Saturday, August 22, 2009

Nuclear news roundup for August 21, 2009

Small reactors making news in the Pacific Northwest

EnergyNorthwest_250Greentech Media has coverage of discussions taking place in the Puget Sound region by electric utilities there about the market prospects of small reactors.

A small reactor is defined as one that generates less than 500 MW of electricity. Companies which are getting attention include NuScale, TerraPower, and Hyperion.

Energy Northwest, a joint operating agency of utilities in the Northwest, has been preparing a report since the beginning of the year on small, modular reactors. The utility is considering an option to build a small reactor in the Tri-Cities.

Utah Senator promotes nuclear energy

BobBennettUtahUtah Senator Bob Bennett (right) told a group of university faculty in Salt Lake City Aug 14 that nuclear reactors are essential to meet the nation’s need for affordable energy.

“Every study I’ve seen says that under the best of circumstances, solar and wind will never produce more than a single digit percentage of the energy we need. It is the only source that has the capacity to give you the required scale.”

Bennett also endorsed recycling of spent nuclear fuel. He pointed out that France, England, and Japan have such facilities.

“We have the potential in this country to build enough nuclear facilities to require two or three reprocessing plants.”

However, Bennett also observed that political opposition to recycling spent fuel “is pretty high.”

Bennett also backed federal funding for nuclear engineering education. This year he helped get $43 million in money for university programs and R&D. Utah State University got $500,000 from the program.

Idaho Senator backs loan guarantees for enrichment plants

jimrischIdaho Senator James Risch (right) wants to double the scope of federal loan guarantees for U.S. uranium enrichment plants. The action, if legislation he plans to support became law, would provide $2 billion in loan guarantees to Areva’s Eagle Rock Enrichment Plant, to be located near Idaho Falls, ID, and USEC’s American Centrifuge Facility which is located in Piketon, OH.

Risch told the Associated Press Aug 13 the political clout of the Ohio congressional delegation could hurt the chances Areva will build a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant in Idaho. Areva and USEC are competing for a single, winner-take-all, loan guarantee for a uranium enrichment plant.

Ohio is a “battleground" state” for Democrats and during the presidential election, now President and then candidate, Barack Obama wrote a letter to Ohio Governor Ted Strickland expressing support for USEC’s project.

The problem is USEC’s centrifuge technology is unproven and its financials are in dire condition. In late July the Department of Energy told USEC for these reasons it would not award the loan guarantee to the firm. Instead of turning around and awarding the loan guarantee to Areva, it made an unprecedented offer to USEC of $45 million for technology R&D and pushed back the deadline for a decision by six months.

Risch thinks the solution is to simply double the size of the pie to satisfy the political pressure that USEC has brought to bear on the Obama administration. His chances of achieving this result are slim. Risch is a conservative republican who has opposed the Obama administration’s initiatives on economic recovery and health care. Idaho is a small state which is up against Ohio, a predominantly Democratic state with 20 lawmakers and eight times the population.

Risch points out the loan guarantees are not cash grants. In terms of fiscal impact he said, “I have no problem expanding the program.”

For its part the Department of Energy, which is caught in the middle between the political pressure on the White House and its own negative evaluation of USEC’s prospects, based on the facts, had little to say except that the guarantees under the current authority might be divided between the applicants.

# # #

Note to readers

A major change produces renewed continuity and commitment

Steam EngineerReaders of this blog, which is now well into its third year of operation, may have wondered whether the slow down in published content this month was just the case of being a summer slacker. This blog will continue be be published and there will be more content.

A major change did take place. After 19 years working for a series of contractors at the Idaho National Laboratory and the Idaho Cleanup Project, I took early retirement.

I am now working as an independent consultant in the nuclear energy field in the areas of marketing communications, competitive intelligence, and strategic planning. My updated profile is on Linkedin. I support current and new consulting clients.

fuel cycle week logoOther long-standing relationships will continue without change. I will be writing for Fuel Cycle Week and continue to publish the Western Lands Uranium Gopher as a monthly column, bringing you news about the industry in the western U.S. You will also see economic and political analysis about the global nuclear industry.

Featured blogger at The Energy CollectiveIn the past year, the blog’s scope has expanded with a full feed and production of exclusive content for the EnergyCollective, a major web portal on a broad spectrum of energy issues. Idaho Samizdat is syndicated to the mainstream news media via Pluck/Blogburst. Also, my “retirement” did not end my ties to the INL. I recently completed a consulting engagement with the INL Office of Public Affairs on social media. New tasks are on the horizon.

The blog will continue and there will be more content

I appreciate the support of my readers. I work every day to justify your attention to this blog with the best content I can produce.

I will continue to communicate with other nuclear bloggers whose work I greatly respect. Check my blog roll for the list. If you haven’t read it, see my report of how nuclear bloggers achieved critical mass at the annual meeting of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) in Atlanta last June.

As always your feedback and comments are welcome.


# # #

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.

# # #

The Russians are coming and they're bringing uranium

Cold war policy gives way to commercial contracts

megatonslogo_220Since 1993, half of the commercial nuclear fuel we burned to keep the lights on in U.S. cities and to run our factories has been blended down from Russian highly enriched uranium (HEU) that once lived inside nuclear bombs installed on ICBMs. In 2008, 38% of all U.S. commercial nuclear fuel came from Russian HEU, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

In July Russia and the U.S. modified the "Megatons-to-Megawatts" program from a government program with formal price controls to one that allows commercial contracts between U.S. nuclear utilities and Techsnabexport (TENEX), Russia's nuclear fuel export corporation. Five U.S. utilities have signed deals worth over $2 billion, which immediately adds to Russia's market share for enriched uranium in the U.S.

Full details are in an exclusive report published at the Energy Collective. Check it out.

(Update: the Energy Collective site was having a problem with access. It was cleared Friday morning 8/21)

# # #

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Targeting nuclear job growth opportunities

Early Site Permits point to new hiring

design toolsThe nuclear energy industry has two major growth sectors which should be commanding the attention of job seekers with backgrounds in mechanical, electrical, chemical, and nuclear engineering.

The sectors the ramping up of design and construction of new plants and license renewals for current operating plants.

If you are a recent college graduate with an engineering degree, you should read the latest exclusive blog post at the nuclear recruiting web portal CoolHand Nuke.

For example, an Early Site Permit for Southern’s Vogtle site, expected to be issued by the NRC later this month, is a signal that hiring will begin for construction of the twin Westinghouse AP1000s.

As many as 3,000 construction jobs and several hundred permanent jobs will become available for the two units which are expected to enter revenue service in 2016-2017, and have an operational life of 60 years.

Another 16 sites have license applications pending at the NRC and up to half of them could break ground by 2012. Additionally, 12 reactor sites have license renewal actions pending before the NRC. It is expected that all of them will make it through the process.

Check it out.

# # #