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Political explosive power

Nuclear technology spreads to other countries from a mountain hall in Halden. The matter splits the government.


By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen and Harald Eraker

"Five, four, three, two, one, zero – contaminated!"

The metallic female voice over the loudspeaker system sounds the alarm: The instruments in the lock show that Ny Tid's emissaries have too high a dose of radiation in the body to let out.

We are in the holiest of all in the Halden reactor, where Norway tests fuel spells for the nuclear industry in 19 countries. This is where it happens, in the actual reactor hall 100 meters inside the mountain.

Despite the white, almost full-coverage protective suit, and warnings not to touch anything, Ny Tid's journalist has received a dose of radiation somewhere on his body that affects the measuring instruments.

Tor Arne Gulbrandsen, fuel accountant in the Halden reactor, reads some incomprehensible figures on the screen and dramatizes it all.

- You can try to wash your hands properly again and try again, he says.

"Five, four, three, two, one, zero – clean!"

It is uncertain how long people will pass through these locks in the Norwegian nuclear reactor. The Department of Energy Technology (Ife) has a license to operate it for two more years. Whether they can continue after that is a question now being addressed by the government parties. And they do not agree.

The conflict is about SV's principle negative attitude to nuclear power, about Sellafield, and about a contentious nuclear fuel named Mox, which is being researched in Halden. The Labor Party is positive that the Halden project's research benefits other nuclear countries, even though the Party does not want nuclear power in Norway. The Center Party has occupied an intermediate position. Sylvia Brustad's Ministry of Health has now asked the Radiation Protection Authority to consider a new ten-year license application for the nearly 50-year-old Halden reactor.

Think non-proliferation is undermined

The most contentious thing about the Halden reactor is that it tests so-called Mox fuel for the partners in the project. Japan is participating and plans to build several new reactors based on this type of fuel. British Nuclear Fuels, the owner of Sellafield and major producer of Mox, is also a player in Østfold city.

Mox is a fuel for nuclear reactors, made of uranium and plutonium. The advantage of using Mox as a reactor fuel is that it can then degrade or destroy weapons-grade plutonium, which is otherwise difficult to get rid of.

Critics, however, have pointed out that, if Mox is created and distributed on a large scale, players who want to obtain plutonium can easily recover it from the Mox fuel.

Nupi researcher Morten Bremer Mærli touched on this point in a report he wrote for the Ministry of the Environment in 2002.

- Do you think the Halden reactor can contribute to undermining the goals of non-proliferation that Norway will work for?

- Yes I think so. But only in an indirect way, Mærli answers.

Shortly after the safety check, Ny Tid's dispatcher stands at the tunnel opening from the reactor hall. There are a few dozen barrels with a couple of tons of heavy water. This is what is left of the so-called Dimona heavy water. In 1960, 20 tonnes of heavy water was sold from Norway to Israel. Another ton was sold in 1970.

In 1986, Israeli nuclear scientist Mordechai Vanunu published evidence that the Dimona plant, which used the Norwegian heavy water, had developed nuclear weapons. Vanunu was kidnapped by Mossad and jailed for 18 years.

So what does this have to do with the Halden reactor?

The heavy water case was politically inflamed. Various Norwegian governments faced political criticism at home and from Arab diplomats. The problem became so difficult that in the 1980s negotiations were negotiated with Israel to buy the heavy water back, which Norway succeeded in 1990. In the meantime, however, Israel had built its own heavy water plant.

Of a total of 21 tonnes originally sold, Israel would only sell back 10,5 tonnes.

In the meantime, Norsk Hydro had shut down heavy water production at Rjukan, and a strict regulatory framework was adopted to control the export of Norwegian heavy water.

The State Heavy Water was created as a state warehouse for the Dimona Heavy Water, with Ife as its sole user.

SV stands by its positions in this case.

Deputy Representative Heidi Sørensen

Ife, which is an independent foundation, bought the warehouse from the state in 2004. And now the rest of the heavy water that contributed to Israel's nuclear weapons is conveniently stored in the Halden reactor, which needs a little refill every year. It is enough for another few years of consumption.

Political dispute

Nuclear power is still a political explosive force in Norway. The operation of the Halden reactor may end with open conflict in the government. The issue was not at issue in the Soria Moria negotiations, despite the fact that the three governments have different views on the matter.

