The Ecologist published some photos of the highly dilapidated state of cooling ponds B29 and B30. Some of the national daily papers picked up on these continuing problem with the state of the legacy waste being held at the Sellafield site. Nuclear safety expert John Large called it a ‘significant risk’ and expert in radiological risk Gordon Thompson (USA) told the Guardian: “The site’s overall radiological risk has never been properly assessed by the responsible authorities. [The] photos, showing disgracefully degraded open-air ponds at Sellafield, indicate that a thorough assessment of risk is overdue.”
The Government has launched a new long-term plan to deal permanently with the country’s radioactive waste. It follows a consultation on the process of finding a site to host a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).
The plan will scrap the formal community veto which allows local politicians to block a future £12bn nuclear waste repository. It follows the decision by Cumbria County Council to reject a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) last year. The old policy required a strategic authority such as a county council as well as the local council to approve a project. The new policy simply requires what officials called a positive “test of community support” for the project to go ahead. Councils joining the site investigation process will receive £1m per year for up to five years in compensation to explore the idea further, rising to £2.5m per year as the design and planning phase begins, then rising substantially when building starts.
DECC has announced they are to begin “geological screening” of the country to find rocks that might hold nuclear waste safely for tens of thousands of years.
Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment have published a new briefing on the proposed nuclear power station at Moorside adjacent to Sellafield. The date for a final investment decision has now slipped from around 2015 to the end of 2018. Over the next four years NuGen plans to undertake a range of preparatory works, preliminary studies for site layouts, stakeholder engagement etc. Full development of the site, projected ‘to create between 14,000 and 21000 UK jobs’ would see 3.4GW generated by three Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors – with Toshiba claiming that each of the reactors ‘will take approximately 4 years to build’, that the first reactor is ‘targeted for operation in 2024’ and that operation of all three new reactors would be ‘delivered by 2026’. These overly ambitious claims, as with the employment numbers, appear somewhat implausible. In welcoming this week’s announcement, the West Cumbrian pro-nuclear lobby has clearly taken no account of the many major hurdles facing the project such as the progress of the Regulators’ Generic Design Assessment (GDA) of the Westinghouse AP1000. With only Stage 1 of the complex assessment process completed, further delays to the process are likely as evident from the Regulators’ latest Progress Report (January – March 2014) which points to 51 ‘technically challenging’ issues still to be resolved and that ‘we expect the completion of GDA for the AP1000 reactor design to take a number of years’. Other issues likely to delay the project include connecting the reactors to the electricity Grid and the choice of cooling water source for the new reactors.
Plans to build Europe’s largest new nuclear project have taken a step forward after Toshiba and GDF Suez signed a deal to develop the the Moorside site, next to Sellafield. The Japanese engineering giant will take a 60% stake in Nugen, the joint venture set up to develop the plant, with the French energy company taking a 40% stake. The plan is to build three AP1000 reactors at Moorside. Final investment decisions should be made in about four years, Nugen said. “The Moorside new nuclear project will bring at least £10bn of investment and is expected to create up to 21,000 jobs, while also providing a reliable source of low carbon energy for over six million homes,” said Energy Minister Michael Fallon. “This announcement is a significant step towards new reactors likely to come online in 2024 and shows how attractive the UK is for investors.”
The Sellafield Workers’ Campaign is stepping up efforts to back nuclear new build. It is hosting an ‘industry day’ at Energus, Lillyhall, Workington, on Friday to focus attention on the need to press ahead with three reactors at Moorside near Sellafield. The NuGen consortium has an option to build there. The project could bring £10bn of investment and create up to 21,000 jobs over the construction period and 1,000 permanent jobs once operational. Steve Nicholson, communications officer for the campaign, said: “Our industry day will focus on the need for government and industry at all levels to press ahead with the proposal by NuGen.”
