Category Archives: kosten | costs

Nuclear needs up to EUR 450 billion to survive

One Europe | María Ruiz Nievas | 10 April 2016

Nuclear_Power_Europe.pngA new report published by the European Commission reveals the current state and future plans for European energy and has led to strong reactions from key stakeholders.

If the European Union wants to keep nuclear energy alive until 2050 it will need to find up to EUR 450 billion in investments, according to a new report published by the European Commission.

There are 129 nuclear power reactors in operation in 14 Member States, with a total capacity of 120 gigawatts  and  an  average  age  of close  to  30  years. It is estimated that more than 50 of  those reactors  are  to  be  shut  down  by  2025.

“If no new power plants are built, in 2040 we will not have any kind of nuclear energy in Europe,” claimed European sources.

Maintaining  a  nuclear  generation  capacity  of  between  95  and  105  gigawatts would require between EUR 350 and 450 billion in  new  plants  to  replace  most  of  the  existing  nuclear  power capacity, according to the report, the first one released since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

Moreover European nuclear operators estimated that EUR 253 billion will be needed for nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management until 2050.

The European Commission believes that nuclear  energy  is  expected  to  remain  an  important  component  of  the  EU’s energy mix through 2050.

The total estimated investments in the nuclear fuel cycle between 2015 and 2050 are projected to be between EUR 650 and 760 billion.

Nuclear risks

The Greens at the European Parliament criticized the EU Commission for choosing a high risk strategy of extending reactor lifetime up to 60 years, instead of thinking of alternatives.

“This paper shows that the EU Commission’s thinking is still influenced by nuclear supporters in key positions. The paper is a bizarre mixture of illusion and propaganda. It is alarming that the Commission sees the greatest potential for the future of the nuclear sector via the extension of reactor lifetimes by up to 60 years. This approach is grossly irresponsible for such a high risk technology,” stated Greens/EFA co-president Rebecca Harms.

The Greens energy spokesperson, Claude Turmes, said that the EU Commission is simply ignoring the reality that nuclear power can no longer compete with renewable energy.

“The Commission acknowledges that billions of Euro required for decommissioning nuclear plants and dealing with nuclear waste are missing but makes no proposals for how this gap should be addressed. The only answer given is to prolong the lifetime of nuclear reactors. This is at odds with the EU treaties and the principle that those responsible for such costs should foot the bill, ” Turmes said.

EC report on nuclear energy

Greens alternative study 

image: Nuclear power plants in Europe and the percentage of nuclear energy towards the total energy consumption of selected member states. (click to enlarge)

EDF chief executive warns France over Hinkley costs

The Guardian | Terry Macalister | 11 March 2016

Jean-Bernard Lévy says nuclear project will not go ahead without more financial backing from French government

Jean-Bernard Lévy, chief executive of EDF.
Jean-Bernard Lévy, chief executive of EDF. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

The boss of the French state-owned company behind the UK’s first new nuclear power station for 20 years has threatened to pull the plug on the £18bn project without further backing from François Hollande’s government.

Jean-Bernard Lévy, chief executive of EDF, said he needed more financial support from the Elysée Palace to proceed with construction of the plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

A letter sent to the company’s staff admits the “tense” financial situation at EDF and the potential danger to a scheme that is at the centre of British energy policy.

“We are negotiating with the [French] state to obtain commitments allowing us to secure our financial position. It is clear that I will not engage in this EDF project as long as these conditions are not met,” said Lévy.

Pressure on the EDF bosss increased last week when his finance director resigned, saying Hinkley needed to be postponed for at least three years while the company restructured its finances. French trade unions on its board, angry at planned job cuts in France, have also called for Hinkley to be shelved. Those concerns were echoed on Thursday by country’s top public auditor, which warned over the cost and complexity of the project.

Explaining why he was taking the usual step of addressing staff, Lévy said: “In recent weeks, our group is the subject of much debate, especially around the renewal of our nuclear fleet and the construction of two EPR [European pressurised reactors] in the UK at Hinkley Point C.

“You know, the financial situation is tense, and this issue deserves to be clarified. I receive your messages of encouragement, but I also hear some concerns. That is why I address myself directly to you.”

Despite the problems facing the group, Lévy underlined both his and the French government’s desire to make the Hinkley project successful.

“Hinkley Point C has the support of the French government and the British government, which places it at the heart of new nuclear energy policy. The UK needs to secure its supply of electricity and decarbonise its energy mix.”

Referring to the British government subsidy for the project, represented by a guaranteed electricity price of £92.50/MWh , he added: “I am convinced of the robustness of the guaranteed selling price, approved by Brussels.”

EDF’s share price has slumped and its debts have risen over recent years. It has also been hit by falling energy prices and demands from the French government that it took over ailing nuclear engineering group Areva.

Its difficulties have put enormous pressure on the British government, which has already promised generous financial subsidies for Hinkley, to be paid for by taxpayers. The subsidy agreements have drawn scorn from investment bankers in the City.

One analyst earlier this week described the Hinkley project as “insane” because ofthe problems EDF and Areva had experienced at similar schemes at Flamanville in Normandy and Olkiluoto in Finland.

The Japanese prime minister at the time of the Fukushima nuclear accident has warned that nuclear power is unsafe and too expensive to justify building new plants anywhere in the world.

Speaking on the fifth anniversary of the disaster on Friday, Naoto Kan said he was against the idea of Japanese manufacturers such as Hitachi and Toshiba building nuclear plants in the UK.

“Nuclear power is not safe. In the worst case scenario up to 50 million people would have had to be evacuated.Nuclear power is not a suitable technology and renewable power is much better,” Kan told the Guardian.

He insisted he did not want to tell other countries such as Britain what to do but said he did not support the reactors being switched back on in Japan. Neither did he support the idea of Japanese companies working on new nuclear schemes.

