Will the government opt for small ‘new-style’ nuclear reactors – an unproven technology?

Andrew Ward and Peggy Hollinger (Financial Times) report that the government is preparing to build a number of small ‘new-style’ nuclear reactors – in spite of doubts about the economic viability of this technology. Greg Clark, business secretary, sees this as a more affordable alternative to large-scale nuclear reactors such as the £20bn Hinkley Point C plant.

Though the nuclear industry is now not competitive with the renewable wind and solar power, where costs are falling rapidly (below) British ministers are said to be preparing to revive the UK’s ‘faltering effort’ to create a new generation of small-scale nuclear power plants (small modular reactors – SMRs).

However, a technology assessment carried out by Ernst and Young ‘reached a negative verdict’ on the cost-effectiveness of SMRs:

“SMRs still require additional research and development to make them an economically viable alternative — with the caveat that further R&D creates a complex case to argue, in that it can be seen as both a help and a hindrance to making more economic sense. Indeed, as SMRs are unproven the same steep learning curve is required, combined with the regulatory requirements of each design change and complex mapping of the impacts and cost estimating for contractors if the client does not have an integrated cost model and design (BIM) for civil engineers.”

During the last two months The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are said to have held a series of meetings with SMR developers, including Rolls-Royce which is, according to The Engineer, “one of the only companies in the world to both build and operate nuclear reactors”. (RR image below).

The findings are expected to be published in the coming weeks and will confront the government with awkward questions about why public money should be used to help to commercialise the unproven technology.

Advocates for SMRs say:

  • the technology can help the UK to bolster energy security
  • and to tackle climate change.
  • It will use Britain’s huge stockpile of weapon-grade plutonium, spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste as fuel.
  • The cost-overruns and construction delays that have plagued conventional nuclear projects will be overcome.
  • A multibillion pound export market will be created for British engineering companies.

Rolls-Royce has portrayed its project as a “national endeavour,” involving UK supply chain partners such as Laing O’Rourke and Arup, in keeping with the government’s industrial strategy to bolster domestic manufacturing and engineering. Rolls-Royce claims that its SMR consortium would create some 40,000 jobs at the peak of any build programme between 2030 and 2050. Its main competitior, NuScale also says that more than 85% of work on its SMR programme would be carried out by UK companies and that its first reactor could be operational by the late 2020s.

Nuclear Engineering International reports that advanced SMRs are currently being built in Russia, China and Argentina, and more than 45 SMR designs are at various stages of development.

As yet, therefore, this is a costly and unproven technology.

Note relevant article: https://nuclearindustries.wordpress.com/small-modular-reactors-the-nuclear-industrys-latest-pipe-dream-jonathon-porritt/








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Nuclear power: misjudgements and mismanagement

It is reported that more than 300,000 tonnes of “radioactive” mud, some of it the toxic by-product of Britain’s atomic weapons programme, will be dredged at Cardiff Grounds, a sandbank in the Bristol Channel, to make way for England’s newest nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. The government granted a dredging licence to EDF, the company building the new plant, in 2013.

An independent marine pollution researcher, Tim Deere-Jones, said that studies of north Wales tidal surges reveal that the mud and sand deposited from the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing site were heavily contaminated with radioactivity. He has warned that the dumped sediment could re-concentrate into more powerful radioactive material and be washed ashore in storm surges. “We know sediment in mudflats can dry out and blow ashore and that fine sediment with radioactivity attached can transfer to the land in marine aerosols and sea spray.”

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, a government agency took control of Sellafield in 2016 after stripping a US-led private consortium, Nuclear Management Partners, of a £9bn contract. Two large and strategically important nuclear decommissioning contracts in the space of two years have ‘failed’.

The Financial Times reports that in March, Greg Clark, business secretary, cancelled a deal with Cavendish Fluor Partnership, which was responsible for decommissioning 12 Magnox nuclear plants and research sites, at a cost of £122m to British taxpayers. Two reports – one by the National Audit Office and one separately commissioned by government – raised “serious questions” about the NDA’s “ability to manage large, complex procurements. Problems included:

  • a shortage of experienced staff,
  • poor record-keeping — including the inappropriate shredding of documents
  • and overly complex criteria that required NDA officials to evaluate bidders on 700 separate criteria.

The former Cavendish Fluor Magnox nuclear plants and research sites are ‘set’ to be brought back “in-house” by the after the collapse of the £6.2bn outsourcing contract that exposed “fundamental failures” at the organisation.

People with knowledge of the process said taking Magnox “in-house” would give NDA “more levers” to control costs, in contrast to an outsourced deal which created incentives for the contractor to expand the scope of work. The FT comments, however, that the ‘botched’ Magnox deal appears to indicate that any economic benefits will be outweighed by the costs and risks associated with cleaning up the radioactive waste.





