Sunday, August 8, 2004
Anti-nuclear group stages harbor dry run
Citizens Against Plutonium rehearses protest of shipment
BY EDWARD C. FENNELL
Of The Post and Courier Staff
A dry run was held Saturday by protesters who plan to dispatch
an anti-nuclear flotilla when an expected shipment of
bomb-grade plutonium passes through Charleston Harbor later
Citizens Against Plutonium, a local group working with
veteran national and international anti-nuclear activists,
launched half a dozen boats into the harbor Saturday morning.
Bearing flags with an anti-nuclear insignia, several large
sailing craft, some powerboats and two kayaks bounced on
choppy waters while being observed by a Charleston police boat
and the Coast Guard.
Hallman (right) and John Chapman join in a
rehearsal Saturday for an anti-nuclear
flotilla to protest a plutonium shipment
through Charleston later this month.
One powerboat operator, Nadine Block of Maryland, playfully
offered the police boat a banner but was rejected.
"You want a flag?" she asked.
About a dozen vessels are expected in the flotilla when
plutonium is shipped through the harbor, CAP organizer Merrill
Chapman of Mount Pleasant said. Some members of Greenpeace
International and the Nuclear-Free Atlantic Flotilla are
supporting the flotilla, she said.
She insisted CAP has no intention of blocking the shipment,
but instead will greet it with a "peaceful, legal
Federal officials insist the radioactive material left over
from the Cold War can be safely shipped by truck and rail from
points around the country and through Charleston Harbor to
In France, the plutonium is to be converted to commercial
grade fuel for nuclear power plants, as part of a joint
U.S.-Russian agreement intended to convert nu-clear weapons
stockpiles to peaceful uses.
Chapman said Saturday was "a fun day" for
organizers to gather and familiarize themselves with the
Transporting nuclear material is very dangerous, Chapman
insisted. She suggested the material be "vitrified"
in a process that would seal it in a type of glass.
An accident could be catastrophic and there are risks that
terrorists might attempt to seize the radioactive material or
cause it to be dispersed, Chapman said. Citing a recent study
exposing the vulnerability of America's ports to terrorism,
Chapman said shipping extremely dangerous material though an
unsecured port makes no sense at all.
Mount Pleasant Attorney Stan Barnett, who has authored a
novel, "A Single Star," was on hand to discuss the
book and his fictional account of a South Carolina governor
who tries to block a shipment of nuclear material through the
The Department of Energy intends to ship the plutonium from
the Charleston Naval Weapons Station to France in July or
August, according to a federal document.
Plans call for the plutonium, stored at the Los Alamos
National Laboratory in New Mexico, to be shipped overland
aboard special armored trucks to the Naval Weapons Station on
the Cooper River.
From the weapons station, the plutonium then would be
loaded onto two armed ocean-going vessels bound for Cherbourg,
There, the powdered plutonium would be fabricated into
mixed oxide, or MOX fuel, at a special nuclear facility and
shipped back through the Lowcountry.
The fuel assemblies to be produced in France are expected
to come back through Charleston bound for Duke Energy's
Catawba reactor south of Charlotte.
Copyright © 2004, The
Post and Courier, All Rights Reserved.
|August 14, 2004
The Saturday Interview
Elite armed force stands firm after
Examining the new direction taken
to protect Britain’s energy industry
|NEXT month the United
States will quietly attempt to ship 140kg of weapons-grade
plutonium across the Atlantic to France. The controversial
shipments are likely to attract criticism from anti-nuclear
groups around the world.
The radioactive material — enough, critics say, for 50
or more nuclear weapons — will be carried by ships owned
by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) and be guarded by
Britain’s nuclear police force.
Since the September 11 attacks the possibility that fuel
shipments could be ambushed by terrorists has made the job
of guarding such cargos more critical than ever.
Bill Pryke, chief constable of the UK Atomic Energy
Authority Constabulary, will send at least 30 of his 613
officers to guard the ships en route to France. Pryke’s
police are leaders in their field who train with the Royal
Navy and the SAS. They know how to deal with pirates and
terrorists, how to survive in violent Atlantic seas when
washed overboard, and how to look menacing to
For years radioactive material that could potentially be
used in a dirty bomb — uranium and plutonium — has been
given an armed guard in transit by rail, road or sea.
