Saturday, September 27, 2008

Saturday reading on the myths of nuclear energy

Charles Barton at Nuclear Greens knocks down some myths about nuclear energy

bowling_pinsOne of the realities of the current political landscape is that "progressives" believe in opposition to nuclear energy as a canon of the cause.

Last April the Nation, an international journal of progressive thought, published a major attack on the nuclear renaissance. In an essay published April 24 Christian Parenti, a noted author of several books on political science and sociology, writes a hostile review about the turn around of the nuclear industry.

There was one part of the article I liked, and that is Parenti's poetic remark, "where industry and science seek to reproduce the process that occurs inside the sun." That's the whole point of harnessing the atom. Why would any environmental group want more coal plants? That's the de facto choice once you take nuclear energy off the table.

This is the approach taken by Charles Barton at his Nuclear Green blog. He writes . . .

nucleargreenlogo There is no substantial case against nuclear power on the political left. The so called liberal or left wing opponents of nuclear power back up their opposition with bumper sticker slogans, misinformation, and out right ignorance.

As a liberal I value truth and reject misinformation and lies. A major purpose of my blogging is to develop fact based and tightly reasoned analyses of issues relating to nuclear power. My review of the charges brought against the use of nuclear reactors has led me to demonstrate that the opposition to nuclear power is largely myth based.

The reflex opposition of Democrats to nuclear power

Here in Idaho I've found that the few Democrats who run for office invariably oppose nuclear energy as a reflex and without regard to the facts. In 2007 Boise Democrats voted a a block against a resolution for new nuclear missions for the Idaho National Laboratory simply because the Republicans were for it. Other Democrats railed against the new uranium enrichment plant planned for eastern Idaho despite urgent pleas from trade unions in Pocatello because of the high paying jobs that would come with construction of the $2 billion facility. One Democratic state representative personally escorted the leader of an anti-nuclear group into a committee hearing room.

In the State of Washington the Democratic Governor spooked her supporters by giving at best half hearted support for that location for the Areva facility. Her alignment with the "green" wing of the Democratic party west of the Cascades doomed the state's chances to land the facility.

twinsClearly, Democrats don't "get" nuclear energy. Maybe they need help understanding the facts? This is all the more reason why Barton's deconstruction of the myths about nuclear power promoted by the "progressive" side of the Democratic party is so important. Here's more.

The promise of science, envisioned by Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes is increasingly being realized by human society. The single most important key to that promise has been the control of ever more efficient and powerful energy sources by the application of science to energy production. The continued control of such powerful energy sources such as nuclear energy, which offers great power coupled with control, is critical to the realization of the goals of progressives.

So if you've got a few minutes for some thoughtful reading on a Saturday afternoon, wander on over to Barton's place and see what he has to say. It is well worth your time.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Nuclear new build roundup for September 27, 2008

Hits & misses with financial worries in the bulls eye

turtleIt was a mostly worrisome week for the global nuclear industry with America's financial troubles taking center stage in terms of media coverage. A splash effect on future funding for new nuclear power plants isn't out of the question.

Turkey's nuclear tender gets only one bid

In Turkey the news media reports only one bid was submitted for construction and operation of the country's first nuclear power plant. A consortium composed of Atomstroyexport and Turkish firms submitted the only offer. Five others submitted letters which said they would not provide bids for the tender that was published last June after much internal wrangling.

This is the fourth time Turkey has launched a tender for a new nuclear power plant. The three previous efforts did not result in a decision to build a plant. If the bid is accepted, the consortium will build the plant in the Akkuyu region in the southern coast province of Mersin.

Ge-Hitachi had pulled out of the bidding process earlier this month saying that it wanted a six-month extension in order to get answers to questions on indemnification, protection of intellectual property via licensing, and guarantees that the power from the plant will have a customer base for at least 15 years.

A South Korean consortium also pulled out of the bidding. The Korea Electric Power Co (KEPCO) said the conditions imposed on the project by the Turkish government were too risky. KEPCO also cited concerns similar to those expressed by the GE-Hitachi team.