While EDF is at the centre of the Hinkley scheme, Hitachi and Toshiba are behind similar initiatives being developed for new reactors at Wylfa on Anglesey,Oldbury in south Gloucestershire, and Sellafield in Cumbria.

Kan said it did not make sense to construct new atomic plants because of the cost, especially in those countries where there were no long-term storage facilities for high-level radioactive waste. This includes Britain and Japan.

“What I experienced as prime minister made me feel that it does not make sense to rely on nuclear. New generation plant designs are supposed to increase safety but all these do is increase the cost,” he added.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of Britain’s atomic lobby group, the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), said he was comfortable that Hinkley and the other reactors being planned in Britain would be safe because they would go through the UK’s most rigorous regulatory scrutiny.

“The process of assessing the reactor design is done in a different way in the UK and that gives confidence that the reactor design [EDF’s European pressurised reactors] will be safe and that is what we need to see,” he said.

A spokesperson from the Department of Energy and Climate Change said the safety of British reactors would be paramount. “Any nuclear power station built in the UK will need to comply with our world-leading nuclear safety regulation.

“The British government is backing new nuclear. It is an important part of our plan to give hardworking families and businesses clean, affordable and secure energy that they can rely on now and in the future.”

Radioactive waste dogs Germany despite abandoning nuclear power

New Scientist | Daily News, 29 January 2016

Major problems at a salt mine where 126,000 drums of radioactive debris are stored are fuelling public distrust of long-term waste disposal plans, reports Fred Pearce from Asse, Germany


Ronald Frommann/Clean Energy Wire

Half a kilometre beneath the forests of northern Germany, in an old salt mine, a nightmare is playing out.

A scheme to dig up previously buried nuclear waste is threatening to wreck public support for Germany’s efforts to make a safe transition to a non-nuclear future.

Enough plutonium-bearing radioactive waste is stored here to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. When engineers backfilled the chambers containing 126,000 drums in the 1970s, they thought they had put it out of harm’s way forever.

But now, the walls of the Asse mine are collapsing and cracks forming, thanks to pressure from surrounding rocks. So the race is on to dig it all up before radioactive residues are flushed to the surface.

It could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, excavations needed to extract the drums could cause new collapses and make the problem worse.

“There were people who said it wasn’t a good idea to put radioactive waste down here, but nobody listened to them,” says Annette Parlitz, spokeswoman for the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), as we tour the mine.

This is just one part of Germany’s nuclear nightmare. The country is also wrestling a growing backlog of spent fuel.

And it has to worry about vast volumes of radioactive rubble that will be created as all the country’s 17 nuclear plants are decommissioned by 2022 – a decision taken five years ago, in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. The final bill for decommissioning power plants and getting rid of the waste is estimated to be at least €36 billion.


Ronald Frommann/Clean Energy Wire

Some 300,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate-level waste requiring long-term shielding, including what is dug from the Asse mine, is earmarked for final burial at the Konrad iron mine in Lower Saxony.

What will happen to the high-level waste, the spent fuel and other highly radioactive waste that must be kept safe for up to a million years is still debated.

Later this year, a Final Storage Commission of politicians and scientists will advise on criteria for choosing a site where deep burial or long-term storage should be under way by 2050.

But its own chairman, veteran parliamentarian Michael Muller, says that timetable is unlikely to be met. “We all believe deep geology is the best option, but I’m not sure if there is enough [public] trust to get the job done,” he says.

Lack of trust

Many anti-nuclear groups are boycotting the commission.

Although they agree Germany must deal with its own waste, they don’t trust the process of choosing a site. They fear that the authorities are secretly fixed on reviving plans for burial at Gorleben, another Lower Saxony salt dome.

Currently, 113 flasks containing high-level waste are housed in a temporary store there.

“One flask of high-level waste contains as much radioactivity as 30 Hiroshima bombs,” says Wolfgang Ehmke, who has been a campaigner for 40 years. “We cannot bury this waste here in northern Germany [because] there could be 10 ice ages, with glaciers scraping away the rocks, before the waste is safe.”

The protesters have wide popular support. And the problems at the Asse salt mine have led to further distrust of engineers and their solutions.

The abandoned mine was bought by the German government in 1965, ostensibly to research the suitability of salt domes for disposing of radioactive waste. Yet after two years, without waiting for scientific reports, the authorities secretly turned it into a cheap and supposedly permanent nuclear dump.

By then, 90 per cent of the mine’s 5 million cubic metres of salt had been excavated, and the mine was already buckling under the weight of the rocks above, says Ingo Bautz of the BfS, who oversees activities at the site.

As the walls bent, cracks formed. And because the miners had dug to within 10 metres of the impervious rock, in 1988, underground water started to trickle in.

The true state of affairs only became public knowledge in 2008. Despite hurried backfilling of much of the mine, the degradation continues. Brine seeps in at a rate of around 12,000 litres a day, threatening to flush radioactive material to the surface. “It is a disastrous situation,” says Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Environment.

Painfully slow

In 2011, the BfS ruled that the waste had to be removed. But the task is hard and likely to take decades. Just checking the state of the 13 chambers holding the waste drums is painfully slow. Engineers drilling to reach them through 20 metres of rock don’t know whether the drums have leaked, and of course they cannot risk a release of radioactivity.

Since work started in 2012, just one borehole has been completed into one of the chambers. Engineers say they will need to sink a second shaft and open up big new galleries where the drums can be made safe before they are retrieved.

But exploratory drilling has revealed that the salt dome is not as big as thought, says Bautz.

And unless care is taken to keep clear of the geological barrier, the excavations risk allowing more water in. “We can’t rule out that the mine could flood,” he says. “If that happened, retrieval would be impossible. We would backfill it all.”

Nothing will be moved until at least 2033, says Bautz. Meanwhile the bills keep rising. It costs €140 million a year just to keep the mine safe for work to continue. The final bill will run into many billions.

