Friday, November 28, 2008

Flash - U.S. India nuclear trade mission off

Terrorist attacks in Mumbai are the reason it will be re-scheduled to a later date

USIBC logoThe U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) told this blog via email today Nov 28 the official U.S. Trade Mission for nuclear energy, scheduled to take place starting Dec 2, will be re-scheduled to a later date. A spokesman for the Council said the reason is the terrorist attacks which took place in Mumbai this week.

The spokesman said the Council issued a statement . . .

The last thing USIBC would want to do is impose ourselves, a business delegation, on our hosts, as the government is in the midst of resolving this crisis.

We wish to express our condolences to the families who have lost loved ones. We salute the bravery of the commandos, the police, the fire brigades, and hotel staff who demonstrated courageous resolve throughout this reign of terror. We condemn this cowardly attack on innocent citizens of the world.

Other developments

The New York Times reported that five members of an Orthodox Jewish center in Mumbai were found dead by Indian security forces after they stormed the complex to capture or kill the remaining terrorists. India is a center for international diamond trade which accounts, in part, for the presence of the Orthodox Jewish community there. Mumbai is a world hub for the diamond trade. India is also a leading merchant of diamonds on the Antwerp exchange.

USA Today reported in a wrap up that the terrorist attacks taking place this week appeared to be designed to destabilize the apparent growing normalization of relations between India and Pakistan.

The gunmen were members of a terrorist team that rampaged through the heart of India's commercial capital Wednesday and Thursday, killing at least 119 people, taking Western hostages and delivering an unmistakable message: This U.S.-friendly democracy of 1.2 billion people has joined the front lines of the global war on terrorism.

Reuters reported that Pakistan recognized the threat and sought to defuse a growing crisis in relations with India. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reportedly said India and Pakistan should join to defeat a common enemy, and urged New Delhi not to play politics over the attacks in Mumbai.

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Nuclear new build roundup for 11/28/08

Baby baby won't you please come back?
South Texas Project asks City of Austin to reconsider

away slippery bananaNRG, the owner of the South Texas Project, is asking the City of Austin to change its mind about its stake in the nuclear power plant. Austin Energy now says it will reconsider and will spend $250,000 for a consultant before the city makes a decision.

In February, the Austin City Council voted against investing in an expansion of the project. The opposition was led by the a city official who previously ran for city council on an anti-nuclear platform. It appears that the City of Austin, having slipped on a banana peel of its own making, is now rethinking that action.

Currently the city owns 16 percent of the power plant. The cities of San Antonio and Houston have both agreed to help fund the construction of STP Units 3 & 4.

TVA puts nuclear energy at top of its list

K Greene TVATennessee Valley Authority CFO Kimberly Scheibe Greene (right) said this week nuclear power is at the top of the list. She praised Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in north Alabama. It was TVA’s first nuclear power plant, and the largest in the world when it began operation in 1974. It was the first nuclear plant in the world to generate more than 1 billion watts of power.

“We need to invest in nuclear power,” she said. “The entire country needs to move forward on this. I wish everyone could go and see a nuclear plant. We can’t lobby for them, because we’re a federal entity. But we can try to educate people about the option and benefits – they’re huge.”

Areva still looking to India

French nuclear giant AREVA is all set to bring in four to six European Pressurized Reactors (EPR) to India by 2020. Although it is too soon to say when they would be able to begin their work, AREVA's Chairman and Managing Director Aurthur de Montalembert said the firm is planning for four to six units of 1600 MW each.

Arthur de MontalembertMontalembert (right), who is to head the new office of AREVA in Mumbai, said last week,"the company was interested in keeping the tariff as low as possible although nuclear power is capital intensive. AREVA will also be supplying fuel to India and since the fuel (uranium) cost is stable and predictable, the French company is looking forward to better economical solutions in India."

