What’s the deal??

There has been a lot of press recently about the ‘nuclear deal’ with Russia.

It all started when our brand new Minister of Energy, Ms Tina Joemat-Pettersson, came back from a United Nations hosted International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in September.  Among her papers was a press release, which was issued on 22 September 2014, and publicised for example here.

There is a deal…
However, the newspapers provided very little, if any, actual information.  Some bits were quotes from old speeches by the Minister or statements from the Department of Energy, and it spoke of ‘laying a foundation’, which clearly was not a purchase order.  Despite that, it was headlined as a ‘deal’, and mixed in with figures about the total cost of a fleet of nuclear reactors.

There is no deal…
There followed a week of flurry in the press, with a retraction from the Department being released almost immediately, and continued furious backtracking with articles appearing like No nuke reactor deal with Russia and SA signed several nuclear agreements.

Theories…
So what happened?  One theory is that our President has signed a secret deal with Putin and perhaps others in Russia to commit to buying nuclear reactors from them.  This would be tricky to implement, since it would so clearly bypass any bidding process and the Public Finance Management Act.  However, there are worrying factors, such as the Secrecy bill, President Zuma assuming control of the inter-ministerial committee formed to implement the nuclear roll out, Russia being free of EU anti-corruption laws, nuclear being carefully excluded from the 2011 new generation build regulations, and increasing control over the judiciary by the executive.

Another theory is that this was the product of the public relations people hired by the nuclear industry.  They would have been swarming all over the recent IAEA conference in Vienna, and our freshly appointed energy minister would have been easy prey.

These PR professionals would have generously offered to assist with the wording of an agreement, and even with writing the associated press release.  They were perhaps surprised by the lack of resistance or any analysis by Joemat-Pettersson, and no doubt pleased with themselves and the positive press they had manufactured, especially by wedging the word ‘deal’ into things.

Column inches…
Someone more informed than Joemat-Pettersson saw the press release, and understood any such deal would be illegal and invalid.  There followed some intense damage control, and the deal became an agreement.  There were also apparently many such agreements planned with other countries.

The job satisfaction of the PR team must have also been short lived, as the backlash resulted in articles about the ever increasing costs of nuclear power and other negative aspects.

Fusion will be here in 15 years?
There is another IAEA conference coming up in October 2014, this time about fusion, hosted by Rosatom in Russia.  The PR machine will again be out in force, and no doubt there will be press releases appearing around the 18th October.  Hopefully they will come up with something more than ‘fusion will be in use in about 15 years’ – which has been the case since 1956.

Policies and plans…
In South Africa, decisions are made in the context of various govermental documents.  First there is the nuclear policy, adopted by the ANC in 2008, which is pro-nuclear.  Then there are two energy plans, the Integrated Energy Plan (IEP), and the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) which deals with electricity specifically.  There is also the National Development Plan (NDP), a vision for South Africa from some of the most respected thinkers in SA.  At a lower level, there is the Nuclear-1 Environmental Impact Assesment and also a National Nuclear regulator licensing process, both of which must be passed before any order for nuclear reactors can be finalised.

Wait, don’t do it, wait…
The IEP recommends that a decision on nuclear is delayed for a few years to see what happens to relative energy costs, specifically from renewable sources.

The IRP states that should nuclear power capital costs exceed $6500 per kWh, the nuclear option should be abandoned.  However, the Rand has fallen to around R11.30 to the dollar, so this figure should be adjusted to around $5800.  The most recent nuclear build in the United Kingdom came in at $8000 per kWh, and that is before any future cost overruns. This means the IRP clearly recommends that nuclear power be abandoned.

Finally, the NDP came out strongly against going ahead with nuclear power, calling for a national debate on the issue before any decision is made.

Nay, nay, nay… the yay’s have it!
Despite these three ‘no’ votes, the executive seems to be steaming ahead. Possibly its because they are working off outdated documents – the IRP 2010 and the Nuclear Policy of 2008 are about five years old, included overestimates of electricity demand, and pre-date recent advances in renewable energy, as well as the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Hopefully, when the updated IRP is released the Department of Energy will align itself to that and formally abandon the nuclear path.

And hopefully, there won’t be a cheap Russian solution which omits some of the more expensive safety features and comes in under $5800/kWh.

Hopefully.