Is it worth it? Many experts fear that digging up the drums, with consequent risks of radioactive leaks, could create a much greater hazard than leaving them where they are.

A former top official on the project, geochemist Michael Siemann, told the media in 2012 that safe retrieval was unrealistic. “Many people know this, but no one wants to say it.”

“There could be a conflict between protecting future generations and creating risks for today,” Bautz concedes.

Germany may ultimately perform a service to the world if it can pioneer solutions that other nuclear countries may look to in the future, including the UK, which is struggling with its own waste legacy.

But if Germans ever thought that abandoning nuclear power would end their nuclear problems, they couldn’t have been more wrong.

Fred Pearce’s costs during the field trip to the mine were paid for by Clean Energy Wire, an independent non-profit media service.

France Peddles Unsafe Nuclear Reactors to India, Drawing Protest

Truthout | Kumar Sundaram | 29 January 2016


On January 26, French President François Hollande was the chief guest for India’s Republic Day ceremony, where India showcases its military hardware in a colonial-era parade in its capital. Meanwhile, in Jaitapur on India’s western coast, farmers and fisherfolk were protesting against Hollande’s visit, arguing that the nuclear reactors that India is importing from France threaten their lives, livelihoods and the local ecology.

The Joint Declaration: Localizing Risk, Siphoning Off Profit

In a joint declaration issued on January 25 in New Delhi, the two governments reaffirmed their commitment to go ahead with a long-pending nuclear deal. As per the declaration, the intense negotiations to finalize the commercial agreement are expected to conclude by the end of this year, and the construction of six European pressurized reactors (EPR) imported from France is to begin by early 2017.

The new twist in the declaration is the “maximum localization” of the project and “technology transfer” for the same. Although the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have proudly included these new terms and added a “Make in India” tag on the Jaitapur project, it actually means that the French industry would be transferring the burden of its most controversial reactor design at a time of its worst crisis.

The safety vulnerabilities of the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) – the huge iron core where radioactive fission takes place – came under serious questions, raised by France’s own nuclear safety regulator Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN) in April 2015. Later in 2015, Areva, the French reactor builder, had to ask the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to suspend certification review for EPR design. The United States has been postponing certification for EPR since 2007. The Finnish regulator has taken Areva to court on this issue, and Finland has canceled the order for its second EPR. Just two days after the publication of ASN’s report, Modi reaffirmed the EPR deal from France during his visit to Paris in April 2015. It is exactly this controversial component – the RPV – that an Indian private company L&T will now be building, with no experience in the nuclear sector at all.

Insurmountable Risks of the Jaitapur Nuclear Project

The current phase of negotiations on Jaitapur is about the price of reactors, which remains a major sticking point. Although the former chief of India’s Atomic Energy Commission promised a tariff of a maximum of 10 US cents per unit for the electricity produced in Jaitapur, independent experts have claimed it will be much higher (20 to 30 cents per unit). This means the government of India would use taxpayers’ money to keep the price competitive. If we go by the cost of EPRs in the United Kingdom, each Indian reactor may cost as much as $8.9 billion. Two reactors in Jaitapur’s first phase will cost as much as India’s total expenditure on science and technology (including the departments of space, science and technology, biotechnology, and research for the entire country). A diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks quoted the general manager of the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPCIL), saying that India is paying a “high” price for Jaitapur.

However, the concerns of the local community in Jaitapur go beyond the cost of the project. Jaitapur is located in the stunningly beautiful Konkan region, replete with verdant plateaus, magical mountains and undulating hills, lagoons, creeks, the open sea and infinite greenery. The NPCIL has labeled nearly 65 percent of the land as “barren,” despite the fact that Konkan is one of the world’s 10 “biodiversity hotspots,” sheltering over 5,000 species of flowering plants, 139 of mammals, 508 of birds and 179 of amphibians, including 325 globally threatened species.

Altogether, the nuclear park would jeopardize the livelihoods of 40,000 people. The annual turnover of Jaitapur’s fishing villages is about $2.2 million. In Nate Village alone, there are 200 big trawlers and 250 small boats. Nearly 6,000 people depend directly on fishing and over 10,000 are dependent on ancillary activities.

The community is apprehensive that the elaborate security arrangements around the project would block the fisherfolks’ use of the two creeks of Jaitapur and Vijaydurg. The fish population will also be affected since the nuclear plant would release a massive 52 billion liters of hot water into the Arabian Sea daily, raising the local sea temperature by 5 to 7 degrees Celsius.

Jaitapur has highly fertile land, which produces rice and other cereals, and arguably the world’s most famous mango, the Alphonso. Cashews, coconuts, kokum, betel nuts, pineapples and other fruits are found in abundance. The land is also quite productive in terms of its use for cattle-grazing and rain-fed agriculture.

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) for Jaitapur, conducted by the government-run National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), did not even look into the crucial aspects of radiological releases, decommissioning and nuclear waste, besides summarily neglecting the vital issues of ecosystems and livelihoods, terrestrial ecosystems and farming, mangrove forests and the fragile marine ecology and fisheries in the region. NEERI admits it does not have any expertise in radiation-related issues and it just mentioned in its report that all the stipulations of the government’s nuclear regulator would be followed. The then-minister for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, had himself termed these EIA assessments a joke. Even that environmental clearance, granted on 35 absurdly weak conditions, was given only for a period of five years, which lapsed as of November 2015. Citizens groups and independent experts have demanded a fresh EIA in place of an extension.

India’s nuclear regulator, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), is itself a toothless body, which depends on the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) for its finances and human resources, an agency, which it is supposed to supervise. India’s newly proposed nuclear regulator – the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority – would be an even weaker body than the AERB, according to the former head of AERB, Dr. A K Gopalakrishnan. In fact, India is the only country to further dilute its already lax safety regulation under the AERB to accommodate foreign-imported reactors, as Areva’s EPR might not even pass the licensing procedures of the existing AERB.

