IMAGINE if our President were to announce that he had a solution to our energy crisis. From tomorrow we will start burning Platinum to make Electricity. Would you support a costly programme, with only 1% efficiency, and a huge waste problem? This is precisely what the Pressurised Light Water Reactor (PLWR) punted by Dr Kelvin Kemm, CEO of Nuclear Africa, represents. Costly 1950s technology, with so many problems and design elements which can go wrong that you have less than a 1/20 chance there will be an accident if you build one.
You have merely to watch any promotion video for the next generation reactor project known as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) to see why old PLWRs are inherently unsafe.
With so many mechanical issues which can go wrong, including hydrogen build-up which resulted in the Japanese Daichi Reactor exploding at Fukushima, followed by decay and meltdown of all the cores, which became unstable once the safety mechanisms failed. LFTR claims to have none of these weaknesses, since it uses liquid fuel not solid fuel, is not pressurised, and has a totally different decay chain and fuel cycle.
Unlike PLWR which is inherently unsafe, dependent upon human controls and core intervention 24/7, advocates of LFTR claim that if power to the plant operation is ever cut, only a refrigeration plug kept artificially frozen would melt, then the liquid fuel would merely drain into holding tanks and the plant would shut down with no possibility of a core meltdown. The economics of burning rocks (thorium is abundant and found in most rocks on the planet) instead of burning scarce metal which is mined and processed into solid fuel pellets, and produced by the nuclear industry in a scheme representing a Gillette-Razer Blade fuel model, are also key features.
As an environmentalist opposed to nuclear energy for over 25 years, I still have my reservations, since LFTR is basically a molten-salt reactor in which Thorium and Uranium are dissolved into Fluoride. I am fascinated however, by the claim that it could solve some of the waste problems which characterise conventional reactors, since it is far more efficient, and also capable of reprocessing the waste created by the PLWR industry.
As the evangelists claim, burning Uranium is like burning Platinum, and with less than 1% efficiency, the old technology from the 1950s is really a dead-end road, considered useful only because it creates transuranic products such as plutonium which the military find interesting. LFTR cannot produce such weapons-grade material. Which is a big plus so far as proliferation is concerned. There are however some short-lived fission products such as Protactinium* to worry about, but none of the security problems inherent to producing elements above U235, which are man-made and do not exist in nature.
LFTR according to its pundits, is also capable of producing bismuth and molybdenum used for medical purposes, these are alpha particle emitters as opposed to beta-particle emitters.
As an anti-nuclear activist I do not think LFTR has solved all the safety problems, and the design certainly needs a lot more debate and consideration. But lets take a look at the kind of plant Kemm wants to import, based on the designs which produced Koeberg and Pelindaba:
Koeberg, South Africa’s only commercial PLWR suffers from ongoing emissions of radioactive isotopes such as strontium-90 and caesium-137 which exceed European Safety guidelines. Local safety standards had to be lowered by the apartheid government in order to accommodate the emissions from the plant. Bioaccumulation of isotopes and contamination of nearby crops are a major health risk when it comes to wheat, fish and dairy. The isotopes end up in human bone, causing cancer of the blood.
On 11 November 2005 the plant underwent an emergency shut down following an incident related to power controls within the plant. The incident is thought to be a routine SCRAM.
Then on the evening of the 23 November 2005, a routine inspection of the backup safety system revealed a below-specification concentration of an important chemical, which had resulted in a controlled shutdown of the reactor.
On Christmas Day 2005 an 8 cm (3 in) loose bolt found its way into the rotor of Unit 1, causing damage to some of the 105 bars that line the device, and putting the generator out of action for months.
In 2010, 91 workers at Koeberg were contaminated by Cobalt-58 , evidence of breeding.
South Africa’s non-commercial nuclear industry has had its fair share of emergencies.
The deaths of workers such as Harold Daniels at Pelindaba, who died after fighting a 1996 ‘radiation fire’, have never been adequately explained, the full facts were never investigated, despite promises from government. On 6 March 2009, a leak of radioactive gases from Pelindaba was reported by NECSA. Abnormal levels of gamma radiation associated with Xenon and Krypton gases (two gases which were problems at Chernobyl) were detected, causing an evacuation of staff and an emergency to be declared
The issue of poor communities exposed to long-lived radioactive waste from dumping by the industry, including communities of Kommegas and Namaqualand, continue to mar the claims and promises of clean energy made by persons such as Kamm.
