Saturday, May 3, 2008

Areva clams up about US project

Update 2008 05 08 Areva selected Idaho Falls as the location for the plant.

Still in the dark about the location of a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant clamshell

Idaho Falls TV station KIFI took a run this week at trying to find out what's happening with Areva's plans to locate a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant in the U.S. The company has been silent for nearly a month since its executive committee met. The results of some extensive use of shoe leather by KIFI - nothing. No one from any of the Areva's offices in Idaho would talk to the TV station's reporter citing instructions from management not to discuss the project with the news media. KIFI is not alone in coming up dry trying to figure out what's happening with Areva. A reporter for the Idaho Statesman told me late this week he's got zip, nada, and flat out nothing about Areva.

Linda Martin, head of the local economic development group Grow Idaho Falls, put in her two cents to KIFI. She said the decision is taking so long because, "it really is a global decision, we're dealing with a French uranium company and an expansion that will affect our country no matter where it's put in."

So let's take that insightful comment as our springboard and see where it goes.

Five sites, no waiting

When Areva was checking out five potential sites in the U.S. it operated like it had a free hand to make the decision. In fact, Areva's choice of a location for the plant will likely require some level of agreement at the highest levels of the U.S. government. Areva is a state owned organization with 85% of its shares held by the French government. This makes it an instrument of a foreign power.

It isn't that the French are unhappy with the U.S. or vice versa these says. After all French President Nicholas Sarkozy took a vacation last year in New Hampshire and has worked hard to renew ties between the two countries.

One site, 104 customers

The issue could be that no matter where Areva puts the plant in the U.S., it will in a few years control a third of the supply of enriched uranium needed by 104 U.S. nuclear power plants that generate 20% of the electricity used by nearly 300 million people. This means the price charged by Areva for the nuclear fuel will drive the cost of electricity for a lot of customers of these utilities, who are also voters.

That's a lot of impact and leverage so it should come as no surprise that it could be getting a lot of attention in terms of U.S. energy policy. This suggests that once Areva chooses a site, it still has to get a policy nod from the Department of Energy and the White House not to mention the congressional delegations in the winning and losing states.

Two big competitors already in motion

Then there is the matter of current competition in the U.S. Louisiana Energy Services (LES) is building a similar uranium enrichment plant in far southeast New Mexico, but Areva is one of the investors in the plant through its relationship with Urenco, the parent firm of the project. So that makes LES something less than a direct competitor.

The other player is U.S. Enrichment Corp, (USEC) based in Ohio, and which has a challenging financial situation trying to raise money to build the American Centrifuge facility, a $3.5 billion uranium enrichment plant. The firm is a potential recipient of a $2 billion loan guarantee for the facility, but so far the Department of Energy hasn't inked the deal. If there is anyone who has a bone to pick with Areva as a competitor it is USEC. Whether the firm has the political throw weight to gum up government's approval of Areva's site selection process is anyone's guess.

Politics abhors a vacuum

Meanwhile, what we've got is a vacuum in terms of information about Areva. If we take a look at the five sites that the company said it considered, (ID, NM, WA, TX, and OH), only two IMHO appear to make it to the top of the list, Idaho and New Mexico.

  • In Hobbs, NM, the economic development team there came up with an attractive set of incentives.
  • In Idaho the state legislature leveled the playing field by offering tax breaks that would benefit the company.
  • In Washington the governor's ho hum endorsement of the plant, coupled with a lecture to an Areva executive about waste issues, may have moved that site down a notch or two on the list.
  • In Ohio people upset about cleanup problems at the Piketon plant came out, metaphorically speaking, with pitch forks and pruning hooks over the mere mention of the plant by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. Areva has said it will not go where it is not wanted, which probably puts Ohio at the bottom of the list.
  • The folks in Texas have aligned themselves with the Hobbs site.

So what's the hang up?

It can't be fiances, despite the current international meltdown, because as a state-owned entity, Areva can finance anything Sarkozy's government approves. Is it something we ate? Maybe it was the scallops?

There are a couple of possibilities, but none are compelling and there are no news media reports to suggest any of them are real. What I'm going to do here is set up a couple of straw men for the two leading sites, New Mexico and Idaho, and then knock them down. Reader comments are welcome.

