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Apr 11/00 - Mazda to join Daimler in renewable fuel cell car project.


TOKYO -- Japanese carmaker Mazda Motor Corp said on Monday it is to join in a project that is developing vehicles powered by fuel cells along with a Japanese unit of Daimler-Chrysler AG and Nippon Mitsubishi Oil Corp.

Mazda said it will join a test run of fuel cell vehicles planned for early 2001 in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, by Daimler Chrysler Japan Holding Ltd and Nippon Mitsubishi Oil.

Such vehicles, powered by electricity generated by hydrogen or methanol, have low-level emissions and are regarded as quiet and energy-efficient. Last October, Daimler Chrysler's Japanese unit and Nippon Mitsubishi started working together in Japan to promote fuel cell vehicles.

Mazda, Japan's fifth-largest automaker, said it would be the second time it had participated in a project to develop fuel-cell vehicles. In 1998, Mazda joined the alliance to develop the technology, which was established by Ford Motor Co, which owns a 33 percent stake in Mazda, Daimler Chrysler and Canada-based fuel-cell maker Ballard Power Systems Inc.

On the Tokyo Stock Exchange, Mazda ended four yen or 1.15 percent lower at 344. Nippon Mitsubishi Oil was down 18 yen or 4.62 percent at 372.

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Apr 11/00 - Study shows high risk from low-level radiation exposures.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

by Tom Paulson

Hanford study finds high risk in low radiation
Exposed workers died of cancer

Hanford Nuclear Reservation workers [in Washington State] exposed to what is considered safe levels of radiation still died from cancer at higher rates, a North Carolina scientist has determined.

The findings by Dr. Steve Wing, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, suggest the federal standard for radiation exposure may be inadequate.

Wing found increased deaths from multiple myeloma, a relatively rare blood disease, among workers at Hanford and three other nuclear facilities. "In our study, none of the multiple myeloma cases had a dose record that exceeded the federal standard," Wing said.

His findings were reported in this month's Annals of Epidemiology.

The current occupational standard for radiation exposure per year is five rem (a unit measuring full-body exposure), set by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The average person is exposed to natural "background" radiation ranging from one-tenth to one-third of a rem per year.

Larry Elliott, chief of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health division responsible for monitoring nuclear plant workers, said the agency has dozens of studies underway to determine if the exposure standards need revision.

"One study is not going to be definitive," Elliott said. However, he said Wing's findings are supported by similar results from other research projects.

Wing and his colleagues looked at nearly 500 people who work or had worked at four different U.S. Department of Energy nuclear plants: Hanford near Richland, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and Savannah River in South Carolina.

In January, after decades of secrecy and denials about health hazards at nuclear plants, the Department of Energy publicly acknowledged that many of its workers were made ill by exposure to radiation.

The general results of many studies like Wing's were made known to workers, but the details were not published. The agency has since supported further research and promised to compensate the workers.

Wing looked at the radiation exposure histories of 98 workers who died from multiple myeloma and compared them with 391 age-matched other workers selected randomly from 115,143 people hired before 1979.

Wing's team found that people who had higher exposures to radiation -- even if within accepted standards -- were at higher risk for the cancer. Older workers with five rems or more were 3.5 times more likely to die from multiple myeloma than other workers.

Male workers died at twice the rate of female workers; those hired before 1948 also died at twice the rate of workers hired after 1948; and blacks, though few in number in this work force, were five times as likely to develop the cancer, the study showed.

NIOSH sponsored Wing's study because of previous research done at Hanford suggesting a link between multiple myeloma and higher doses of occupational radiation exposure.

Both Elliott and Wing said the primary problem with radiation exposure standards is they are largely based on studies of survivors of the atomic bombs in Japan.

"That's a whole different type of exposure than we're talking about in the workplace setting," Elliott said. "Not much is known about occupational exposure to radiation and its relationship to cancer."

Wing said his study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests chronic exposure to even low levels of radiation may pose a cancer risk.

But not everyone agrees, he said. "Some people even think a little radiation is good for you," Wing said.

The bottom line, he said, is we don't know much about low-level, chronic radiation exposure in the workplace because there's so little data on it.

"There are exposures to ionizing radiation in lots of industries but there are very few situations where people actually . . . monitor their exposure, " Wing said.

The newfound willingness of the Department of Energy to participate in research into this potential hazard, Wing said, likely will benefit many people beyond nuclear plant workers.

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Apr 04/00 - Fear of backlash: irradiated beef faces slow rollout to public.


by Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY -- Fearful of a negative public backlash, food companies and retailers are moving slowly to introduce irradiated ground beef products to store shelves, despite government approval granted in February, industry executives said on Monday.

While public opinion polls show that consumers are eager for safer meat products, there are a host of fears to overcome when it comes to the benefits of irradiation techniques, a group of industry players told Reuters at the 2000 Meat Marketing Conference held in Kansas City.

"There is a highly charged atmosphere around this issue," said Pete Ellis, chief executive of Food Technology Service Inc., a Florida-based irradiation company for the food market.

