Saturday, August 9, 2008

AEHI going under?

Idaho's invisible nuclear power plant company may not recover from the latest round of financial woes

lIfering[Update 08/16/08]

The Associated Press is reporting that Alternative Energy Holdings Inc (PK:AEHI) is at risk of going out of business because it's lost so much money, according to an auditor that reviewed its finances. The Twin Falls, ID, Times-News broke the story.

The newspaper reported that AEHI had a net loss of $3.4 million in 2007, leaving it with assets worth $324,431. Auditors from the Rochester, NY firm of Rotenberg & Co. wrote this week in a report that the firm is in the hole to the tune of $4.9 million.

"The company's significant operating losses raise substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern," Rotenberg wrote in its audit.

The Idaho Statesman reported the company's current plan is to build a 1,600 MWe nuclear power plant on a site in Elmore County on the north side of the Snake river. CEO Don Gillispie said in April that his firm had six months to come up with $15 million to buy it. The company has not yet filed an application with the NRC to build the plant.

The firm has been an embarrassment to pro-nuclear advocates in Idaho and has provided the anti-nuclear Snake River Alliance with a bonanza of material to ply its trade. SRA has scored media points in its mostly on target criticisms of AEHI. The splash effect has worried groups like the Partnership for Science & Technology (PST) in Idaho Falls which see AEHI's antics as undercutting the credibility of the nuclear industry in the eyes of the public in Idaho and elsewhere.

The firm's stock last traded August 8th at $0.35/share against a 52-week high of $0.82/share.

Update 08/16/08

According to wire service reports AEHI says it has filed papers asking officials in Elmore County to rezone 1,400 acres of farm land.

The move by Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. is the first step in the process of getting permission to build a 1,600 MWe facility at that site. The company is asking the county to change the zoning to support industrial uses. If approved, the company would then seek a conditional use permit from the county.

It has not yet taken any steps to begin filing its application to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission although it is listed on the NRC's web site as having indicated its intent to file one by the end of this calendar year. The application could cost as much as $30-50 million according to estimates for similar plants specifying an Areva EPR.

AEHI ran into trouble at a previous site in nearby Owyhee County when it failed to pay a $50,000 fee to the county for review of a 4,000 acre proposed reactor site. The firm paid the fee, but then moved the site when it realized what it would cost to build a bridge across the Snake River to support construction of the reactor.

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Previous coverage on this blog.

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Western Lands Uranium Gopher for August 9, 2008

(An occasional column on money and mining news items)

gopherThe rise of nuclear energy, a second act if ever there was one, has given 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. The purpose of this occasional column is to separate the really interesting stuff from promotional fluff.

The choices of the subjects is based on what looks interesting mostly in 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 the series is titled the "western lands uranium gopher." These are news notes and the content is not to be considered investment advice.

This column is an edited version of an article published in Fuel Cycle Week V7 N290 on 08/06/08 by International Nuclear Associates Inc., Washington, DC.

Lawsuits dog uranium miners across Colorado

The expansion of the uranium mining industry to feed ore into the nuclear fuel cycle has a new and now constant companion. It is a growing number of lawsuits by environmental groups, back country trophy home owners, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Counties approving mining operations through conditional use permits, by changing approved land uses from agricultural to mining, are being sued even though they are bound by their own ordinances to issue the permits to allow mining. July saw several lawsuits being filed in Colorado and all of them will create complications for the miners being sued and the supply chain that is expecting product from the proposed new mining operations.

At the federal level environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in Denver claiming that recent actions by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to issue leases for uranium mining in a 42 square mile area of the Uravan Mining District was illegal due to inadequate environmental analysis. The groups want a more comprehensive analysis of the decision to issue the leases.

The groups complained that DOE didn’t release key information about the environmental impacts and said that uranium mining in western Colorado could pollute the Dolores River in the Paradox Valley. The groups also said the analysis was needed to insure protection of river habitat for otters, bald eagles and fish which the otters and eagles hunt for food.

Travis Stills, of the Energy Minerals law Center, which is representing the environmental groups, disputed DOE’s claim that the leases would have no significant environmental impacts. He said the information provided by the agency didn’t address contamination and waste from previous mining operations. He said his clients want the old uranium mine contamination cleaned up before the government authorizes new mines.

Amy Atwood, of the Center for Biological Diversity, which is one of the four groups that filed the lawsuit, echoed this view. She said her organization was worried about “another boom and bust cycle in western Colorado.”

The suit also claims the DOE failed to discuss impacts from the proposed Energy Fuels Resources (TSE:EFR) Piñon Ridge uranium mill in the Paradox Valley, as well as the White Mesa, Utah mill and Canon City mill. The Canon City mill isn’t operational and the Energy Fuels mill was just recently announced, but hasn’t been permitted nor has construction started on it.

