The United States of Energy Dependence

So, I’ve started reading again. I have spent much of my life reading. Sometimes, it feels like it’s almost like I will never, ever do anything else besides read; because I need to spend so much time reading. Even though I apply strong “meh” (try saying it) filters to the constant outpouring of human knowledge in printed form, batting away vast waterfalls of information that I just don’t have time to process, and that have little significance to my personal set of Important Developments, there is still so much to take in. I try to comprehend what is happening and changing, weigh the essence of new knowledge and data, and try to work from fundamentals out to the broad picture, so that I can keep my General Overview of Things updated.

Sadly, information does not come to me unadulterated by myth, or hopeless and inadequate ambition; in some cases, people absorb and utter things which are quite untrue sewn into the midst of the tapestry of their perfectly rational analysis. Trying to fillet these choking bones out of the good fish of their work can be hard. When I started to read “The Natural Gas Revolution : At the Pivot of the World’s Energy Future”, by Robert L. Kolb, published in 2014 by Pearson, I despaired. At first glance, he appears to have been sucked in, hook, line and sinker, into a narrative that has no basis in geological fact. However, as I continued to read, I realised that his first euphoric presentational premises may have been coloured by the political geography of his intended audience – that he was reflecting back to them what he thought they believed; but that slowly, after quite a few pages, he appeared to begin to sneak truth into his recount.

The dust cover starts with this magical thinking :-

“Thanks to stunning technological advances in natural gas exploration, the United States is about to become a reliable, consistent net exporter of energy. This is an extraordinary, completely unexpected transformation. What’s more, natural gas is about to transform the rest of the world as well – upending economic and political relationships that have lasted for generations.”

1.      Energy Independence

Let’s look first at “net exporter of energy”, with the help of a little data :-

(a)      USA Natural Gas Monthly Supply and Disposition Balance
Data 1973 to August 2017 (billion cubic feet)
Net Imports (billion cubic feet)

This certainly looks healthy enough. The USA both imports and exports Natural Gas and processed Natural Gas, and manufactured gases equivalent to Natural Gas, or chemical components of Natural Gas. It appears from this data, if considered in isolation, that the USA is moving rapidly towards its long-term political and economic goal of energy independence – at least as far as Natural Gas is concerned. However, the situation is not as rosy, or straightforward, as this data, in isolation, could imply.

(b)      USA Natural Gas Imports
Data 1973 to August 2017 (million cubic feet)

This data shows that the great engine of the North American economy relies heavily on a Natural Gas trading relationship between the USA and Canada, and that the USA is in no way independent of this, and in fact, is highly dependent on Canada, and has lately become even more so :-

This is shown graphically by the following chart :-

(c)      USA Import and Export of Natural Gas
Data to March 2017

Whilst Kolb may be warranted in some ways to be positive about Natural Gas energy independence – at least in terms of the whole of North America, and not just the USA – when it comes to other energy, the situation is not nearly so progressive :-

Yes ! Dependence on imports from OPEC has decreased ! But, hang on, now we’ve got dependence on imports from Canada – and a lot of that is nasty, icky tar sands oil. Not really a win.

(d)      USA Imports of Petroleum (and Other Liquids)

FAQs : “How much petroleum does the United States import and export ?” :-
Imports from the World : Data to September 2017
Imports from OPEC : Data to September 2017
Imports from Canada : Data to September 2017

The United States of America cannot claim to be making significant progress towards energy independence in my view, judging on the basis of this data.

2.      No Surprise

Kolb seems to think that the rise in Natural Gas production in the USA is “extraordinary, completely unexpected”. This is really not true, as Presidents of the United States have been urging energy independence for many decades; and the technology of hydraulic fracturing, which is behind the massive increase in onshore Natural Gas production, has been in development for around the same length of time, and there have been top-level policies to support it.

There should also be no surprise that this Golden Age of Unconventional Gas – the “Shale Gale” – might end almost as soon as it started, so Kolb’s projection that recent upticks in Natural Gas production in the United States can cause the “upending economic and political relationships that have lasted for generations” is jumping the gun a little bit hastily. Whilst in the short term, the “Dash for Gas” (Mark II) may offer a little bit of political leverage on the world energy stage, it’s not going to be a permanent or lasting shift. The geology simply can’t support it – the shale gas plays will not last forever.

Energy from Waste : Power and Gas

In my continuing study into the relationship between gas and electricity, I very nicely asked if I could join a tour of the most local waste-to-energy plant to my home, North London Waste Authority’s London Waste EcoPark in Edmonton. The site visit was arranged by the Green Ventures Trade Mission from Germany to the UK. There was room on the tour bus for a “lift home” from the networking event in the morning, at which I represented Herbert Eppel and his enterprise for German-English and English-German translators HE Translations, and after getting over a few initial communication misunderstandings, I was able to join the site visit. I was so glad I went. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Had I known I was destined to be climbing gantry staircases with an orange hard hat and hi-viz yellow jacket on, I would have definitely decided not to wear a fancy blouse and pearls. It was a pretty confused look. Fortunately, I was too old to be able to wear high heels, as that would have been impossible. Or nearly impossible. One of the other women on the site visit was wearing quite elegant and vertical footwear, and she managed just fine.

We saw the plant repair shop – the principle of re-use, reclaim, repair and recycle just right there in action.

As we got outside, the air took on a distinctive farmyard aroma, and most people put on their 3M face masks. I did too, and that really complemented my outfit to a tee. I now looked like some strange mix between a Samurai warrior, a sumo wrestler and a fencing expert.

