Saturday, April 12, 2008

Coal not in Kansas anymore?

Look what you've done to me I'm meltingrubyslippers1

[Hat tip to Rod Adams at Atomic Insights blog]

A controversial coal-fired power plant planned for Holcomb, Kansas, is the reason Tri-State Generation is even thinking about a nuclear energy option. After Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed a bill authorizing the $3.6 billion coal project, because of its effects on climate (11 million tons/year CO2), the power company is thinking of turning to the only other option it has to deliver electricity to meet base load demand in its service area. Meanwhile it still wants the coal plant and is hastening to assure startled residents in Holly, CO, that nuclear energy is just at the talking stage for now.

What is significant that the threat of more fossil fueled green house gas emissions has promoted a sitting governor to spend political capital, click her ruby slippers together, and say, with an emphasis on saving the planet, "there's no place like home."

Even with this sequence of events in place, Tri-State's position on the nuclear option is an emphatic "not so fast" in response to questions from customers and the press.

The coal plant is the result of a proposed partnership between Tri-State, based in Westminster, CO, and Sunflower Electric, based in Hays, KS. The plan is to build two 700 MW coal burning power plants near Holcomb, KS. That plan has been turned on its head by opposition from Gov. Sebelius and despite legislative and court challenges, still hasn't left the drawing board. Last year the Kansas Department of Health & Environment denied an air quality permit for the project.

Tri-state sells electricity to 44 rural cooperatives that serve 1.4 million people in four states (CO, NM, NB, WY). The region needs more electricity, and Tri-state has told its staff to take a look at nuclear energy with a potential site in southeastern Colorado near Holly, CO. Lee Boughey, a spokesman for the power company, told the Lawrence, KS, World News, "We're looking at the long term. We need to evaluate different resources."

That doesn't mean the company has made a decision to build a nuclear power plant in Colorado or anywhere else. What's interesting is that coal has been the fuel source of choice for generating electricity for as long as there have been power plants in Kansas and Colorado. That's why the company is still trying to find a way to build the Holcomb project. If the regulatory and political issues can be overcome, and construction begins this year, the first units would be operational in 2012

Not so fast with nuclear

For this reason Tri-State took some pains to get a message to the news media late last week. It is that "talk about a nuclear power plant being constructed near Holly is premature," says Jim Van Someren of Tri-State. He told the Lamar, CO, Daily a wire service story that ran earlier this month took two unrelated facts and mashed them together. That's a mistake he says. The fact that Tri-State purchased water rights near Holcomb for a new power plant, likely the much beat upon coal project, is unrelated to the power company's board telling the staff to look into nuclear energy options.

“The potential is wide open for any source of technology, we haven’t decided on anything yet,” Van Someren said. He said the firm is exploring several different technology options for the proposed plant including coal gasification, natural gas, nuclear and traditional coal fired technologies.

“If we were going to start the permitting process right now, we’d definitely be going with coal,” Von Someren said. He said the board “directed Tri-State staff to pursue potential partners” for a nuclear facility. He emphasized that, "Staff members will be contacting regional utilities and power suppliers to explore the potential for partnerships but that no other measures are being taken at this time."

Energy options abound like sunflowers in June

Town leaders in rural Holly, CO, were pretty surprised by the wire service story that said a $2 billion nuclear power plant was going to be built in their community. Officials in Prowers County told the Pueblo Chieftan newspaper a 1,000 MW plant would be a huge addition to the area's tax base. Linda Fairbarin said beyond that it was too early to make any judgements about the plant. She pointed out the county is expanding its energy sources with two new wind farms.

Coal is still king and there is no magic in the decision by power companies to go for it. The Arkansas River Authority will increase the capacity of the Lamar coal-fired power plant to 39 MW from 25 MW by switching the boiler from natural gas to coal. Prowers County Commissioner Gene Millbrand said the coal plant will be "fairly well received" because the power firm has invested in public education about emissions.

Back in Kansas Stephanie Cole, a spokesperson for the Sierra Club, said that Tri-State should promote energy conservation and renewable energy sources such as wind. However, across the border in Colorado, Millbrand said he didn't think that is the right answer.

"The bottom line is that the consumers need energy. Wind and green energy are excellent, but they are not available every day and night, so we know there has to be some alternative source besides wind or solar.

With regard to an option for a nuclear power plant, he said, "there is no sense speculating on whether a nuclear facility would be welcomed by residents in this county until we have more data."

"I was surprised to hear the a nuclear plant was now on the table. Whatever works best for everybody is what we need to look at," Millbrand said.

