Saturday, April 11, 2009

Southern breaks ground at Vogtle

Shaw will build two Westinghouse AP1000s for Georgia Power

greenlightSouthern Nuclear has given a green light to Westinghouse and Shaw to break ground for two new reactors. The firms have signed an Engineering & Procurement Contract (EPC) with Georgia Power. Each AP1000 will produce 1,105 MW of power. The units will be located next to two other nuclear reactors which are already in service. The facility is located near Waynesboro, GA, about 30 miles due south of Augusta, GA, and very near the border with South Carolina.

Georgia Power received a go-ahead from the state public service commission in March. That approval also allows the company to recover the cost of building the plants from ratepayers while construction is in progress.

Southern’s application for a combined construction and operating license (COL) for the Georgia Power facility is still pending before the NRC. However, in February the review process reached the point where the regulatory agency’s rules allow early site work and start up of construction activities. The trigger was the NRC’s release of the final safety evaluation based on the Early Site Permit for the two new plants. Full construction, which will employ several thousands workers, cannot start until the NRC issues the COL which is expected in mid-2011.

Got nuclear in Georgia!

The new reactors will join an existing massive nuclear site. Vogtle is one of Georgia Power's two nuclear facilities and is one of three nuclear facilities in the Southern Company system.

GaPower.color.logo

Unit 1 began commercial operation in May 1987. Unit 2 began commercial operation in May 1989. Each unit is capable of generating 1,215 MW for a total capacity of 2,430 MW. The plant is powered by pressurized water reactors (PWR) manufactured by Westinghouse. The turbines and electric generators are manufactured by General Electric.

The Vogtle Electric Generating Plant is jointly owned by Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power Corporation (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and the City of Dalton (1.6%).

Other new nuclear projects pending

First mover advantageOther new nuclear projects which are “first-movers” for the industry at NRG’s South Texas Project and Progress Energy’s Levy County, FL, plant. Plants that are further along have a better opportunity to win loan guarantees from the federal government and other power generation incentives.

The NRG project will involve two GE-Hitachi ABWRs and the Progress site will support two Westinghouse AP1000s. Both projects are in similar early stages of development.

NRG/Toshiba

NRG has hired Toshiba to be its Engineering & Procurement Contractor (EPC) for the delivery of two Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) nuclear power plants at the South Texas Project (STP). The plants, the first ABWR constructed in the United States, will have an output of 1,350 MW each, and are scheduled to start operation in 2016 and 2017.

Toshiba is responsible for all engineering work prior to the start of plant construction, for procurement of major equipment and components, and for supporting the licensing process.

Progress Energy

Westinghouse and Shaw also have an EPC contract with Progress with a commitment for the two new plants to be built on Florida’s west coast which are expected to enter revenue service in 2016. A Westinghouse spokesperson said construction would involve about 3,000 people and once the plant enters revenue service it will require 500 skilled workers.

The Levy County nuclear plant, at an estimated cost of $16 billion, will be among the most expensive construction projects ever undertaken in Florida. If completed on schedule in 2016, it will be the first nuclear power plant brought online in the state in more than 30 years. About 20% of the extra costs associated with the plant are new transmission and distribution infrastructure to deliver the electricity to Florida’s major cities.

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Another blogger for nuclear energy

Fuel Cycle Week returns to the blog sphere after a long nap

fuel cycle week logoThe folks at International Nuclear Associates, a Washington, DC,  consultancy, are back with new posts, news, and commentary at Fuel Cycle Week.  The blog, which was started in January 2008, went into hibernation last August due to the press of business running the company.

I am pleased to report that the newsletter’s young but highly reliable and energetic assistant editor Jacob Mazer has taken on the task of running the blog and writing some of the content. He is joined in this effort by publisher Andrea Jennetta and managing editor Nancy Roth.

The stated purpose of the blog, then, and now, is that it is a forum for the fair exchange of ideas about the new age of global nuclear energy development.

In an industry that betrays a sense of being full of itself, from time-to-time, Fuel Cycle Week is a bracing stopper to that trend.  Commentary follows a formula that people who put their foot in the bucket, after being told it is a bad idea, deserve to be noticed for it.  As for the anti-nuclear crowd, hopelessly deluded wing nuts are simply ignored.  There is also serious reporting and numbers do count as part of in-depth analysis.

