Saturday, January 5, 2008

GNEP might not be dead yet

DOE comments published in Morris, IL, raise questions

Hat tip to Rod Adams at Atomic Insights Blog

In the great comedy send up of horror flicks Young Frankenstein, there is a terrific scene in which the dwarf Igor, player to perfection by Marty Feldman, tells Dr. Frankenstein, played with equal brilliance by Gene Wilder, about the status of series of brains preserved in glass jars. The brains are labeled by the date of the deceased, and proceed along a path of older to younger dates. At the end of the scene, Feldman manages to make the movie audience jump right out of its seats with a punch line about "not dead yet." Worse, the wrong brain is then placed in the monster.

So it seems also the GNEP program is not dead yet which has some people in Morris, Il, jumping up out of their seats as well. Even more to the point, a Morris, IL, newspaper may have been talking to the wrong brain at DOE or so it seems.

Just before the December holidays the Department of Energy quietly put a notice on its GNEP web site that took out consideration of most of the site specific proposals for spent fuel recycling centers. DOE said that it would only consider DOE national laboratory sites (ID, IL, & SC) for GNEP facilities in a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS). Keep this acronym in mind.

As reported on this blog and elsewhere if the 11 proposed GNEP sites are not in the PEIS, then they cannot be considered for a site specific decision next June when the Secretary of Energy makes up his mind where one is to go. The regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) govern major federal actions for all federal agencies. Once you take a site off the table for the your PEIS or subsequent site specific documents, it is out of the running.

Minor could be major in Morris and elsewhere

However, in Illinois a Department of Energy spokesman told the Morris Daily Herald this week, “This is a minor redirection of our path forward - in our progress forward."

There's a lurking problem with that language. It is unlikely the 11 sites that found themselves out in the cold consider the PEIS change to be "minor."

Even more interesting is a quote from DOE spokesman Brian Quirke, who is cited by the newspaper. Now what follows could be a tempest in a teacup or it could be a problem. It's just not clear what the government is trying to say. For his part, Mr. Quirke goes to great lengths to explain things, but it doesn't seem to work.

“If we decide to go forward, then we will be conducting another environmental process to take a much closer look at specific sites to determine the potential environmental impact at each of those sites."

If he means federal laboratories like Argonne, which isn't very far, as the crow flies, from Morris, IL, then he's 100% consistent with the DOE announcement. Morris,IL, is one the proposed GNEP sites which submitted a siting study, but it's off the table based on the December PEIS web notice. So far so good.

If, on the other hand, DOE means to re-open the site selection process, such as the Morris, IL, site or others, without having first covered its bases in the PEIS, then the fat will be in the fire. It will open up the entire program to an intervention from third parties who will point out the NEPA process has been bypassed and a successful lawsuit will surely thwart the government's objectives. Bad idea. The evidence for this is pretty thin right now, but there is enough confusion in what the government told the newspaper that mis-perceptions could cause problems.

PEIS may pickle the policy process

Brian Quirke, the DOE spokesperson, said a new round of site-specific hearings on GNEP sites will be made and concurrently, DOE will make a major policy decision on recycling of spent nuclear fuel. [emphasis not in original]. If he means that, then the policy process has some things to sort out.

Quirke is quoted in the paper saying three things.

1. The PEIS is a decision about recycling spent nuclear fuel.

“The decision whether we should recycle has always been the most important decision being made, and the PEIS is part of that process, not the entirety of it."

This is a major policy issue. Should DOE seek legislation and funding to support a change like this? Based on the newspaper's report it looks like the PEIS is out ahead of congressional headlights. Maybe DOE already feels it has the authority to proceed? Perhaps that's buried somewhere in the PEIS documentation? Inquiring minds want to know.

Admittedly, it is difficult to explain a monster document like a PEIS, which are by their nature high level documents, but they are not the best foundation for a policy shift of this nature. Much broader public processes are needed to leverage a change like this. This appears to be what Quirke is saying, but will he be understood?

