by Fabian Stricker with help of Sebyll Onbasi
Mandate of the OSCE
Ukraine: 754th Plenary Meeting of the ‘Forum for Security Co-operation’
Fukushima and the dangers of nuclear energy
UAE Nuclear Power Program
Nuclear safety and the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident
Mandate of the OSCE
At 9 o’clock, our group met at Heldenplatz/Hofburg highly enthused to visit the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), headquartered in Vienna, Austria. We were welcomed by Ms Florence Le Clézio, Senior Press and Public Information Assistant, from the Press and Public Information Section who held a presentation on the OSCE’s mandate.
The Nuclear Politics Study Group 2014
Aiming to work for stability, prosperity and democracy, the creation of the organization dates back to recurring talks of the 1950s focusing on European security. It was not until the 1970s however, that serious progress towards the conclusion of viable political agreements could be made. It is noteworthy that the underlying idea for an accord was proposed by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies on the one side and taken up by the United States and Western Europe on the other side. Each side successfully secured its positions in what were to become the ’Helsinki Accords’, otherwise referred to as ’The Helsinki Final Act’ or ’The Decalogue’, signed in 1975.
The Helsinki Final Act, agreed on at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), encompasses 10 principles which guide domestic and inter-state relations. While articles III., IV. and VI. (above in red) were predominantly supported by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, the United States and Western Europe are told to have insisted on articles VII. and VIII. (above in blue). It is important to understand this ’bargaining nature’ of the Helsinki Accords especially against the backdrop of reducing tensions of the Cold War which required both sides to agree on distinctive concessions.
What is Austria’s role in all of this? Until this day, Austria is not a member to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Throughout the Cold War, the CSCE and subsequent meetings mainly between East and West, Austria’s political standing served the organization’s goal of impartiality well in the search for a headquarter.
Today, the organization comprises 57 participating states and 11 so called ’partners states’, making it the world’s largest regional security organization. The OSCE plays a unique role in European and international politics: It has no international legal personality and its decisions are not legally binding. All decisions made by consensus, they are however of decisive political significance and generally adhered to by its participating states.
The OSCE’s work spans across three areas: the politico-military (with military and political meetings in Vienna weekly), economic and environmental as well as the human dimension. This includes inter alia missions on arms control, helping to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1540 on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, de-mining, assisting the freedom of the media and the promotion of democratic elections, human rights and the rule of law. A mission may be procured upon request which is then pending approval by the OSCE. Its mandate may be ended unilaterally. Utilizing ’silent diplomacy’, the OSCE also aims to serve national minorities, offering to meet with all affected parties.
The practical aspect of the OSCE materializes in its field operations. To date, there are 16 field operations with the ‘Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine’ most pressingly on the agenda of the OSCE’s current work.
International investigators speaking on the radio near the MH17 crash site
© OSCE/Evgeniy Maloletka; http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm/122423
Ukraine: 754th Plenary Meeting of the ‘Forum for Security Co-operation’
Rounding up her presentation, Ms Le Clézio guided us to the Permanent Council where our group observed agenda items 1 and 2 (a) of the 754th Plenary Meeting of the ’Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC)’, a weekly meeting on military issues. Luckily for our group, the discussions revolved around a presentation on challenges and prospects to European security and the situation in the Ukraine. The presentation given by Lieutenant General W. Wosolsobe (Director General of the European Union Military Staff) and Major General R. A. Kee (Director, Strategy and Policy, Headquarters United States European Command) set the stage for interesting bilateral dialogues and a particularly heated debate between General Kee and the representative of the Russian Federation.
This was followed by a briefing by Mr Mathew Geertsen, Head of the FSC Support Section in the Conflict Prevention Centre of the Secretariat of the OSCE. Mr Geertsen introduced us to the particular mandate of the FSC which provided a valuable theoretical underpinning to what we had observed first hand in the FSC meeting a few moments earlier.
According to Mr Geertsen, the incremental de-escalation of the Cold War of the late 1960s made way for the above mentioned ’politico-military’ dimension of a European security discourse. Institutionally, it is the FSC where a dialogue between potential adversaries is facilitated and information related to this dimension shared.