Eskom bid results delayed by politics

According to reports by World Nuclear News, South Africa electric utility Eskom may be able to build just two new light water reactors and not 12 as planned. Areva and Westinghouse submitted bids some time ago, but Eskom has not yet responded to them. The ANC government has collapsed with the resignation of ANC President Thabo Mbeki and 11 other cabinet ministers including finance minister Trevor Manuel.

Eskom has also seen its credit rating down graded by Moodys. So far the government has committed just $7 billion of the $43 billion the utility says it needs to solve its electricity supply problems using the new nuclear power plants.

Good news for GE-Hitachi in Louisiana

Entergy has filed a COL with the NRC for a 1,520 MWe ESBWR to be built along side of the existing 967 MWe nuclear plant at River Bend. Like everyone else filing for a COL, the utility offered a "prudent investor" statement. Here's Entergy's via WNN.

The utility, like all similar companies making these applications, emphasized that nothing was decided. "Taking this step now will preserve the option to build nuclear plants in the future and meet the future energy needs of our customers," said Renae Conley, while a company statement underlined that " Entergy has made no commitment to build a new nuclear reactor at either site."

Entergy, which is based in New Orleans, is the third company to reference the GE-Hitachi design. The other two are Detroit Edison for Fermi III in Michigan and Exelon for Victoria, Texas.

Is Buffet's buy good or bad news?

Constellation_EnergyThe Wall Street Journal took a crack at analyzing whether Warren Buffett's rescue of Constellation Energy was good or bad for the nuclear energy industry. The newspaper points out that Constellation has an agreement with Electricite de France and Areva creating a consortium called Unistar to build a fleet of new nuclear power plants in America.

According to the WSJ . . .

Executives at both EDF and Areva said they are worried that Mr. Buffett will order Constellation to ditch its nuclear plans over fears of soaring costs, and possibly pull out of UniStar altogether. Both invested in UniStar as a way of extending their reach into the U.S. market.

The Wall Street credit crisis also has nuclear energy developers worried about the future. If the nation falls into a recession, electricity demand, on which those plants depend, could drop like a rock and take the projects with it.

Constellation CEO Mike Wallace told the WSJ the federal government has to provide certainty on its loan guarantee program for new nuclear power plants. He said if the Calvert Cliffs EPR doesn't go forward, none of the others planned by the utility will either.

MidAmerican CEO Greg Abel countered that Unistar is valuable to Buffett's organization and said it might revisit the Idaho project at some time in the future. He called it an important learning experience. "The west is going to need a new nuclear power plant." he said.

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Western lands uranium gopher for September 27, 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 N296 on 09/24/08 by International Nuclear Associates Inc., Washington, DC. ~ Portions of this blog post did not appear in FCW. ~

NI 43-101 report for Coles Hill property in Virginia

While there is plenty of action out West, in Virginia a NI 43-101 report was released for the (map) Coles Hill uranium property. Although the report has a June 2008 date, it was covered by an industry trade newsletter for the first time this week. Last July the Wall Street Journal reported that the site is a "mother lode" of uranium. The latest technical report, reportedly prepared in compliance with Canadian government and uranium industry standards, confirms that assessment.

The Ux Weekly for 09/22/08 (sub req'd) reported that the resource estimate for the South Coles Hill deposit varies from 23 million pounds U3O8 at 0.225% grade to 72 million pounds U3O8 at 0.070% grade.

The Ux Weekly also reports that at the North Coles Hill deposit, the resource estimate varies from 4.5 million pounds U3O8 at 0.262% grade to 47 million pounds U3O8 at 0.050% grade.

The two deposits combine for a total of 119 million pounds at a cutoff grade of 0.025%. In 1982 a resource estimate came out at 100 million pounds at the same grade according to Ux Weekly. The deposits are near or at the surface and could be mined using open pit methods.

Uranium mining is banned in Virginia, and opposition is so strong that in March 2008 the state legislature couldn't even get the votes together to study the issues. The value of the property, and demand for uranium, could change the face of Virginia politics.

NRC's GEIS still generating political dust devils in Wyoming

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is working through a series of public meetings in western states asking for comment on their generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) for in-situ leach (ISL) uranium mining. In Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal is pushing the NRC to complete the review by January 2009 even though it has already announced it won’t be done until June 2009.