Safety concerns at Jaitapur are legitimate and extremely serious. The EPR design has come under severe criticism from the French nuclear regulator, ASN. In April 2015, the ASN warned Areva about some very crucial vulnerabilities in its design. It has found the reactor pressure vessel (or the core of the reactor) to be vulnerable. Yet two days after the publication of ASN’s report, Prime Minister Modi reaffirmed the commitment to buy the EPRs during his visit to Paris.

Independent experts and the government’s own institutions have also cautioned about active seismic fault lines in the region passing exactly beneath the proposed reactor site. There have been 92 earthquakes in Jaitapur over the past 20 years.

The Indian government has managed to acquire land for the project by pressuring farmers and luring a handful of landlords. Despite land acquisition, the farmers in Jaitapur continue to resist. Most villagers either work on others’ land or provide rural services to the agrarian community and do not get any compensation when villages are dislocated for “development” projects. Tabrez Soyekar, a young fisherman, was killed in an indiscriminate police shooting in April 2011, during a peaceful protest. Hundreds of activists and eminent citizens, including the former Navy chief of India and retired justice of the Supreme Court of India, were detained during a protest march.

Thirteen village councils in Jaitapur passed unanimous resolutions against the project as recently as November 2015. It is utterly hypocritical for both countries to laud each other’s democratic credentials for international diplomacy if the democratically elected village councils are neglected violently.

A Violent Nuclear Expansion in India

India is one of the few countries today that appears to have missed the global post-Fukushima shift away from nuclear power. Even France itself, the poster child of the nuclear energy lobbies, has decided to reduce the ratio of nuclear power in its national energy basket from 75 percent to 50 percent. Independent energy experts in India, including a former top official in the Ministry of Power, have argued for a decentralized energy framework that would suit India better, as the majority of its population still lives in villages scattered across the country and transmission losses in centralized Indian grids are staggering.

The 2015 World Nuclear Industry Status Report concludes that, after the Fukushima accident, the international nuclear industry has faced its worst crisis globally. The industry is looking at India as a big market where they can compensate for their losses and revive their fortunes. India has become an attractive market for global nuclear corporations, where the government is mortgaging its financial and environmental health to welcome them. This includes channeling the accident liability to the public; undermining environmental, geological and safety laws; and ignoring the measured advice of independent experts.

Besides Jaitapur, massive and intense anti-nuclear protests have arisen in Koodankulam, Mithi Virdi and Kovvada, where Russian and US corporations are setting up nuclear power plants. Local communities in other places like Chutka, Fatehabad and Mahi Banswara have also been agitating against the nuclear projects. The government has resorted to brutal crackdowns and repression against these consistently peaceful protests. More than 8,000 people in Koodankulam are facing fabricated police cases under colonial-era sedition laws and charges of waging war against the Indian state. The police have killed, arrested and harassed villagers indiscriminately, including women and children. They surrounded the Idinthakarai village in 2012 and disrupted its vital supply lines that deliver goods, including food and milk for children and medicines, to force the village to surrender. One of the first steps that the new government under Modi took in 2015 was to come up with a “confidential” report by the Intelligence Bureau, naming Greenpeace, the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, and other anti-nuclear and environmentalist organizations “anti-national.”

India’s Nuclear Imports Are More Than Just Reactor Supply Agreements

The anachronistic nuclear expansion in India, defying economic common sense and the global shift away from nuclear energy, actually stems from the strategy that the country’s elite have adopted to achieve international legitimacy for India’s nuclear weapons.

In exchange for India’s inclusion in the global nuclear weapons club, the Indian government promised 10,000 megawatts of nuclear contracts to the United States ahead of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in September 2008. It made similar promises to France, Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries for an exemption from the NSG rule disallowing countries that are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India had been facing an international embargo since 1974 for using imported technology and material for its nuclear tests.

France was the first country to sign a nuclear pact with India after the NSG’s exemption. It had been exploring nuclear sales to India for a long time. A feasibility study in Jaitapur for Areva was conducted as early as 2003. France was among the very few countries in the world that did not criticize India’s nuclear tests in 1998. But it needed the United States to do the heavy lifting in the NSG and the International Atomic Energy Agency to open the gates of international nuclear commerce for India.

Escalating Nuclear Arms Race in South Asia

The so-called “nuclear civilian deal” sets the wrong precedent for potential proliferators by diplomatically embracing India in the international nuclear order, despite being a non-signatory to the NPT and Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It will also boost India’s nuclear weapons capacity by freeing up its domestic uranium reserves entirely for weapons purposes.

Nuclear weaponization in South Asia has defied the expectations of nuclear deterrence theorists that the introduction of nuclear weapons in the region would bring restraint. Soon after the nuclear tests in 1998, South Asia saw a fierce border conflict in Kargil in 2002. Declassified documents and WikiLeaks cables have revealed that Pakistan and India actually came close to contemplating nuclear use during that war. The Indian nuclear arsenal has also been growing with the introduction of nuclear submarines and long-range missiles. India has consecutively been one of the top five arms importers of the world for the last several years.

The evolving political situation in South Asia also makes peace in the region much more fragile. India is now ruled by an ultra-nationalist political formation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). BJP’s Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, contested the last elections under the slogan of teaching Pakistan a lesson and revising the two cornerstones of the Indian nuclear posture – the “no first use” policy and the minimum credible deterrence doctrine.

Modi Government’s Nuclear U-Turns and Misadventures

For its entire 10-year stint in the opposition, the BJP opposed the United Progressive Alliance’s nuclear policy, but nuclear deals have become matters of pride for Modi’s foreign sojourns. It has gone further than the previous government in placating the nuclear lobbies.

On Republic Day in 2015, to please the chief guest, US President Barack Obama, the Modi government effectively surrendered the option to sue nuclear vendors in case of an accident. Now, in 2016, with France’s help, Modi’s government seems bent on finalizing an extremely dangerous and destructive nuclear project.

