Saturday, June 2, 2007

Uranium prices spur Idaho mining proposal

Soaring uranium prices are driving mining companies to look for new uranium deposits. The Twin Falls Times News reports that Magnum Minerals USA, a subsidiary of Magnum Uranium of Vancouver, British Columbia, is seeking permission from the U.S. Forest Service to search for uranium in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

If permission is granted and an abundance of uranium is discovered, Magnum, a company hoping to profit from a renewed interest in nuclear power, could open a new operating uranium mine in Idaho.

Environmental groups are already calling the plans dangerous, saying the operations could contaminate the Salmon River. The Snake River Alliance posted links to copies of mining explorations documents for the proposed mine on its website.

Magnum wants to drill about 70 exploratory holes about 6 miles northeast of Stanley, ID. The drill cores would be removed from the forest, and the holes would be plugged with clay and capped with cement, said Travis Henderson, a Magnum spokesman. If the cores yield enough uranium, the company wants to begin mining operations.

A uranium mine is still a long way off, said Ralph Rau, district ranger of the Yankee Fork Ranger District in Challis. First, the Forest Service must complete an environmental analysis of the proposal that includes studies by experts in wildlife, hydrology and the environment.

The Forest Service said it could finish its analysis later this summer, and Magnum spokesman Henderson said the company plans to begin its drilling survey soon afterward.

Things better move fast if he really wants to get work done this year. Stanley has a well earned reputation as one of the nation's record breaking cold spots and winter comes early to the Idaho mountains.

Simpson boosts INL nuclear R&D money

Good news came in late May from an otherwise cranky House Appropriations Subcommittee on energy which slashed GNEP funding. The Democratically controlled committee approved funding increases for nuclear energy R&D for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant.

According to a press release from Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, a Republican on the committee, the Idaho National Laboratory’s (INL) research efforts receive substantial increases, including $70 million for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) and $20 million for upgrades to the Advanced Test Reactor and the construction of new buildings.

The NGNP is an advanced high-temperature gas reactor to be built in Idaho and designed to produce both electricity and hydrogen. Idaho Senator Larry Craig authorized its development as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

In the press release Simpson said,

“This bill provides a substantial boost to the Next Generation Nuclear Plant and the development of advanced gas reactor technology. It also places a significant investment in the aging infrastructure of the Site and funds ongoing efforts to extend the life of the Advanced Test Reactor. All-in-all, Idaho and its laboratory are among the biggest winners in this important piece of legislation.”

Idaho's Simpson secures record INL cleanup money

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, praised his Subcommittee’s passage of the FY2008 Energy and Water Appropriations bill which included substantial funding for hazardous and nuclear waste cleanup at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Specifically, the legislation provides $96.8 million in increased funding for ongoing remediation of facilities and land as part of the Idaho Cleanup Project. Total cleanup funding for FY2008 is slated to be over $600 million, which is a record funding level for Idaho.

“First and foremost, this legislation boosts cleanup funding in our state to record levels. I have repeatedly said that in order to be successful with the long-term future missions of the INL we have to be successful in cleaning up the cold war legacy of the Site. This bill will accelerate our ability to remediate that legacy and protect the Snake River Plain Aquifer.”

House panel slashes GNEP funding

DOE inked an international agreement with five nations despite the funding cut

A subcommittee on energy of the House Appropriations Committee slashed the Department of Energy funding request for the Global Energy Nuclear Partnership (GNEP). It reduced the line item from a request of $405 million to a recommendation to the full committee of just $120 million. Bipartisan congressional skepticism about the program, and its long term costs, runs deep. Subcommittee chairman Peter Visclosky (D-Ind) put language in the bill requiring the Department of Energy to improve its ability to deliver projects on time and within budget.

No action has taken place in the Senate on the '08 energy appropriation for GNEP. In April DOE Assistant Secretary Dennis Spurgeon told the Senate Appropriations Committee that no serious international effort to control greenhouse gases can move forward without a commitment to nuclear energy programs including GNEP.

This bad news on the House side didn't deter the Department of Energy from engaging in some high level, international hand waving to promote the GNEP program.

US Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman announced that five nations issued a joint statement in support of GNEP and nuclear energy cooperation. The countries involved include the US, China, France, Japan, and Russia. The agreement addresses the prospects for international cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy including GNEP.

Senior officials said they are moving forward on topics considered crucial to GNEP’s development. The topics include: infrastructure development needs for countries considering nuclear power; development of advanced fuel cycle and safeguards technology; establishment of reliable fuel services; spent fuel management; and building the partnership.

