Saturday, September 5, 2009

Idaho National Lab on Facebook

Social Media opens the “site” to better communication

Taking a page literally from the play book of Sec. of Energy Steven Chu, the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has launched into the world of social media with a Facebook page.

INL logo blue largeThe new presence on the Internet is a robust effort. It contains information designed to reach the next generation of scientists and engineers who are needed to advance the lab’s R&D missions. [see INL press release for details]

The Facebook page includes information on job opportunities, what it is like to work at the lab, and information about Idaho Falls and the region. It covers the lab’s missions in the signature areas of nuclear energy, energy & environment, and national/homeland security.

There are photos, videos, and links to the lab’s Flickr and YouTube sites. Plus, you can get contact information for recruiters and the public affairs staff if you want information on careers or the lab’s programs.

New energy degree programs at ISU

estec logo If you are wondering how to get the skills to launch a career in the rapidly growing energy sector, take a look at the two new degree programs at Idaho State University (ISU) [INL press release].

The academic programs will help train students to work in the energy sector. The Idaho National Laboratory helped design the programs in cooperation with ISU.

One of the programs will prepare mechanical engineers for the nuclear, coal, gas and renewable industries. Another positions students in the wind engineering program to manage construction and maintenance of wind turbines.

The programs are part of ISU's Energy Systems Technology and Education Center, created in 2007 with grants from the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Science Foundation to address needs for new workers in the U.S. energy sector.

Richard Holman, deputy director of the ISU center, says the program "offers a distinctive element of hands-on training you can't get anywhere else."

Check it out.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

What’s a small reactor like you doing in a market like this?

Hyperion CEO claims 122 customers have options to order a 25 MW reactor

Hyperion logo John (Grizz) Deal is an expressive driver of an entrepreneurial start-up that has spun out unique nuclear reactor technology from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). It’s not a conventional reactor with fuel rods and cooling systems. Instead, it is a 25 MW “battery” that is expected to be compact and light enough to be delivered on the back of a truck. The vision is a user will pop it into a hole in the ground and have to replace the fuel just once every five years.


The firm is faced with competition from a number of other emerging small reactor firms, including industrial powerhouse Babcock & Wilcock, which unveiled a “game changing” 125 MW mPower reactor earlier this year. Deal (right) says, in an exclusive interview with this blog, that Hyperion “is not in a race for winner take all.” He adds that each of the reactor firms are targeting different market niches and there’s some for his firm as well.

“No one is saying we have to replace large plants, like the Westinghouse AP1000. We all [small reactor firms] have a place in the market. I want all small reactor makers to succeed. We are not afraid to be a nuclear company.“

Deal does not have a working prototype suitable to show customers. He claims 122 potential users have signed options to buy one and a quarter of them are in the U.S. Here's a few of the types of customers the firm has in mind.

Military and mining applications

The first key market for Hyperion is military applications for reliable power for U.S. bases overseas so that combat readiness cannot be held hostage to outages from local grid. To support this marketing strategy, Deal has stocked his advisory board with former defense official including former Sec. of the Force William Anderson. He also sees his reactors providing electricity for electric vehicles the armed forces will eventually need to buy “to reduce their massive carbon footprint.”


The second niche is power for remote mining and oil & gas fields that have no access to electricity. Variations of this model include providing process heat for the Alberta tar sands. People have been taking about taking reactors to the Peace River region for decades. Deal is the latest to get a gleam in his eye to swap the power of enriched uranium for high priced natural gas. Although Bruce Power last year announced plans to build twin 1,100 MW AECL ACR1000 reactors there, Deal says he thinks he can get there first.

Anyone who wants to bring heat

A third key market is replacing dirty coal plants in eastern Europe swapping out the boilers for his reactor and hooking it up to the turbines and the grid. Coal-powered utilities in Slovakia and Poland have reportedly expressed interest in this approach.

The reason for this strategy is that the primary output of Hyperion’s “battery” is heat. A customer that wants to buy one to make electricity has to get their own turbines and power distribution network. Deal claims he can deliver his pocket reactor for $1,000/Kw, or $25 million, and that the balance of plant for one will come in at another $1,000/Kw for a market maker price of $2,000/Kw.

Industry observers question these numbers pointing out Babcock & Wilcox is estimating the cost of their 125 MW reactor at $4,000/Kw. However, NuScale Power, which is developing a 45 MW conventional light water reactor, has been quoted as saying its design will come in at $2,000/Kw. A 45Mw reactor could cost $90M. It could be affordable for municipal utilities that don't want to hitch their wagon to the costs and risks of being investors in building a 1,000 MW plant.

High hurdles to get to market

HighHurdleDeal says he will deliver Hyperion's reactor for commercial sale in 2013. To get here, he has daunting challenges to overcome including completing his goal of raising $65 million to finish the design, get it licensed by the NRC, develop a supply chain, and, most importantly, build a factory to make it.

For a location he’s looking at Idaho Falls, ID, a “nuclear city” which last year went all out to successfully get French nuclear giant Areva to commit to build a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant 18 mile west of town.

