Thursday, November 22, 2012

End of the line

After five years it is time to close up shop

Typewriter keys for an
Underwood Universal #5
This blog has ceased publication and the contents, all 1,600 blog posts, will remain available in archive status. I appreciate all the support from readers over the past five years.

The purpose of this blog was to have a “voice” in the dialog about nuclear energy, the global nuclear renaissance, and to be able to shape public views. This blog did not merely report the news.

It attempted to answer the "so what" question when it comes to nuclear energy developments.

I think it achieved those objectives.  I had a good run. Five years is a long time in the blogsphere.

This blog is called 'Idaho Samizdat" because I spent 20 years working at the Idaho National Laboratory and have the dust from the volcanic cinders of the Arco desert in my shoes.

The Idaho lab is the home of the birth of the nation's commercial nuclear power industry. The "samizdat" part came from the fact it is a Russian word that means "self-published," which is a great name for a blog.

The blog came to be named "Idaho Samizdat" to distinguish its online presence both for its geographic birthplace and its heritage as a source of "unofficial" information. This blog did not speak for any vendor, agency, or organization.

Publication began in January 2007. The blog was in continuous publication since then. For the month of April 2012, this blog had over 14,000 visitors and over 45,000 page views according to Google Analytics. About 63 percent of those visitors came from the U.S., and the rest came from 70 other countries.

Comments are turned off. I can be reached via email ~  djysrv [at] gmail [dot] com

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PS: Due to a change in the way Picassa stores images. some of them have been lost from blog posts over time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dan's 2nd Day Idaho Nuclear Chili

~ Updated for 2012 ~ Fed Up with Turkey? Try this Recipe!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, and wanting to take a break from reading, thinking, and writing about nuclear energy, I'm offering for the 6th year my tried and true cooking instructions for something completely different.

Sunday night you will be fed up, literally, and figuratively, with turkey. Instead of food fit for pilgrims, try food invented in the wide open west -- chili. Cook this dish on Saturday. Eat it on Sunday.

These instructions take about an hour to complete. This chili has more vegetables and beans than some people might like, but we're all trying to eat healthy.

Although the name of this dish has the word "nuclear" in it, it isn't that hot on the Scoville scale. If you want some other choices for nuclear chili try this Google search string.

The beer adds sweetness to the vegetables, as does the brandy, and is a good for cooking generally. In terms of the beer, which is an essential ingredient, you'll still have five cans or bottles left to share with friends so there's always that. Some readers have written suggesting the use of bourbon instead of brandy. Go for it!

anchor steam six pack However, I recommend Negra Modelo for drinking with this dish and Budweiser or any American pilsner for cooking it.

Alternatives for drinking include rocky mountain local favorites such as Moose Drool or Black Butte Porter, and regional amber ales Alaskan Amber, or Anchor Steam. You can also try Rolling Rock for cooking. Do not cook with "light" beer. It is a supremely bad idea!

History of the cooking instructions 

Scoville, Idaho, is the destination for Union Pacific rail freight for the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), which is way out on the Arco desert. There is no town by that name, but legend has it that way back in the 50s & 60s, when the place was called the National Reactor Testing Station, shift workers on cold winter nights relished the lure of hot chili hence the use of the use of the name 'Scoville" for shipping information.

Overnight temperatures on the Arco desert can plunge to -20F or more. Unfortunately, the guys running the reactors couldn't drink beer, but they did have coffee. It's still that way today.

Why '2nd day' in the name? 
This is "2nd day chili." That means after you make it, put it in the garage to cool, then refrigerate it, and reheat the next day. The flavors will have had time to mix with the ingredients, and on a cold Idaho night what you need that warms the body and the soul is a bowl of hot chili with fresh, warm corn bread on the side.

If you make a double portion, you can serve it for dinner over a hot Idaho baked potato with salad. Enjoy.

Dan's 2nd day Idaho Nuclear Chili -- Ingredients

1 lb chopped or ground beef (15% fat)
1 large onion
1 sweet red pepper
1 sweet green pepper
10-12 medium size mushrooms
1 can pinto beans (plain, no "sauce")
1 can black beans
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can small, white 'shoepeg" corn
1 12 oz can beer
1 cup hot beef broth
1 tablespoon cooking brandy or bourbon
1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno peppers
2-4 tablespoons red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse powdered garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin 


1. Chop the vegetables into small pieces and brown them in cooking oil. Add 1 tablespoon of cooking brandy near the end. Drain thoroughly. Sprinkle some chili powder on vegetables while browning.
2. Brown the meat separately and drain the fat.  Ditto – sprinkle some chili powder on meat while browning.
3. Combine all the ingredients in a large pot. Be sure to drain the beans and tomatoes before adding.
4. Simmer slowly for at least 60-120 min. Stir occasionally.
5. Set aside and refrigerate when cool.
6. Reheat the next day. Serve with corn bread. Garnish with shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Feeds 2-4 adults.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

First fuel loading at Kudankulam

The Indian Atomic Energy Regulatory Board gave a green light for the action

Russian build VVERs at
Work began on Wednesday, Sept 19, to load commercial fuel (3-5% U235) into the core of the first of two 1,000 MW Russian built VVER nuclear reactors located on India's southern tip in the state of Tamil Nadu.  A spokesman for the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) said the fuel loading process will take about ten days.

Once the fuel loading is complete, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) will give the plant operator permission to close the reactor head and begin to hot start up. The IAEA will inspect the plant before this step takes place.

Once the reactor is generating electricity, it will be synchronized with the electrical grid.  NPCIL says that half the full power of the reactor, which should be available by the end of October, will be made available to rate payers in Tamil Nadu. The rest will be put on the national grid. India suffered two devastating power outages in July which left more than 600 million people without electricity and shut down the national railway system.

Fuel loading represents a victory over several legal challenges and more than a year of local protests. This is the first time a reactor of this size has been commissioned in India. Similar units are planned for the Kudankulam site.  Areva is working with NPCIL to start work on two 1,600 MW EPR reactors at Jaitapur on India's west coast.  A  December 2012 start date still looks good according to Areva.

