Saturday, June 16, 2007

Keystone study checks nuclear's chances

Nuclear power rated as necessary, but not sufficient, for impact on global warming

A rapid ramping up of nuclear power isn't the whole answer to the problem of global warming caused by fossil fuels, but it's a start. That's the conclusion of a Colorado think tank known for bringing together people with very diverse views on controversial issues.

The Keystone Center, based in Denver, issued a report this week that said the rate at which nuclear power generating electricity would have to grow is likely beyond the means of the industry at this time. Still, this assessment didn't stop the group from saying it "in a carbon-constrained world, the relative economics of nuclear power will improve."

To make a real difference in the near-term, e.g., next 50 years, of global climate change, the nuclear power industry will have to build at a phenomenal rate of 14 new plants (1,200 to 1,600 Mw each) per year for the next half century. During that time the global industry would also have to build six-to-eight new plants the same size per year to replace older facilities being retired.

The assumption by the Keystone group is that nuclear plants would replace carbon-fueled plants such as those burning coal or natural gas. The report says the likely economics of nuclear power, or its rate of growth, improves if carbon taxes or carbon trading programs are taken into account. Energy experts generally agree without a price for carbon, there is no mechanism that can guide the energy system and market demand towards a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Given the number of nuclear plants on the drawing board for the next two-to-four years, about two dozen or so, the Keystone study concluded that the 50-year scenario was "too optimistic," and unlikely to be achieved. Under the best circumstances, nuclear electricity will be expensive, the group said, with costs delivered to the grid of between 8 and 11 cents per kilowatt hour.

If you want to add that up, using the Keystone scenario, its about 20,000 Mw per year for 50 years for construction of the new plants and another 10,000 Mw per year for 50 years for replacement plants. In terms of employment, the numbers are equally fantastic. A single nuclear plant could employ upwards of 4,000 people a year during the construction phase, which lasts at least five years, and then another 1,500 people per year for the next 40 years of operations. On a global scale a huge number of people would have to become nuclear engineers to make this scenario plausible. It would put an enormous strain on universities worldwide to train them. Finally, the question has to be asked how the materials and components would be produced, and at what cost, to build the plants?

It's a good thing the study group had a bunch of folks with very different ideas about nuclear power because they took on every hot button issue that lives in the problem areas that keep managers awake at nights. Here are some other highlights.

  • Spent Nuclear Fuel

The Keystone Study took a close look at reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and the Bush Administration's GNEP program. Short and sweet the group said reprocessing isn't cost effective, but Yucca Mountain won't be ready anytime soon. So, the group says, store spent fuel at the reactors that burned it. Decommissioned plants could send their debris to a central interim storage facility.

  • Nuclear Proliferation

It said nuclear proliferation challenges increased with growth of the industry. If growth in commercial nuclear power plants also resulted in construction of fuel cycle facilities in countries that do not now possess nuclear weapons, the risk of proliferation would increase. Proliferation could occur by the actions of national governments and non-state, possibly terrorist, organizations.

A consensus is that the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) safeguards had “critical shortcomings” and were currently insufficient to provide timely detection when weapon quantities of highly enriched uranium and plutonium were diverted. Translation - "we're worried about Iran."

  • Global Nuclear Energy Partnership

On GNEP the group swung with a broad axe. It said, "the program is not a credible strategy for resolving either the radioactive waste problem or the weapons proliferation problem. Critical elements of the program are unlikely to succeed." No one from the Department of Energy was part of the study group. So far there's no reaction from the Bush Administration. Idaho Senator Larry Craig and Colorado Senator Ken Salazar briefed their colleagues on the report on Friday June 15th.

Financial support for the study came from a broad cross-section of the nuclear electric power industry, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The study group included nuclear industry executives, advocates and critics of nuclear power, former government officials, and university experts. The executive summary of the study is here

Busy week for NRC, It's gonna get busier

Regulatory Roundup from the Trade Press and Wire Services

  • NRC Expects 27 applications for new nuclear plants

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said this week it expects 27 applications for construction of new nuclear reactors in the next two years according to Reuters. Most of the new units will be built next to existing facilities.

Luis Reyes, executive director for operations at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says his agency expects a "nuclear renaissance."

The engineers at NRC will be working hard for the money so the industry better treat them right. :-)

  • NRC house divided over GNEP

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is "torn" on how to proceed with the Department of Energy's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, NRC commissioner Peter Lyons said in remarks before the Global Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing and Recycling conference in Seattle.

Lyons said the agency does not have "sufficient certainty" from the Bush administration and Congress to know what resources need to be assigned, and on what time scale, to develop a framework for licensing facilities under GNEP, an initiative to develop new types of reprocessing plants and fast reactors.

The House Appropriations Committee cut the budget for GNEP by nearly 75% for FY 2008. Support in the Senate is mixed with some Democrats there favoring support for clean coal technologies over nuclear energy.

  • Oak Ridge gets GNEP pilot project

While the NRC was worrying about how to regulate the whole program, the Department of Energy has plunked down $59M to manage a small-scale pilot demonstration of nuclear fuel recycling at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) under the Advanced Fuel Initiative. The work will be done at ORNL's Radiochemical Engineering Center. Researchers will chop up commercial spent fuel rods into small pieces, about the size of wheat chex, and dissolve them separating fission products and actinides.