In Nebraska the NRC startled a hearing in Chadron by explaining that returning groundwater to conditions prior to mining isn’t likely. However, the agency also explained that groundwater in a subsurface formation amenable to ISL uranium mining isn’t fit for potable uses to begin with. In New Mexico so far it looks like the GEIS may be a moot point. The NRC has received four letters of intent for new mill operations in that state, but none are for ISL mines.

NRC officials said they expect 28-30 license applications in the 9,000 square mile area comprised of the intersection of Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Alan Bjornson, GEIS project manager, said it already knows of 14 new permits and eight restarts. He said the agency’s approach is based on the fact that the process is similar for every ISL mine. The GEIS will allow the agency to focus on site specific aspects of each application.

Bjornson said, “ISL is relatively standard, no matter where it is done. We want a consistent approach and a focus on the truly unique features of a site.”

So far with hearings held in Nebraska, Wyoming, and New Mexico the agency has received 1,400 comments. More public hearings are scheduled through the end of September.

  • Wyoming wants fast action

In Wyoming Governor Freudenthal told the Casper Tribune the reason for his push for completion of the GEIS by January 2009 is the rising demand for uranium. To be successful, he said, “miners need clear, consistent direction from regulators in order to make the investments required to develop production facilities.”

The Wyoming Mining Association agrees. Marion Loomis, the association’s executive director, says the group’s members wants the NRC to finish by January. The NRC announced in a Federal Register notice in July it was pushing the completion date back to June 2009.

At the same time the governor said his state was taking a tough line on violations of existing regulations.

“This in situ stuff needs to be closely monitored because you don’t always know what’s happening underground if you don’t keep a firm hand on the monitoring.”

Wyoming has levied fines on uranium miners in recent months backing up the governor’s tough talk with regulatory action. Power Resources, operating the Smith-Highland uranium mine, agreed to pay a $1 million fine to settle a violation notice that it delayed restoration of groundwater and cleanup of spills. Power Resources also paid a $50,000 fine for failure to cap exploratory drill holes. A settlement with Cameco, the parent firm of Power Resources, requires the company to increase its reclamation bond from $40 million to $80 million.

  • Nebraska wants protection for groundwater

In Nebraska the NRC told a large group turning out for a hearing on the GEIS on Chadron that although ISL mine permits require groundwater to be restored to its former condition when the mining work is done, achieving “baseline parameters” has proved to be technical impossible. There are 30 such measures according to the NRC.

Bill von Till, NRC’s regional licensing branch chief, told the Chadron News, that the materials used by the mine remaining underground are immobile, but the parameters still have not been met. That said, von Till noted that groundwater in mined areas wasn’t fit for potable uses to begin with so not much is really lost.

Environmental groups in Nebraska are not happy with that news and the NRC’s interpretation of mining reality. Specifically, they are opposing the North Trend expansion of the Crowe Butte ISL mine in Dawes County, Neb, operated by a subsidiary of Cameco. The Western Nebraska Resources Council and an Oglala Lakota Indian tribe cultural group are challenging the license application because of concerns about pollution of groundwater. They pointed to a $50,000 penalty assessed by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality against the operation last May for a variety of permit violations.

However, the mining industry says that sometimes regulators are unreasonable in their demands. Mike Griffin, speaking for Uranium One, said that typically it is not possible to bring water used in mining back to exactly match the 30 parameters that are measured as baseline standards. “That usually isn’t realistically achievable, because of geochemical changes.”

A second goal is to restore the water to “Class of Use” standards that it met before mining, said Griffin. “Generally that water was not useable beforehand. In the state of Wyoming it’s called industrial use water.”

Failing that, the mining company has to insure that the water won’t escape from the mine site, according to Griffin. “If you can’t achieve those you have to go back to NRC and show that it’s not going to migrate off site.”

Griffin added his firm has two applications pending in Nebraska. He complained about the time it takes to prepare them and the costs. He said his firm welcomes the GEIS process because it will focus the NRC on site specific issues and get his operation off and running more quickly.