2. The PEIS has always been focused on that decision.

“But, this decision about whether to recycle has always been the premiere decision we're trying to make."

There are a lot of people in 11 states who thought the decision was about down selecting from 13 sites to three and they were pretty excited about it. The applicants for GNEP sites figured the decision to recycle spent nuclear fuel was already a done deal. The logic is that if the government is handing out money, $10.5 million for 13 site studies, then it follows DOE must believe it has the legal authority to execute the project once the NEPA process is done.

For instance, EnergySolutions told a public meeting in Idaho Falls, ID, in April 2007 that if their proposed site near Arco, ID, were to be chosen, the scope of the work could be as much as $20 billion. In Idaho Falls, more than 700 people turned out for the GNEP hearing to support the program. By comparison, anti-nuclear activists turned out in Morris, IL, to oppose it.

It looks to some like the government was trying to make a major policy change and simultaneously kick start the facility construction process. One of the concerns expressed by Congress and the National Academy of Sciences is that DOE is moving too fast with the program. The PEIS is still a legitimate process, and needs to be completed, but a lot more work is needed to make the case for the facilities themselves.

3. Once the PEIS is done there will be site-specific EIS.

“If we decide to go forward, then we will be conducting another environmental process to take a much closer look at specific sites to determine the potential environmental impact at each of those sites"

That's completely in accord with NEPA requirements, but where is the DOE announcement about the next steps in the process? It leaves open the questions about schedule, locations, and the scope of these new site specific environmental impact statements. Ambiguity in perceptions about government intentions, especially with nuclear facilities, almost always leads to difficulties with the public. There's an opportunity to avoid them, but will the government take it?

Two problems, no waiting

First, the PEIS seems to be headed towards supporting a decision by the Department of Energy to start recycling spent nuclear fuel without the wind in its sails of major appropriations to fund the facilities. Congress halved GNEP funding for 2008 to less than $200M which basically converts the vast vision of $20 billion in GNEP facility construction to a laboratory scale R&D program and funding of paper design studies.

Second, the PEIS has downstream process steps that DOE has apparently committed itself to without publishing so much as a road map or schedule. Maybe it plans to do so in the near fuure, but the newspaper story has ink today.

Like the quiet announcement on the GNEP web site, DOE seems to be making its intentions known in out-of-the-way quarters like the Morris, IL, newspaper. It's not a good way to start the new year. The government could avoid some confusion by doing more to explain where it is headed with the GNEP program. DOE should get the right brain in the picture and soon.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Mitsubishi files APWR design with NRC

Approval is expected by 2011

Bloomberg wire service reports Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has filed a 9,500 page application seeking approval for its nuclear power-plant design from the NRC. The package is submitted in electronic form composed of text, data, and engineering drawings.

The application for the U.S. advanced pressurized water reactor, APWR; a 1,700 MWe reactor, was submitted at a ceremony on 1/2/08 at the NRC's offices in Rockville, MD. There are a number of applications for design certification already in place.

Tokyo-based Mitsubishi is the fourth company to seek U.S. approval for a new reactor design. France's Areva submitted its application last month, and General Electric Co. is awaiting a decision on its application, submitted in August 2005. The NRC is facing a mountain of paperwork with these applications. Getting the designs reviewed is a key success factor for the so-called "nuclear renaissance."

Design certification clears the way for reactor licensing

The submission of the US-APWR design to the NRC now allows companies seeking to construct new nuclear power plants based on the design in the USA to submit their own combined construction and operating licence (COL) applications. NRC spokesman Scott Burnell told Bloomberg that "if an applicant wants to reference the US-APWR, they can technically do it now since we have the design in-house for the staff to look at."

Full certification by the commission will take at least three years, Burnell said. "Staff's schedule stretches into 2011 before we'd reach the end of the process. Depending on how things go, there could be a final design approval prior to 2011.''

Once a design is certified, "it is considered a settled matter and the reactor design cannot be challenged when a company is seeking permission to build and operate it," Burnell said.