Protesters in Cumbria refer to the officers who work the
BNFL ships as “sea plods”. In 1999 the sea plods helped
to guard mixed oxide (Mox) fuel on its way to Japan. The
next year, amid the glare of international attention, they
rode shotgun on the return journey.
When not on the road, the constabulary guards seven civil
facilities, including Sellafield, Europe’s biggest nuclear
facility, in Cumbria.
Next year, as part of a shake-up of the industry that was
given Royal Assent last month, the constabulary will become
an autonomous armed force with its own statutory police
authority. After almost 50 years of policing, it will be
independent of the nuclear operators — BNFL, Urenco and
the UK Atomic Energy Authority — who have, until now, paid
In future Pryke will report directly to Patricia Hewitt,
the Trade and Industry Secretary, and his force will receive
its instructions and budget from the Nuclear Decommissioning
Authority, the new clean-up body that is to take ownership
of Britain’s 21 principal nuclear facilities. The
force’s transformation will be complete when, on April 1
next year, it becomes the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.
Pryke says the change has been a long time coming. Six
years ago Antony Pointer, his predecessor, resigned after a
dispute over policing the Dounreay site in Caithness. At
issue was the balance between budgetary pressures and the
need for tight security. After resigning, Pointer told a
Commons committee that Britain urgently needed an
independent overview of nuclear policing.
The row became bitter, but marked a turning point for the
police force, Pryke says. “The organisation has really
moved on since then.”
Finally independent, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary — a
secretive and aggressive body, according to anti- nuclear
campaigners — will be required to be as open and
accountable as any other force.
Plutonium Uranium Mixed
Plutonium can be blended with uranium oxide to
form mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. In March 1999 Duke
Energy was awarded a U.S. Department of Energy contract to convert
plutonium from dismantled U.S. nuclear warheads into MOX fuel and
irradiate it in the Catawba and McGuire nuclear reactors. The
MOX nuclear-reactor fuel will be produced at the Savannah River
Site. The nuclear materials involved are principally highly
enriched uranium (HEU) --containing at least 20 percent 235U,
a fissionable uranium isotope--and plutonium. HEU can be
"blended down" with uranium that contains low
concentrations of 235U to produce low-enriched uranium
(LEU) containing up to 5 percent 235U. Both LEU and MOX
can be used as fuel in commercial nuclear power reactors. After
these fuels have been burned in power reactors, they are
discharged as spent fuel, which is highly radioactive and
difficult to use for weapons manufacture.
The MOX plan would rid the U.S.
and Russia, of several tons of plutonium used in nuclear
weapons. MOX fuel, which would contain surplus
plutonium, would be manufactured at SRS in a new plant being
designed by Duke
COGEMA. The proposed plant, to be completed in 2006, would
cost between $500 million and $700 million. The
plant would employ about 400 people at the federal nuclear-weapons
Two of Duke Energy’s MOX plants, known as Catawba One and Two,
are located in the vicinity of the Charlotte, North Carolina metropolitan
area--near Clover, South Carolina (AAEA President Norris McDonald once
lived in Clover). The other two facilities, known as McGuire One and Two,
are located near Huntersville, North Carolina
four nuclear units provide electricity to some two million
customers in a 22,000 square mile service area of the Carolinas.
The Duke reactors use a unique "ice condenser"
containment system. Containment systems are critical in preventing
catastrophic releases of radioactive materials during an accident.
The Catawba and McGuire facilities are among a handful of
pressurized water reactors worldwide with ice condenser
Ice condenser plants are equipped with channels filled
with blocks of ice that are supposed to cool any steam blasted
into them during a core melt accident. They condense the steam to
water, reducing the threat of containment rupture.
They are also required to have "hydrogen
igniter" systems that are intended to burn the large quantity
of hydrogen gas that would be generated in such an accident before
it reached an explosive concentration.
Fuel Services (NFS) is also a member of the Duke, COGEMA,
Stone & Webster (DCS) team which was selected by the DOE to
design, construct and operate a new Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication
Facility (MOX FFF) at the Savannah River Site, a $700 million
project. NFS is responsible for the design, support and operation
of safeguards and security systems for the new facility.
