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:


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

Official report on Fukushima – what can South Africa learn?

An independent in depth report on the Fukushima nuclear disaster commissioned by the Japanese parliament was released in July 2012,  and it comes to some very important conclusions.  As Eskom attempts to get approval to build three more nuclear plants along the southern coast, South Africa should be looking very closely at this report to see if there are lessons we should learn from it.

The earthquake or the tsunami?

The tsunami swamping the sea barrier at Fukushima

The nuclear industry has repeatedly made the claim Continue reading

Nuclear ‘renaissance’ stillborn

First published in Business Day, 23 July 2012

The nuclear power industry is deeply troubled, with little cause for optimism. There is growing worldwide public resistance to nuclear power stations, President Obama has terminated government subsidies in the USA for nuclear power, and Germany and Switzerland have committed to shutting down all their reactors. While the renewable energy industry has seen dramatic growth and constantly falling costs, the nuclear industry grapples with spiralling costs, the seemingly intractable waste disposal issue, and the ongoing huge economic and human costs of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

A renaissance?

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Cleaning up Japan after the Fukushima Nuclear disaster

I have written before about what happened in Fukushima in March 2011, and about measuring radiation levels in Japan.  Given the situation there, a major question is: how can the contamination been cleaned up?

Removing the top 5cm

Most of the longer lasting radioactive material released was caesium-137, which is a metal that boils at a low temperature (641° C).  Large quantities of caesium vapour were released into the atmosphere, and this condensed into very fine particles, which were spread by wind and rain and deposited on over a thousand of square kilometers.  Each atom of caesium-137 is unstable, and within about 30 years, half of them will decay, releasing gamma rays.  Caesium can form salts (similar to sodium chloride, or table salt) which are absorbed into plants and by animals and humans. Continue reading