Saturday, January 24, 2009

Texas nuclear firms hold cards close

Exelon and NRG face uncertainties for new nuclear builds in the lone star state

poker chipsNo one outside of NRG (NYSE:NRG) really knows what it will cost to build the 3rd and 4th units at the South Texas Project (STP), but that hasn’t stopped NRG, the New Jersey utility that is building them, from seeking long-term commitments from the investors in the first two units. The cities of Austin and San Antonio are across the breakers trying to figure out, like the future of Bobs’ Big Boy, whether they should stay or go.

At the same time Exelon’s (NYSE:EXC) new nuclear plant project slated for Victoria, TX, is reportedly “at a standstill,” because it has jettisoned its reactor design from GE-Hitachi for the ESBWR and it is running into opposition from water rights advocates.

Finally, Exelon and NRG are still locked in mortal combat, like two bull moose in rutting season, due to an attempted all-stock hostile takeover effort from Exelon which has stalled out with the Chicago-based utility owning 45.6% of NRG. That’s not enough to force a change to the current board at NRG.

Seeking investors in Texas

For NRG to succeed with the financing of its two new GE ABWR reactors, which will generate 2,700 MWe of electricity once operational in 2015 and 2016 respectively, it must convince two of the current investors in STP Units 1 &2 to a repeat act with units 3 & 4. The cities of Austin and San Antonio are thinking it over, but the process is moving ahead more rapidly in San Antonio.

San Antonio’s CPS Energy knows it will need 800 MW of electricity by 2018 and that this base load power cannot come from solar or wind energy despite the fact the utility is seeking a contract for 100 MW of solar power. Currently, the firm gets 35% of its electricity from STP units 1 & 2.

prudent investorLast week the utility committed $60 million to support plant engineering studies at STP Units 3 & 4. Also, San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger finally endorsed the project. However, he cautioned, “we haven’t made a decision to build.” So far CPS has spent $276 million on the project.

Not everyone is happy about the incremental steps the city is taking with STP. Eric Lane of the Consumer Energy Coalition in Texas is one of the a critics of these developments. He said, “What is happening right now is that CPS is hell-bent on going nuclear” He accused CPS of not listening to rate payers.

The situation is more muddled in Austin. Last year the city’s municipal utility director, who once ran for city council on an anti-nuclear ticket, recommended against investing in STP units 3 &4. Since then things have changed and the city is going back to the drawing board, metaphorically speaking, to take another look at the investment decision. The city’s reasoning is focused on the fact that electricity rates from STP will come at a lower price if the city is an investor rather than just a customer.

At the time NRG filed its COL application with the NRC, it estimated the cost of 2,700 MW of new nuclear power at $2,000/Kw or $5.4 billion. The run up of costs for concrete and steel in the past year has changed that estimate, but NRG hasn't said what it will be. The current economic recession has drastically reduced these price pressures. Assuming a cost of $3,500/KW, the two new plants would come in at $9.5 billion.

The issue of what the plants will cost is central to the investment decisions by the two Texas cities. With NRG holding its cards close to its vest, it remains to be seen whether the municipal utilities will stay at the table.

The dance around investment decisions by the two cities does not deter NRG from moving forward. NRG Texas President Kevin Howell told the San Antonio new media that if the cities pull out, there are huge Texas oil companies waiting in the wings to become investors. He believes that NRG will sell the electricity to the two cities, and others, regardless of whether they become investors.

NRG inks construction deal with Toshiba

One thing is for sure, NRG is moving ahead with STP units 3 & 4. Toshiba, which is slated to build the GE ABWR units, reportedly announced it had signed a contract with NRG for the job. Dow Jones/WSJ reports that Toshiba will receive orders worth nearly $9 billion to build two GE ABWR nuclear reactors (2,700 MWE) for NRG at the South Texas Project.

The WSJ noted that, "The orders will make Toshiba the first Japanese company to independently supply equipment to a power station outside Japan. Such a deal may help Japanese heavy machinery makers gain traction in the international market for nuclear power plant equipment."

