Friday, June 13, 2008

South Africa goes green with nuclear energy

Cabinet decision cuts reliance on coal-fired electric plants because of global warming

PebblesReuters reports that South Africa's cabinet has approved the country's nuclear energy policy. It will play a greater role in resolving a critical power shortage. The Pebble Bed reactor will have a significant role contributing to the shift of South Africa's energy supply from coal to nuclear.

The cabinet approved the nuclear energy policy Themba Maseko, chief government spokesman, told reporters at a post-cabinet briefing.

"The objective of this policy is to increase the role of nuclear energy as part of the process of diversifying our primary energy sources to ensure energy security," Maseko said.

He said the nuclear policy would reduce South Africa's over-reliance on coal-powered electricity generation that made it a major source of greenhouse gases.

Creamers Engineering reports the policy would allow South Africa to diversify its primary energy sources, and move away from an over-reliance on coal for electricity generation, which accounts for over 90% of the country's power generation. This has contributed to South Africa being among the highest emitters of greenhouse gases, government said in a statement.

Policy will address a major shortage of electricity

Eskom, the major South African utility, has rationed power to the key mining sector following collapse of the electricity grid in January. The power shortage has spooked investors and is contributing to slower growth this year.

Eskom, which operates South Africa's only nuclear plant, Koeberg, plans to spend an enormous sum, 350 billion rand ($43.6 billion), on generating capacity over the next five years and has invited bids for new nuclear power stations perhaps as many as twelve. Toshiba/Westinghouse and Areva are the expected major bidders for construction of the plants which will require significant local participation from South African firms. Eskom has plans to build the first five full-scale nuclear power stations by 2025. At that time these units should be able to generate about one-quarter of the country's power from nuclear energy.

Pebble Beds on deck

South Africa plans to build 24-30 Pebble Bed Modular Reactors. Construction of a PBMR demonstration model at Koeberg, 35 miles west of Cape Town city, is scheduled to start 2010. The first plant would be commissioned in 2014, followed by additional commercial reactors three years later, the PBMR company said. The design is expected to be offered for export.

The policy also covers radioactive waste management and the mining of uranium to ensure a security of supply. South Africa is a major supplier of uranium on the world market.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Western Lands Uranium Gopher for June 14, 2008

gopher Mining uranium exploration press releases for useful stuff
(An occasional column on money and mining news items)

The rise of nuclear energy, a second act if ever there was one, has given the price of uranium a shot in the arm. In western states in the U.S. interest in uranium mining is growing and with it comes another growth industry - the production of press releases about the uranium mining industry. In an effort to separate the really interesting from the merely informational, I'm posting my running notes on uranium mining in western states.

The choices of the subjects are a combination of what I find in the press release pile and what looks interesting to me and for readers. I'm focusing mostly on western states that are "west" of the 100th meridian, but this isn't hard and fast. The states of interest are WY, CO, UT, TX, NM, AZ, & NV. For this reason I call this series the "western lands uranium gopher." These are news notes and the content is not to be considered investment advice.

Powertech gains $8.9 million investment for U.S. mines

Canada’s Powertech is the focus of a $8.9 million investment by Belgium’s Synatom securing the rights to purchase uranium once Powertech’s U.S. properties go into production. Powertech is developing ISR mining operations in Colorado and South Dakota. The company also has prospecting work underway at two locations in Wyoming and at Ambrosia Lake in New Mexico. The investment boosts Synatom’s share of the company from 10% to 34%.

The investment comes following a winter of controversy in Colorado where the legislature passed and the governor signed into law new regulatory requirements for ISR mines. The Powertech Centennial mine near Nunn, Colo., was the impetus for a strong anti-mining backlash from the “green” city of Ft. Collins even though the property is 20 miles to the northeast in neighboring Weld County. Two Democratic legislators from that city spearheaded the successful legislative campaign. South Dakota is just starting to review its ISR mining regulations and the political atmosphere there is considered to be neutral.

