SONE Newsletter 294 – February 2024

Posted by Wade Allison on 21 February 2024 in Newsletters

Tagged with: Climate Change Committee, Great British Nuclear, Heysham, Renewables, Royal Society, Sellafield, Wylfa Newydd, YouTube.

This month

The simple basis of chemical and nuclear energy, 1924

An easily understood universal description that is 100 years old.


Great British Nuclear – Simon Bowen

This should be essential reading for all members of SONE. It will lift your spirits! Here are some excerpts from what WNN quotes Simon Bowen as saying:

  • According to the government road map for GBN it has three roles - it talks about GBN running the SMR selection process. It then talks about us taking on broader nuclear delivery, which means that if we do another gigawatt unit it is likely we’ll run the selection process and then run the project and also, when advanced modular reactors (AMRs) come to fruition, it is highly likely that we would run that as well. The third role, which is really important, is that we advise government on the development of policy.

  • explore another gigawatt reactor after Sizewell, which for me is very, very important, because there is no way that we’re going to get to 2050 and 24GW without the whole range and scales of reactors. Some big announcements on HALEU … it also talks about the importance of regulation and skills and supply chains.

  • allow the market to have access to the sites we are no longer looking at, or, the consultation is suggesting, that we should no longer be looking at the designation of sites, we should be looking at a criteria-based model which allows the developers to identify the sites

  • the whole role of planning, of environmental consenting, smarter regulation and the documentation

  • look at AMRs, then if you get things like passive safety approved - walk-away safe - on a number of the AMR technologies, the sites that gives you access to is so much broader.

  • government-led programme, an underwritten programme to rejuvenate the nuclear industry and get it started again. And that’s exactly why GBN has been set up. What that doesn’t do for one minute is preclude private developers developing their own projects … off the government balance sheet and out of the public finances as possible

  • The brilliant news is that we will, as an industry, have the opportunity to grow multiple technologies at multiple scales. And all learn from each other. Having moved out of the nuclear industry and come back into it, the thing I love about the industry is everybody wants to learn from everybody else. I’ve never seen an industry where people have the thirst for learning off each other and are prepared to share.

And it goes on in this positive tone. I will not spoil it by attempting to summarise further. Anyway, some of the news items below suggest that GBN has already started implementing this programme.

A funded proposal for Westinghouse SMRs on Teesside

An interesting proposal to build four AP300 reactors on Teeside comes from a coalition of Westinghouse and a private company, Community Nuclear Power.
Some of the political background is apparent from an account reported in Cumberland’s News & Star:

Paul Foster, Community Nuclear Power’s CEO said:
“The bottom line of it is the only land which is suitable enough for these first of a kind reactors (in Cumbria) was at Moorside, but the government said we were unable to use that land. They are running a consultation process on how best to use that land, so we have to wait until that process is concluded.”
Mr Foster said that the announcement for the first reactors in Teesside does not mean that Community Power Company would not look at Cumbria as a site for small modular reactors in the future.

In the meantime Westinghouse has submitted the AP300 design for UK approval:

The 300 MWe reactor design is based on Westinghouse’s AP1000 technology, a design which is already licensed in the UK. But does this change the regulatory hurdle? It would appear that Great British Nuclear might welcome such a development?

News about Wylfa

The Government in the form of Great British Nuclear is in early-stage discussions with Hitachi to buy the site that they currently own. The Government hope to find a new private sector partner to build a station there. Hitachi abandoned plans to build a new reactor there in January 2019 after unsuccessful negotiations with the Government. Virginia Crosbie MP and other local interests tried hard, but Hitachi eventually wrote off £2.1bn on the project. Hopefully a new plan will be agreed leading to local engagement and jobs.