NRG said at the time it filed its “first-mover” COL application with the NRC that it was exploring export credits from the Japanese government to help finance the STP new build because it was using Toshiba as the construction manager.

Victoria project changing direction?

Sharp turnExelon, which has just one new reactor project, but two units, in the nation’s nuclear renaissance, has some explaining to do about the stalled effort at Victoria, TX. There the giant utility has bid goodbye to GE-Hitachi’s ESBWR reactor design due to a low ranking in the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program. Christopher Crane, Exelon COO, told the Victoria Advocate Jan 23 that the project will not advance without the loan guarantees.

Another issue that has come up are protests from area ranchers over water rights. While a nuclear power plant is not a major consumptive user of water, most passes right through, that hasn’t stopped state officials from expressing concern. Texas Lt. Gov David Dewhurt reportedly told Exelon it needed to do a credible study of the water issue before moving too far along with its plans.

Crane told the Advocate without water rights secure and with loan guarantees in doubt, the Victoria project could be pushed back by at least a decade. He added that the utility’s decision on next steps will depend on projections for future demand for electricity in Texas and how deeply the current recession impacts Texas.

Hostile take over stalled out for now

Businessman pushing a carExelon is locked in an all stock hostile takeover bid for NRG in an effort to gain market share in the nuclear energy field in Texas. So far it isn’t working. The Chicago Tribune reports the two utilities met briefly on Jan 20, but no agreement came out of the discussions. NRG’s board has rejected Exelon’s all stock bid as too low and rebuffed Exelon’s efforts to conduct “due diligence” to verify the value of the firm. David Crane, NRG CEO, said the effort wouldn’t change anything.

NRG is reportedly looking for a “white knight” to offer an all cash deal for the company. Media speculation in the nuclear trade press has focused on Warren Buffett who has twice been thwarted in his efforts to buy into the field. He abandoned an effort to build a greenfield plant in Idaho and was out bid for a controlling interest in Constellation Energy by France’s EDF. He’s got the cash and the ambition to get into the nuclear energy business. All he needs is the right company. Is NRG right for Warren Buffett? The company is loaded with over $7 billion in debt, but it has bright prospects for success. Watch this space to see if Buffett shows up in the Texas nuclear mix either by himself or with other private equity firms.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Siemens bids goodbye to Areva

The German firm wants the capital the would come from selling its 34% share in the French nuclear giant

SiemensLogoThe Financial Times of London reports that Siemens plans to pull out of its nuclear joint venture with France’s Areva. The German firm reportedly notified French government officials of its intention to exercise its option to sell its 34% stake in Areva NP, the nuclear engineering arm of the French group. Both Areva and Siemens declined to comment on the Times report.

Siemens is said to have given up on long-standing ambitions to swap its stake in the nuclear engineering unit for similar holdings in the parent group, which includes reactors, uranium mines, and fuel reprocessing. However, the Financial Times said the global financial crisis convinced Siemens that holding on to its shares of Areva was not a prudent move when it could reinvest the capital elsewhere. The action comes just days before Siemens holds its annual shareholders meeting.

DoRightCastIt isn’t clear whether Siemens is giving up or has been forced to end its plan to control a larger share of the parent firm, or if Areva is rescuing Siemens from some financial issue. In any case, the German firm has sure thing in the decision to sale its stake and do something else with several billion in new capital. In a worldwide flight of capital, Siemens’ decision is a unique transaction that gives it funding it cannot get, at least for now, from commercial sources.

There may be another reason why Siemens wants to cash out. Reuters reports that German engineering conglomerate Siemens plans to set up a nuclear power joint venture with Russia's Atomenergoprom. Siemens and Atomenergoprom spokesmen declined to comment.

State-owned Atomenergoprom manages Russia's civilian nuclear industry assets and is active in uranium production, nuclear power plant construction and energy generation.

What’s the deal worth?