Clearly, both Powertech and Synatom feel they can live with the new mining requirements in Colorado. Powertech said it would use the investment as working capital. Synatom, a subsidiary of Electrabel, provides fuel for Belgium’s seven nuclear power plants which generate more than half of the nation’s electricity. Synatom CEO Robert Leclere said in a statement the investment is “consistent with Synatom’s strategy to focus on development of promising near-term production projects.”

Powertech’s stock price on the Toronto exchange remained essentially unchanged, following the announcement on June 5, at $1.40 a share within a 52-week range of $0.83-$3.05.

Geovic announces Colorado ISR mine lease

Geovic Mining announced it has paid $2.8 million for 15-year mineral rights on 16,000 acres in northeastern Colorado making it the second company to pursue ISR mining in that area. Powertech, a Canadian firm, earlier this year began work on developing an ISR mine near Nunn, Colo, which stirred up a hornets' nest of opposition. The political outcome was that the Colorado General Assembly passing two bills designed to strengthen state oversight of mining, with House Bill 1161 aimed at uranium mining in particular.

John Sherborne, CEO of Geovic, which is based in Grand Junction, Colo, told the Greeley Tribune he was surprised by the reaction of people in the area to the intentions by Powertech, noting that in-situ mining, according to the U.S. Bureau of Mines, has major advantages compared to conventional uranium mining in the areas of health, safety and the environment.

Geovic, originally organized in 1984 as Resource Equity Ltd. in Alberta, Canada, is focused on cobalt, nickel and manganese mining in Cameroon, Africa, but also is acquiring rights to mine uranium in Weld County and Goshen County, Wyo.

Uranium Energy receives Texas permit for Goliad ISR mine

Uranium Energy Corp reports that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has issued a draft mine permit for the company's Goliad ISR Uranium Project in South Texas. The issuance of the draft mine permit follows a nine-month technical review of the mine permit application by the TCEQ.

Commenting on the new permit, Harry Anthony, COO, stated, "We are very pleased with the rapid progress we are making with the Goliad project. Receiving the Draft Mine Permit for Goliad after a nine-month period of review validates the detailed technical understanding that company staff are developing about the project area."

Notice of the draft permit will be published in project-area newspapers for public comment for 30 days. TCEQ will prepare a response to comments, and the draft permit will be placed on the Commissioners' agenda for completion. Uranium Energy Corp is on schedule to file the remaining applications this summer for starting ISR production at the Goliad Project.

The permitting of uranium mining in Texas is administrated at the state level. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has delegated its authority to the state regulatory agencies, and companies deal directly with the state agencies in Texas rather than the NRC.

Wave Uranium acquires second Utah lease

Wave Uranium (WAVU) announced the acquisition of a 5,414 acre mineral lease in Emery County, Utah. This area is adjacent to 1,327 WAVU mining claims on Federal lands and 1,042 acres of State Trust Lands previously leased by the company. The area that the company is venturing into is located in the San Rafael Desert area of eastern Emery County, Utah.

Historic mines and prospects in the canyon of the Green River and its tributaries indicate widespread uranium enrichment in the area. Total historic production from the lower Chinle in southeastern Utah has been more than 100,000,000 pounds U3O8.

URI seeks license for New Mexico exploration

Uranium Resources, Inc. announced that it has submitted applications to several regulatory agencies in the State of New Mexico for a permit to conduct exploratory drilling in the Ambrosia Lake area. The applications are for ten uranium exploratory holes on land west of San Mateo. It is expected that the permits will be received in the fall of this year. URI will retrieve ore samples to evaluate the properties of the ore and determine if the uranium can be extracted by ISR methods.

Richard Van Horn, URI COO said, “"We are working several tactics to get to production. This area in the Ambrosia Lake district may be amenable to in-situ recovery mining (ISR).”

He added that if the exploratory drilling proves successful, the resource URI has identified could support an ISR operation of up to 500,000 pounds per year for a period of two to three years. At $70/lb the value of the resource over three years of production would be $105 million. The firm expects to have reportable results of our drilling by the end of this year after the permit has been issued.

Monster Uranium to acquire Oregon site

Monster Uranium Corp. has entered into a letter of intent with Uranium One Inc., formerly Energy metals, to acquire a 100-per-cent interest in the Aurora property located in southern Oregon. The Aurora Property reportedly consists of unpatented lode claims on 450 acres located in Malheur County, Oregon, 12 miles northwest of McDermitt, Nev.