A Vermont voice for nuclear energy

Bought any fuel oil for home heating lately?granola

In a state where energy debates are sometimes characterized in terms of BTUs per per pound of granola, it was interesting this week to read a letter to the editor in favor of nuclear energy. It comes at a contentious time when protesters disrupted a relicensing hearing for Vermont Yankee.

In Brattleboro, Vermont, a laid back home to just about any "alternative" you can think of, including natural energy sources, like granola, it was a source of supreme wonderment to read a letter advocating the use of nuclear energy to provide electricity to the state. In a region where the native reflex about Vermont Yankee is to find a way to kick it in the shins, this was simply amazing.

Things are pretty tense in Vermont on the issue of nuclear energy. The NRC has received an application from Entergy Vermont Nuclear, the owners of Vermont Yankee, to extend the plant’s operating license for an additional 20 years beyond the 2012 expiration. The Vermont legislature isn't waiting for the results. It recently took up the debate about forcing the plant's operator to fully fund a decommissioning fund by 2012.

Recently Dr. Arjun Makhijani, the Director of the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research (IEER), went to Vermont for a speaking engagement. He's a scholar and a dedicated analyst of the industry and he is persistent. IEER's speaker was in the state in March to tell anti-nuclear activists what they wanted to hear, that license renewal is a bad idea. That's the atmospheric theory, but in practice the political weather was stormy a month later.

Hearing disrupted by hecklers

A recent public hearing on the subject turned ugly April 3rd. Representatives from Vermont's Department of Public Service were heckled by anti-nuclear activists during a public meeting in Brattleboro. The meeting was the last of four around the state that the DPS hosted to discuss the future of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

DPS Spokesman Stephen Wark was interrupted several times as he attempted to explain to the crowd of more than 100 people the process behind the state's review of the power plant.

According to a report in the local newspaper, the state's nuclear engineer, Uldis Vanags, weathered shouts from more than two dozen people during the first half hour of the meeting as they attempted to explain the state process and how a nuclear power plant operates.

"Some people here tonight are more interested in grandstanding than in participating," said Wark, after the crowd broke into five groups to discuss Vermont Yankee. "We're here for a period of time with a serious mission and that's to collect information for in-depth studies. We want to make sure we are hearing the people."

Wark said previous meetings in Burlington, St. Johnsbury and Rutland were not disrupted by protesters.

"This doesn't dissuade us from what we came here to do," he said.

Nuclear advocate not dissuaded either

All this is a wind up to the actual pro-nuclear letter. Here is the full text

Nuclear power should not be dismissed
Wednesday, April 9
Editor of the Reformer:

Makhijani and his anti-nuclear power friends may decide that nuclear power is doomed, but the rest of the world happily is ignoring that nonsense ("Energy expert pronounces new nuke plants doomed," March 17).

You only have to look at the quickly growing economies of the developing world to see that nuclear is a mainstay of the future. There are 30 new plants under construction right now, mostly in Asia. China has long range plans for 100; India expects to build 20, Japan 12 with two already under construction. Countries in Europe which had halted their nuclear programs, with a few exceptions such as France, are rethinking that strategy.

Nuclear power is capable of supplying half of this country's energy needs for the next 1,000 years, and produces almost no greenhouse gasses in doing so. In addition, each new nuclear plant once in operation, will eliminate the need for about 80,000 barrels of imported oil each day. No other source can honestly make that claim.

We will of course need other sources of electricity, such as wind, but to dismiss nuclear power, one of the most important electricity sources that does not generate greenhouse gasses or air pollution, is truly folly.

Bob Leach, Brattleboro, March 24

* * *

Well done.

PS: For anyone who thinks I am "anti-granola," it isn't so. Here''s a great recipe on how to make the stuff from the Food Network.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Domenici - time to recycle spent fuel

Burying spent fuel is "an outdated strategy"

Nevada Senator Harry Reid must be dancing in the aisle under the Capitol dome this week because his colleague, New Mexico Senator Pete Dominici called the Yucca Mountain project "foolhardy." He said reprocessing spent nuclear fuel makes a lot more sense than burying it underground.

Domenici went a lot further saying that the "strategy for spent nuclear fuel has become badly outdated in light of advances that could reprocess the fuel and leave only a very small percentage of the original material behind as waste." He said this material could be stored in salt formations in New Mexico, presumably at WIPP.

The New Mexico Senator told a hearing it is too late to try to finish the Yucca Mountain Project. He plans to introduce legislation to shift the entire government strategy for dealing with spent nuclear fuel.

"I'm talking about a bill that will start over . . . that puts America on a new path," he said.