Another thing that isn't clear whether the French government would buy the 34% stake entirely or offer some shares on the commercial market to institutional investors or some combination of these options. The latest wire service report indicates Areva’s parent group itself would buy back Siemens' shares in the nuclear engineering business unit. The Wall Street Journal reported the Siemens 34% stake is valued at €2.1 billion ($2.73 billion), and Areva is obliged to buy it back according to terms of a 1999 agreement.

Areva is 85% state-owned though some shares (CEI:PA) trade on various markets. The 15% of Areva SA that trades has a market cap of $12 billion. Shares closed Jan 23 at $336 against a 52-week range of $820-315.

Areva plans to expand its nuclear business but needs capital

raising_capitalAreva is said to need €14 billion ($18.2 billion) to meet its worldwide investment needs in the next four years or to 2012. Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive, has sought a partial privatization, but fiercely opposed to any merger with Alstom. Ms. Lauvergeon recently said the Alstom merger proposal is out of the question because it, "won't bring much synergy and Alstom won't give me the cash I need."

CEO Lauvergeon has said she would like to immediately raise about €3 billion ($3.89 billion), or about one-fifth of the firm's long-term capital needs, from commercial investors that would lower the French government's stake but leave it with a majority holding.

The Times said that since Mr Sarkozy’s election in May 2007, the government has been looking at a capital increase with both French and foreign partners as well as a partial privatization. Current market conditions have ruled out seeking private investors at least for now. Also, the government, until now, had delayed any decision on a capital increase.

It remains to be seen how Areva will finance its worldwide commitments for new nuclear business which include new nuclear plants in Europe, China, India, and the U.S. Areva is also building new uranium enrichment plants in the U.S. and France. One government official told the Financial Times that though no decision on Areva’s future was imminent, the moment was “approaching."

Oil firm seeks nuclear business

Total (NYSE:TOT), the French oil group, is said to be interested in taking a larger stake in meeting Areva's financing needs. However, the Wall Street Journal reported that Total did not plan to increase its actual holdings in Areva. A joint venture or consortium may be the more likely path to financing new projects. Total told Reuters last November it is targeting nuclear energy to drive growth.

Arnaud_Total"In the future, energy demand will be constrained by tight oil supply," Arnaud Chaperon, (right) Total's senior vice president for electricity and new energies, said in a presentation to a nuclear energy conference in Qatar.

"Oil and gas will still play a big role in the energy balance. But in the electrification of the world economy, nuclear will play a major role, together with the development of solar and other renewables. That is why Total is very interested in developing nuclear.

Several new deals are pending

Total has a partnership with GdF-Suez, the French power group, to bid for nuclear contracts in Abu Dhabi. Total reportedly told the Times it would be prepared to take a minority stake alongside GdF-Suez in the next nuclear project in France – the country’s second EPR reactor, designed by Areva if its partner win the contract.

The Times said the French government is expected to announce the winner in the coming weeks, and may even launch plans for a third project. EDF is reportedly lobbying hard to win the contract for building the first of the two new reactors, and reports suggest that the second will go to GdF-Suez.

Both Areva and EDF has significant plans to build EPR reactors in the U.S. Recently, EDF bought a 49% stake in Constellation Energy to advance that business strategy pushing out U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett who declined to take on the entire French government in a bidding contest. Smart man.

New President and CEO of Areva NP

Mike_RencheckIn unrelated news, Areva NP announced the appointment of Michael Rencheck (right) President and CEO, AREVA NP Inc., effective Jan. 26, 2009. Rencheck reports directly to Luc Oursel, CEO of AREVA NP, with regional reporting to Jacques Besnainou, President of AREVA Inc. Rencheck will work out of Areva’s Bethesda, MD, office.

Rencheck comes to AREVA NP Inc. from American Electric Power (AEP) where he served most recently as Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer of the Nuclear Generation Group. In this capacity, he was responsible for the nuclear operations of the Donald C. Cook nuclear plant in Michigan.

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Turkey’s nuclear tender in turmoil – round two

Critics claim energy independence won’t be achieved with Russian reactors

ancient byz artTurkish news media reports yet another slide off into the ditch for the country’s troubled nuclear energy program. After all but one of 13 potential bidders walked away from the byzantine project, the only company bidding, the Russian-Turkish JSC Atomstroyexport-JSC Inter Rao Ues-Park Teknik joint venture, offered a price of 21.16 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Current electricity prices in the country vary between 4 cents and 14 cents per kWh.

