Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nuclear news roundup for 10/25/09

Rolls Royce plans new nuclear plants with EDF

turbine bladeNuclear engineering firm Rolls Royce will enter into joint ventures with EDF to build four new Areva EPR nuclear power plants in the U.K. The firms have set a goal of having the first unit enter revenue service by 2017 and have all four generating power by 2025. At 1,650 MW each the plan represents over 6 GWe of nuclear powered electricity.

The deal is part of an ongoing shift from manufacturing nuclear reactors for the U.K. nuclear submarine fleet to targeting the civilian reactor market. Rolls Royce set up its commercial nuclear division in July 2008.

The firm will focus on development and supervision of the reactor component supply chain. In a statement, Rolls Royce said, “The agreement covers engineering and technical support during pre-and-post construction phases.”

Rolls Royce also announced it will build a manufacturing center to make components for new nuclear reactors. It will get support from the U.K. government’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Center.

The U.K. is committed to building as many as 11 new reactors to replace units that will close over the next two decades. Also, as part of its response to global warming, the U.K. government is shifting resources to pay for the new nuclear plants from commitments for new coal fired power plants.

Russia and France plan fast reactors

kiriyenkoRosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy corporation, and the French Commission on Atomic Energy have drafted an agreement to increase their joint work on fast reactor technologies. Rosatom made the announcement following a Sept 16 meeting between Rosatom CEO Sergei Kiriyenko (right) and French Commission Chair Bernard Bigot.

The scientific agreement adds to a number of relationships between the two agencies. The work scope includes developing new reactor technologies, nuclear fuel, and related aspects, such as safety. Bigot said the French government has an objective of launching its fast breeder reactor program in 2012 with a demonstration plant being operational by 2020. Both countries have indicated their so-called Generation IV reactors will be fast reactors.

In the U.S. GE-Hitachi is pursuing development of a fast reactor code named ‘Prism.” It is based on the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), a sodium-cooled system, developed at Argonne West at the Idaho National Laboratory in the 1990s. At the Brave New Climate blog, authors Barry Brook and Steve Kirsch have a briefing on fast reactors that explains the technology (large graphic), history, and prospects for development.

In the category of "my oh my how things have changed," some analyst point out that, ironically, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who endorsed nuclear energy in an NYT OP ED a few weeks ago, was one of the leading critics of the IFR speaking out against it in a 1994 speech on the Senate floor.

Turkey’s nuclear deal with Russia still on hold

ENERJI VE TABII KAYNAKLAR BAKANI YILDIZThe nuclear contract to develop Turkey’s first nuclear reactor in Mersin’s Akkuyu district on the country’s southern Mediterranean coast is still in limbo. Energy Minister Taner Yildz (left) said in late September a decision could be made in late November. He said the government is continuing to hold talks with the only bidder which is Russia’s Rosatom.

Initially, the deal was held up because Rosatom proposed to sell electricity from the plant at $0.21/KwHr. Electricity from natural gas sells in Turkey for $0.08/KwHr. After some arm twisting, and a visit by Russian Premier Vladimir Putin earlier this year, the price was dropped to about $0.15/KwHr. However, another issue has emerged which could further delay the deal.

Talks between the two nations are now focused on how Russia will be a reliable supplier of fuel for Turkey’s nuclear program. Turkey wants to develop 4-5 GWe of nuclear powered electricity not only to reduce dependence on natural gas, but also to be a regional supplier of electricity. The operational lifetime for as many as three reactors could be a minimum of 40 years.

Turkey’s cabinet is said to be concerned whether the Russians will be capable and willing to supply fuel for a program that could last a lot longer. The revenue stream is of particular interest to the cabinet. It estimates that while the reactors could cost $15-20 billion, if all three are built, the revenue from them over 40 years could be in the range of $100 billion.

Not only does Turkey want to make sure it can get all the nuclear fuel it needs for the Russian built reactors, it also wants to make sure the Russians don’t try to dip their buckets in the revenue stream. The initial agreement with the Russians for sale of nuclear power only covers the first 15 years of operation. After that contract expires, a new round of negotiations will be required to set prices. Some give-and-take is expected between Turkey and Rosatom regarding the huge revenues that will be associated with the new reactors.