We saw the post-combustion conveyor belt, and the piles of ash accumulating, and the metal – separated by magnets. The metal, our guide explained, would all be recycled, sold by the tonne. As we were there, a lorry from the neighbouring private company that uses ash to produce aggregate products for projects such as roadways and construction, came for a load of ash and went round to the weighbridge. He had to wipe the ash from his registration licence plate for the recording of his payload. Then he had to drive virtually the same way he had come to reach his plant next door.

We had an overview of some of the other facilities out at the back of the yard, although we didn’t see the anaerobic digestion sheds, where garden trimmings and household food waste gets made into soil that we get back at our local gardening centre.

Then we went to take a look inside the Energy Centre. I had a Toy Story 3 moment when I saw The Claw lifting great mountains of London’s rubbish from 20 metre deep bunkers into the hoppers feeding the 5 furnace/boilers. Everything was so big in there. I could see VHS tape streamers floating like gossamer spider silk in the wind.

Several claws like giant spiders were lying deactivated at the tops of the concrete bunkers in this massive waste hangar.

Our tour guide explained that the EcoPark can no longer accept commercial wastes, but that when it did, security guards would watch while illegal drugs, money, cigarettes and other crime-related materials would be fed into the furnace hoppers to make sure it all got burned. There were bedsheets in the hoppers, but we were told that mattresses were not allowed as they could ruin equipment.

On one of the platforms there was some electrical equipment that looked straight out of a horror movie, with dials and levers and switches and spider webs that had probably been there since 1975. “Don’t touch that”, said one of the tour party, when I pointed it out, “it’s structural”.

We passed into the bunker room, and there was so much scaffolding around the boilers that you couldn’t really see their shape. The hall was full of gentle radiant heat. It properly glowed.

As we walked down to see the turbine hall, I steadied myself on a handrail that was covered in really sticky carbon dust, that ended up sticking to me. We were, as I thought, waste deep.

The turbine hall was electric. No, really. The whole place was vibrating, and the air was pulsating with static and traces of carbon dust. Five huge red engines, and one man with a clipboard. The real business of management was in the Control Room, so that’s where we went next.

Another door alarm went off as we went through to there. Machines and computers and displays mixed with wooden desks and potted plants. And air conditioning. A sign above the instantaneous emissions monitoring screen with the current limits for gas emissions printed in bold letters. Videocams of the fires in the furnaces. And readouts of the various problem gases that needed to be kept within limits : sulfur dioxide (SO2), hydrochloric acid vapour (HCl), carbon monoxide (CO) and so on.

One of the engineers gave us a technical overview of the energy plant. He explained that the temperatures inside the boilers get up to around 850 degrees C. He explained that there is a ramp, and that material coming out by the time you get to the fifth furnace, is just ash. He explained that during the first heat exchange to make steam, the temperatures get up to around 450 degrees C, and that then this steam goes on to be superheated for the electricity generation turbines. For Flue Gas Treatment (FGT), he explained how the “wrapper” takes out particulates, and about the various reactors and additives that clean the output gases. Steam is emitted, as well, but this is clean.

He said that they can get up to 12 megawatts (MW) of generation, and that some is used for the EcoPark, but they also feed the National Grid. He explained that they need to be producing power constantly. “So you’re on 24/7 ?” asked somebody. “Not me personally”, said one of the engineers. They both used to work in coal-fired power stations.

I asked about carbon monoxide, because I know that at the high temperatures of the boilers, a lot of syngas will be produced – a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide – during the combustion. The carbon monoxide emissions reading for the fifth boiler was quite high. I asked what their emergency strategy was if carbon monoxide levels went too high and they had too many excedences of the regulatory limits. He explained that in that case, they moved all the solid material out of the furnace, as it was much easier to deal with the gases on their own.

On our way out I explained that I had seen some of the air filtration equipment that was in a looped tube arrangement, and I asked if the plant recycled flue gas. I was told it did not.

London Waste’s Chairman and Non-Executive Director David Sargent shook my hand several times during the afternoon, even though I explained I didn’t have anything to do with the trade mission management. I told him I lived 5 kilometres away in Waltham Forest, and pointed in the general direction. He told me I probably get some of his electricity. And I told him he probably gets some of mine, as I am a generator too. He asked if he could have a site visit to see my solar panels. I said I could show him my composter, too.

As the tour bus got onto the A406 North Circular road, I saw that the old gasholders in the Lee Valley are being dismantled. From the road you can still see the lift canopy of one of them, in the centre, deflated on the ground. Later, I noticed that the old gasholder frame at Brent Cross is badly rusting, and because it’s so close to the road, it too will probably be removed. It will be such a shame to lose these distinctive pieces of London’s gas history.

In the sky above I saw a sort of rainbow between clouds.

Then I saw a rubbish clearance van marked with “”.

Waste not, want not.

Related links :-

North London Waste Authority
London, Stansted, Cambridge Consortium (Growth for an airport ? Included in a clean tech plan ? I’m not sure that’s quite right, but anyway…)

Hot Waste : Nuclear Unknowables

Could Hinkley Point C Creep Past Safety Limits And Overload Its Waste Storage ?
by Jo Abbess
24 November 2013

The use of high burn-up nuclear fuel in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, if it goes ahead, could lead to higher levels of waste than claimed in the design, owing to the increased chances of operating failures. It could also make power generation more prone to unreliability, due to unplanned outages. Added to this, safety measures do not rule out the kind of large scale and costly accident-by-design seen at Fukushima; nor the risk of a major disaster from mismanagement of the insecure spent fuel facilities, which would be wide open to a terrorist attack.

