Archive for August, 2013

The Smelters approved at Pelindaba for NECSA and the flaws in the approval

August 25, 2013

At a public meeting in Centurion last November, NECSA (the Nuclear Energy Company of South Africa) presented a flawed and inherently weak case for the approval of the intended smelter (more than one was not mentioned).  Upon being questioned about costs and impacts, the presenter was unable to give the meeting any idea of costs involved and who would be paying for the construction of the smelter.  The impacts were dismissed as irrelevant, as they would add little to the ambient radioactivity in the surrounding communities.

However the meeting was promised that the costings would be released to everyone present.  To date, no such thing has happened.

On Saturday 17th August at the Public Safety Information Forum, The National Nuclear Regulator announced that construction of the two smelters and cold commissioning had been approved.

This flies in the face of the presentations done by concerned communities and NGOs last year.  The smelter technology relies on HEPA filters not permitting radioactive particulate matter into the air. However, it was presented at the meeting, that HEPA filters do not meet this requirement.  International research has proved that they do not and cannot:

We start with Marion Fulk’s affidavits on HEPA filters – he is a US nuclear scientist and whistle-blower. His affidavits from court appearances and background on the Tri-Valley CARES cases have been studied and prove that the filters do not work correctly or safely. 

Clearly Hepa filters are very good at removing certain particle sizes – providing conditions are correct and lifetimes are not exceeded.

Our main concern is that while HEPA filters remove approximately 99.97% of particles 0.3 microns or larger — there are TRILLIONS of particles in each cubic litre of air space.   Even though HEPA technology was specifically designed (in the 1950s) for removing radioactive particles from nuclear research labs, HEPA filters are only partially effective.  Particles that are smaller than about 0.3 microns go right through.  That’s one reason why radioactive elements are so dangerous — because these are released in the environment as individual atoms — not as a large particle of dust, or even as molecules.  They are too small to filter out. 

Finally to set the record straight – the failure of the smelter may be relatively localised in low wind conditions, although all radioactive substances will remain in our environment for ever, and are CUMULATIVE. The worst case scenario we referred to in our press release was a catastrophic failure at Pelindaba with Safari 1 and the spent fuel stored on site (Safari 1 is the oldest research reactor in the world that is still operating) The smelter may or may not be the catalyst in such an event, however, a failure of the smelter alone would be catastrophe enough…

And IMPORTANTLY: the NNR has IGNORED EVIDENCE and appears to HAVE FAILED IN ITS DUTY TO INVESTIGATE EVIDENCE IT SOLICITED IN THE Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and hearings process, and that it is playing with people’s lives by refuting, WITHOUT presenting evidence of its own, that it believes may credibly counter research presented to them, and the testimony of senior US nuclear scientists who risked their careers to come clean on the matter. These are strong points that need to be made!

Remember in all nuclear-related EIAs the environmental authority now rests solely with NNR as a result of its agreement with the Dept of Environment, so the public have no recourse unless the NNR is forced to justify itself, its actions and its licensing. Otherwise it is merely acting as a law unto itself, and above the law. This, clearly, is completely unconstitutional.

Into this scenario, we have to put the catastrophe at Fukushima.  This is now polluting the Pacific Ocean with 330 tonnes of radioactive water a day.  The Nuclear Industry has merely said that no deaths can be attributed to the explosions at Fukushima during the meltdown in February 2011.  This is where the Nuclear Industry has to be called to account, not only on Fukushima but also on Chernobyl.  The ongoing collateral damage from both incidents is discounted, just as the collateral damage from the dropping of the Atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima on the 6th August 1945. A well researched study by Russian scientists confirms that nearly one million people have or will die from the Chernobyl disaster.

A major HEPA filter failure also occurred in Turin in June 1998 and raised radiation levels to 1000 times greater than normal across France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Germany.  If required, we can compile a list of every HEPA filter failure.

The NECSA site at Pelindaba is less than 3 Kilometres from the boundary of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site, which is a major tourist attraction.  A proposed smelter 40 Kilometres from the Yellowstone National Park, which is also a World Heritage Site, was turned down.  Are South African World Heritage sites of less value than others in the world?

In addition, the Pelindaba site puts many communities at risk.  Movement out of a disaster impact requires that many residents have to exit past the site into order to reach “safety”.  This is direct violation of IAEA best practice.  Note the wording here, the IAEA does not regulate – it merely recommends best practice.  Based on Chernobyl, Fukushima, San Onofre and Sellafield, can we actually trust the Nuclear Industry to follow best practice?