Check it out.  

And here' s a music video to wake you up. It's Laura Branigan singing 'Gloria."  This version has pretty good sound quality so listen to the back chorus, organ, brass, and overall orchestration.  Although the visuals are considered by now to be be chessy 80s stuff, this song was a number one hit on Billboard for nine months - literally a record at the time.  



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Idaho Falls groups tour two emerald cities

Business & civic leaders tackle nation’s capital. Students sweep through France

EmeraldCityIt was a classic two-fer this month as dual delegations from one of the nation’s most remote states grabbed their carry-ons, laptops, and, for some, their passports, and hit the road to promote the use of nuclear energy.

On business side a trip organized by the pro-nuclear Partnership for Science & Technology (PST) executed a blazing two-day game plan in Washington, DC, to meet with everyone and anyone who has something to say about funding and support for nuclear programs.  On the student side a group of 20 students from area high schools visited Areva’s George Besse II uranium enrichment plant in France learning about a similar facility that will be built 20 miles west of Idaho Falls.

PST’s whistle-stop tour of Congress and federal agencies

At a luncheon meeting this week in Idaho Falls, Lane Allgood, Executive Director of PST, asked each member of the group of business and civic leaders to report on their meetings with Congress and federal agencies.  More than a dozen meetings took place over a two day period.  Here are brief highlights.

DOE – Environmental Management - Idaho has received high marks with the Department of Energy’s environmental cleanup program managers because of progress by both CWI at the Idaho Cleanup Project (ICP) and Bechtel-BWXT at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Facility (AMWTF).  The first order of business the PST group dealt with the most important topic – money to complete the cleanup work.

PST members told DOE officials the $468 million in economic stimulus money that is being allocated to nuclear waste cleanup programs at the site in Idaho should not be used as an “excuse” to cut funding for enforceable milestones under the Consent Agreement in out years. 

James Owendoff, the Chief Operations Officer of DOE’c Environmental Management office, told the group he understood their message and then he surprised them by saying that Idaho’s progress in packaging and shipping RH-TRU waste to WIPP could mean more business for the project.  He said Idaho was more efficient and did business at a lower cost than Hanford, and that DOE was considering having the Idaho contractors work on shipping Hanford’s waste to WIPP.

nei logoNuclear Energy Institute - PST members met with NEI executives to get a better understanding of where the “nuclear renaissance” is headed from the industry’s perspective.  They were told that while 26 plants have submitted license applications to the NRC, NEI expects its members will build four-to-eight new reactors or have them under construction by 2016-2020. 

NEI said the first will be Southern’s Vogtle Units #3 & 4 which broke ground this week for two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors.  NEI also reportedly mentioned two new reactors at the South Texas Project, and two more at Progress Energy’s Lea County site in Florida.  NEI emphasized that all of these projects are being built on pads at existing reactor sites to take advantage of existing infrastructure and to shorten the time it will take to upgrade transmission and distribution networks. There are no “greenfield” sites on anybody’s horizon as a feasible project in the first round of construction of new nuclear power plants.

NEI officials also told the PST group that nuclear fuel reprocessing will be necessary to sustain the industry.  It is only a matter of time until it happens.  NEI pointed out that commercial nuclear reactor spent fuel is a very poor product for making nuclear weapons. The industry group rejects claims by anti-nuclear groups that terrorists would seek to use it to make bombs.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission – PST members met with NRC  Chairman Dale Klein (left) who apparently enjoyed being peppered with questions about how his agency worked. 

NRC INTERVIEWHowever, he told them that there was no way the NRC could speed up consideration of the license for Areva’s planned uranium enrichment plant in Idaho.  Klein, and the project team which is handling the application, told the group it takes 18 months to do the environmental impact statement and another 12 to complete the “adjudicatory” steps including public hearings. 