Recycling Nuclear Fuel Outside of
the United States
In 1999, two Beligian, three Swiss, ten German and seventeen
French reactors were burning MOX fuel, with plans for more to
begin soon. Electricite de France plans to license one additional
unit for MOX. Up to 50 European reactors are expected to be
burning MOX fuel by 2010; and Japanese reactors will be burning
MOX fuel by then as well.
consortium is building a MOX plant in Russia, particularly to
utilise weapons-grade plutonium (at 2 t/yr), and a similar plant
is proposed in the USA. These will enable ex military plutonium
from disarmament to be permanently destroyed as it is
"burned" in reactors. Russia already has a
facility for processing highly enriched uranium: Dimitrovgrad,
about 520 miles southeast of Moscow, home to a Russian processing
plant that specializes in converting weapons-grade uranium into
the variety used by commercial nuclear power plants.
The United Kingdom government has approved
operation of the controversial mixed oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel
manufacturing plant at Sellafield. Designed to turn uranium and
plutonium from spent fuel into new reactor rods, the MOX plant was
completed in 1996 but never started. British Nuclear Fuels
plc operates an 8tHM/yr plant at Sellafield and has completed
construction of a 120 tHM/yr MOX plant.
the COGEMAs plant at Cadarache can fabricate 30 tHM/yr of MOX
fuel. COGEMA and Framatome built the MELOX plant at Marcoule with
a capacity of more than 120 tHM/yr.
large Tricastin enrichment plant in France (beyond cooling
The four nuclear reactors in the foreground provide over 3000 MWe
power for the plant.
Belgium Belgonuclaires PO plant in Dessel has the capacity to
fabricate 35 MT heavy metal per year of MOX fuel and plans a P1
plant with the same capacity.
does not currently have an operating MOX fabrication plant. It
must rely on existing fabrication plants in Europe. Japanese
utilities routinely transport their used spent fuel to European
reprocessing plants, where it is separated into usable materials,
which are then fabricated into MOX fuel, and waste, which is
returned to Japan for ultimate disposal. Tokyo Electric Power
Corp. and Kansai Electric Power Corp. are burning MOX fuel. Kansai
is burning MOX and TEPCO is burning MOX in its Fukushima reactor.
Japan aims to have one third of its reactors using MOX by 2010,
and has approved construction of a new reactor which will have a
complete fuel loading of MOX.
Germany's Siemens plant at Hanau has a capacity of 30 tHM/yr but
in April 1994 announced plans to close it. Another plant there,
with a capacity of 120 tHM/yr, was 95 percent completed by 1994.
Political and legal opposition have hampered Germanys
Power Coordination Council approved plans to construct the world's
first reactor to utilize 100 percent MOX fuel Aug. 3, 1999. The
approval will allow the Electric Power Development Co. to begin
building the advanced boiling water plant in Aomori prefecture in
2000. The plant is scheduled to begin operations in July 2007.
In every nuclear
reactor there is both fission of isotopes such as uranium-235, and
the formation of new, heavier isotopes due to neutron capture,
primarily by U-238. Most of the fuel mass in a reactor is U-238.
This can become plutonium-239 and by successive neutron capture
Pu-240, Pu-241 and Pu-242 as well as other transuranic or actinide
isotopes. Pu-239 is fissile, like U-235. (Very small quantities of
Pu-236 and Pu-238 are formed similarly from U-235.)
the fuel being changed every three years or so, most of the Pu-239
is "burned" in the reactor. It behaves like U-235 and
its fission releases a similar amount of energy. The higher the
burn-up, the less plutonium remains in the spent fuel, but
typically about one percent of the spent fuel discharged from a
reactor is plutonium, and some two thirds of the plutonium is
Pu-239. Worldwide, almost 100 tonnes of plutonium in spent fuel
arises each year.
A single recycle
of plutonium increases the energy derived from the original
uranium by some 17%, and if the uranium is also recycled this
becomes about 30%.
The first step is separating the plutonium from the remaining
uranium (about 96% of the spent fuel) and the fission products
with other wastes (together about 3%). This is undertaken at a
The plutonium, as
an oxide, is then mixed with depleted uranium left over from an
enrichment plant to form fresh mixed oxide fuel (MOX, which is UO2+PuO2).