Energy Fuels Resources President and CEO George Glasier told the Montrose Daily Press he wasn’t sure how it would be possible for the DOE to discuss impacts at Piñon Ridge.

“We hadn’t even announced the Piñon Ridge Mill at the time the DOE closed the [leasing] process,” he said. “That’s an interesting question, but how could the DOE do it when they didn’t even know about it?”

Glasier said the mill is not dependent on the four leases it obtained from the DOE and there is limited capacity at the mill in any event.

“Our mill is being built whether we’ve got those leases or not,” He said.

Energy Fuels submitted an application for a special use permit to Montrose County on July 24 for its mill site. It requested that 880 acres be designated as a ‘Mineral Resource Operation Facility’ changing it from a designation of ‘General Agriculture.” The firm said additional details about the mill are available on its website

BLM manager Steve Beverlin told the Herald, without commenting on the lawsuit by environmental groups, that the mission of his agency is to balance use with protection of existing resources. DOE officials did not respond to inquiries from the Durango Herald for comment.

The Herald reported that in Dolores County, Colo., alone uranium claims rose from 396 in 2006 to 5,399 in 2007. In San Miguel County, Colo., uranium claims rose from 1,119 in 2006 to 2,633 in 2007.

Black day for Black Range Minerals

Black Range Minerals (ASX:BLR), despite having finally received a conditional use permit (CUP) on June 9 to start hard rock exploratory drilling in the Taylor Ranch mining area in Fremont County, Colo., is facing a lawsuit that has been filed by homeowners who feel the county didn’t adequately address their concerns. The suit is an appeal of the county’s decision to allow Black Range Minerals, an Australian company, to prospect for uranium on the Taylor Ranch in the Tallahassee district of the county.

Jim and Kay Hawklee, which have been leaders of the homeowners objecting to the mine, told the Canon City Daily Record their issue is that the mining will take place within 500 feet of 44 homeowners. The land use conflict is a result of trophy home owners building in the backcountry and buying parcels for development in old mining districts.

Hawklee says the CUP is not consistent with the county’s land use plan that calls for non-agricultural land to be set aside primarily for residential use. The Hawklees also claimed that the CUP failed to provide for adequate fire protection and would lead to pollution of water supplies used by homeowners. They also claimed that property values would be hurt by the mining operation.

The appeal to the District Court will not involve a new trial. It will involve judicial review of the hearing transcripts and meeting minutes of the county commission. The resolution of the lawsuit could take some time. Fremont Country Attorney Brenda Jackson told the ‘Record’ there are over 2,000 pages of documentation and that’s before the hearing transcripts from several lengthy public meetings are added to the court’s review process. The lawsuit did not seek to stop operations under the current permit.

New Horizon Mining facing opposition

Nevada-based New Horizon Mining (CVE:NHU) probably needs to make a call to Powertech (TSE:PWE). An opposition group in northeast Colorado that made Powertech’s life miserable over a proposed ISR mine in Nunn, Colo., has shown up in Park County, Colo.

It will advise back country homeowners how to oppose a planned ISR uranium mine in a 4,000-acre area public lands in southeast Park County in the South Park Ranch area. Jay Davis, an organizer for Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (CARD), spoke at the meeting of the Park County Democrats on July 16.

According to the Flume newspaper, Davis warned that it is possible for radioactive material left over from the mining process to travel great distances with strong winds. He was invited to speak to the group by ‘Save Our South Park Water 2008.’

New Horizon President Bill Wilson wasn’t at the meeting, but he told the Flume via email the firm is in the very early stages of its project there. Wilson also said that Colorado’s new mining law, HR 1161 will have little effect on his project because its requirements are redundant with existing state and federal requirements.

Wilson added the firm’s current focus is in Converse County, Wyo., where it is spending $2 million in an ISR mine over the next five years to earn a 70% interest in a joint venture with Canyon Resources.

Yellowcake Mining starts drilling in Montrose County

Despite all the lawsuits in western Colorado, one firm announced some progress there. Yellowcake Mining (OTC:YCKM) announced that it has received the necessary permits to allow drilling on its 3,000 acre Uravan-Beck Property in Montrose County, Colo. The permits were received from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety and U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Permits are in hand and a reclamation bond has been accepted for the initial exploration phase.

The permits are for ten sites of known uranium-vanadium mineralization which will be tested by air-rotary drilling and gamma logging.

NRC to hold hearing on Crowe Butte expansion

Opponents of a request for expanded uranium mining near the South Dakota-Nebraska border have gained a hearing before the NRC.

The focus is a request by Crow Butte Resources mine near Crawford, Neb., in Dawes County, Neb., which wants to raise its annual production from 800,000 pounds of U3O8 to 1.2 million pounds.

