Open Engineering
Environment and Development.

Nuclear News: Press Reports Reveal an Industry in Crisis

Engineers are usually enthusiastic about technology so one would expect nuclear power to get an easy ride. Yet looking down the list of cuttings below, the picture is of an industry beset by intractable problems, even if we only consider those cuttings from the engineering press. Some articles do highlight engineering achievements but these often refer not any positive output from the industry but to the skill of engineers trying to deal with hazardardous radioactive debris from long-closed nuclear power plants. Centuries of work and huge sums of money are quoted as being needed just to decommission existing stations and guard their waste. And with the few stations under construction it is nuclear's usual story of broken promises on cost and delivery.

The table below lists cuttings about nuclear power that I kept from the last couple of years. They are mostly from the journal of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, supplemented with some from newspapers.

Note that while the list isn't comprehensive, it is substantial proportion of all the nuclear-power related articles that were published in Professional Engineering in the period covered. Most of the articles I kept cover the real nuclear industry (existing facilities or those underconstruction) and it is clearly an industry with problems: the huge cost of dealing with waste, accidents, prolonged shutdowns, problems and cost over-runs on new reactors, bailouts and subsidy from the taxpayer, fear of nuclear proliferation. There is however another nuclear industry, a fantasy industry of shiny new plants that are we are promised for the future. Positive articles tend to be about this future industry and the desire of engineering companies to get orders for their new designs.

Note: In the table, the HEADLINE column is usually all of the original headline. The DETAIL column is not a summary, but selected highlights from the article; while I have selected these, I have tried to use mostly original wording and not exaggerate or alter the information in any way, apart from highlighting with different font colours.