Deal figures if the town will go for something like that, a manufacturing plant for a 25 MW nuclear battery would be welcomed with open arms. Economic development leaders in the town are interested in his plans. Like everyone else who reads about the firm, they want to see how and when Deal will get his invention from the drawing board to a prototype and then to a docketed application for reactor design review at the NRC.

Deal will also need a patient set of investors. His primary investor to date is Altira Group LLC, a Denver-based venture capital firm. Dirk McDermott, a board member and partner in the firm, is enthusiastic about Hyperion’s future.

He has to be bullish on the project because it is unlikely that Altira, which Deal says has total capital investments of $176 million, is going to bet the ranch on all of Deal’s financial needs. It’s web site lists 26 energy-related investment projects including Hyperion. A typical investment for the firm is in the range of $5-10 million. A key investment criteria is that the energy technology firm getting equity capital from Altira has it’s “own skin in the game.”

Other investors have to come to the table, and getting them is Deal’s top priority. The firm is still privately held, and Deal says an IPO is unlikely in the next few years. Deal knows he’s under the gun. “We have to deliver,” he says.

NRC reactor design certification is the key to success

nrc logo The biggest challenge is NRC design certification. It is the “gold standard” for international nuclear energy markets. To sell overseas, Hyperion must convince the NRC’s engineers its reactor meets the agency’s stringent safety standards which are the same for large and small reactors. Hyperion’s battery has no cooling pipes, pumps, or some of the other standard systems of conventional light water reactors. It is too early to tell whether these differences will speed up the design certification process or slow it down.

Licensing could be expensive because the NRC is required by law to recover its costs for reviewing a reactor design. Its engineers charge the applicant $250/hr and the clock could tick for some time with a radical new design that uses highly enriched fuel.

Deal says there is a team of 30 nuclear engineers and scientists at Los Alamos, working through a CRADA, to complete the design and support the licensing process. Most firms at this stage in Hyperion’s product development cycle would be submitting white papers to the NRC to start the agency up the learning curve about the new technology. So far, Deal says, the firm has not put anything in the agency’s hands.

Competition for small reactors making process heat

PebblesThe competition is taking a different approach. PBMR, a South African firm developing a 165 MW high temperature gas cooled reactor, has been in a dialog with the NRC since 2007. It expects to submit a reactor design to the agency in the next two-to-three years.

In December 2007 PBMR officials estimated the cost of the prototype at $3,500/Kw. A commercial version would have to come in much closer to NuScale’s cost to be attractive to developing nations.

Eskom, which is the primary customer in South Africa, has experienced severe financial setbacks stopping its planned tender for conventional LWR designs. Government funding for both Eskom’s nuclear program and development of a prototype of the PBMR design depends on rate increases political leaders have been reluctant to grant to the utility. Outside investors such as Mitsubishi have been providing some investment support.

China has leapt ahead of South Africa with its version of the Pebble Bed design. The Huaneng Group launched a commercial demonstration of its pebble bed modular design at a plant in Shandong Province. China is developing its reactor for domestic use and is funding it through state-run corporations. Exports could come later, but still sooner than anyone else.

The NRC issued its own strategy on licensing the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) in August 2008. The NGNP is a planned 300 MW high temperature gas cooled reactor design being developed by the Department of Energy at the Idaho National Laboratory. Like PBMR and Hyperion, it is also targeting the process heat needs of the chemical processing and oil & gas industries. However, construction of a prototype isn’t expected to begin until after 2016.

* * *

There are plenty of challenges facing Hyperion’s Deal once he has a working prototype. His investors know this. Their patience for the time and effort it will take to develop a product will only be sustained by a clear path and defined time to market. John (Grizz) Deal has his track shoes and is on a dead run to make it happen.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tales of two Texas cities

When it comes to new nuclear reactors, Austin and San Antonio are remarkably far apart despite being in the same state

coolhandnukeThere are stark difference in the dialog in two key Texas cities over the role of nuclear energy in the future of electricity supply.

In San Antonio the city council is poised to approve more than $2 billion in new spending over the next decade to support construction of Units 3 & 4 of the South Texas Project (STP).

In Austin, anti-nuclear activists who fought the industry in the 70s are now part of the political establishment and successfully spiked new investments in the plant.

So what accounts for differences?

Read the complete story exclusively at Cool Hand Nuke, a nuclear jobs portal and a whole lot more.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Finish the Finnish reactor

Areva books charges on project delays
(updated 09/02/09 with quotes from TVO via NucNet)

Olkiluoto3Areva and Finnish utility TVO are still feuding over the path forward to complete the 1,600 MW EPA which will become Olkilutoto #3.

In a statement Areva blamed “inadequate resources deployed by TVO to fulfill their contractual commitments” which led to schedule delays and increased costs.

Areva said in unusual blunt language that TVO's proposals and contractual modifications were due to "inappropriate behavior in contract management" including conduct which "is not in line with standard industry practices."

For its part TVO said in a statement published by NucNet,

“Contrary to what Areva implied in its press release yesterday, they have not informed TVO about discontinuing work or presented any conditions for the continuation of work on the OL-3 construction site. According to the fixed-price turnkey contract, the Areva-Siemens consortium is responsible for the construction and commissioning of the plant unit and for the project schedule.”