The Hinkley Uncertainty Principle

In the UK Government’s 2011 consultation on the management of plutonium, separated from spent nuclear fuel, their stated policy would be to “pursue reuse of plutonium as mixed oxide fuel [MOx]”, although they couldn’t yet determine whether MOX fuel would be produced in the UK [1]. Reprocessing abroad would involve highly secretive and dangerous transportation, so how and why did they come to this expert judgement ?

Some claim that using plutonium oxide to make fresh nuclear fuel would “eat up” highly toxic and militarily dangerous plutonium waste, however this is not true. Using MOX fuel in a nuclear reactor creates almost as much in plutonium as it consumes – so why have the UK Government decided to take the MOX route ? Possibly because it feeds into plans by EDF Energy to build a new nuclear power plant that would use some “high burn-up” nuclear fuel in its two reactors, burning up to 50% higher than at other working plants, and MOX is probably the cheapest fuel option.

Counter-intuitively, high burn-up fuel doesn’t get used up faster than other nuclear fuel. It produces more heat energy under neutron irradiation than the usual mildly-enriched uranium oxide, because it can split the atoms of a higher percentage of the fuel. It can “burn up” for longer, and be left in the reactor core for longer, before it needs to be changed out for fresh fuel. Or that is the theory, anyway.

Some of the products of nuclear fission are noble gases, one of which is radioactive xenon, and although this is gas produced inside solid nuclear fuel pellets, packed into a long sealed metal casing, “fission gas” shouldn’t cause the fuel rod to burst – although it might make it swell a bit, or become deformed. There is a tiny risk this could mean fuel rods burn up dangerously higher, or get stuck when being taken out of the reactor, or that control rods might be unable to go in, all of which would be problematic.

But back to the gas. Some radioactive xenon will make it out of fuel rods into the reactor coolant, because the integrity of fuel rods is not 100% guaranteed. If a fuel rod starts leaking badly, it ought to be swapped out for fresh fuel, because it could “dry out” and get precariously hot, and that could mean shutting down the reactor, which would affect its “always on” reliability.

In the Hinkley Point C Generic Design Assessment final report on “Gaseous radioactive waste disposal and limits”, it admits, “Reactors are designed to run until their next refuelling shutdown with a small number of fuel leaks and we do not wish to constrain operations when noble gas discharges have so little impact.” What they’re saying is, in effect, we know some of these fuel rods are going to be broken in a live, working reactor. What they can’t know is, which ones ?

It’s a little bit like Schrödinger’s Cat – you can’t know if a fuel rod is dead until you take it out of the box to inspect it. If xenon levels in the reactor coolant rise above the permitted levels, as a direct result of fuel damages from high burn-up, the plant operators would need to intervene, because it’s not just fission gas they should be concerned about. Leaking fuel rods could spit particles of uranium, or plutonium, into the reactor coolant, which could end up in the general environment, and that would have a significant impact [2].

It will be possible to do some inspection checks without removing fuel rods entirely from the core. But in all likelihood, with high xenon emissions levels, they would need to shut the reactor down, by inserting control rods into the core to moderate the neutron flow. With normal nuclear fuel rods, this is a low-impact operation, but laboratory experiments suggest that for high burn-up, stopping and restarting the reactor, cooling and then re-heating the rods, will cause significant damage to the nuclear fuel [3].

Cracked and crumbling high burn-up fuel could release more fission gas, so the very process of checking the integrity of fuel rods could damage the integrity of the fuel rods, and make xenon emissions worse, and mean more swaps for fresh fuel rods, meaning more radioactive waste to deal with. Because spent nuclear fuel will eventually need to be officially classified as radioactive waste, although currently it isn’t.

The design for this nuclear power plant claims to produce less waste than current models, but that all depends on how the plant operators can manage high burn-up nuclear fuel rods, and it’s too early to say, since there isn’t a working version of this reactor anywhere in the world yet.

So it’s a little like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in Quantum Physics – you can’t know exactly how damaged your fuel rods are, and exactly how much spent fuel waste you’re going to produce, at the same time. The tempation, of course, will be to leave the fuel in and the reactor on for as long as possible, even though the statistical probability for loss of fuel integrity will just increase with time.

Hot rods could be good future business

I am still waiting for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to tell me where I’ve gone wrong on the maths, but from my preliminary calculations, I estimate that the radioactive waste and radioactive spent nuclear fuel from this one new plant will nearly double the amount of radioactivity in nuclear materials the UK has to dispose of. In terms of the physical size of the rad waste, it won’t add much to the total, but some of the spent fuel coming from Hinkley Point C will be very hot rods from high burn-up – and I don’t just mean radioactive, I mean literally hot, potentially far hotter than steam.

The design for the plant includes an essential “cooling off” pool of water, which would be like a “shadow” reactor core, but without the safety containment vessel. Because of the temperature of the fuel rods, a lot of water will be needed. The hot rods will have to stay in there being actively cooled for up to 10 years after they come out of the reactor, as they will be producing around 10% of the heat energy they produced when inside the active reactor.