It is likely that Indian government efforts to pursue a civilian nuclear energy strategy will be delayed while it deals with the catastrophic consequences of the terrorist attacks that took place in Mumbai this week.

In a separate announcement the U.S. India Business Council said it would postpone its long planned trade mission to India to a later date because of the terrorist attacks.

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Is Westinghouse in or out for Darlington?

Scorecards are no help

surf rocksWestinghouse is reportedly taking itself out of the running to build $26 billion in new reactors and related facilities in Ontario. The Toronto Global & Mail reports the action is causing concern that the bid process created by the provincial government to get the best deal for electricity consumers has hit the rocks. In any case, the competition has run into some rough surf.

Bryne Purchase, a former deputy energy minister in Ontario, who is director of the energy and environment program at Queen's University, said now only AECL and Areva are going head to head. Last Spring GE Hitachi left the bidding process. With just two vendors in the race, now, "It's not as fulsome a competition but it is still a competition," Purchase said.

Purchase observed the Ontario government is apparently sending a signal it would be willing to assume more of the risk on cost overruns than it had originally intended.

"They're getting push-back from everyone on that," he said. "There is so much uncertainty in the world right now that nobody wants to take on more risk than they have to."

Others asked why the Ontario provincial government was even pursuing a bid process it has already postponed twice since its announcement.

"If they're down to two, where's the competition?" asked an executive who requested the newspaper not quote him by name.

For its part, Westinghouse made a statement that may or may not have confirmed anyone's version of reality. Westinghouse spokesman Vaughn Gilbert said the company "continues to pursue this opportunity." Which one is that?

Confusion is food for sharp anti-nuclear sound bite

Shawn Stensil GPGreenpeace anti-nuclear activist Shawn Patrick Stensil (right) told the Canadian wire services Westinghouse's apparent hesitation highlights the risks associated with the government's nuclear bid process.

"The nuclear vendors know more than anyone the risks of proceeding with a plant . If you can't get the nuclear industry to assume the risk of their own reactors, why should the public trust them?"

Well, that's a good question. Someone in Ontario's provincial government needs to provide a serious answer.

Is the Harper government serious about the bidding?

The Globe & Mail reported that energy analysts questioned whether the Harper government is committed to the bid process, or whether it is looking for political cover to get out of the nuclear business. The Harper government has blown hot and cold about selling shares of AECL to private investors.Even though the provincial government is running the bid process, AECL is still a Canadian crown corporation. The fate of the nuclear reactor developer rests with government policy, not markets, and that brings up the issue of votes and jobs.

With 30,000 jobs in Ontario depending on AECL's future, the Harper government has taken a zig zag course. Some industry experts think the whole competition over Darlington is just an effort by the Harper government to hold a gun to AECL's head to keep costs down.

An apparent partial confirmation of that theory came from Ontario Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman who denied the report that Westinghouse has pulled out of the race. He also reportedly denied that the firm wanted to limit its role to supplying technology and components rather than being the prime contractor and thus responsible for any cost overruns and delays.

And so now are government officials speaking on behalf of reactor vendors? This is really interesting, almost as interesting as a talking frog.

The government, Smitherman said, wants a company to design and build reactors on a fixed-price basis so ratepayers aren't saddled with billions of dollars in debt if the project goes over budget. Previous domestic AECL nuclear energy projects have run billions in the red. Presumably, he still believes that Westinghouse is part of a bid process that will choose a company to produce an outcome with cost control front and center.

confusionWhen questioned in the legislature, according to the Globe & Mail, Smitherman called the reports the bid process was shy one more vendor "erroneous" and said Westinghouse submitted paperwork to Infrastructure Ontario "as recently as a few days ago."

"We want to have a process that has risk transfer," Smitherman said. "That's a difficult point of negotiation, no one would pretend otherwise around that. But it's an essential and important principle for the ratepayers of the province of Ontario. "

Where you end up is that Ontario's bid process is losing credibility about as fast as it is losing bidders. Additionally, the provincial government has given opponents of the project an opportunity to create political opposition to it. Public confusion over cost control measures for a $26 billion project is a sure way to stop it dead in its tracks.