Jaitapur nuclear project: three reasons it must be abandoned

Dianuke (Ideas For India) | M.V. Ramana | January 25, 2016

When French President Francois Hollande visits Delhi to attend this year’s Republic Day parade, India and France are expected to announce that they are going to enter into an agreement to import six nuclear reactors marketed by the French company Areva. These European Pressurized Reactors (EPR) are to be constructed in Jaitapur, Maharashtra on the Arabian sea. The idea of importing EPRs from France for Jaitapur was initiated during the Manmohan Singh government and has been pursued by the Narendra Modi government as well. There are at least three notable things about this project that make it dubious and not worth pursuing.

Troubled history

First, the EPR has a troubled history. No reactor of this kind is operational anywhere in the world. There are four under construction — in Finland, France, and two in China — and all of them are delayed, including the ones being built in Taishan in China. The first of these was the project at Olkiluoto, Finland, which was supposed to come online in 2009, but has been delayed because of innumerable problems. It is now projected to start operating in 2018 — if all goes well.

The case of the EPR in Flamanville, France is similar, but with a twist: last year, the French nuclear regulator, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), announced that it had been informed by Areva of an anomaly in the composition of the steel in certain zones of the reactor vessel of the Flamanville EPR. The reactor vessel holds the hot and radioactive fuel during operations and has to withstand high temperature and pressures. Understandably problem with this reactor component is, as the president of ASN put it, “serious — even very serious”. The detection of the problem at this late stage, in the words of French energy analyst Yves Marignac, “means that either Électricité de France (EDF) or Areva overlooked the risk of this kind of problem, which would reflect badly on their competence, or they were trying to create a fait accompli before it was detected”. In any case, this discovery has led to widespread concern about the French nuclear supply system — except, evidently, within the decision-making circles in the Indian government.

Related to these lengthy delays, there has been a corresponding escalation in costs, with both Flamanville and Olkiluoto’s current estimates exceeding initial projection by a factor of three or more, from €3.2 billion to €10.5 billion in the case of Flamanville. That translates to roughly €6,500 (or US$7,000) per kilowatt (kW) of capacity. These cost and time overruns of the EPR have been attributed, at least in part, to the complexity of the design according to an official report authored by Francois Roussely, European vice-president of Credit Suisse and honorary president of EDF; this complexity, “without doubt hinders its construction and consequently impacts on its cost” according to the Roussely report. Since it is essentially the same design that will be exported to India, there will doubtlessly be problems with construction in Jaitapur as well.

Expensive electricity

The second problem with the proped project is that, if it is constructed, electricity from the reactor would be very expensive. In a paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly in 2013, physicist Suvrat Raju and I showed that if the unit cost of capacity for the Jaitapur project was assumed to be US$4,000/kW, then the initial year’s tariff for electricity from these reactors, without including transmission and distribution costs, is likely to be around Rs. 15 per unit (kilowatt hour (kWh)) of power. The methodology we adopted was exactly the same as had been used by India’s Nuclear Power Corporation to justify importing nuclear reactors from the United States although we used cost estimates derived from actual construction rather than theoretical projections. The key variable is the cost per unit capacity and our assumption of US$4,000/kW was a very charitable estimate that allowed for substantial decreases in the capital expenditures as a result of many components being manufactured within India and paying labourers and engineers much less than if the reactor had been constructed in Europe. In fact, it was as optimistic a cost decrease as the Nuclear Power Corporation of India has projected as achievable through local construction: its head has been cited as saying that one could save 25-30%, which he described as a “huge” advantage.

Since then, however, cost estimates for EPRs have increased further. Apart from the cost increases for the reactors in France and Finland, a good data point is the case of the two EPRs proposed for construction at Hinkley Point in the United Kingdom. The plant is estimated to cost up to £18 billion, of which £6 billion are to come from China General Nuclear Power Corporation and £2 billion pounds as subsidies from British tax-payers. In addition, the UK government has promised a guaranteed price of £92 per megawatt-hour that would increase with inflation and is more than twice the average current wholesale cost of electricity in the country.

The per unit cost for Hinkley Point is in excess of US$8,000/kW. But even if one uses the estimate of roughly US$7,000/kW, as is the case for Flamanville-3, and modify that by a factor of 25-30% to account for reduction in costs due to manufacture in India, the resulting cost per unit capacity will come to around US$4,900 to US$5,250/kW. At US$5,100/kW, the first year tariff for electricity from Jaitapur would be nearly Rs. 19 per kWh.

To put this in perspective, a recent reverse bidding process for solar power projects in Rajasthan had a winning bid of Rs. 4.34 per kWh. In the state of Maharashtra, a solar developer has put in a bid of Rs. 4.41 per kWh. For coal-based power, recent bids have been around Rs. 4.50 per kWh.

In other words, Jaitapur will result in very expensive electricity in comparison to alternative sources. It is reminiscent of the very expensive and controversial Naptha-based project that was constructed by Enron Corporation in Dabhol in Maharashtra in the 1990s.

Seismic risk

Third, the proposed reactor site is in a zone with a relatively high degree of seismic risk. In November 2011, two renowned seismologists published a paper in the Indian Science Journal Current Science which examined the historical record and concluded that a severe earthquake, such as the ones that struck nearby Latur (400 km from Jaitapur) and Koyna (100 km) in 1993 and 1967 respectively, “although unlikely . . . could occur within the lifetime of the nuclear power plant” in the close vicinity of Jaitapur. In a subsequent paper in the same journal, these scientists were even more explicit: “Jaitapur lies in a region where plate tectonic stresses are locally close to critical failure, and where minor perturbations in stress can trigger earthquakes. Geologically, the Jaitapur region meets many of the criteria known to be conducive to intra-plate seismicity. Tectonically, the Jaitapur region is precisely in the same state of seismic quiescence and historical ignorance as the regions of Latur or Koyna were, prior to the damaging earthquakes for which they are now famous”.