And after they’re cool enough to come out of there, the fuel will have to sit under water in a storage pond, also actively cooled, for around about 80 to 90 years, until enough radioactive decay has taken place that the fuel then becomes reasonably safe for geological disposal. Although we haven’t got a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) yet. And some calculations suggest we might need two. If we don’t have the right volume of GDF, perhaps the Hinkley Point C hot rods could just have to sit in the on-site “interim” storage facility forever.

If the plant operators have to swap out more high burn-up fuel rods than they anticipate, perhaps the spent fuel storage facilities at Hinkley Point C will be too small for the full 60 years of waste designed for the plant. If it were only large enough for 35 years of operation, that would conveniently match the length of the very generous subsidies for the power the plant will produce. Thereafter, the plant operators could declare they cannot afford to keep the power plant running, and the state could be obliged to subsidise them simply to store the hot waste.

The transition business model for the operators of Hinkley Point C could be the service of the storage of hot radioactive spent fuel, perhaps, when it becomes obvious that nuclear power is simply too expensive compared to solar and wind power. Will Hinkley Point C end up like San Onofre, a high burn-up spent fuel waste facility, formerly a nuclear power plant, corroding its way towards being a serious liability ?

Going LOCA, down in Taunton

When asked, “Should we have nuclear power ?”, many gaze at the mid-distance, and, according to recent polls, muse vacantly, “I suppose so. I mean, the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine.” They probably don’t realise that filling in the generation gaps of renewable electricity with power from Hinkley Point C would demand load-following power cycling which would cause temperature changes in the reactor core which could damage high burn-up fuel [4].

Plus, they choose to ignore the fact that it is always possible, when operating a nuclear reactor, for a major accident, such as a Loss Of Coolant Accident (LOCA), that could destroy, poison and injure people, livestock, forests, waterways and land, and not just in the local vicinity. They consign it to a remote theoretical possibility that something could go horribly wrong, but it probably won’t, so that’s all right then, somehow. Well, we’ve had decades of nuclear power, and not many serious accidents.

Ah, there was Chernobyl, of course, which the whole of the European Union is still paying to clean up and put under a massive steel dome shelter, and the costs of the meltdown and fallout arguably destroyed the economy of socialist Russia. And the ongoing, unfolding, rolling disaster shambles that is the Fukushima Dai-ichi make-safe operation, set to go on for at least a decade ? Well, the clean-up is eating into Japan’s GDP, and they will have to give up investment in cleantech and meeting their carbon budget targets, and burn coal, because, frankly, the country’s broke; but nobody really suffered, did they ?

We lost Pripyat, we almost lost Detroit, and we could still lose Tokyo, but who really cares about Taunton – the town near Hinkley Point ? No humane person would wish the citizens of Taunton to die a painful, lingering death, or suffer a lifetime of various cancers and degraded health, or be forced to relocate to Yarmouth or York, permanently. Somehow, the awfulness of this possible eventuality just cannot be captured.

Rudimentary statistics of human health and the social consequences of evacuation don’t really describe effectively what is happening in Fukushima Prefecture – there are some impacts of an nuclear power plant disaster you really cannot put a number on. OK, so there will only be a certain number of deaths and cancers, but what about the destruction of a community and the impaling of an economy ?

Remember 9/11 ? Aeroplanes were flown into the World Trade Center, not just the tallest buildings in New York, but symbols of the USA-led economy, which was then drained by the American obsession with warfare, since an entirely predictable kneejerk response to the attack was military counter strike, which nobody can really afford any more. The pilots of those planes were targeting economic dominance, not high rise office workers, and they succeeded.

Nuclear power plants can have costly accidents and are expensive to build and safely close down; but although nobody seems to have a handle on safe and effective spent fuel disposal, in some ways, these risks are calculable. In contrast, spent nuclear fuel ponds would be ideal targets for suicidal dirty bombers, and the threat of this is unknowable, because it doesn’t need the use of anything so obvious, large and noisy as an aeroplane to spring a leak.

Meltdowns are designed in – threatening economic security

Officials may deny that Fukushima Dai-ichi Reactor Unit 3 went LOCA when it melted down. Technically it was a LUHS – Loss of Ultimate Heat Sink, or an SBO – a Station Blackout – but it had pretty much the same outcome, as the water covering the fuel in the reactor probably vapourised, or got chemically converted into hydrogen gas, which then exploded and blew the roof off. It was part-loaded with “hot rod” MOX fuel, which makes it the one to watch during clean-up operations – that is, when it’s not so radioactive that only robots can get near it [5].

Can the multiple nuclear reactor unit meltdowns, explosions, radioactive plumes and leaks at Fukushima properly be counted as an “accident” ? Meltdown of a nuclear reactor core is always an anticipated possible outcome, that’s why they put it in a containment vessel, cast out of a single piece of steel [6]. So, it could be argued, these disasters are technically planned for, rather than coincidental, tragic failures. It was in the documentation : after an emergency shutdown, if all forms of reactor cooling became unavailable at a Fukushima unit, within a couple of hours there would be inevitable major core damage, and the risk of meltdown. It was part of the design. It’s part of the design documentation for Hinkley Point C, too.

If the Fukushima units had done their job, and contained the meltdowns, and the cooling systems had remained operational, then one could be reasonably confident that Hinkley Point C (HPC) could too; but they didn’t. The design of HPC has an extra thick concrete base under the reactor vessel, just in case nuclear fuel melts through, with channels grooved into it to steer any meltdown mess from accumulating in one place, thereby trusting it won’t become “critical” again.