The Turkish newspaper Todays Zaman reports the price offer came as a disappointment to many as the cost of electricity generated was reported as being nearly four times higher than the current price of electricity.

Speaking by phone with Today’s Zaman, Professor Ahmet Bayulken, general manager of Istanbul Technical University’s nuclear reactor, described the prices as “really too high” and noted that electricity prices should be in the range of 5-7 cents per kWh. He said given Turkey’s market conditions, prices could conceivably be in the ballpark of 9-10 cents per kWh -- “but not higher,” he added.

Another energy expert agreed with this analysis. "Turkey cannot afford to go on without nuclear energy," said ├ľnder Karaduman, chairman of the Electricity Producers Association.

"Turkey is not rich enough to produce more than 50 percent of its electricity from natural gas, he said. "The electricity price in Turkey is hovering around 12 to 13 cents per kilowatt hour, any offer below this figure would considerably lower the average energy costs... I believe a price of around 8 cents would be quite suitable," he added.

gulerHowever, according to Reuters, Turkey's tender to build its first nuclear power station is continuing and will not be cancelled, Energy Minister Hilmi Guler (right) said despite only one bid, from a Russian-Turkish consortium.

This view was contradicted by late press reports. The tender for Turkey's first nuclear tender is likely to be cancelled due to the high price offer and a shift in the location of the plant from the south of the country to the northern Black Sea region, Vatan daily reported on Wednesday. Turkey's state-run power company, TETAS will submit a "negative" report for the price bid in the nuclear tender and submit it to cabinet for approval, the daily said.

The Russian Turkish consortium bid that it will build four units of the Russian VVER-1200 PWR type reactors. The problem, says Haluk Direskeneli, an energy analyst, this reactor will most likely use Russian nuclear fuel. After watching the gas crisis unfold in the Ukraine and Europe earlier this month, he says Russia could prove to be an unreliable supplier of nuclear fuel. That would undermine the country’s desire to develop independent energy infrastructure.

Prior coverage on this blog

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pebble bed fuel fabricated in South Africa

Target application is Idaho’s Next Generation Nuclear Plant

Nuclear Fuel pebblesWorld Nuclear News reports that PBMR in South Africa has successfully manufactured nuclear fuel particles at 9.6% enrichment for use in a planned high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR). The company said the fuel design and fabrication milestone is linked to work on the U.S. Department of Energy's Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP). This project will build an advanced 300-600 MW HTGR reactor starting in 2016 at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). [See prior coverage on this blog – PBMR headed for Idaho.]

PBMR announced that coated fuel particles had been manufactured at its Pelindaba laboratory using uranium enriched to 9.6%. The fuel been sent for compaction into samples at DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory where they arrived on Jan 5. They will later travel to Idaho National Laboratory for irradiation testing.

A pebble bed reactor unit using this fuel would produce 165 MWe and these could be built in groups of up to eight. The reactor is designed to be cooled by helium and is expected to have several uses including generating electricity, making hydrogen, and for industrial process heat applications.

PBMR is linked to NGNP through a range of research and development deals. The design is backed as a candidate for NGNP by Westinghouse, the Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology (INET) at China's Tsinghua University, the Shaw Group, Sargent and Lundy as well as PBMR Pty.

A presentation last November at the ASME world conference by a Westinghouse engineer listed a series of technical and economic hurdles the design must overcome to achieve commercial success. Also, funding to meet the 2016 construction start date has not yet been provided the federal government. INL R&D managers said last November a stronger commitment is needed to meet the schedule and complete the facility by 2021.

PBMR ecstatic about accomplishment

Triso fuelAccording to a statement by PBMR CEO Jaco Kriek, “this achievement will give PBMR huge credibility as a participant in the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) project in the USA.”