History of the project

According to the CBC, Ontario's first new nuclear reactors in 15 years will be located at the site of the existing Darlington nuclear plant east of Toronto.

The Darlington plant, which is run by government-owned Ontario Power Generation, was chosen over the privately operated Bruce Power nuclear plant near Kincardine.

The Liberal Ontario government plans to build at least two new reactors as part of a $26-billion nuclear replacement and refurbishment program that will also include new generation equipment and transmission and distribution networks.

Prior coverage on this blog

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Exelon bids goodbye to GE Hitachi ESBWR

Advanced reactor design is out of the running for Victoria, TX, site

bailing outGE Hitachi's latest product offering, an "economic simplified boiling water reactor" (ESBWR) was dropped this week from further consideration for Exelon's planned greenfield nuclear reactor site at Victoria, Texas, 118 miles southeast of San Antonio.

The Wall Street Journal had a snappy lead in its coverage of issue. It said, "GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has a problem with its latest nuclear reactor; getting someone to build it."

Exelon (NYSE:EXC) had proposed to build two of the giant 1560 MW reactors at the new location. The main reason is that the lagging design certification process at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) resulting in a ranking for the Texas project at the bottom of the heap for eligibility for Department of Energy federal loan guarantees.

Thomas S. O'Neill, Exelon's VP for New Plants, was direct and to the point in a company press release. He said, "We are seeking improved eligibility for federal loan guarantees, which is critical to the advancement of this project."

Exelon spokesman Craig Nesbit was more specific, if that's possible, in a statement he made to the WSJ as reported by Reuters.

"We believe the Victoria project fell into the lower tier largely because of the uncertainty of the ESBWR design. We had no chance of getting loan guarantees with the ESBWR."

Exelon's statement was confirmed to Reuters by the Department of Energy. A government spokesperson said that applicants were given the results of the preliminary screening of loan guarantee applications. The spokesman pointed out that one of the selection criteria is the time to market for reactor technologies.

Company officials also told the Chicago Tribune . . .

The ESBWR remains in "the early design phase," Exelon said, and an internal analysis the company conducted over the summer indicated that other reactor technologies could provide the Texas project with "greater commercial and schedule certainty."

NRC reportedly unhappy with GE Hitachi

unhappyThe switch by Exelon to another reactor is designed to select a technology that has the best chance of getting early design certification by the NRC. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the NRC has been unhappy with the quality of the information provided by GE Hitachi which has caused delays in the review process. The NRC's web page for the ESBWR does not indicate a schedule nor completion date for the reactor's design review process.

Exelon chose the ESBWR in November 2007 as it prepared to spend $23 million to submit a combined operating and construction license (COL) which it filed in in September 2008. That's a relatively low cost. Ameren's COL application filed ith the NRC in September for an Areva EPR cost a reported $42 million.

World Nuclear News pointed out the EBSWR relies on gravity to operate "passive safety systems" that are considerably less complex, and therefore cheaper to build, than existing plants with cooling systems that require active pumps and valves.

Other utilities that have "referenced" the ESBWR in their applications include; Entergy for Grand Gulf and River Bend, Detroit Edison for FERMI III, and Dominion for North Anna. No one has actually placed an order for the reactor. See the NRC's web page on COL applications on file for links to each of these applications.

GE Hitachi told the WSJ it is has approached Exelon about using another reactor, the ABWR, for the Victoria site. According to GE, four ABWR units are in operation in Japan and another three of the 1,350 MW units are under construction in Taiwan.

Unlike Westinghouse and Areva, GE Hitachi has not booked any sales in mainland China. Also, the firm has pulled out of the bid process in the U.K. and Turkey albiet for different reasons in each country. In the U.K. GE Hitachi said it wanted more time to complete the design certification process for the ESBWR. In Turkey GE Hitachi was in good company with all other bidders, except Russia's RosAtomexport, in pulling out of a contentious bid process that isn't over yet.

