17 nuclear headaches

Cofrentes 17: Saving the environment is our duty and our right.

It was my duty to do this and I did it.” These are the words of one of our Greenpeace activists when he was prosecuted last September for the peaceful protest at the nuclear power plant of Fessenheim in France. These thoughts are shared by the 17 people who participated in the action at Cofrentes nuclear power plant in Spain in 2011 to expose its dangers,  for which they will be tried in the coming days. The Cofrentes 17 face a possible sentence of almost three years in prison.

Greenpeace activists climb one of the cooling towers at the Cofrentes Nuclear Power Plant and display a banner reading in Spanish "Nuclear Danger". 02/15/2011 © Mario Gomez / Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists climb one of the cooling towers at the Cofrentes Nuclear Power Plant (02/15/2011 © Mario Gomez / Greenpeace)

Many nuclear reactors share dangerous similarities – they age, exceed operating life, and are often situated close to places with high population density.  Have a look at 17 nuclear reactors from around the world that must be shut down TODAY.

1. Fessenheim, like Cofrentes, has exceeded its 30-year operating life. Despite improvements and repairs, the aging of nuclear reactors is a fact; certain components can’t be replaced, including the pressure vessel and the containment structure.

About 60 Greenpeace activists from 14 countries protest this morning at Fessenheim (France) against the risk caused by ageing nuclear power plants in Europe. The activists from several European countries (France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic, Sweden, Slovenia and Austria) and non-European countries (Australia, Turkey and Israel) have unfurled a banner next to reactor n°1 with the message "Stop Risking Europe". Other activists are on top of this reactor and on its pool. With barrels at the entrance and a banner at the building they demand the shutdown of the plant. The nuclear power station Fessenheim is an old plant and only 1 kilometer from the German border.03/18/2014 © Daniel Mueller / Greenpeace

About 60 Greenpeace activists from 14 countries protest at Fessenheim (03/18/2014 © Daniel Mueller / Greenpeace)

2, 3. In Belgium, reactor 3 of the Doel nuclear power plant was also designed for 30 years of operating life and its pressure vessel was built by the same Dutch company as Cofrentes, Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij (RDM). At present, Doel 3 is out of operation due to severe safety issues stemming from more than 8,000 cracks found in its pressure vessel.Reactor 2 at Belgium’s Tihange nuclear power plant is affected by the same problem.

Greenpeace activists protest with tape bearing the message "The End" against the aging Tihange nuclear power plant in Belgium.03/05/2014 © Philip Reynaers / Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists protest at the aging Tihange nuclear power plant in Belgium. (03/05/2014 © Philip Reynaers / Greenpeace)

4. And close by, in the Netherlands, Greenpeace has reported safety issues on several occasions at the Borssele nuclear plant which has been functioning for more than 40 years.  

5, 6. Germany’s Gundremmingen B and C reactors are also more than 30 years old and have suffered emergency shutdowns due to problems with valves and pipes. The difference is that Gundremmingen B will be shut down in 2017 and C in 2021 while Cofrentes has a licence to operate at least until 2022.

7, 8. The Tarapur 1 and 2 reactors in India are of a similar design and age as those that went into meltdown at Fukushima after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Warnings were given as long ago as 1995 that the Tarapur reactors should be shut down.

9. In the Czech Republic, we find the nuclear power plant of Dukovany. This plant’s operator wants to extend the four reactors’ operating lifetimes to up to 50. These reactors have had their power output increased like the Cofrentes reactors. Increasing the power output of a reactor can compromise its safety limits. For example, increased thermal energy production means more vapor and cooling water which causes greater tensions in the pipes and heat exchange systems, and therefore aggravates the aging processes.

10. Paks 2 in Hungary is also more than 30 years old. In 2003, it suffered a level 2 accident (INES scale). The cause was a fracture of the used fuel rods in its cooling storage pool, where there is no secondary safety containment. In 2009, Cofrentes also suffered an accident classified as level 1 when a fuel sub-element came loose and fell while it was being moved inside the storage pool for inspection.

And it continues…

11. Slovenia’s nuclear power plant at Krsko is also older than 30 years. Just like in the other plants, the physical aging of systems, structures and components run in parallel to aging technology. The design of the reactors only allows a limited implementation of new technology and safety concepts. Protection against earthquakes is insufficient, as is the case with Cofrentes.

12. Further to the north, in Sweden Forsmark 1 with a design similar to all these others, is older than 30 years In 2006 there was a level 2 incident when the emergency backup diesel generators failed and a catastrophic Chernobyl-style meltdown was only narrowly avoided. As at Cofrentes, Greenpeace activists exposed the lack of security of the plant.

Greenpeace activists breach the perimeter fences at Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant. The activists are 'stress testing' the facility to alert the public, the nuclear industry and current Swedish Ministry of the Environment Lena Ek on the serious safety deficiencies of the nuclear facility.10/09/2012 © Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists ‘stress testing’ at Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant. facility. (10/09/2012 © Greenpeace)

13. Valencia is just 100 kilometres away from Cofrentes, with a population of almost 800,000. Requena is 36 kilometres away with 21,000 inhabitants. Just like the Hartlepool nuclear plant in the UK which is also more than 30 years old and has highly populated towns in the vicinity.

14, 15. In Ukraine, the Rivne 1 and 2 reactors are older than 30 years. Their operators  breached the Espoo Convention by not carrying out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) before finalising a periodic safety review that allows them to operate another 10 years. At Cofrentes, its lifetime extension plan was published on the same day as the Fukushima disaster began and without any public consultation.

16. Three years ago, when the Greenpeace action took place at Cofrentes, nobody could imagine what would happen just a month later in Fukushima – a nuclear disaster which is very far from over. Some of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors were supplied by General Electric just like Cofrentes. These reactors lacked filtered ventilation systems to help prevent radioactivity escaping in the event of an accident. Cofrentes is exactly the same.

At Fukushima, the institutions responsible failed because they were unable to recognize the risks, unable to reinforce safety measures when deficiencies were acknowledged, and unable to protect the population and the environment. Just like at Cofrentes.

17. Without doubt, the Santa María de Garoña nuclear power plant is Spain’s biggest headache. Not only is it – like Cofrentes – operated by the company Iberdrola, at 43 years old it is also the oldest in the European Union Like the containment vessel in Cofrentes it was built by the same Dutch company as those in Belgium’s damaged Doel and Thiange reactors. It is now closed, but the Spanish government is looking to reopen it by modifying laws without public or environmental consultations.

Nuclear Action in Garoña Nuclear Plant. 2 Greenpeace activists are sprayed with a power hose in an attempt to remove them from the banner they hold above the resistance container.11/20/2008 © Greenpeace / Pedro Armestre

Greenpeace activists are sprayed with a power hose at the Garoña Nuclear Plant (11/20/2008 © Greenpeace / Pedro Armestre)

So there we have it – 17 nuclear headaches, one for each of the 17 Cofrentes activists who are being prosecuted for doing their civil duty. When it comes to nuclear power, public participation and consent is essential. Peaceful protest is a right.

Will you stand with the Cofrentes 17?

Raquel Montón is a nuclear and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Spain

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