  • New Mexico

If we look at possible site specific issues, in New Mexico, you have the obvious question of whether you want to put two-thirds of the U.S. manufacturing capability for enriched uranium within the same state. During the cold war the U.S. tried hard to disperse the core of the U.S. machine tool & die industry centralized in eastern Ohio because it was such an attractive target for Soviet missiles. In the current era would two uranium enrichment plants located within spitting distance of each other be an attractive target for terrorists?

That's not something I want to dwell on, and it may be an 'oh never mind,' but concentration of critical infrastructure is a new wrinkle in the industrial fabric of the nation given the types of security threats that face the country.

  • Idaho

In eastern Idaho the Department of Energy and the State of Idaho are trying to negotiate a new cleanup strategy following the "all is all" ruling on buried waste from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A $13 billion cleanup bill for the feds hangs in the balance. A more reasonable approach to cleanup of buried waste by the State of Idaho could significantly reduce that claim on federal dollars.

However, this issue is unrelated to Areva's plans, and it makes no sense that it would influence the location of a new facility on private land even if it does involve uranium enrichment. The Bush Administration has way too much on its plate with France to let a regional environmental issue weigh in the balance here.

Of course these two possibilities are all just speculation.

Eight ball in the side pocket?

Most likely the delay in an announcement has nothing to do with any of the five sites, or the states, on Areva's list. Like a three bank shot in a game of pool, one more possibility is that some international issue has got Areva's socks tied up in a knot. This is Ms. Martin's take on the situation, and it still makes sense to me.

If we take a look at French President Sarkozy's world travels as a nuclear salesman, it's possible one of his potential customers has the U.S. worried. It could be our government is trying to apply some international leverage about the latest potential French nuclear deal before it turns Areva loose to publicly select a site for the enrichment plant in the U.S.

Finally, the French government is nearly as byzantine as the Turks which means that a site decision for a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant in the U.S. most likely gets due diligence reviews that simply take time. Given the firm's effective clam shell strategy about its plans, we're just going to have to wait for them to open up about it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Greenpeace founder brings pro-nuclear message to Idaho

He comes seeking alliances while crossing the Snake River moore

Patrick Moore, the founder of Greenpeace, now age 60, came to Idaho last week and found receptive audiences for his strong message on nuclear energy in a state that has no commercial nuclear power plants. Speaking to 300 people in Idaho Falls, the home of the Idaho National Laboratory, and to twice that number at two venues in Boise, Moore said that the only viable solution to the problem of global warming is to build new nuclear power plants instead of using more coal.

Moore told the Boise Chamber of Commerce and the Idaho Environmental Forum the chemistry of the earth's atmosphere is changing and he agrees with former Vice-President Al Gore. The high risk consequences that could come from greenhouse gases require that the world's economies stop building coal-fired power plants. The answer, says Moore, is to build hundreds of nuclear power plants over the next century. Renewable energy sources may be part of the mix, but he argues that there isn't enough energy potential for wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal sources to sustain the nation or the world.

Moore represents the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a group that is financially backed by the nuclear energy industry. He began his career as an ardent environmentalist trying to save the whales and stop nuclear bomb testing. Now he drives a hybrid vehicle, touts the benefits of ground source heat pumps, and believes if we change our energy practices, technologies, and policies, we can make a different in controlling greenhouse gas emissions. He considers nuclear the only non-greenhouse gas emitting energy source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and meet energy demand. Moore spends much of his time advising major corporations how to go green.

Not everyone likes Moore's message. According to the Idaho Statesman, his critics, like Andrea Shipley, executive director of the Snake River Alliance, says he has sold out to the dark side of the force.

"The only reason Patrick Moore is backing something as unsafe and risky as nuclear power is he is being paid by the nuclear industry to do so," Shipley said.

While I normally don't comment on the rhetoric of anti-nuclear groups, I found Ms. Shipley's cross comment to be over-the-top and not helpful. While Moore sought alliances, in the true meaning of the word, Shipley was simply divisive.

When anti-nuclear groups gear up, they are making a de facto choice for more fossil fuel power plants. Moore pointed out fossil fuels also are a threat to human health. "Coal causes the worst health and environmental impacts of anything we are doing today," Moore said.