Port Lepreau refurbishment delayed

Siemans turbineThe turbines that fell off a barge into to brine of the harbor at St. John, N.B. last year have been dried out, sent back to Siemens in the U.K., cleaned up, and safely delivered to the Port Lepreau plant. They will add 25 MW of power to the plant’s output. However, Atomic Energy Canada (AECL) new problems.

A spokesman for the nuclear agency said that replacement of all 380 fuel channels, feeder tubes, and other components was taking longer than expected due to custom tool and die work needed to make parts. The $1.4 billion refurbishment is expected to extend operations of the single reactor by 25 to 30 years.

The delays have generated lots of political heat. New Brunswick province Premier Shawn Graham said in late September he is pressing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for answers. AECL has reportedly told provincial energy officials the project, which was supposed to be done in October 2009, will be delayed until February 2011.

Utility spokesman Jack Keir told the Canadian Press Sept 27, AECL was “unprepared for the complexity of the job.” He also said it is costing the utility $1 million (CDN)/day to buy replacement power while the reactor is offline.

Germany’s nuclear plants get a new lease on life

The victory of Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s new coalition in the elections held in September saved the nation’s 17 nuclear reactors from extinction. However, the plan to save them has threatened to re-ignite the anti-nuclear movement in Germany and also set off a round of sometimes contentious negotiations about taxes on profits from the plants.

Angelemerkel

Despite having lost at the polls, German anti-nuclear activists vowed to demonstrate outside the offices of Merkel’s Christian Democrats. They also vowed to make the nuclear issue the centerpiece of provincial elections next May. Like the main character in the ‘Terminator’ movie, anti-nuclear greens said they’d be back.

The biggest problem is actually inside the pro-nuclear government. It is how much to tax profits from the completely depreciated nuclear plants. In short, they are cash cows and some in the German government want to milk them.

A key goal is to redirect what is seen as a corporate windfall into renewable energy. Merkel proposed such a plan in Sept 2008 and now is in a position to execute it.

According to an analysis by a German think tank, the plants could earn as much as (euro)1 million a day in profits for every year their operation life is extended as a result of the change in government policy. Had Merkel lost, seven of the 17 plants would have been shut down next year and the remainder by 2020.

German utilities are divided over how much new tax to accept. The reason is it isn’t clear how many of the 17 reactors will stay in service beyond 2020. Two may cease operation as soon as 2013. The utilities don’t want a “one size fits all” tax plan from the government.

Germany has to build new reactors

Also, keeping the current reactors could be a barrier to building new ones. Work would have to begin now to build replacement reactors to be in service by 2020. Otherwise, Germany would face the same threat of dependence on Russian natural gas it avoided in the recent election-based rescue of its nuclear fleet. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar will not be able to power Germany’s export driven manufacturing sector. Sooner or later Germany will have to face the prospect of building new reactors. It cannot revert to coal given the increasing emphasis on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

In any case, Chancellor Merkel is reportedly in no hurry to resolve these issues. She wants to put off any decisions on taxes or reactor decommissioning and replacements until after a May 2010 election in North Rhine-Wstphalia. According to media analyses, she has to retain seats in parliament from that state to maintain her majority in the upper house.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Open road for US-UAE nuclear agreement

Landmark nuclear deal clears congressional review

UAE map The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has an open road to implement its nuclear energy agreement with the U.S. Reuters reports that the U.S. Congress, as predicted, took no negative action in response to its review of the pact. The deadline for a measure passed quietly late last week.

Newsweek reported the agreement will get special emphasis from the Obama administration because of the example it sets for other countries regarding nonproliferation of weapons grade nuclear materials. The UAE has pledged not to develop capabilities to enrich uranium nor reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

“The Emirates deal sets a precedent for countries that say they want nuclear energy, but not the bomb. Why go to the expensive trouble of enriching uranium if France or the U.S. will do it for you? Nations can still insist on their right to do their own enrichment, but it's becoming much harder to convince the international community that their intentions are peaceful.”