TVO president and chief executive officer Jarmo Tanhua added:

“The schedule for the construction site is challenging and Areva's public speculation about stopping the works does not make it any easier to keep to it.”

The NY Times reported Sept 2 that the Finnish safety authority said Areva outsourced some of the construction modules to unqualified subcontractors, making it responsible for some of the problems.

The original price of the reactor set at (euro) 3 billion has accumulated an additional (euro) 2.3 billion in new costs. As a result, the French state-owned nuclear giant said its profits dropped by a heart stopping 79% in the first half of 2009 after booking (euro) 550 million in charges over delays related to construction of the plant. Net profit for the six month period ending June 30 was (euro) 161 million against profits of (euro) 760 million a year ago.

This is the latest in a series of setbacks for the plant, one of two EPRs now under construction in Europe. The project is being closely watched by the global nuclear industry, and its critics, to see if cost overruns which plagued new reactor builds in the 1970s will re-emerge to sink the nuclear renaissance. The plant was scheduled to enter revenue service in 2009, but a projected 2012 start-up date is not certain.

Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon told wire services “there is a good chance” the 2012 date will be met, but Areva and TVO have reportedly not yet come to terms on the final construction schedule. Also, Areva has feuded off-and-on with Finnish nuclear regulatory authorities over quality assurance standards based in part on miscommunications between the reactor builder and the government. Workforce issues including language barriers have hampered progress at the site.

Finland is Areva’s moonshot

footprint on the moonClearly, Areva has a boatload of problems in Finland some of which are not of its own making, but it owns the project. For better or worse, it is the current showcase for what the nuclear industry can, or cannot do, with a new reactor design. The credibility of its own future and the future of the global nuclear industry will be affected by whether the firm can finish the Finnish reactor. In short, this is Areva’s moonshot and it cannot miss.

The prospects for other projects will rise or fall with the outcome in Finland. Areva is building a similar plant in Flamanville, France, and has booked deals for four more including two in China and two as part of India’s race to build nuclear reactor power stations. In the U.S. the firm plans to break ground in 2012 at Constellation’s Calvert Cliffs plant in Maryland. Other U.S. projects include a high profile deal with Duke Energy for a site in Ohio.

Areva and TVO need to come to terms, not only to address their respective interests, but also because they have an obligation to the global nuclear industry. Olkilutoto is already a big fat target for anti-nuclear groups in the U.S. and overseas. The faster the two parties can agree and then get the job done, the better the future will be for Areva’s other nuclear projects and for the nuclear industry. Like they say at NASA – failure is not an option.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

End of summer nuclear news

surfersA few news items filter through the hazy days

Entergy revives plans for River Bend and Grand Gulf plants

Reuters reports that Entergy, the second largest U.S. nuclear utility, is reviving its option to build the River Bend nuclear power plant near St. Fancisville, LA. At the same time the utility said it would also begin anew to pursue its option for new reactor construction at its Grand Gulf site in Mississippi.

Both actions come after previous efforts to development the sites were suspended when Entergy could not come to terms with GE-Hitachi over its new ESBWR reactor design. Entergy said it would file the required certificates of need in each state while it decides on new reactors for the two sites.

Southern gets Early Site Permit for Vogtle site

Southern scored a two-for-one milestone in August as a result of the NRC issuing an Early Site Permit and a Limited Work Authorization for its planned construction of twin Westinghouse AP1000 1,150 MW nuclear reactors at the Vogtle site.

In March 2009 the Georgia Public Service Commission approved the new Vogtle Units #3 & #4 which are expected to enter revenue service in 2016 and 2017.

PSEG files for license renewals in New Jersey

PSEG Nuclear has submitted applications for 20-year license extensions for its Salem and Hope Creek nuclear power plants. The plants have been undergoing system and balance of plant upgrades. The three reactors represent a combined generating capacity of 3.5 GWe. They keep the lights on in New Jersey and especially for you folks ‘down the shore.’

Unistar delays COL for Nine Mile

Unistar Energy has asked the NRC to reschedule its review of the COL for a new Areva EPR for the upstate New York site by a year. Unistar President George Vanderheyden wrote in a letter to business groups the consortium is working on gaining support for the project with the State of New York.

Unistar is composed of Areva, Bechtel, and Constellation Energy. The consortium’s Calvert Cliffs Unit #3, an Areva EPR, is expected to break ground in Maryland in 2012.

New York strikes again

The State of New York has shown itself to be unusually hostile to nuclear energy with repeated efforts to close Entergy’s Indian Point plant. Also, New York regulatory agencies have delayed yet again Entergy’s request to restructure the ownership of its reactors.

The state said the filing by the utility does not support a finding that the plan is financially viable. The New York Public Service Commission could make a decision in January 2010.

Two of seven reactors now online at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa

A second reactor has been repaired and is online generating electricity at Japan’s largest nuclear power station which is composed of seven nuclear reactors. The units received minor damage in an earthquake two years ago. Tokyo Electric Power fired up the 1,350 MW reactor reducing the CO2 emissions that had been generated as it bought electricity from fossil plants while the reactors were shut down.

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