The world’s nuclear reactors are getting dangerously old. Yet more and more often, countries operating nuclear reactors are deciding to run them for longer than they were designed to run – which has implications not only for their own populations, but for those in neighboring countries as well. The majority of the world’s 442 commercially operated reactors were built nearly four decades ago – and that’s all the time they were designed to run. Some of the oldest are located in European area and there’s little hope that newer units will replace them. Ukraine, for instance, currently operates 15 Soviet-era reactors, 12 of which are supposed to retire in 2020. Six of these have already been granted runtime extensions. At present, 90 reactors in the European area are up for a runtime extension within the next eight years – and this should worry us all. Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom all have reactors that are being reviewed for prolonged operation times. Slovakia and Romania will soon follow. Nearly all the commercial reactors operating in the world are of either the boiling water or the pressurized water variety. These reactors have more than 25 different metal alloys within their primary and secondary systems, all of which weaken with age. While most of these are replaceable, the reactor pressure vessel, which houses the core, is not. A rupture in the reactor pressure vessel would lead to that most calamitous of nuclear energy accidents – the meltdown. While Norway doesn’t operate any nuclear reactors of its own, it still has a particularly strong hand to play in assuring that runtime extensions, wherever they occur, are managed in a transparent and technologically up-to-date manner: The Espoo Convention. Under Espoo, which has been signed by most European nations, countries are obliged to notify their neighbors when undertaking projects that could have adverse environmental consequences beyond their own borders. Clearly, potential nuclear disasters fall within the scope of the Convention.
Bellona 30th March 2020 read more »