The purchase price for the property will be $5 million in cash and 2 million shares common stock. The last recorded trade of the company's stock was on May 12 for $0.38 within a 52-week range of $0.35-$0.58. At this price the 2 million shares of stock would be worth $760,000. The company paid a cash deposit in the amount of $1 million on signing.

According to a report filed with the SEC in 2005 by Energy Metals, Placer Amex conducted an extensive exploration and evaluation program at the Aurora property from 1977-1980 investigating the uranium mineralization with the goal of putting the project into production.

Placer and the previous owner, Locke Jacobs, completed at least 562 rotary and diamond core drillholes and 530 are included in the resource calculation. Placer completed a pre-feasibility study defining a resource of 16.8 million tons of ore with an average grade of 0.048% equivalent U3O8, but due to falling uranium prices, dropped interest in the project. No work to generate production has taken place at the property since 1980 according to Energy Minerals’ SEC report.

Bluerock announces drilling results at Sunbeam uranium mine

Bluerock Resources Ltd. announced results from the Phase I exploration and delineation drilling program at the Sunbeam Uranium Mine, Uravan Mineral Belt, Colorado.

The drilling program at the Sunbeam Uranium Mine defined a previously unknown mineralized zone within an "historic drillout" proximal to the Sunbeam Uranium Mine, with grades of up to 2.38% U3O8 over 1.5 feet (0.46 metres).

Michael Collins, CEO of Bluerorck, said, "The success of the Sunbeam Uranium Mine Phase 1 drill program further demonstrates the potential for near term uranium production."

The Sunbeam Uranium Mine is one of four uranium properties that the company envisions supporting the ore purchase and toll milling agreement with Denison Mines' White Mesa Uranium Mill. Ore continues to be stockpiled at the J-Bird Mine, underground development work has started at the Cone Mountain Uranium Bulk Sampling Project, and exploration drilling is expected to restart shortly at the fully permitted Tramp Uranium Mine.

Fremont County delays vote on Black Range uranium mine

After eight hours of conflicting public testimony on May 26, the Fremont County, Colo., commissioners knew only one thing. They were too exhausted to cast votes on a request by Australia-based Black Range Minerals. The firm wants to drill 800 holes over 8,169 acres in central Colorado near Canon City. The Tallhassee Creek area was drilled extensively in the early 1980s. Black Range refers to the project as the Taylor Ranch site which it owns 100%.

The site has caused conflict between the expansion of residential subdivisions and the historic uranium district. Homeowners on large lots of three-to-five acres testified that the proposed drilling will threaten their water supplies, property values, and rural lifestyle. Ranch owners on whose property the drilling and eventual mining would take place complained that their chance to make money from the mineral rights for the mine would be taken away without compensation. A vote is expected in mid-June on the conditional use permit.

The Taylor Ranch Uranium Project is located in close proximity to the Hansen uranium deposit in the Tallahassee Creek District of Colorado. The Hansen deposit was discovered in 1977. It reportedly contains 30 million pounds of U3O8 at a grade of approximately 0.08% U3O8. Permits were acquired by the prior owners for the site in 1980, but no production took place due to the collapse of uranium prices.

Black Range said that its plans for the site include underground mining for the first three-to-five years of operation with extraction of 300,000-500,000 tonnes of ore per year with ore grades of 0.12 -0.15% U3O8. Initial production would be of 1.0-1.25 million pounds of U3O8. At a price of $70/lb the value of this production would be $70-88 million. So far Black Range has reportedly spent more than $1 million on the project.

Update - Black Range Minerals received a conditional permit on June 11 for exploratory drilling as it searches for uranium near Canon City.

Fremont County commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the conditional permit for the company to drill 800 exploration holes on a portion of 8,169 acres in the Tallahassee Creek area.

Commissioners said the company would have to comply with a long list of conditions that are in the works to mitigate effects on residents. Commissioners were expected to vote on final conditions July 8. The Australian company would need additional approvals to begin mining.