India to reform its nuclear regulatory agency

India is reported to be in dialog with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct a peer review of its Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and propose changes to improve its operation. The government's actions follow an audit of the agency which levels severe criticisms of its capabilities and lack of conformance with international nuclear safety standards.

The first IAEA reviews will take place in late October and will include site visits to the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (RAPS) which has two nuclear reactors.

India' state owned electrified railways
would like to have their own nuclear reactors
 to keep the trains running
It is expected that changes to the AERB, which may require parliamentary action, will improve public confidence in India's energy plans to build 20 Gwe of nuclear generating capacity over the next several decades.

The future of India's energy policy depends on stability in terms of government action.  The current government, headed by PM Singh, is facing an uphill battle due to a corruption  scandal involving the distribution of coal mining and electric power generation rights to private sector firms by state-owned power agencies.

Large parts of India are still without electricity from any part of the national grid so access to power is an important form of political patronage. Who gets electricity and when will be a central concern of whatever government succeeds PM Singh. The nuclear power program will likely continue, but it will need success with reform of the AERB to insure long term support of the ruling elites in and out of the government.

It is unlikely that any U.S. reactor vendors will land contracts to build new units in India. A draconian supplier liability law has locked out all commercial vendors including U.S. firms. State owned firms like Rosatom and Areven self-insure and any future liability claim would be disposed of through diplomatic channels and not the courts.

Opposition parties in the Indian parliament have fiercely resisted efforts by PM Singh to change the law or water it down via implementing regulations. Also, some political interests want all new reactors to be built by Indian firms with Indian designs.

# # #

US nuclear news roundup for 09/23/12

Despite seemingly intractable problems at several reactor sites, there are some positive developments

Common sense report on Indian Point

New York Governor
Andrew Cuomo
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has tried mightily to create a rationale for closing the twin nuclear reactors at Indian Point. However, it appears there is opposition based on the expected economic consequences of losing 2,200 MW of carbon emission free power.

It turns out, according to a New York think tank, (video)(report) that if the Indian Point reactors are closed that the results will be higher electricity costs, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, and an economic downturn for the New York City region.

The Manhattan Institute, no paragon of liberal white wine and cheese thinking, says that any combination of wind power and natural gas will cost more than keeping the reactors running for another 20 years. The report, written by energy analyst Jonathan Lesser, makes no bones about the outcome of not relicensing the reactors.

"Politicians should be under no illusion that closing Indian Point will be painless. It will not be."

Among the report's findings;

  • The cost of electricity will rise by $2.2 billion a year
  • The average annual residential electric bill will rise by $76
  • Businesses will layoff as many as 40,000 workers to pay for increased electricity costs
  • The cost of running New York city's subways will rise by $1-2 million more per year with the increases passed on to strap hangers
The anti-nuclear group Riverkeeper, which is partnered with Gov. Cuomo in terms of politics and funding raising sources, dismissed the report saying that Indian Point kills fish in the Hudson River and that power from the reactors can be replaced by other sources.

The NRC is analyzing the safety of the plant as part of its determination whether to grant Entergy, the owner and operator, a 20-year license extension. Because of the twisted politics of spent fuel management in Washington, the agency has suspending licensing decisions for the next two years. 

That timeline coincides with the next gubernatorial election in 2014. This will give  Mr. Cuomo a gorilla in the closet to frighten people with and a means to raise more cash from the white wine and cheese folks who populate his political base in Westchester county. However, the results of fund raising parties do not drive NRC licensing decisions. 

Gov Cuomo may discover the same hard fact as Gov. Peter Shumlin, his anti-nuclear colleague in Vermont. In terms of licensing decisions, only the NRC can decide whether a reactor stays open or shuts down. 

Duke Energy says it will build twin reactors in Florida

Newly merged nuclear electric utilities Duke and Progress will proceed to build twin Westinghouse AP1000 1,100 MW reactors in Levy County, Florida, on the state's west coast and bring them online in 2024. That's what Jeff Lyash, a senior executive with Duke, which now runs the show, told the Florida Public Service Commission Sept 10th.

"We have made a decision to build," Lyash said. "I am confident in the schedule and the numbers."

Lyash said that to meet the 2024 date for entering revenue service, construction of the reactors needs to start by 2016. It will need combined construction and operating licenses for the reactors from the NRC. That's probably doable assuming the regulatory agency doesn't make hash out of its its current two year suspension of licensing decisions and turn it into a permanent policy.

Opponents of the plant say that the reactors do not make economic sense because they believe low natural gas prices are likely to remain so for some years to come. However, Progress says that over the next decade, natural gas prices will rise as the economy recovers from its current depressed state. 

One of the issues that gives opponents leverage in Florida is the state's policy designed, paradoxically, to reduce the cost of building new reactors. It allows Progress to request rate increases to cover new reactors costs as they are incurred while the plant is being built. This policy saves the reactor owner huge sums in terms of interest it does not have to pay on borrowing the money.

However, Florida's demographics are skewed by retirees who object to being billed for construction of a power plant they might never live to see. These intergenerational conflicts offer so-called rate payer groups the opportunity to leverage that opposition in rate case hearings.  

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) is in the forefront of such groups that are challenging an agreement Progress Energy made with the Florida PSC last January. It limits what Progress can collect to pay for the new reactors to $3.45/month through 2018. It means Progress will have to borrow some funds to get construction started in 2016 increasing the costs of completing the reactors.

What it boils down to is that in putting a cap on the basic policy of pay-as-you-go, opponents of the plants are insuring that future electricity costs will be higher once the reactors come online. So for the sake of political expediency and appeals to to current retirees, SACE is pushing higher costs on to the next generation of settlers in the sunshine state.

As Laurel once said famously to Hardy, "That's another fine mess you've gotten us into."

MidAmerican eyes potential site for SMRs in Iowa

MidAmerican Is an adviser to
NuScale which is developing
a 45 MW LWR design
Despite a setback in the last session of the Iowa State Legislature, MidAmerican is evaluating alternative sites in the state for building one or more small modular reactors (SMR) which have power in the range of 100-300 MW. Two sites are being looked at - one in Fremont and the other in Muscatine county. 

