Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Secrets of the Welsh Wylfa nuclear reactors

Letter submitted to the New York Times:
Re “For Wales, Nuclear Plant Would Mean New Jobs. For the U.K., It May Mean More,” (New York Times, foreign news, Jan. 8th; https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/07/business/energy-environment/wales-hitachi-nuclear-plant-jobs.html)
As a Welshman who studied at S.U.N.Y. at Stony Brook at the time power utility L.I.L.C.O. abandoned the completed Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island, I was intrigued to read Stanley Reed’s account of the debate over plans to build a new nuclear plant in Wales.
Two matters arise that should interest readers.
Reed asks at the end of his article how pivotal the British Government believes the plant is to its climate change promises. In so doing, it would slip into the same mistaken belief  displayed by Senator John Barrasso - as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee- in his op-ed “Cut Carbon Through Innovation, Not Regulation,” ( Dec. 18; https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/opinion/climate-carbon-tax-innovation.html) in which  he inaccurately astonishingly stated “Nuclear energy is produced with zero carbon emissions.”
While it is true that most nuclear reactors do not emit CO2 at the point of generation, reactors are a small part of the nuclear fuel cycle, which emits large amounts of CO2.
These arise from the so-called front end of the fuel cycle - uranium mining, ore milling, uranium hexafluoride conversion, fuel enrichment and, finally, fabrication of the fuel rods. Moreover, nuclear waste management at the "back end" is already energy hungry in treatment, conditioning, transportation and final disposal in some future repository (if Congress ever give the green light).
Secondly, Reed’s article mentions the original reactor on the Wylfa site he discusses, which opened in 1971. This reactor called ‘Magnox” was generically similar to the reactors build in Britain to make plutonium for nuclear weapons ( just like the now closed reactors at the DoE reservation at Hanford, Wa.
Research undertaken by Professor emeritus Keith Barnham of London University’s Imperial College (supported by myself|)  has demonstrated that some plutonium from this generation of 'civilian' British Magnox plants was  exported to the U.S under an atomic barter agreement concluded with Britain after a series of hearing in the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, which began in January 1958.
The agreement required the Atomic Energy Commission, which took title to the plutonium, to put it solely to military use.

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