Mixed messages from Swiss upper house

30 September 2011 Politicians in Switzerland’s upper house have called for a ban on new nuclear construction projects, at least for the time being, in the latest vote on a possible phaseout of nuclear power in the country. The Council of States, the upper house of the Swiss parliament, has voted overwhelmingly in favour of proposals that no construction permits be granted for new nuclear plants, but also that no technology should be banned and that Switzerland should continue to carry out “training, education and research” in all energy techniques, including nuclear. The Swiss parliament would also keep a watching brief over developments and innovations in nuclear technology. Existing nuclear power plants that fail to meet safety standards would be shut down immediately under the proposed law. The proposals also call for the development of a future energy policy not reliant on nuclear, and to encourage the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.   Each of the three main motions forming the proposals was passed by a majority of around three-to-one.   Proposals to ban construction of new nuclear power plants were originally drawn up by the Swiss cabinet in May, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident. The lower house, the National Council, has already voted in favour of the measures. Amended proposals by a parliamentary committee, the Council for the Environment, Spatial Planning and Energy (CESPE), drawn up for consideration by the Council of States, had limited the construction ban to current-generation nuclear power plants. That wording was removed from the motions after debate in the Council.   Introducing the proposals to the Council of States on behalf of the CESPE, Senator Filippo Lombardi counselled that his political successors could well see things differently. Even if the council decided to ban the construction of nuclear power plants for infinity, he noted, that would not stop parliament “in twenty years” reconsidering the situation and adapting the law accordingly.   The proposed legislation will now return to the lower house for a new debate and vote. Fuente:...
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US diffusion plant handover plans approved

30 September 2011 The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved plans by USEC to return the remainder of the Portsmouth gaseous diffusion enrichment plant to the Department of Energy (DoE). Meanwhile, the ‘standstill agreement’ for USEC’s American Centrifuge Plant has been extended by one month. USEC is preparing to terminate the lease under which it assumed operation of the plant from the DoE in 1993. The main process buildings were transferred back to DoE control in September 2010, and USEC is preparing to transfer the remainder of the facility, including NRC-regulated material, back to the DoE. At that point, the DoE will take over regulation of the plant and NRC regulation will no longer be necessary. NRC says it will terminate the plant’s Certificate of Compliance once it has received and verified certification from USEC that all material has been transferred to DoE’s possession and proper accounting of all safeguarded nuclear material has been ensured.   The Portsmouth plant operated from 1954 to 2001, originally as part of the USA’s nuclear weapons complex, but producing fuel for commercial nuclear plants from the 1960s. Owned by the DoE, it was transferred to USEC when that company was created and later privatized in the 1990s. USEC terminated enrichment operations at Portsmouth in 2001, after a programme to consolidate enrichment operations at Paducah was completed. The plant was then maintained in a cold standby mode.   Limited cleanup activities have been underway at the vast Ohio site since the 1990s. In August, the DoE awarded a $2.1 billion contract to Fluor Corp and Babcock and Wilcox (B&W) for the next stage of decommissioning, which will involve decontamination and demolition of the three massive process buildings, each of which has a footprint of more than 30 acres (12 hectares) and contains thousands of stages of uranium enrichment equipment. Contaminated soils and groundwater will also be cleaned up and remediated.   USEC’s Lead Cascade and American Centrifuge Plant (ACP), which are under construction at the Ohio site, are unaffected by the termination of the certificate for the gaseous diffusion plant, and remain under NRC license and regulation. Standstill agreement Meanwhile, USEC’s board of directors has voted to continue the company’s investment in the ACP during the month of October, but at a reduced spending rate as it continues working with the DoE to achieve a conditional loan guarantee commitment for the project by 1 November....
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Canadian team wins first Nuclear Olympiad

30 September 2011 A team from Canada has won the inaugural International Nuclear Energy Olympiad, which has been held in Seoul, South Korea. The contest was organized by the World Nuclear University (WNU) and hosted by the Korean Nuclear Energy Promotion Agency (Konepa). The theme of the competition was gaining public acceptance for the use of nuclear power. According to the organizers, “Public acceptance is a key challenge for any nation introducing or expanding nuclear power plant facilities. The recent events in Fukushima have only served to heighten that challenge.” They noted, “Despite Fukushima, the basic advantages of nuclear energy remain unchanged: a safe and reliable technology capable of supplying electricity on a large scale, at an affordable price, without increasing pollution and greenhouse gases.” Out of 70 applicants, ten teams representing Canada, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and the USA were selected to take part in the five-day event. Three of the teams came from countries that do not currently use nuclear power. The ten finalist teams, each comprising two students aged between 19 and 26, were asked to conduct a public opinion survey, analyze the current promotion efforts by respective national associations, and suggest future directions. Each team was required to submit a paper, give a 15-minute presentation, then answer questions from an international judging panel. The presentations were closely geared to the cultural and social situations in each country. The judging panel comprised two eminent academics from South Korea and a representative from each of the WNU and the World Nuclear Association (WNA). The Canadian team – known as “Team Steeltown” and comprising Alex Wolf and James Harrington – took the top prize, closely followed in joint second place by South Korea and Turkey. These were followed in third place by the teams from Malaysia, Russia and India. The Canadian students said that public campaigns should cater to specific groups and focus on fighting misinformation targeting the as-yet undecided majority of the population. Wolf said, “They get caught in the crossfire between those who support and those who oppose strongly. Their questions are left unanswered.” Harrington added, “We try to focus on talking to those people who haven’t made up their minds already.” Konepa was established in 1992 to promote a proper understanding of the peaceful use of nuclear energy among the South Korean public. It does this through providing information and educational...
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Evacuation advisories lifted in Fukushima towns

30 September 2011 The Japanese government has lifted an evacuation advisory for five municipalities located between 20 and 30 kilometres from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The advisory covers Hirono town, Naraha town, Kawauchi village, Tamura city and Minamisoma city, all within Fukushima prefecture. Although the government had earlier advised people in those areas to be prepared to stay indoors or leave their homes should the situation at the damaged nuclear reactors deteriorate, some 28,500 residents – about half the population – had chosen to leave anyway. The five municipalities have already submitted their respective plans for decontaminating the areas and restoring key infrastructure. The lifting of the advisory marks the first time that the government has revoked an evacuation-related designation since the accident began. With the damaged reactors becoming more stable and radiation levels having decreased, the government aims to allow more people from evacuated areas to return home permanently. At present nobody is allowed to live within 20 kilometres of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, while people living up to 30 kilometres away have been told to be prepared to evacuate. In addition, some other areas, such as Itate village, have been evacuated due to radiation dose rates over 20 millisieverts per year. Fuente:...
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Centraco blast rated as INES level 1

30 September 2011 The 12 September explosion in a furnace at the Centraco low-level radioactive waste processing facility in southern France has been rated at Level 1 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), the lowest level of event classification. The blast at the facility, owned by the EDF subsidiary Socodei, resulted in the death of one worker and injury to four others, the most serious of who remains in hospital in Paris. The French nuclear safety regulator, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), said that an investigation revealed that some four tonnes of metal with an activity of about 30 million becquerels was being melted in the furnace at the time of the accident. It has asked Socodei to explain why it initially said that the level of activity was only 63,000 becquerels. However, the ASN confirmed that no radiation had been released from the plant as a result of the “serious industrial accident.” It has now given its approval for the furnaces to be restarted. Fuente:...
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