Why are earthquakes a special concern? As evidenced by accidents such as the ones at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986), nuclear power plants can undergo severe accidents even when there are no earthquakes. This potential for severe accidents is amplified during earthquakes because they simultaneously affect many different components of nuclear power plants. Simultaneous failures in different components could lead to what are called common-cause accidents, and these are very difficult to model in standard risk assessments. In part, this is because of the many uncertainties involved in a nuclear reactor’s behaviour during earthquakes. The combination of a nuclear reactor design that has never been operated before and a site that could experience earthquakes is a prescription for heightened risk.

In part as a result of these risks, there is significant local opposition to the project, which has in turn induced the Shiv Sena party, a key alliance partner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to ask the central government to scrap the project.

One of the lessons from the nuclear reactor accidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl is that although radioactive fallout from these accidents spread far and wide, the bulk of the health and environmental consequences were borne by inhabitants of the areas near these facilities. Thus, the concerns of inhabitants of the villages near Jaitapur do deserve special attention.

There are, thus, ample reasons for the Indian government to not enter into an agreement to purchase EPRs for Jaitapur. It should still be possible to walk away from the project. Will the government do that or succumb to geostrategic or ideological interests?

Further Reading

•Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (2015), ‘Flamanville EPR reactor vessel manufacturing anomalies’, 7 April 2014.

•Bilham, R and VK Gaur (2011), “Historical and future seismicity near Jaitapur, India”, Current Science, 101(100):1275-1281. Available at:,%20India.pdf

•Kumar, A and MV Ramana (2007), ‘Nuclear safety lessons from Japan’s summer earthquake’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 4 December 2007.

•Ramana, MV (2011), ‘Beyond our imagination: Fukushima and the problem of assessing risk’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 20 April 2011.

•Ramana, MV and Suvrat Raju (2013), “Cost of electricity from the Jitapur Nuclear Power Plant”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 98(26-27), 51-60. Available at:

•Roussely, F (2010), ‘The Roussely Report: saving the French nuclear industry with outrageous measures’, Sortir du nucléaire, 27 July 2010.

•Sant, G, S Dixit and S Wagle (1995), ‘The Enron Controversy: Techno-Economic Analysis and Policy Implications’, Prayas.

•Scientific Correspondence (2012), “Discussion of seismicity near Jatiapur”, Current Science, 103(11): 1273-1278.

•Thakur, Sudhinder (2008), “Economics of nuclear power in the Indian context”, Atoms for Peace: An International Journal, 2(1). Available at:

•Yeo, S (2015), ‘New Nuclear: Finland’s cautionary tale for the UK’, CarbonBrief, 20 October 2015.

Nuclear Build: Do we really know what we are entering into?

Daily Maverick | Dirk de Vos | 11 December 2015

In countries where nuclear power policy serves an overall energy policy that serves the public, and not the other way around, no nuclear power plants are being built. Those part of the world that procure electricity using democratic, transparent and market-based methods do not build new reactors. It is not surprising. Nuclear energy is ruinously expensive, it is always over budget (by a lot) and suffers interminable delays.

Despite the world and its leaders coming to the view that global warming is a real threat which needs to be addressed, the nuclear energy sector, which can provide vast amounts of electricity without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, has had another poor year. It follows a very poor trend line going right back to the 1980s. In fact, the number of new nuclear builds hides the real extent of the decline. Most of them are in just one country, China. Even in China, new renewable energy capacity outstrips that of nuclear 3 to 1. The industry limps along only because it gets massive subsidies and support from governments that still believe that the nuclear industry, in its current form, using current technologies, has a future.

There is another industry, somewhat similar to the nuclear industry that has experienced some of the same problems. The arms industry after the end of the cold war, and just about the time that South Africa became a democratic country, and was finding its feet in the family of democratic countries. How did the arms industry respond to its difficulties? Well, beyond being bailed out by countries that think an arms industry is strategic, it went around the world offering all sorts of inducements and bribes to countries that did not need more armaments. South Africa was just one victim of these false inducements. It is understood that the deal cost South Africa R70 billion in circa 2000 Rands, maybe not such a big deal in the scheme of things, but the real damage was the squalid nature of the whole thing, the corruption, the damage to our fledging democratic institutions and the “body politic”. South Africa is a much angrier, less trusting and cynical country now. That will have implications for the nuclear industry’s ambitions.

In countries where nuclear power policy serves an overall energy policy that serves the public, and not the other way around, no nuclear power plants are being built. Those part of the world that procure electricity using democratic, transparent and market-based methods do not build new reactors. It is not surprising. Nuclear energy is ruinously expensive, it is always over budget (by a lot) and suffers interminable delays. Every time. Even relatively small nuclear builds in rich advanced countries run into all sorts of problems such as the United Kingdom’s Hinkley Point C . Government guarantees, whether one’s own government or some other government, with its own agenda or strategic objectives, is the only way that these projects can proceed. Even then, it is doubtful because as Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (and a nuclear energy supporter) advises, “…when you are in a money hole, you should stop digging” Because of special 35-year term loans Hinkley Point C, if it is ever built, is supposed to provide electricity to the UK grid at £92.50/MWh or around R2/kWh (average Eskom selling price in 2015 around 74c/kWh).

