Reuters Environment News
PARIS - The French government said on Monday it would shut down its controversial Superphenix fast-breeder nuclear reactor, pulling the plug on an ill-fated, fault prone project.
At the same time, it said it would restart an older, smaller fast-reactor plant, named Phenix, to give France's Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) the chance to carry on research into radioactive waste management.
The twin decision was made at an interministerial committee meeting, chaired by Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. "This is a wise move which reaffirms France's commitment to a balanced energy policy," said the secretary of state at the industry ministry, Christian Pierret.
Ministers on Monday agreed to put aside some 500 million francs ($82.2 million) for research into renewable energies.
Jospin also called for studies to look at the best way to dispose of toxic waste from France's nuclear industry, although no decision was expected before 2006.
Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn told reporters it would take several years to dismantle the Superphenix reactor in southeast France, adding that the operation would cost 10.6 billion francs.
Superphenix was built in 1977 at a time when Paris concentrated on developing its nuclear industry to lessen the country's dependence on imported oil.
But since its inception, the plant has only served at full throttle for less than a year in all, and was shut down in July 1990 after a string of potentially dangerous leaks from its cooling system. After lengthy repairs, the reactor was restarted in 1994, but only for research purposes. When Jospin's government, which includes the Green party, took power last June it vowed to close the plant.
The formal decision to shut down the plant follows Britain's closure of its fast-breeder reactor at Dounreay three years ago. Germany and the United States have also pulled out of the sector.
However, residents of the Creys-Malville area near the doomed Superphenix reactor said Monday's decision would cost around 4,000 jobs, and called for an urgent meeting with Jospin to try to head off the closure.
The Phenix plant, completed in 1973, was the forerunner of the troubled 60 billion franc Superphenix reactor.
The CEA has spent 600 million francs in recent years on measures to improve safety at the site not far from Superphenix and hopes to operate the plant until 2004.
Although there has been bewilderment in some quarters about bringing back the Phenix plant which is older and five times smaller than Superphenix, nuclear experts say the research work was only possible at the smaller plant.
Reuters Environment News
PARIS - Environment Minister Dominique Voynet confirmed on Sunday the closure of France's Superphenix fast-breeder nuclear reactor, describing it as "the first real defeat of the nuclear lobby".
"The shut-down of Superphenix is an irreversible decision whose carrying out is difficult, both for dismantling the plant and for reconverting the site but it is the first real defeat of the nuclear lobby," he told a congress of his Greens party.
Residents of the Creys-Malville area near Grenoble in southeastern France have protested several times against the Socialist-led government's decision to close down the fault-prone reactor, citing job losses.
Last June, then newly elected Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said he would shut the controversial 60 billion franc ($10 billion) reactor, which has been downgraded from being a power plant to carrying out experiments on nuclear waste. An exact date for the end of such experiments has yet to be set.
Opponents say closing the reactor will cost around 1,000 jobs directly and some 3,000 jobs in related industries.
The fate of the reactor has pitted environmentalists against local people ever since it was built 20 years ago.
Reuters Environment NewsBy Vicki Allen
WASHINGTON - President Bill Clinton on Saturday unveiled a $6.3 billion plan to fight global warming with tax breaks for energy-efficient cars and buildings and more spending on research to further reduce heat-trapping industrial emissions.
The five-year package -- part of the budget plan the White House will release on Monday -- calls for $3.6 billion in tax credits to spur production and purchase of efficient products, and for $2.7 billion in new spending for research and development of cleaner technologies.
"This past December, America led the world to reach an historic agreement committing nations to reduce greenhouse gases through market forces, new technology and energy efficiency. We can do some things right here, right now, to show that America is doing its part," Clinton said in his weekly radio address.
The United States and other industrialized nations meeting in Kyoto, Japan, in December agreed to reduce their emissions from burning fossil fuels -- or "greenhouse gases" -- that are blamed for heating the atmosphere.
Clinton's plan to curb the nation's emissions, which is $1.3 billion larger than he originally proposed, is targeted to spur development and use of less polluting technologies.
At a briefing on Friday, White House officials said they expected Congress would readily accept the package, which they said was good for consumers, industry, and the environment.
But some congressional Republicans, who say the climate change treaty is potentially devastating to the U.S. economy, have promised a fight.
