Saturday, September 12, 2009

South Africa's PBMR Pebbles in Peril

Eskom’s financial collapse “indefinitely postpones” construction of a pilot plant

PebblesThe much ballyhooed Pebble Bed Reactor project is on the rocks. Speaking at the World Nuclear Association (WNA) on Sept 11th, PBMR CEO Jaco Kriek said construction of a prototype plant has been "indefinitely postponed" due to financial constraints.

Kriek told the WNA conference PBMR is now looking at a new business model and a smaller reactor design. PBMR is seeking investors from industries that want a carbon emission free source of process heat. Examples include coal gasification, salt water desalinization, and oil extraction from tar sands.

Full details of the perils of the pebbles and Eskom’s ability to return to profitability to fund development of a demonstration plant can be read exclusively on the Energy Collective. Check it out.

# # #

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nuclear renaissance gets ink

Major mainstream business papers assess the state of play and nuclear energy gets a place in the climate bill

standup tripleIn the digital age it is still important to see your industry get ink in major newspapers also known as “dead trees” media by cyber wizards who live in the ether.

The health of an industry, even a mature one, is often described in baseball metaphors. Building on that practice, it is reasonable to say this week the global nuclear energy industry got a stand-up triple.

The Wall Street Journal got the ball rolling with a major article by utilities industry reporter Rebecca Smith. In her article published Sept 8th, “The New Nukes,” she wrote . . .

“The next generation of nuclear reactors is on its way, and supporters say they will be safer, cheaper, and more efficient than current plants.”

Smith looks are the key issues of safety, costs, and waste. She also takes a brief look at advanced reactor designs including work by Ge-Hitachi on its version of the Integral Fast Reactor. See this prior blog post on recent developments.

The New York Times weighed Sept 9th in on its “Green Blog” with an article by energy & transportation industries reporter Matthew Wald. Titled “A Nuclear Renaissance Stumbles Forward,” the article covers what it describes as “the uneven march toward new nuclear construction.”

GE logoThe NYT article covers the trials of GE-Hitachi in gaining market acceptance for its new 1,520 MW ESBWR nuclear reactor. Until recently, things have not gone well. Exelon (Victoria, TX) and Entergy (River Bend, Grand Gulf) took the reactor design out of their license applications for a total loss in market share of six new reactors.

GE-Hitachi now says it has closed all of the outstanding “requests for additional information” (RAIs) from the NRC and expects running room towards certification of the design. The firm will likely re-enter international markets with the design, once it is certified, and also try to recoup domestic losses.

And not to be outdone by its American cousins, the Financial Times of London published late on Sept 8th two interesting pieces. The first title “Split on the Atom” explains how a technology that can address the problem of climate change also raises international security concerns. The second piece includes a cool interactive map of operational reactors, reactors under construction, planned reactors, and nuclear energy by country as a percent of total electricity.

Nuclear energy and climate change

nei logoWhile the leading business newspapers of the western world were reporting on the “uneven march to nuclear reactor construction,” Marvin Fertel, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), published a piece in The Hill, a newspaper that is read by anyone who works there or is significantly interested in Congress. He writes that “nuclear power is significantly poised to meet the demand of climate change.”

As expected, Fertel makes a strong case for nuclear energy. He starts out by reporting that the Environmental Protection Agency says low-or-zero carbon emission technologies must increase from 14% of electricity supply to 38% by 2050, or by nearly triple the current number. To do this the nation must build 180 new nuclear power plants. Currently, 104 are in operation.

Prospects are not bright to meet that goal with the laws we have on the books, and the Obama Administration’s lukewarm at best view of nuclear power. Fertel writes while some two dozen new reactors are in the permitting process, just four-to-eight plants will be completed by 2017. At that rate, barely one-fourth of the required plants under the EPA scenario will be operating by 2050.

key link in the chainFertel reminds his readers that nuclear energy is a key link in the chain of actions needed to implement a comprehensive energy and climate change strategy. He closes his essay with a list of high priority actions that need to take place for nuclear energy to fulfill this role.