On the 27 November 2013 there was a partial loss of power to some facilities on the Sellafield nuclear licensed site in Cumbria due to an on-site electrical distribution fault. As a consequence the ventilation system shut down in the Waste Vitrification Plant (WVP) Line 3 facility and radioactive material was released from in-cell areas to the plant working areas. This event was investigated by ONR and the Environment Agency and although no member of staff was contaminated or radioactive material released to the environment it was considered by both regulators that enforcement action was necessary. ONR considered that the failure of the company to have in place adequate containment arrangements on the Waste Vitrification Plant Line 3 warranted enforcement action for breaches of the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 and issued an Improvement Notice on Sellafield Limited on the 14th May requiring the company to improve the nuclear site licence condition compliance arrangements with respect to the physical containment barriers and resilience of the facility’s ventilation systems by end of October 2014. On the 6 June 2014 the Environment Agency issued Sellafield Limited with a warning letter for two breaches of their permit under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010.
The latest figures from Sellafield Ltd show that both reprocessing plants have again failed to meet their respective annual targets. The Company maintains however that the currently scheduled ‘end of reprocessing’ dates – ‘around 2020’ for Magnox and 2018 for THORP- will be met.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has launched a consultation on whether to allow the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) not to reprocess small quantities of overseas origin oxide fuels that are either not economic or not possible to reprocess in Sellafield’s Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) before its currently scheduled closure date of 2018. The consultation closes on 28th May 2014.
DECC says around 300 tonnes of overseas origin spent fuel still remain to be reprocessed, but 30 tonnes of this fuel is made up of small amounts of prototype fuels, experimental fuels, MOX (plutonium) fuels and some materials leftover from research programmes, which would be challenging to deal with through reprocessing, before the planned closure of THORP in 2018.
What the NDA wants to do is to send back to the customer countries an amount of waste and plutonium equivalent to the amount which would be sent back if the spent fuel was reprocessed. This is known as ‘virtual reprocessing’.
But if the Government can sanction “virtual reprocessing” for 30 tonnes of residual spent fuel why can’t the same be done now for the remaining 300 tonnes of overseas fuel and any remaining AGR spent fuel which is still slated for reprocessing so that THORP can shut now? After all, nobody needs any more plutonium.
A Nuclear Free Local Authorities Briefing on the consulation is available on their website.
One million cubic metres of waste near Sellafield are housed at a site that was a mistake, admits Environment Agency. (EA document available here) Britain’s nuclear dump is virtually certain to be eroded by rising sea levels and to contaminate the Cumbrian coast with large amounts of radioactive waste, according to an internal document released by the Environment Agency (EA). The document suggests that in retrospect it was a mistake to site the Drigg Low-Level Waste Repository (LLWR) on the Cumbrian coast because of its vulnerability to flooding. “It is doubtful whether the location of the LLWR site would be chosen for a new facility for near-surface radioactive waste disposal if the choice were being made now,” it says.
The Government has responded to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report “Progress at Sellafield” published in February this year. In its response the Government admonishes the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority for “inappropriately” withholding information from the public – backing the findings of the heavily critical PAC report.
The NDA stunned the industry when it handed Nuclear Management Partners (NMP) a five-year extension to its contract last October despite poor performance. A review by accountants KPMG only seemed to confirm how badly NMP had managed Sellafield, stating that the project was run in the interests of the consortium’s shareholders rather than those of the taxpayer. But great swathes of the highly detailed, 292-page document – obtained in a Freedom of Information request by nuclear-issues expert Dr David Lowry – were blacked out.
PAC chairwoman Margaret Hodge was furious that the NDA had redacted pages of vital information on the basis of commercial confidentiality. The PAC report concluded: “The Authority should revisit its approach to disclosing information to ensure it does not use grounds such as commercial confidentiality inappropriately to withhold information on performance on its sites and by its contractors.” The Department of Energy and Climate Change has said it agrees with this, and other committee recommendations, such as asking the National Audit Office to investigate whether there has been any improvement in the management of Sellafield a year into the contract extension.
The Government Response is contained in the April 2014 Treasury Minutes.