The White House plan calls for the following tax credits:
The $3,000 credit would start in 2000, then would be reduced to $2,000 in 2004 and $1,000 in 2005 before it was phased out. The $4,000 credit would start in 2003, then would be reduced gradually until it was phased out in 2010.
The credit would apply to cars, minivans, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and electric vehicles.
The plan also has credits for the electric power industry to spur investment in combined heat and power systems and to replace circuit breaker equipment that leaks a heat-trapping industrial gas, and it continues a tax credit for electricity produced from wind and biomass.
Research and development proposals are:
Reuters Environment News
LONDON - Commonwealth Caribbean countries on Saturday urged France, Japan and Britain not to consider any new contracts for reprocessing spent nuclear fuels.
High Commissioners from 12 Caribbean countries said these would be likely to lead to more dangerous shipments of spent nuclear fuel, high-level nuclear waste and weapons-usable plutonium through the Caribbean.
In a statement issued after their meeting in London, they said: "A shipment of vitrified nuclear waste may even now be approaching the Caribbean sea on its way from France to Japan.
"Despite promises, the shippers have refused to reveal the route of the deadly material," he added.
They said they were issuing a direct appeal to France, Japan and Britain because they had information that France's COGEMA and British Nuclear Fuels have been seeking new contracts from Japanese utility companies.
"Once these contracts are signed, shipments through the Caribbean are likely to continue and the safety of the Caribbean people, the fragility of the coral ecosystem and the economy of Caribbean countries will be threatened," they said.
Reuters Environment News
LONDON - A British environmentalist group on Friday criticised the government for obscuring the true cost of a plutonium reprocessing plant and said there was a risk Britain could turn into a nuclear dumping ground.
"If you take away the economic justification for the plant what real need is there? The UK will become a de facto dumping ground if the nuclear fuel reprocessing business is allowed to carry on", said Patrick Green at environmental group Friends of the Earth.
"It's disingenuous to claim MOX is commercially driven when it doesn't take account of the 300 million pound cost of building the plant," he added.
Green was commenting about a study into the economic viability of running a MOX (mixed oxide fuel) plutonium plant in northern England that projects profits of hundreds of millions of pounds.
PA Consulting, who wrote the report at the behest of the government's Environment Agency, refused to comment about why the construction cost of the MOX plant, which was completed in 1997, was not included in the profitability analysis.
The plant, built by BNFL (British Nuclear Fuels Ltd), forms part of the company's strategy to reprocess plutonium used at nuclear power plants which is mixed with uranium and turned into new fuel for power plants.
BNFL for their part have said the PA Consulting review was independent confirmation that MOX was economically viable giving an economic benefit of not less than 100 million pounds, and maybe exceeding 300 million with an average of 230 million pounds for the duration of the plant's lifetime.
Critics of the spent fuel recycling business say it loses its commercial attraction when construction and decommissioning costs are figured into economic models.
Environmentalist groups have opposed the use of reprocessing plants in Britain for nuclear waste from other countries.
"At the end of the year the government is to look at reprocessing, which is good news," said Green.
The Environment Agency has said objections to BNFL's MOX plans will be considered by the agency.
Reuters Environment News
Sixteen years ago Congress passed a bill that said the Energy Department would start moving the dangerous waste from power plants across the country to a central repository on January 31, 1998. But now the department has no plans to move the waste and no repository to receive it.
"Once default has occurred and damages are happening, the Energy Department every day is effectively running up a tab for Congress," said Mike McCarthy, administrator of the nuclear power industry's Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition.
Utilities were expected to file a spate of lawsuits next week, claiming damages for their costs of storing the wastes on site and for breach of contract.
The radioactive spent fuel now stored at power plants would fill a football field to a depth of nine feet (2.74 meters), according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's lobbying arm. The waste remains dangerous for tens of thousands of years.
Utilities have said total damages could exceed $50 billion if the accumulation of waste forces them to decommission nuclear plants ahead of schedule. By the end of this year, 27 plants say they will run out of room to stash the waste.
But nuclear utility opponents said such damage estimates were greatly exaggerated. They said the industry was using the weekend's deadline to try to scare Congress and the White House into a wrong move.
"That is a deadline in the minds of people, it's something that has been generated by the nuclear power industry," Sen. Harry Reid, whose state of Nevada is the only spot being considered for the radioactive waste dump, told Reuters.
Reid, a Democrat, and other Nevadans are fighting the nuclear industry's push to put a temporary dump for the waste at the site in Nevada once used for testing nuclear weapons. Another Nevada site, Yucca Mountain, is the only spot being considered for the permanent underground storage.
