Power – Myth and Reality
Issue paper 2:
Nuclear Reactor Hazards: What are the old
and new types of reactor?
By Anthony Frogatt
The report is based exclusively on Greenpeace International’s
report "Nuclear Reactors Hazards, Ongoing Dangers of Operating Nuclear
Technology in the 21st Century," published in April 2005. The sections
look at the characteristics and inherent flaws of the main reactor designs
in operation today; the second part assesses the risks associated with
new designs, and discusses the "ageing" of operational reactors;
and the third part looks at the terrorist threat to nuclear power.
The main conclusions are:
- All operational reactors have very serious inherent safety
flaws which cannot be eliminated by safety upgrading.
A major accident in a light-water reactor, the large majority of the reactors,
can lead to radioactive releases equivalent to several times the release
at Chernobyl and about 1000 times that released by a fission weapon.
- New reactor lines are envisaged which are heralded as fundamentally safe.
However, apart from having their own specific safety problems, those new
reactors would require enormous sums for their development, with uncertain
- The average age of the world’s reactors is around twenty-one years
and many countries are planning to extend the lifetime of their reactors
beyond the original design lifetime. This leads to the degradation of
critical components and the increase of severe incidents. The age-related
degradation mechanisms are not well understood and difficult to predict.
- Deregulation (liberalization) of electricity markets has pushed nuclear
utilities to decrease safety-related investments and limit staff. Utilities
are also upgrading their reactors by increasing reactor pressure, operational
temperature, and the burnup of the fuel. This accelerates ageing and decreases
safety margins. Nuclear regulators are not always able to fully cope with
this new regime.
- Reactors cannot be sufficiently protected against a terrorist threat.
There are several scenario’s, aside from a crash of an airliner
into the reactor building, which could lead to a major accident.
Download Nuclear Issues Paper
No. 2: Nuclear Reactor Hazards. (pdf)
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