He points out that the manufacturing of nuclear fuel is a key driver of PBMR’s partnership in the Westinghouse-led consortium which in 2006 was awarded a contract by the US Department of Energy to consider the PBMR technology as a heat source for producing non-carbon derived hydrogen.

Other options for NGNP are General Atomics GT-MHR and Areva's similar Antares design. Both of these would also employ Triso fuel, although in small hexagonal prismatic cores rather than a large number of spheres.

Prior coverage

See prior coverage on this blog

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U.S. nuclear passage to India

Three dozen U.S. firms, and 60 executives, travel to Mumbai for trade discussions

ElephantThe U.S. India Business Council concluded this week a historic trade mission to India to ink deals for nuclear fuel and reactor technologies. The U.S. Department of Commerce officially sanctioned the trade mission on behalf of the federal government.

It is the first commercial nuclear trade mission to visit India since the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) approved India for global commercial nuclear trade. Last October the NSG and the U.S. Congress cleared the way for international trade in nuclear technologies with India.

Ted Jones, an executive with the Council, said in a statement, “ The robust presence here of the U.S. commercial nuclear industry, so soon after the unfortunate events in Mumbai, speaks to the commitment of our companies to partner with India in the coming nuclear renaissance.”

India has ambitious goals to use nuclear energy to power its economy. It plans to expand nuclear energy to 30 GWe in the next 12 years and by 2030 have twice that generation capacity online. Meena Mutyala, business leader of India strategy for Westinghouse, said that the head of India's Atomic Energy Commission had indicated about 10,000 MW of capacity would be reserve for U.S. firms.

There are some issues which stand in the way of closing deals with U.S. firms. The key issues are liability indemnification and protection of intellectual property. See prior coverage on this blog “India Enters the Nuclear Renaissance” for details on these and a range of other issues.

Westinghouse is first in

westinghouse logoWestinghouse is one of the first U.S.-based firms to ink a deal. It reported that in an arrangement with Larsen & Toubro it had signed an agreement in principle to set up joint ventures to build nuclear reactors in India.

According to World Nuclear News, the deal, "will enable L&T and Westinghouse to utilize indigenous capabilities for the turnkey construction of nuclear power plants including supply of reactor equipment and systems, valves, electrical & instrumentation products and fabrication of structural, piping and equipment modules for Westinghouse AP1000 plants."

G.E. Hitachi expects orders

GE_logoAfter a series of setbacks globally for its ESBWR design, G.E. Hitachi said that is expects to get orders for six-to-eight ABWR nuclear reactors with generation capacity of up to 9,000 MW. G.E. executive Steve Hucik told Reuters . . .

"The rough idea of work is about 9,000 megawatts at the site. That's a lot of work, but it will be spread over many years. At least for the first two units, we’ll supply the main plants,but could look to local firms for construction work.”

India also in the market for uranium

According to news media reports in India, that country and Kazakhstan have signed a trade agreement to purchase enriched uranium for its civilian nuclear reactors. Other uranium producers are quickly seeking similar deals.

Scott Melbye, vice president of U.S. marekting for Canada's Cameco (TSE:CCO), the world's largest uranium producer,told wire services if India realizes its expansion goals, it will have one of the largest nuclear programs in the world, creating "enormous" potential for uranium mining companies.

Cameco"We're ready and eager to enter into supply agreements, he said, adding that he has had "serious discussions" with Nuclear Power Corp. officials. "I have no doubt we'll be in a position to conclude something with NPC very soon.”

Other firms on way seeking market share

Canada is also sending a large trade delegation to India to seek nuclear business. Trade Minister Stockwell Day will travel with top executives from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), the crown corporation that designs nuclear reactors; nuclear engineering firm SNC-Lavalin (TSE:SNC) and Cameco Corp., the Saskatoon-based uranium supplier.

Thorium Power Ltd., (OTC:THPW) a nuclear fuel and industry consulting company based in McLean, Virginia, hopes to a joint venture with Punj Lloyd Ltd., an Indian engineering and construction firm, by the end of March.