Next steps for Exelon

For its part, Exelon said it will complete its review of available reactor designs and make a decision in early 2009. Exelon officials did not say how much it would cost to revise the COL application now on file with the NRC.

Exelon has pointed out that the shift in reactor technology does not imply that it has made a corporate decision to actually order a reactor and build one. That decision, the company says, will likely occur in 2010.

hostile-takeoverThe Chicago-based firm, which is the largest nuclear utility operator in the U.S., also said that the decision to switch reactor technologies at Victoria, TX, does not affect its hostile takeover effort for NRG (NYSE:NRG) which operates the South Texas Project and is building two new reactors there. NRG has rejected Exelon's efforts in sharply worded letters. In response, Exelon has taken its bid process directly to stockholders.

Both companies have seen their stock hammered by the current downturn on Wall Street. At 10 AM Friday November 28, NRG stock had opened at $23.10 against a 52-week range of $45.78-$14.39. Exelon's stock opened at $55.60 against a 52-week range of $92.13-$41.23.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Terrorism at Mumbai

Mumbai hotel on fire - source, the Hind 20081126Coordinated attacks at seven sites kill over 100 and 300 more are injured

Americans targeted at hotels in city's financial district

Unknown group claims responsibility

"Coordinated terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, have killed at least 100 people and wounded more than 250. Several targets — at least two-five star hotels, the city’s largest train station, a Jewish center, a movie theater and a hospital — were attacked by militants wielding grenades and machine guns. Ongoing hostage situations continued through the night and morning at the Taj Mahal and Oberei Hotels and the Nariman House, which is the home of the city’s Chabad-Lubavitch center." NYT

The Lede at the NYT has set up a watch. You can post comments and information for use by the newspaper's reporters. The newspaper is appealing for on-the-ground reports and information from Mumbai and from international sources.

Breaking news

Blogs & Feeds

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Western lands uranium gopher for 11/28/08

Mining media reports and press releases for useful stuff.

gopherThis is an edited version of an article originally published in Fuel Cycle Week, V7N305 on 11/25/08 by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC.

Denison puts Utah mine on stand-by

Denison Mines Corp. (AMEX: DNN) announced Nov 25 the temporary closure of the Tony M mine located in Ticaboo, Utah, due to the current economic situation. The firm also cited market conditions for uranium in the U.S. The mine will be put on care and maintenance.

This is the second western U.S. uranium mine this month to be put in this status. Last week Energy Fuels took similar action with the Whirlwind mine in Colorado.

Denison's expected U.S. uranium production for 2009 will be reduced by approximately 200,000 pounds, and will come in for the year at 1.2-1.6 million pounds as a result of the suspension of operations at Tony M. Vanadium production in the United States is unchanged and is expected to be 2.6-3.2 million pounds.

Denison's operating capital expenditures for 2009 are currently estimated at $10 million at the White Mesa mill, also in Utah, including $5 million for the alternate feed circuit, and approximately $9 million for all other U.S. mining properties.

Midwest Development postponed

Denison announced that the owners of the Midwest joint venture consisting of AREVA (69.16%), OURD (5.67%) and Denison (25.17%) have determined that the development of the Midwest Project will be postponed due to current economic conditions. Denison cited multiple factors as driving the decision.

  • the current economic climate,
  • delays and uncertainties associated with the regulatory approval process,
  • the increasing capital and operating costs, and
  • the current market for uranium.

Denison said that based on current estimates, capital costs have increased approximately 50% from the previous estimate of Cdn$435 million creating a new project level of capital spending of CDn$652 million.