# # #

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Calvert Cliffs advances Areva's EPR

tower NRC accepts UniStar's COL for a third reactor at Constellation Energy's site in Southern Maryland

Record high temperatures along the U.S. east coast this week, along with the threat of brownouts from soaring demand for electricity to cool people off, have some thinking that a new nuclear reactor to provide more juice to the region could not come soon enough.

To those unfamiliar with the names of nuclear power plants the geography of "Calvert Cliffs" sounds distinctly like something out of a real estate agent's advertising book. In fact, it is the name of a nuclear power plant in southern Maryland and what's interesting about it this week is that the NRC accepted the remainder of UniStar's Combined License (COL) application for an advanced design reactor in southern Maryland.

The NRC action means the second portion of UniStar's application, which includes the final safety analysis report, is technically complete and ready for detailed NRC review. UniStar submitted the documents in March 2008.

"The NRC acceptance represents another significant milestone in UniStar's plans to develop and deploy a potential fleet of advanced nuclear plants in the United States," said George Vanderheyden, president and chief executive officer of UniStar.

UniStar Nuclear Energy, a joint venture between Constellation Energy (NYSE: CEG) and the EDF Group, expects to make a final decision by the end of this year whether to proceed with early site work for a third reactor next to Constellation Energy's Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant in Lusby, Md.

The proposed plant is part of UniStar's strategy to build at least four U.S. Evolutionary Power Reactors (EPRs) in the U.S. Areva submitted the reactor design to the NRC for certification in the U.S. last December. UniStar announced it February it had engaged an AREVA-Bechtel Power Consortium to begin detailed design engineering for AREVA's 1,600-megawatt U.S. EPR. UniStar's COL application for a U.S. EPR at Calvert Cliffs would serve as the reference document for all future UniStar plants.

Vanderheyden said the decision to build a new nuclear plant will be based on factors that include project economics, regulatory approvals and the U.S. Department of Energy's issuance of a loan guarantee.

ESBWR for Fermi

bulb The NRC posted information on June 4 that Detroit Edison has selected GE-Hitachi's Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) as the design reference for a new unit planned at its Fermi site in Michigan. The ESBWR, a GE-designed Gen III+ reactor, is currently in the NRC's design certification process. The Design Control Document was docketed by the NRC in 2005.

DTE plans to submit a COL application by the end of 2008 for a 1,500 MWe plant that could cost $4-5 BILLION. Detroit Edison's parent company, DTE Energy, is part of the NuStart consortium of utilities and reactor vendors including GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse.

Michigan legislation could lock in DTE's customer base

DTE Energy Co. is asking its shareholders to support for a package of bills, recently passed by the state House, that it says sets the stage to move forward with a new nuclear power plant.

The legislation sets a 10 percent limit on the amount of a utility's customer load that can go to alternate suppliers, establishes a new approval process for power plants and utility rates, alters utility rate structures, and requires electricity providers to obtain at least 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

DTE has said that without this legislation the future of the new nuclear power plant is much less certain. Currently, Michigan's laws allow the largest industrial customers to shop for the best power deals which could undermine DTE's rate base needed to attract investors to build the plant.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Teutonic tectonic shift on nuclear energy

Merkel sets course to break the mold

In the world of policy reversals among the heads of major European nations, which occur rarely, a Teutonic tectonic shift occurred this week with one from German Chancellor Angela Merkel who described her country's decision to close its nuclear plants as "absolutely wrong." It is a political earthquake which will shake up German politics.

knightFor her trouble Ms. Merkel will undoubtedly have to put on her political armor and fend off the arrows of outrage from the Green party and her other political opponents who have taken a strong line on shutting down Germany's nuclear power plants. She'll need allies and she's got one right next door.

What's even more interesting about this announcement is that Merkel made her remarks as a joint press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Straubing, Bavaria. Readers will recall that the French leader is also the world's most successful nuclear salesman having inked a major deal or two in the past year and with more prospects and deals coming up in the near term.