"We're interested in India. They're interested in nuclear," said Thorium Vice President Dennis Hays. India has some of the world’s largest deposits of thorium, which can be used for nuclear fuel.

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Nuclear fleet to close U.K. energy gap

Speeding up plant construction is the key to avoiding brownouts

fleetBetween 2017 and 2025 the U.K. will close ten aging nuclear power plants, a third of its total capacity, opening a major gap in electricity generation supply. Even with the country’s aggressive plans to build new reactors, the first units won’t enter revenue service until 2017. The government and some of the largest power companies in the world, are now working on a plan to accelerate the construction schedule to keep the lights from going out in the British Isles.

According to a report in the Times of London, the government’s plans for modular construction of large pieces of nuclear power plants could chop as much as 18 months off completion time for new nuclear plants in the U.K. The plan, if implemented, would involve development of massive new manufacturing capabilities perhaps rivaling that of Japan Steel Works.

Building reactors is a lengthy and complex process, but, because the proposed designs from Areva and Westinghouse have never been used in the UK before, a detailed safety review has to be completed before construction starts up. The government believes that by adding resources to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), it could cut bureaucratic red tape and time to complete the reviews.

peer_reviewAnother strategy under consideration is to rely on reactor design certification and safety analyses conducted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the reactor safety agencies of other nations. Instead of a soup-to-nuts analysis a “peer review” would take into account the safety analysis work already done in the U.S. and France. It isn’t clear whether that option will be adopted, but the government said a series of “reforms” of NII would be proposed next month.

Parts are us

Senior executives at EDF, including Bill Coley, CEO of British Energy, now its UK subsidiary, have said that adoption of a modular approach to plant construction could cut the time needed to build each reactor from five to three-and-a-half years.

PressureVesselManufactureRather than conventional on-site construction, the proposal would involve prefabricating large pieces of the reactors, each of which are expected to cost about £5 billion at an indoor location, then floating them into place on giant barges. The concept is considered feasible because the proposed sites for the new stations are at river or shoreline locations. It is likely a manufacturing facility of this size would include the capability to forge the largest components for new reactors.

EDF plans to follow the American example. In the U.S. all three new nuclear component manufacturing sites are at river locations. The Areva-Northrop Grumman site is on the James River in Virginia, Westinghouse-Shaw had a similar site on the Mississippi River in Louisiana, and McDermott-BWXT has a site in Indiana on the Ohio River.

Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON UK, the German company that is also planning jointly to build at least four nuclear reactors in the UK, told The Times that use of modular construction could significantly “compress the timeframes”, although he emphasized that it would still be impossible to complete any reactors in Britain before 2015.

EDF said modular construction offered potential benefits but added that there were also practical problems, including the need for large areas to lay down equipment and good access roads and ports close to proposed sites.

E.ON and RWE join forces for U.K. nuclear build

The Guardian reports that two of the biggest gas and electricity providers in Britain have joined forces in a bid to build three nuclear plants in the U.K. E.ON and RWE, both German-owned, said their 50:50 partnership aimed to build and operate 6,000 MWe of new generating capacity on sites that are being sold off by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

competition-4The move is in competition with and follows the final agreement on the £12.5bn EDF takeover of British Energy which gave new impetus to the French utility's determination to participate in the U.K. new nuclear build.

The two German companies said that their partnership gave them the "financial stability and balance sheet strength" need to carry out the work. Industry experts said it also is a signal the Germans will be the main competitors to the French for new reactor market share in the U.K.

E.ON and RWE have stakes in 20 nuclear power stations around the world. They already jointly own three nuclear reactors in Germany.

Spanish nuclear firm eyes UK nuclear market

Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, which owns Scottish Power, is said to be poised to enter the UK's rapidly expanding nuclear market. It is likely that Iberdrola will negotiate with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) for potential sites.

A decision on how it intends to become a major nuclear player in the UK will be made "in weeks." A spokesman said, "We are looking at all the options. We want to be a player in the UK nuclear energy market."

Iberdrola owns six nuclear plants in Spain and has its own nuclear building company, Iberinco. Westinghouse supplied the reactors for the Spanish plants.

