Saturday, June 13, 2009

Nuclear energy news roundup for 6/14/09

B&W wows everyone with a conceptual design for a small reactor

legosThe marketing buzz was in the 125 decibel range for the announcement by Babcock & Wilcox that the firm has plans for a new “modular” reactor that would generate 125 MW of electricity. Just so we’re clear, they haven’t built one yet.

Rod Adams at Atomic Insights blog has several reports including videos from the press conference held earlier this week. Check it out.

The firm said at the press conference it hopes to sign a contract with the first customer by 2011 and have one in revenue service by 2018. At an estimated $4,000/Kw, a number cited by the firm in press interviews, a unit would cost $500 million.

Like other small reactor designs, the B&W reactor must get a license from the NRC. The good news for B&W is that their design is based on conventional light-water-reactor principles, and uranium enriched to 5%, which may make it easier for the regulatory agency to wrap its head around a design that isn’t at least 1,000 MW. Note that Nuscale Power out in Oregon also has a design for small 45 MW LWR reactor.

Other small reactor designs include so-called nuclear batteries from Hyperion and Toshiba. Hyperion wants to sell its 25 MW unit overseas, and could license it there as well bypassing the NRC’s lengthy and costly design certification process. Hyperion says it has signed up customers in eastern Europe which puts it ahead of the pack in terms of time to market.

Another plus for the B&W unit is that customers will not have to wait for Japan Steel Works to agree to build the pressure vessel. The components can be built right here in the U.S. The concept of a reactor that can be shipped to the customer on rail cars and built rapidly and cost effectively on-site based on standardized manufactured components is a compelling one.

It won’t be a case of add water and microwave. In an industry where “is it soup yet” takes four years of paperwork and five years of construction, that’s a big deal if it can be done.

NRG raises cost estimate for STP

DollarWhile B&W was downsizing the design of light water reactors, NRG was announcing that the two GE-Hitachi ABWR reactors, at 1,350 MW each, would cost $10 billion. This is a 40% increase from the price announced in September 2007 when the firm was the nation’s “first mover” in filing a license application with the NRC.

NRG executives explained the cost increase this way. According to Reuters they said the firm’s goal in developing two new reactors at the South Texas Project has been to reduce regulatory, financing and construction risks. They are doing this by partnering with Toshiba and choosing a nuclear design that has been built within budget and on schedule in Japan.Steve Winn, CEO, told Reuters,

"We know how much concrete; we know how much steel was used in the existing units. By building a unit that has been built four times before, we have a very specific cost estimate."

He pointed out that in Texas the competitive electric market also forces NRG to get a grip on its costs so it can contract to sell its output at a profit. In a regulated market, utilities are allowed to earn a guaranteed return on their investment.

"The incentive in a regulated world is to say the number is huge," Winn said. "In an unregulated world, the incentive is to say the number is accurate."

NRG is also in the running as one of four firms short-listed for Department of Energy loan guarantees if the agency can ever get the paperwork moving towards a decision. Steven Chu, the new DOE Secretary has publically castigated his own agency for its slow pace in processing the applications. NRG said they’d been told the DOE will make a decision later this year. The agency was authorized by Congress to issue the loan insurance in 2005.

NRG also is still in the hunt for investment partners, a situation which is likely to improve once it has the DOE loan guarantees in hand. Austin, TX, which is an investor in STP Units 1&2 declined to invest in the two new units, but it looks like the municipal utility in San Antonio, which also owns shares in units 1&2, will be an investor in units 3 & 4.

UAE moving towards nuclear reactor in 2015

The IAEA has told the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that its projection of having a new nuclear power plant in revenue service in 2015 was “optimistic.” Reuters reports that the UAE wants to fast track the development of a new nuclear plant and will award a contract to build as many as three units for 5 GWe of power by the end of 2009.

However, Ali Boussaha, a director at the IAEA, told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai. "I think this is optimistic because it generally takes 10-15 years to get people trained and infrastructure in place."

A race is on by nuclear energy vendors who are competing for an estimated $40-60 billion life cycle in the new plants which includes the reactors, fuel for 60 years, as well as operations and maintenance of the plants.

Observers inside the UAE told this blog the UAE is determined to move ahead as fast as possible on the project. The UAE is expected to short-list firms to submit proposals by September 2009. An award for the massive project could be made as early as December 2009.

French oil giant Total, which is partnered with French construction giant GDF Suez, has said it expects to win the award taking a 49% stake in the project. If that happens the consortium will turn to French nuclear giant Areva to supply the reactors.

Sarkozy 2nd nuclearFrench President Nicholas Sarkozy (right) has put his personal prestige on the line for the deal visiting the UAE to ink military contracts and to press for award of the nuclear energy contracts to his country.

Meanwhile, the UAE has asked the U.S. Congress to approve an agreement to allow it to buy nuclear technologies from U.S. firms such as GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse. The agreement will likely see Congressional action before the summer adjournment. If Congress gives the agreement a green light, it could put considerable competitive pressure on the French bid.