The NRC did commit to holding all of its hearings in Idaho in Bonneville County.  Anti-nuclear groups in Idaho had asked for hearings in Sun Valley and Boise where they could rally their forces and also, according to one critic of their tactics, “use the hearings as fund raising affairs.”

jaczkoKlein, who is a republican appointee, is expected to remain on the  commission, but step down as chairman.  Green groups are pushing hard for current commissioner Gregory Jaczko (right) to take the chairman’s role.  In his meeting with PST members, Jaczko startled them by questioning whether there would be sufficient demand for three uranium enrichment plants in the U.S.  Jaczko is regarded by some as having a predisposition to stall nuclear projects. There is one seat open on the commission, but there is no information on when the Obama administration will fill it.

However, Chairman Dale Klein told the group the NRC learned a lot from issuing the licenses for the uranium enrichment plants being built by Louisiana Energy Services and USEC. He said he doesn’t see problems with Areva’s license application as long as it meets all of the agency’s regulatory requirements. The NRC project team, which is handling Areva’s application, told the PST group they were impressed with the overwhelming community support for the project when they were here last winter. 

A developing issue on the classification of waste streams from uranium enrichment plants is not expected to affect Areva’s license application.  NRC staff said it would take three-to-five years for the NRC to complete its rule making efforts.  NRC staff declined to say which way the rule making would go.  Commissioner Jaczko is driving the waste determination project and some anti-nuclear groups see it as an opportunity to impose costly, perhaps deal breaking requirements, on the nuclear industry by writing very restrictive requirements.

callawayAppropriations – PST members met with Democratic and  Republican staff of both the House and Senate appropriations committees and came away with a better understanding of why a provision to give the nuclear industry $50 billion in loan guarantees was taken out of the President’s economic stimulus bill.   Nuclear plants are not “shovel ready.”  Most of the plants are four-to-six years away from breaking ground.  Anti-nuclear groups, which claimed victory for killing the provision, probably are over-stating their case since the industry is clear on the reason why the provision didn’t make in the final version of the bill.

Appropriations staff also said that Idaho’s congressional delegation must work to get line items in DOE programs for the nuclear R&D work taking place at the Idaho National Laboratory.  Staff said that it will be harder for the lab to succeed with proposals for “plus ups” and “ear marks.”   

Idaho's Senators weigh in

When now former Idaho Senator Larry Craig was in office, his senior ranking on the Senate Appropriations Committee made him a political heavyweight provided air cover for laboratory R&D initiatives and the cleanup programs. His successor, Idaho Senator James Risch, by nature of being brand new in office, is near the bottom of the Senate's senority ranking and he is not on the appropriations committee.  

Idaho's now senior Senator Mike Crapo is now in his second term and previously served three terms in the House.  He serves on the Senate Finance Committee where he presides over tax legislation.  He also serves on three other Senate Committees and most importantly, from PST's perspective, is a member of the Senate Nuclear Cleanup Caucus.

PST members met with Idaho Senators Crapo and Risch.  For his part Crapo had just finished inserting the provision for $50 billion in loan guarantees into the Senate Budget Resolution.  Separately, Risch told the group he thought USEC’s effort to build a uranium enrichment plant in Ohio was “not financially viable.” 

PST members later learned that Crapo would also support the loan guarantee provision in the energy legislation now being considered by New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingamann.  Finally, PST members were told that Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, the ranking member of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, is a strong proponent of nuclear energy.  PST was told this is a good sign that bipartisan support for nuclear energy will be included in the Senate’s legislation.

Idaho Students tour Areva’s George Besse II plant in France

While PST member were making the rounds in Washington, DC, a group of 20 high school students from the Idaho Falls area were touring Areva’s George Besse II uranium enrichment plant.  The group took the trip after organizing a school project to testify before the NRC public meeting held in Idaho Falls last winter.  Two of their teachers guided the students in the work. The students are members of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council to Idaho Falls.

fuhriman-jaredIdaho Falls Mayor Jaren Fuhriman (right) said that when the students approached him with their concerns about environmental issues related to Areva’s planned uranium enrichment plant, he told them to research the issue. 

They did that and presented their results, favorable for the plant, at the NRC's Idaho Falls hearing.  Their work was so comprehensive that a bowled over Areva executive asked them if they’d like to see a real plant in operation. The trip was arranged at the company’s expense.  Areva has a brief report and a photo on its U.S. blog.