Oct 2007PESteel tomb to shield Chernobyl wreckageWork is set to begin on a massive 18,000 tonne shield to encase the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear plant 21 years after a reactor blew up. Once completed in 2102 it is expected to last 100 years. The 432 million Euro contract has been awarded to a French led consortium. The UK has so far contributed 77 million Euros.
Oct 2007GWIsrael strike aimed at reactorThe target of an Israeli strike on Syria last month was a suspected nuclear reactor under construction. It was attacked after extensive consultations with Washington.
Nov 2007PESafety fears shut down third of nuclear reactorsBritish Energy has been forced to shut down a third of its generating capacity because of safety worries.
Jan 2008PEFaulty nuclear plants stay closedHeysham and Hartlepool plants will stay switched off until at least the autumn.
Jan 2008FTPledge to cap costs of decommissioningCompanies operating new nuclear reactors will not have to pay the full costs of decommissioning and waste disposal if these soar beyond levels currently expected. The government has committed the taxpayer to paying the extra.
Mar 2008PEWicks admits paltry load for reprocessorThe nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield has been branded an engineering failure. Energy minister Malcolm Wicks admitted that it had produced almost no reprocessed fuel since commissioning. The adjacent Thorp plant had a radioactive leak that went unchecked for 8 months.
Mar 2008GWSellafield £470 million plant has produced almost nothingThe Mox plant intended to produce nuclear fuel for foreign reactors has produced barely 2% of its projected output in the six years since it was opened.
Apr 2008PERobots get practice at nuclear clean-upTwo new robots were tested in the sea off Dounreay. Aimed at retrieving thousands of particles emitting high radiation from the seabed, one robot retrieved 4 but lost a fifth when its lid got bent and the other was unable to retrieve any.
Apr 2008PESix out of 16 reactors offline ...UK nuclear power company British Energy has nearly half of its 16 reactors out of action.
Apr 2008PEDiscounts plea for nuclear buildNew nuclear power stations in the UK would be financially unviable if the government charges the full comercial price for nuclear waste disposal, a government advisor has warned. The cost could be as much as £820 million per reactor.
Jul 2008PEClean-up plant for Dounreay nearly readyA £65 million facility required for work on radioactive waste. Part of ongoing work to try to make safe the disused plant which was shut in 1977.
Jul 2008GWShadow of war looms as Israel threatens Iran raidConcerns that Israel may try to destroy Iran's nuclear power programme, repeating the attack it made in 1981 on Iraq's first nuclear reactor out of fear the plants will also be used to povide the material for nuclear weapons.
Jul 2008PEClean-up cost risesThe estimated cost of decommissioning nuclear sites has risen by £10 billion since last year to reach £73.6 billion for a programme lasting 130 years.
Aug 2008GWSpills hit French hopes for global renaissance in nuclear powerLeak at EDF plant in France. Local people were not informed immediately and continued to drink water contaminated with uranium.
Sep 2008PEROV cleans up contaminants on seabedA Remotely Operated Vehicle is looking for an estimated 1,500 hazardous fagments in an operation that will cost 18 to 25 million pounds and more than a decade. Part of work to try to make safe the disused Dounreay fast breeder nuclear power station.
Sep 2008PENuclear plant slips by three yearsFurther delay on Finnish station throws early designs of reactors into question. The EPR (European Pressurised water Reactor)is the reactor that French company EDF wants to build in the UK.
Dec 2008PEThe massive clean-up and decommissioning of Sellafield ...£22 billion of public money (twice the cost of London 2012 Olympics) to be paid to 3 private firms for clean-up work on the UK nuclear reprocessing site.
Jan 2009PEPower station leaked nuclear waste for decadesBradwell nuclear power station in the UK leaked radioactive effluent for 26 years.
Jan 2009PERow hots up over delays to nuclear stationOlkiluoto nuclear power station in Finland will be 3 years late ... 'problems in construction' ... 'substandard quality of some components'.
Jan 2009GWFrench nuclear flagship bogged downNuclear power station under construction in Finland is over budget and late ... 'problems in the concrete slab supporting the reactor' ... 'faulty casting of parts of the nuclear assembly' ... 'doubts about liner'.
Feb 2009PEMagnox fined for radioactive leak at power stationMagnox Electric company found guilty over radioactive leak at nuclear station ... 'poor design of modification work' ... 'lack of any inspection regime'.
Feb 2009PEWhere is the safety watchdog?Scottish MSPs voiced concern that the independent Nuclear Safety Advisory Committee has been quietly shut down.
Mar 2009PEReactors switched back on after lengthy repair shutdownFour UK reactors had been shut for 17 months and £70 million of repairs after corrosion was discovered.
Apr 2009GWChernobyl's ecosystem remains vulnerable 23 years onBiologists highlight continuing radiation damage within exclusion zone.
May 2009GWRussia to build Artic nuclear stationsFears over Russian plans for floating and submersible nuclear power plants to exploit Artic oil & gas.
Jun 2009GWLuck averted nuclear leakA nuclear leak which could have caused a disaster at the Sizewell-A nuclear power station in the UK was only averted by chance.
Jul 2009PESafety concerns on Areva reactorNuclear Installations Inspectorate has serious reservations over safety of design that Areva wants to build in UK.
Jul 2009PEReaders survey ...A majority of PE readers favours more nuclear power but the majority also don't want to live near it: they are however comfortable living near a windfarm!
Jul 2009GWCuba gives hope to children of ChernobylCuba's continuing medical help to over 18,000 child victims of the radiation left by the Chernobyl nuclear power disaster.
Oct 2009PEDischarge accident puts 2,600 litres of low level waste in firthHunterston-B nuclear power station in the UK, owned and operated by EDF, discharged the radioactive waste by accident earlier this year.
Nov 2009PECore IssuesThe Dounreay Fast Reactor in Scotland was built in the 1950s at a cost of £1 billion by today's values and involving some 3000 workers. When it was built 'virtually no thought' was given to how decommissioning might take place. Now it is regarded as the second most hazardous decommissioning project in Britain. All three reactors at Dounreay were shut down long ago but the site still employs 2000 people, mostly on the decommissioning work. [From other sources: Decommissioning of Dounreay is planned to bring the site to an interim care and surveillance state by 2036, and as a brownfield site by 2336, at a total cost of £2.9 billion.]
Nov 2009PEExperts doubt new nuclear disposal plansA former members of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management say that burial still carries too many questions.
Dec 2009PEPlutonium stockpile poses terrorism risk, warn scientistsScientists claim that the strategy for dealing with the nuclear industry's plutonium legacy is in disarray. The UK has a stockpile of more than 100 tonnes of plutonium.

A guide to font colours: RED is for costs. PURPLE is for engineering failures, accidents, acts of war. MAROON is for waste and leaks. Who in their right mind would invest in such an industry!