Italy will generate nuclear power by 2018

Dow Jones News Wires reports that Italy will generate electricity from a new nuclear reactor by 2018. Energy Minister Claudio Scajola said construction could start as early as 2013. He also said the country has a goal of generating 25% of its electricity from nuclear power. He pledged that such developments would see Italian electricity bills, the highest in Europe, drop by as much as 30% once the new nuclear plants come online in the next decade.

Obama nominates a nuke for DOE post

Warren MillerIn a surprise move the “green” Obama administration nominated a second person for a post at the Department of Energy who actually knows something about nuclear energy. The first was Steven Chu who is now the Energy Secretary.

Warren F. Miller, Jr., Ph.D, (right) a 27-year veteran of Los Alamos, is a sterling candidate to be Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. Charles Barton blogging at NuclearGreen has done the heavy lifting in developing a profile of Mr. Miller. So you probably want to wander over there and read it.

Miller is also a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society. If he shows up in Atlanta next week, I’ll try to get an news interview with him for my live blogging from the ANS annual conference.

The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation. Given his excellent credentials, there should be little trouble in getting through the process.

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Western lands uranium gopher for 6/14/09

Jaczko in the morning, miners take warning

gopherThe "green agenda" of the Obama administration is being felt almost immediately in the western states where ISR mining abounds. Newly appointed NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko announced on June 4 that the agency is making a significant change in the way it approaches environmental reviews for new ISR facilities.

The agency has decided that it will require a full environmental impact statement (EIS), with all of the costs, opportunities for intervention, and inevitable delays, for new ISR permit applications. Previously, the NRC conducted an environmental assessment (EA), which under the agency's implementing regulations authorized by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a much more compact and faster process.

The change in the scope of the agency's environmental review is expected to be felt most significantly in Wyoming which has extensive ISR operations and is not an "agreement" state with the NRC.

Martin Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, told the Casper Tribune June 4 the requirement to conduct a full EIS will cause costly delays. He said that the burden in terms of time an cost to mine uranium in the U.S. could cause customers to turn to foreign sources.

"I think that would be a mistake," he said, "especially when we have ample supply here."

Jaczko said in a prepared statement that the agency took seriously complaints from environmental groups and state government officials in Wyoming and New Mexico that the generic EIS the agency completed in 2008 "would overlook the unique characteristics of each site."

Agency officials attending an unrelated environmental scoping meeting in Idaho Falls for a uranium enrichment plant told me June 4 that the change is driven by Jaczko's desire to allow "maximum opportunity for the public to participate in the process."

The officials also pointed out that the NRC will continue to prepare an EA for applications to expand or renew existing ISR operations. Typically, an EA is not issued for public comment unless there is significant public interest.

NRC expects 17 license applications for ISR operations over the next 18 months. A spokesman said in Idaho Falls that the agency expects to complete most licensing reviews within 24 months.

NRC says foreign ownership is not an issue for Crowe Butte

In a significant setback for intervenors, the sitting four commissioners of the agency overruled a panel of the regulatory agency's administrative judges stating that Cameco's ownership of the mine is clearly permitted under U.S. law.

The NRC also ruled that claims the mine was contributing to instances of various diseases at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, some 30 miles away, was "speculative" at best. The agency said intervenors failed to prove the mine released any arsenic or that it contributed to instances of diabetes or pancreatic cancer.

Kevin Vaughn, a spokesman for Cameco (NYSE:CCJ), speaking from the firm's Casper, Wyo., office, said the firm is relieved that the NRC ruled in its favor. He added that although uranium prices have fallen this year, the firm still plans to proceed with its expansion plans at the Crowe Butte mine.

The current mine reportedly produces 800,000 lbs a year of uranium using ISR methods and had applied to expand the operation to a new site about eight miles away. This set off a round of protests by native American groups and the Western Nebraska Resource Council. The NRC let stand a contention that there is a potential for contamination of the White River in Nebraska.

Mt. Taylor in New Mexico gets "cultural" designation

Private property owners in a 540 square mile area in New Mexico, which is about half the size of Rhode Island, with Mt. Taylor in the middle, are predicting years of litigation over the designation of the site as an endangered historic place. A committee of state agencies have placed Mt. Taylor on the State Register of Cultural Properties. In doing so they also may have signed off on the end of uranium mining there.

The mountain has been mined numerous times since the 1950s, but now a coalition of 30 native American groups have prevailed to protect the mountain including its 11,300 ft summit and surrounding mesas.

Landowners were quick to point out that the so-called exclusion of certain private holdings would likely be challenged by the same groups. Marron Lee Nelson of Grants, NM, one of the largest private property owners on the mountain, told the Associated Press June 5 the decision is a huge blow to his economic future. "I do think lawsuits will be coming," he said.

State officials said the justification for the decision is the cataloging of over 300,000 trails, archeological resources such as petrogylphs, and burial sites. A spokesman for the leading five tribes involved in the assessment told the AP they were "ecstatic" over the decision.

Other uranium news

On June 2 Strategic Resource Inc (CVE:UVR) announced that it has entered into an Option Agreement with Uranium Energy Corp. (AMEX:UEC) Under which Strategic Resources can earn up to a 60% interest in 20 lode mining claims (~413 acres) located in Catron County, NM.

