Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Nuclear submarine risks the MoD didn't want you to know about

from Caledonian Mercury, 18 April 2011

The reactors that power all the nuclear submarines on the Clyde are twice as likely to suffer catastrophic accidents as US submarine reactors and civil nuclear power stations, according to a secret Ministry of Defence (MoD) report.

The pressurised water reactors, known as PWR2, are vulnerable to Fukushima-style loss of coolant accidents if they develop cracks larger than 15 millimetres. They also rely on manual cooling in an emergency, rather than a system that automatically injects coolant into the reactor.

These are the revelations that the MoD meant to censor from a report by its senior nuclear safety regulator, Commodore Andrew McFarlane. The report was released online in a form that enabled text that had been blacked out to be seen, simply by cutting and pasting it into another document.

The censored text also reveals that British submariners are more likely to drown than their American counterparts if the reactor fails while they are under water. British submarines "accept a much lower reliability from the main propulsion system" and the back-up system "will not provide sufficient dynamic lift", it says.

When the MoD's mistake was reported yesterday, an MoD spokesman said it "took steps to ensure the document was removed from the public domain". However, it was not removed from Google's online cache for about 24 hours, and so has been widely accessed.

The report, with the censored text revealed, has been posted on several websites, including banthebomb.org, cnduk.org, robedwards.com, largeassociates.com, nuclearinfo.org and cryptome.org. Britain’s 11 nuclear-powered submarines are all driven by reactors that are “unacceptable”, it says.

The PWR2 currently powers the Royal Navy’s six old Trafalgar class submarines and four Vanguard class submarines, which carry Trident nuclear missiles. It also drives HMS Astute, the first of a £10 billion programme of seven Astute class submarines, all of which will be based at Faslane on Gareloch.

HMS Astute returned to Faslane at the end of last week, after one of its sailors was charged with murdering a senior officer and seriously injuring another in an on-board shooting in Southampton. The submarine also hit the headlines last October when it accidently ran aground near the Isle of Skye during trials.

The MoD report, which was written in November 2009, was requested by John Ainslie, the co-ordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and others. Heavily censored versions were released by the MoD under freedom of information law, but all the text in some of them could be easily read by anyone with a computer.

“The MoD is making a bungled attempt to keep this report under wraps not because it gives away any national security secrets but because it spells out fundamental design problems with the reactors on all Royal Navy submarines,” said Ainslie.

“The report shows that US nuclear submarines are substantially safer than their British counterparts. This makes a mockery of the claim that parts of the report should be classified because they might embarrass America. It is the poor state of British submarines that is laid bare.”

According to the nuclear consultant, John Large, the full report exposed the fact that Britain’s submarines were using out-dated and sub-standard technology. A small crack in the reactor could too easily trigger a major release of radioactivity, putting the lives of submariners and the pubic at risk, he said.

The MoD report argues that new submarines being considered to replace the Vanguard class boats must use a new, safer design, known as PWR3. The “necessary safety performance in response to a loss of coolant accident is likely to be delivered only through a PWR3 submarine,” it concludes.

Although no final decision on the type of reactor has been announced, indications are that PWR3 will be adopted. The UK defence secretary, Liam Fox, has told the House of Commons there was a “very clear-cut” case to use PWR3 in future submarines because it has “improved nuclear safety” and would give “a better safety outlook”.


Italy’s Last Reactor Town Goes Solar in Fight Against Nuclear

April 17, 2011,

Montalto di Castro, the town where Italy’s last nuclear plant was built before a two-decade ban, is fighting against a return to atomic power and staking its future on solar energy by hosting Europe’s largest photovoltaic park.

“We’ve come up with a better idea,” Mayor Salvatore Carai said in an interview in his Town Hall office, which has views of the old reactor between the sea and acres of farmland. “The solar panels keep us self-sufficient. We haven’t used a single kilowatt of ‘dirty energy’ since December 2009.”

Italy, the only Group of Eight nation without nuclear plants, passed legislation in 2008 to return to generation and the country planned to build its first new reactors by 2020. That was before the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant prompted the government to set a one-year moratorium.

As Italy debates whether to return to nuclear generation, Montalto’s mayor is organizing protests and supporting a national referendum to stop the construction of new plants, saying they would hurt agriculture and tourism.

“There’s concern people will abandon the land for fear of leaks,” Carai said. “No compensation they can offer could make up for that.”

The Montalto reactor, which never went into service, was dismantled after Italians voted in a 1987 referendum to end nuclear generation in the wake of the Chernobyl accident. The empty shell of the facility now sits next to a thermoelectric plant run by Enel SpA, Italy’s biggest electricity producer.

Residents of Montalto are concerned that their town is a prime candidate to host new generators once the moratorium ends.

“We’re at the top of the list,” said Stefano Sebastiani, a spokesman for Montalto’s anti-nuclear committee. The Japanese accident has raised awareness on safety issues and made residents nervous about the prospect of new plants, he said. “Nuclear is like a pressure cooker and sooner or later the steam comes out and people pay the price.”

Experts agree that if plant construction goes ahead, the town of 9,000 between the sea and the hills of the central region of Lazio would offer an ideal location.

“Montalto is one of the places where it makes sense to restart nuclear,” said Giovanbattista Zorzoli, a nuclear engineer and professor at Milan’s polytechnic university. “It has the right conditions and a network already set up for distribution of the energy.” There’s also a canal connecting the area to the sea to allow for cooling, he said.

Montalto has already moved on, said Raffaello Giacchetti, regional manager for SunRay Renewable Energy, a European solar power-plant developer and operator of the town’s main 45 megawatt photovoltaic field. Producing enough electricity to power 15,000 homes, it’s the largest field in Europe.

Economic Advantages

“Montalto and other towns in the area have understood that they’re not just getting economic advantages from the fields,” Giacchetti said. “They’re are also creating an alternative to nuclear power.” The town’s solar fields combine to provide 85 MW of power, which should rise to 120 MW by the end of this year, according to Mayor Carai.

Solar panel prices will likely fall to $1.50 per watt in the second half of 2011 compared with around $1.80 in 2010, Jenny Chase, a solar analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said March 29.

Demand for solar may be supported by a backlash against atomic generators after the Fukushima accident. The WilderHill New Energy Index has gained about 8 percent since the March 11 accident as governments around the world review their nuclear plans.

Electricity Prices

Some Montalto residents remain skeptical about whether solar power can have enough of an impact. “We pay too much for electricity,” said Quinto Del Papa, a retired farmer who supports nuclear power. “I think nuclear would help.”

Italian households pay 21 euro cents per kilowatt hour of electricity compared with 13 cents in France and 14 cents in the U.K., while Italian businesses pay 13 cents, compared with 7 cents in France and 11 cents in the U.K., according to Brussels- based research firm Europe’s Energy Portal.

Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said last year that nuclear power will help balance Italy’s energy mix, reduce electricity prices and cut dependence on imported energy.

Del Papa, who remembers Montalto as a boomtown that nearly doubled in population as the old plant was built, said new reactors “would also give us jobs.” As for the dangers of having a reactor in the neighborhood, he shrugged. “I’d live near it,” he said. “Those accidents are rare.”

Zorzoli, the Milan-based nuclear engineer, said he’s more skeptical about atomic energy since the Fukushima accident. “One should not be alarmist” about the country’s power requirements, he said. “Italy’s existing capacity and renewable development will allow us to face our needs.”

--With assistance from Ben Sills in Madrid. Editors: Jerrold Colten, Dan Liefgreen

To contact the reporters on this story: Alessandra Migliaccio in Rome at
Flavia Rotondi in Rome at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at