Oldbury plant enters retirement

29 February 2012 Unit 1 at the UK’s Oldbury plant – the world’s oldest operating nuclear power reactor – has been closed after 44 years of power generation. Construction of a new plant is planned at the site. Power generation at the 217 MWe unit was stopped at 11:00am today, marking the end of 44 years’ of electricity production at the Magnox plant. The control room at Oldbury unit 1 (Image: Magnox Ltd) Built in the 1960s and among the first generation of UK reactors, both of the gas-cooled, graphite-moderated first generation reactors at Oldbury were originally scheduled to shut down at the end of 2008. However, plant owner the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) requested permission from the regulator to operate beyond that date, earning revenue to help pay for decommissioning. Unit 2 was eventually shut down in June 2011, while unit 1 was expected to continue operating until the end of this year. Plant operator Magnox Ltd announced last October that it had decided to end operations ten months early as it was “no longer economically viable.” To date, the Oldbury plant has generated over 137.5 TWh of electricity – enough to power one million homes for 20 years, according to Magnox Ltd. Since the scheduled 2008 closure date, the plant has generated an additional 7.4 TWh of electricity, worth an estimated £350 million ($558 million) to the taxpayer and saving some 3.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. The end of power generation marks the start of a new phase in Oldbury’s life as preparations get under way for the decommissioning process, which will include the removal of used fuel by 2013, management of waste and eventual demolition of the buildings. After most of the structures at Oldbury have been removed, the site will enter the ‘care and maintenance’ stage of decommissioning around 2027, allowing radioactivity to decay naturally. Final site clearance activities are scheduled between 2092 and 2101. The last two remaining Magnox reactors currently in operation in the UK are at Wylfa site. The two 490 MWe units there are scheduled to shut down at the end of 2012 but the NDA is seeking permission to continue operating the units until the end of 2014. Oldbury site director Phil Sprague commented, “Oldbury has been a terrific success story for the UK nuclear industry. We have generated safe, carbon free electricity for 44 years which is...
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Snow problem at Davis-Besse

29 February 2012 A severe blizzard some 34 years ago was said to be the cause of cracks discovered last year in the shield building of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant. Safety regulators are reviewing the analysis while normal operation continues. ‘Tight cracks’ were found within the reinforced concrete of the Davis-Besse reactor building in October last year during a major outage to replace the head of the reactor pressure vessel. Plant operator First Energy Nuclear Operating Company (Fenoc) notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which decided the cracks did not represent an “immediate safety issue” and the reactor returned to service in December, while Fenoc embarked on an analysis to determine how the cracks came to be. After considering an “exhaustive” range of potential causes including design, construction, environmental and operational factors, Fenoc yesterday announced that testing of concrete samples supported two conclusions: firstly that extreme weather had caused the cracking and also that safety performance of the building had not been affected. During January 1978, said Fenoc, “three days of driving rain preceded a drastic temperature drop to around 0ºF (-18ºC)” while intense winds continued throughout the storm. This weather event, known as the Great Blizzard of 1978, resulted in 51 deaths in Davis-Besse’s home state of Ohio. Neither the shield building nor other concrete structures on site were equipped with a weatherproof coating and similar cracks were found in both. Lab tests based on the weather conditions produced the same cracking in concrete samples, said Fenoc. The NRC had four inspectors monitoring Fenoc while it compiled the study and the commission is now reviewing the resulting 119-page document which also details some steps that will be taken to manage the building. The company will apply a weatherproof coating, perform extra inspections to verify that cracks have not spread and develop what it called a long-term building monitoring plan. The 30-inch (76.2 cm) thick shield building surrounds a 1.5-inch (3.8 cm) thick steel containment vessel that contains the reactor system. The two structures are separated by a 54-inch (137.1 cm) space and both have important roles in nuclear safety: The sealed containment vessel is a final safety barrier to contain radioactivity in the event of an accident while the shield building protects this from external forces. Fenoc has a licence to operate the 908 MWe pressurized water reactor until 2017, subject to NRC’s ongoing satisfaction with the company’s...
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Suspension of enrichment and tests in North Korea