He said the U.S. no longer needs Yucca Mountain to manage spent nuclear fuel. Sen. Domenici stated that the proposal would authorize the use of Nuclear Waste Policy Act trust funds to be used to renegotiate agreements with utilities and to develop model licenses for reprocessing facilities that would lead to DOE entering into "long-term service contracts with private entities."
This sounds like son of GNEP, with its emphasis on reliable fuel services, but with more political clout.

There is a lot of support for his view in Congress which is deeply frustrated over years of delays in developing the geologic repository located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It is also a signal that Congress is finally going to grapple with spent fuel reprocessing because of the energy and financial value of irradiated fuel that comes out of a reactor.

Sen. Harry Reid and other Nevada politicians have made a lot of political hay out of opposing the Yucca Mountain Project. The Department of Energy has helped him along over the years with a variety of technical, regulatory, and political gaffs that made the multi-billion dollar project a symbol of everything that is wrong with government funded energy projects. Reid is now the Senate majority leader and likely to remain so following the November elections. Domenici's proposed legislation gives Reid what he wants. Will he take it?

NRC fines FPL over sleeping guards

Six of them were out like lights

Reuters reports that the NRC will fine Florida Power & Light for allowing plant security guards at its Turkey Point plant to sleep on the job. In a press release the NRC said its staff has proposed a $130,000 civil penalty against the utility.

NRC officials said the fine was being proposed because a 2006 investigation found that security officers employed by Wackenhut Nuclear Services were willfully inattentive to duty (sleeping) from 2004 through 2006.

A dog did not eat the duty roster

This term "willful" is a big deal with the regulators because it means the incidents can't be explained by human error, acts of God, natural causes, or the dog eating the duty roster. It means people went out and deliberately violated work rules that say no sleeping on the job. NRC said there was "collusion" among the sleeping guards who acted as lookouts for each other.

NRC investigators determined that, on multiple occasions during that time, security officers at Turkey Point were willfully inattentive to duty [emphasis added] or served as lookouts so other officers could sleep on duty. Included in these multiple examples is an incident that occurred on April 6, 2006, in which a security officer was observed by an NRC inspector to be sleeping while on duty.

In a letter to the company dated April 9, 2008, Victor McCree, acting administrator of the NRC’s Region II office in Atlanta, said the NRC “considers this matter to be a significant security concern” and that “the complicity and facilitation by other security personnel of inattentive behavior on the part of fellow security personnel “is of particular concern to the NRC and “cannot be tolerated.”

Guards weren't the only ones caught napping

In part this is a case of the offended bureaucrats because the NRC was caught napping, metaphorically speaking, by not following up on the original complaint about the sleeping guards at another nuclear plant. Congress predictably raked the agency over the coals about its lapse here. To his credit NRC chairman Dale Klein told Congress the agency had indeed dropped the ball and wouldn't let it happen again. "We were not as rigorous as we should have been," said Klein, adding that the NRC is taking action to prevent similar problems at all nuclear plants.

Dick Winn, FPL's nuclear spokesman, said in a statement the six security officers accused of sleeping are no longer at the plant and their actions don't reflect the professionalism of the other workers. Winn said the company has improved the screening and testing of its security force. "We take this seriously," he said.

Last March the Florida Public Service Commission approved two additional reactors at Florida Power & Light's Turkey Point site. FPL already operates two reactors at Turkey Point in south Florida. In terms of the financial heft of the utility, $130,000 isn't much more than a flea bite, but in terms of its impact on the industry it is a major splash in the pond with waves that will rock other security forces at other nuclear plants. Let's hope this is the last instance of sleeping guards at nuclear facilities.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

GE-Hitachi pulls out of Ontario bidding

Company still has a long-term relationship with AECL

The Toronto Star reports that GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy told the Ontario government it will not bid on construction of a new nuclear power plant in the province. There are still a lot of decisions to be made. It isn't over until the fat lady sings.

The decision shortens the list of qualified bidders to three - Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., France's Areva, and Westinghouse Electric. Co. which is owned by Toshiba. It could also affect bidding for a potential new reactor in New Brunswick province.

"GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy has made a business decision to withdraw," Infrastructure Ontario, the agency overseeing the bidding process, said in a statement. GE-Hitachi, it said, decided to focus on existing customers and work toward certifying its boiling-water reactor design (ESBWR) with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Toronto Star reports that experts it interviewed say the company was in a difficult position and initially was caught off guard by the invitation to bid. Its Canadian operation is part of "Team Candu," the consortium of five power-industry companies including AECL that support construction of next-generation Candu reactors in Ontario.