The ISR mine is owned by Cameco Corp (NYSE:CCJ). Crow Butte has asked the NRC and Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for permission to add wells and raise the amount of solution it pumps into the ground.

Several individuals and groups have been allowed to intervene in the NRC process. One of them, Debra White Plume, said her goal is to determine whether the mine is contaminating water on the nearby Pine Ridge Indian reservation and causing health problems for residents.

"We couldn't find a mine that did not affect the groundwater," said White Plume, who is from the Pine Ridge town of Manderson. "Until we can say with certainty they are not contaminating the groundwater, we have to oppose them."

Gord Struthers, a Cameco Corp. spokesman, said the geology of the area and distance to the reservation make that physically implausible. "It's impossible for our mining activities at Crow Butte to affect well water at Pine Ridge," he said.

The NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel already has accepted three of seven contentions brought by the petitioners.

Two of those deal with possible water contamination. The other concerns consultation with tribal leaders over a prehistoric Indian camp. The hearing will also include discussions on the involvement of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and what set of rules will be used in the proceeding, said Scott Burnell, an NRC spokesman. "We're still in the preliminary phases of the hearing," he told AP.

Denison Stock down on Arizona Air Permit Problems

Denison Mines Corp. stock (TSE:DML) fell more than 6% last week after the company said there has been a delay in securing an air quality permit at its Arizona 1 mine.

Shares in Denison dropped 44 cents to close at $6.56. The 6.3 per cent decline came with trading of nearly 1.3 million shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Earlier, the Toronto-based company said it had expected no difficulties in securing the permit from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, but subsequently was informed that the agency wants more information.

Denison said the environmental agency has concerns about dust on public roads from trucks. The company said it plans to provide further information and analysis over the next six weeks.

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

TVA's destiny revealed at Bellefonte

The utility has 15,000 MWe of coal-fired power plants
[Update 08/30/08 see part two here]

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) should early next year detect on its political radar the rising star of carbon taxes and cap-and-trade legislation in the U.S. Congress. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a carbon tax price of $45/ton for CO2 should pave the way for fuel switching from fossil to nuclear. Utilities that don't start thinking about the tax, driven by the threats of the consequences of global warming, will be passing on the cost of the tax to their ratepayers for a long time. Those that do will find an earlier exit to the fossil fuel price escalator.

TVA is on wrong side of the ledger with a profile that includes a staggering 15,075 MWe of coal-fired electric generation plans and 6,900 MWe of nuclear power. The utility also has 6,003 MWe of gas fired capacity for peak load generation. However, in the past few years, the utility has woken up and has made progress with its nuclear infrastructure and in plans for new plants.

tva power map

TVA is building two new nuclear reactors at its Bellefonte site in Scottsboro, Alabama. According to a presentation on the utility's web site, the utility expects the NRC to issue a license for construction and operation of two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors sometime in late winter 2011 at an estimated cost of $9 billion. The first unit would be complete and enter revenue service six years later.

Bellefonte is where TVA's future destiny lies. It is also a site with some history. There two unfinished nuclear reactors lie waiting for a decision to complete them. Late last week TVA told the Atlanta Constitution the utility is now considering completing Bellefonte Units No.1 & No.2. The first unit is about 85% complete and the second is about 55% done. TVA stopped work at both projects in 1988 after spending a reported $4.2 billion on them.

The utility now sees that like its restart of Browns Ferry in 2007, finishing a partially built reactor, in this case two of them, makes a lot of financial horse sense. It will allow the utility to retire coal-fired plants earlier and get out from under the expected burden of carbon taxes lifting the weight of these costs from its ratepayers as well. Shifting paradigms means changing history and no one gets into the 21st century for free. The only question is the price.

Throwing sand in the gears of shifting paradigms

Bellefonte is where TVA will shift paradigms from its fossil fuel heritage that goes all the way back to the first days of the New Deal. The future for TVA will be nuclear and to get to that future it will have to overcome significant public opposition to nuclear energy.

The Knoxville News reports that a broad coalition of environmental groups are seeking standing before the NRC to block TVA plans to build new nuclear plants and complete the old ones. Their plan is to throw sand in the shifting gears of TVA's power paradigms. In a disputed filing with the NRC, the groups raised a number of objections including issues over seismic conditions, water supplies for cooling, impacts on fish populations, management of low-level waste, and the cost of the reactors.

bredlThe Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and its partners have launched an all out assault on TVA's nuclear plans despite knowing that the obvious outcome of success will be more coal-fired power plants and more greenhouse gases. Their view is that the nuclear plans, and the coal plants, should be scrapped, and the utility should invest in solar and wind energy. The group wants to divert the utility's investment plans into these energy technologies.