The application, submitted in electronic form, is 9,500 pages long, said Patrick Boyle, a spokesman for Mitsubishi's U.S. nuclear subsidiary. He declined to comment on how much the application process would cost. The NRC charges the cost of design review back to the reactor company at a rate of about $250/hr. Many NRC engineers and staff are involved in the multi-year process, so it can get expensive.

Two reactor deals so far

Energy Future Holdings Corp., formerly TXU Corp., agreed to use the APWR technology for new reactors it builds in Texas, in a deal valued at $5.1 billion. The company is expected to submit an application this year to build two new reactors at its Comanche Peak site.

MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said it will use the APWR technology should it decide to build a reactor in Idaho. Mitsubishi wants to build a fleet of the APWRs in the U.S. market.

U.K. to announce major nuclear build

Four new reactors at $4 billion each will be built at four locations
[Update 01/10/08]

Reuters reports that Britain is expected to proceed with a new generation of nuclear power plants. An announcement is expected next week. Britain's main nuclear power firm British Energy is in talks with more than 10 companies to form partnerships for constructing plants, most likely in southern England. The company is upgrading links from the UK electricity grid to its four southern sites -- Sizewell on the east coast, Hinkley in the southwest and Dungeness and Bradwell in the southeast.

According to the news wire report, British Energy will form joint-venture companies with international partners, each one linked to a specific site. The announcement will likely involve a new nuclear power plant costing as much as $4 billion each at the four sites. Major nuclear reactor companies and construction firms see the announcement as a pot of gold. The plants are expected to be operational by 2017.

Reuters quoted an investment securities analyst who said the announcement was a "necessary evil." needed to help Britain meet its climate change goals for 2020. Likely investment bankers will profit handsomely from placing the funds necesary to build the plants, evil or not.

The nuclear energy plan is part of the UK government's climate change program. The UK public is divided on the issue, with 44 percent saying companies should have the option of investing in new nuclear and 37 percent disagreeing. Greenpeace successfully challenged the government's green light on the plants last winter on procedural grounds, but is said to be unlikely to prevail again. In any case the government is not required to approve new investments in nuclear power plants although it does retain the usual regulatory and oversight roles for nuclear reactor licensing and environmental controls. Nuclear energy currently supplies 20% of the U.K.'s electricity.

Old reactors get life extension

British Energy also announced plans last month to extend the life of its two oldest reactors. Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B, to 2016. Bill Coley, CEO, said that the two reactors, which a year ago were forced to close because of cracks found in boilers, could be kept running for a further ten years beyond that, until 2026.

The plants at Hinkley Point, near Bridgwater, Somerset, and Hunterston in North Ayrshire, Scotland, were built in the 1960s. The advanced gas-cooled reactors, which together generate about 5 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs, entered service in 1976 and were due to be retired in 2011. However, Mr Coley said that a technical and economic reevaluation of the plants had led to government authorization being granted to continue operating them for at least five extra years.

Decommissioning cost liabilities spelled out

Bloomberg wire service reports Prime Minister Gordon Brown will require companies that build nuclear power plants in the U.K. to take on liabilities for decommissioning those stations

"Owners and operators would have to set aside funds to cover the full costs of decommissioning and their share of the long-term management and disposal costs of waste," Brown's spokesman, Michael Ellam, said in a briefing to the media.

Decommissioning costs, which will top 48 billion pound ($95 billion) for 21 existing U.K. nuclear facilities, are part of Brown's plans to build a new generation of plants.

"We totally support and agree with the concept of the private operator covering the cost of decommissioning for any new nuclear in the U.K.,'' Sue Fletcher, a spokeswoman for British Energy, said today in a telephone interview with Bloomberg.

Update 01/10/08

A new wave of nuclear power stations was given the green light on Thursday by the government as it said they would be a “safe and affordable” way to secure future energy supplies.

John Hutton, business secretary, said in a statement said that allowing more nuclear reactors would help to reduce Britain’s carbon emissions at a time of growing uncertainty about energy supplies. His statement confirms earlier reports.