The utility is holding public meetings to explain what it is doing, but it also said it is not considering building an SMR next to its existing reactor at the Duane Arnold reactor site in Palo.

A spokesman for MidAmerican stressed in statements to the news media that the site feasibility studies do not represent a decision to build an SMR. The spokesman also said that the utility might consider a natural gas fired plant at those sites, but it won't build anymore coal plants due to environmental regulations covering mercury emissions. The spokesman also declined to give a schedule for the utility to make a decision or build any new power generating facilities saying it was too early in the process.

Opponents of a new nuclear power plant of any kind have piled into the state legislature twice so far and successfully beaten back legislation that would allow MidAmercian to request rate increases to cover the costs of the reactors while they are being built. Environmental groups and the AARP have battled against the proposal. They bottled up the bill in the State Senate preventing a floor debate on its merits.

A spokesman for the Iowa Environmental Council said that a combination of wind and natural gas plants would be cheaper and quicker to build to meet new demand for electricity.  He made no distinction between conventional large reactors and SMRs.

A 100 MW SMR costing $4,000/Kr would come in at $400 million and have an operational life of 60 years. Revenue from the first unit would pay for subsequent units.

MidAmerican may be betting on success among one or several U.S. SMR developers that are seeking $450 million over five years in cost sharing funds from the federal government. The Department of Energy is supposed to make a decision on who gets the money by end of this month. Once awarded, the funds can be used for technical and licensing costs. 

With or without the federal funds, SMRs using LWR designs are expected to get their safety certifications and first customer orders by the end of this decade.

# # # 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Japan’s U-turn on the zero option for nuclear energy

The Cabinet hits the brakes on a formal policy to phase out all nuclear reactors in 30 years.

Hiromasa Yonekura, Chairman
of the Keidanren business lobby (L)
in happier days shaking hands with
Japan Prime MInister Yoshihiko Noda (R)
at a Asian trade conference in 2011
The Japanese government bowed to pressure from the country’s largest business firms to keep the reactors running.  While only two have been restarted this year, the clear implication is that the rest need to come online and soon.

Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of Japan’s largest business lobby, Keidanren, said this week that the business community cannot accept the zero option strategy.

He said the lobby “wants a responsible energy policy.”

One of the key reasons may be the failure of Japan’s export driven economy to produce positive numbers. Japan posted a trade deficit in August of $7.7 billion only slightly smaller than the deficit of $9.6 billion a year ago. At market close on Friday Sept 21 the Yen traded at ¥78.15 against the U.S. dollar.

Japan’s heavy industries produce earnings that pay for the imports of food and fuel since the country is less than 50% self-sufficient in terms of agriculture and has few local fossil resources. Since shutting down all of its reactors, Japan’s imports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas have skyrocketed contributing to the balance of trade deficit.

What happened in the Japanese cabinet is a major loss of face for Prime Minister Noda. Energy Minister Motohisa Furukawa said in an official press conference that the cabinet had decided to reign in Noda’s plan to shut down all of the nation’s nuclear reactors over the next 30 years.

Instead, he said the cabinet “would take his policy into consideration” when formulating a long-term program. Translated from the euphemistic language of Japanese politics that comes out that the likelihood of the nuclear phase out policy being adopted has the same chance as a snowball in hell.

Noda had announced the plan after acknowledging that over 70% of Japanese voters oppose long-term investments in nuclear energy. His announcement was seen as being politically expedient since it has numerous loopholes and caveats.

Apparently, these exceptions were not enough for the major industrial members of the Keidanren who have been threatening to take their manufacturing operations offshore if the reactors are not kept running. Prior to the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, Japan got 30% of its electricity from 54 reactors and had plans to increase that number to 50%.

The head of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce said in the joint press conference with the Keidanren that the 2030 deadline “was not a viable option in the first place.”

In addition to the business federations, provincial officials in prefectures where the reactors are located have objected to the loss of tax revenue and payroll from jobs that would result from closing the power stations. Additionally, they objected to the decommission plans that would keep spent fuel at the reactor sites for decades after the units shut down.

New nuclear regulatory agency starts up
Shunichi Tanaka, Chief of the
Nuclear Regulatory Authority
Amid immediate criticism from anti-nuclear groups that it is not independent, the new Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) began operations with five members headed by a 67-year old former executive of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.  

Shunichi Tanaka will head with organization with four others with technical backgrounds. The former Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which was discredited for its poor performance during the Fukushima crisis, was staffed with career bureaucrats.

Tanaka’s prior professional work with a pro-nuclear organization raised fears among anti-nuclear groups that the new regulatory agency would be no better than the last one. However, NISA was captured by business groups being embedded in METI, the government’s trade agency. The NRA is attached to the government’s environmental agency to put distance between it and industry influence.

Three for three
While the cabinet was bowing to pressure from business groups over the zero option for nuclear energy, the government also initiated what looks like a swap of new lamps for old. It said it would decommission three reactors in the Fukui Prefecture, one owned by Tsuruga Power and two owned by Kansai Electric. All three are more than 40 years old. The units are Tsuruga #1 and Mihama Units #1 & 2 all of which began operation in 1970.

The government said it was strictly adhering to PM Noda’s policy to close reactors after 40 years of operation though the policy has a loophole to allow a license extension of another 20 years following a safety analysis. Over the next six years another five reactors will pass the 40 year mark.

At the same time the government said that reactors already under construction will be completed, says Yukio Edano, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry trade minister. They are the No. 3 reactor at the Shimane plant (94- percent complete) in Matsue, capital of the Shimane Prefecture, which is operated by Chugoku Electric; a reactor at the Oma plant (38 percent complete) in Aomori Prefecture, which is operated by Electric Power Development; and, No. 1 reactor (10 percent complete) at the Higashidori plant also in Aomori Prefecture.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fukimura said the government would approve continued construction of these power stations refusing to take back permits or approval of building plans for them.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Intractable delays at three U.S. nuclear plants

Restarts of reactors at three utilities are still distant gleams in the eyes of their operators

Customers of three nuclear electric utilities will have a long wait for the restart of four U.S. reactors. The sites are Southern California Edison's (SCE) twin 1100 MW units at San Onofre,  the 478 MW Ft. Calhoun plant near Omaha which is owned by OPPD, but operated by Exelon; and the 860 MW Crystal River now owned by Duke via a merger.