But meltdown and melt-through is not the only kind of serious event HPC could suffer. Use of high burn-up fuel could contribute to warped fuel rods or control rods, higher build-up or leaks of fission gas. And its higher temperatures, together with the high pressure of the reactor coolant, could cause a range of high energy damage, or even prevent a safe shutdown; and until they permitted the plans to go ahead, the UK Government’s Assessment Findings had much to question as regards control systems.

In conclusion, there will always be the risk of a major, uninsurable accident with the UK EPR (TM) design for Hinkley Point C, and even without considering health and safety, the long-term costs of cleanup could wipe out everybody’s pensions. My opinion is that we cannot afford this risk, just as we can no longer afford warfare. Why do the UK Government persist in proposing that the people should bear the cost burden and risks of new nuclear power, when there is already an alternative suite of energy and energy management technologies that can be built in roughly half the time and three quarters of the cost ?


By Subject

[1] What do to with UK plutonium ?

DECC (2011). “Management of the UK’s Plutonium Stocks : A consultation response on the long-term management of UK-owned separated civil plutonium”, UK Government, Department of Energy and Climate Change, 1 December 2011.

Leventhal (1995). “Bury It, Don’t Burn It : A Non-Proliferation Perspective on Warhead Plutonium Disposal”, Paul Leventhal, President, Nuclear Control Institute, Presented to the U.S. Department of Energy Plutonium Stabilization and Immobilization Workshop, Washington, D.C., December 12, 1995.

Royal Society (2011). “Fuel cycle stewardship in a nuclear renaissance”, Royal Society, October 2011

USA (2000). “Agreement Between The Government of the United States of America and The Government of the Russian Federation Concerning the Management and Disposition of Plutonium Designated as No Longer Required for Defense Purposes and Related Cooperation”, 2000.

von Hippel et al. (2012). “Time to bury plutonium”, Nature, Volume 485, 10 May 2012.

[2] Fuel fragmentation and dispersal

Papin et al. (2003). “Synthesis of CABRI-RIA Tests Interpretation”, Papin et al., Proceedings of the Eurosafe Conference, Paris, November 25 – 26, 2003.

ONR (2011). “Generic Design Assessment – New Civil Reactor Build : Step 4 Fuel and Core Design Assessment of the EDF and AREVA UK EPR (TM) Reactor.”, Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), Assessment Report : ONR-GDA-AR-11-021, Revision 0, Section 4.9.2 Paragraphs 200 – 202, 10 November 2011.

NEA (2010). “Safety Significance of the Halden IFA-650 LOCA Test Results”, Nuclear Energy Agency, OECD, Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations (CSNI), Document : NEA/CSNI/R(2010)5, 15 November 2010.

UB (2013). “Hinkley Point C : Expert Statement to the EIA”, Oda Becker, UmweltBundesamt (Environment Agency Austria), Wien 2013, Document Number : REP-0413.

[3] High burn-up fuel

Baron et al. (2008). “Discussion about HBS Transformation in High Burn-Up Fuels”, Baron et al., in Nuclear Engineering and Technology, Volume 41, Issue Number 2, March 2009, Special Issue on the Water Reactor Fuel Performance Meeting 2008.

Blair (2008). “Modelling of Fission Gas Behaviour in High Burnup Nuclear Fuel”, Paul Blair, PhD Thesis Number 4084, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), 2008.

CEN (2011). “Review and Assessment of the Key HBU Physical Phenomena and Models : Assessment of International Return of Experience on High Burnup Fuel Performance in Support of Licensing for Burnup Increases in Belgian NPPs”, Lemehov et al., SCK-CEN, Document SCK-CEN-R-4824, Project 10.2 – Report #1, November 2011.

IAEA (1992). “Fission gas release and fuel rod chemistry related to extended burnup”, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Proceedings of a Technical Committee Meeting held in Pembroke, Ontario, Canada, 28 April – 1 May 1992, Document Number : IAEA-TECDOC-697, 1993.

IAEA (2001a). “Nuclear fuel behaviour modelling at high burnup and its experimental support”, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Proceedings of a Technical Committee meeting held in Windermere, United Kingdom, 19 – 23 June 2000, Document Number : IAEA-TECDOC-1233, 2001

IAEA (2013). “Technical Meeting on High Burnup Economics and Operational Experience”, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to be held at Buenos Aires, Argentina, 26 – 29 November 2013, Information Sheet, 2013.

ONR (2012). “Summary of the GDA Issue close-out assessment of the Electricité de France SA and AREVA NP SAS UK EPR (TM) nuclear reactor”, Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Generic Design Assessment, 13 December 2012.

ONR (2013). “Nuclear Research Needs 2013 – Part 1: Summary of Nuclear Research Needs”, Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Section 15, “Nuclear fuel Research”, 2013.

Rondinella and Wiss (2010). “The high burn-up structure in nuclear fuel”, Rondinella and Wiss, European Commission, Joint Research Centre, in Materials Today, Volume 13, Issue Number 12, December 2010.

[4] Nuclear Power Plant load-following

EDF (2013). “Load Following : EDF Experience Feedback”, EDF Energy, at IAEA Technical Meeting – Load Following, 4 – 6 September 2013, Paris.

IAEA (2001b). “Fuel behaviour under transient and LOCA conditions”, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Document Number : IAEA-TECDOC-1320, Proceedings of a Technical Committee meeting held in Halden, Norway, 10 – 14 September 2001.

