Environmentalists call for Indian Point to stay open; mine extends production suspension

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Entergy's 2 GW Indian Point nuclear plant is one of several U.S. plants set to close over the next few years. (Image credit: Johnrob)

Indian Point Energy Centre (IPEC), a 2,000 MW nuclear power plant just 60 kilometres from midtown Manhattan and due to begin closing this month, must remain open to support New York’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Climate Coalition said in an open letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo in April.

The coalition, a confederation of individuals and environmental groups, called on the state’s governor to suspend the closure of the first of plant’s two reactors this month saying that to do so “adds unnecessarily to New York City’s vulnerability.”

“Postponing the shutdown of Indian Point and preventing a surge of new, toxic fossil fuel pollutants from spewing into the air while people are perishing from respiratory failure, is probably the most critical, preventative thing you can do to ease suffering and additional deaths,” the coalition said.

At the time of writing, more than 17,000 people had died from COVID-19 in the State of New York.

Canadian uranium mine extends production suspension 

Uranium miner Cameco has extended the temporary production suspension at the Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan due to the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said in a statement April 13.

The Cigar Lake operation, 50.025% owned by Cameco, is the largest high grade uranium deposit in the world and operations there had been initially suspended for four weeks from March 23. 

“With the impact of COVID-19 continuing to escalate, we have determined that the Cigar Lake workforce will need to remain at its current reduced level for a longer duration,” Cameco said in a statement.

The facility would remain under safe care and maintenance until the company determines a “safe, sustainable restart is possible,” Cameco said.

The company also withdrew its 2020 outlook due to uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. 

“Our balance sheet remains strong, and we believe we are well positioned to self-manage risk,” it said, adding it has the financial capacity to manage the disruptions to operations. 

Rosatomflot, Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex to build nuclear-powered icebreaker

FSUE Atomflot, or Rosatomflot, and the Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex have jointly agreed to build the atomic icebreaker “Leader”, Rosatomflot said in a statement April 23. 

The nuclear icebreaker will be equipped with two RITM-400 type nuclear reactors developed by Rosatom and will have a capacity of 120 MW, giving the vessel the capacity to break through ice more than 4 metres thick, the company said. 

“The commissioning of this nuclear icebreaker will allow Rosatomflot to guarantee safe and regular operations in the eastern region of the Arctic, provide year-round navigation in the waters of the Northern Sea Route, and open up new opportunities for commercial high-latitude routes,” said Mustafa Kashka, director general of FSUE Atomflot.

The vessel, which will house the power plant with a steam turbine unit with four turbo-generators of 37 MW each and electric propulsion system with four propeller motors of 30 MW each, is due to be commissioned in 2027. 

IAEA lays out new safety guidelines for SMRs

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has published new safety recommendations for small modular reactors (SMRs) after a meeting of experts working on the development of national standards specific to the reactors, the nuclear body said in a statement April 22. 

“The SMR Regulators’ Forum considers that deployment of SMRs requires a flexible regulatory framework to address the specific safety challenges related to novel aspects of proposed designs,” said Camille Scotto De Cesar, Associate Nuclear Safety Officer at the IAEA. 

Hosted by the IAEA, the SMR Regulators’ Forum gathers nine countries and stakeholders sharing SMR regulatory knowledge and experience and is working on the challenges of regulating the novel designs of SMRs.

While multi-module SMR designs have certain operational and safety benefits, the current operational experience with multi-unit nuclear power plants indicates that they may require specific consideration for nuclear safety, Director at the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN, France) and member of the Forum, Karine Herviou said. 

Designers and regulators need to be aware of potential challengers arising from modular reactors, where several small reactors work together in the same infrastructure, such as the safety consequences of one unit failing on neighboring units, Herviou said. 

“The compact nature of SMRs may prove challenging when it comes to performing the necessary inspections, operations and maintenance, not only during the manufacturing stage, but for the entire life cycle of the SMR,” she added. 

UK’s NNL signs collaboration agreement with IAEA 

Britain’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) has signs a “Practical Arrangements” document with the IAEA to facilitate closer cooperation between the two organizations, the NNL said in a statement April 9. 

Under the terms of the agreement, the two organizations agree to work more closely together in areas including increased efficiency of operating nuclear plants, good practices in stakeholder engagement and innovation for nuclear power reactors, advanced technologies including SMRs and decommissioning, the NNL said. 

“It’s great to see this successful relationship being broadened and strengthened in this way, and this in turn represents an exciting opportunity for NNL and IAEA to work together to jointly tackle some of the greatest challenges facing all aspects of our sector,” said NNL Chief Strategy Officer James Murphy. 

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