Sad melody at SONGS

The latest development at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is that the two units are winding up on different tracks.  Units 2, which has far less damage to its steam generator than Unit 3, is close to having a restart plan. SCE is said to be preparing one to be submitted to the NRC in October.  For its part, the NRC said the review could take months.

On the other hand, SCE said it has no immediate plans to submit a similar restart plan for Unit 3.  The utility says extensive repairs are needed for the steam generator. In the meantime, SCE is removing fuel from the reactor and laying off over 700 people from the plant. It could be a long time before Unit 3 is back in operation.

California Senate Barbara Boxer used the troubled plants as rhetorical device to brow beat the NRC in a hearing last week. Boxer, who is no friend of the nuclear industry, said she wants absolute assurance of the safety of the plants before they are allowed to operate again.  Newly appointed NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane said in response the review of a restart plan for Unit 2 "would be on the order of months."

The cost of fixing the plant is a key issue among Boxer's constituents.  Keeping the plants shut down, since last January, has cost millions per month for replacement power from fossil fuel plants.  Repair and inspection costs thus far have notched forward of the $50 million mark.

The California Public Utility Commission wants to know whether SCE will ask rate payers to cover the costs of repairs or try to get Mitsubishi, which supplied the now troubled steam generators, to cough up the money.  The one option that doesn't seem to be on the table is wholesale replacement of either steam generator. The units cost over $600 million when installed three years ago.

SCE will likely pursue repairs for the steam generators at both reactors since their licenses run until 2022.

Ft. Calhoun still under water more or less

The Omaha Public Power District, which once said confidently it would restart its only nuclear reactor in September now looks with hope at a December date.  Nothing is certain according to the NRC which wants the utility to complete a long list of actions to clear up safety issues.

The combination of problems resulting from flooding in June 2011 and other safety issues, including an electrical fire outside the reactor building, have kept the plant offline. Last month OPPD announced it has hired Exelon to operate the plant. The move is expected to produce progress in closing safety issues.

OPPD says they would like to heat up the plan in December to test power generating systems that have been offline since April 2011. However, the NRC says it has no timeline for restart of the plant.  Agency spokesperson Lara Uselding said the completion of the list of safety actions still has a long way to go.

Crystal River repairs may be too costly

The estimated costs of between $900 million and $1.3 billion for repair of the damaged containment structure at the Crystal River reactor in Florida may be too high a price to pay.

Record low prices of natural gas, which if they remain there, indicate Duke Energy, which now owns the reactor, may replace it with a gas fired power plant.

The sticking point is whether the reactor's decommissioning fund is robust enough to pay for setting it on that path. The NRC license for the Crystal River plan expires in 2016.

# # #

Is there nuclear energy squeeze play in Japan and France?

Political expediency seems to be the motivation in Japan, but the picture is less clear in France

Last Friday Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda appeared to bow to overwhelming anti-nuclear sentiment in his country in an effort to save his party's fortunes in the upcoming elections later this fall.

But Japan will operate its current fleet of reactors for at least the next 20-30 years and three new power stations now under construction will be completed which means they could be keeping the lights on until 2070 or longer.

In France, the Socialist Party, which won the election there last May, struggled to balance commitments to reducing greenhouse gases with calls by its partner Green Party to aggressively reduce reliance on nuclear energy.

The French government is unlikely to agree to the demand by the Greens for a zero power option for nuclear energy. Even so the announced plan to reduce reliance in the nations nuclear power stations from 75% to 50% may be set aside.

According to the New York Times for Sept 15, Arnaud Montebourg, French minister for economic recovery, said in a TV interview that nuclear energy is the "industry of the future" and is a "tremendous asset" for France. If nothing else his remarks will give Areva's CEO Luc Oursel at least one good night of sleep. 

These actions follow decisions by Germany and Switzerland to phase out their nuclear reactors. For those who have been living under a rock, Germany shuttered half its fleet and will close the remaining nuclear power stations by 2022. These actions will result in a greater use of coal and natural gas and make Germany a steady customer of Russia's energy production capacity.

As for Switzerland, the parliament has left itself a political loophole in its 2035 deadline saying it might consider new reactor construction if the right "safe" technology comes along. Naturally, the legislation doesn't define it leaving an opening large enough for just about anything a future power starved electorate will be willing to accept.

In France Areva CEO Luc Oursel, who severely cut back the firm's planned capital investments in December 2011, said the global nuclear energy industry needs to restore public trust following the Fukushima crisis.  A Westinghouse executive told Reuters Sept 13 that TEPCO's errors at Fukushima, which contributed to the scope of the disaster, point to the need for international cooperation on safety issues.
Some promising signs

While all this hand wringing was taking place, there were several developments that indicate the whole world is not in a head-over-heels retreat from nuclear energy.  In the U.K. Westinghouse said it is "absolutely committed" to the country's new build.

The firm is reported to be in talks to partner with China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corp., and Exelon from the U.S to bid on the Horizon project. It was to be built by two German utilities who quit after their cash flow dried up from the German government's decision to shut down eight of the nation's reactors.

UAE project progress

In a decision that will support thousands of American jobs, the board of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) has authorized a $2 billion direct loan to the Barakah One Company of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) to underwrite the export of American equipment and service-expertise for the construction of a nuclear power plant in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

According to estimates derived from U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the line of credit will support approximately 5,000 American jobs across 17 states.

The loan ranks as Ex-Im Bank's largest transaction in the U.A.E. to date and counts as Ex-Im Bank's first greenfield nuclear-plant financing since the late 1990s.