Both of Moore's talks in Idaho were sponsored by the Partnership for Science & Technology. In Idaho Falls the local chapter of the American Nuclear Society hosted the event.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

DOE to fund NGNP ~ deep burn ~ reactor design

Two reactor R&D efforts are linked in a single grant funding opportunity

[Update 07/25/08 below . . .
DOE awards $7.2 million to Idaho, Argonne labs]

The Department of Energy isn't giving up on GNEP even if Congress has repeatedly sent a strong message it isn't going to fund the program at the levels requested by the agency. In a new twist DOE has linked nuclear reactor R&D design work for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant and GNEP objectives to the concept of nuclear fuel “Deep-Burn” in which plutonium and higher transuranics recycled from spent nuclear fuel are destroyed. GNEP and NGNP have been more or less until now traveling down separate R&D paths. Now with this new $7.3 million grant, their paths and fates may be intertwined.

The funding opportunity seeks to establish the technological foundations that will support the role of the very-high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor (VHTR) in the nuclear fuel cycle, which is one of the prototype reactors being researched/developed under the Department’s Generation IV Nuclear power program. The work under this FOA will be carried out in two parts requiring separate proposals:

1. Advanced Modeling and Simulation Capability for VHTR Development; and

2. Design; and Transuranic Management Capabilities of the Deep-Burn VHTR.

“The Deep-Burn concept is particularly attractive because it employs the reactor design that is used for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant program, with the potential for highly efficient electricity and process heat production,” Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon said. “We are eager to see how this concept can add to the mix of advanced nuclear technologies.”

The transuranic elements are the hottest and most radiotoxic chemical elements in used nuclear fuel that require disposal in a waste repository. In Deep-Burn, the transuranics from used light water reactor fuel are recycled into coated-particle fuel and “burned” in a VHTR while producing energy in the form of process heat and electricity. The term “Deep-Burn” is used because of the VHTR’s ability to reach very high fuel burnups (up to 65 percent of initial fuel), resulting in very efficient use of the fuel and a high degree of destruction of the transuranics.

The primary mission of the NGNP is production of high-temperature heat, for use as a source of process heat or generation of electricity. A further goal of this FOA is to enable a quantitative assessment of the scope, cost and schedule implications of extending the NGNP mission in the future to destruction of plutonium and other transuranics.

DOE's Idaho Field Office said in a statement,

"The Deep-Burn R&D effort will be coordinated with the ongoing Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) programs to ensure synergism and to avoid duplication of efforts. The R&D that will be carried out is a part of DOE’s Generation IV program which aims to further the fundamental R&D to ensure the viability of the next-generation of nuclear energy systems."

Responses to the FOA # DE-PS07-08ID14907 are due to DOE May 22, 2008. DOE anticipates announcing the selection later this year. Full text of the announcement is at grants.gov. The period of performance once the grant is awarded is one year.

Update 07/25/08 - DOE Awards $7.3 million to Idaho and Argonne labs

World Nuclear News reports that The Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) could be used to burn up plutonium and transuranics currently thought of as waste. The US Department of Energy (DOE) is planning to build a very high temperature gas-cooled reactor (VHTR) at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), with the prime objective of supplying heat at about 900°C. This heat could be used to generate electricity, or as process heat for other industrial processes such as hydrogen production, chemical plants, oil refining, or water desalination.
DOE will fund two teams of scientists, one at INL and the other at Argonne, to examine the potential of a VHTR such as NGNP for 'deep-burn' of nuclear fuel. This means using nuclear fuel which contains uranium, plutonium and certain higher transuranic elements which would otherwise be treated as high-level radioactive waste could be used in a VJTR.

INL will conduct the deep-burn research program worth $6.3 million. Argonne National Laboratory will do research on modelling and simulation of VHTRs at a cost of $1 million. The labs were chosen after a competitive process also open to universities and commercial entities.

# # #

GE-Hitachi moves on laser enrichment

Decision to build a full-scale facility could come in 2009

While Areva is still silent on a decision whether and where to build a uranium enrichment plant at one of five potential sites in the U.S., Global Laser Enrichment (GLE), a subsidiary of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), has announced it has selected GEH's Wilmington, NC, headquarters site for a potential commercial uranium enrichment facility.

"This is a key milestone in GLE's development process," said Tammy Orr, President and CEO of Global Laser Enrichment. "With the selection of the Wilmington site for a potential commercial facility, we can now move forward with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) licensing process."

GEH has exclusive rights to develop, commercialize and launch this third-generation uranium enrichment technology on a global basis, under a 2006 agreement with the original developer, the Australian company Silex Systems Ltd.