"Everybody will tell you they are interested in doing this [marketing irradiated beef], but they don't want to be first, they want to be a fast second."

Irradiation techniques, which beam varying levels of [atomic] radiation through food to kill illness-causing bacteria, can vastly reduce the number of people who suffer sickness or even death after eating meat tainted with E.coli, listeria and salmonella, proponents say.

About 5,000 people die annually from eating contaminated foods, so irradiation should be readily embraced, they say. Instead, the proponents say, large food companies and government health officials are dragging their feet in rolling out marketing and consumer education programmes necessary to advance irradiated meat into the marketplace. Fear of inciting public opposition such as has been seen with protests against genetically modified food products are a factor.

"It's frustrating," said Ellis. "Everybody needs to be proactive, but it's not happening."

One notable exception is Wal-Mart Stores Inc. , which plans to test-market irradiated ground beef in its stores to determine consumer demand and the premium they would pay.

Wal-Mart executives announced the move in late February, and most retailers are content to let Wal-Mart lead the way, said Clemens Markets meat merchandising manager Al Kober.

Clemens operates a chain of Pennsylvania retail outlets. "We're waiting to see the response they (Wal-Mart) get from consumers," Kober said.

On the processing front, Colorado Boxed Beef Co. developed an assortment of introductory irradiated beef products that it plans to roll out in limited areas in Florida this month.

In addition to questions about consumer willingness to absorb added costs -- about 3 to 8 cents per pound with irradiation, according to industry estimates -- those marketing meat to consumers must overcome vague fears that radiation may be harmful when the meat is eaten, said the industry leaders.

Required labeling declaring the meat to have undergone radiation is not considered helpful in dispelling consumer fears, and needs active promotion before consumers will see the new label as a food safety sign, the industry players said.

Still, with an increasing consumer outcry for safer food products, irradiated beef will likely make up at least 15 percent of the ground beef market within three years, the industry group projected.

"The (irradiation) process takes care of all major pathogens responsible for food safety problems," said Joseph Borsa, product manager for Canada-based MDS Nordion, an international radiation technology company with a majority stake in Food Technology Service. "This is a premium product."

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Apr 05/00 - Belarus wants bigger slice of Chernobyl cleanup aid.


MINSK -- Belarus, which bore the brunt of the fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, said on Tuesday it wants more of the aid aimed at clearing up the disaster's aftermath.

One of Chernobyl's reactors exploded in 1986, spewing huge clouds of radioactive dust over neighbouring Belarus, Russia and other parts of Europe.

A quarter of Belarus was contaminated after the disaster and tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes.

"These funds should be distributed in proportion to the level of radioactive contamination," Ivan Kenik, head of Belarus's state committee on liquidating the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, told a news conference.

"The data show that 70 percent of the radioactive fallout fell on Belarus."

Kenik said the G-7 group of the world's leading industrialised nations was expected to grant $700 million to fund the shutdown of the station. Ukraine has decided to stop the plant's last working reactor this year.

One to two percent of the aid would be used to finance humanitarian projects, including in Belarus, Kenik said.

"We are glad the G-7 has decided to fund projects in Belarus and not only to support Ukraine in closing the Chernobyl station," he said. "One should not forget two million Belarussians who suffered in the disaster."

Other international bodies also continue to donate funds to the region to deal with the impact of the disaster.

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Apr 05/00 - Two Japan reactors malfunction but no radiation leak.


TOKYO -- Malfunctions forced Japan to shut down two of its nuclear reactors this week, officials said on Tuesday, but no radiation was leaked and the incidents were considered minor in Japan's accident-plagued nuclear programme.

A spokesman for Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC) said a problem was detected at the 165,000-kilowatt Fugen advanced thermal reactor while it was being restarted after undergoing regular maintenance from March 11.

A monitoring panel showed some controlling rods in an incorrect position at Fugen, in Fukui prefecture on the Japan Sea coast, but the spokesman reported no immediate electricity supply disruptions.

The second reactor, the Joyo experimental reactor in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, suffered from a controlling rod malfunction, the spokesman said. It does not supply any electricity to a power company.

Controlling rods are used to control power output levels at the reactors.

He said that they were looking into the cause of the incidents which had forced JNC to manually stop operations of both reactors on Monday.

State-run JNC expects to be able to restart Fugen relatively soon, but it was unclear when it would be able to restart Joyo. Fugen is Japan's only reactor using heavy water as moderator, and it is designed to use both uranium and plutonium as fuel.

Public anger after several major accidents at nuclear facilities over the past five years, including Japan's worst-ever accident that killed one uranium plant worker in September, has caused delays in the government's nuclear programme.

Japan has 51 reactors supplying about one third of the country's electricity needs.

JNC's third nuclear reactor, the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, also located in Fukui Prefecture, remains shut since a December 8, 1995 accident when it suffered a massive sodium coolant leak.

State-run JNC was launched in October 1, 1998, taking control of the three core fields of research and development that were previously run by the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp (PNC), which came under fire for mismanagement.