Barakah One Company plans to erect four nuclear reactor power-generating units on a coastal strip along the Arabian Gulf approximately 220 kilometers from the city of Abu Dhabi.

The 1400 MW reactors, supplied by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) will come online at one-year intervals starting in 2017.

Westinghouse Electric Company LLC, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based group company of Toshiba Corporation, is the largest exporter involved in the transaction and will provide the reactor coolant pumps, reactor components, controls, engineering services, and training.

A total of eight Westinghouse nuclear power plants are currently under construction in China and the United States.

The UAE also recently let contracts worth $3 billion for procurement of nuclear fuel.   Rio Tino, a mining company, and Areva, will supply the uranium needed to fuel four new reactors.

# # #

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Calling Out Red Herrings about MOX Fuel for TVA

The path to using it is paved with government documents 

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is considering a plan to burn mixed oxide fuel in two of its power reactors starting in 2018. While the utility hasn’t formally made up its mind, the decision process reached a new stage with the release this week by the Department of Energy (DOE) of a “Draft Surplus Plutonium Disposition Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.” 

In the document DOE says its “preferred alternative" is to convert surplus plutonium from the nation’s nuclear weapons program into Mixed Oxide fuel (MOX) at a facility being built in South Carolina.

The MOX fuel is proposed to be used in commercial nuclear reactors owned and operated by TVA. These units are the Sequoyah and Browns Ferry nuclear plants. A total of approximately 34 tonnes of material would be converted under this program. 

MOX fuel is used in about three dozen nuclear reactors worldwide, but so far all the MOX that has been manufactured has come from recycling materials from spent nuclear fuel that was already used once in a commercial reactor. What’s new is that weapons grade plutonium will be used to make MOX fuel. It will be the equivalent of standard uranium fuel enriched to 3-5% U235. It cannot be used to make bombs and will not blow up. 

TVA has said it has not yet made a formal decision to burn MOX fuel at the two reactors, but it did tell the TimesFreePress July 25 it has three criteria which must be met.
  • It is operationally and environmentally safe
  • It is economically beneficial to TVA’s customers
  • The licenses for the two reactors can be modified and accepted by the NRC 
The conversion of the plutonium is part of a joint program with Russia to dismantled nuclear weapons. The agreement was signed in 2000. The $4.8 billion U.S. MOX fuel plant is being built in South Carolina by a consortium of The Shaw Group and Areva. In France Areva has over two decades of experience making MOX fuel. 

If TVA decides to use MOX, it could eventually replace up to 40 percent of the fuel assemblies in the cores of its Sequoyah and Browns Ferry reactors. The two Sequoyah reactors are pressurized water reactors with 193 fuel assemblies each. The three Browns Ferry reactors are boiling water reactors with 764 fuel assemblies each.

The DOE’s MOX plant is expected to produce the equivalent of 1,700 PWR assemblies to dispose of 34 tonnes of surplus plutonium. At a projected output rate of up to 70 metric tons heavy metal per year, the MOX facility may produce more fuel than TVA’s five reactors could consume. 

Two other nuclear utilities – Duke and Energy Northwest, are also considering using MOX fuel. One of the key issues all three utilities have is reliable fuel services. This means that if the utilities decide to use the MOX fuel, it must be ready when the reactors have their scheduled fuel outages. Energy Northwest has reliable fuel services lined up for a number of years. For this reason earlier this year it cancelled a study to be carried out by PNNL to look at the issue.

TVA won’t start out at the 40-percent core replacement level. The initial replacement level for the reactors will be about 8 assemblies of MOX fuel. Ramp up time to the 40-percent level depends on the DOE’s production schedule, how well the MOX works, and cost factors, among others. TVA does not expect to load MOX fuel before 2018. 

Explaining MOX to the public
One of the challenges that TVA faces is that the public perceptions of using plutonium as fuel needs some explaining. TVA starts by describing that MOX is a mix of uranium and plutonium. MOX has about 4-percent plutonium oxide (of which 94 percent is Pu-239) and the rest is depleted uranium oxide. 

Commercial nuclear fuel starts as uranium oxide. What many people do not know, is that plutonium is a normal byproduct in nuclear reactors that fission uranium. 

Plutonium builds up in the fuel inside the reactors and eventually provides up to 40 percent of the core’s heat energy. Fission of plutonium produces this energy in the reactor at the end of the life of the fuel.

TVA managers point out they are not introducing a new element to a core. The plutonium is already there. Also, the thermal output of the reactor will not change as a result of using MOX fuel.
While Pu-239 is more energetic than U-235, the NRC license governs the use of MOX. Heat inside a core can be managed by blending different fuels just like mixing different types of wood in a fireplace. 

Oak Ridge National Laboratory data presented by TVA to the Nuclear Waste Technology Review Board show little difference in decay heat loads between used MOX fuel and normal non-MOX fuel.
Thus the difference in heat load between used MOX and used uranium oxide fuel can be accommodated in spent fuel pool cooling or space requirements and in dry cask thermal design. 

Next steps
Overall, with TVA support as a cooperating agency, the DOE is on track to complete a supplemental environmental impact statement for MOX fuel use that will assess safety for workers, the public, and the environment.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses for all the reactors that are candidates to use MOX will have to be updated to address physical operating differences and any changes in safety requirements. Technically, at this point, TVA believes that the physical modifications needed for each reactor are manageable. Also, TVA expects the DOE’s MOX to cost less than uranium fuel. 

A decision to proceed with engineering and licensing is currently expected to be made in 2013. 

TVA is a public power provider for a seven-state region serving nine million people. In 2010, 36 percent of its power generation came from nuclear energy. 

One element of its charter, which dates back to the New Deal programs between 1933 and 1936 of President Franklin Roosevelt, is to support national security missions. TVA built power plants to provide electricity for the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge. It’s role as a potential customer for MOX fuel comes from this legacy. 

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Mix it up about MOX in Chattanooga

A hearing on the potential use of MOX fuel on two TVA reactors is set for September 11 

The American Nuclear Society is putting on a full court press over a MOX fuel hear on Tuesday this week.  They ask for your help with a September 11 public hearing in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

We need as many people to attend as possible. The hearing begins at 5:30 PM with an informational open house and the public testimony session starts at 6:30 PM.