Before moving ahead with full-scale production plans, GLE will first evaluate the results of a demonstration test loop, which is currently under construction, and obtain an NRC license to build and operate the commercial plant. Commercial licensing activities are currently underway to support a projected start-up date of 2012.

The commercial GLE facility would have a target capacity of between 3.5 and six million separative work units (SWUs). GEH intends to make a final decision on the construction of the facility in early 2009. The planned GEH plant would result in the creation of hundreds of new technical, operational and support jobs at the site between now and 2012.

The laser enrichment isotope separation technology allows GEH to become further integrated in the nuclear fuel cycle. Wilmington-based Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas (GNF-A), a joint venture of GE, Hitachi and Toshiba, is involved in the fuel cycle. GNF's site currently receives low enriched uranium, which is then used to fabricate fuel bundles for commercial nuclear power plants. The commercial GLE enrichment facility could potentially become a supplier of low enriched uranium to the Wilmington GNF fabrication facility.

Reference: prior coverage on this blog

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How will Idaho lab build NGNP?

Answer - two heads may be better than one work together

The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is facing a formidable challenge with the release of a request for information (RFI) earlier this month by the Department of Energy (DOE). The government wants to hear from firms that think they can build the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) which is most likely going to be a high temperature gas cooled reactor, possibly a pebble bed design. The reactor is expected to produce electricity, but also process heat for industry, e.g., oil refining, and even hydrogen depending on design.

The current setup at the INL is the a prime contractor on the lab side is responsible for nuclear energy R&D. However, the contractor has never built a nuclear reactor and from an organizational perspective isn't positioned to manage the construction of a project of this magnitude and do everything else.

On the government side the DOE Idaho field office is also concerned with meeting the enforceable milestones of a federal consent decree governing the cleanup of Cold War legacy radioactive waste. Again, from an organizational perspective, with one $2.9 billion cleanup contract its plate, the current staff doesn't have the ability to also manage and complete a $2 billion nuclear reactor demonstration project.

So how is the work going to get done? Here are my two cents on how two heads will help the Idaho lab build NGNP and still do everything else.

First - split the management of the DOE Idaho field office into two domains. Keep one for the cleanup program, and create a second field office management structure and executive solely for the purpose of managing the nuclear energy programs including the R&D work, but especially to manage the reactor build. This move would put management horse power in both places and end the situation of having competing demands hit the desk of a single executive.

Second, have DOE's nuclear energy program office in Washington, DC, let a prime contract solely for the design, construction, licensing, and operation of NGNP. This makes the reactor project a tenant on the INL desert and retains the R&D mission as an integral part of the demonstration nuclear reactor project without bogging down a science outfit with a multi-billion dollar construction operation.

The contract would be developed along the lines of a commercial nuclear reactor Engineering & Procurement Contract (EPC), but with a complete life cycle program from design to operation. Licensing the new design with the NRC is an essential step on the road to commercial success.

Third, get help. The South Africans are developing a pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR). Why reinvent the wheel? At a minimum if INL is not already having these discussions, explore the possibility of a joint effort. The PBMR folks have already committed to building a demonstration 200 Mw reactor. INL's reactor is expected to be about 300 Mw. Unless the engineering approaches are radically different, it looks like an interesting opportunity.

Fourth, get DOE's Office of Science in the picture. Nuclear science is a hard discipline and it takes a lot of brainpower to advance the state of the art. NGNP isn't just a reactor project. There are a host of science disciplines, hard and soft, involved in a radical departure from PWR/BWR designs. They include material science, human factors, fuel fabrication, and so on.

If NGNP on the R&D side is to succeed, DOE will need to mobilize scientists at labs like Oak Ridge, Argonne, and the other non-defense labs to get the job done. International collaboration would be a good idea because it would build capacity globally to support this technology once it reaches the commercial stage.

At the start of this blog post I said that "two heads are better than one." I pointed out that the lab contractor needs an EPC firm to design, build, license, and operate the reactor. That's the first set of two heads. The second set is on the DOE field offices side where conceivably two executives could manage their respective multi-billion dollars programs and staff needed to succeed in both cleanup and reactor build. This does mean more feds, but there is a lot more work to do.

Frankly, with the release of the NGNP RFI the work of the INL has just doubled so two heads would be a good idea.

Comments are welcome.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rethinking nuclear energy ~ Class 5 is up

A lesson learned is that it will take a lot of cows to power Vermont CowLogo

Bob Hargraves continues to post materials from his class at Dartmouth Rethinking Nuclear Energy He's now in Part 5 of an 8 part class.

