It ain’t "game over" over until the fat lady sings
A lot of people think Exelon at Victoria, TX, has taken its bat, ball, and glove, and hit the showers over its plans for twin GE-Hitachi 1,350MW ABWR reactors there. This has been a hard luck site for the giant Chicago based utility. First, it spent tens of millions on a license application to the NRC referencing the GE-Hitachi ESBWR, but later bid that design goodbye when it turned out the Department of Energy ranked Exelon’s application lower for loan guarantees because the ESBWR isn’t ready for prime time. It is still deep in the design certification process at the NRC. Switching to the ABWR didn’t help. Exelon still found itself out of the running.
More recently, Exelon told the NRC to stop reviewing its licensing application. Instead, Exelon said it will develop an Early Site Permit which will preserve its place at the table for as long as 20 years, but not require it to spend lots more money updating the license application with a new reactor.
Most observers felt Exelon was basically mothballing the site until either Congress expanded the loan guarantee program or Wall Street came to its senses over new nuclear power plants or both.
It came as a big surprise when the Victoria Advocate reported that Exelon may not be so deep into mothball territory after all. The utility has renewed its options for 75,000 acre feet of water from the Guadalupe River for another year or possibly longer. What’s more, Exelon has a grip on what are called “senior water rights” which means in dry years, if they choose to exercise them, they would get water first from the river before other people.
This revelation has got farmers and environmental groups pretty stirred up. The utility isn’t moved by the fervor over its position. Craig Nesbit, a spokesman for the firm, told a San Antonio newspaper, “These water rights exist whether we build a plant or not. The only question is how you plan to use them.”
Exelon has paid the San Antonio River Authority $1.1 million for the rights for another year with a reported understanding it will negotiate a longer term deal. The utility also points out nuclear reactor cooling systems aren't a "consumptive use" since the water goes through one time and is returned to the source. About 5% is lost of evaporation through the cooling towers.
So hang on to your hats in Victoria, TX, because if you think Exelon’s story there is over, think again. No one pays a million bucks for water rights they don’t intend to use. We’ll watch this space.
Vermont Yankee passes latest relicensing test
The NRC’s Atomic Safety & Licensing Board has denied an intervenor’s request not to renew the 20-year license for Entergy’s Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Reuters reports that the NRC will likely make a decision on the license renewal application later this year.
Several green groups said that various components of the reactor no longer worked properly and demanded additional tests. Entergy went ahead and conducted the tests and the parts passed, but that was not the result the green groups hoped for so they filed another round of protests. This latest group of contentions are what were thrown out by the licensing board.
The NRC now has clear running room to make a decision on the merits of the license renewal application since all pending contentions, at least for the moment, have been denied.
Indian Point tagged for fish kills
Environmental groups in New York have found a new way to raise the price of electricity for customers of Energy’s Indian Point plant. They want the utility to spend at least $700 million on new cooling systems that won’t kill so many fish.
The New York Daily News reports that the new York State Department of Conservation (DEC) agrees with Riverkeeper, an arch foe of the Indian Point plant, that its cooling intakes kill lots of fish eggs and hence lots of fish.
The reactor uses 2.5 billion gallons of Hudson River water daily, 2 million gallons per minute, in a system that pulls in and kills fish eggs, bug larvae, and plant life. Note that the water goes in, but also comes out, albiet a lot warmer.
Entergy has gone to court over the price tag for the new cooling system. A company spokesman said the plant already has spent more than $100 million to protect fish by installing special screens to reduce the number of fish pulled inside the system.
The DEC estimates a new cooling system would cost $740 million, and $145 million a year to run. That comes out to 6% of Entergy's annual gross revenue. The costs would be passed on to Entergy's customers. In the meantime, Entergy expects to be back in the State Supreme court with appeals of the ruling by the environmental agency.
Stop Yucca, Stop sign, stop fees?
Bloomberg wire service reports that the nation's nuclear utilities have asked the federal government to be accountable for its actions by suspending payments required to cover the cost of opening Yucca Mountain. Since Senate Majority Leader Nevada Sen. Harry Reid has installed his personal stop sign for the project at the NRC in the form of now chairman Gregory Jazcko, the utilities say they shouldn’t have to pay an estimated $769 million this year. Their claim is that they no longer owe the money because the U.S. is abandoning the Yucca Mountain site and hasn’t settled on another disposal plan.
The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the trade association that represents owners of all 104 operating U.S. reactors, sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu asking for the payments to be suspended. So far as of this year about $30 billion in fees and interest has gone into the nuclear fund. That's enough money to finance at least five new nuclear power plants at $6 billion each. The utilities want that money back.
Bloomberg also reported that another influential group has also asked that the fees be suspended.
“There is no clearly defined program for disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste,” Frederick Butler, president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, said in a separate letter to Energy Sec. Steven Chu. “Therefore, there is no basis to assess the adequacy of fees that continue to be paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund.”
Bloomberg points out that President Barack Obama announced earlier this year in budget documents that the U.S. would no longer seek to build a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
Spent fuel and wetlands get NRC attention in Florida
The Tampa Tribune reports that plans by Progress Energy to build a new nuclear power plant in Levy County, Florida, have run into trouble. The NRC gave standing to the Green Party of Florida and two other groups to challenge the plant's federal license application to build two new reactors.
The Tribune reports that in a 112-page ruling, the NRC's Atomic Licensing Board found that the Green Party had successfully raised "certain major issues" about the plant's environmental impact that “deserve a full-fledged legal hearing with oral arguments.”
The first issue is obvious, but also ominous for other license applications pending with the NRC. The board agreed that Progress Energy did not have a long-term plan for disposal of spent nuclear fuel. This means the utility might wind up storing it in dry casks at the reactor for decades while the U.S. either builds and operates a recycling center or some other solution.
It seems to be a circular argument by the board since the federal government is the entity that has cancelled Yucca Mountain without providing an alternative. Holding the utility responsible looks like blaming the victim.
The board also found that the utility may have a problem with impacts on a floodplain. It may have to fill and pave hundreds of acres of wetlands, which may hurt both the underground aquifer and the Withlacoochee River. it would also have impacts on wildlife species that depend on them. The utility's plans call for filling 765 acres of wetlands, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Green Party also challenged the design of the plant's cooling towers and water transfers locally to cool the reactor.
The utility hasn't decided how to respond to the ruling. "Progress Energy Florida has received and will review the ruling. We'll soon make a decision on whether to file an appeal," spokesman Tim Leljedal wrote in an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Tribune
The Green Party of Florida, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and the Ecology Party of Florida have joined to try to stop the plant from being built. However, it doesn't look like these contentions are fatal.
"If it rules in their favor after those arguments, NRC spokesman Joey Ledford said, the utility "would have to amend their application to satisfy the shortcomings that had been found."
Progress plans to complete the plant, which involves two Westinghouse AP1000s, and have them in revenue service by 2016.Arizona lawmaker supports uranium mining
but has problems with U238 decay
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