And GBN are in talks with EDF about Heysham site too

Notice: MoltexFlex and Moltex SSR Wasteburner

Online opportunity for SONE members. An occasion to learn about these two SMR technologies: 13th March 12 noon-1pm.
Click on this link to pre-register

Sellafield and nuclear waste

The world’s media have got in the habit of pin-pointing at nuclear waste as the most frightening and dangerous material on Earth. As few in their readership have any knowledge, imaginations are easily triggered. In this way an inconsequential story can be made gripping – and so successful at selling newspapers and advertising. Unfortunately, to quell the excitement, precautions are thought advisable that are otherwise quite pointless. However, their application raises the game in an expensive competition between regulation and fear. This is a big subject, but members of SONE should try to cool and inform safety concerns about waste and radiation in general.

We draw on our members for different perspectives. Here is a video about waste recommended by Clive Elsworth:

Then there is Sellafield. It is seldom out of the news although genuine new developments are rare. The Guardian had a go recently and the BBC followed with an interview with Euan Hutton, the CEO. The discussion covered leaks, both physical and cyber. No numbers are given. Quantities just described as “high” and “dangerous”. This is no way to reassure anybody. Perhaps that was not the intention! The video is here:

The available information is summarised for us by Paul Spare, member of the SONE Committee, as follows:

Sellafield was in the news at the end of 2023 over a number of issues. The stories were concentrated in the Guardian newspaper and concerned some of the oldest storage facilities and the IT system. The site employs 11,000 people – mostly engaged in maintaining or decommissioning redundant buildings and equipment. It is also home to the UK’s civil plutonium stockpile, with 140 tonnes of the material stored there.

The chief executive of Sellafield Euan Hutton was interviewed by the BBC and defended their performance rejecting allegations of serious safety failings at the plant and the risks posed by two of its ageing facilities in particular.

The first is the B30, open-air pond, built in the 1950s to cool/store used nuclear fuel. It still contains hundreds of tonnes of waste, much of it in the form of radioactive sludge, accumulated over decades.

Although efforts to clean up the pond are under way, using a variety of robot submersibles, concerns have been expressed for years about cracks in its ageing concrete structure and the potential consequences of an accident. “It’s an open-air pond that does have a number of cracks,” Mr Hutton admitted. “But we know where all of those cracks are, we monitor those cracks, or operators check those. And we understand what to do should they get worse.”

The second building is the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo a giant storage building, used to store some 11,000 cubic metres of highly radioactive scrap. It has been leaking contaminated water into the ground for several years, but because the leak is deep underground and inaccessible, it cannot be repaired.

Sellafield’s solution is to empty the silo, and store the waste elsewhere. But this is a painstaking process, carried out by operators using a remote grab from behind a protective thick leaded-glass window. It is expected to take many years. Mr Hutton insisted action was being taken as rapidly as possible.

He also insisted that there was no evidence of the claim in the Guardian that Sellafield’s IT networks having been targeted by groups linked to foreign governments. “We’ve got very robust multi-layer protection systems that would indicate if anything like that had happened,” he said. The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), which oversees the industry, agreed there was no evidence Sellafield’s networks had been penetrated by state actors.

But in a statement, it added: “Sellafield Ltd is currently not meeting the high standards that we require in cyber security and we have placed them under significantly enhanced attention.”

Asked whether he accepted there were weaknesses in Sellafield’s cyber-defences, Mr Hutton replied: “Yes, and we’ve agreed with the regulator a plan to improve and eradicate those weaknesses.”

“Establishing confidence in nuclear energy: a study of 120 years of evidence and 80 years of myth”

A contribution to a set of nuclear discussion papers published by the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies:

I have not studied the other articles yet but this contribution appears on page 22-24. It is also posted on the SONE site here:

Cracks in the “Renewables” Net Zero project

David Turver in his posting 11 Feb 2024 describes how the Royal Society, represented by Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith, and Climate Change Committee (CCC) have fallen out over Renewables. (I note that Lord Deben has stepped down as Chairman of CCC and Chris Stark is stepping down as CEO.)

Re-tracing the analysis of others is time consuming. However, when they fall out with one another and both, without explanation, omit the deployment of nuclear fission as the critical component of surviving in a changing climate, we may leave it to others to follow the details of their mistakes.

Wade Allison
20 February 2024