TVA doesn't have the option of retreating from its nuclear plans. Carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems will drive it forward. It is unlikely, for now that the environmental groups will recognize that reality, or if they do, act on it.

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British Energy deal collapses

Investors say the price and terms were not acceptable

The board of Electricite de France has seen its 12 billion (pounds)($23.8 billion) offer for British Energy Group rejected by that firm's primary shareholders. The Financial Times reported that the bid was turned back because the shareholders said that it was too low and the terms were too complicated.

Brit EngLogoBritish Energy rejected EDF's cash offer late last week saying that Invesco and M&G(Prudential), which together hold 22% of the company, did not accept the price. They in turn said it wasn't good enough for them to justify it to their shareholders. The investors also said the methods to be used to account for profits didn't add up according to a report in the Times of London. (Click here for a profile of investor interests in the deal.)

The news reportedly came just hours before EDF had planned to announce the deal. It represents a setback both to the French group's ambitions and the UK government's plans for an aggressive new wave of reactor construction. The Financial Times reported that the government owns 35 per cent of British Energy and had been prepared to support EDF's bid.

deal_or_no_dealThe newspaper also reported that the collapse of the deal apparently caught the UK government unawares. John Hutton, the business secretary, had been ready with press releases in hand to praise the EDF acquisition as a significant step in delivering Gordon Brown's pledge of a new generation of nuclear reactors.

Instead, the government must now deal with what Mr Hutton termed a "disappointing" setback to its nuclear strategy. The situation is now in flux and new factors may influence the outcome. British Energy provides nearly 20% of all electricity in the UK and operates eight nuclear power stations.

Hutton, in an effort to recover from being thrown from his horse, told the BBC the future of new nuclear power plants in the UK, five immediately and 18 in all, "doesn't depend on this particular deal." (video) The government is under pressure to replace aging coal fired plants and some of its older nuclear plants with new nuclear plants (BBC video) in order to avoid a looming electricity shortage in the next decade. Hutton said,

"We are absolutely committed to new nuclear power. If this deal is not able to go through, we are looking at plans to make sure we can continue because Britain needs these new nuclear power stations."

What's next for the deal?

If the takeover falls through, the most likely outcome is that British Energy will have to negotiate deals with companies that want to build reactors on a site- by-site basis. There are plenty of them lined up to do just that.

centrica logo In other developments, Bloomberg wire service reports that a major UK gas utility, Centrica, may offer a 22.5 billion-pound ($45 billion) all-stock merger plan with British Energy Group. Centrica was a player in the failed deal with Electricite de France and would have taken a 25% stake in British Energy under that plan. Now, the firm is planning its own takeover bid without EDF.

Out one door in another

The Independent reported that EDF has not yet ruled out making a further offer for British Energy. The company is now considering whether to pursue its nuclear ambitions in the UK in another way, since this deal has collapsed.

The French company is reportedly so determined to build at least four nuclear power stations in the UK that it has already begun ordering some of the components required. It already owns some land adjacent to the Wylfa nuclear power station now owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). If it could persuade the NDA to sell it further land, this could be the site of its first plant.

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Idaho Samizdat on the Radio

Rod Adams Atomic Podcast has an online discussion about small reactors

Atomic Show #101 - Small nuclear power plants round table with Dan Yurman, Charles Barton, Kirk Sorensen

(MP3 - 26.2 MB - 01:15:53 MP3) Click here to go the MP3 link

Rod writes in the introduction to the podcast . . .

blankputt rivieraShow 101 is a bit longer than normal, but I think you will want to listen carefully to every word. I invited some innovative thinkers and observers of the nuclear scene to discuss small nuclear power plants and their potential impact on the energy market.

Our conversation ranged over a number of topics including the NuScale Power 45 MWe reactor, Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, licensing issues, waste handling constructs, Dale Klein’s recent speech including his comments on small reactors, and radiation health effects.

Kirk Sorensen blogs at Energy from Thorium and is nearly finished with his MS in Nuclear Engineering.

Charles Barton also blogs at Energy from Thorium and his own blog at Nuclear Green

Dan Yurman blogs at Idaho Samizdat and also writes for Fuel Cycle Week a nuclear industry trade newsletter.

Podcast is an online first

This is the first time these three nuclear bloggers and Adams, who also blogs on nuclear energy, have participated in an online panel discussion. All four blogs are independent and are not affiliated with any industry group or vendor.

While all four participants are pro-nuclear, they have very different views about nuclear technologies, markets, and how nuclear energy will fit in the mix with fossil, solar, wind, etc. The conversation will give your plenty to think about and to discuss with others.

The podcast web page cited above also provides handy links selected by Rod Adams to online resources about small reactors. Adams publishes the Atomic Insights blog.

See prior coverage about small reactors on this blog

Let me know what you think!

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