Lokhov (2011). “Load-following with nuclear power plants”, Lokhov A., Nuclear Energy Agency, NEA Updates, NEA News 2011, Issue Number 29.2

NEA (2006). “Very High Burn-ups in Light Water Reactors”, Nuclear Energy Agency, OECD, Document Number : NEA No. 6224, 2006.

NEA (2011). “Technical and Economic Aspects of Load Following with Nuclear Power Plants”, Nuclear Energy Agency, OECD, 2011.

Pouret and Nuttall (2007). “Can nuclear power be flexible ?”, Pouret, L. and Nuttall, W.J., Electricity Policy Research Group Working Papers, Number 07/10, 2007. Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

[5] Mixed oxide fuel (MOX)

ANS (2011). “The Impact of Mixed Oxide Fuel Use on Accident Consequences at Fukushima Daiichi”, American Nuclear Society, 25 March 2011.

Kim et al. (2010). “Ceramography Analysis of MOX Fuel Rods After Irradiation Test”, Han Soo Kim et al., Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, 27 July 2010.

Lyman E. S. (2001). “The importance of MOX Fuel Quality Control in Boiling-Water Reactors”, by Edwin S. Lyman, Nuclear Control Institute.

Nakae et al. (2012). “Fission Gas Release of MOX Irradiated to High Burnup”, Nakae et al., in TopFuel 2012, Reactor Fuel Performance, Manchester, England, 2 – 6 September 2012.

Popov et al. (2000). “Thermophysical Properties of MOX and UO2 Fuels Including the Effects of Irradiation”, Popov et al., Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2000.

[6] Nuclear reactor containment

Large (2007). “Assessments of the Radiological Consequences of Releases from Existing and Proposed EPR/PWR Nuclear Power Plants in France”, John Large, Large and Associates, Document : R3150-3, 17 March 2007.

TEPCO (2011). “The Evaluation Status of Reactor Core Damage at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Units 1 to 3”, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), 30 November 2011.

TVO (2010). “Nuclear Power Plant Unit Olkiluoto 3”, TVO, December 2010.

Email exchange

There are several documents in the first bunch of references that suggest UK Government want to take the MOX route for “getting rid of” plutonium stocks [or rather “losing” it in the matrix of the final spent fuel]. For example, advice from the Royal Society, and the consultation from UK GOV. I checked with […] regarding high level direction, and it appears UK GOV are fixed on this course of action. They might open a new MOX production facility in the UK (although they just closed one down), and they might get MOX made abroad using UK plutonium, to use in UK reactors. The point to note is that EdF uses MOX elsewhere. Although EdF are currently denying they will use it, Hinkley Point C could :-

[ MOX fuel has been reported as being intended for the new PRISM reactor :- ]

I have tried to steer the conversation to the use of high burn up fuel generally (MOX is only one option for high burn up fuel). High burn up fuel could be made from different kinds of enriched uranium. There [seems to be] a clear move [drawn from the design documents] from EdF to use high burn up fuel at Hinkley Point C – in fact, the claims in the design that the plant will produce low volumes of spent fuel relies on them using high burn up fuel. For example :-

Of course, if EdF do not use high burn up fuel or MOX fuel, they will [in all likelihood] produce far larger amounts of spent fuel waste than they are claiming, so it adds to the argument that their rad waste claims could be unverifiable.

A recent statement in the House of Commons claims that spent fuel from Hinkley Point C will be :-

“The new build contribution to the Upper Inventory is estimated at an additional 25,000 m(3) [cubic metres] intermediate level radioactive waste (ILW), and 20,000 m(3) [cubic metres] Spent Fuel”

from all the new build reactors (16 GW) anticipated. But this could be an underestimate if they use standard enrichment levels in the nuclear fuel.


The design and safety documents for Hinkley Point C have a limit of burn-up set at 65 GWD/tU – and there are many other statements about the layout of the reactor – roughly 30% could be high burn-up.


Example from Pre Construction Safety Report (PCSR) :-

Sub-Chapter 4.2 Fuel System Design

“1.1. FUEL RODS : Fuel rods are composed of slightly enriched uranium dioxide pellets with or without burnable poison (gadolinium), or MOX (uranium and plutonium) dioxide pellets. The fuel is contained in a closed tube made of M5 [Ref-1] [Ref-2] hermetically sealed at its ends.”

There have been queries about the performance of the M5 (TM) Zircaloy (zirconium alloy) under high burn-up, and power/thermal transients, which have been largely quashed, for example :-

although the nuclear industry claim it’s all good :-


Section 7.2.3 “The key factors in demonstrating the minimisation of the production of radioactive waste are…”



3.2.1. Definition of Interim Spent Fuel Store (ISFS) Requirements Spent Fuel Quantity and Characteristics

The reactor core of a UK EPR would typically consist of 241 fuel assemblies providing a controlled fission reaction and a heat source for electrical power production. Each fuel assembly is formed by a 17×17 array of zirconium alloy (such as M5) tubes, made up of 265 fuel rods and 24 guide thimbles. The fuel rods consist of uranium dioxide pellets stacked in the zirconium alloy cladding tubes which are then plugged and seal welded. It is currently assumed that a maximum of 90 spent fuel assemblies (SFA) would be removed every 18 months of operation from each UK EPR. Taking into account the time allowed for planned maintenance outages over the anticipated 60 years operating life, a total of approximately 3,400 assemblies are expected to be generated by each UK EPR. The lifetime operation of HPC, comprising two UK EPRs, would therefore result in a total of around 6,800 spent fuel assemblies. Fuel cladding failures cannot be ruled out over this period and so the interim storage does need to be capable of receiving “failed fuel” within adequate packaging.