A substantial concept of the FSC constitutes the ‘Code of Conduct’, a document governing the democratic control of security forces which encompasses an external and internal dimension. While states are to refrain from the use or threat of force, they are also expected to act in a democratically accountable fashion. This balance is somewhat to be found in the Helsinki Accords and mirrored the inherent problématique of modern statehood regarding the respect for territorial integrity on the one hand and the right to self-determination of peoples on the other hand. Mr Geertsen explained there may be three inspections per year per country, which was taken into consideration by the OSCE as Russian troops commenced exercising along the Russian-Ukrainian border.
Notwithstanding the urgency of the Ukrainian case, he went on to brief us about the OSCE’s transformed mandate following the end of the Soviet Union and the rise of terrorism including the attacks of 9/11. Measures against violent non-state actors moved up the OSCE’s agenda which inter alia led to the creation of the ‘OSCE Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons’ (SALW) in 2000.
Fukushima and the dangers of nuclear energy
For lunch, our group was very delighted to be joined by Dr Wolfgang Kromp, who gave us a lecture on nuclear safety and the downsides of the nuclear energy industry. Dr Kromp is a physicist and former Head of the Institute of Safety and Risk Sciences of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna. He provided us with a thorough, macro-scale perspective on nuclear energy.
Dr Kromp during a lunch-time briefing at the Zwillings-Gewölb, Vienna
With Fukushima still very much on the agenda of public discourse, Dr Kromp raised concerns about the safety of nuclear energy, highlighting examples of other nuclear accidents in the past. The picture of nuclear energy drawn throughout this lecture was an indubitably negative one. In light of the – until this day – immeasurable impact of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster including the construction of an enormous subterranean ice ring to stop radioactive water from leaking/spreading further, this lunch time briefing did provide food for thought most literally speaking.
IAEA Chief Yukiya Amano visits Fukushima Dai-ichi
© IAEAvideo; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prkseYdErK8&t=1m31s
When visiting nuclear accident sites of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano reported:
“I felt the enormous power of (the) tsunami and (the) hydrogen explosion, but at the same time I felt a sort of passion by the workers and engineers here. The leader of the fact-finding team, Dr Weightman said that in order to solve the accident, passion is needed and I felt that passion here.”
It remains to be seen whether ‘passion’ will indeed ‘solve the accident’. In spite of preceding and continuous cleanup work as well as the reinstatement of key nuclear energy plants in Japan, one may ask whether nuclear energy can be controlled environmentally sustainably. Relying on ‘faith’ or ‘passion’ however may not be the desired magic formula. It also raises the question whether the nuclear industry should not utilize alternative radioactive source elements to uranium such as thorium. This would then also address the omnipresent question whether both, the amount of nuclear waste and the time needed for its radioactivity to be diminished, could be reduced.
IAEA fact-finding team leader Dr Weightman assessing damage in Fukushima
© Greg Webb/ IAEA; IAEA Imagebank; https://www.flickr.com/photos/iaea_imagebank/5765324940/in/photostream/
Dr Kromp linked his presentation to contemporary patterns in global production and consumption, demand and supply, sustainability and economics of nuclear energy. Thrillingly, he established a nexus between the largely technical nature of nuclear energy and safety and their impact on international development. The physicist decried the indirect impact of the nuclear energy industry on our social systems worldwide and the fluctuating degree of social equality and inequality respectively.
In sum, it was a very critical but well-construed account of nuclear energy and certainly helped to gain a more holistic understanding of the multi-layered field of nuclear politics.
UAE Nuclear Power Program
In the afternoon, our group was welcomed at the Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for a briefing by His Excellency (hereinafter HE), Ambassador Hamad Alkaabi, UAE Permanent Representative to the IAEA in Vienna.
Gate to the premises of the Permanent Mission of the UAE to the IAEA/Embassy of the UAE
The focus of our briefing revolved around ongoing UAE efforts in the peaceful use of nuclear power and construction of its first nuclear power plant at Barakah in the Western region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, approximately 53 kilometers southwest of the city of Ruwais. The first reactor is scheduled to be operational by 2017, while the remaining three are projected to follow suit by 2020. The UAE is embarking on a nuclear power program for the first time, which is based on an in-depth evaluation of the UAE’s future energy needs conducted by the Government in 2006.