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Nuclear attack? We must support Corbyn’s refusal to murder millions: Oliver Tickell

Another unpublished article found in archives – extracts set out Jeremy Corbyn’s position on nuclear weapons.   

“There are five declared nuclear weapon states in the world. There are three others that have nuclear weapons. That is eight countries out of 192; 187 countries do not feel the need to have nuclear weapons to protect their security. Why should those five need them to protect their security? We are not in the cold war any more.

Some highlights from this article by Oliver Tickell (right) published on1st October 2015.

Jeremy Corbyn’s first Labour Conference as party leader and Leader of the Opposition was looking like an overwhelming success – the best in many years.

Even more important, opinion polls were showing that Corbyn popularity in the country was on the rise. In a Sky poll, more than half thought he would make a credible prime minister, 66% liked his leadership style, and 59% felt more likely to vote Labour in a General Election. Disaster!

In an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg he was asked about nuclear weapons:

LC: “Would you ever push the nuclear button if you were prime minister?”

JC: “I am opposed to nuclear weapons, I am opposed to the holding and usage of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate weapons of mass destruction that can only kill millions of civilians if ever used. I am totally and morally opposed to nuclear weapons. I do not see them as a defence and do not see the use of them as a credible way to do things”

LC: “So yes or no you would never push the nuclear button?”

JC: “I have told you perfectly clearly its immoral to have or use nuclear weapons, I have made that clear all my life.”

LK: “But Jeremy Corbyn do you acknowledge there is a risk that you would put your own principles before the protection of this country?”

JC: “It looks to the voters I hope that I am someone who is absolutely committed to the spread of international law, spreading international human rights, bringing a nuclear free world nearer.”

LK: “And that is more important to you than the protection of this country? Some voters might think that.”

JC: “We are not under threat from any nuclear power. We are under threat from instability, yes, there is a terrorist issue around the world. Listen, the nuclear weapons that the United States hold, all the hundreds if not thousands of warheads they’ve got, were no help to them on 9/11.”

In other BBC interviews he referred to the UK’s legal duties to pursue nuclear disarmament under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, adding:

“I want to see a nuclear-free world. I believe it is possible. I do not think we should be renewing Trident … I think we should be promoting an international nuclear weapons convention which would lead to a nuclear-free world.

“There are five declared nuclear weapon states in the world. There are three others that have nuclear weapons. That is eight countries out of 192; 187 countries do not feel the need to have nuclear weapons to protect their security. Why should those five need them to protect their security? We are not in the cold war any more.

“I don’t think we should be spending £100bn on renewing Trident. That is a quarter of our defence budget. There are many in the military that do not want Trident renewed because they see it as an obsolete thing they don’t need. They would much rather see it spent on conventional weapons.”

And as he pointed out in his own speech to the conference, this is the position that he took in the leadership election, on which he was elected with a massive popular mandate.

Corbyn’s principled refusal to make himself a mass murderer and war criminal is legally, strategically and militarily correct, and in accordance with the UK’s international treaty obligations to pursue nuclear disarmament. We should give him our unconditional support in his quest for a nuclear-free world.

Oliver Tickell studied physics at Oxford University and is a founding fellow of the Green Economic Institute. He is a British journalist, author and campaigner on health and environment issues, and author of the book Kyoto2 which sets out a blueprint for effective global climate governance. His articles have been published in all the broadsheet newspapers and numerous magazines including New Scientist, New Statesman and The Economist. He is an experienced broadcaster on the BBC home and world services including “Today”, “PM”, “Costing the Earth”, “Farming World” and “Farming Today”.






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2017 Nobel Peace Prize for nuclear disarmament group ICAN

Nuclear disarmament group ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its decade-long campaign to rid the world of the atomic bomb

Holding the banner: Lesley Docksey (left) and  Sharon Dolev from Israel 

“The organisation is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons,” said Norway’s Nobel committee president Berit Reiss-Andersen.

A coalition of more than 300 NGOs founded in Vienna in 2007 on the fringes of an international conference on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, ICAN has tirelessly mobilised campaigners and celebrities alike in its cause. It was a key player in the adoption of a historic nuclear weapons ban treaty, signed by 122 countries in July.

The organisation will receive the prize, consisting of a gold medal, a diploma, and a cheque for nine million Swedish kronor (US$1.1 million), at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the prize’s creator, Swedish philanthropist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel.

The Nobel prize seeks to bolster the case of disarmament amid nuclear tensions between the United States and North Korea and uncertainty over the fate of a 2015 deal between Iran and major powers to limit Tehran’s nuclear programme.