Peter Mason, president and chief executive of GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada, told the Toronto Star last month that the Canadian operation, as a supplier of uranium fuel fabrication for Candu reactors, remained committed to Atomic Energy's reactor design which is the new ACR-1000.

Marc Kealey, a former general manager at AECL, told the newspaper GE-Hitachi probably felt its two other rivals - Westinghouse and Areva - also had a better chance at getting the contract.

* * *

The Ontario provincial government said it continues to hold confidential meetings with AECL, Areva and Westinghouse until April 25. The firms are expected to submit a formal proposal by May 9 as part of the first phase of bidding.

The government plans to pick a winning technology by the end of 2008. It also will decide by that time whether the plant will be located in Clarington or Bruce County, and whether the plant's operator will be Ontario Power Generation or Bruce Power.

Stay tuned. This is a potentially big deal for the U.S. At the rate fossil fuel prices are climbing, New England states could be clamoring for electricity from Ontario's new nuclear build in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bruce files for new reactor in Alberta

It is the Lac Cardinal nuclear power plant

The Daily Construction News in Ottawa reports the wheels have been set in motion to build Western Canada’s first nuclear power plant.

After purchasing Energy Albrerta, Bruce Power Alberta has filed an application with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for the construction of Alberta's first nuclear power plant.

The proposed plant would be built on private land next to Lac Cardinal, about 30 kilometers west of Peace River.

The company has not chosen a specific reactor design for the site. Areva and AECL are the leading competitors.

“Assessing several reactor designs is the best way to compare and contrast what the market has to offer,” said Duncan Hawthorne, CEO of Bruce Power Alberta.

Idaho lab's long range vision for NGNP

Comes up short on cash [update 04/10/08]

There is great profile of the plans by the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) at the Energy Central web portal. It reports that the people planning the future of nuclear energy measure time in decades and time is running short. Philip C. Hildebrandt, who is the director of the Next Generation Nuclear Project has the job to build a prototype nuclear reactor and he's only got until Sept. 30, 2021.

In 2005 Congress authorized the DOE, which funds the lab, to spend $1.25 billion on the prototype over the next eight years. However, funding hangs around at $30 million each year. Hildebrandt's team said it hoped to get three times as much, and the National Academy of Sciences, in a report released in October, expressed concern that among the several federally funded nuclear development programs, NextGen was under funded and couldn't finish on time.

In December 2007, Congress gave NextGen $100 million. The infusion "isn't enough to put us back on track for the end dates," Hildebrandt cautions, but "Congress came through to help. It's substantial and very important. We're better than we thought we were, but we're still behind."

Alberta and Idaho

While NGNP is chasing money, Idaho and the Alberta Research Council are chasing ideas. The two R&D agencies have held discussions about using process heat from nuclear reactors to help recover oil from the tar sands.

They're not the only one's interested in this idea. The South African PBMR project says they'd like to do a deal with Idaho along the same lines.

Overall, if ideas for using new nuclear energy technologies were sacks of potatoes, they'd be piled up pretty high. The problem is getting someone to pay for them.

Funding Challenges Ahead

There a plenty of challenges ahead. Congress will probably put the government on a continuing resolution due to the upcoming election. Assuming Democrats retain their majorities in both House and Senate, they're not going to let a lame duck session set the funding in December. This means it will be February 2009 before the 2008 appropriations bills are enacted.

For Idaho, with Sen. Larry Craig, a long-time advocate for nuclear programs, now politically out of the picture, the burden falls on Sen. Mike Crapo to bring support for NGNP. Crapo's staff told me in a telephone call last week the Senator is an advocate for the lab and will work to assume the leadership role on the Senate side. Over in the House Rep. Mike Simpson sits on the Appropriations Committee. Despite some shortfalls for NGNP, Idaho isn't out of the running just yet.

Update 04/10/08

Platts reports that DOE plans to issue a request to industry for expressions of interest in building the Next Generation Nuclear Plant, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon said this week.

The RFI will be the next-step in developing a cost-sharing arrangement to build the reactor, Spurgeon told the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

DOE plans to work with industry to build a demonstration high-temperature reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) that will begin operating by 2018. The prototype plant is expected to both generate electricity and produce hydrogen.

See prior coverage on this blog NGNP Costs higher than expected

That should be no surprise to anyone as we are talking about a demonstration nuclear plant.

The INL's home page at which it explains its work on NGNP is a good place to start if you are interested in the range of emerging reactor technologies associated with the program. Note that the lab recently upgraded its portal software for its external web site so some prior links on this blog may no longer work. Let me know in a comment if you find any.

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See related coverage on this blog "How will INL build NGNP"

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