Building on this study, the UAE since established the regulatory body, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) and the nuclear power plant operator, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC). Furthermore, it has concluded all required international instruments related to nuclear energy, nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation and passed relevant legislation, making way to become a nuclear energy producer.
It also developed its ‘Policy on the Evaluation and Potential Development of Peaceful Nuclear Energy’ outlining six key principles: operational transparency, non-proliferation, safety and security, close cooperation with the IAEA, partnership with responsible nations and long-term sustainability.
Video: UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy Programme
© ENEC; Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBbIbGdKapg
What makes the UAE nuclear power program unique? It is commonly referred to or praised as the ‘gold standard’ for its non-proliferation efforts and strong abidance to best international practices. What does that mean?
In contrast to mainstream nuclear programs, the UAE does not pursue a nuclear fuel cycle which involves uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing operations. Referring to the ‘Faustian bargain’ of nuclear energy, Ambassador Alkaabi said there is a dual-use problématique as nuclear technologies may be used for peaceful as well as military purposes. With neither an enrichment nor a reprocessing capability, the UAE is in no position to accumulate nuclear weapons-grade material. This is why the UAE program is also called ‘safe by design’. Moreover, an International Advisory Board (IAB) headed by Dr. Hans Blix has been established which includes a group of internationally recognized experts on nuclear safety and security, fulfilling the commitment to complete operational transparency of its nuclear energy program.
Even if this reads simple and appears to be a perfect solution, this concept relies on other indispensable determinants, namely bilateral and/or multilateral deals for nuclear fuel supply. As the case of Iran shows, nuclear fuel can be instrumentalized as a tool of politics, rendering its secure and timely supply uncertain in times of political ousting or isolation.
HE Alkaabi also remarked that everyone should have a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. He elaborated that international nuclear fuel bank systems could serve as a ‘fail-safe’, where obstacles in the global supply chain, political and economic isolation are present for other reasons than a proliferation concern. It could be considered a ‘spare tire’ for nuclear players, provided by an international broker. As a consequence, the UAE has heavily invested in the IAEA fuel bank scheme.
One may pose the banal question why the UAE does not intend to use hydrocarbon reserves to cover its prospective energy demand. After all, the UAE is a major producer of oil and possesses huge hydrocarbon reserves. According to HE Alkaabi, the UAE is less and less inclined to make ample use of this, because domestic energy demands are projected to increase significantly by 2020. This would be to the detriment of enormous greenhouse gas emissions, if hydrocarbons were used solely.
©/ Source: UAE Nuclear Power Programme Case by Ambassador Hamad Alkaabi, UAE Permanent Representative to the IAEA, Technical Meeting on Topical Issues on Infrastructure Development: Nuclear Power Project Development in Emerging Nuclear Power States;
Yet, some 65% of gas is imported, resulting in a net demand and energy dependence towards gas exporters. Factors such as reliability and availability of supply were also taken into account when deciding to diversify the UAE energy infrastructure. The step towards nuclear energy met widespread public support as was shown in a poll with 85% of the people in the UAE approving of its nuclear power program.
Addressing a question from our group, HE Alkaabi responded that a 2013 nuclear safety label forging scandal involving the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), the UAE’s main contractor for the construction of its four nuclear power plants, did not suffer a delay to the supply chain as a different company was contracted regarding the materials of concern.
HE Alkaabi expresses his vision that the UAE’s program can serve as a model for other countries considering a nuclear power program. The Ambassador stated that the commercial model goes hand in hand with the UAE model since starting from scratch, i.e. building and maintaining the entire infrastructure that a full-fledged nuclear fuel cycle encompasses, can be cost-intensive.
Whether the UAE model can also serve as a future mediation model for the Iranian nuclear program, remains to be seen and ought to be analyzed in light of an entirely different political context. The hands-on presentation was a very good addition to the preceding briefings and included some new developments of the nuclear industry. With the question of nuclear fuel banks becoming more and more important, the briefing provided a practical example of what a prospective nuclear fuel sharing regime could look like in practice.
