the Crimean crisis and recrudesced with the war over Syria, President Obama seeks to send the wrong message to his Russian counterpart in the very end of his administration, risking to hamper costly efforts on non proliferation of nuclear weapons and casting a shadow on U.S. determination on pursuing global Peace.
Recently issued 2017 Fiscal Year Obama’s proposal solicits to quit the MOX program at Savannah River facility in South Carolina. This facility, under construction since 2007 for an up to date estimated budget of 7.7 billion dollars, was envisaged to be operational this year to start the processing of weapon grade uranium and plutonium to mixed oxide fuel (MOX) to feed nuclear reactor and produce carbon-free electricity. The facility is part of two bilateral agreements the U.S. contracted with Russia regarding non proliferation of nuclear weapons: Megaton to Megawatts (1993) [see previous post on the topic] and Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (2000).
Under the former, 15000 weapons have already been destroyed, while the latter calls for U.S. and Russia to destroy 34 metric tons of plutonium each – something as 8500 warhead each. There is no technical reason to quit the project, that despite increasing funding cuts through the years is now 70% complete and the plant already hosts most of the sophisticated equipment that will be need to the processing. The last budget destined by the Congress to the plant were 380 million dollars last December, than the presidential decision to ax the funds for 2017 and destine the U.S. military grade plutonium surplus to waste disposal in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
The MOX plant at Savannah River is one of many federal budget programs risking interruption due to opposite parties vetoes and lack of political compromise. Republican Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina said the MOX is a vital program that has been continuously undermined by Obama’s administration who spread misinformation about its state of progress.
On another note, Russia already completed its own MOX plant and it is ready to feed with it fast neutrons reactors (for example the BN-800 connected to the grid just last year). In our opinion the U.S. simply can not afford to interrupt, or – even worse – to scrap such an important project. Or should we recognize that the President prefers watching dazed a Russia which makes great strides towards the future of nuclear recycling?
Neither South Carolina General Attorney, Alan Wilson, took the news well, saying that the Federal Government will owe 1 million dollars daily to the State, effective January 1st, 2016, if plutonium stocked at Savannah River is neither processed nor disposed.
Europe developed a large capacity of feeding nuclear reactors with MOX: currently over 35 European reactor are licensed to use MOX as fuel, and 22 French reactors can use MOX up to 30% of fuel blend. In a conservative hypothesis, burning a 30% of MOX in one third of the world’s reactor would remove about 15 tons of warhead plutonium per year, that means 3000 warheads per year burnt to produce 110 billion kWh of electricity.
Now it is really difficult to understand the rationale behind a decision that in hindsight seems not unlike that of people used to sweep under the rug. With the aggravating circumstance that in this case the “powder” also has an extremely interesting economic and energetic value. In fact there is no doubt that immobilize and store the plutonium through vitrification and deep geologic burial adds significant political complexity and physical challenges.
President Barack Obama, who, in 2009, was credited a Nobel Prize for Peace, is now freezing his only possible success regarding non proliferation efforts. Whatever could be the reason – like funding the costly Obamacare and other environmental projects possibly more close to the anti-nuclear lobby – he’s sending a two-fold dangerous message in a time of increased tension in the bilateral relations with Russia and announcedefforts to reduce U.S. carbon footprint on the planet.
We hope this decision would not come to be effective and the next U.S. Governments – as the rest of the World – will keep betting on nuclear fuel recycle. Namely using the existing stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium, but also implementing Partitioning and Transmutation technology (P&T). This is the only highway we currently have to reduce both volume and radiotoxic level of nuclear waste, in order not to put those economical and environmental costs on the shoulders of the future generations. And, at the same time, to send the message that a World without nukes – or at least with less nukes – is actually possible.
[how to produce electricity by getting rid of 20k nuclear warheads]
This article was originally published in Italian on the 12th of March, 2014.
Last weeks world news – a source of concern for the condition of Ukraine’s population – have brought back to the top the spectre of the nuclear weaponry race.
In addition to real fatalities and strong divisions – the price for fierce clashes and the result of national policies we do not want to describe here, nor we are able to judge in every aspect – we see an increased fear that the deterioration of the situation could bring to contrasts we all expected would have been just a relic of the past, after the end of the Cold War.
In order to exorcise such frightening thought we want to remember how much we can get from the use of energy sources as vehicles of Peace. And among all nuclear energy.
In December 2013 the program popularly known as “Megatons to Megawatts” was completed. On the basis of this program the United States agreed with Russian Federation to purchase some Low-Enriched Uranium (i.e. with a 235U concentration below 20%) coming from the reprocessing of the Highly-Enriched Uranium (i.e. with a 235U concentration above 80%) contained in the former USSR nuclear warheads. The official name of the program was “Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the United States of America Concerning the Disposition of Highly-Enriched Uranium Extracted from Nuclear Weapons.”, dated February 18th, 1993.
It was estimated that in the last twenty years the United States have produced about 10% of its electricity by dismantling 20k nuclear warheads сделано в России (made in Russia); in other words, they have recycled 500 tonnes of Russian bomb-grade HEU into 14k tonnes of LEU. This is energetically equivalent to: 3.4 billions tonnes of coal, 12.2 billions of oil barrels, 2.6E15 (2.6 millions of billions of) cubic meters of natural gas .
Interesting to know how all was born thanks to the initiative of a Physicist at MIT, Thomas L. Neff , who in October 1991 took pen and paper and wrote to New York Times, voicing his apprehension. He had in mind a very simple idea on how to turn an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous legacy in a useful and highly symbolic initiative. Two months later Neff was invited in Moscow to discuss the details of his proposal with Russian scientists and Government’s officials. On August 28th, 1992 negotiation started; Clinton and Yeltsin signed the final agreement in 1993.
The details of the proposal were put on paper for the first time on October 24th, 1991 in a Op-Ed in the New York Times. The project was so successful that it was honored on the same newspaper on January 24th .
Thomas L. Neff assisted US Governments over the years in fixing some problems related to the Highly-Enriched Uranium management and nuclear security. For such activity he was awarded in 1997 with Leo Szilard Award in Physics. [http://www.world-nuclear.org/sym/2006/neffbio.htm]