Readers will also recall that Sarkozy has an issue with Siemens, the German heavy machinery firm, which owns a one-third share of Areva. Sarkozy would like to sell shares of Areva on the market to raise funds to build the reactors he's selling, but not at the expense of loss of control of the state owned company. For its part the Germans aren't interested in seeing their share of the firm, read control, diluted by news shares owned by new stockholders.

It all depends on the blades / Auf die Schaufeln kommt es anAlstom, the French turbine maker, also wants a piece of Areva since Mr. Sarkozy is selling all those reactors which also, by the way, need turbines. Whether the German and French heavy machinery manufacturers would collide like two Sumo wrestlers remains to be seen.

Lastly, Areva is setting its sights on building a lot of reactors in the U.K. which right now has one of the world's most aggressive new build plans involving as many as 18 new plants.

What this has to do with Merkel is that if you are going to hitch your wagon to a star, Mr. Sarkozy is an excellent candidate, at least as far as new nuclear builds are concerned. His experience with nuclear energy can be a useful navigational beacon as Merkel sets sail on a new course.

Blunting Russia's natural gas gambits

RussianBearGasEU There is another reason Germany may change its tune on nuclear energy. Like many other parts of Europe, Germany gets a lot of its natural gas from Russia. Mr. Putin has shown a predisposition to turn off the supply when the politics of his neighbors displease him. If Germany wants a degree of energy independence from the Russian bear nuclear is the way to go.

According to World Nuclear News, Merkel inherited the 'Nuclear Exit Law' written by the previous coalition government led by the Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) and including the Green Party. Merkel has previously called for a "sensible course" on energy in Germany, in response to desires to stop using the coal-fired and nuclear power plants which together supply 73% of electricity.

Nuclear energy will play a significant role in the 2009 elections. Her opponents, including the influential Greens, are sticking to the phase-out decision. Germany will elect a new government around September 2009. Deutsche Welle speculated that Merkel's party link up with the liberal Free Democratic Party, which supports overturning the nuclear phase-out.

Swiss move ahead with plans for new plant

While the Germans were reconsidering their energy options the Swiss were moving ahead with their own plans for nuclear energy. According to World Nuclear News, Swiss energy company Atel has submitted an application for a new nuclear power plant to Switzerland’s Federal Office of Energy.

The Niederamt plant would be built alongside the Gösgen nuclear power plant, in which Atel owns a 40% stake, but would be independent of the existing plant. No reactor design is specified in the application, other than a "third generation light water reactor."

The application is based on both 1100 MWe and 1600 MWe capacities. According to Herbert Niklaus, Atel’s head of energy for Switzerland, the project will cost SFR6-7 billion ($6-7 billion).

leonardiWNN also reported that Switzerland is anticipating an energy shortfall of 25-30 billion kWh by 2035 - around half the country's current generation. The news service reported that Atel CEO Giovanni Leonardi (right) cited the anticipated shortfall and the strengths of nuclear power, especially in terms of energy security, economic efficiency and climate friendliness, as main reasons behind Atel's application.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Link to PST Essay

If you are looking for the blog post on the future of the Partnership for Science & Technology it's here.

What's next for pro-nuclear advocates in Idaho?

The Partnership for Science & Technology (PST) played an important role working with elected officials and economic development groups in Idaho to land Areva's $2 billion uranium enrichment plant. This is a huge victory shared by many. The question for PST is what does it do next?

Click on the link above to read the whole piece.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Feds file license for Yucca to open in 2020

Opponents say it will never happen.
NRC's Klein says a delay at Yucca is unlikely to stop the nuclear renaissance

yucca_mountain_aerial_view

The U.S. Department of Energy submitted a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) seeking the authority to build the nation's first geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high level waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The application, which comes to almost 9,000 pages, describes DOE's plan to safely isolate the nuclear materials in deep underground tunnels in the Mojave Desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

More than 56,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel are stored at 120 sites in 39 states according to DOE. The Yucca Mountain site is currently limited by law to store 63,000 tons. Technically, the mountain could hold twice the current legal limit in terms of tonnage. DOE reportedly has asked Congress to change the law to accept more spent fuel. Edward Sproat, the DOE manager of the Yucca site, said the underground facility could start accepting spent nuclear fuel by 2020.

