Negative reaction to nuclear power plan
by Martin Shipton, Western Mail. April 11 2008
A NEW generation of nuclear power stations would be more dangerous and carry greater financial risks than their predecessors in Britain, according to a report published today.
Spent fuel produced by the Government's preferred kind of pressurised water reactors would have higher levels of radiation and could not be buried in a single deep underground repository, says the report's author Hugh Richards, who lives near Llandrindod Wells.
The report will add to the debate over whether a new nuclear power station should be built at Wylfa, Anglesey , to replace the one that is currently being decommissioned.
Mr Richards is a member of the Nuclear Consultation Working Group, which is today posting Too Hot to Handle on its website, www.nuclearconsult.com.
The report states: "The Government has reasserted its belief that new nuclear power stations would pose very small risks to safety. Public consultation so far seems to have been designed to protect the nuclear industry from scrutiny.
"The most likely reactor designs to be built are both pressurised water reactors. Their vendors claim greater efficiency, economy and safety, but a closer look at these untried, untested designs reveals a number of cost-cutting measures which threaten safety and burden future taxpayers.
"Spent fuel from these new reactors is going to be far more hazardous and problematic to manage than Britain 's existing radioactive waste.
"Over the last eight years, as the electricity market has been 'liberalised' in America and Europe , pressure on the owners of nuclear power stations to drive down costs has intensified. The response has been to use highly enriched uranium fuel and to leave it in the reactor for longer to squeeze more energy out of the fuel. This is called higher burnup fuel.
"For the planned new reactors even more enriched uranium is proposed, producing very high burnup spent fuel. This gets more output, but increases the dangers of radioactive releases as the fuel cladding gets thinner. The increased risk persists throughout the storage and disposal of the spent fuel.
"Hotter than the normal fuel rods, this spent fuel requires longer cooling in ponds after removal from the reactor. Even after 10 years in the cooling ponds, high burnup fuel rods are problematic. They can become brittle during drying and release their highly radioactive contents if dropped in a handling accident. The high initial enrichment with Uranium 235 results in spent fuels with higher gamma and neutron radiation levels than current fuels, requiring greater shielding. Should anything go wrong, both workers and public will potentially be exposed to greater radiation. Spent fuel from the proposed new reactors will be too hot to put deep underground until about 70 years after removal from the reactors.
"There is no evidence that the Government, which is shortly to give the nuclear industry an indication of the fixed charge for taking over spent fuel from new reactors, has taken this into consideration.
"A year ago the International Atomic Energy Authority warned that Britain must not go ahead with a new generation of nuclear power stations until it has a 'clear and robust' plan in place for dealing with the problems of decommissioning and waste treatment.
"Higher burnup fuel is completely outside current UK experience. It is more demanding at every stage of the nuclear cycle from the reactor itself, subsequent cooling in ponds, through drying and storage in dry casks to eventual burial. It will increase potential worker and public exposure to radiation."
A UK Government spokeswoman said: "The Government has asked companies interested in building nuclear power stations in the UK to submit their detailed designs and information about waste arising, for close and careful assessment. Currently three different reactor designs are being studied.
"However, generally speaking, despite some differences in characteristics, waste and spent fuel from new nuclear power stations would not raise such different technical issues compared with dealing with nuclear waste from existing stations as to require a different technical solution."