Nuclear safety and the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident
As our final event of the day, we received a lecture by Dr Nikolaus Müllner, researcher with the Institute of Safety and Risk Sciences of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna. His presentation broke down the facets of an atomic power plant, particularly its reactor, and its specific safety systems in the case of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Institute of Safety and Risk Sciences
Key to the production and utilization of energy in any power plant, also in a nuclear power plant, is the regulation of emitted heat. However, with regard to some models of a nuclear power plant, the regulation of heat is an indispensable and most important task to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.
Through nuclear fission, Uranium 235 (U-235) emits two highly radioactive fission products which need to be contained. As a part of this process, noble gases come up which cannot be contained easily as they are compounding heat generation i.e. they produce heat themselves. Decay heat has to be removed continuously to avoid the nuclear reactor from overheating, in other words to prevent a nuclear meltdown.
Most reactors create around 3-4 gigawatts (GW). Even when turned off, they generate around 30 megawatts (MW) which have to be contained. Thus, it is highly important to install so called ‘emergency cooling systems’ to ensure safety, even if conventional cooling systems fail.
In cases like Fukushima (a boiling water reactor or ‘BWR’), when cooling is lost, water will boil and subsequently evaporate. Eventually, the reactor will overheat and if all water is lost, hydrogen is created which poses a major safety breach. At some point, the core liquefies, still producing heat whilst the reactor core is molten. After that, the reactor core vessel will fail, melt and flow on the containment floor. Some reactor models have melt-able containment floors. According to Dr Müllner it is not clear whether this had happened in Fukushima, but that there were some indications that it had indeed happened.
Interactive run-through of a severe nuclear accident – Dr Müllner explains
A compounding problem in the case of the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident concerns the role of salt-water. Built on the eastern shore of Japan, the nuclear power plant was designed to be cooled through heat transcending into the sea. This is an indirect measure, i.e. salt-water may not be applied directly for cooling purposes. However, in the catastrophic case of Fukushima this occurred and brought up the problem of corrosion, hence complicating the containment problem exponentially.
Dr Müllner elaborated that the cooling failure was not due to the earthquake that struck Japan, but the unprecedented flood wave that rolled over the emergency cooling aggregate installations. Normally, when building a nuclear power plant, calculations of up to a 10,000 years of flood are being undertaken. Flood projections are taken into account in what is called ‘design acceleration’ of a flood.
There is a difference between ‚design acceleration’ and ‚actual acceleration’. In the actual event of the tsunami, it became abundantly clear that some fallacies must have occurred throughout the calculations of the design acceleration of the Japanese east coast and all relevant nuclear power plants.
While the plant in Onagawa withstood the impact of the Tsunami built following a design acceleration which – considering the enormous strength of the earthquake – implied it would not, the opposite happened in Fukushima. How could this be?
In Dr Müllner’s opinion, one of the underlying structural problems leading up to this disaster was that the suggestions to modify existing design acceleration installations following the tsunami in the Indian Ocean of 2004, were disregarded by the regulatory authority of Japan.
For an additional and lengthier explanation of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, please see the following video:
Understanding the accident of Fukushima
Another complication in the way the disaster and containment management played out was displayed by the lengthy intervals local authorities had to wait for a superior body’s decision: In this case, Tokyo’s decision. Hence, due to the rules in the hierarchical command chain, severe accident management failures occurred.
The Japanese regulatory authority allegedly did not put enough pressure on the nuclear operator, i.e. the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). On the contrary, it is contested that TEPCO cooperated maliciously and cheated important safety checks. The unfortunate consequence is that there was no independent and objective supervision of the Japanese nuclear industry.
In holistic and inter-disciplinary fashion, Dr Müllner linked the technicalities of nuclear reactor safety to the issue of nuclear regulatory authorities. It was very interesting not only to discuss the immediate impact of the Tsunami, but the containment of the nuclear accident and TEPCO’s role in it. Dr Müllner highlighted that the general public or society as a whole should decide what is to be considered safe, safely designed and safely operated nuclear industry.
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