Oak Ridge is collaborating with a number of other research labs, including Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. The pressure is on for the project to succeed according to a local press report.

"We're feeling it," said Jeff Binder, a 43-year-old nuclear engineer who is the project manager.

If the Oak Ridge team, with the assistance of other labs around the country, can't demonstrate the fuel-reprocessing technologies on a small scale, it doesn't bode well for the strategy as a whole. Outside critics are taking aim at the project as well.

Bob Alvarez, a former Energy Department official during the Clinton administration, released a report this month that said the GNEP plan isn't credible and could create a financial burden on the nation, as well as new safety risks. The urgency of the research effort at Oak Ridge is symptomatic of the problem, he said.

"It's clear to me they're trying to push this program as fast as they can because they realize politically that time is running against them," Alvarez said in a telephone interview with the Knoxville paper.

Tim Powers, director of the lab's nonreactor nuclear programs, said he is totally confident in the operations. "Everything is shielded and well ventilated," he said. "We can do it very safely. I'm looking forward to it."

Binder said waste disposal following the GNEP demonstration would not be a significant issue, because nearly all products will be retained and shared with other labs for further research and analysis.

  • House worried about cyber-threats to nuclear plants

House Democrats sent a letter to the NRC in May asking about the "cybersecurity posture" of US nuclear power plants. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss) and James Langevin (D-Ri) asked NRC Chairman Dale Klein to get a move on to make sure computer systems, especially for safety systems, are secure from hackers either inside or outside the plant.

What got their hair on fire about the issue is an April 17th information notice from NRC describing an event that took place in August 2006 at TVA's Browns Ferry No.3 plant. The reactor reportedly scrammed because the computer network supporting it overloaded from too much use. TVA officials told the NRC they shut down the Unit 3 reactor after "excessive traffic" on the computer network caused recirculation pumps to fail, creating a potentially unstable condition. TVA also told the NRC the computer failure was not related to an external cyber attack on the system.

The two congressmen aren't buying it. The House Homeland Security Committee this week urged a broader investigation. The chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., says there are too many unanswered questions.

"We need to know whether instances like this are internal or external, and to what extent we are going to deal with them," Thompson said in an interview. "For the NRC to rely on the operator's explanation of what happened ... does not go far enough."

Joe Weiss, managing partner at Applied Control Solutions and an expert on industrial computer security, told wire services he doubts that anyone intentionally caused the Browns Ferry network to fail. But the outage raises concerns, he said.

"The whole area of cybersecurity in industrial facilities is effectively in its infancy," Weiss said. "There needs to be a greater appreciation within the nuclear community that these systems truly are connected."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sing a song, be a voice

If the nuclear industry could tell its story the way these people sing its problems would be over.

A beautiful performance by the Celtic Women

& & &

Paul Potts
~ video link below ~

". . . A tenor shot out of a cannon." - New York Times - June 24, 2007

Q: Paul what are you here for today? A: To sing opera!

An object lesson that talent is sometimes found in unexpected places. Watch the audience and panelist reactions.

This video will blow your mind. On YouTube, it has garnered over 60 million page views. Watch at this link. Come back and leave comments.

& & &

Abba singing "Thank you for the Music." Next time you're at a boring industry conference, put this one on the sound system and sway to it. For extra credit, bring vintage 1980s costumes

Streets of Fire

Dan Hartman's "I can dream about you" from the soundtrack of the movie "Streets of Fire." This is the victory dance sequence. There are online video versions with better sound, but this is the only one with the complete dance routines.

Monday, June 11, 2007

House tells US to light cities with corn stalks

Biofuels beat nukes in race for energy loan guarantees

The nuclear power industry has been frozen out of the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program in a vote by the full House Appropriations Committee last week. Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell told Platts Commodity News that if the full House and the Senate go along with the committee vote that it would hurt industry efforts to revive the nuclear power industry. He said, "the committee specifically cut nuclear projects out of the loan guarantee program."

DOE asked for authority to provide $9 billion on loan guarantees to energy projects for the federal fiscal year that begins Next October. The committee approved $7 billion, cutting out $2B, and directed $4B of it to a perennial Democratic party favorite which is biofuels. The remaining $3 billion in loan guarantees are allocated to clean coal ($2B) and renewable energy technologies ($1B).

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the loan guarantee program to support commercial development of energy technologies including advanced nuclear facilities. DOE excluded nuclear reactors from the loan guarantee program being offered this year. Non-nuclear applications for the loan guarantees total $27B so far chasing just $4B in government assistance.

Even before the committee vote nuclear industry leaders were unhappy with the way the DOE program was shaping up. Richard Myers, VP at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), told wire services that DOE's proposed rules for the program would chase away investors because the total cost of a new reactor, up to $5B, would not be covered. DOE's latest draft of the proposed rules would only cover 90% of the debt and 80% of the total cost.

With $5B in play per plant, and with more than two dozen plants on the front burner, that's a lot more risk than investors will tolerate. Myers said. "These attempts to scale back (the amount of coverage) are simply not acceptable." The same might be said about the House Appropriations Committee.