Uranium Resources, Inc. (NASDAQ: URRE) announced that it plans to file a petition with the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for an en banc review regarding its ruling on April 17, 2009 that determined URI’s Section 8 in Churchrock, NM, is Indian Country and, therefore, comes under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for the issuance of an Underground Injection Control Permit (UIC). The New Mexico Environmental Department has previously issued a UIC permit to the Company.

Dave Clark, President and CEO of URI, said, "Our objective remains to resolve issues with the Navajo Nation regarding uranium mining in New Mexico, so we can be well positioned to begin production as quickly and as safely as possible.”

URI has an NRC license to mine 15 million pounds of uranium at Churchrock using in situ recovery methods. A UIC permit from the appropriate governmental agency is the final permit needed before development can begin.

White Canyon Uranium (ASX:WCU), an Australian company, has received a permit to begin operations at the Daneros Mine in Utah. The firm said it would ship its first ore to Denison's White Mesa mill in Blanding, UT, about 60 miles away, in September 2009.

Monaro Mining (ASX:MRO), an Australian company, has raised over $1 million in a private placement to develop the Apex-Lowboy and Rio Puerco mines in New Mexico. The firm reports JORC inferred exploration results of 950,000 tons U3O8 The firm said drillings results also showed other unaudited results of U3O8 concentrations ranging from 0.09% to 0.24%.

According to the company, Apex-Lowboy was an underground mine between 1954 and 1966 and a reported 105,926 pounds of U3O8 were produced during that period. This production averaged a grade of 0.25% U3O8.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Blogsphere meet up at ANS Atlanta

Live blogging from ANS Atlanta June 15-18

Thanks to support from the EnergyCollective, I will be live blogging at their website about the American Nuclear Society (ANS) annual meeting and what's happening there, twice a day, Monday June 15 through Thursday June 18.

ANS Twitter feed

The ANS hash mark for the annual conference is #ans09 ~ if you plan to tweet at the conference please consider using it in your posts so others can share in the conversation.

Session on bloggers and nuclear energy June 17

I'll be speaking at the annual meeting of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) on the subject of pro-nuclear advocacy using social media such as blogs, instant messaging, and emerging online tools.
  • Focus on Communications: The Nuclear Story and Other Tales – Panel Discussion;
    June 17th, Wed. afternoon, sponsored by the Education & Training Div. 1:00-4:00 PM;
    Room: Hanover A

The session will explore how Internet based media can be used to enrich public discussion of nuclear science and technology. The majority of the session will be open Q&A following a 10 minute presentation by each of the three panelists. A second part of the discussion will be on how to get started with new media, but this part is focused on how you organize the effort and not on techical widgets.

My co-panelists are Rod Adams of Atomic Insights blog and John Wheeler of This Week in Nuclear blog. We will also be joined in the discussion by: Carrie Phillips, Southern Co., Laura Scheele, American Nuclear Society, and a reporter from the Atlanta Constitution.

I've also heard from Kirk Sorensen, blogging at Energy from Thorium, that he will attend the session though he is not on the panel.

This session is a first for ANS and for the U.S. nuclear blogging community. The stars must be aligned in the skies because this is the first time that all of us will be in the same place at the same time. It is an opportunity you should not miss if you have any interest in how blogging and the new social media can advance public outreach for the nuclear energy industry.

Hat tip: to Laura Hermann, VP Potomac Communications Group (PCGPR), Washington, DC, for asking, and to David Pointer, Ph.D, Nuclear Engineering Div., Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), for organizing the session.

Nuclear blogger meet-up ~ Wednesday 6/17 4:30 PM

I'm calling on other nuclear energy bloggers and those who publish nuclear energy content online (text, podcasts, video, etc.) to consider holding an informal networking event at the ANS conference immediately following the Wednesday afternoon panel.

All types of organizations are welcome so whether you work in a corporate environment, university, engineering or consulting firm, or government, etc., please plan to get in touch.

The objective is to form a more coherent network following the conference for information sharing, cross-posting of links to excellent content, and so forth. Bring your ideas.

I call also be reached at djysrv@gmail.com or mobile 208-521-5726

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Areva U.S. CEO talks with nuclear bloggers

Jacques Besnainou sets up an open mike for questions

Jacques BesnainouReaders of this blog are invited to take a virtual trip to the EnergyCollective where they will find an exclusive interview with Areva U.S. CEO Jacques Besnainou (right).

In the telephone discussion which took place June 5, he talks about Areva’s lessons learned from building new nuclear reactors in Finland and France and how these “first-of-a-kind” projects will make for better nuclear reactors when they are built in the U.S. Areva has plans to build four so far with the first one, Calvert Cliffs III, scheduled to break ground in Maryland in 2012.

You’ll also learn some surprising news about Areva’s work with biomass and wind energy technologies.

The exclusive interview is online or you can download a PDF version of the online web page.

The interview is also available as a podcast from Areva's U.S. blog.

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