See location information and fact sheet links below.

Chattanooga Convention Center
1150 Carter Street
Chattanooga, TN  37402

The Chattanooga hearing is an opportunity for the nuclear community to gather together, to make a stand and to make sure that the voice of reason is heard on this issue, not just in that hearing room, but everywhere we can reach.

The American Nuclear Society has long regarded the timely disposition of surplus weapons-grade plutonium to be vitally important to national security. In 2001-and again in 2009-ANS endorsed the application of MOX fuel technologies to accomplish this goal.

ANS Information on MOX and TVA
ANS members and its board have endorsed the important role that ANS should play as a professional society in informing the public about the nonproliferation benefits of the MOX fuel program and the safe and successful track record of manufacturing and using MOX fuel.

This endorsement by the ANS Board of Directors is not common in ANS position statements and underscores the importance of this issue.

Every credible scientific and technical organization in the world that has closely examined this issue has endorsed the use of MOX fuel technologies for this purpose.

This is too important to leave in the hands of those who would exploit public misunderstanding by engaging in street theater and shuffling about dressed as nuclear zombies.

Participating in this hearing will enable ANS members to ensure that a credible scientific and technical perspective on this important issue is conveyed in a public setting. There is a great deal of public misunderstanding and fear associated with the proposed options for plutonium disposition.

Why make a stand in Chatanooga?

Show up to make sure there are no red herrings at the MOX fuel hearing. 

In particular, nuclear opponents have focused attention in the Chattanooga area: Greenpeace has set up a local office, a regional anti-nuclear summit was recently held, and 'nuclear zombies' regularly make appearances.

ANS members and other nuclear professionals are playing an essential role in providing factual, credible information in a public setting to increase public awareness and to put relative risks into context.

Pro-nuclear participants needed for hearing

Your participation is needed! Even if you cannot make a public comment, please consider attending this hearing. Your presence will support and encourage ANS members who will be commenting, some for their first time. Let's make sure that the nuclear science and technology community is well represented and that the voice of reason is heard.

ANS is alerting its members in the Tennessee Valley area to this hearing. ANS members have been asked to identify themselves as ANS members, wear ANS-logo'd clothing (if possible—if not, match colors), indicate that they are commenting on behalf of ANS

ANS members would be commenting during the public comment session and will not be listed on the agenda. ANS will have designated media spokespeople at the hearing to handle media inquiries.

Even if you are uncomfortable with commenting during the public comment session, your attendance will help to demonstrate the strong nuclear science community in the Tennessee Valley area.

For more information contact

Laura Scheele
Manager, Communications & Policy
Communications & Outreach Department
American Nuclear Society

phone: (708) 579-8224

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Power projects seek investors on a global scale

China's huge sovereign wealth fund is a frequent target of power proposals

The Peoples Republic of China is sitting on huge cash reserves available for investment, domestic or foreign.  According to some estimates, the amount is about $4 trillion.

If every dollar of hard currency China holds was translated into a second of travel at the speed of light, it would be about two-thirds of a light year in space ship travel to the nearest star which is Alpha Centauri at a distance of 4.37 light years. Anyway you count it, that's a lot of money and a lot of people have their eyes on it.

The China Investment Corporation has a reported $482 billion to work with and specifically seeks out global rates of return in large capital intensive projects.

No one believes that the Chinese are in it solely for the money. China sees entry into the U.K. nuclear market as a way to build a showcase for its technical know how and ability to compete successfully in the West.

Take for instance French state-owned nuclear utility EDF which is courting China to invest up to $10 billion new power stations in the U.K.

The Horizon project is on the auction block so to speak. Two German utilities, E.on and RWE pulled out earlier this year as their cash flow dried up when the German government ordered the nation's eight oldest reactors to be shut down following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. These eight units, their costs long since recovered, were cash cows for the German utilities and the hunt for energy-related investments brought them to the U.K.

EDF has declined to comment on its discussion with China due to the sensitivity of the topic. While the U.K. does not have limits on foreign ownership of nuclear power plants, U.K. government officials are still reportedly nervous about having China as a major equity partner in the projects. The government may limit Chinese firms to minority equity positions.

In the U.S. the NRC just last week stopped progress on a license for the Calvert Cliffs III reactor in Maryland because of foreign ownership rules. Paradoxically, EDF was the foreign investor with Unistar. The NRC gave the firm 60 days to come up with a U.S. investor.

To have or have not

Another U.K. venture already has strong ties to China. Areva is partnered with the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp to built two EPRs in China. The two firms are also bidders for the Horizon project.

An underlying issue in the U.K. is the rate of return the government will set for electricity sold from any new nuclear reactors. The rate has to be high enough, regardless of market factors, to attract investors. Political opposition calls this a "subsidy" but proponents point out even more financial support has been tossed to the winds for renewable energy projects.

Tens of thousands of jobs ride on the future of the U.K. nuclear new build which will result in 17-19 Gwe of new power generating capacity.  Some political leaders in the U.K. may not be happy about having the Chinese at the table, but if they are the only game in town, then they'd rather have it than nothing at all.

South Africa takes stock of costs

A plan in South Africa to issue a tender for 9.6 Gwe of new nuclear power plants, the second in the past five years, is on hold. The government is trying to get a bead on the costs of the project and whether they country can afford it.

Electricity rates for consumers are a huge political issue though the nation's heavy industry is more interested in reliable power. The country has a huge class of people trapped in poverty and unemployment as it is officially measured runs about 25% of the workforce. Rates will have to go up to pay for the reactors. About 90% of the electricity used in South Africa comes from coal.

Bidders that have lined up to present their case for the $36 billion program include  the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp, Areva, Westinghouse, Korea Electric Power, and Rosatom.

Five years ago South Africa cancelled a tender for 12 GWe of new power plants because Eskom, the state-owned electric utility, did not have the funds to pay for it.