Smelters are also in violation of IAEA best practice, as containment and not dispersal is considered to be preferable.  Radioactive metals and other waste are recommended to be encapsulated for least impact and greatest safety. Th proposed process by the NNR plans exactly the opposite – the smelted metal will be sold as “scrap” with no controls into the local market, so your home could contain radioactive metal goods in the future – toys, utensils, belt buckles, and more. The Uk had an incident where a belt buckle was radioactive, and had to be recalled – the USA (also this year) had an incident with meal tissue boxes, that were also recalled – how will we know about this in our country?

Based on the excluded cost of nuclear, which are to be another posting, we are dealing with an industry which has no concern for human life, economics or ecosystems, and is totally self-absorbed, a law unto itself.

The Smelters approved at Pelindaba for NECSA and the flaws in the approval

August 24, 2013

The Smelters approved at Pelindaba for NECSA and the flaws in the approval

At a public meeting in Centurion last November, NECSA (the Nuclear Energy Company of South Africa) presented a flawed and inherently weak case for the approval of the intended smelter (more than one was not mentioned).  Upon being questioned about costs and impacts, the presenter was unable to give the meeting any idea of costs involved and who would be paying for the construction of the smelter.  The impacts were dismissed as irrelevant, as they would add little to the ambient radioactivity in the surrounding communities.

However the meeting was promised that the costings would be released to everyone present.  To date, no such thing has happened.

On Saturday 17th August at the Public Safety Information Forum, The National Nuclear Regulator announced that construction of the two smelters and cold commissioning had been approved.

This flies in the face of the presentations done by concerned communities and NGOs last year.  The smelter technology relies on HEPA filters not permitting radioactive particulate matter into the air. However, it was presented at the meeting, that HEPA filters do not meet this requirement.  International research has proved that they do not and cannot:

We start with Marion Fulk’s affidavits, on HEPA filters, he is the US nuclear scientist /whistle-blower. His affidavits from court appearances and background on the Tri-Valley CARES cases have been studied and prove that the filters do not work correctly or safely. 

Clearly Hepa filters are very good at removing certain particle sizes – providing conditions are correct and lifetimes are not exceeded.

Our main concern is that while HEPA filters remove approximately 99.97% of particles 0.3 microns or larger — there are TRILLIONS of particles in each cubic litre of air space.   Even though HEPA technology was specifically designed (in the 1950s) for removing radioactive particles from nuclear research labs,HEPA filters are only partially effective.  Particles that are smaller than about 0.3 microns go right through.  That’s one reason why radioactive elements are so dangerous — because these are released in the environment as individual atoms — not as a large particle of dust, or even as molecules.  They are too small to filter out. 

Finally to set the record straight – the failure of the smelter may be relatively localised in low wind conditions, although all radioactive substances will remain in our environment for ever, and are CUMULATIVE. The worst case scenario we referred to in our press release was a catastrophic failure at Pelindaba with Safari 1 and the spent fuel stored on site (Safari 1 is the oldest research reactor in the world that is still operating) The smelter may or may not be the catalyst in such an event, however, a failure of the smelter alone would be catastrophe enough…

And IMPORTANTLY: the NNR has IGNORED EVIDENCE and appears to HAVE FAILED IN ITS DUTY TO INVESTIGATE EVIDENCE IT SOLICITED IN THE Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and hearings process, and that it is playing with people’s lives by refuting, WITHOUT presenting evidence of its own, that it believes may credibly counter research presented to them, and the testimony of senior US nuclear scientists who risked their careers to come clean on the matter. These are strong points that need to be made!

Remember in all nuclear-related EIAs the environmental authority now rests solely with NNR as a result of its agreement with the Dept of Environment, so the public have no recourse unless the NNR is forced to justify itself, its actions and its licensing. Otherwise it is merely acting as a law unto itself, and above the law. This, clearly, is completely unconstitutional.

Into this scenario, we have to put the catastrophe at Fukushima.  This is now polluting the Pacific Ocean with 3000 tonnes of radioactive water a day.  The Nuclear Industry has merely said that no deaths can be attributed to the explosions at Fukushima during the meltdown in February 2011.  This is where the Nuclear Industry has to be called to account, not only on Fukushima but also on Chernobyl.  The ongoing collateral damage from both incidents is discounted, just as the collateral damage from the dropping of the Atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima on the 6th August 1945.

A major HEPA filter failure also occurred in Turin in June 1998 and raised radiation levels to 1000 times greater than normal across France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Germany.  If required, we can compile a list of every HEPA filter failure.