  • Ensure the volume of loan guarantees available for new reactors is comparable to other carbon-free electricity sources and refine the Department of Energy loan guarantee program in key areas that are slowing implementation of the program;
  • Provide new tax stimulus for investment in new nuclear energy facilities, new nuclear component manufacturing and workforce development;
  • Expand the existing production tax credit to all new reactors that produce electricity by 2021;
  • Reduce the time to market for advanced reactors to six years from nine to 10 years by enacting clarifications to ensure that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing process works as intended;

Nukes in Senate Energy Bill

SenBarbaraBoxerFertel’s piece must have hit a responsive chord in the Senate. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), (left) who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, told Dow Jones News Wires Sept 9th “there will be a nuclear title in the bill.”

Senate republicans including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have been pushing for more nuclear power in the legislation. One of their key issues is expansion of the current federal loan guarantee program for new reactors. Last Fall a measure to increase the ceiling to $50 billion passed in the Senate, but failed in the House.

Whether a climate bill will pass the Senate this year is unknown. There are plenty of barriers and imponderables which could sink it. Still, Boxer comes from one of the most rabidly anti-nuclear states in the nation with a 30 year ban on new nuclear power plants.

If she feels comfortable, politically speaking, stepping up to put a nuclear section in the climate bill, that’s good news for the industry and the global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Maybe the Senate is reading the newspapers after all?

# # #

UAE nuclear deal waits for US 123 agreement

First you see them now you don't

This blog post also appeared in an edited version in Fuel Cycle Week, V8N343, September 10, 2009, published by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC

boomerangs_smallReuters wire service found itself in a double boomerange effect in its coverage of nuclear energy issues this week when it comes to the award date for the expected $40 billion UAE nuclear tender.  On Tuesday Sept 8 it put out a story that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was "days away" from awarding a $40 billion contract to one of three global consortiums to build up to 5,000 MW of nuclear reactors to generate electricity. 

On Wednesday Sept 9 Reuters posted another story in which the UAE categorically denied that it was "days away" from the contract award.  A government official familiar with the negotiations told the wire service “the UAE is not days away from awarding this contract. The process is still ongoing.”

US 1-2-3 agreement still on the front burner

There is a good reason why the UAE is not "days away" from awarding the contract. The reason is the US 1-2-3 nuclear agreement is still pending before Congress which has until mid-October to make up its mind whether to vote on a joint resolution against the deal.  If Congress does nothing, the agreement is approved, and US firms can sell nuclear fuel and technologies to the gulf nation.  It follows that the UAE is not going to make a contract award until the ink is dry on the US 1-2-3 nuclear energy agreement. 

What the UAE has going for it, to meet criticisms from nonproliferation experts, is that it has agreed not to develop its own uranium enrichment capability nor reprocess spent nuclear fuel. Instead, the UAE has pledged to buy its nuclear fuel from global supplies which could include the US.  In doing so it sets a precedent which is the exact opposite of what Iran is doing and simultaneously becomes a showplace for the Obama administration's nuclear policies in the Middle East.

Mohammed bin ZayedCoincidentally, this week UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (right) is lobbying in Washington for the 1-2-3 agreement.  He started with a kick-off meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed by meetings with members of Congress.  On Thursday he is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama and U.S. National Security Advisor Jim Jones.

The UAE also cracked down on illicit exports from its ports.  Last month it seized a North Korean ship carrying arms disguised as oil equipment said to be bound for delivery to Iran.  The timing could not have been better to put wind in the sails of Prince Zayed as he glides through government corridors this week.

Why build reactors in an oil patch?

The UAE needs the reactors to meet three critical goals. The first is to power water desalination for its rapidly growing population. The UAE has been burning natural gas for this purpose, but last year actually started importing it because domestic supplies are running out.  Second, the UAE needs the electricity to ramp up its aluminum smelting and manufacturing business. Third, it needs more electricity to power its massive new urban infrastructure.

Three bidders all waiting

triple spiralTo get there, three huge global consortiums have submitted bids.  A consortium from France, Areva, GdF Suez, and Total, is in said to be the leading bidder according to the latest Reuters reports. It is a 'winner-take-all' proposition for as many as four-to-six reactors.

The other bidders include a group that includes GE-Hitachi, and another of Korea Electric Power Corporation, Hyundai Engineering and Construction and Samsung C&T Corporation. 