The government had been starving the utility for capital funds for years to keep rates down. This led to brownouts and a drop in the nation's GDP as mining and manufacturing plants had to shut down.

Now the government is hoping the reactor vendors will self-finance the projects to be paid back by the sales of electric power. So far the government has not publicly come to grips with the issue of rate guarantees.  Areva is already on record saying that this route is not a sustainable strategy for the company.  If it partners with a Chinese firm, that position could change.

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hopes dim for restart of San Onofre Unit 3

Layoffs equal to the staff of a nuclear reactor and removal of fuel from Unit 3 are troubling signposts for the future of the power station

Steam generator problems that have kept both Units 2 & 3 offline since last January played a role in two new sets of consequences in August. Southern California Edison (SCE), which owns and operates the twin 1,100 MW nuclear reactors, said it was eliminating 730 jobs by the end of 2012.

Also, the utility said it was removing the fuel from Unit 3 which indicates it may be some time before it restarts if ever.

In a statement, SCE said, "The steam generator issues at the plant require that SCE be prudent with its future spending while SCE and regulators review the long term viability of the plant."

The layoffs may have been coming for some time as SCE previously address plans for staff reductions in its rate case processes with state regulators. The size of the layoffs amount, in terms of numbers, if not skill mix, amount to the staffing needed to run a reactor the size of Unit 3. Steam generator problems there are much more serious that at Unit 2.

SCE said it would address skill mix issues, and a new organizational structure, by October. The utility also claims that the layoffs are needed to align the power station's costs with other dual reactor power stations. The layoffs will reduce staffing to a workforce of about 1,500 people.

The anticipated loss of the payroll earnings associated with over 700 high wage earners got a lot of attention in southern California. The biggest impact will be in the San Diego area.

SONGS pulls fuel from Unit 3

In late August SCE said it would begin to remove the fuel from Unit 3, a clear sign that restart of the plant is a more distant prospect. The utility said it is working on repairs to Unit 2 but that "Unit 3 will not be operating for some time."

NRC's senior resident inspector Gregory Warnick told the Associated Press Aug 27 that "Unit 3 is going to take more work."

A technical analysis of the steam generator problems revealed that computerized design errors by Mitsubishi, which manufactured the units, was a leading contributing factor in the early failure of hundreds of steam tubes. It's not clear how much steam can be pushed through the units without the risk of further premature damage. SCE has plugged hundreds of tubes which have excessive wear, but the total number is still below the level which would degrade the overall performance of the units.

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Exelon wins one, loses two

It signs on to manage Ft. Calhoun and signs off on plans for a new build in Texas

fort-calhoun-power-plantExelon (NYSE:EXE) took over the management of the Ft. Calhoun Station which is owned by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD). The troubled plant hasn’t generated electricity since last Spring when it was safely shut down in response to flooding along the Missouri River. (right)

OPPD has been working through a long list of safety issues raised by enhanced inspections carried out the by the NRC. John Green, a member of the OPPD Board of Directors, told the Omaha news media he is convinced the NRC had lost confidence in the utility’s ability address the safety issues raised by the agency. He said that the NRC was looking for a solution in the form of an outside management effort and that Exelon fits the bill.

It didn't help that Ft. Calhoun was the subject of a bizarre Internet conspiracy theory that it has blown up and that the U.S. government was covering up the alleged disaster. OPPD was slow to address the need to spike the conspiracy theory perhaps on the grounds it was too fantastic to take seriously. Then NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko personally inspected the plant in June 2011.

Exelon’s ability to matrix in subject matter experts from its huge U.S. fleet of reactors will help address the technical and safety issues. OPPD has hopes of restarting the reactor late this year. Last winter OPPD also cancelled a planned power uprate tell the NRC there were too many technical and safety issues to see the plan through to completion.

OPPD executives have said they are pretty happy about the operational management change. Exelon began working with the utility earlier this year. The new operating services agreement was signed in August.

Bye Bye Victoria

texasSeparately, Exelon told the NRC it is withdrawing its application for an Early Site Permit for up to two new nuclear reactors. The site for the proposed twin 1,350 MW GE-Hitachi ABWRs is near Victoria, TX. Exelon said cheap natural gas and market conditions made the project “uneconomical for the foreseeable future.”

Exelon originally tossed its hat into the Texas market in 2007 with plans to build two 1,500 MW GE-Hitachi ESBWR reactors. However, the Department of Energy (DOE) told the utility, at the time, that the time to market for the uncertified reactor design was too indefinite to qualify it for a federal loan guarantee. Exelon switched horses in November 2008 referencing the ABWR, but by then DOE had already named four other firms to its short list including expansion of NRG’s South Texas Project which included plans for two ABWRs as well.

Exelon isn’t alone in being thrown from its horse in less than eight seconds. The South Texas Project expansion bit the dust in April 2011 when TEPCO, a pre-license investor, pulled out due to the Fukushima crisis taking with it Japanese government export credits. Exelon tried to acquire NRG with an all stock hostile takeover, but NRG’s major investors said the deal was under-valued and rejected it in July 2009.

Luminant’s open-ended future

comanche peakElsewhere in Texas, the NRC has scheduled completion of the design certification of the giant 1700 MW Mitsubishi USAPR for 2016, and along with it the combined construction and operating licenses for two of them to be built at Luminant’s Comanche Peak Station.

For Luminant to proceed with the project two things must happen. The first is that natural gas prices move north of $6-8/MBtu and show evidence they will stay there for quite some time, e.g., long enough to finance and build two new nuclear reactors. Second, Luminant’s financial condition, especially its debt load, needs to change for the better. One scenario, possibly akin to a wildcatter’s pipe dream, is that a new group of investors interested in building the Mitsubishi reactors would buy Comanche Peak from the privately-held holding company.

In 2007 Texas was the leading light of the U.S. nuclear renaissance. Now the state is back to its fossil fuel roots with natural gas riding high as the king of the road.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

LWR SMRs have fuel advantages

Fast reactor designs face export controls and the need to develop new fuel types which may slow time to market

small reactorsThis article is based on a presentation given by Andrea Jennetta, Publisher, Fuel Cycle Week, at a conference held in July in Washington, DC, on commercializing small modular reactors.