The project is estimated to cost $70-80 billion and has been repeatedly delayed by legal challenges, funding problems, and technical issues. The license application is a "major milestone" according to Steve Kraft, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute. He said, "“Symbolically, the significance of this undertaking of environmental stewardship cannot be overstated."

Opponents open with a furious charge

State and Federal elected officials in Nevada issued a series of passionate denunciations of the license application with variations on a theme of "over my dead body." Just recently an attorney who spent the better part of his career fighting the Yucca Mountain project died and in his will requested that his ashes scattered over the mountain as a symbolic act.

Sen Harry Reid Nevada Nevada Senator Harry Reid (left), the Senate Majority Leader, hosted a meeting with Nevada’s congressional delegation to discuss the application submitted this week by the Department of Energy for a license to build a proposed nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain. Reid and the entire Nevada delegation submitted a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). They said they are asking it to not place the application on the docket "because it contains so many glaring flaws that threaten the safety of millions of Nevadans."

Reid told the Los Angeles Times he was cynical about the timing of the application.

"They are just trying to get this on the plate while they still have a pal in the White House. All they want to do is get it out of their hands and give it to the next administration."

The LA Times report also provided some over-the-top rhetoric from a former NRC commissioner. Victor Galinsky, now a Nevada consultant said it was "implausible" that the site would be issued a license. "It is pie in the sky," Galinsky said. "These people have lost track of reality."

DOE pulls its oars in troubled waters

The Department of Energy clearly expected the opposition to form up with the predictability of a summer thunderstorm on a hot humid afternoon. The agency took a strong stance in its prepared statement.

Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman (right) said the license application is the culmination of more than two decades of expert scientific research and engineering, and represents a major milestone for the agency.

“Submittal of the Yucca Mountain license application will further encourage the expansion of nuclear power in the United States, which is absolutely critical to our energy security, environmental goals, and national security,”

Bodman added DOE is "confident"the NRC's review process will result in a license for Yucca Mountain.

NRC review may be delayed by funding issue

For its part, NRC issued a statement that laid out its next steps, but NRC chairman Dale Klein said the license may be delayed unless Congress gives it the money to conduct the view. Klein, who was speaking at the Reuters Global Energy Summit, thereby insuring maximum media coverage, said, "If they expect us to maintain that three-to-four year timeline, we will have to have the financial resources to do it."

DollarbillNormally, the NRC bills the commercial nuclear industry $250/hour for reviews of license applications, but in the case of a federal agency, Congress must appropriate federal money to pay for the work.

According to Reuters Klein said a delay of the license for Yucca mountain is unlikely to derail an imminent "renaissance" of new nuclear plant building. The NRC expects U.S. utilities and other energy companies to file applications to build about 30 new nuclear power plants.

"Over the next few years we will see most of the 30 plants continue to go forward," Klein said. "Most of these will be built." Energy companies have filed applications to build 15 new reactors this year, and the NRC expects six more before the end of 2008, Klein said.

What's next for the Yucca application?

According to the Associated Press here's what happens next with the license application.

NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: Staff will examine the 8,600-page, 17-volume application to determine if it is complete enough for a full technical review.

DOCKETING: NRC decides sometime from Oct. 1 to Nov. 15 whether the commission can docket the case for review. The commission also will determine whether it can adopt a final environmental study on the Yucca Mountain project.

CHALLENGES: Once docketed, the NRC would give prospective hearing participants 30 days to file challenges, or “contentions,” to elements of the license request.

PARTICIPANTS: The commission will decide in early 2009 who will participate in hearings before three-member panels of Atomic Safety and Licensing Board administrative law judges at sessions in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

HEARINGS: The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 calls for NRC review to take three years, but allows the commission to ask Congress for an additional year.

DECISION: The panels will recommend to the full commission whether the Energy Department should be licensed to proceed with plans for the repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Photo

NRC 9000 pages YuccaPictured here courtesy of NRC ~ The Department of Energy's License Application for the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level waste repository arrives at NRC offices in Rockville, Md., June 3, 2008 and is formally presented by DOE's Edward Sproat (front row right), director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, to Michael F. Weber, director of NRC's Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards and other NRC staff..