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Dale Klein to stay on at NRC

Dan Packer, former Entergy CEO, is a candidate for the NRC’s open seat

NRC INTERVIEWPlatts reports that NRC Chairman Dale Klein (right) says he plans to remain at the agency, either as chairman or as a commissioner, and he has not been told by President-elect Barack Obama's administration transition team that he will be replaced as chairman.

Klein told Platts at a Jan 14 press event at an energy industry conference that he "does not intend to be leaving soon." He said members of the transition team had asked him if he wanted to remain as chairman "and I said yes." Klein's current term expires June 30, 2011.

Klein said he met with the transition team, which he said has so far been focused more on "policy issues" at NRC than personnel changes. One seat on the five-member commission is vacant.

Entergy’s Packer considered for empty seat

Dan Packer EntergyThe New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Jan 14 that former Entergy (NYSE:ETR) CEO Dan Packer (right) is being considered for the open seat on the NRC. According to the newspaper, the potential selection of Packer could be controversial because Packer's former employer, Entergy Corp. Packer told the newspaper he met about three or four weeks ago in Washington, D.C., with Obama transition officials. (photo: Times-Picayune)

"They were looking at me as a potential NRC commission member and possibly its chairman. I don't want to say any more about it. I know those things can come pretty quick and end pretty quick," said Packer, whose entire career before coming to Entergy New Orleans revolved around nuclear energy. "The last I heard was that they would be giving me a call back. That was last week sometime."

An Obama transition official told the newspaper the transition team does not comment on appointments before announcements are made.

Packer, who retired as president and chief executive of Entergy in New Orleans at the end of 2006, reportedly said he's not sure he wants the job. "I'm not sure what I'll do one way or another. I'm not necessarily vying for the position," he said. To take the job he might have to divest himself of all Entergy stock holdings or put them in a blind trust.

The potential conflict of interest issue is that Entergy has applications pending before the commission to build two new nuclear reactors. However, the utility put both applications on hold earlier this month after scratching the G.E. Hitachi ESBWR reactor as the referenced design for the River Bend and Grand Gulf plant expansions. It also has highly visible applications for license renewals at the Indian Point (NY) and Vermont Yankee plants.

Packer began his career in the U.S. Nuclear Navy Program from 1969 to 1975, then worked for six years at Connecticut Yankee, where he earned a senior reactor operator's license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

He joined Entergy in 1982 and become the nation's first African-American to manage a nuclear plant. He was named president of Entergy New Orleans in 1996 and chief executive in 1998.

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Olkiluoto 3 completion set for 2012

Finland continues its drive for energy independence

Finland nuke constructionReuters reports that a nuclear power plant under construction by Areva in Finland will be completed in June 2012. Finnish utility TVO confirmed the new date in a statement to the wire service. The 1,600 MW EPR has been delayed several times due to construction related delays. Cost negotiations over the delays are now in arbitration.

Finland plans new reactor

According to a report by World Nuclear News, a utility in Finland wants to build a new nuclear power plant in that country with a power rating of 1,500-2,500 MW which would like involve multiple reactors. The company said that the designs it is considering can be adapted to produce district heating in addition to electricity.

According to Fennovoima, the key justification for the project is "enhancement of Finland's electricity self-sufficiency." The company is presenting three site alternatives for the nuclear power plant. All three possible sites are located in government-defined development areas.

Fennovoima said it would make the final site selection and the reactor design selection once the decision-in-principle has been ratified by the Finnish parliament. It will also apply for a construction license for the plant once the decision has been made.

Fennovoima expects to start constructing the plant around 2012, with commercial operation by 2018 to 2020. Fennovoima is 66% owned by Power Company SF and 34% by EOn Nordic, a subsidiary of German energy giant EOn.

Two other nuclear plants in the works

Finland nukes mapAccording to the Helsinki Times, last year, Finnish utility Teollisuuden Voima (TVO) submitted an application for what would be its fourth nuclear power station.

Fortum, which runs two nuclear power stations, also has plans to build further capacity, but has yet to submit an application.

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