MOX fuel, consisting of 7% plutonium mixed with depleted
uranium, is equivalent to uranium oxide fuel enriched to about 4.5%
U-235, assuming that the plutonium has about 60- 65% Pu-239. If
weapons plutonium were used (>90% Pu-239), only about 5%
plutonium would be needed in the mix.
reprocessed fuel is usually fabricated into MOX as soon as possible
to avoid problems with the decay of short-lived isotopes of Pu. In
particular, Pu-241 decays to Am-241 which is a strong gamma emitter,
giving rise to a potential occupational health hazard if the
separated plutonium over five years old is used in a normal MOX
plant. While fast neutron reactors allow unlimited recycle of
plutonium, since all isotopes there are fissionable, in thermal
reactors isotopic degradation limits the plutonium recycle
potential. Along with about 40% Pu-239, there may be 32% Pu-240, 18%
Pu-241, 8% Pu-242 and 2% Pu-238.
from a reprocessing plant is re-enriched on its own for use as fresh
fuel. Because it contains some neutron-absorbing U-234 and U-236,
the enrichment level is slightly greater than for mined uranium
providing equivalent fuel.)
The use of MOX does
not change the operating characteristics of a reactor, though the
plant must be designed or adapted slightly to take it. More control
rods are needed. For more than 50% MOX loading, significant changes
are necessary in reactor design.
With low uranium
prices, reprocessing to separate plutonium for recycle as MOX is not
itself economic, but coupled with reducing the volume of spent fuel
to be managed, it becomes so.
At present the
output of reprocessing plants exceeds the rate of plutonium usage in
MOX, resulting in inventories of plutonium in several countries.
These stocks are expected to reach nearly 200 tonnes before they
start to decline after 2005 as MOX use increases. By 2010 production
and use of plutonium in MOX are expected to be more in balance, with
MOX supplying about 5% of world reactor fuel requirements.
Sources: Multiple Internet Sites
Taken from: http://groups.msn.com/AAEA/mox.msnw
BARROW ships sail into a
worldwide nuclear storm
TWO BARROW nuclear ships guarded by
“sea plods” are set to be at the centre of a world nuclear storm.
They will sail to the USA next month to pick up a controversial
consignment of former nuclear weapons plutonium.
The ships, Pacific Teal and Pacific Pintail are each armed with two
military cannon and will be manned by Atomic Energy Authority police
sharpshooters — dubbed sea plods by anti-nuclear groups.
The police officers, some of them from Sellafield will guard the American
consignment which is a flask containing 140kg of weapons grade plutonium
— enough critics claim to make about 50 nuclear bombs.
It will be taken to France for it to be turned into mixed oxide fuel.
Anti-nuclear protestors staged a demonstration at Barrow Docks in 2002
when the two vessels were last used to transport radioactive mox fuel
back to Barrow after it had been rejected by the Japanese authorities.
Anti-nuclear campaigners are predicting the ships and the consignment
could run into serious opposition from opponents in France.
The Barrow ships will later return the plutonium as fuel assemblies to
the USA where it will be tested in a nuclear power station.
The controversial shipments are likely to attract criticism from
anti-nuclear groups around the world including Cumbrians Opposed to a
Since the September 11 attacks the possibility that fuel shipments could
be ambushed by terrorists has made the job of guarding such cargos more
critical than ever before.
France's nuclear energy company denies shipment
is US military plutonium
CHERBOURG, France, Aug 16, 2004 (AFP) - France's state-owned
Areva nuclear energy company denied Monday that a truckload of
plutonium it was sending to a subsidiary in Belgium was US military
grade, as the environmental group Greenpeace claimed.
"It's not plutonium from the US disarmament plan,"
an Areva executive, Thierry Langlois, told AFP. He described the
plutonium as civilian grade.
In a statement earlier Monday, Greenpeace said the truck,
which left an Areva factory in La Hague in western France for Dessel
in Belgium, was carrying plutonium left over from American Cold War
stocks that are being reduced.
The group said it would escort the truck and warn residents
along the roads of the radioactive cargo.
Langlois criticised the Greenpeace statement, adding
"these civilian transportations have been going on for more
than 15 years" and all safety requirements were being met.