The three core fields are fast-breeder reactor construction and operation technology, technology for disposing high level radioactive nuclear waste, and spent nuclear fuel reprocessing technology.

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Mar 28/00 - UK's renewable energy initiative seen boosting wind power.


LONDON -- Britain is Europe's windiest nation but lags behind continental neighbours in harnessing its wind power largely because of local planning objections.

But a government initiative could provide a much needed boost for the industry by making local authorities responsible for renewable energy schemes, say wind power developers.

"We see this as a positive part of the process ... it will encourage more local ownership, everyone will have to contribute to government renewable targets," said David Still, head of Border Wind, which is part of a consortium currently building the world's tallest wind turbines off UK's north east coast.

Environment minister Nick Raynsford said earlier this month he wants all UK regions to have drawn up proposals on developing renewable energy in their local areas by the end of 2000. The government wants 10 percent of all electricity to be green by 2010.

Planning backlash

In the late 1980s and early 1990s nascent wind power won admirers and of the 12 large-scale wind farms that went before planning inquiries between 1991 and 1993, nine won approval. But a backlash slowly developed. Critics argued that the giant turbines standing several hundred feet high were eyesores, noisy and dangerous for birds.

Local planning authorities reacted to local concerns and since 1994, of the 18 wind farm proposals that have gone before planning inquiries only two have been granted the go-ahead. The new initiative which puts the responsibility and decision making with local authorities should encourage regional planning committees to grant approval, said Alison Hill, head of communications at the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).

Hill said one regional development body had already requested to join the BWEA. The new government policy will not end opposition from local residents but may help influence local government decisions. Experts believe wind power's real potential is likely to be realised with large-scale offshore wind farms which attract less opposition and where winds are stronger and more consistent. "Huge volumes of electricity from offshore are tantalizingly close," said BWEA's chief executive Nick Goodall.

Some projections indicate wind power could provide up to 40 percent of Britain's electricity needs. The high cost of offshore developments will fall as more are built and technology improves, say wind power supporters. They point to Denmark as their inspiration. The country has embraced wind with enthusiasm and it currently provides 10 percent of its electricity. By 2030 the target is 50 percent.

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Mar 28/00 - Sweden sees biomass partly replacing nuclear power.


STOCKHOLM -- Biomass is the strongest contender to replace nuclear power in Sweden although it can't fill the power vacuum on its own, the head of Sweden's National Energy Administration said.

"Biomass is by far the strongest alternative to nuclear power today," Thomas Korsfeldt, chief executive at the administration, told Reuters. He said the use of biomass was expected to increase in the future but that no single alternative could replace the reduced power should Sweden decide to close a 600-megawatt nuclear reactor in 2001.

"Biomass stands for 92 terawatt hours (TWh) of Sweden's 480 TWh energy production and it could be increased by 40-50 TWh without harming the environment," he added.

Biomass power is generated through burning bark, straw, rice husks and wood chips and accounts for 19 percent of the energy produced in Sweden and is used for district heating and electricity production.

Sweden closed its first reactor in November last year in line with a decision to phase out nuclear power. It has decided to come up with a four-TWh solution to agree to close a second reactor in 2001.

It wants to replace the estimated four-TWh electricity losses with renewable energy such as wind, solar, biomass and small hydro power. Korsfeldt said the debate on what alternatives could replace nuclear power was slightly warped because it focused on reduced electricity while the real issue was heating.

"The actual question is what will keep Sweden warm," he said. He said Sweden had a tradition of electricity heating but that the country was researching new alternatives such as wind power, biomass and solar energy.

But Korsfeldt said finding alternative energy sources was not the final solution. New technology would contribute to increasing efficiency, distribution and use of energy, reducing energy needs and losses.

"Future energy use will be about designing energy infrastructure to regions," he said, adding "Use of energy will become more efficient as we adjust it to local preconditions." In a longer perspective, Korsfeldt said artificial photosynthesis could be an interesting option. "If we crack that nut we have solved the whole energy problem," he said.

Sweden plans to close all of its 11 reactors but there is no set date for a complete phase-out.

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Mar 29/00 - Canada fails to formulate a plan to fight global warming.


VANCOUVER -- Canada stumbled in its fight against global warming yesterday, with Quebec walking out of negotiations on how the provinces and the federal government should share the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada has agreed to cut emissions under the 1997 Kyoto accord, but a national plan to meet that commitment remained illusive [elusive?] after two days of talks by environment and energy ministers from the provinces and federal government.

The ministers, without Quebec, agreed to meet again later in the year, but the country's federal environmental minister acknowledged Canada risked going into the next high-level international meeting on global warming without a plan.

"We are on schedule, but I would not be the first to say that we're on a very tight schedule," David Anderson told reporters in Vancouver, where the ministers met behind closed doors. An international conference on climate change is scheduled for November in The Hague, Netherlands.

The debate within Canada on sharing the burden for reducing pollution mirrors arguments on the international stage with industrial provinces, Ontario in particular, pitted against provinces with lower emissions.