Research for and preparation of the slides was a joint effort by myself, as a reporter for Fuel Cycle Week, and Ms. Jennetta who delivered the full presentation and responded to the Q&A from the audience. The article below is a short version.

Developers of small modular reactors (SMRs) fall in two camps as far as reactor designs and fuel types are concerned. The first are developers of downsized versions of light water reactors (LWRs). The second are developing a variety of fast reactors. It is in the second area where the greatest number of challenges occur as far as fuel is concerned and also for the back end.

Regardless of the design SMR developer is working, eventually, all the fuel will wind up in the same place until U.S. waste management policies attain some level of coherence and common sense. For now that “place” is at the reactor in wet and dry storage.

Developing the fuel for the LWRs will be straightforward and at least two of the vendors, B&W and Westinghouse, already have the capability to make their own. Developing fuel for the fast reactors will be more complicated including the potential for extended testing and qualification of fuel types to meet licensing requirements.

U.S. nonproliferation rules may make life difficult for SMRs that are fast reactors. Because fast reactor fuels tend to have higher levels of enrichment, from 9-19% U235, getting export licenses for them may be a bureaucratic nightmare.

It’s more likely that fast reactor vendors will license their technologies to wholly owned subsidiaries in the countries that want to buy them and fabricate the fuel there. The parent firms, and their investors, will still face delays due to export controls on the technologies, but at least they won’t be hamstrung by having to physically move fuel.

Business as usual for LWRs

Uranium symbolThe four leading developers of LWR type SMRs in the U.S. are working with similar fuel types and will use similar management practices for the back end of the fuel cycle. The firms and the power ratings (electrical) are;

· Babcock& Wilcox: 180 MW
· Holtec: 140 MW
· NuScale: 45 MW
· Westinghouse: 225 MW

The fuels for these reactors will be remarkably similar. They will be 5% or less U235 enrichment with 24-to-48 month fuel cycles. All of the fuel assemblies will be smaller than those used in larger LWRs and cores will range from 68-89 assemblies. Overall, there will be less fuel in the core and less demand per reactor for uranium for their fuel.

In terms of spent fuel storage, operators of these reactors will store it in pools and eventually dry casks under Part 72. Holtec casks are currently deployed at many reactor sites in the U.S. B&W will probably design and certify their own casks. Permanent disposal depends on resolution of complex political issues.

All four LWR developers are building the first-of-a-kind (FOAK) units inside the emergency planning zone (EPZ) of existing facilities. No SMR developer will need to worry about the challenges of having a customer try to build one at a greenfield site. The NRC’s policy issue about the size of the EPZ and SMRs is punted into the future at least for the FOAK units.

· B&W at Clinch River (TVA)
· Holtech at Savannah River (DOE)
· NuScale at Savannah River (DOE)
· Westinghouse at Callaway (Ameren)

Fast reactors – interesting and complicated

roadrunnerUnlike LWR designs, the developers of fast reactors as SMRs are unlikely to have times to market in the U.S. by the end of this decade. There are a lot of reasons, but one of the most important is that they do not use conventional LWR fuel.

Except for the Gen4Energy design, they all use spent fuel. Except for the GE PRISM design, once the fuel goes in it stays in the reactor for its complete operational life which, in some cases, can be 40-60 years. Vendors include;

· General Atomics – EM2
· GE Hitachi – PRISM
· Gen4Energy – Gen4 Module
· TerraPower – Traveling Wave Reactor

Without going through the technical details of each reactor, there are some conclusions that we can draw about all of them. Most importantly, it will take longer to license them in the U.S. Indeed, TerraPower has said it has no plans to pursue licensing in this country. Another reason is there is even more uncertainty about how to decommission one of these units and dispose of its spent fuel.

A huge problem for all of the fast reactors will be fuel qualification and testing. Because of the higher enrichment levels, it is unlike any of the units sold for export will have their fuel fabricated in the U.S. This is due to the endless multi-agency bureaucratic snarls that would be encountered by vendors seeking export licenses.

Supply chains and skilled labor to build fast reactors will also involve localization and technology licensing. Either way, a buyer will have to understand the complexity of the technology they are getting and how to manage it.

For this reason, fast reactor SMRs are not good candidates for developing nations with limited pools of manufacturers who can meet nuclear quality requirements and have the required skilled labor. This reality is a challenge to marketing claims about fast reactor SMRs that are said to be designed for “off-the-grid” applications.

The exception might be U.S. military bases overseas, but there would also be diplomatic issues associated with bringing a nuclear reactor to a U.S. defense mission on foreign soil. Tactical readiness in the U.S. might be enhanced with either an LWR or fast SMR and represents a real opportunity since the Pentagon can bypass the NRC in terms of licensing process time.

In summary, LWR SMRs have the best chances in terms of time to market to book sales with U.S. customers. Fast reactors are likely to be built overseas, but only for large nations with deep pockets, strong manufacturing bases, and the engineering and skilled trades to build them.

Post Script – What about thorium reactors?

thorium fuel rodsThe standard answer to the question of why hasn’t anyone built a thorium fuel SMR is that no customer has expressed an interest in buying one.

Digging deeper into that question, you come up with the issue of competitive advantage. What is in it for a customer to go down the path of an entirely different fuel type?

Consider the fact that it would need a completely new fuel cycle, with billions spent on facilities to make the fuel that would be needed to run a fleet of thorium fueled reactors. No one is going to build just one. Then there is the question of whether a utility could have any certainty that it could operate them at a profit.

For now the risks and the unknowns are too great for any commercial utility to get involved with anything other than uranium fuel.

Any company or country developing a thorium fueled reactor has to address the issues of cost competitiveness as a very high priority. Advocates of thorium reactors have for the most part talked about technology differentiation and also nonproliferation advantages.

Unless commercial utilities see a compelling business case for them, e.g. lower total cost of operations v. $6/Mbtu natural gas, there are likely to be few takers in next few years.

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