An analysis of the agreement in an industry trade newsletter raised questions about the impact of the agreement. The Department of Energy, according to a statement by Secretary Bodman, is promoting the agreement to help developing nations "avoid the need for costly home-grown programs and to help prevent proliferation."

The term "developing nations" could refer to nations developing atomic bombs and which don't have oil to sell on global markets. One could suppose that this statement is aimed at India and Pakistan, both of which have huge populations of people living in poverty while they pursue costly dreams of military deterrence through nuclear weapons development.

The fuel services portion of the pact creates an arrangement similar to car leasing where nations that want nuclear energy for electricity generation don't have to produce or manage their own uranium enrichment or fuel fabrication. The advantage is that this arrangement avoids creating opportunities for recovery of plutonium for weapons work from spent nuclear fuel.

What would be done with fuel returned at the end of its cycle remains a subject of debate. A spokesman for the Arms Control Association (ACA) criticized the proposed arrangement because of the costs and environmental impacts. While Russia, France, and Japan reprocess their fuel, the US does not. The ACA said the agreement will "entangle" the US in an international reprocessing partnership before it is ready. It pointed to resistance in Congress and reluctance by the US nuclear industry to commit to advanced reactor technologies that are "decades away." The ACA said the agreement could actually increase the cost of nuclear power.

No new federal funding for GNEP was announced as part of the publication of the international joint agreement among the five nations.

NIOSH offers help on INL worker compensation

Workers at Idaho National Laboratory who have been exposed to radiation may have a better chance of getting federal compensation thanks to a new group being formed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The group, called a Special Exposure Cohort, could help INL employees navigate the red tape required to receive compensation for radiation-related illnesses under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Nevada goes to new lengths to stop Yucca

Asked where it will seek wisdom on nuclear waste dumps,
Nevada says it will go all the way to China

The State of Nevada has hired nuclear waste experts from mainland China to help them stop the licensing of a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain according to a news report in the South China Morning Post.

The Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Metal Research (IMR) based in Shenyang has been contacted by scientists working for the State of Nevada. Roger Staehle, a consultant, confirmed to the paper that Nevada will obtain assistance from the Chinese institute to challenge license proceedings for Yucca Mountain before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. IMR scientist Dong Junhua said the institute is being employed to examine corrosion problems associated with the metal containers that hold spent nuclear fuel.

This isn't the first time Chinese experts have visited Yucca Mountain and made statements about its suitability as a geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel. According to the paper Wang Ju, a professor at Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology has visited the Yucca site twice in recent years. He said the site is unsuitable because it is geologically active with the possibility of volcanic eruptions.

States competing for nuclear plants

In a 180 degree turnaround four southern states are competing for construction of nuclear power plants within their borders. According to MarketWatch Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia are offering incentives to bring in plants and along with them thousands of construction jobs and less volatile electric costs.

Nuclear operators are looking for regulatory measures that will allow them to pass on the pre-construction costs to existing rate payers. Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina have already passed such measures.

However, none of the nuclear operators seeking the regulatory relief have applied for an early site permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Florida Power & Light has a potential site in Levy County, FL.Duke Power has an undisclosed potential site in either North or South Carolina. Entergy Corp. is considering building two new nuclear power plants. One would be in St. Fancisville, LA, and the other in Port Gibson, MS.

The competition among the states is intense. In Louisiana, Jay Blossman, chairman of the Public Service Commission, which regulates electricity generation and rate setting, took an advocacy role telling the news media,"we want to be very aggressive in encouraging Entergy to build here." Bloosman added that the state's need for nuclear power outweighs concerns over storage of spent nuclear fuel at the reactor.

Hitachi to use GE ESBWR for Dominion reactor

Japan's Hitachi Ltd. said it will team up with General Electric Co. to build a nuclear power plant with a next-generation reactor in Virginia.

U.S. power utility Dominion Resources Inc. has asked the two companies to build the nuclear reactor at its North Anna Power Station, a Hitachi spokesman said.

The 1,500-megawatt reactor will be built on the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor, or ESBWR, configuration, Hitachi said.

Dominion expects the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue a decision on the permit by the end of 2007.

Dominion's North Anna station currently has two nuclear units generating enough electricity for about 455,000 homes at peak demand, according to the company.

Norway mulls Thorium nuclear plant

News media reports from Norway indicate that country is considering building a Thorium powered nuclear reactor. Norway has some of the largest Thorium deposits on the world. Only India and Australia have more. Fuel from a Thorium powered nuclear reactor cannot be used to make a nuclear bomb. Norway utility company Bergen Energi has reportedly applied for a license to construct a Thorium-fueled plant in that country.