Issued January 2002
1. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approves the site suitability study to build an underground nuclear dump for radioactive spent fuel from nuclear power plants at Yucca Mountain.
2. Although current laws in the UK prohibit the construction of nuclear power plants in national parks, British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) unveils plans to build an above-ground nuclear waste dump the size of a football stadium in the heart of Snowdonia National Park.
3. Despite not informing the public or releasing an official statement, Minatom, Russia’s atomic energy agency, selects a permanent geological repository to store nuclear waste in Siberia.
4. Both nuclear fuel reprocessing plants at Sellafield in Cumbria, UK are shut down due to high level nuclear waste reaching unacceptable levels. (sept/oct/dec)
5. Anti-nuclear protesters chain themselves to rail tracks, forcing a train carrying nuclear waste to retreat near the end of its journey to France in Northern Germany.
1. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Approves Yucca Mountain Waste Dump
On 23 October, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the site suitability study to build an underground dump for radioactive spent fuel from nuclear power plants at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The US Department of Energy (DoE) submitted the site suitability study to the NRC. The Bush administration must now submit the plan to Congress for approval. If approved, Yucca Mountain would become the recipient of thousands of tons of radioactive waste for an estimated 10,000 years.
The US General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, urged the Bush administration in November to indefinitely postpone a decision on creating a permanent nuclear waste storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada because of serious questions regarding if it could ever be built as it is currently conceived. The site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has been the Department of Energy’s (DoE) only candidate for a permanent nuclear waste repository for some 20 years. The site would hold up to 78,000 tons of radioactive waste.
According to nuclear industry and government officials, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is set to urge President Bush to formally designate Yucca Mountain as the permanent repository this winter. However, the new GAO report states that it will take until January 2006 to complete the detailed research and cost estimates, and to resolve outstanding issues before the administration could responsibly designate the site. According to the report, “[The] DoE is not ready to make a site recommendation because it does not yet have all the technical information needed for a recommendation and a subsequent license application.” Furthermore, the report also warns that officials may be showing plans to lawmakers and Nevada residents that “may not describe the facilities that the DoE would actually develop.”
The full GAO report can be downloaded online at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02191.pdf
2. Waste Storage Facility Proposed in UK National Park
In a move described by environmentalists as a “nightmare,” British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) unveiled plans in July to build an above-ground nuclear waste dump the size of a football stadium in the heart of Snowdonia National Park in the UK. The building is expected to cost nearly $75 million (US) and will store reactor parts from the Trawsfynydd nuclear power station which was decommissioned in 1993. Today, laws in the UK prohibit the construction of nuclear power plants in national parks. However, Trawsfynydd was authorized before the creation of Snowdonia National Park. BNFL says that is has no alternative plans to building the storage facility as the UK has no central nuclear waste dump.
The Council for National Parks (CNP), a UK based environmental campaign organization, argues that all plans for storing the waste must be debated in a public inquiry.
3. Minatom Selects Permanent Geological Waste Repository
ECODEFENSE!, a Russian environmental organization, disclosed documents on 3 October confirming Russia’s intent to establish a geological repository for high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel that has accumulated in the country and around the world. Documents obtained from the Khlopin Radium Institute, the research branch of the Russian nuclear industry, demonstrate that the industry has been actively researching the Nizhnekansky granitoid massif, located near the city of Krasnoyarsk-26 in Middle Siberia as a possible repository site since 1998.
The research information has never appeared in Russian press or in official statements from Minatom, Russia’s atomic energy agency. The local population was also never informed of the research. The Nizhnekansky site is located approximately 15 miles outside the city of Krasnoyarsk-26. It is a nuclear facility built by the USSR for military purposes, including plutonium production. Research for establishing a geological repository at this site has been funded for the past three years by Finland, Japan and the US. Nizhnekansky was chosen out of an initial 20 reviewed sites because of its ancient gneiss bedding and massifs of granitoid rocks.
In Summer 2001, Russian authorities approved new legislation allowing Minatom to import spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing or storage. However, the documents obtained by ECODEFENSE! from the Khlopin Radium Institute expose that the intent of the nuclear industry is not to reprocess or store foreign spent nuclear fuel, but rather to dump it permanently in the Siberian site. Minatom documents released in early 2001 outline plans to import several thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel from Taiwan and other countries to Krasnoyarsk-26 facilities, which is currently able to store up to 6,000 tons of waste.
4. UK Spent Fuel Reprocessing Plant Shuts Down
Both nuclear fuel reprocessing plants at Sellafield in Cumbria, UK were shut down on 21 September due to high level nuclear waste reaching unacceptable levels. The UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), a government regulator, has been critical of British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) for failure to deal with heat producing waste, the most dangerous material stored at the plant. Despite attempts to reduce the amount of liquid waste, the plant has broken down repeatedly and been out of operation for most of 2001.
The amount of waste at the plant is rising instead of falling. The reprocessing plant deals with spent fuel from nuclear reactors in the UK as well as from customers in Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and Italy. The NII warned BNFL in August that unless it reduced the amount of waste in holding tanks at Sellafield–currently more than 1,550 cubic meters–by 35 cubic meters each year for the next 14 years, the plant would be shut down. This year, the amount of waste at the plant has increased by more than 100 cubic meters.
The plant has only achieved 34 percent of its potential production in a decade, leading to the build up of high level radioactive wastes. The Irish government has protested to the British government the threat posed by the waste to its citizens.
In related news, Ireland took legal action against the British government for giving the go-ahead to open a Mixed Oxide (MOX) nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield in October. Ireland claims that the plant will violate international laws on sea pollution. Officials also express concern that they received no information about a safety review of the site, especially in light of the 11 September events.
5. German Protesters Stop Waste Shipment
Anti-nuclear protesters chained themselves to rail tracks forcing a train carrying nuclear waste to retreat near the end of its journey in northern Germany on 28 March. The train, traveling from the French nuclear reprocessing plant at La Hague, was forced to retreat to Dahlenburg for refueling and maintenance as riot police freed protesters who had attached themselves to the rail tracks. On 27 March, police used a water cannon and detained nearly 600 people protesting the shipment.
Recently France has mounted pressure on Germany to reduce a backlog of German waste at La Hague reprocessing plant. In response, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder lifted a ban on nuclear waste transports imposed in 1998 on safety grounds and two transports are expected per year. The transports are part of a deal made with the electricity industry in 2000 to phase out Germany’s 19 nuclear power plant reactors by 2025.