Quebec wants the other provinces to give it credit for producing almost all its electricity from hydro-electric dams, and use an emissions credit trading system similar to that under consideration by European nations. "We think that it's not for one province to do all the work," Quebec Environment Minister Paul Begin told reporters, after leaving the meeting nearly two hours before the other ministers emerged.

Anderson said Ottawa is more interested in having any trading of emission credits done among polluting and non-polluting industrial sectors rather than being based on political boundaries.

Environmentalists said Canada, which prides itself as a leader in the world environmental debate, risked losing credibility in international talks on global warming by failing to enact a national plan to reduce greenhouse gases. "What it says to (other countries) is we're not very serious," said Robert Hornung of the Alberta-based Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, which does studies on climate change issues.

Environmentalists at the meeting said they did not necessarily agree with Quebec's proposal on who should get emissions credits, but praised it for pushing Canada to get a national plan quickly.

Canada agreed in the Kyoto accord to cut its greenhouse emissions in the period between 2008 and 2012 to 6 percent below its 1990 level. Because its emissions have continued to grow since the pact was signed, Canada will actually have to cut them by more than 25 percent to meet that target.

Anderson said the Vancouver meeting had never been expected to produce a final plan, and the provinces would meet again in the fall and produce a "business strategy" that could be used to form a national plan.

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Mar 30/00 - Russian environmentalist Nikitin angry over legal delays.


MOSCOW -- Lawyers for a Russian anti-nuclear activist criticized a decision by the Supreme Court yesterday to delay a hearing into his long-running case.

The hearing had been due to review a decision by a court in St Petersburg, which freed activist Alexander Nikitin after dismissing treason charges brought against him by the FSB domestic security service.

The hearing was delayed at the request of the General Prosecutor's office, Russia's top prosecuting body, which said it wanted to be involved in the case given its importance. "This is not only senseless, this is a political action which harms Russia's interests," Nikitin's lawyer, Yuri Schmidt, told reporters.

Nikitin was arrested in 1996 after making public information about radioactive pollution in the Arctic Sea through the Norwegian environmental group Bellona. He was held for 10 months before being released to face trial.

"The General prosecutor's office had three months, now they ask for two more weeks. They remind me of a bad schoolboy, who is short of two hours before an examination", said Nikitin.

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Mar 31/00 - Swiss group starts solar energy exchange for home users.


ZURICH -- A Swiss group has started a solar energy exchange for domestic retail customers and has plans to start two more, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

A bank of solar panels on top of a school in Nidau is able to produce 45,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year and people in the village can buy the power on the exchange.

The price of solar power is around one franc per kWh compared to a price for conventional power of 0.20/0.25 francs. Retail customers prepared to pay the higher price for environmental reasons do so over and above their normal electricity bill and the Nidau utility takes the power from the solar energy collector.

The spokeswoman said there were plans to start a similar project in Basel and, later, a bigger project in the Swiss capital of Berne.

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Mar 31/00 - Analysis: Closing UK's plute plant is not a simple option.


by Matthew Jones

LONDON -- A campaign to close British Nuclear Fuels Limited's troubled Sellafield [plutonium] reprocessing plant is gathering pace but experts say shutting down the multi-billion pound facility would not be an easy thing to do.

"Shutting Sellafield is not the same as shutting a car factory," said utilities analyst Nigel Hawkins at Williams de Broe.

Over the last few months BNFL has suffered a catalogue of disastrous safety scares that have angered important customers.

Japan, Germany, Switzerzland and Sweden have all banned trade with BNFL because the company falsified MOX nuclear fuel [quality assurance] data.

Opposition to the state-owned group [BNFL] is also growing in the U.S. where waste clean-up contracts worth nearly $7 billion are under increased scrutiny.

The British government on Wednesday ruled out a planned 1.5 billion pound 49 percent selloff of BNFL until late 2002 at the earliest and said the group's recent tarnished record meant the much anticipated part-privatisation may never happen.

Ireland and Denmark have called for Sellafield's closure on environmental grounds. Danish and Irish environment ministers met this week in Dublin to discuss ways of pressuring London to shut Sellafield.

Several British newspapers have also joined in the call for dismantling the facility in Cumbria, northern England. "International treaties may force Sellafield's closure," is one of many recent headlines in Britain's Guardian newspaper while a leading article in the Independent said nuclear reprocessing was "unnecessary" and "unsafe."

Closure would be expensive

Sellafield, once known as Windscale, is a collection of nuclear facilities dating back to the 1940s. Although it once boasted Calder Hall, the world's first commercial nuclear power station [which] opened in 1956, its core operation today is a plant called THORP [Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant].

Conceived in the 1970s and started up in the early 1990s at a cost of nearly two billion pounds THORP reprocesses spent uranium reactor fuel [irradiated fuel from commercial nuclear power plants].

During reprocessing highly toxic plutonium is extracted. Critics say the plutonium has no useful purpose and that continued reprocessing will only add to an existing 50-tonne stockpile.