UAE plans massive new nuclear build

Also, at stake, is the expected $40 billion in spending over the next two decades for up to 5 GWe of nuclear reactors. GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse are keenly interested in the deal. The leading consortium bidding on the massive contract is GDF-Suez and Areva. French President Nicholas Sarkozy made a personal visit to the UAE last May to pitch the GDF/Areva bid. A Korean reactor group is also in the mix. A U.S. trade mission is scheduled to travel to the UAE in December.

natural_gasThe UAE has three objectives for its reactors. The first is to swap out use of declining supplies natural gas for water desalinization with nuclear energy. Second, electricity from the reactors will be used to power development of the nation’s aluminum industry. Third, it’s hot over there, and as the nation develops, it’s going to need a lot more air conditioners, plus electricity for office and home use. The UAE is positioned to become a net exporter of electricity to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

There are two reasons a contract award could come by the end of the calendar year. The first is the UAE now has the credibility of a completed agreement with the U.S. on transfer of nuclear technologies including fuel. The second is earlier this month the UAE put in place the policy and organizational infrastructure of their version of a nuclear regulatory body to address key reactor safety issues.

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Stewart Brand goes nuclear

Legendary author of the Whole Earth Catalog has a new book

Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17A radio jingle asks the rhetorical question, “If you remember the 60s, you weren’t there,” which is an inside out joke on the reality altering nature of the decade. Stewart Brand became one of the icons of the era with his ground breaking book ‘The Whole Earth Catalog” which helped readers cope with the ordinary and extraordinary challenges of the times.

Now 70 years old, but as energetic as ever, [bio] Brand (left) has a new book that talks, among other things, about nuclear energy. Titled, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, a key element is Chapter 4 which addresses the role of nuclear energy in dealing with climate change.

Here’s how he launches into his subject

Stewart brand For the definitive word on how much to worry about climate change, environmentalists in America have taken to relying on James Hansen, NASA’s authoritative and outspoken climatologist. When Hansen declared in 2007 that we must not settle for leveling off carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million (ppm) but must take the level down from the current 387 ppm to 350 ppm or lower, the new environmentalist slogan became “350!”

Environmentalists take no notice of Hansen’s views on nuclear, however. As President Obama was taking office, Hansen wrote him an open letter suggesting new policy to deal with the climate crisis.

Coal plants are factories of death,” he wrote. “Coal is responsible for as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as the other fossil fuels combined.” Hansen proposed what America needed: a carbon tax “across all fossil fuels at their source”; the phasing out of all coal-fired plants; and “urgent R&D on 4th-generation nuclear power, with international cooperation.…”

Profound transformations

twins According to Stewart Brand, a lifelong environmentalist who sees everything in terms of solvable design problems, four profound transformations are under way on Earth right now. [Ted Talk: Video]

  • Climate change is real and is pushing us toward managing the planet as a whole.
  • Urbanization-half the world's population now lives in cities, and 80% will by midcentury-is altering humanity's land impact and wealth.
  • Biotechnology is becoming the world's dominant engineering tool.
  • Nuclear energy is a solution to reducing carbon emissions.

Brand says these changes will require environmentalists to reverse some long held opinions and embrace tools that they have traditionally and profoundly distrusted. Good luck with that, but Brand is not deterred.

He says that a radical rethinking of traditional green mantras will be necessary to stop the catastrophic deterioration of the earth's resources.

Whole Earth Discipline is what book publishers like to call “myth shattering” because it presents counterintuitive observations on why cities are actually greener than countryside, how nuclear power is the future of energy, and why genetic engineering is the key to crop and land management.

Brand says the environmental movement must figure out how to come to terms with fast-moving science and take up the tools and discipline of engineering. Brand was trained as an ecologist at Stanford University so he comes to this point of view with impeccable credentials. That doesn’t stop the critics.

Lovins weighs in

grist logoAs you might expect, some environmental groups disagree with Brand’s paradigm shift. A high profile response comes from Amory Lovins, an energy analyst who has over many years has criticized nuclear energy as being unsustainable.

In a long article in GRIST, which also attracted over 100 comments, Lovins argues against Brand’s visions. The heart of Lovins’ reply to Brand’s book is on the issue of the cost of nuclear power.