South Africa wasted some R10bn on a failed PBMR reactor programme, before canning the project, a highly expensive and costly white-elephant, dependent upon the taxpayer for annual bail-outs and the final right-down. Now the Zuma administration is contemplating embarking on yet another costly nuclear exercise, without so much as a safety and cost-benefit inquiry. The numbers do not add up.
Renewables will always be cheaper and safer, beating non-renewables over time. The same may be said of LFTR.
Nuclear Energy is not the Solution.
*Other problems encountered in early breeder reactor tests, are tritium and corrosion.
AREVA, the French nuclear conglomorate, formerly known as Framatome, maintained close ties with the apartheid government and was responsible for the construction of Koeberg, a plant that continues to pump out toxic emissions that exceed European safety guidelines. South African Safety limits, in fact, had to be raised to accommodate the emissions of radioactive isotopes such as strontium-90 and ceasium-137, and defects in the design were thus erased with the stroke of a pen by the National Nuclear Regulator.
With a majority stake held by the French government, and with close links to Westinghouse, the other bidder, the company will be showcasing its technology, along with trade mission headed by conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy in South Africa later this year.
Areva-Framatome’s growth, according to Multinational Monitor, is rooted in the Cold War and the history of France’s Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique (CEA), a government agency set up by DeGaulle in 1945 in order to direct French nuclear research and develop an independent French nuclear weapons capability. Framatome’s licensing relationship with the U.S.’s Westinghouse Corporation apparently played a central role in France’s strategy of gaining access to U.S. reactor technology and integrating it with the centerpiece of France’s self-reliant nuclear program, the fast breeder reactor.
In 1975, Framatome negotiated the first major sale of a French-made nuclear reactor – to the Iranian government under the Shah. The $1.2 billion contract for two 900 megawatt power stations reportedly included supplying fuel reprocessing technology. However, the units were never built and the contract was eventually cancelled in 1979 following the Shah’s overthrow.
Barely five months later, Framatome won a contract to build South Africa’s first nuclear power reactors at Koeberg, edging out Westinghouse. Under terms of the seven-year contract, Framatome and two other French companies agreed to provide the nuclear technology, equipment, and fuel rods for two 950 megawatt units. ESKOM supplied the enriched uranium for the rods and funded construction. Financing came directly from the South African government and indirectly from transnational bank purchases of ESKOM bonds.
Areva’s projects have been marked by hefty cost-overuns and inexplicable delays. The company is busy constructing Finland‘s fifth reactor in Olkiluoto, since 2005. The reactor, which is one of the first of the new, third generation reactors (EPR – European Pressurized Reactor), was supposed to begin producing electricity in 2009, but the project has been delayed because of technical difficulties and quality problems. In August, 2007 the production start was postponed to 2010-2011 and the new plant is expected to cost over 3 billion euros.
In December 1982, the start-up of Koeberg was delayed when the reactor’s control system was damaged by bombs planted by MK. Despite growing resistance to nuclear power, the ANC-NNP alliance recently announced an expanded nuclear programme, in part due to pressure from the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) a nefarious organisation made-up of nuclear interests which include Washington Group International and the World Nuclear Association.
The French government has been accused of ditry tricks and skullduggery in its efforts to silence its critics. On July 10 1985, French agents blew-up the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior whist docked in the Port of Auckland, New Zealand, in retaliation against the group’s campaign against nuclear testing on Muruaua.
An entry in Wikipedia tells it this way: One of the twelve people on board, photographer Fernando Pereira, returned to the ship after the first explosion to attempt to retrieve his equipment, and was killed when the ship was sunk by a second larger explosion.The New Zealand Police immediately initiated a murder inquiry into the sinking. With the assistance of the New Zealand public and an intense media focus the police quickly established the movements of all of the bombers. On July 12 two of the six bombers, posing as Swiss tourists and carrying Swiss passports, who had operated under orders were found and arrested.
THERE simply is no safe dose of radiation and the nuclear industry is lying to us, that’s the gist of the argument made by various members of Koeberg Alert, including myself. As the Navajo Nation have said: The Nuclear Industry is bad medicine. No doubt, locals will learn that radiation is bad muti and that no safe dose exists, despite what some nuclear engineers and physicists, John Walmsely included, would like us to believe.