It is not just the upfront capital, it is what nuclear investments do to the cost of that capital for everything else in the country. A World Nuclear Industry Status Report states that “rating agencies consider nuclear investment risky and the abandoning of nuclear projects explicitly ‘credit positive’

For the nuclear industry target customers then have to be reasonably big economies, say, the top 70 economies or just rich ones (basic affordability). One then needs to narrow the list down to those countries with a strong executive president with weak or compliant cabinet, especially the finance minister, that owe their jobs to the president. One wants countries where the legislative arm is made up of well-paid legislators that owe their positions to the executive arm. It helps if the political opposition presents no real political threat. Those countries with insignificant democratic accountability and with high perceived levels of or a proven history of present promising prospects. A state owned monopoly electricity utility is also a help. If the president of the country really, really wants to build nuclear power stations, so much the better. So what about South Africa then? Does South Africa stack up? Actually, rather poorly. Bankers and finance types use the word “counter-party risk”. It means what it says. What is the chance of the other contracting party defaulting on whatever agreement is struck. And goodness, for any nuclear power vendor, South Africa is packed with counter-party risk.

The starting out criteria may look favourable, but for nuclear vendors, those criteria have to remain in place for a long, long time. There are only two ways that one can finance a nuclear build. You provide the finance yourself (and South Africa has to borrow this money from someone who believes it is repayable) or you get the vendor to finance the nuclear build itself. The vendor then recovers the investment through the sale of electricity over 30 years or more. This means agreeing on a 30-year or longer power purchase agreement (PPA) for electricity that is not in our own currency.

We have reached the ceiling of being able to raise more debt for any purpose as is clear from our declining credit rating. Attempting to do so for a nuclear build programme is simply out of the question. The idea that the BRICS bank might take a different view is just naïve. If there was any prospect of this, Brazil, in a worse financial state than us, would have applied already. Vendor finance is equally difficult because the vendor has to agree upfront the terms of the PPA and know that it will be in place, as agreed, 30 years hence. Given that Eskom is finding that demand for its electricity at existing prices is less than forecast, it is hard to imagine our economy being able to support the price of a nuclear PPA. Nuclear would decimate Eskom because all nuclear derived electricity would have to be supplied first and only then would coal fired power be able to be supplied. It would force Eskom to mothball its cheaper electricity in favour of full utilisation of the nuclear plants. Because most of the costs of a nuclear plant is in the actual build, the risks for a vendor waiting for payment must be huge.

There are other big problems. Even if South Africa does not look like a mature democracy, it is still subject to the constitution which is the supreme law. The legislature might not be of much use but the judiciary is very far from having been captured. Areva, a nuclear operator along with Eskom discovered this to its considerable cost just a few days ago. Eskom awarded a dodgy tender to Areva for the replacement of steam generators at Koeberg. A unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal set it aside.

It is worth recalling, especially when there is so much re-writing history, that when the ANC came into power in 1994, they were confronted by an almost bankrupt state. The Apartheid regime had racked up huge debts. There was a valid argument at the time that the democratic state should simply repudiate this “odious debt” as it had been incurred by an illegal regime and its creditors should therefore accept a write-off . For various reasons and after intense debate, it was decided that these debt obligations would be met. Those decisions will continue to be debated but this time we have a constitution and underlying legislation. Any agreement concluded in breach of the constitution can be challenged at a different time in the future. Given the scale of a nuclear programme, it is inevitable that such a challenge would be launched by a future government. No vendor or financier will be able to claim ignorance. It is impossible to get around this problem either. An illegal agreement is not worth the paper it is written on.

None of this excludes the numerous other provisions of the constitution, perhaps grouped as Rule of Law and/or due process provisions creating multiple opportunities (to use a term well understood by one of the hopeful vendors) for a Stalingrad Strategy also known as lawfare where every step and every decision is challenged, up and down the court system creating a total quagmire. Some amongst us know exactly how effective this can be. In the process we may severely damage our legal system but the stakes are too high, so it can’t be avoided.

Some of the hopeful nuclear vendors might not be entirely familiar with all this and expect a head of state to be able to deliver a deal. Well, ours cannot, and if they want to avoid a very costly and pointless exercise, they should get some good (local) legal advice. Nuclear vendors should know this: proceed at your peril, South Africans armed with our constitution are lying in wait. As much as we give the impression that we are ripe for the picking, we are not really that type of country. To rework an old legal saying, “caveat vendor”.

Is de Pallasreactor een gelopen race?

Stichting Laka | Henk van der Keur | 28 oktober 2015

Al sinds de eerste aankondiging van de bouw in 2003 heeft stichting Laka campagne gevoerd tegen een nieuwe kernreactor in Petten. Dat was in het begin geen makkelijke opgave. Vrijwel iedereen was ervan overtuigd dat een onderzoeksreactor noodzakelijk was voor de productie van medische isotopen. Deze radioactieve isotopen worden gebruikt in radiofarmaca voor het stellen van diagnoses en therapeutische behandelingen voor onder meer kanker. Juist daarom werd door pleitbezorgers van onderzoeksreactoren altijd dankbaar gebruik gemaakt van dit argument. Maar onderzoek van Laka bracht al in de jaren negentig aan het licht dat onderzoeksreactoren helemaal niet nodig zijn voor isotopenproductie. Medische isotopen kunnen ook goedkoper, veiliger en relatief schoner worden geproduceerd met deeltjesversnellers. Die boodschap lijkt nu langzamerhand ook door te dringen binnen het politieke establishment.

