Thursday, August 20, 2009

Utah’s Blue Castle nuclear project uncloaks

Transition Power launches an effort to secure an Early Site Permit

Klingon war bird uncloakingTransition Power LLC, the illogically secretive and sometimes publically conflicted nuclear energy firm developing the Blue Castle nuclear reactor project, unveiled this week an effort to secure an Early Site Permit for its proposed location In Green River, Utah.

ENERCON, a well known engineering services firm, was named by Transition Power to act as the primary contractor for the project. In making the announcement, the project has bolstered its image and answered the catcalls of skeptics. Some had wondered if the project was really just selling nutritional supplements on the Internet instead of building a nuclear power plant. This time it looks like the real deal.

ESP is first step to a license

The process of submitting an Early Site Permit (ESP) and getting action on it by the NRC could take up to three years. The ESP is the first step in applying for a combined construction and operating license (COL) for a nuclear power plant.

nrc logoIf the NRC issues an ESP, it would demonstrate that a proposed site has the environmental, safety and security characteristics that meet the stringent requirements of the NRC for a new nuclear plant. Tom Retson, President of Transition Power Development, who leads nuclear vendor interactions for the company, explained:

“This will reduce the development risk for our utility partners. Executing this contract provides confidence to our company, the participating utilities and the public that the licensing of the project will get done on schedule and will get done right.”

ENERCON adds credibility to the project because it has direct experience doing this kind of work. It completed a contract that resulted in the NRC issuing an Early Site Permit for Entergy’s Grand Gulf site in 2007.

ENERCON also was selected to prepare two COL applications for NuStart Energy Development LLC, a consortium of eight nuclear power plant operators. ENERCON prepared a COL application for a Westinghouse AP1000 reactor plant to be sited at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Alabama.

NRC’s process for an ESP

By issuing an early site permit (ESP), the NRC approves one or more sites for a nuclear power facility, independent of an application for a construction permit or combined license. An ESP is valid for 10 to 20 years from the date of issuance, and can be renewed for an additional 10 to 20 years.

In reviewing an ESP application, the NRC staff will address site safety issues, environmental protection issues, and plans for coping with emergencies, independent of the review of a specific nuclear plant design. Note that Transition Power has not indicated a reactor design to reference as part of its application process.

Will they build it?

Transition Power LogoTransition Power has said previously it has plans to build 3,000 MW of generating capacity at the Green River site. Demand for electricity from the plant in Utah is reported to be about 900 MW which suggests that the majority of the power will be sold to utilities in power hungry southern California.

The City of Los Angeles pulled out of construction of Intermountain Power Plant #3, a plan for a coal-fired unit, because of concerns over global warming. Since nuclear energy is free of carbon emissions, the city might sign on early to help pay for construction.

Transition Power makes the following claim on its website as the reason it plans to build one or more nuclear reactors.

Demand for electrical generation in the southwestern US is rapidly expanding. Demand within the four state region is expected to grow at an annual rate in excess of 1,800 MW per year over the foreseeable future, To put things in perspective, this annual growth rate alone exceeds the size of one Blue Castle nuclear unit.

It still isn't clear that Transition Power plans to actually build nuclear power plants in Utah. The firm previously said it would develop the necessary licensing for the plant and then auction it off to the highest bidder. A COL could cost $40-70 million depending on which reactor design the firm chooses and the degree to which protests drive up the legal costs of getting it. it isn’t clear whether investors at either end of such a transaction would be able to get the NRC to transfer the license to another entity.

For that matter Transition Power still hasn’t shown its cards when it comes to its investors. It isn’t a publically traded firm so it isn’t required to published the kind of reports that a firm with stock listed on a major exchange would have to produce. On the other hand, it avoids the potential embarrassment of winding up in the Pink Sheets with a “penny stock” traded at less than a dollar.

The firm’s web site does not list an “investor relations” tab nor provide information on what the firm is worth. There is no way to assess its market capitalization nor its ability to raise the money to pay for the ESP, the COL, or the plant itself.

Public climate over nuclear power in Utah

power towersTransition Power has not had success in getting the Utah legislature to authorize the equivalent of CWIP (construction while in progress). The Florida model on which it is based would allow the project to use the Utah rate base to support the project. Critics have charged that California is trying to turn Utah into an energy colony because of its own opposition to new nuclear power plants.

However, the Utah legislature is also on record supporting nuclear energy and polls show favorable public sentiment. Virulent opposition has surfaced in the past over proposals to store spent nuclear fuel on an Indian reservation in Utah and to send low level waste to a licensed facility about 85 miles west of Salt Lake City.

The criticism that Transition Power isn’t seriouis seems to be blunted by the information on the website recently deployed by company. It discusses the complete nuclear fuel cycle, demand for electricity in the West, and the critical issue of water use. The result could be a merchant nuclear power plant with all the risks and opportunities that come with this business model.

This time Transition Power looks like they really mean it. Now all they have to do is prove it.

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1 comment:

nacilbupera said...

Dan:

We are really excited about getting our first nuclear plant here in Utah. Your post was extremely informative! Sounds like it could help to get our state legislature to authorize a CWIP; we'll do what we can.

Please keep us posted.