Take something as sane and simple as x-rays.Would you subject your child to the equivelent of one x-ray per day? Would you give yourself a brain-scan every weekend? Would you put your head in a microwave oven? The bullshit that we take for science today is alarming to say the least. Add lots of money, some push-and-pull of big bloated government and you have a recipe for an African Chernobyl, as South Africans start to electrocute themselves with radioactive kettles and we get no further in the debate about renewables.
Once again, top of the list of a safe, renewable, energy supply, is Kinetic Wave Energy from the Sea. Next up, Hydrogen Fuel Cells, that breakdown H and O2 into harmless water. Third, simply because it represents a vast ocean of untapped energy is the earths on geothermal potential, waiting to be tapped by the mining and drilling sectors. All one needs to do is pump a conductive gas down into the earth, until it heats up sufficiently, expands, and shoots up, driving either a turbine or some other system of energy exchange.
Shell have launched a solar energy programme, and BP is looking beyond petroleum, and yet ESKOM can’t get off the military arms dealer’s lists of whose-who in the mindless atomic bomb trade. While Manual spends sleepless nights cooking up the next budget, that will give arms dealers billions of tax-payers money, people starve and Alec Erwin plays around with a PBMR white elephant that refuses to die. Come-on, boys give us something better than cheap lies about asbestos siding and mercury in our water supply being good for us — or why not drink some toxic waste or eat some lead cadmium to prove how safe this stuff really is.
WOULD YOU TRUST A NUCLEAR ENGINEER TO LOOK AFTER YOUR CHILDREN?
WOULD YOU LET HOMER SIMPSON RUN THE DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY?
FORWARD TO A NON-RACIST, NON-SEXIST, NUCLEAR-FREE CONTINENT
THE Mainstream Media is still carrying reports of a “blackout” in Cape Town, despite allegations of an “accident” at Koeberg, South Africa’s only commercial nuclear power station. In an attempt to play down the consequences of human error and mechanical breakdown at the plant, the strange story about a possible “scram” at Koeberg, has now turned into a small fable about “tripped switches” and “accidental power outages”, caused by a freak of nature.
Despite consternation from residents and homeowners, and criticism from environmentalists, Eskom and the Atomic Energy Corporation, maintain that nuclear energy is safe and have no plans to either shutdown Koeberg, or halt the billion rand Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project. Instead of spending money on safe, geothermal energy from beneath the earth’s surface, the South African government is wasting time and money on antiquated nuclear technology. The PBR was rejected by Germany decades ago after public concern about the safety of nuclear energy.
Check out http://hotrock.anu.edu.au/ for news about Australia’s geothermal programme that deploys “hot rocks” to create renewable energy and sustainable power resources.
PS: I tried using Smartcape’s public access terminal to post to my blog yesterday and sadly the system doesn’t work. 5 terminals hooked to one pentium acting as a server do not make for easy computing, so Smartcape is actually dumb and an example of cosmetic development.
EARTHLIFE AFRICA are failing to articulate a coherent response to last week’s accident at Koeberg. Despite indications of a potential class 9 nuclear emergency and radioactive accident at the plant, after the system “scrammed”, the group seems to have bought into the Atomic Energy Corporation’s (AEC) spin on the near-disaster. The AEC has downplayed the accident, from an all-out scram, to a minor refueling incident, to problems with an external electrical connection.
If the backup and secondary systems had failed, the reactor would have been unable to switch-off, triggering a meltdown that could have disasterous consequences. Instead of examining the design flaws and possiblity of contamination within the plant structure, Earthlife has focused on the secondary “refueling incident”.
The term – Meltdown – refers to melting of the fuel in the reactor. According to the nucleartourist website, the term has been loosely applied to refer to any case of fuel melting, however minor. The site claims that “only in several events” such as Three Mile Island 2 and Chernobyl, ” has there been significant fuel melting and only in the case of Chernobyl were there significant offsite releases.”