Keeping its options open

Denison said the partners have decided to complete the environmental assessment for the project, which has been ongoing since December 2005, and to complete the engineering for the Midwest site. Total joint venture expenditures on Midwest are expected to be Cdn$12.4 million in 2009. Denison's actions this week postpone the majority of the capital expenditures to the future when presumably market conditions will warrant resumption of development of the property.

Denison stated that postponement of the Midwest project will have no impact on the firm's recently announced 2009 Canadian production guidance of 750,000 pounds U3O8. The Midwest Project wasn't even close to being a producing mine.

Denison is also significantly reducing its expected exploration and capital expenditures in 2009. Exploration expenditures in Canada are estimated at Cdn$5.1 million and US$1.6 million in the United States.

In Mongolia, the company is anticipating spending US$5.0 million to advance the projects, and in Zambia, US$3.0 million is expected to be spent to complete the Detailed Feasibility Study and secure the mining licence. The impact on Denison's uranium production beyond 2010 is uncertain.

Energy Fuels puts cash under mattress

Energy Fuels (TSE:EFR) announced a capital preservation strategy which is to say the firm is, metaphorically speaking, putting its cash under a mattress. The firm said in a press release Nov 21st is placing the Whirlwind mine on standby status. Earlier this year the mine was the focus of start-up activities leading to planned production of 200 tons/day of ore.

The firm is also shifting engineers from the mine operation to work on permit applications and environmental assessments for its planned Pinion Ridge uranium mill. The company said in the statement it plans to file the permit application with the NRC in the fourth quarter of 2009. A start-up of operations for the new mill is still planned for 2011.

Bayswater heaves U.S. properties overboard to lighten the ship

Bayswater (CVE:BAY) said in a press release Nov 11 it was allowing a number of U.S. properties to lapse and will terminate or farm out others. The firm will allow two properties in Nevada, the Holiday and Green Monster sites, to lapse. It will cease work on the Hurricane property in Utah due to challenges to its permit application from private land owners in the area. Three properties in Wyoming and one in South Dakota will also be terminated or farmed out. The firm reported that Keith Laskowski, VP Exploration, has left the company.

Bannerman gets $20 million from Colorado fund

Australian uranium miner Bannerman Resources (ASX:BNM) got some good news this week obtaining $20 million in a secured convertible note from private equity manager Resource Capital Funds with offices in Denver, Colo., and Perth, Australia. The funds will be used to develop properties in Colorado.

The management team for Resource Capital Funds hails from Rothschild Australia Limited. Bannerman also hired Len Jubber as its new CEO. Prior to joining Bannermanm, Jubber held a management position with Rossing Uranium, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto and operator of the Rossing uranium mine, the world's largest open-cut uranium mine.

Powertech to expand drilling in South Dakota

The South Dakota state Board of Minerals and Environment voted unanimously on Nov 18 to grant a permit to Powertech (TSE:PWE) for 30 more exploratory holes near Edgemont, SD, in the southwestern part of the state. The firm already has a permit to drill 155 holes in that area. Powertech project manager Mark Hollenbeck proved to the board the firm had met all of the state's legal requirements for the permit.

Opponents to the permit application had argued the project would lead to contamination of water supplies with radioactivity, destroy archeological resources, and harm wildlife. Powertech plans to construct and operate an ISR mine at the site if it gets favorable results from the exploratory drilling activities.

Vane swaps new lamps for old

Vane Minerals (LON:VML), a U.K. firm, has cashed out of its Mexican gold and silver production properties to develop uranium properties in Arizona and Utah. The firm said it had $5.97 million remaining from the sale which raised $9.33 million. The U.S. projects are a 50-50 joint venture with the Canadian firm Uranium One (TSE:UUU).

This is good news for Uranium one. On Nov 13 the Canadian company said it would take a $2.8 billion write down, mostly to reflect the lower value of its U.S. exploration properties and its Dominion mine in South Africa, which it shut in October due to falling uranium prices.