Nuclear talk just puff

A letter to the editor of the Mail & Guardian, in response to an article from NECSA, where a Mr Mabhongo claims that the nuclear energy industry is growing:

Much like an undertaker painting a rosy hue on the cheeks of a favoured relative before the final viewing, Mr Mabhongo makes a good job of attempting to paint a rosy hue on the dying nuclear industry. Examining the facts, however, paints a quite different picture.

70 under construction?
For example, as part of his good story, he writes that ‘More than 70 new nuclear reactors are currently under construction’. The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), a United Nations body formed to promote the use of nuclear power, maintains a global database of commercial nuclear reactors. This lists 70 ‘under construction’ reactors, including the year in which construction began on each reactor.

Under construction’ for 42 years…
One of these is Watts Bar-2, on which construction began in 1972. Forty two years later, instead of classifying this as the economic failure it so clearly is, the IAEA continues to list it as ‘under construction’.

‘Under construction’ for 28 years…
Another two on the ‘under construction’ list are Khmelnitski-3 and Khmelnitski-4, both in the Ukraine, the home of the infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. These have been ‘under construction’ since 1986 and 1987 respectively. It is not difficult to imagine why these projects were abandoned, and yet, twenty eight years later, Mabhongo cheerfully considers them to be evidence for the nuclear renaissance story! Only nine are in the West, or eight if Watts Bar-2 is excluded.

Only 2 are in Europe…
and one of those is Olkiluoto-3, which was first planned to be completed in 2009 and is the subject of a bitter long running €2.6 billion legal battle between TVO, Areva and Siemens. Hardly a success story.

Over half of the seventy are in Russia and China, countries not famed for their transparency, safety or environmental standards.

Nuclear power is dying in the West
The truth is that nuclear power is dying out in the West, and is only surviving in countries where public opinion does not not carry much weight. A detailed analysis of the other ‘facts’ presented, such as the claim that the nuclear energy industry is experiencing growth, or that pebble bed modular reactor technology is catching on, will show that Mabhongo is being, to put it kindly, wildly optimistic.

Mabhongo works for NECSA, a public company which aims to extract profit from the nuclear industry.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to include the word ‘advertorial’ above any future article NECSA offers your paper.

First published here: http://mg.co.za/article/2014-09-05-00-letters-to-the-editor-september-5-to-11-2014

Japanese officials continue to lie about Fukushima

Shigeo Nomura

Shigeo Nomura

At a conference in Stockholm in November one of the speakers was Shigeo Nomura, Executive Director of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.

Nomura made some contradictory statements about the Fukushima disaster, as well as some outlandish claims about the costs of nuclear power relative to renewable energy.

It was the tsunami?

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Is spent nuclear fuel recyclable?

I am sitting in a conference in Stockholm about nuclear waste. There are speakers from organisations from all over the world including the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, delegates from many non-governmental organisation, engineers, and academics studying subjects such as nuclear physics, ethics, and geology.
Conference audience
Gene Rowe of the US Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board gave a highly technical presentation about the prospects of dealing with nuclear spent fuel in the USA via a combination of reprocessing and disposal. I got chatting to him afterwards, and asked him about a claim I have heard repeated many times in South Africa.

95% recyclable?

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Nuclear waste disposal sites likely to be close to nuclear power stations

I am in Upsala, Sweden, as a guest of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC). It has nearly 200 000 paying members, a full-time staff of about 90, and produces a magazine every two months for its members. It has been an interesting first day in Stockholm, with a lot to take in.

Sweden generates about half of its electricity from nuclear power, and, like all countries with nuclear power, the country is wrestling with the issue of what to do with the spent nuclear fuel, or in technical terms, the high level waste. This remains dangerously radioactive for thousands of years, and disposing of it safely is a huge engineering challenge. Continue reading

Electricity and nuclear costs workshop in Khayelitsha

In June representatives of Eartlife Africa Jhb and Greenpeace visited Cape Town and the Hermanus area.  Several meetings with other organisations were arranged, including one in Woodstock with Right To Know activists.  Plans for a national ‘nuclear school’ where discussed, but funding would be required. This would be unlikely to happen before October and  since the next draft of the Nuclear-1 Environmental Impact Report was due to be released around October, it was agreed that workshops should be arranged before that if possible.  To maximise impact, the workshops would be in ‘train the trainers’ format, to capacitate activist leaders to speak authoritatively on the nuclear issue. Continue reading