The NECSA site at Pelindaba is less than 3 Kilometres from the boundary of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site, which is a major tourist attraction.  A proposed smelter 40 Kilometres from the Yellowstone National Park, which is also a World Heritage Site, was turned down.  Are South African World Heritage sites of less value than others in the world?

In addition, the Pelindaba site puts many communities at risk.  Movement out of a disaster impact requires that many residents have to exit past the site into order to reach “safety”.  This is direct violation of IAEA best practice.  Smelters are also in violation of IAEA best practice, as containment and not dispersal is considered to be preferable.  Radioactive metals and other waste are recommended to be encapsulated for least impact and greatest safety.

Note the wording here, the IAEA does not regulate – it merely recommends best practice.  Based on Chernobyl, Fukushima, San Onofre and Sellafield, can we actually trust the Nuclear Industry to follow best practice?

Based on the excluded cost of nuclear, which is to be another posting, we are dealing with an industry which has no concern for ecosystems and is totally self-absorbed.

The Real Cost of Nuclear Power

August 24, 2013

The Real Cost of Nuclear Power

Uranium Mining

Today we are having nuclear power pushed down our South African throats as the only option to provide cheap, clean power to the grid.  This is hogwash quite frankly.

As with any mining operation, the externalised costs are completely omitted as are the impacts on ecosystems[1].  Nuclear power relies on the mining of uranium.  In South Africa, this is a by-product of mining gold. Elsewhere, uranium is generally mined alone.

The uranium in the ground is benign.  Yes, it emits radiation and that radiation has impacted the ecosystems for years with no ill effects.  However, once mining starts, a whole number of chemical reactions occur which completely change the situation.  Two major impacts are the release of radon gas into the atmosphere and radioactive dust being released as well.  The latter coats the clothes of the miners and they often take it home to their families.  Both are inhaled, not just by the miners, but by the surrounding communities and the miners’ families.

The inhalation of radioactive nuclides causes lung diseases and the passage of those nuclides into the blood stream.  This opens up the recipient to cancer and also can impact on DNA.  The latter impact can result in malformed foetuses and sterility.

In addition, for every kilo of uranium extracted, 99 kilos of radioactive rock is dumped into tailings dams.  These are exposed to the air and the rain, consequently producing radioactive acid mine drainage water that pollutes the surrounding rivers and streams.  The air borne dust and radon gas further compromise the air quality of the region and also the quality of the agricultural land.  This results in the ingestion of polluted crops by the surrounding communities, further compromising health.

 Oh and did I mention that conventional coal power is used to produce the uranium?  Well in most places it is.  As are huge amounts of water which is heavily polluted and returned to the rivers and streams, producing water scarcity.

Uranium Beneficiation[2]

Well, once the ore has been brought to the surface, it has to undergo two further processes.  The first turns it into yellow cake by extracting the ore from the surrounding rock. This is called milling.  This is done either by using sulphuric acid or alkaline agents to extract it.  99.9% of the waste is stored as chemically aggressive, toxic and radioactive sludge in tailings dams.  These dams should be lined.  Water used in the process is also polluted with heavy metals and radioactive elements.

Next the uranium is converted to uranium hexafluoride (UF6) and subsequently enriched .  The waste from this enrichment process is depleted uranium, which is sometimes used in weapons.  Currently large volumes of depleted uranium are stored in Russia without future use. Its potential as fuel for the proposed Fast Breeder Reactors is very uncertain. 

Finally UF6 is converted into UO2, pelleted and inserted into fuel rods.  This produces more waste.

To fuel a 1000MW reactor core, the following happens:

25 tons of SNF

500 000 tons of waste rock

100 000 tons of tailings

150 tons and 1 300m3 of liquid waste during conversion

260 tons of Depleted Uranium

12m3 solid and 230m3 liquid waste in the fuel fabrication process

In addition, all these steps of the nuclear chain require large amounts of energy, often produced with fossil fuels.  60 grammes of carbon are produced per kilowatt hour to produce nuclear fuel.

These facts would seem to cast nuclear power in an entirely different light.

This then is the birthing of nuclear power.  Destruction of entire ecosystems into radioactive wastelands where people live compromised lives for the benefit of others, wealthier than they are, who have access to good health care.

You still think nuclear is good and clean and cheap?