However, the French are in the lead according to the Eurasia group, a consultancy on global risk management, told wire services Emirati leaders have historically valued France’s nuclear experience.   The group notes that a major deal with the French government would “fit within the UAE’s diversification plans in terms of both energy and security.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy visited the UAE in May to open a military base.  France is already a major player in the UAE's defense space, so a deal on nuclear energy would be an extension of the current broad relationship between the two countries.

Where that leaves U.S. firms that want to benefit from the 1-2-3 agreement is unclear.  It could turn out that like the India 1-2-3 agreement, the U.S. does all the heavy lifting on nuclear energy and nonproliferation issues, and foreign firms reap the benefits.

# # #

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wuznucleus seeks VP sales

IT firm in the nuclear industry is looking for someone who can work with an entrepreneurial start-up

Wiznucleus logoWiznucleus is a leading provider of knowledge management software solutions and services to the nuclear energy industry. The firm is seeking a VP of Sales & Marketing.

This is a top management position responsible for overall planning and execution of sales and marketing management for the company. It is a direct report to the CEO in the firm's New York city offices. This position can be worked from any location in the U.S.

Qualifications of candidates include;

  • minimum of 10 years of experience selling IT products to the nuclear energy industry, utilities, and/or EPC firms.
  • must be flexible and able to work with an entrepreneurial start-up company
  • must have sufficient technical knowledge of the nuclear energy industry
  • must have a book of business relationships with "C" level players nationally and internationally


sales The compensation package includes base pay, commission, bonus, profit sharing, equity participation, and other benefits. Total compensation is in the range of $250K-$350K for the right individual and depends on performance results.

Contact information

For consideration for this position, please contact Jim Lutz via email. and include a copy of your resume along with any other applicable documents.

Wiznucleus Inc
204 East 11th St., Suite 142
New York, NY 10003

Wiznucleus is an IT company with exceptional nuclear expertise.

# # #

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nuclear news roundup for 09/08/09

China’s massive new build drives expansion at Japan Steel Works

nuclear6According to a Sept 7 wire service report from Bloomberg News, China’s plans to expand its nuclear reactor fleet will cause Japan Steel Works (JSW) to increase its capacity from five to 12 nuclear reactor pressure vessels per year. The firm will spend $864 million to fund the expansion of its production capability. JSW is the only firm in the world which can cast the components in a single piece.

China expects to build 22 new nuclear reactors in the near-term and as many as 132 new reactors in the next two decades. The government reportedly has approved 25.4 GWe of new capacity to generate electricity from nuclear energy.

U.S. and China talk nukes and climate

DsandalowNuclear energy is playing a role in climate negotiations between the U.S. and China. Bloomberg News wire service reported Sept 4 that David Sandalow, (left) Assistant Secretary for Policy & International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy met with Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate change diplomat. U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) also attended the talks.

Sandalow told Bloomberg nuclear energy is a very important part of the discussions with China which is racing to develop new power stations. He noted that U.S. firms want more contracts with China to build the plants. So far Westinghouse has contracts to build four 1,200 MW AP1000s.

Sandalow’s real mission is to pave the way for a historic meeting in November between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. If diplomatic negotiations are successful, the two leaders will sign an agreement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions just a month prior to a global energy conference to be held in Denmark in December.

strikeamatchSubstantial difficulties stand in the way of an effective agreement. Writing in the Wall Street Journal Sept 1, Ian Bremmer and Nouriel Roubini said that there is “friction” between China and the U.S. over setting limits on carbon emissions. The two analyst say that the reason is the U.S. sees the issue in geopolitical terms while China sees it from the perspective of how it will affect the development of its economy.

China’s desires for export driven growth and domestic consumption are in conflict with U.S. calls for its to cut its growth in the use of coal and other fossil fuels. China’s political leadership is wary of signing on to any global warming treaty that could lead to losses of jobs at home. It is already copying with social unrest due to job losses and have recently implemented a significant economic stimulus program of its own, emphasizing industrial infrastructure, including railroads and power plants.

China delays ground breaking for Areva EPR

Areva logoBad weather and other unspecified delays have pushed back the ground breaking for Areva’s first 1,600 MW nuclear reactor to be built in China. Typhoons reportedly hit the region in August.