Such understatement and disinformation is to be expected from the nuclear industry. In the interests of informed debate, I republish nuclear tourist’s, description of a meltdown, please bear in mind that it carries the same design-hubris that launched the failed Space Shuttle and created other technology responsible for catastrophic human errors:
Overheating of the fuel typically can be caused only if there is an inability to remove heat from the fuel. Two situations are the only likely causes:
* Loss of coolant in the reactor cooling system followed by a failure of the emergency core cooling systems to operate
* Failure of the reactor protection system to shutdown the reactor down when required for a major fault
Such conditions are considered to be outside the design basis for nuclear plants and are referred to as Class 9 accidents. The design of the plants is intended to assure that such conditions do not occur – due to the redundancy and diversity of the reactor protection, emergency core cooling, and containment isolation systems, as well as the containment structure itself. In spite of this, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is requiring licensees to develop procedures for such cases. The procedures are referred to as Severe Accident Guidelines.
If a meltdown does occur, a release of radioactive materials to the environment can occur ONLY IF there is also a major failure of the containment structure. For this to occur, the following would also have to happen:
* Overpressure of the containment
* Failure of the containment isolation systems, lines, and valves to close.
Potential causes of containment overpressure are:
* Steam explosion in the reactor vessel or a dropping of at least 20% of the fuel mass of a molten core
* Generation of gases either due to hydrogen generated from a chemical reaction between Zircaloy (used in the fuel cladding) and steam at temperatures above 3400F or due to carbon dioxide generated from interaction of molten core material with the concrete structures under the reactor.
* Heating of the containment atmosphere due to a failure of the containment cooling and spray systems.
For there to be a meltdown with releases offsite, the following sequence would have to occur:
1. Failure of the reactor to shutdown when required such that it continues to produce heat at a high rate OR a major amount of coolant is lost from the reactor cooling system,
2. Diverse and redundant high and low pressure emergency cooling systems are unable to provide cooling to the reactor cooling system,
3. Fuel melting starts and blockage of flow channels occurs in the reactor such that cooling cannot be provided,
4. Diverse and redundant containment cooling and spray systems are unable to provide cooling to the containment atmosphere,
5. Redundant Hydrogen recombiners will not operate,
6. Containment isolation system and associated valves do not close as required,
7. Specialized high efficiency particulate, absolute, and charcoal filters do not function as required.
The design of the plant systems is intended to reduce the likelihood of such an event occurring (e.g. once in 250 years for the 400+ reactors with current designs). It is impossible to say, with 100% certainty, that a fuel melting event will not occur. The redundancy and diversity of plant design, NRC regulations, plant Technical Specifications, plant operating procedures and operator training and qualification provide the defense in depth.
YESTERDAY’S near meltdown at Koeberg, South Africa’s only commercial nuclear power station resulted in a “scramble” by employees to shut the reactor down. The ensuing blackout plunged Cape Town’s flatland into darkness and left thousands stranded. Traffic jams and frozen lifts were reported all over the city.
The automatic shutdown caused after a warning system reported a fault inside the reactor was “no cause for concern” according to officials, and was the second time in two years that the reactor had to be shut down.In scenes reminiscent of Three Mile Island, (depicted in movies like The CHINA SYNDROME), the reactor core begun to flare out of control, before tracking rods could be inserted.
Luckily the situation rectified itself after the safety mechanism scrambled allowing a general shutdown of reactor activity. Failure of such mechanisms have been blamed for both the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters. At Chernobyl, engineers running an experiment were unable to shut down the reactor, and the resulting meltdown breached containment areas resulting in the devastation of the surrounding environment,loss of life of hundreds of thousands and an airborne plume of radiactive dust that reached as far as Iceland.
There are currently no workable plans for evacuating Cape Town in the event of a containment breach at Koeberg. Although the Koeberg reactor has already reached the end of its productive cycle,the power station has been allowed by authorities to run for nearly a decade past its specifications. The blackout thus represents both a material and engineering breakdown. Decommissioning of such a plant is however considered too costly, as the core will be “hot” for millenia. The half-life of plutonium for example, is measured in thousands of years — the time it takes for such material to become half as reactive.
Despite warnings from interest groups such as Koeberg Alert and Earthlife Africa, Eskom continues to pursue nuclear energy as a “viable alternative to coal and gas”, and has done virtually nothing to implement renewable and environmentally safe energy. With insurance at a premium, the company is unlikely to get backing from any financial institution for such a project without help from central government. Now is the time to sue Cape Town local government for protection from the threat of future disaster, not after such a disaster has happened!