The New York Times reports Mr. Hutton placed no limit on the amount of electricity Britain would be able to generate from nuclear plants, but said companies would be required to put aside money for decommissioning plants and pay a share of the cost of managing nuclear waste.

A spokesman for Areva said that Britain was now a priority market. Among other companies ready to participate are the German utility E.ON and Électricité de France.

The NYT wrote . . .

The plans to replace aging nuclear plants signaled a new era of pragmatism at a time when concerns about promoting low-carbon technologies to curb climate change and energy security have become paramount. Rising prices for oil and gas have also made nuclear power more attractive.

Luis Echávarri, director general of the Nuclear Energy Agency, an organization in Paris that advises industrialized countries on nuclear power, told the newspaper the British decision could have ramifications across Europe, and in particular in Germany, where opposition to nuclear power has long been associated with left-leaning politics.

India not ready for nuclear deal with France

Sarkozy may come come empty handed from his trip to New Delhi

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will visit India on January 24th with the intend of signing a nuclear energy agreement. French Foreign Minister Bernard Koucher said the scope of the agreement would depend on the outcome of a pending agreement between India and the IAEA on nuclear inspections and safeguards.

A separate proposed agreement on exchange of nuclear technologies between the U.S. and India has mostly dashed itself on the rocks because of stiff domestic opposition in India. Both leftists and right wing parties have argued the proposed deal would threaten India's independence, especially its nuclear weapons program. India has not signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Even if the agreement gained support from India's domestic political groups, it still faced opposition in the U.S. Congress because of India's refusal to sign the treaty.

India needs nuclear fuel and the uranium to make it, and reportedly has shut down some of its civilian reactors because of a lack of fuel. At one time India had hoped to buy uranium from Australia, but that was before John Howard's administration was defeated in recent elections. The new government is opposed to selling uranium to India because of its stance on the nuclear treaty. The problem now facing France and India is that it makes no sense to build reactors if there is no fuel to burn in them.

Mr. Kouchner said France wants to develop a bilateral arrangement with India that would allow for entry of the state-owned Areva nuclear giant to build reactors there. Last April India's state run nuclear organization announced plans for a 10,000 MWe "mega" nuclear facility which immediately got Areva's attention. The other thing that catches France's attention is the prospect for offset deals which would involve the sale of Franch helicopters to India as well as other defense systems.

Plus there is competition which is pending the completion of the U.S. India agreement. According to the Bloomberg wire service, India's Nuclear Power Corp. plans to buy AP1000 series of reactors from Toshiba Corp.'s Westinghouse Electric Co. The Indian company can place orders with U.S. vendors only after the nuclear accord between India and the U.S. is implemented. What it boils down to is that there are a lot of deals stuck in the political pipeline and they're not likely to be dislodged soon.

Meanwhile, France's Kouchner said the the key to success will be to gain acceptance for India by the Nuclear Suppliers Group which so far has refused to support sales of nuclear fuel to India. Areva recently won a major nuclear contract in China and the French government is hoping for a repeat performance. Given the barriers to success at this time it may be a while before the curtain goes up.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Dr. Strangelove is alive and well

Winter readings on thwarted visions of an end to atomic weapons

The current turmoil in Pakistan is a reminder that when a state that develops and deploys atomic weapons as part of its deterrence strategy unravels, that the rest of the world shudders in fear of what might happen if the wrong people get their hands on them.

Worse, Pakistan is the source of a proliferation strategy to other states, some equally unstable, that looks like they handed out nuclear bomb technologies as if they were boxes of girl scout cookies. International controls through the IAEA evidently meant nothing to Pakistan nor the countries that bought weapons designs and components from them.

A lot has been written about Abdul Qadeer Khan's sale of nuclear technologies to rogue nations. It is no secret since he came clean, so to speak, in 2004. He's like a character out of the movie Dr. Strangelove, which mocks the nuclear menace while warning us about it. The noble vision of Isaiah of turning swords into plowshares has taken a beating lately.