  • Cultural resources are a concern in New Mexico

In New Mexico NRC official Larry Camper said none of the pending applications for mining received by the NRC are for ISL operations. Still, 150 people showed up for a hearing last week (Sept 11) in Grants, NM. Most of the meeting was devoted to explaining the need for the GEIS and how it would work.

Camper said the GEIS is “not designed to cut corners or streamline the process.’ It takes two years to complete one Camper said and he emphasized each application will get a site-specific review. Camper also reassured people attending the hearing that cultural resources will be considered as part of the review. He acknowledged the many “heartfelt comments” about the specifics of the NRC’s review of license applications.

Canadian firm pursues Wyoming ISL mine

Uranium One (TSE:UUU) is pursuing its first ISL mine on a ranch in southeastern Campbell County, Wyo. Donna Wichers, Uranium One VP, told the Casper Tribune the firm has leased 3,500 acres but the initial site will only include 200 acres. Construction is expected to start in 2009 after completion of state and federal regulatory reviews and production is expected to begin in 2010.

Uranium One also announced it had appointed Steve Magnuson as Chief Operating Officer. He will be based in Denver, Colo. Magnuson is a professional engineer with 30 years mining experience. Most recently, he was VP for Operations at Cameco’s U.S. subsidiary with responsibility for ISL mines in Wyoming and Nebraska. He worked on the Crowe Butte mine in Nebraska. His international experience includes commercial development and operation of the Inkai ISL project in Kazakhstan.

International Ranger (PK:ING) has boosted its investment in a Four Corners uranium project located in the Green River mining district of Emery County, Utah. The firm bought the property, which is the site of uranium mines formerly worked by Atlas Corp. The firm will pay $1.1 million over the next four years to develop the property and earn 100% interest in it. The project was acquired from Energy LLC and John McDonald.

Strathmore Resources (CVE:STM) has applied to the U.S. Forest Service for permission to do exploratory drilling on Mt. Taylor in Cibola County, NM. The request is the firm to test a designation of the area as a traditional cultural property. Juan Velasquez, a spokesman for Strathmore, said the actual drill site will be 180 feet by 180 feet and use existing roads. He said the site has been disturbed by uranium drilling in the past.

Terry Fletcher, President of the New Mexico Mining Association, said the cultural resource designation of the area has “put a damper on the mining business.”

Valasquez agreed and added that the cultural resource designations of various areas in New Mexico were causing investors to look on the state as being “difficult “ to deal with. In the case of Taylor Mountain, the New Mexico Mining Division turned down a request for a quick review and instead demanded that Strathmore use a general permit process which is expensive and time consuming. Valasquez said that in the past the request for a small pad drill site would have gone through quickly.

Target Exploration and Mining (CVE:TEM) announced preliminary drilling results on the Boothell uranium property in the Shirley Basin in southern Wyoming. The firm reported mineralization of 0.043% U3O8 after drilling 65 holes for a total of 35,000 feet. The total drilling program is 50,000 feet over 90 holes. All of the holes drilled so far have been outside of the existing historic resource. The firm plans to issue a 43-101 report within a month. The total property is 10,500 acres. Target is exploring the site in with Ur-Energy (TSE:URE).

Magnum Uranium Corp. (TSX:MM) announced that it has completed, and filed with SEDAR, a National Instrument Policy 43-101 Mineral Resource Technical Report for the "Deep Gold" deposit portion of its San Rafael Uranium Property, Emery County, Utah. The Deep Gold Mineral Resource Report estimates an indicated mineral resource of 1,536,900 pounds of U3O8 contained in 282,600 tons at an average grade of 0.272% eU3O8 and an additional inferred mineral resource of 78,200 pounds of U3O8 contained in 24,000 tons at an average grade of 0.163% eU3O8.

The NI 43-101 table above provides an Indicated and Inferred resource estimate of 1,615,100 pounds at an overall average grade of 0.263% eU308.

The Deep Gold is one of a number of known uranium deposits contained within Magnum's larger 6,000 acre San Rafael Uranium Project area that comprises a joint venture with Energy Metals Corp. and which Magnum has earned an 80% interest in.

