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Beznau 1, in Switzerland, Stopped Again: A Question of Old Age or of Incompetence?

If most of us know that metals are subject to aging, fewer realize that concrete (beton) structures have a limited life-span and still fewer know that the radiation in nuclear power plants wears the materials at an even faster rate. This, in short, is why extending the service of old nuclear power plants is exceedingly dangerous. The original life-spans and licenses reflected the expected longevity of the materials! (For details see: http://holbert.faculty.asu.edu/eee560/RadiationEffectsDamage.pdf)

Reading about the problems of concrete, welding and rebar, which have plagued the new nuclear power plants under construction in Finland, France and the US, quickly ends any idea that building new nuclear power plants might be safer. (And, more than one nuclear power plant has been unable to go online, in the past, due to shoddy construction).

We are left with a choice similar to that of driving on a high speed roadway with old worn brakes vs. driving with new defective brakes. Except, as Chernobyl first showed clearly, nuclear power plants can cause illness, death and environmental damage lasting millions of years, in lands far away from the accident.

It remains perplexing that the rich of Zurich put up with the world’s oldest nuclear power plant, Beznau, and other nuclear facilities, in such close proximity, and to which they are often downwind. As of this year, the Swiss government even decided to provide Zurich residents with emergency potassium iodide pills.
Beznau to Zurich
On Monday, June 16, 2014, Reactor 1 of the Beznau Nuclear Power Plant, online since 1969, i.e. 45 years, was unexpectedly shut down for the second time in two weeks. A slight leak in a joint of a line in the primary secondary cooling water system, was at the origin of this stoppage. The system is used for cooling various components such as pumps and heat exchangers and uses water from the Aare River.

Florian Kasser, responsible for the (anti) nuclear campaign of Greenpeace Switzerland, was concerned by this announcement, and pointed out that the main piping of the primary auxiliary cooling water system was just replaced in 2012! How is it possible that they could be so worn out within two years? And if the leak is not on one of the new lines, then why weren’t they all replaced, he wondered?

On June 11, 2014, Trede Aline, of the Greens, raised the question in Swiss parliament of how it is possible that on June 3, 2014, only 7 weeks after the routine safety review of Beznau reactor number one, on the 14th of April 2014, a leak was found in the steam line in the non-nuclear part of the power plant, which caused an unplanned stoppage of the reactor and required an immediate repair? The defective pipe was not checked-tested during the routine review or it was not checked with adequate care?

NRC PWR Cooling systems
Primary and Secondary Cooling Systems, Pressurized Water Reactor http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students/animated-pwr.html

The operator, AXPO, apparently has not given clear answers to these questions. This is all the more shocking since AXPO is owned by several Swiss Cantons, meaning that it should be responsive to the people.

Along with the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI), AXPO has refused to participate in a hearing to be held this afternoon by the Trinational (Switzerland, Germany, France) Association of Nuclear Protection. We don’t blame them for not wanting to show their faces in the current context, but considering that these are governmental agencies, their lack of participation is not right. They should attend.

The Tri-National (Switzerland, Germany, France) Nuclear Protection Association (TRAS) public meeting is this afternoon, 24 June 2014, 13 – 17.30, Salzhaus, Schulthess-Allee 25, Brugg
They ask:
How safe is Beznau, the oldest nuclear power plant in the world?

Beznau I + II went into operation in 1969 and 1971. Beznau I is the world’s oldest nuclear reactor still in operation. After inspection work, the ENSI (Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate, Brugg) certified in July 2010 that Beznau reactor I and in Sept. 2013 that Beznau reactor II were in top condition and there were no reservations for operation beyond 40 years. ENSI approved this operation extension. The criteria for decommissioning will not be reached before 2020, it was said.

However, whether security is still guaranteed is highly controversial.

The problem is their old age, including design-related deficiencies, such as an inadequate interpretation of earthquake risk prevention.

In October 2013 it was announced that in Beznau CHF 500 million will be invested solely for the new, supposedly earthquake-safe, emergency power supply. In Germany, after Fukushima, all older nuclear power plants were shut down for safety reasons. Were Beznau in Germany, it would have also been shut down because their safety criteria are not met.

TRAS wants to know exactly why ENSI maintains that Beznau nuclear power plant, despite its age, poses no danger to people in the immediate and wider environment of this facility? What are the dangers to the population in an accident like Fukushima?

ENSI and Axpo have cancelled their participation in the hearing.