On the Net

  • NRC special web site on DOE's license application
  • Department of Energy web site for Yucca Mountain

Navy nukes extend Idaho role

A long term agreement with the U.S. Navy will keep them anchored on the Idaho desert beyond 2035

enterprise NR50A new agreement between the State of Idaho and the U.S. Navy settles a long-term issue for both parties, which is what happens after the current agreement is done in 2035. The answer is life goes on with the Navy continuing its operations at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

In 1995 a settlement between the Department of Energy, the Navy, and the State of Idaho laid out terms for how much spent nuclear fuel could be kept at the Naval Reactor Facility (NRF) located about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls. The limit was 65 metric tons. The new limit is just under 10 metric tons after 2035.

History of prior agreements included controversy

Prior to 1995 the issue of spent nuclear fuel from navy ships and submarines produced significant controversy with then Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus threatening to block shipments at the state line.

CecilAndrusMr. Andrus (right) said the 1993 compromise set a precedent for the rights of states to gain more authority to decide how military nuclear wastes are managed within their borders. Idaho Governor Phil Batt played a significant role in setting up the current agreement signed in 1995.

Idaho Governor C. L. "Butch" Otter (below) praised the new agreement.

Gov_Otter “With appreciation for those who held this office before me, worked out the 1995 agreement with Navy officials and recognized the need to look to the future, this addendum renews Idaho’s critical role in supporting nuclear energy and the Navy’s national security mission.”

“It ensures Idaho will help the Navy continue important research for its nuclear fleet while protecting Idaho from becoming a spent fuel repository by default.”

The new agreement was also endorsed by the U.S. Navy. Admiral Kirkland Donald issued a statement at the same time as the governor.

“The Navy appreciates Idaho’s important contributions to keeping our nuclear fleet operating safely and effectively as we perform our missions around the globe. We look forward to our continued partnership with Idaho.”

Not everyone is in touch with political reality

The Snake River Alliance (SRA), which describes itself as a "watchdog group," argued that the reduction in stored spent nuclear fuel of 55 metric tons by 2035 wasn't sufficient to please them. SRA director Andrea Shipley told the news media Idaho was "still being used as a nuclear waste dump."

The SRA seems to have lost touch with political reality. The new agreement between the State of Idaho and the U.S. Navy recognizes the role of the NRF and the rights of the state. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said of the new relationship between the state and the military,

Seal_of_Idaho_svg“This agreement is an extension of Idaho’s 1995 court settlement with the federal government. It maintains Idaho’s productive relationship with the Navy and keeps enforceable limits on spent fuel shipments, inventory and storage conditions.”

Also, most people in the nuclear industry, including the navy, just roll their eyes at the use of the word "dump" since the energy value in spent nuclear fuel hardly the kind of thing you would want to throw away. However, navy fuel is different than the fuel used in commercial nuclear reactors, which is why the military wants to use NRF to receive, examine, and prepare it for disposal at a location outside of Idaho.

The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program also issued a statement that as a result of the new agreement it plans to refurbish its facilities in Idaho for long-term operations.

History of NRF in Idaho

Naval Reactors Facility (NRF) was established in 1950 to support development of the U.S. Navy nuclear propulsion program. From the early 1950's to the mid 1990's, NRF built and operated prototype nuclear propulsion plants for submarines and aircraft carriers. At the time the Idaho National Laboratory was called the National Reactor Testing Station.

For over 50 years, NRF has supported the navy's nuclear powered fleet by testing reactor designs, receiving nuclear fuel for examination and storage, and training sailors to operate shipboard nuclear power plants.

The combined efforts of the program’s research, development, and support labs have led to tremendous advances in naval reactor technology. For example, the first submarine core endurance was about 62,000 miles; today, submarine and aircraft carrier cores have an endurance of over 1 million miles.

Over the course of its history, nearly 40,000 navy personnel received training at NRF in Idaho.

nautilus patch The U.S. Navy's nuclear program made possible the construction and deployment of the USS Nautilus which reached the North Pole on April 3, 1958. The submarine was first underway using nuclear power in January 1955.

* * *

On the net