"One would not choose now to build THORP but the reality is it is here," said Hawkins, adding that getting rid of it would be very expensive.

Estimates vary as to how much it would cost to decommission THORP although all agree it would be many million pounds. A closure would also seriously dent BNFL's revenue since THORP generates between 25-30 percent of its 1.5 billion pound turnover and boasts an order book of 12 billion pounds.

These reprocessing contracts with foreign utilities might be extremely difficult to break or prohibitively expensive to do so.

On Thursday BNFL chairman Hugh Collum told the House of Commons select committee on Trade and Industry that any change in the terms of the contract between the group and foreign utilities would require government intervention.

Technical difficulties

William Walker, a nuclear author and professor of international relations at the University of St Andrews said a major hurdle to closing Sellafield is a technical one and could affect Britain's electricity production.

The only outlet for spent fuel from BNFL's eight aging Magnox power stations is B-205, a reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

If B-205 were shut Magnox power stations would be unable to operate because there are currently no means of storing their spent fuel, according to BNFL.

Reprocessing is the only proven way of dealing with waste fuel, said BNFL spokesman Alan Hughes. Shutting THORP would not solve the problem of what to do with the stockpile.

Walker said reprocessing should be stopped and the option of long-term secure storage [of irradiated fuel] considered. Gordon Mackerron, an economist at Sussex University agreed since he believes BNFL would make more money storing foreign spent fuel than reprocessing it.

But, attempts in the mid-1990s to build a deep underground repository, Nirex, failed because local planners objected. In addition the government does not permit BNFL to store spent waste after reprocessing; it has to be returned [to the country from which it came].

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Mar 31/00 - Japan firm involved in nuke plant accident loses license.


TOKYO -- The Japanese government withdrew the business license of a uranium processing plant operator on Tuesday after the country's worst nuclear accident occurred at one of its plants last September.

An official at the Science and Technology Agency said it had revoked the business license of JCO Co indefinitely following investigations into the accident, in which 440 people were exposed to radiation and one later died.

It was the first time a firm has had its license taken away under Japan's nuclear regulatory laws, Kyodo news agency said.

The accident was triggered when JCO workers put nearly eight times the proper amount of condensed [should read "enriched"] uranium into a mixing tank at a processing plant in Tokaimura, about 140 km (90 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

JCO officials have said the company illegally revised a government-approved manual to allow its workers to use buckets instead of a pump to transfer the [enriched] uranium solution into the mixing tank.

The Science and Technology agency official said the agency's decision was based on JCO's long-term use of unauthorized methods in processing nuclear fuel, such as the use of buckets [to handle enriched uranium], which violated specific provisions of the nuclear regulatory law.

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Mar 31/00 - Germany orders checks on plutonium fuel supplied by Cogema.


Story by Mark Joh

BERLIN -- Germany said on Thursday it had ordered safety checks on [plutonium-based] nuclear fuel supplied to its reactors by France's Cogema after the firm said software problems at one of its plants meant quality controls went unrecorded.

Cogema denied a report that its controls were lax but said some quality statistics on the so-called MOX (mixed oxide fuel) pellets supplied by its Cadarache plant in southern France had not been registered because of the software failure.

A German Environment Ministry spokesman said authorities in the three states where reactors had been supplied with nuclear fuel by Cogema -- Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria and Lower Saxony -- had been asked to conduct their own checks on the fuel.

"It's hard to say anything until we get the results of the studies next week," the spokesman said. "So far, there have been no indications of quality failings".

Concerns about the safety of the nuclear industry have been prompted by a scandal over falsified safety data on [plutonium-based] nuclear fuel shipments from the Sellafield plant of British Nuclear Fuel Ltd (BNFL), a main European rival of Cogema.

The French chapter of environmental group Greenpeace demanded a thorough inquiry into the Cogema incident, which it said raised wider concerns about the production of [plutonium-based] MOX fuel.

Second Check Went Unrecorded

Responding to an article in British newspaper The Financial Times, a spokesman for state-owned Cogema said a recent audit had shown a software failure had led to a lapse in the records of quality control statistics at the Cadarache plant.

"The problem had nothing to do with production or quality control. All pellets have been checked one by one," he said.

After a first check on every pellet, a sample is taken for a second check. The Cogema spokesman said the quality control software had failed to register some data of this second check.

Cogema's clients had been informed and another audit was carried out with the Bavarian power company Bayernwerk, which had confirmed that quality control was not in doubt, he said.

German industrial giant Siemens, which conducts fuel purchases for Bayenwerk, said last week apparently only 60 pellets in a shipment late last year were listed as having gone through a second quality check rather than the normal 100.

Siemens said none of the square-centimeter-size 60 pellets, which are used to make fuel rods, showed defects and the software failure had not resulted in any technical problems. Germany, whose centre-left government is negotiating a gradual exit from nuclear power with the energy industry, has banned [plutonium-based] nuclear fuel shipments from Sellafield.