The class on Energy Policy and Environmental Choices was held today and the slides and audio are posted.

The homework problem was from unit 3. Environmental Choices which asks "How many cows would meet Vermont's need, in 2006, for 9,589 GWH of energy?"

The answer was computed in class. it is 5.7 million cows! Prof. Hargraves did not say whether the cows were "contented" or not. He notes that the waste from one cow produces enough energy to light two 100-watt light bulbs 24-hours a day.

Now the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2006 Vermont had a population in 2006 of 624,000 people. That works out to about 9 cows per person. Put another way the land area of Vermont, whether covered by buildings, roads, farm crops, or other livestock, is 9,250 square miles. That works out to 616 cows per square mile. Clearly, while cows are a viable energy source on a very small scale, meeting base load demand is out of the question. The rest of the math is in the slides.

BTW: For those of you who want a self-guided field trip, readers are reminded that the 52nd annual Vermont Dairy Festival will be held up north in Enosburg, VT, June 5-8. Don't miss it!

The class finished the unit 4. Current Technology and went through unit 5. covering new technologies through spent fuel reprocessing and pebble bed reactors.

Bob writes, "Next week we finish all the prepared materials, and the week of May 12 we visit Seabrook Station."

Note to readers - the slides are in Microsoft Powerpoint [tm] format. Because of their size your best bet is to save the files to disk and then open them. Class 3 is in a 22 Mb file composed of 134 slides.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

GE Hitachi cut ties with Toshiba

Japanese nuclear giants set a competitive course for U.S. market sharesailing

The Daily Yomiuri, an English language newspaper in Japan, reports that the joint opening of a U.S. office by Hitachi and General Electric is a signal of a new competitive race between the two firms and Toshiba which owns Westinghouse in the U.S. The new office set up by GE and Hitachi in San Jose, CA, will market boiling water reactors (BWR) and comes just weeks after Toshiba established an office in the U.S. to gain market share in the U.S. with Westinghouse AP1000s, which are PWRs, and with Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR).

The new offices signal the end to a technical cooperation agreement that was first signed in 1967 and renewed in 2001 for a ten year run. This development was inevitable once Toshiba acquired Westinghouse. Within a year Toshiba has inked deals in China for four AP1000 reactors.

A similar rivalry also exists with Areva which established a relationship with Mitsubishi in 2007. Last November Areva signed a $12 billion contract in China for new reactors and related nuclear facilities.

All three firms promote their experience at controlling costs and risks based on their prior experience building reactors in Japan. The three firms are now sailing in competitive seas with huge prizes awaiting the winner in each new reactor build in the U.S.

Critics of nuclear energy who doubt the "nuclear renaissance" is underway need to look at how these companies are positioning themselves. On April 7 Marvin Fertel, a top executive at the Nuclear Energy Institute, told the American Bar Association the U.S. nuclear build will likely come in two waves. The first units will come online around 2016 and a second wave will come into service around 2020.

The cost alone for obtaining a combined construction permit-operating license (COL), from the NRC is $50- $100 million, Fertel said. He added that a COL is a "bankable" asset for companies considering building new nuclear plants."

Toshiba turns the tables at NRG

Significantly, the first sign of success in the three-way competition among Japanese nuclear firms came when Toshiba inked an agreement with NRG for four-to-five new reactors in the U.S. all ABWRs. Two will be at the South Texas Project. While GE-Hitachi may get to supply the components, the Engineering & Procurement Contract (EPC) will be with Toshiba in the lead.

Right now the Yen is stronger than the dollar so a fixed price has not been set for the two units slated for STP-3 and STP-4. The original plan had the reactors coming in with an estimated cost of $2,000-$2,500/Kw. The latest projection is $2,900-$3,200/Kw. This price is still considerably lower than costs announced for new units in Florida or cost estimates published by Moodys.

NRG told the NRC it will amend its COL application to reflect the new arrangement. A spokesman for the company said the changes would have "only a modest impact on our overall schedule."

NRG filed its COL application as a "first mover" which will qualify it for federal loan guarantees and financial incentives once the new nuclear units start generating electricity. If all goes well, they will be part of NEI's projected "first wave" coming on line in the middle of the next decade.