Opkomst en neergang van isotopenproductie met kernreactoren

De idee dat kernreactoren belangrijk zouden zijn voor medische isotopen is feitelijk een erfenis van het Manhattan Project dat in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Behalve plutonium voor de productie van de eerste kernwapens, leverde de militaire onderzoeksreactor in Hanford in de Amerikaanse staat Washington vanaf 1943 ook op commerciële schaal radio-isotopen. Dat was het begin van isotopenproductie met onderzoeksreactoren. Daarvoor werden medische isotopen door cyclotrons (ronde deeltjesversnellers) gemaakt. Deze relatief eenvoudige apparaten bleven tot in de jaren vijftig een populaire productiemethode. Daarna stokte de ontwikkeling van cyclotrons doordat kernreactoren het overgrote deel van de productie van medische isotopen overnamen.


nucleaire complex bij Hanford, Washington

Door de toename van de welvaart in het Westen en de ziektes die daarmee verband houden, waaronder kanker en hart- en vaatziektes, nam de vraag naar medische isotopen sinds de jaren zeventig flink toe. Naast kernonderzoek werd het aandeel medische isotopen steeds belangrijker voor onderzoeksreactoren. Probleem was dat die productiefaciliteit helemaal niet bijdroeg aan het onderhoud van de kernreactoren. Dat was volgens onderzoekers van de OESO in 2010 de voornaamste verklaring voor de aanhoudende crises in de aanvoer van isotopen in het eerste decennium van dit millennium. Ze maakten duidelijk dat het businessmodel van de reactorisotopen niet deugde. De huidige productie draait op een handjevol stokoude reactoren, waaronder de HFR in Petten, die ooit met overheidssubsidies zijn gebouwd. De overheidssubsidies op reactorproductie van isotopen in Petten worden nu afgebouwd en de prijzen van reactorisotopen stapsgewijs verhoogd. Maar de kans dat reactoren het huidige hoge aandeel in de productie van isotopen blijft behouden, lijkt verkeken. De opmars van versnellers is niet meer te stuiten. Dat komt door de snelle opkomst van de PET-scanner, een beeldvormende techniek die uitsluitend op versnellerisotopen draait. De snelle wereldwijde uitbreiding daarvan gaat ten koste van de andere beeldvormende techniek SPECT, die nu nog gebruik maakt van reactorisotopen. Door de verhoging van de prijzen van deze isotopen wordt het voor producenten met cyclotrons (en straks linacs) steeds aantrekkelijker om naast PET-isotopen ook SPECT-isotopen te gaan produceren. Het Internationaal Atoomenergie Agentschap (IAEA, juli 2015) voorziet op korte termijn een omwenteling van reactorisotopen naar versnellerisotopen binnen de Nucleaire Geneeskunde. In maart 2018 zal ‘s werelds grootste producent van medische isotopen, de NRU-reactor in Chalk River, Ontario, gaan sluiten. De Canadezen zijn al vijf jaar bezig met het treffen van voorbereidingen om in 2018 over te schakelen naar een infrastructuur van isotopenproductie die gebaseerd is op versnellers. Eén van de weinige zaken waar we de voormalige conservatieve premier Harper dankbaar voor kunnen zijn.


Huidige kernreactor in Petten

Pallas belemmert innovatie

Minister van Economische Zaken Henk Kamp blijft het Pallasproject stug verdedigen. Maar uit geheime stukken die recent door radioprogramma Argos zijn onthuld, blijkt dat de provincie er geen toekomst in ziet. Tijdens een geheime vergadering, begin oktober, besloten de Provinciale Staten van Noord Holland om het tweede deel van een lening voor een nieuwe kernreactor in Petten, Pallas, te weigeren. Daarmee hangt de geplande Pallasreactor aan een zijden draadje. Reden voor de weigering is een gebrek aan vertrouwen in de gepresenteerde business case van de Pallasreactor. Met name het feit dat Pallas nog geen private investeerders heeft gevonden weegt zwaar. “De Pallas organisatie loopt met de actualisatie van de business case niet in de pas met het tijdschema dat voor de go/no go-momenten is bedacht.” Schrijft CDA-gedeputeerde Jaap Bond aan de commissie EEB (Energie, Economie en Beleid) van de Provinciale Staten.

Maar het zijn niet alleen economische argumenten. Voor PS weegt ook zwaar dat er twijfel bestaat of een nieuwe Pallasreactor wel nodig is gezien ontwikkelingen in de markt. Pallas is vooral gepland voor de productie van medische isotopen. CDA’er Bond wijst er op dat de OESO voorspelt dat er in 2020 een overschot aan medische isotopen wordt verwacht. Dat komt enerzijds door nieuwe productiefaciliteiten die in aanbouw zijn en door het feit dat medische isotopen ook geproduceerd kunnen worden met behulp van cyclotrons.

Laka verwelkomt de beslissing van de Provinciale Staten. Het is een verstandig besluit op het juiste moment. Het heeft geen zin aan te blijven modderen. Het is zaak nu vol in te zetten op productie van medische isotopen met innovatieve deeltjesversnellers. Dat is de enige mogelijkheid om werkgelegenheid in de kop van Noord-Holland te behouden.

Bestuursakkoord: verschillende interpretaties

Minister Kamp beantwoorde afgelopen week nog Kamervragen over Pallas. Hij liet op geen enkele manier de bestaande twijfel over de voortgang doorschemeren. Dat is vreemd, omdat hij van de beslissing van de Provincie Noord-Holland op de hoogte moet zijn geweest. En des te vreemder omdat bij het afsluiten van de lening in 2012, in een bestuursakkoord is afgesproken dat PS en EZ samen op trekken. Als één partij ermee stopt dan stopt de andere ook. Er is een afspraak tot “consensus” over de gezamenlijke lening van 80 miljoen euro. En die is er dus niet. Het is de vraag of hij nu een andere keuze heeft dan de bijdrage van het Rijk te stoppen.

Volgens Argos houden de Staten de deur nog wel op een kier. De PS verleent namelijk wel toestemming voor de start van de aanbesteding van het ontwerp voor Pallas. Gedeputeerde Bond wijst er op dat, mocht de minister toch besluiten zijn 14 miljoen over te maken aan Pallas, PS van Noord Holland daarvan “zeven miljoen voor haar rekening dient te nemen.” Dat is een gevolg van de afspraken in het bestuursakkoord.

Ondertussen meldt het Noordhollands dagblad dat de Commissaris van de Koning in Noord-Holland, Remkes, aangifte bij de politie gaat doen vanwege een “vermoedelijke schending van een opgelegde geheimhoudingsplicht.” En volgens de provincie zijn er daarnaast ook nog stukken gelekt waar geheimhouding op zit.