The environment ministry spokesman said it was still too early to assess the consequences of the Cogema incident. Yannick Rousselet, a spokesman for Greenpeace in France, said it showed that quality control measures at Cogema were deficient and called for an investigation.

"We demand the quick opening of an inquiry into the quality control for combustible [plutonium-based] MOX used in about 20 French nuclear reactors," he said.

He added that the Sellafield case, which cost BNFL chief executive John Taylor his job, "cast suspicion on all MOX production, either by BNFL or by Cogema."

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Apr 03/00 -Greenpeace says OECD study shows public at risk from reprocessing.


by Peter Starck

COPENHAGEN -- An unpublished OECD study on nuclear reprocessing backs a drive to suspend or shut down activity at Britain's Sellafield plant, the environment lobby Greenpeace said on Friday.

The findings of the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) draft report obtained by Greenpeace show that nuclear fuel reprocessing exposes the public to greater doses of hazardous radiation than storage, the lobby group, which has opposed reprocessing for two decades, said in a statement.

Denmark and Ireland are campaigning to halt activity at or to close down British Nuclear Fuels Limited's (BNFL) troubled Sellafield plant on England's northwestern coast, where it reprocesses uranium used as fuel in nuclear power plants.

But the head of communications at the Paris-based NEA, Jacques de la Ferte told Reuters that the study was unfinished, unapproved and unavailable until the end of May or early June. "I can't confirm what's in it," he said.

Greenpeace officials speaking at a news conference in Copenhagen declined to say how they had obtained the report. An independent expert, Gordon MacKerron of the Science and Technology Policy Research unit of the University of Sussex, told the news conference he had no doubt the report was genuine.

The NEA official warned the study was "a very complex report that studies various different cases of nuclear combustion and their effect on the environment, it needs to be talked about in a complete way".

According to Greenpeace, the fifth draft of the report, dated August 6, 1999, contained "key evidence which supports Denmark's international initiative to end nuclear reprocessing".

"Figures in the report show that ending nuclear reprocessing would significantly reduce discharges of nuclear waste into the North-East Atlantic region, and cut doses of radiation to the public," Greenpeace added.

Sellafield was discharging eight million litres of nuclear waste daily into the sea, and the seabed in the vicinity of the plant was so radioactive it should be classified as nuclear waste, Greenpeace UK Senior Scientist Helen Wallace said.

Health data showed excess levels of the deadly disease leukaemia among children near Sellafield and around a similar nuclear reprocessing plant at La Hague in western France run by state-owned Cogema, she said.

In the past few months, BNFL has suffered a series of disastrous safety scares, prompting the British government to rule out planned partial privatisation of the facility until late 2002 at the earliest, and possibly not at all.

Publication of the NEA report, originally requested in 1994 by the 15-nation Oslo-Paris Commission (OSPAR) on protecting the northeast Atlantic marine environment, had been repeatedly delayed, Greenpeace said.

"It is a scandal that this report has been delayed and kept hidden for so long," Wallace said, noting that Britain and France were OSPAR signatories.

The annual meeting of OSPAR will be held June 26-30 in Copenhagen. A resolution adopted two years ago said OSPAR would work towards "substantial reductions or elimination of discharges, emissions and losses of radioactive substances" by 2000, taking into account the results of the NEA report.

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Apr 03/00 - Japan nuclear plant stays open despite volcanic eruption nearby.


TOKYO -- The electric utility covering an island in northern Japan where a volcano erupted on Friday said its lone nuclear plant was operating normally, though some other power plants were closed and there had been several outages.

A spokesman for Hokkaido Electric Power Co Inc said its nuclear plant, with two 579,000-kilowatt (kW) reactors, was continuing uninterrupted as it was about 100 km (60 miles) away from the Mount Usu volcano.

The 732-metre (2,402 ft) volcano sent out a huge column of smoke and ash in its eruption on Friday, sending a flood of volcanic ash and rock towards a small nearby town. "We won't shut down the nuclear power plant unless the eruption gets worse," the spokesman said.

Most residents of areas where there had been outages had already been evacuated, he said.

The power outage involved less than one percent of the utility's power supplies, he said, and checks were being made to see how many households had been affected.

More than 10,000 people had been evacuated from the area after government warnings that the volcano was about to erupt.

Hokkaido Electric had closed several power plants near the volcano earlier in the week as a precaution after the warnings. The plants concerned had a total capacity of 725,000 kilowatts (kW).

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Mar 31/00 - Chernobyl reactor cuts oputput after safety-related malfunction.


KIEV -- The only working nuclear reactor at Ukraine's troubled Chernobyl station cut its capacity by 50 percent on Monday after the plant's safety system shut down one of its turbo-generators, an official said on Monday.

A spokeswoman for the state nuclear power company Energoatom told Reuters the accident had taken place on Monday at 2:59 a.m. (2359 GMT on Sunday). No increase in radiation levels was recorded. She said repairs would be completed by March 30.