Fuel composition and burn-up is a very important parameter for spent fuel management since it determines the heat load and the rate at which this reduces after the fuel is discharged from the reactor. The ISFS needs to be able to store enriched uranium fuel at the maximum design burn-up of 65 GWd/tU in accordance with the fuel envisaged in EDF Energy’s Development Consent application. However, the EPR is capable of accepting mixed oxide fuel (i.e. fuel where plutonium instead of uranium oxide is used to provide some or all of the initial fissile material) and, whilst EDF Energy has no current plans to use MOX fuel, it is considered prudent to ensure that the ISFS design could enable fuel with higher thermal power or different composition to be stored (noting, of course, that this eventuality would be subject to the receipt of all relevant Government and regulatory approvals).”


SNEAKING SUSPICION :- I think that the UK Government […] might push for MOX to be used in the first nuclear power plant that becomes available that can do so.

Chin Up, George Monbiot !

George Monbiot looks back in regret at Copenhagen :-

“…The closer it comes, the worse it looks. The best outcome anyone now expects from December’s climate summit in Mexico is that some delegates might stay awake during the meetings. When talks fail once, as they did in Copenhagen, governments lose interest. They don’t want to be associated with failure, they don’t want to pour time and energy into a broken process. Nine years after the world trade negotiations moved to Mexico after failing in Qatar, they remain in diplomatic limbo. Nothing in the preparations for the climate talks suggests any other outcome…”

Copenhagen was never seriously going to deliver, and I don’t think most of the protesters on the streets in Copenhagen thought so. Activist demands, including from activist nations, were always going to be ignored, The solutions really didn’t come to the conference, and the problems really lay elsewhere.

But there’s no need to utterly despair, George !

Continue reading Chin Up, George Monbiot !

Richard Black : GB Prepared

Richard Black redeems himself somewhat with a suitably seriously concerned piece on the expected impacts of Climate Change :-

“16 September 2010 : Climate change advisers urge UK to prepare for change : By Richard Black : Environment correspondent, BBC News : The UK needs to prepare itself quickly to deal with the impacts of climate change, government advisers warn. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says climate effects are already being felt in the UK in the form of higher temperatures and changing seasons. Using land more sensibly, adapting buildings and planning for emergencies are areas where it recommends action. Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman describes the CCC’s adaptation report as “a wake-up call”. “There is no part of our society which is immune from the effects of climate change,” she is due to say in a speech on Thursday. “Britain’s economy will only be as resilient and prepared as British firms, communities and infrastructure.”…”

Who’s going to pay for that, then ?

Climate Camp : The Peoples’ Golfing Association

Oh dear. It appears that the Edinburgh Chapter of the Peoples Golfing Association, formed in 2005 ahead of the G8 Gleneagles Summit, has got the band back together at the Climate Camp, and played a round just a tad too close to the buildings of the Headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland :-

“22 August 2010 : Climate change protesters arrested at RBS office : Two women have been arrested after climate change protesters attacked the Royal Bank of Scotland’s (RBS) Edinburgh headquarters on Sunday. More than 100 protesters took part in the action, which also involved an oil-like substance being thrown at the building and windows being smashed. The protest comes in response to RBS’s investment in oil industry developments around the world…Shaun Caulfield, who took part in the attempted raid, said: “RBS is one of the biggest climate criminals in the UK. People are angry that bankers are ploughing the billions that they got in the bail out into incredibly destructive fossil fuel projects around the world.” Golf balls were also apparently thrown at the building, the Press Association reported…”

I wouldn’t call it an “attack”. It was more like a good walk spoiled.

And as for “attempted raid”…well…there are plenty enough doors to sneak through, nobody needs to break anything to get inside. They probably didn’t.

Who chipped the first ball into the panes of expensive coated glass, eh ? Lady golfers or police chappies ?

Quit Funding Radical Clearthinkers

So, now we know what part of the United Kingdom public spending cuts will consist of : quit funding the Sustainable Development Commission.

The SDC guys and gals have been such vocal, radical thinkers. They have contributed so much to public discourse and the politics of Climate Change. The country needs their services.

Ironically, their take-no-prisoners approach to the facts could have made them a natural target for the chop. Perhaps the political establishment can see no need for a hotbed of academic “dissent” (otherwise known as “truthtelling”).

In a sense, the SDC have been so convincing and effective, they’ve worked themselves out of a job :-

Let this not be an end to transparent research and strong demands for de-carbonisation in public life !

Greenpeace Slams Climategate Media

The Guardian asks, “How has ‘Climategate’ affected the battle against climate change?” :-

I think the appropriate question would be, “How has Climategate poisoned the minds of journalists and their editors ?”

Ben Stewart of Greenpeace gets it spot on :-

“Stewart says it is the media, not the CRU scientists, who are to blame for any extra confusion among the public…”The emails didn’t change the way that carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere, but the media created a situation that presented a false symmetry between the various sides of the debate.”

The newspapers and TV programmes are in danger of losing their customers if they continue selling such dodgy wares.

Climategate has been a pseudo-scandal, written in the language of acrimony and suspicion, personal and professional attacks making claims of bad behaviour amongst scientists, arguments with extremely poor foundations.