Some of the most interesting descriptions of Kahn's mind boggling exploits come in the form of books. Here's a wrap-up on that and much else in the world of worthwhile winter reading on the bomb. Links to the Amazon Books web site page for each book are included below.

A short 2008 nonproliferation book list

Deception - Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons; by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, 586 pp. Amazon

The Nuclear Jihadist - the True Story of the Man Who Sold the World's Most Dangerous Secret and How We Could Have Stopped Him; by Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, 413 pp. Amazon

America and the Islamic Bomb - the Deadly Compromise; by David Armstrong and Joseph Trento, 292 pp. Amazon

The 7th Decade - the New Shape of Nuclear Danger; Jonathan Schell, 251 pp. Amazon

Arsenals of Folly - the Making of the Nuclear Arms Race; Richard Rhodes, 386 pp. Amazon

Links to Book Reviews

If you want more than the publisher's blurbs on these books, they're gotten a fair amount of ink in major newspapers. Here are a few links to book reviews about them to get you going.
  • Smoking Guns & Mushroom Clouds, Martin Walker, the New York Times Book Review 11/25/07

  • A.Q. Khan's Atomic Vision, Douglas Farah, the Washington Post, 11/18/07
  • Four Accounts Addressing Nuclear Nonproliferation, Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, the Los Angeles Times, 12/23/07
Putting Things in Perspective

If you want an expert analyst's view of the prospects for advances or failures in nuclear nonproliferation, you can read a thoughtful and clearly written list by Joseph Cirincione on the top nuclear arms issues of 2007. Several of the issues on his list were covered on this blog including the now mostly shredded deal with India and Israel's mysterious attack on a purported Syrian nuclear facility. To read the multiple posts on these issues just plug the word 'India nuclear' or 'Israel nuclear' into the search box over in the left column (without the quote marks).

Finally, if you want to learn more about the current state of confusion in the world of nonproliferation, you can link to the Carnegie Endowment's portal page on this issue which includes an annual report, email list and RSS feed for updates, and a Global Proliferation Status Map. It's useful and nonpartisan content for anyone who follows these issues.

Bloggers on Nonprolifertion

Check the list on the left column of this blog under the heading "Plutonium Politics" for some excellent bloggers on this subject.

I'll close by including a pointer to my favorite blog post of the year on nonproliferation in which the North Korean's talked the U.S. into giving it back $25 million gained through various international illicit operations and failed to keep any of the promises it made in return.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Will the next president support nuclear energy?

The answers are yes, maybe, and absolutely not

[Hat tip to Lane Allgood, Partnership for Science & Technology]

Presidential candidates facing the Iowa caucuses next week are probably happy that a least one potentially contentious issue isn't on the agenda there. Because there is only one commercial nuclear power plant in Iowa, the subject rarely comes up. However, that hasn't stopped candidates in both parties from sounding off on nuclear energy and global warming even if they are speaking out of both sides of their mouths at least some of the time.

In most cases the candidates are appealing in the primaries to the most committed members of their parties. Sometimes the candidates follow the approach of "kiss a frog and hope for a princess." They try out an idea and wait to see what happens. It follows that anything the candidates say about nuclear energy during the primaries is at best is a trial balloon and doesn't represent a line in the sand. There is one exception.

The Los Angeles Times has a roundup of recent statements by democrats and republicans, but only one candidate, John Edwards, a democrat, has taken an unequivocal position against nuclear energy. In doing so he's clearly appealing to the greenest and most fervently anti-nuclear factions in the Democrat party's environmental wing. The LA Times reports,

Only former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina flatly opposes construction of new nuclear plants. Edwards says that concerns about safety in disposing radioactive waste form the heart of his rejection of new nuclear plants. He is unequivocal. "Would you be in favor of developing more nuclear power here in the United States?" someone asked him in Hanover, N.H. "No," Edwards answered. "Period?" the man persisted. "No," Edwards repeated.