Ukraine has promised to shut down Chernobyl station, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, in 2000 in return for Western funds to complete construction of two replacement reactors at its western Rivne and Khmelnytska plants.

The explosion and fire at Chernobyl's reactor number four in 1986 sent clouds of poisonous radioactive dust over neighbouring Russia and Belarus, where thousands of people have died, and across vast territories in Europe.

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Mar 31/00 - Chernobyl reactor to close by year-end: Ukraine's President Kuchma.


KIEV -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on Thursday reiterated official plans to shut down the troubled Chernobyl nuclear power plant by December this year.

"In line with a government decision, the Chernobyl nuclear station will be shut down no later than December 2000," Kuchma told reporters.

"Today I signed an order setting up a special expert commission which will thoroughly examine this issue, and then we will name the (closure) date."

Ukraine's nuclear officials said last week Chernobyl's only working reactor might be closed in November. The government said in an official statement on Wednesday that the accident-prone station would be closed by the end of 2000.

Chernobyl's number four reactor exploded in April, 1986, spewing a cloud of radioactive dust over Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and parts of Western Europe. Another reactor was halted in 1997 after it exceeded its safe lifespan and a fourth has not restarted since a 1991 fire.

"We should have no doubts that this station must be closed," Kuchma said. Before the reactor is stopped Ukraine expects guarantees of international assistance to close the plant, as well as to complete construction of two nuclear reactors at other stations to compensate for lost capacity at Chernobyl.

Ukraine signed a memorandum with the G-7 group of the world's leading industrialised nations in 1995, vowing to close Chernobyl by 2000 in return for $3 billion in assistance.

Fourteen years since the Chernobyl disaster, Ukraine, a country of 50 million people, still relies heavily on nuclear power which generates up to 45 percent of its electricity.

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Mar 31/00 -- Japanese nuclear industry group applies to reopen plutonium plant.


TOKYO -- A Japanese group applied on Monday to reopen a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant [for separating plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel] that has been closed since 1997 following a fire and explosion that exposed 37 people to radiation.

The state-run Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC) filed an application to reopen the plant at Tokaimura, also the site last year of Japan's worst nuclear accident at a different facility [in the same nuclear complex], Kyodo news agency said.

The application was filed with the Ibaraki prefectural government and the Tokaimura town council, the agency said.

The Ibaraki prefectural government plans to allow the institute to resume operations at the plant if it can ensure its safety and get the approval of the residents of Tokaimura, a mostly rural town some 140 km (90 miles) north of Tokyo, prefectural officials quoted by Kyodo said.

The Science and Technology Agency, which administers JNC, inspected the plant last November and said it could resume operations, Kyodo added, noting that a number of residents wanted the plant to remain closed.

Officials were not immediately available for comment. The plant was closed following a fire on March 11, 1997. An explosion nine hours after JNC reported the fire under control exposed 37 workers to radiation.

JNC had originally planned to submit its application in October, but was forced to abandon this when the nation's worst-ever nuclear accident took place in late September at a private nuclear re-processing plant also located in Tokaimura.

That accident, caused by workers putting seven times the proper amount of condensed [wrong word: should read "enriched"] uranium into a mixing tank, exposed 440 people to radiation, including one plant worker who later died and one who still remains hospitalized.

Workers, ignoring proper safety procedures, used a bucket to transfer [enriched] uranium and triggered a nuclear chain reaction that was ranked four out of seven on an international scale of nuclear accidents.

Despite the accident, the government says resource-poor Japan, whose 51 nuclear reactors provide about 30 percent of its energy needs, will forge ahead with its nuclear power programme, which calls for another 20 reactors to be build by 2010.

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Mar 27/00 -- Ireland and Denmark seek to halt British nuclear reprocessing.

Agence France Presse

by Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN -- Ireland and Denmark have agreed to a joint strategy to press for a halt to nuclear reprocessing at Britain's Sellafield complex, ministers said here Monday.

Denmark's Environment and Energy Minister Sven Auken said he had tabled a motion for a June meeting in Copenhagen of the OSPAR (Oslo/Paris) Commission.

The meeting will discuss the OSPAR convention, an international agreement on the marine environment signed in July 1998, which concerns discharges from nuclear installations.

Auken said the motion sought to suspend operations at Sellafield's reprocessing plant until it could be ensured there were no radioactive discharges into the sea.

Ireland, just across the Irish Sea from Sellafield on Britain's northwest coast, has long been pressing for the plant's closure, while Scandinavian countries say radioactivity from the plant has been detected off their shores.

Irish Energy Minister Joe Jacob said while Ireland fully supported Denmark's motion, it would also be tabling a more hardline proposal that seeks to shut Sellafield for good.

Jacob said he believed it marked "the beginning of the end for Sellafield".

Auken said he believed Iceland and Norway would support the suspension proposal and Sweden and Finland would give it serious consideration.

"The Nordic Ministers have consistently warned against reprocessing and we have felt a lot of solidarity with Ireland as the immediate neighbour of the installation," he said.