The Building of the Nuclear Power Station

Not the last phase in the life of nuclear by any means, however, it is the next one.  The Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant is currently way over budget and well behind on completion as is Flamenville in France.  If South Africa were to build the nuclear fleet, it would be financially catastrophic.  Given the experience of Medupi, where commissioning date is uncertain and costs have ballooned, would anyone want to speculate on a nuclear power station?  I would suggest that this makes absolutely no financial sense and if approved will bankrupt the nation.

Nuclear Power Station Emissions

These have been proved to include caesium which affects cows’ milk.  There is a high incidence of particularly childhood cancers around nuclear power stations.

Nuclear Waste and Decommissioning

Now we hit the final nitty gritty.  To date, no nuclear power station has been cleanly and successfully decommissioned.  Sellafield in the UK is one of the worst examples, where a nuclear waste land has been created for around the next 250 million years.  Disposal of radioactive waste is a human rights disaster.  Most is disposed of in Africa, where it is dumped in the surrounding seas and oceans, or in Siberia, where it only affects convicts and the indigenous population.  USA waste and Canada’s appear to be disposed of in areas where only indigenous people are resident.   These two nations appear to dump all their noxious waste in such areas.  France dumps its into the Channel and most of the Irish and North Seas show elevated levels of radioactivity.

Should South Africa go with the nuclear fleet?

If you have read all of the above, what do you think?  We already have a water crisis.  We already have a radiation crisis in the Witwatersrand.  We have sun and wind for Africa.  We are constrained by indebtedness.

Sun and wind will create jobs and boost the economy.  Nuclear provides specialised jobs, which are usually filled by the very small number of specialised people in the world.  Sun and wind give ordinary people new skills which they can pass on to others, growing employment and our economy.

They can feed into the grid and, more importantly, they take households off the grid into power freedom.  What seems best for you?


[1] By ecosystems, I mean everything involved in the area – humans, animals, plants, water and air quality

 

[2] From the presentation of Dr Rianne Teule, Greenpeace at the Uranium Workshop in Tanzania, November 2010

Water, Fracking and the Environment

August 24, 2013

Water, Fracking and the Environment

South Africa has the best environmental law in the world, as we also have one of the best constitutions.  So, why do we have high levels of pollution of our air, land and water?  Quite simply, because we have no regulation in place to ensure that the law is respected.

We seem to have a government that lemming like is rushing to the sea of greatest return and ruining the country and its people without concern.

If only we were Singapore or Switzerland with no resources but human capital to work with, then we might understand how to succeed.

The Value of Water

Water is the most valuable asset any country has, because without pure, sparkling, glorious water, we have not life or health.  We only have sickness and death.

Yet the South African Government is promoting fracking for shale gas in a desperately dry area of the country – the Karoo.

Has the government realised that we have a water crisis throughout the country?  That our rivers and catchments are compromised by heavy pollution and wood lots that suck the much needed water from the catchment before it feeds the streams and rivers?

Has it realised that releasing partially treated Acid Mine Drainage Water into the Vaal and the Crocodile with unacceptable salt levels will kill our food production?

Has any minister walked through affected places with the community to see what is happening?  To that I can answer a clear no as I have not seen them there or been told they visited.

So what about fracking?

Fracking should not take place at all.  The water has to be kept for the communities and ecosystems [1]of South Africa.  Already climate change is negatively affecting us with rising winter temperatures and flash floods.  This may seem harsh, however methane gas impacts negatively on climate change and fracking destroys aquifers.  We have lots of methane in our landfill sites and as by products from our sewage treatment plants – why are we not capturing that at a much lower cost and greater benefit for all?

I could be cynical.

Fracking will destroy key jobs in the Karoo and a major export industry.  The companies that want to frack expect the South African government (aka the tax payers) to fund the infrastructure and cannot guarantee jobs – I asked them and received this reply.

It is time for every South African to question the government and refuse to accept being told what to do.  We, the people, have the right to life, to clean water, clean air and clean land on which to grow our food.  It is in our constitution and we must defend it against polluters and corporate invaders


[1] Ecosystems – the entire system of humans, plants, animals etc

Why are water issues not being taken seriously

August 1, 2013

We have a crisis – right now.  In South Africa, we are running out of potable water.  Yet mining licences are being granted with impunity.  Municipalities are not being given sufficient means to maintain water infrastructure.  People are not being trained either.

This is a call to action for every community – we have to demand training, investment and infrastructure development, plus the stopping of new mining licences, right now!

We need new solutions for everyone in our country that change how we move into our new world of lack of food and water.  Urban gardening is one route but training people in water skills is a powerful option