It's not a new position. Last July he made similar statements as part of a debate forum. In response to a question from the audience, Edwards said he does not favor nuclear energy citing cost, time, and waste management concerns. Here's a video clip from that debate.

By comparison, the two front runners, New York Senator Hilary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama have been much more positive to varying degrees. Both Senators comes from states with significant nuclear energy infrastructure in them. The LA Times reports classic "keeping my options open" rhetoric from them.

Among the leading Democratic candidates, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois hold similar positions. Though they have voted for legislation that includes loan guarantees for the nuclear industry, both say that federal subsidies have been tilted for too long toward fossil fuels and nuclear power and should focus on renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Yet both say that new nuclear power cannot be ruled out.

At a South Carolina rally, Clinton said: "I think nuclear power has to be part of our energy solution. . . . I don't have any preconceived opposition. I just want to be sure that we do it right, as carefully as we can."

Obama, whose home state has 11 nuclear power plants, the biggest concentration in the country, said while campaigning in New Hampshire: "I don't think we can take nuclear power off the table." If the nation can resolve the waste and safety issues, he said, "then we should pursue it, and if we can't, we should not."

The LA Times reports that Republican candidates, by contrast, urge a speedup and play down concerns. According to the newspaper, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas said, "There's been a real bias against nuclear energy in the United States, going all the way back to Three Mile Island in 1979, but I think most of it is unfounded."

The LA Times also has these quick hits on the other republicans.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani told the newspaper that his work as a private consultant for Entergy Corp.'s Indian Point nuclear power plant convinced him that it can be made secure. Elliot Spitzer, the current governor, disagrees and is trying to close the place down.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson represented Westinghouse Electric Co. in its bid to build a federally subsidized nuclear plant in the 1970s. The project was killed in 1984.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he favors developing nuclear power "in a more aggressive way" during a campaign stop in Portsmouth, N.H. He added that this country can learn to reprocess the spent fuel, as the French do. There is no hint his statement had anything to do with French President Nicolas Sarkozy's vacation trip to New Hampshire last summer. Sarkozy made a positive and lasting impression on the people of New Hampshire, a key primary state, so wrapping yourself in anything from France while speaking in that state is a smart move for a presidential candidate.

NEI publishes key nuclear energy statements

The Nuclear Energy Institute published a set of key quotes for each of the candidates in a newsletter to its members in early December and there is this interesting comment on the practical nature of the organization's politics provided by the LA Times.

"We don't really care how we get there. We're dancing with different partners, but it doesn't matter what music is played." -- John Keeley, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute

The Quotes Themselves

Hillary Clinton: "When it comes to nuclear power, I'm an agnostic. We've got two big problems: What to do with waste? And how do we afford to build and maintain nuclear power plants? If we can deal with those two big question marks, I'm not against it."

John Edwards:
"Wind, solar, cellulose-based biofuels are the way we need to go. I do not favor nuclear power.....It is extremely costly...and we still don't have a safe way to dispose of the nuclear waste."

Barack Obama:
"Nuclear power is one of the few emissions-free energy sources available to us....I am open to the use of nuclear power production as a transition to new energy technologies, but I think answers to a variety of safety questions, such as how we are going to transport and dispose of nuclear waste safely, are required."

Bill Richardson: "The future in nuclear power is one that has to be on the table....Because nuclear power emits hardly any greenhouse emissions, and because its technology is improved, you have to look at it as an option."

Rudy Giuliani: “We’re going to have to find a way to expand nuclear power, because it’s one of the ways in which we can give ourselves [energy] independence and also not have it impact on the environment, on pollution, global warming – the things that concern people.”

John McCain:
“The fact is, nuclear energy is clean. It produces zero emissions in operations. It has the lowest carbon footprint and is, therefore, undeniably a valuable tool for reining in greenhouse gas emissions both quickly and economically.”

Mitt Romney:
“We’re using too much oil. We have an answer. We can use alternative sources of energy – biodiesel, ethanol, nuclear power – and we can still drill for more oil here. We can be more energy independent and we can be far more efficient in the use of that energy.”