29 February 2012 Bilateral talks have resulted in North Korea suspending uranium enrichment and a range of military activities in return for some 240,000 tonnes of food aid from the USA. International inspectors will also return to the country. Returning from their “third exploratory round” of bilateral talks in the Chinese capital, Beijing, American representatives said their North Korean counterparts had agreed to “implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment.” North Korea also agreed to “the return of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment… and confirm the disablement of the 5 MWt reactor and associated facilities.” Officials of both countries will meet again to move forward with the administration and monitoring required for a proposed package of 240,000 tonnes of “nutritional assistance.” The apparent breakthrough comes ten weeks after the death of former leader Kim Jong-il and his succession by his son, Kim Jong-un. The US Department of State said it still has “profound concerns regarding North Korean behaviour across a wide range of areas.” However, “Today’s announcement reflects important, if limited, progress in addressing some of these.” Fuente:...
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Salazar sued over Grand Canyon uranium decision

28 February 2012 The withdrawal of lands in northern Arizona from mining activities is unconstitutional, unlawful and violates the National Environmental Policy Act, said organisations representing the US mining and nuclear industries in a lawsuit against US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The suit has been filed with the US Federal District Court in Arizona by the National Mining Association (NMA) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the US nuclear energy industry’s national policy organisation. The Department of the Interior (DoI), US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service and US Department of Agriculture are named as co-defendants alongside Salazar, in his capacity as Interior Secretary. In a 28-page long filing, the two plaintiffs claim that the decision announced by Salazar in January to withdraw over 1 million acres (nearly 405,000 hectares) of federal lands in northern Arizona from new mining for the next 20 years is flawed for a number of reasons. The NEI and NMA argue that Salazar does not have the legal authority to make withdrawals of public lands in excess of 5000 acres, citing a landmark 1983 Supreme Court ruling that such withdrawals would be unconstitutional. Furthermore, they claim, the decision to withdraw the land is “arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with law.” Finally, the environmental impact statement (EIS) and record of decision on the withdrawal violate the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in failing to take a “hard look” at the economic and environmental consequences of the withdrawal. Outdated data NEI vice president Richard Myers said that the land withdrawal was not justified by information in the DoI’s own environmental assessment. “The proposed land withdrawal is designed to protect against situations and circumstances that no longer exist. It is a mistake to judge today’s uranium mining activities by practices and standards from 50 to 60 years ago. Yet that, apparently, is what the Interior Department has done in its final environmental impact statement,” he said. According to the NEI, uranium resources in the Arizona Strip are some of the highest-grade ores located in the USA, representing approximately 40% of US reserves and more than seven times current US annual demand. The legal filing asserts that the BLM’s economic assessment of the effects of the withdrawal and environmental impact analysis relied on “outdated, inaccurate data and ignored more recent available data,” leading to an understatement of the economic consequences for withdrawal and an overstatement...
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First of Sellafield's super-contracts

28 February 2012 The first of some £9 billion ($14.2 billion) in long-term contracts has been awarded to support decommissioning at the UK’s Sellafield site. It covers design services and could be worth some £1.5 billion ($2.3 billion) over 15 years. The award has gone to two joint ventures: one is known as Axiom and made up of Amec, Assystem, Jacobs Engineering Group and Mott MacDonald; the other is called Progressive Alliance and made up of Babcock and URS Corp. Between them, Axiom and Progressive Alliance will supply design support services to Sellafield Ltd as it goes about decommissioning a wide range of facilities at the site. The ‘true alliance-style framework contract’ represents a new approach to contracting brought in by Sellafield Ltd’s parent body, Nuclear Management Partners – itself a joint venture of Amec, URS Corp and Areva.  This web of nuclear engineering firms has called the contract a ‘Design Services Alliance’. It will cover design and safety assessments, some construction, work packages for refurbishment jobs as well as post-operational clean-out and decommissioning support. Sellafield Ltd said the work is “structured across eight lots over four capability areas, including mechanical handling; process plant; control, electrical and instrumental; and civil, structural and architectural systems.” The contract is “projected to extend for 15 years,” said Sellafield, for a total value of £1.5 billion. The UK government’s policy has been to own as few nuclear assets as possible, spin off former state companies and create frameworks for private enterprise to meet its goals for clean-up or power generation. Nevertheless, it must maintain ownership of legacy wastes and facilities from the former national program that pioneered much nuclear research and the early use of nuclear power. In 2005 it created the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to own the legacy sites and direct government funding towards the ultimate goal of clean-up, overseeing a range of contracts across fuel cycle, research and Magnox power generation site groupings. Sellafield Ltd said that the contract is “the first of an anticipated £9 billion ($14.2 billion) worth of long-term contracts” it will let “over the next two years.” Fuente:...
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