The Labor Party has been a supporter of nuclear research in Halden throughout the years, while the SV has been outspoken critics. In 2003, through a private bill, four SV representatives proposed to immediately halt all Mox research in Halden. In 2004, SV reaffirmed its criticism of the Halden project in a government statement:

"There is broad political agreement in Norway that nuclear power is an unacceptable source of energy. The National Board of SV wants a swift closure of the Halden reactor, most recently in connection with the issue of renewed license 21.08.08. »

- SV stands by its positions in this matter, and has also enshrined this in the party program, says parliamentary representative Heidi Sørensen to Ny Tid.

The Labor Party's attitude towards Halden-

however, the reactor is still positive. Jens Stoltenberg unceremoniously commented on the question in the Storting's Question Time on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster on April 26 this year.

Inspected by the IAEA

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are visiting the Halden reactor at the same time as New Time.

- The IAEA has exactly the same control regime vis-à-vis Norway as vis-à-vis Iran. But they have never had anything to blame on us, says Thomas Elisenberg, who is operations manager at the OECD Halden Reactor Project.

The two IAEA inspectors will not give names or comment on New Time, but one of them confirms that they have not found anything irregular in the facility. During the inspection, they have checked unirradiated fuel rods, been in the reactor hall to check if fuel is where it should be, and inspected the storage hall for fuel rods.

Elisenberg's operations manager emphasizes how close the inspectors are.

- When it comes to plutonium and Uranium 235, they check on the tithe chart if we have stored what we have stated here, he says.

Elisenberg is proud of the Halden project.

- It is the largest international cooperation project in Norway. The research on safety within nuclear technology that we do here is unique in the world, says Elisenberg.

The Halden project does not only mean that the 18 OECD countries collectively initiate research projects. Bilateral agreements are also signed with individual nuclear organizations in these countries.

Such agreements may include experiments with fuel rods where the customer sends with his own heavy water to make the conditions as realistic as possible. Ny Tid observes that together with the Dimona heavy water there are a couple of barrels of heavy water from the Canadian Ontario Power Generation that will be used for this purpose. But operations manager Elisenberg does not want Ny Tid to take pictures of it.

“(…) We have limited research on nuclear power. We have something about the reactor in Halden, and we will continue with that, but we have no plans to significantly step up that business, ”Stoltenberg said.

Safe to build down

When research on the Halden reactor was discussed during the previous parliamentary period, the Center Party did not advocate closure.

- We instead asked for evaluations of the work that takes place there through an impact assessment, explains Inger Enger, who was the Center Party's energy policy spokeswoman at the time, and who now sits on the research committee in the Storting.

Such an evaluation is now available. It was delivered to Business Minister Børge Brende (H) in August last year by a selection which included Bellona, ​​Ife and the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority.

The committee should consider what will happen to the research in Halden when Halden-

the reactor will once be shut down and what the consequences of a shutdown will be.

"The distinction between safety-preventive and prolonged nuclear research in Halden seems small."

Morten Bremer Mærli, Nupi

They recommend that the money spent on nuclear research be transferred to other safety research at Ife-Halden in case the reactor is shut down, and conclude that Norwegian nuclear preparedness is not dependent on the reactor. Dependence has been an important argument for the annual state allocations to the reactor.

At Sylvia Brustad's Ministry of Health, it is expected that approximately two years will be spent on processing Ife's license application.

The Ministry's decision in the case will therefore not be available until 2008.

environmental Criticism

While Ife and the Norwegian authorities believe the main point of the Halden project is to improve the safety of the nuclear plants in the world, the environmental movement has criticized Ife for helping to preserve the lives of old power plants that should have been shut down.

"The distinction between safety-preventive and prolonged nuclear research in Halden seems to be small," notes Mærli in his report to the Ministry of the Environment.

- We must have an open discussion about what the security systems in Halden are, and what they contribute to in the world, says Bård Lahn, leader of Nature and Youth.

He would prefer to shut down the Halden reactor as soon as possible.

- The systems developed here are used as an argument to extend the life of unsafe reactors that should be shut down. In this sense, the security argument in this case is abused, he believes.

Lahn thinks one must look at the Halden reactor in relation to Sellafield. One of the partners in the Halden project is British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, the company that operates the disputed Sellafield plant.

- Mox research in Halden builds on the plant in England, which Norway wants to close down, Lahn claims.

On May 18 this year, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that it is appropriate to build new nuclear power plants at Sellafield. n

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