Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nuclear news roundup for 06/17/10

UK government retreats from nuclear renaissance

sheffield forge BBC photoThe BBC reports June 17 an {L}80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters has been axed as part of budget cuts being implemented by the new Liberal government. The loan would have funded development of a facility to build critical components for the next generation of nuclear reactors in the UK.

According to the BBC report Graham Honeyman, Forgemasters' chief executive, said: "Today's government announcement to overturn the loan offered to Sheffield Forgemasters' plans to install a 15,000 tonne press is a huge disappointment to all at the company.

He added that had the press been built it would have placed the company “at the forefront of civil nuclear manufacture.” The firm will not proceed with the project without the government’s support.

The action follows a statement June 15 that drew a further division between government funding and construction of new nuclear reactors. Bloomberg wire service reported that Energy Minister Charles Hendry said the {L}200 billion needed to replace aging nuclear reactors over the next 20 years would require international investors. He said the government’s role is limited to safety, security, and environmental regulation.

Chalk River repairs done

medical isotopesReuters reports June 16 that repairs are complete at the Chalk River reactor in Ontario, Canada, which, when it is running, supplies between a third and half of all the medical isotopes used in North America. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission scheduled a hearing for June 28 whether it is safe to restart the reactor. If all goes well, production of medical isotopes will begin later this summer.

The reactor has had a troubled history in recent years. It was shut down in May 2009 after leaks were found in the cooling system. AECL said the welding required was very difficult which resulted in repeated delays completing the repairs.

The Canadian government is studying what to do next about developing new sources of medical isotopes. In May 2008 the Canadian government pulled the plug on 12 years of disjointed R&D for the Maple reactors which had been intended to replace the Chalk River plant.

German reactors get new tax

AngelemerkelSome politicians in Germany may want to take all 17 of the nation’s reactors out of service by 2020, but in the meantime, the government plans to impose new taxes on the plants because they are so profitable. Bloomberg wire service reports Chancellor Andrea Merkel (right) approved new taxes on the reactors in order to prevent a “sovereign debt crisis.” The government also imposed new taxes on banks and airlines.

Bloomberg reported that the new tax will raise 2.3 billion euros over the next four years. The government said in a statement that the new tax is justified since the reactors are more profitable, due to not having carbon emissions.

The utilities said they want to know if the government still plans to overturn the previous policy to phase out the reactors. They said that the new taxes will require the plants to run past the current deadline to recover lost value from the new levies.

The utilities also complained the tax will negatively impact their stock prices. Market data June 15 backed up their claim with E.on and RWE both seeing losses in the trading stock prices for their shares.

Reuters reported June 15 that Merkel’s economic policies are not gaining ground with the electorate. A poll of political leaders revealed increasing criticism of Merkel’s handling of economic issues due to the biggest austerity program in nearly 60 years.

Merkel’s leadership was tested and lost in regional elections last May in North Rhine-Westphalia. There massive protests occurred over Germany’s support for the Greek bailout while cutting budgets at home.

If Merkel’s government falls before 2013, it could derail her plans to extend the life of the nation’s nuclear reactors. Social Democrats and Greens, who want to shut down the reactors, are testing the waters to subject the austerity measures to a vote of confidence in the lower house of Parliament. A loss there could set in motion calls for a new election.

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SteveK9 said...

The inherent unfairness of this proposal may actually provide some useful propaganda for nuclear energy proponents.

A bit off-topic but the German plan for 'austerity' is insane. One of the main problems in the Eurozone is low demand in Germany and the resultant large trade surplus. Their plans will make this worse. Right now the entire world seems to think they can go back to exporting their excess capacity to the US, but with real unemployment in the US at 20% I think you will see resistance in the US to that idea.

crf said...

Canada has already made up its mind that it will abandon producing isotopes in reactors. The Conservative government decided that no new research reactor, nor a specialized isotope reactor (the Maple reactor, for example), will be built or operated to replace Chalk River's old NRU (National Research Universal Reactor). Instead, isotopes will be produced by cyclotrons. This course by the government goes against the advice of its own recently convened expert panel on isotope production. It is partially justifying this decision by claiming that Chalk River NRU produces too much nuclear waste.

When Chalk River shuts its reactor some time in the future (nobody knows when -- one ought to count on it being soon, given the reactor's age and recent problems), nuclear research in Canada will largely halt, and a multi-generational scientific legacy will be stomped on and thrown in a trash heap.

Relatedly, the government passed a budget bill which included legislation needed for it to sell AECL (atomic energy canada ltd.). But the government has said it will not sell Chalk River.

A change in government in Canada might change these plans. But the opposition has so far been cowed.