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NATO denounces UN nuclear weapon ban treaty

In a September Press Release NATO Watch reported that NATO has denounced a UN treaty banning nuclear weapons as unrealistic and claimed that it risked undermining the international response to North Korea’s nuclear arms programme.

The Allliance meeting

The NATO statement was timed to coincide with the opening day for signatories to the first legally-binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. Despite the NATO intervention, 51 countries attached their names to the treaty, which will enter into force 90 days after 50 states have ratified the treaty (3 of the 51 signatories have so far done so).

The Treaty —adopted on 7 July this year at a UN conference in New York by a vote of 122 in favour to one against (Netherland), with one abstention (Singapore)— requires all countries that eventually ratify it not to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons “under any circumstances”. However, no nuclear armed state participated in the treaty negotiations and none have shown any willingness to sign it. The United States pressed other NATO member states and partners to boycott the discussions, and since the treaty was adopted Washington has continued to lean on partners, for example, threatening Sweden that defence industrial cooperation between the two nations could be endangered if it signs the treaty.

“The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the product of increasing concerns over the risk posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons, including the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of their use,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the signing ceremony, held on the margins of the General Assembly’s high-level debate. “The Treaty is an important step towards the universally-held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. It is my hope that it will reinvigorate global efforts to achieve it”, he added.

In contrast, however, the NATO statement said, “At a time when the world needs to remain united in the face of growing threats, in particular the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear programme, the treaty fails to take into account these urgent security challenges”. It added: “Seeking to ban nuclear weapons through a treaty that will not engage any state actually possessing nuclear weapons will not be effective, will not reduce nuclear arsenals, and will neither enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and stability. Indeed it risks doing the opposite by creating divisions and divergences at a time when a unified approach to proliferation and security threats is required more than ever”.

The disruptive intervention from NATO came a day after US President Donald Trump told the UN General Assembly in New York he was ready to “totally destroy” North Korea, mocking its leader Kim Jong-Un as “Rocket Man… on a suicide mission”.

Further reading: Ian Davis, NATO’s opposition to the treaty banning nuclear weapons: Or why the Netherlands attempted to plug the nuclear deterrence dyke by voting against the treaty, NATO Watch Briefing No. 57, 18 August 2017




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The Nuclear Education Trust seeks a Chair of Trustees






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The man who averted nuclear war in 1983 dies peacefully in Moscow


Mon, 09/18/2017 – 15:25

The NATO Watch newsletter draws our attention to this remarkable story.

A retired Soviet officer who prevented a possible nuclear war between the US/NATO and the Soviet Union in the 1980s quietly passed away on the 19 May in his home in Fryazino, near Moscow. He was 77. His death is only now being more widely reported.

In 26 September 1983, lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov was monitoring the Soviet Union’s early warning satellites from a command bunker near Moscow when one and then four more blips appeared on his screen indicating incoming US intercontinental ballistic missiles. This was during one of the tensest periods of the Cold War. Three weeks earlier a Korean passenger aircraft, with 269 people on board, had been shot down over Soviet airspace. The US was about to deploy the Pershing II missile to Europe and Ronald Reagan had called the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire’ and launched his ‘star wars’ programme. The critically ill Soviet leader Yuri Andropov was obsessed by fears of a US nuclear first strike.

Petrov had about 10-15 minutes to decide whether the blips were incoming US missiles and report to his commanders. With the future of the world resting in his hands, Petrov took a “gut decision” and did nothing.

“There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike,” he later told the BBC. “But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time, that the Soviet Union’s military and political leadership needed to be informed without delay. All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders — but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan”.

As the tension in the command centre rose he made the decision to report the alert as a system malfunction. This later turned out to be the correct decision: it was a false alarm from a faulty satellite (which had interpreted sunlight reflected from clouds as a US missile launch).

Instead of being given a hero’s medal, however, he was reprimanded for not filling out the log book that day and retired a year later. He was then employed as a senior engineer at the research institute that had created the early-warning system, but had to retire to care for his wife, Raisa, who had cancer. She died in 1997. In addition to his son, Dmitri, Colonel Petrov is survived by a daughter, Yelena.

For over 10 years, the incident was kept secret until 1998, when Petrov’s superintendent, Colonel General Yury Votintsev, spoke out and a report appeared in the German tabloid Bild. Global recognition followed, including an award presented at the UN headquarters in New York in 2006 from the Association of World Citizens, which reads: “To the man who averted nuclear war”. A film based on his story, The man who saved the world, premiered in 2014, featuring actor Kevin Costner.

Read More:

‘I was just doing my job’: Soviet officer who averted nuclear war dies at age 77, RT, 17 September 2017

Stanislav Petrov, Soviet Officer who helped avert nuclear war, is dead at 77New York Times, 18 September 2017





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