For the proposal to be accepted it must receive a majority of two-thirds of the 15 OSPAR members. But it will only be legally binding if Britain, as the country affected, also votes in favour.

Auken said even if Britain did not vote in favour, the motion would have a strong political impact.

"I think the British government is listening. I am very optimistic. They have taken a positive interest in finding a resolution to this," he said.

He said suspension of the reprocessing plant would affect about 1,400 jobs, but said: "We cannot have the principal of the protection of the environment of the high seas being subordinate to short-term job considerations.

"This is a real threat to the arctic environment, not only in terms of real dangers to the health, but also to the reputation of the catches of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands which are totally dependent on fisheries," he said.

The campaign will up the pressure on Sellafield, already reeling from a damning report last month which found that quality control data had been falsified at its MOX plant, which produces mixed uranium and plutonium oxide fuel rods.

British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), which runs Sellafield, has said it will resist attempts to suspend work at the re-processing plant, saying it was on course to meet international obligations to reduce discharges to "near zero" by 2020.

Since a daming report on the plant was released, Japan and Germany have banned imports of MOX fuel from Britain, while Switzerland has stopped sending waste for reprocessing -- moves which have put Sellafield's commercial future in doubt.

Police, meanwhile, are investigating sabotage at Sellafield, after cables were cut last month on robotic arms which handle nuclear waste.

Sellafield's woes appear to have stymied the British government's plans to privatise the state-run BNFL.

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Mar 24/00 -- US will review Nuclear Waste Incinerator Contract with BNFL.

Post Register,
Idaho Falls,

by Jennifer Langston

Review is ordered after Idaho Protests

The credibility problems facing one of the DOE's major contractors in England are having a ripple effect overseas.

Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson this week ordered a "top to bottom" review of British Nuclear Fuel Ltd. Inc.'s contracts in this country, including one to build a nuclear waste incinerator in Idaho.

He has promised to make a recommendation on the controversial treatment plant, which would repackage and burn nuclear waste stored at the INEEL so it can go to a permanent dump, by April 1.

Anti-nuclear, citizens and environmental groups on Thursday petitioned the DOE to cancel those U.S. contracts, based on problems that have surfaced at the company's Sellafield site in England.

In the last month, BNFL has been stung by critical reports from government regulators in England, which called safety conditions at the nuclear complex "barely tolerable."

Japan and Germany have also refused to accept any more reprocessed nuclear fuel shipments from the company, after learning that Sellafield workers had falsified data on 22 batches of fuel.

"You really can't make light of the fact that they falsified data," said Steve Hopkins, program assistant for the Snake River Alliance, one of 46 groups who signed the petition to bar BNFL from working in this country. "That's about the most serious thing you can do in science."

The petition accuses BNFL, which holds $9 billion in contracts to clean up Cold War waste for the DOE, of violating environmental laws in England and a pattern of deception.

In addition to the admitted falsification problems with nuclear fuel shipments, the petition details radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea that have closed beaches and contaminated marine life.

It also cites a British government report criticizing the company for allowing pigeons, which roost at the Sellafield site, to contaminate nearby property and gardens. Tests done by

environmental groups have shown the animals are radioactive enough to qualify as nuclear waste.

The company was also fined $32,000 by the British government in 1997 for "total disregard" of warnings about the need for urgent repairs on a bridge carrying its radioactive discharges to the ocean.

"These activities, which have jeopardized worker and community health and safety around the world, should disqualify BNFL from participating in any work in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex," the petition stated.

The Department of Energy had no comment on the petition, but said a team had been assembled to review the company's U.S. contracts and meet with British investigators.

"In light of recent events overseas, we are putting BNFL under extra scrutiny S to be sure that the problems uncovered at Sellafield don't exist at DOE sites," a department statement said.

BNFL won a $6.9 billion contract to treat extremely radioactive liquid wastes in Hanford's tank farms that threaten the Columbia River. A decision on whether to proceed with that project is due this year.

It also has a $238 million contract at Oak Ridge in Tennessee to dismantle and decontaminate equipment from unused uranium enrichment plants.

The DOE earlier this year suspended part of that contract to recycle the radioactive metals into everyday products like spoons, frying pans and dental braces, after the public and a federal court criticized the plan.

The DOE review, to be finished by May, will look at the BNFL's management and safety record at five sites, including the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, the department said.

BNFL said the company welcomed the review from the DOE, but called the petition to bar the company from holding U.S. contracts "a groundless and frivolous publicity stunt."

In a lengthy rebuttal released Thursday, BNFL acknowledged that mistakes were made at the Sellafield site and said it agreed with recommendations to improve its safety program.

It also said the company had reduced radioactivity in the waste released into the Irish Sea by 99 percent since the mid-1970s and had never violated permit levels set by the government.

The company also said no evidence of wrongdoing had been found in BNFL's American operations.

"If (the reviews) help ease DOE's concerns and move us beyond the misinformation of the special interest groups, it will be a positive step in finally moving these major projects to actually cleaning up the legacy wastes of the Cold War," the company said.

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