Nevadans who do not want their state turned into the nation's nuclear dump are backed by environmentalists who contend that the idea of trucking and railing through some densely populated areas is foolhardy.
U.S. President Bill Clinton opposes moving the waste to a temporary site, then moving it again to a permanent site.
Clinton has threatened to veto a bill that passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate to build the temporary dump in Nevada, but backers of the bill said they will push the measure again in coming weeks, and hoped to have votes to override a veto.
"The president's position is that it doesn't make sense to move the waste from where it is now until you know where the long-term storage facility is going to be," Deputy Energy Secretary Elizabeth Moler told a reporters this week.
If the Yucca Mountain is deemed suitable, it would not be ready to take waste until 2010, the Energy Department has said. If Yucca is unsuitable, the process could take far longer.
In the meantime, the department is trying to get deals with the utilities to minimize the government's liability.
"We the government have offered to the contract holders to work out solutions that will be equitable and fair so we can mitigate the harm caused by our delays," Lake Barrett, the Energy Department's acting director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, told Reuters.
Barrett said potential damages "is a very subjective question." But, he said, "If you say this is the straw that broke the camel's back on a power plant's viability, that can quickly run costs up into the billions of dollars."
In the first year, the government has contracts to move some 400 metric tons of waste out of the 37,000 tons that power plants have produced so far.
Nuclear power ratepayers have paid $14 billion into a federal trust fund that was to be used to build the permanent storage facility. So far, about $6 billion of that has been used at Yucca Mountain, and the rest for other purposes.
"When taxpayers hear the words 'trust fund' coming from Washington, they should grab their wallets," Thomas Schatz, president of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, said at a news conference Friday.
"Taxpayers will be left with a bailout of nuclear proportions" if the issue is not resolved, Schatz said.
Reuters Environment News
PANAMA CITY - A freighter carrying highly radioactive nuclear waste to Japan on a controversial journey from France will travel through the Panama Canal on Feb. 6, officials said on Friday.
"The ship will be arriving at the Atlantic entrance to the canal next Friday morning," said a spokesman for British Nuclear Fuels, which operates the ship.
The transit through the 50-mile (82-km) canal, one of the world's busiest waterways, was expected to take seven hours.
The British-flagged freighter Pacific Swan, which left the French port of Cherbourg last week, is carrying the third and largest load of highly radioactive waste to be shipped from Europe to Japan. It is expected to arrive in the Japanese port of Mutsu Ogawara in early March.
Panama Canal authorities said last week they would implement rigorous safety regulations for the ship's transit with 24 metric tons of reprocessed nuclear waste.
The French state-run reprocessing company Cogema said it had already carried out 160 shipments of spent nuclear fuel without any incident.
"The probability of an accident is practically zero," Cogema vice-president Jean-Claude Guais told reporters in Panama City on Thursday night.
Greenpeace and local environmentalist groups have said that the transit would endanger Panamanian lives.
But the Panama Canal Commission -- a U.S. federal agency which runs the canal -- says the canal is safe for journeys by ships carrying dangerous cargo.
"The greatest threat to the Pacific Swan transit is Greenpeace itself by, for example, trying to disrupt the transit," PCC safety official Charles Morris said.
Japan lacks the facilities for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and relies on Britain and France to do it. After reprocessing, the plutonium and radioactive waste must then be returned to Japan.
Reuters Environment News
WARSAW - Poland will donate $10 million to secure the weakening sarcophagus covering of the damaged fourth nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant, Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz told private radio Zet on Saturday.
"This decision was made earlier and shows our solidarity to such international iniciatives," Balcerowicz told the radio.
Balcerowicz added that the donation, made from the state budget, would also help boost Poland's image internationally.
The Chernobyl plant's fourth reactor, located in Poland's eastern neighbour Ukraine, exploded in 1986 and caused the world's worst civil nuclear accident, which spread radioactive cloud with disastrous environmental and human consequences.
Earlier this month officials said the protective shell of the fourth reactor was weakening but was not close to collapse.
Ukraine is pushing for the completion of two new nuclear reactors in the west of the former Soviet republic but has been frustrated in clinching foreign funding.
Ukraine says it needs $760 million for the job, which is expected to take a decade to complete. The Group of Seven (G7) rich industrial countries had earlier promised $300 million.