Fred Thompson:
“I am committed to investing in renewable and alternative fuels to promote greater energy independence and a cleaner environment, [and] an energy policy that invests in the advanced technologies of tomorrow and places more emphasis on conservation and energy efficiency.”

# # #

Fast reactors planned for U.S. nuclear market

GNEP will pay for conceptual design studies, but that's all

Bloomberg reports Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, France's Areva, and Japan Nuclear Fuel will form a joint venture in the U.S. to focus on building fast reactor nuclear plants and fuel reprocessing facilities. The company will seek to make their fast breeder technology a global standard according to the Japanese Sankei newspaper.

A demonstration fast breeder reactor that will burn MOX fuel is expected to start operations in 2015. The U.S. is building a $4.8 billion MOX fuel facility in South Carolina which is expected to be operational about the same time. It follows that if Mitsubishi decides to commercialize the FBR design and sell plants in the U.S. it would find a ready supply of MOX fuel to run them. Japan Nuclear Fuel is also building a MOX fuel facility, but its production is expected to be used solely in Japan.

The announcement this week in Japan means the companies are going ahead with plans for the reactor and fuel processing projects in the U.S. without the possibility of federal government funding to build the combined facilities which could cost upwards of $15 billion. Earlier this month DOE took these facilities off the table in terms of a site selection and funding decision for GNEP expected in June 2008.

Background on Japan's FBR program

The history of the announcement is, according to the World Nuclear Organization, in September 2006 a Japanese government nuclear R&D group put forward a compact sodium-cooled design for a Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) of 1500 MWe using MOX fuel which it expected to be competitive with advanced LWR designs.

In April 2007 the government selected Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) as the core company to develop a new generation of FBRs. Mitsubishi FBR Systems will operate as a specialist company, also responsible for a joint project with Areva and Japan Nuclear Fuel for work on the US Advanced Recycling Reactor project as a part of GNEP. In June 2007 MHI reportedly proposed a loop-type fast reactor concept that uses liquid-metal sodium for the reactor coolant [Large image].

The three companies involved in the FBR project were also partners on the proposed GNEP plants aimed at an Idaho location. Earlier this month DOE took the fast reactor and fuel reprocessing elements out of the PEIS which effectively ends the near term prospects for the Idaho proposal. While there is a substantial information on MHI's FBR work, less is known about its plans for spent fuel reprocessing. Areva and MHI worked together to build the Rokkasho fuel reprocessing plant in Japan, using technologies developed by the French partner to construct France’s reprocessing plant at La Hague.

Last October the consortium was one of four teams awarded a contract by the Department of Energy to conduct a total of $16.3 million in conceptual design studies for GNEP plants. The recent change to the PEIS means it is unlikely the government will commit to anything beyond paper studies. The risk of full commercialization will be borne by any firms that choose to go down that path.

List of contractors for GNEP conceptual design work

The four consortium receiving GNEP conceptual design contracts include;
  • AREVA AND MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES, LTD. ($5.6 MILLION) Principal Team Members: Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited; Battelle Memorial Institute; BWX Technologies, Inc.; and Washington Group International ENERGY SOLUTIONS, LLC
  • ENERGY SOLUTIONS) ($4.3 Million) Principal Team Members: The Shaw Group and Westinghouse Electric Company. Additional members: Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL); Booz Allen Hamilton; Nexia Solutions; Nuclear Fuel Services; and Toshiba.
  • GE-HITACHI NUCLEAR AMERICAS, LLC (GE-HITACHI) ($4.8 Million) Team Members: Burns and Roe; Ernst & Young; Fluor Corporation; International Business Machines (IBM); and Lockheed Martin.
  • GENERAL ATOMICS (GENERAL ATOMICS) ($1.6 Million) Team Members: CH2M Hill; United Technologies Corporation - Hamilton Sundstrand Rocketdyne Division (UTC); a Russian consortium led by OKB Mechanical Engineering (OKBM); Potomac Communications Group; LISTO; and KAERI.