Navajo Nation takes an axe to NRC's "Generic" EIS process

chopping blockThe Nuclear Regulatory Commission's proposed "generic" environmental impact statement process would go on the chopping block today if it were up to the Navajo Nation which spans Arizona and New Mexico.

David Taylor, principal attorney with the Natural Resources Unit, stated in comments to the NRC sent Nov. 7, “The jurisdictional issue involving the Navajo Nation cannot be looked at in a vacuum. It involves substantial environmental justice implications for a Native Nation uniquely impacted by past activities now under the direct control of the NRC."

Taylor also accused the NRC of ignoring previous efforts by the Navajo Nation to enforce the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005 which banned uranium mining and milling activities within Navajo Nation borders.

Taylor said the July 1 draft devotes fewer than three pages to environmental justice in Navajo Indian Country.

He emphasized that the Nation requested the NRC, “expressly exempt Navajo Indian Country, including all lands within any federally recognized chapter of the Navajo Nation,” from the operation of any Generic Environmental Impact Statement and from any application of the alternative that may be selected."

In other words, the Navajo Nation wants no part of NRC's generic EIS and will do whatever it can to deny the agency regulatory jurisdiction over plans for uranium mining on its land.

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Nuclear components markets forge ahead

Firms in Japan, U.K., expand capabilities

PressureVesselManufactureJapan Steel Works announced it will spend $314 million to boost output of large forgings for nuclear power plant customers worldwide. The action comes in response to growing demand for nuclear reactor pressure vessels and related large forgings.

Reuters reports that French nuclear giant Areva has taken a 1.3% stake in Japan Steel Works.

U.K. Forgemasters is now receiving orders for coolant pump casings and other large components for the U.S. customers building Westinghouse AP1000 reactors.

World Nuclear News reports Forgemasters, based in Sheffield, U.K., is planning to add a 15,000 tonne press which will accept 500 tonne ingots and is 50% larger than the firm's current capabilities.

WNN cited a report in the Financial Times, London, that said the U.K. government was working on a financing package with the firm for $45 million against a total project cost of $210 million.

Once construction begins it will take three years to build the new facility. Many U.S. nuclear utilities are placing orders now with firms capable of making large forgings for components that will be needed four-to-six years in the future.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

60 Minutes report on Pelindaba raid

CBS asks the obvious, whether security breach was an inside job

CBS_News_LogoCBS News program 60 Minutes will broadcast a report Sunday, November 23rd, on the Pelidaba raid by two groups of armed men which took place one year ago this month.

Prior coverage on this blog includes the following

I'll post comments on the CBS program after I've seen it and had a chance to think about what the TV show told its viewers.

*** Update 7 PM MST

OK, I've seen the 60 Minutes Report. See embedded video below. I think they got the facts right. Obviously, the incident remains a major source of embarrassment to the South African government. If it knows anything more about the attack, it isn't talking about it to CBS nor anyone else. See my previous posts (links above) for more details.

60 Minutes video here

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NASA scientist offers advice on climate change

Short & sweet - use uranium, thorium, but not coal

Hat Tip to Charles Barton at Nuclear Green

From 'Dot Earth' the New York Times blog on climate change written by NYT reporter Andrew C. Revkin . . .

"Word of another prescription for what might be a prospering planet without a human-jogged climate comes from James E. Hansen of NASA, “Tell Barack Obama the Truth – The Whole Truth,” posted on his Columbia University Web site. The document is in part familiar, reprising Dr. Hansen’s prescription for American action to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal burning as a way to lead the emerging greenhouse giants, particularly China, toward this goal."

Congratulations to nuclear blogger Kirk Sorensen who gave one of the papers at the meeting.

* * *

James E. Hansen, advice on nuclear energy, from the cited document noted above, full text of this section of the conference report follows below. Also, a Google Tech Talk was given by Dr. Joe Bonometti on thorium nuclear reactors not too long ago. You can see it on Rod Adams' blog Atomic Insights

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