For his part, Fuhriman, who also went with the students to France, called it “a trip of a lifetime.”  He mentioned that the importance of the visit really sank in when the group was met in France by Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon.  She spent the better part of an hour talking with the group about the Idaho plant and how it fits with the nuclear industry.

idaho_falls in GBII France The students are still organizing their pictures and a report about the trip which will be online at a future date. 

Areva also announced this week it has a new U.S. website with information on all of its American projects including the Idaho enrichment plant.  An Idaho Falls blogger expressed appreciation that the web site is now online as it will be much easier to link to.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Obama urges nuclear arms reduction

The President’s high profile speech is upstaged by a North Korean missile

U.S. President Barack Obama went to the Czech Republic on April 5 and 41 years after Soviet tanks crushed the bloom of “Prague Spring” stood in the middle of that city and called for all nations to strive to rid the world of nuclear arms.  

Reuters reported that it had echoes of famous cold war speeches like that of President John F. Kennedy who brought an entire city to its feet with his famous phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner.”  [Photo is a link to the NY Times]

Even as President Obama spoke in Prague, North Korea launched a missile over the sea of Japan. While the debris from it reportedly fell harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean, it created world wide tension that the spread of nuclear weapons could not be checked.  ABC news reported that military analysts say the Taepo-dong 2 missile has the potential of being able to reach Alaska, Hawaii, or the Western United States.

In response the President called on the U.N. to punish North Korea over the rocket launch.  The New York Times reported that President Obama said that North Korea violated international rules when it unsuccessfully tested the rocket and he called on the Security Council to take action.

“This provocation underscores the need for action — not just at the U.N. Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons.  Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.”

Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons takes on new importance

Speaking in Prague, Obama strove to turn back the worldview that the spread of nuclear arms is inevitable.  At the same time he committed to taking concrete steps to controlling weapons grade materials while enabling reliable fuel services for civilian nuclear reactors.

Some argue that the spread of these weapons cannot be stopped, cannot be checked -– that we are destined to live in a world where more nations and more people possess the ultimate tools of destruction. Such fatalism is a deadly adversary, for if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.

And here are some additional highlights leading to an issue of immense interest to the global commercial nuclear industry, which is reliable fuel services.

npt* * * So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's  commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

* * * To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians this year. President Medvedev and I began this process in London, and will seek a new agreement by the end of this year that is legally binding and sufficiently bold.

* * *To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

* * * And to cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons. If we are serious about stopping the spread of these weapons, then we should put an end to the dedicated production of weapons-grade materials that create them. That's the first step.

* * * And we should build a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank, so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation.

Reuters has additional highlights online.  Full transcript courtesy of Time Magazine.  Hat tip to Cheryl Rofer at WhirledView.  See her blog for additional analysis of Obama's speech.   As Cheryl writes, "he is really serious about this."

Kazakhstan offers nuclear fuel deal to U.S.

kazakhstan_reliefThe Wall Street Journal reported that Kazakhstan, one of the  world’s leading producers of uranium, said it would volunteer to host an international "nuclear fuel bank," where nations that renounce nuclear weapons can purchase fissile fuel for nuclear energy reactors.  White House officials said that President Obama is seriously considering the offer.

The WSJ reported that after the Soviet Union broke up, Kazakhstan still had a nuclear arsenal of its own, which it voluntarily gave up.

An European Union diplomat in Prague familiar with the nuclear security issues told the WSJ Kazakhstan made sense as a potential site for a nuclear fuel bank.  He said,

"This is one of the very few countries that had nuclear weapons and destroyed them. So Kazakhstan is a very interesting offer," the diplomat said, noting that the EU has given the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna €25 million ($34 million) to figure out how to structure such a fuel bank.

However, Kazakhstan is also an unstable dictatorship and might not sign up for the kind of transparency needed to operate the fuel bank.  It is wholly within Russia’s sphere of influence so the fact that Obama is giving serious consideration to the idea may be a signal to Moscow that the U.S. is open to diplomatic agreements that span the entire range of nuclear issues.

The IAEA has been promoting the idea of an international fuel bank for some time. It’s efforts were opposed by the Bush Administration which pushed GNEP as an alternative. 

The WSJ quoting a senior administration official, usually a code phrase for the Secretary of State, noted there hasn't been a final decision by President Obama, but he is considering Kazakhstan to be the host.

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