Atlas Minerals' historic Snow Mine at this site produced 650,292 pounds of U3O8 from 173,330 tons of material at an average grade of 0.188% U3O8 between 1973 and 1982. The Deep Gold deposit area comprises approximately 5% of Magnum's entire San Rafael land holdings.

Formation Resources of Australia doing business in North Dakota as PacMag (ASX:PMH) said that while looking for uranium in coal seams it found high-grade germanium, a scarce silicon-like mineral used in making semiconductors, transistors and fiber optic cables.

According to an Associated Press report, a brief mention in a half-century-old document has led the company to a large and potentially valuable deposit. A consultant says it may be the first time a "significant" germanium deposit has been found in a coal seam in North America.

PacMag was granted a state permit in April to drill about 600 test holes for uranium in southeastern Billings County and north central Slope County, in southwestern North Dakota. The company said about 336 test holes have been completed, and results so far have been positive for uranium and molybdenum.

PacMag Metals tested for germanium because of a brief mention in state documents studied by company officials. A geological survey from the 1950s found in state records provided the clues.

David Guberman, a USGS mineral commodity specialist, said germanium is fetching up to $1,590 a kilogram, up from $1,200 a year ago and $380 in 2003. A kilogram is about 2.2 pounds. "The price has gone up dramatically," Guberman said.

The USGS told AP supplies are tight while demand is growing for such things as fiber optic networks, solar cells, night vision lenses and gamma ray detection instruments. a result of an increased focus on homeland security.

PacMag is the only company to apply for a drilling permit for uranium in North Dakota. The firm has leased about 25,000 acres of private land in North Dakota in search of uranium. The company refers to the drilling effort as the "Sentinel Project."

The most promising area the company has tested is a 1.5-mile long "rock outcropping," near an old Stark County mine that produced uranium in the 1960s. The land is owned by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

PacMag Metals also wants to expand its search for uranium in the Little Missouri National Grasslands. The company has asked to explore on 18,000 acres of the grasslands, mostly in Slope County, using radioactive reading instruments and taking soil samples. No drilling would be involved, the company said.

The U.S. Forest Service said it would make a decision on the request early next month. If the company decides to move forward, it would use an open-pit mine. A processing facility would also be built in the area.

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Idaho Statesman on AEHI

The Boise newspaper runs a profile and an editorial

wake up smell coffeeIdaho's biggest newspaper has reminded its readers that a Virginia company wants to build a nuclear power plant in Idaho, and it isn't one owned by Warren Buffet. It is a text book case of asking folks to wake up and smell the coffee.

In a one-two punch the paper published a profile by environmental reporter Rocky Barker and an editorial. The coverage had been planned for some time, but was delayed because of a deadly fire in the Boise foothills that took city by surprise.

Here are a few highlights. Both pieces are well worth your time.

  • Reporting

Barker wrote . . .

Don Gillispie is confident he can do what Warren Buffett couldn't: Build a nuclear power plant in Idaho.

two_kites_snagThe retired nuclear industry executive came to Idaho in 2006 to build a new generation reactor to help jump start the industry where he spent his career. But his dream has hit several snags along the way.

It is a long profile, but illuminating just the same. I'm quoted in the piece based on my earlier blog post.

BTW: Barker sent regrets in an email for mis-identifying me in his article as a "retired INL employee." I don't work for the R&D contractor at the INL, but I'm not taking a pension from anyone either.

  • Opinion

In the unsigned editorial the newspaper expressed strong skepticism about AEHI's announced plans for a new, 1,600 MW nuclear power plant near Mountain Home, ID.

We hope Don Gillispie is better at building a nuclear power plant than he is at building relationships.

Hoofbeats are horses not zebrasThe man pursuing a nuclear power plant in Elmore County isn't doing his controversial cause too many public relations favors. It's not just that he is at odds with opponents of nuclear power; that tension is pretty much inevitable.

Gillispie also hurts his case with his dismissive comments about how he plans to finance his plant. That, Gillispie told the Statesman's Rocky Barker in a story Sunday, is a matter between him and his investors.

We can't buy that.

The newspaper deserves credit for telling us what it thinks about AEHI's plans, and for demanding more facts about the project so the public can make up its mind whether to support it.

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