A shattered cooling pump at Iran's only civilian nuclear-power reactor, forcing a shutdown during its initial start-up phase, has renewed safety concerns about the hybrid Russian-German power plant on the Persian Gulf coast.
The 1000-megawatt power plant at Bushehr combines a German- designed plant begun under the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in the 1970's and Russian technology installed over the last decade. Safety questions have raised concern among some nuclear-power experts and in neighboring countries such as Kuwait, which is vulnerable in the event of a radiation leak since it is downwind about 170 miles (275 kilometers).
"The rest of the world is depending on the Russian Federation for policing the nuclear safety of this reactor," said Mark Hibbs, an expert on Iranian nuclear issues at the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace. The pump failure "raises questions about the decisions the Russians made to move forward with emergency coolant system that's 30 years old," he said.
Russian officials said in a statement Feb. 28 they were removing the nuclear fuel to thoroughly clean the reactor core and the primary cooling system to remove metal shards left by the pump's failure. Shards as small as 3 millimeters can damage instrumentation and the zirconium cladding that protects the core and prevents radiation leaks.
Russia's Ambassador to Iran, Alexander Sadovnikov, was quoted yesterday by Iran's state-run Mehr news agency as saying that the delay was necessary since it's better "to prevent unwanted consequences rather than to regret it later and spend more time trying to make up for it."
David Fuller's view Apparently, the Bushehr plant (presumably not named after either of the two former US presidents) "also sits at the junction of three tectonic plates", according to a later section of the article. Why, one wonders? Eoin's comment was that it sounded like the plot from a Peter Sellers movie.
Anyway, radioactive leaks from some of the world's old nuclear reactors will remain both a risk and concern, as I have mentioned before. (Click on the 'Presentations' link in the menu shown upper-left, for the most recent broadcast on "Investments in a Nuclear Age", recorded by Proactive Investors.)
Any problems with old reactors will be cited by opponents of nuclear power as a reason not to use this technology, even though it provides clean energy and the latest generation of plants are more efficient and reliable than ever before.
It will also increase volatility in the share prices of uranium mining companies. Active investors interested in the sector can use this to their advantage by buying on setbacks and lightening on sharp advances above rising 200-day moving averages.
From both an economic and investment perspective, I think that nuclear power is the most attractive of the various non fossil fuel energy industries for at least the next twenty years, although none of them are mutually exclusive.