Reactors on the move in Canada

It's a fluid environment in the western provinces turn sign

The progress of plans for new nuclear builds in Canada took a couple of unexpected turns this week. Alberta wants to study nuclear energy while Bruce Power wants to go ahead with a plan to build two or more units in the tar sands region near Peace River. However, next door Saskatchewan popped up this week "encouraging" TransCanada, the owner of Bruce Power, to look east for a location for the new reactors.

Hal Kvisle, TransCanada's CEO, told the Calgary Herald, "there may be better places to go than Peace River."

Bruce Power purchased the assets and rights of Energy Alberta earlier this year along with an assumed commitment to build two AECL ACR1000 reactors. That situation has changed recently with Bruce Power now saying it will open the new build to competition.

Alberta's nuclear study

The provincial government in Alberta this week appointed an expert panel to prepare a report on nuclear energy. The government does not have a policy position on the use of nuclear power. There are multiple proposals to use nuclear energy for process heat, steam, and electricity to extract oil from the tar sands.

The new panel is composed of industry and academic energy experts in Canada. It has a broad brief. According to World Nuclear News, the agenda includes; environmental, health and safety issues; waste management; comparison of nuclear energy with other electricity generation technologies; current and future nuclear power generation being used in Canada and worldwide; and Alberta's future electricity needs.

The panel has also been asked to examine social issues and concerns related to nuclear energy. The Provincial Energy Strategy, expected to be completed later this year, will also be reviewed by the expert panel to examine how nuclear power fits into an Alberta context. The panel is expected to submit its report to the government in late 2008.

Experts charged with bias

The panel drew immediate heat from opposition politicians and environmental groups. They charged that the panel did not include anyone who is skeptical of nuclear energy.

NDP Leader Brian Mason said, "They've predetermined that they are going to get advice in favour of nuclear power from this panel, and will then be using that information to try and convince a very skeptical public."

Energy Minister Mel Knight defended the makeup of an expert panel on nuclear safety, rejecting criticisms that it has a pro-nuclear bias.

Knight stressed the newly created four-member panel isn't being asked to decide whether Alberta should open its doors to nuclear power. That decision, he said, will be made by the government after it seeks input from Albertans

At the same time Canada's Alberta Research Council and the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) have agreed to study energy options for Alberta including the use of advanced nuclear energy technologies. This is a separate project which is a joint scientific effort between the two R&D organizations.

Saskatchewan seeks Bruce reactor

In his remarks this week CEO Kvisle said while TransCanada supports Bruce Power's nuclear pursuits in the province, a compelling and logical argument can be made that Saskatchewan, the source of most of the nuclear fuel used in North America, would be a better home. Peace River is also a long ways north and power transmission would add expense.

"Saskatchewan should think about value-added upgrading of that fuel," Kvisle said. "Also, in Saskatchewan there is increasingly a comfort level with the merits of nuclear power. Of course, in every jurisdiction there are people opposed to it."

His comments probably come as a surprise to Bruce Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne who reportedly could not be reached for comment in response to Kvisle's statement.

Earlier this month Provincial Governor Brad Wall won concessions from the U.S. and the Nuclear Suppliers Group in his quest to develop a uranium enrichment plant in the U.S. If built it would compete head-to-head with the new plant being built in New Mexico by Louisiana Energy Services and the American Centrifuge plant being built by USEC in Ohio.

With Saskatchewan's political leadership in hot pursuit of the capability to enrich uranium for export to world markets, it looks like their "encouragement" of Trans Canada is part of a plan to develop some home grown demand for it as well. A related issue is now that Saskatchewan is apparently on the path to uranium enrichment, the question is asked who will build it?

What about Areva?

The wild card in the mix is that Areva has not yet announced the location of its new proposed uranium enrichment plant in the U.S. The company's executive committee met nearly a month ago to consider five potential sites, but the firm has been silent since then.

This has raised speculation that the firm may be looking at Saskatchewan's drive for a new plant. The province is home to one-third of the world's uranium and Areva is a major player in the Canadian mining world. The question is whether Wall made a late pitch to the French nuclear giant derailing its stately corporate process of deciding on a U.S. location? One of Arveva's problems, especially if the Canadians really aren't ready for a uranium enrichment plant, is how to say 'no' to Saskatchewan and also not jeopardize its extensive mining operations in that province.

There may be other reasons why Areva hasn't announced its choice for the location of a new uranium enrichment plant including the current U.S. financial meltdown and the claims of other priorities on executive time.