Yet the Science still stands. Climate Change is still happening and we are still responsible for it. “We” in the inclusive sense, that is. The majority of bad behaviour is to be found in the business plans of energy companies. They show little intention of de-carbonising the resources of energy they sell to the rest of us.

The Media is a circus on Climate Change, but not a very entertaining one.

It’s time for some proper science journalism in the daily press.

Steve McIntyre Spins Newsweek

Newsweek spins a heart-warming yarn about the “granddaddy of the global warming “denial” movement”, Steven McIntyre. You would be forgiven for adopting his point of view, he has such a homestead glow :-

“…he says, people tend to use hockey-stick graphs when they are trying to pull one over on you. “Reality usually isn’t so tidy.”…”

Er, no. Nobody could rightly assert that Climate scientists have been trying to trick anybody. Why does Newsweek not decline his argument ?

Continue reading Steve McIntyre Spins Newsweek

Copenhagen : The Passion And The Pain

A few reports from the Copenhagen Climate conference, which promises to take both creative communications and straightfaced besuited politicking to a new height in a truly unique global, yet distinctly European melange :-

A must-watch !

Untidy Minds #11 : Bjorn Lomborg

In the Munk Debates 2009 on Climate Change, Bjorn Lomborg made a claim that I immediately found contestable, a claim that probably seemed to be convincing to the audience and yet was without foundation.

He claimed that there would be more people suffering water stress in the world without Climate Change, than there would be if Climate Change were allowed to continue.

Continue reading Untidy Minds #11 : Bjorn Lomborg

Ed Miliband Raises His Game

As the last week of Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband naysaying the Climate Change deniers does not seem to have had much impact on turning around the great ship of democratically expressed scepticism on Global Warming, Ed Miliband has turned to Public Relations on telly.

Continue reading Ed Miliband Raises His Game

Untidy Minds #4 : David Davis

Congratulations go to David Davis, who appears to have singlehandedly found the way to split the British Conservative Party for good, by coming out as a Climate Change sceptic, and thereby effectively challenging David Cameron for the leadership (which Davis will lose, like he did the last time, I reckon) :-

He writes :-

“The row about whether global warming exists gets even more virulent. The case is not helped by the fact that the planet appears to have been cooling, not warming, in the last decade. Last week, the row was fuelled after a hacker revealed emails between the world’s leading climate scientists that seemed to show them conspiring to rig the figures to support their theories. So it is unsurprising that more than half the public no longer believe in global warming.”

Continue reading Untidy Minds #4 : David Davis

Remembrance Sunday

With so many facts and figures swirling around, it’s sometimes hard to recall the important things, pin them down and make a rational argument out of them.

One thing for Remembrance Sunday, something to remember in future : warfare creates Carbon Emissions :-

“The scientific evidence that Homo sapiens is causing unprecedented environmental change is now compelling (MEA 2003). Among human activities, war is common, almost constant, and sweeping in its ecological impact. There have been 122 armed conflicts around the world in the past 17 years, and 163 of 192 countries currently maintain regular armed forces (Majeed 2004, Harbom and Wallensteen 2007). War preparations alone utilize up to 15 million square kilometers (km²) of land, account for 6% of all raw material consumption, and produce as much as 10% of global carbon emissions annually (Bidlack 1996, Biswas 2000, Majeed 2004).”

I didn’t get my white poppy this year because of the problems with the postal service. I did however fashion one myself out of a Haig poppy and a paper serviette napkin :-

Turn warplanes into wind turbines. Turn the defence industry over to manufacturing concentrated solar power plant.

The Axis of Climate Change

PARENTAL ADVISORY : This post contains video, audio and text information recounting real events of violence which may disturb some people, particularly children.
“South Park History of America”

At one time it was Russia. And Cuba. Of late, it’s been the whole of the world of Islam, pretty much. This Axis of Evil and War on Terror has kept the dream of a Foreign Enemy alive, keeping average Americans scared enough to cough up tax dollars for any Defense Department wheeze for warfare.

The policy of military intervention in other peoples’ regimes appears to be part of the genetic coding of the United States of America. It would take some serious psychotherapy to erase its impact, apparently. It’s really deeply embedded behaviour :-

Continue reading The Axis of Climate Change

G20 Climate Camp : No Eviction without Representation !

So, the feared and predicted eviction of the G20 Climate Camp seems to be starting, with the Police using heavyhanded tactics, including terrorising people with a least one helicopter over the camp.

Meanwhile, at the very centre of all this whirlwind of oppressive tactical management, lies the blessed little survivor church St Ethelberga’s, hosting the Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, where today they dropped a banner from their roof, reading “We’re all in this TOGETHER”.

And so we are.

G20 Climate Camp – Calm Restored

The G20 Climate Camp has formed two meetings, one at the north and one at the south of the camp area, where the riot Police have formed inpenetrable lines.

I’m still waiting to hear the consensus decisions of these meetings, but it looks like the earlier tension from Police provocation by incursion has been resolved, and the festival atmosphere has resumed.

The bands play on !

G20 Climate Camp : Police Provocation

I’m sorry to report that I’ve had to leave the G20 Climate Camp because I started to feel very nervous about the tactics of the Police.

I lost my cool a bit, and decided that I didn’t want to do anything I might regret, so I decided to quit before the pen that seemed to be forming became permanent, which would have made me very angry.

Continue reading G20 Climate Camp : Police Provocation