Start: 13 clock Salzhaus Brugg
End 17.30 clock

All are warmly welcomed.
(The above is our rough, unofficial translation. Official flyer, in German, is here: http://www.atomschutzverband.ch/xs_daten/Aktuell/TRAS-Beznau-Flyer_fina.pdf)

One important point: Pipes leak due to age and improper installation, and especially at valves and joints. This fact combined with the dependency of nuclear power on cooling water and the extreme dangers that a nuclear meltdown represent, should alone be sufficient reasons to stop all nuclear, period.

Additionally we wonder:
1) Who did the reactor inspection?
2) Who provided the piping system for the Beznau reactor in 2012?
3) Who installed the piping system for the Beznau reactor?
4) Who was the workforce? Who provided the workforce?
Engraving The Confusion of Tongues by Gustave Doré (1865) (Tower of Babel)
Engraving: The Confusion of Tongues by Gustave Doré (1865) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_Babel#Destruction
5) Was there a language issue? It seems that the Swiss Nuclear Security Agency (ENSI) provides its most important documents, in full, only in German, whereas Switzerland has four official languages – German, French, Italian and Raeto-Rumantsch. Only the last group is systematically bilingual. Also, there are many immigrant languages. German is not known to be the easiest language to learn and Swiss German has a multiplicity of unwritten dialects. The Swiss Germans refuse to teach Swiss German to non-Swiss Germans, calling it an oral language (whereas the first variety of written German was Swiss so this could be taught as standard), and teach only their variant of modern standard German, yet speak Swiss German dialect everywhere. If immigrants learn Swiss German it must be on their own, leading to extreme dialectical degradation. It must be suspected that refusing to teach Swiss German to non-Swiss Germans is to better protect banking or other secrets! Or, perhaps it simply reflects the closed nature of Swiss German society, which conflicts starkly with their immigration policy. Regardless, for these reasons English is often used as a lingua franca now, even between cantons. However, few know English. How can work be done properly when no one understands each other? One might suspect that this is the cause of the extreme degradation of the quality of most things in Switzerland, that has occurred over the last 30 years. Historically workers came primarily from over the border in Italy, Germany and France and there was some hope of understanding each other. Currently, workers could be from any of the 26 countries in the Schengen area http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Area or refugees or even non-Schengen area members of the EU or illegals or other migrants. Although language issues could explain failures in power plant repairs or construction in Switzerland, France and Finland, what about the USA? Would it be an issue there? Illegal migrants in the USA would most likely all speak the same language (Spanish), so communication should not be an issue. Perfectly bilingual English-Spanish speaking managers and foremen would be widespread. Or, are we perhaps then looking at an issue of cost-cutting and maybe even mafia involvement in the nuclear industry?
6) Were the workers paid? This last may seem a bizarre question, but in the construction arena Switzerland has had some problem in the recent past of contractors bidding for projects below cost, and bringing in workers and not paying them. Also, substandard construction materials are known to have been used for roads. This has reportedly involved Kosovo-Albanian contractors – possibly Albanian or other mafia. Various mafia are active in Switzerland, and known the world over to use construction as a money-laundering scheme, enabling them to work below cost. However, even in Ancient Rome apartment buildings (flats) were known to collapse due to cost-cutting and shoddy construction and there was no known “mafia” in those days! But, there was no nuclear either so the repercussions of cost-cutting or sloppiness were not so extreme, nor so widespread.

References for our post and further reading (most in French or German):
http://www.greenpeace.org/switzerland/de/News_Stories/Newsblog/reaktor-beznau-1-erneut-heruntergefahren-eine/blog/49664/ http://www.greenpeace.org/switzerland/fr/publications/blog/beznau-question-age/blog/49682/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beznau_Nuclear_Power_Plant http://www.ensi.ch/fr/2014/06/16/centrale-nucleaire-de-beznau-arret-de-la-tranche-1-pour-reparation/ http://www.greenpeace.org/switzerland/fr/publications/documents/beznau-muhleberg/
http://www.parlament.ch/F/Suche/Pages/geschaefte.aspx?gesch_id=20145296 http://www.parlament.ch/d/suche/seiten/geschaefte.aspx?gesch_id=20145296
Reaktor 1 des AKW Beznau geht für Reparaturarbeiten vom Netzhttp://www.aargauerzeitung.ch/aargau/zurzach/reaktor-1-des-akw-beznau-geht-fuer-reparaturarbeiten-vom-netz-128043369 (03.06.14)
Reparatur: Block 1 des AKW Beznau ist abgeschaltethttp://www.aargauerzeitung.ch/aargau/zurzach/reparatur-block-1-des-akw-beznau-ist-abgeschaltet-128089489 (16.06.14)