Reuters reported Sept 2 that the Chinese government is expected to issue an authorization to start work on the first of two reactors in Taishan in Guangdong province sometime in September.

Start up of construction of a second reactor is expected in early 2010. The construction plans call for the first unit to enter revenue service in 2013 and the second the following year.

Energy Alberta selects site for twin AECL ACR1000s

In a a bright note for the embattled Canadian nuclear crown corporation, Energy Alberta formally requested permission from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to build two new 1,100 MW AECL CANDU type reactors in the tar sands region of northern Alberta. The two units are reported to have a combined cost of $6.2 billion.

waynehenusetWayne Henuset, (right) CEO of Energy Alberta, which is owned by Bruce Power, called the request a “historic moment.”

However, Marlo Reynolds of the Pembina Institute issued a scathing criticism of the plant along with a long list of what she says are unresolved risks of building the plants.

Henuset told wire services in Canada if all goes according to plan, the twin units will simultaneously enter revenue service in 2017.

# # #

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pebble Bed fuel spheres ship for testing

New nuclear fuel contains 9.6% enriched uraniumNuclear Fuel pebbles

Hat tip to Rod Adams at Atomic Insights

South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) company has manufactured high temperature reactor fuel spheres or “pebbles” containing 9.6% enriched uranium. Most commercial nuclear fuel is enriched to 3-5%.

The “pebbles” are now entering a two-year testing phase. Successful completion of the tests will form the basis for design and construction of a fuel fabrication plant in South Africa.

PBMR said in a statement 16 of the graphite spheres had been shipped to Russia at the Institute of Nuclear Materials in Zarechny near Ekaterinburg for irradiation tests to demonstrate the fuel’s integrity under reactor conditions. The tests will begin in January 2010 and will take about two years to complete. Key issues will be the stability of the fuel and burn up rate of the U235 over time.

PBMR fuelFuel spheres will also be sent for irradiation testing to the Institute for Energy of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, at Petten in the Netherlands.

The “pebbles” will be used in a high temperature, gas cooled reactor design generating 100-165 MW of power. The primary application will be process heat. The reactors can also be used for generation of electricity.

The design is similar to one being developed by the Idaho National Laboratory for a very-high-temperature reactor (VHTR) as part of its R&D mission.

Local manufacturing capability crucial to success

The pebbles were manufactured in collaboration with the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa). The achievement follows PBMR and Necsa’s successful manufacturing in December 2008 of enriched uranium-coated particles. There are 14 000 of them in a pebble. PBMR said this is the first time that high temperature reactor fuel has been manufactured in South Africa.

An industry source told this blog PBMR got the enriched fuel for the pebble bed fuel manufacturing process through a deal with the Russian nuclear fuel export agency. Reportedly, the 9.6% enriched uranium came from blended down HEU from Russian stockpiles of dismantled nuclear weapons.

Jaco KriekPBMR chief executive officer Jaco Kriek (right) said the irradiation tests in Russia are the final step in the development of the fuel for the PBMR demonstration unit being built at Koeberg in South Africa.

Johan Slabber, PBMR’s chief technology officer said the test pebbles are similar to the fuel that will be used in a PBMR reactor in future. The irradiation tests will determine whether the fission product retention capability of PBMR fuel spheres is comparable with that of the German high temperature reactor fuel on which the PBMR technology is based.

Demonstration plant still on the books

salesThe PBMR project, which is backed by the South African government, involves building both the demonstration plant at Koeberg, the site of the country’s only existing nuclear reactor unit, and a pebble fuel manufacturing plant at Pelindaba near Pretoria.

In its latest annual report, PBMR CEO Jaco Kriek estimated the demonstration plant would cost R14,5bn ($1.9 billion) to complete by 2014, and the completed fuel plant R2,3bn ($300 million), in 2013. This excludes further investments during the demonstration phase costing R6bn ($789 million).

The schedule is to start construction in 2010 and for the demonstration plant to be completed by 2014. Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan said Aug 14 the government is committed to building the Pebble Bed reactor as one of its solutions to the nation’s ongoing energy crisis. At one time the government had visions of developing the PBMR for export, but for now the primary and only customer is Eskom, the key South African utility.

# # #