“Today, most dispassionate analysts think new nuclear power plants’ deepest flaw is their economics. They cost too much to build and incur too much financial risk. My writings show why nuclear expansion therefore can’t deliver on its claims: it would reduce and retard climate protection, because it saves between two and 20 times less carbon per dollar, 20 to 40 times slower, than investing in efficiency and micropower.”

I’ve had the opportunity to exchange emails with Brand on developing responses to the criticism laid out by Lovins. I specifically went after the issue of cost.

What I said is that small reactors offer an opportunity for early entry of nuclear energy on to the grid. Here’s what I wrote, which Brand included as a sidebar note in Chapter 4 of the online version of his nuclear book. See also his closing online chapter on recommended reading.

“Size does matter relative to cost. Small reactors come in at $2,500-$4,000 per KW, but at 125 MW cost approximately $300-500 million and can power a city the size of Greeley, Colorado (pop 90,000). They are affordable to utilities which cannot afford to bet the company on a $6 billion deal.

Any municipal utility which currently buys power from a coal fueled plant will want to get off that grid once carbon taxes and carbon-cap-and-trade show up. Small reactors provide the potential escape hatch for these utilities.”

Newsweek interview

Tugboard brandFor more information about Brand’s vision of nuclear energy, and his views on climate change, see an interesting interview with Brand at Newsweek magazine.

I was intrigued by a comment in the interview. Brand and his wife live on a tugboat, in a very small space. He’s live there for years. It just goes to show that a guy with very big ideas is very down to earth even if it is the whole earth.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Western lands uranium gopher for 10/22/09

gopherIf a butterfly flaps its wings in Ohio, does it matter in Wyoming?

(Portions of this blog post also appeared in Fuel Cycle Week, V8:N349 10/21/09 published by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC)

The answer, it turns out, is yes, according to Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who did some flapping of it his own this week over the Department of Energy's (DOE) plan to sell surplus uranium to pay for cleanup of the Portsmouth, OH, uranium enrichment site.

Wyoming's top elected official took up the cause of his state's uranium mining industry. The reason, he says, is the DOE plan to sell $650 million in excess uranium over the next three years "will flood the market." He said it will depress the price of uranium which is already below the $50/lb threshold some miners say is the point at which they think production is economically feasible.

It gets complicated, but the deal goes like this. Earlier this year, DOE Sec. of Energy Steven Chu delayed making a decision to provide the U.S. Enrichment Corp. (NYSE:USU) with a $2 billion federal loan guarantee to build its American Centrifuge Facility.

Chu said the technology wasn't ready and noted the company's finances were so shaky it was unlikely to be able to pay anyone to build the plant. As a consolation prize for the much put upon citizens of southern Ohio, he pledged to speed up spending on cleanup of nuclear waste at the Portsmouth site. To pay for it, he proposed to release $150-200 million a year in excess uranium for the next three years. Paradoxically, the bulk to the sales would go to the U.S. Enrichment Corp which make nuclear fuel for the nation's 104 commercial reactors.

The Wyoming governor is not buying this deal anymore than he would trade his pension for a handful of penny stocks on the Toronto Stock Exchange. In a letter to Sec. Chu sent Oct 5, Freudenthal wrote "there is no question that the noncompetitive introduction of a large quantity of uranium will adversely impact the uranium producing industry in Wyoming."

He claims the mere mention of the government's deal in Ohio has already "depressed the price of uranium by 20%" and he said it has resulted in job losses at Wyoming mines.

Freudenthal also said the proposed sale is contrary to DOE's own "Excess Uranium Inventory Management Plan" which is designed to balance sales of excess uranium against "the viability of domestic mining operations."

The Governor, in effect, told Sec. Chu to take his uranium and smoke it, or do something else with it, but don't sell it. In a crescendo of outrage the governor said, "sacrifice of Wyoming jobs for short term results in the Midwest is shortsighted."

NRC Accepts Powertech uranium permit application

moose_drool_logoPowertech (TSE:PWE) must be wondering how the State of South Dakota, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency, all looking at the same permit application, came up with different responses whether it is complete or not. It is enough aggravation to drive a dispirited uranium miner to hunt down a six pack of Moose Drool, a local micro brew favored in the West.

Powertech announced Oct 7 that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) deemed the firm's application for an ISR mine permit to be acceptable for detailed technical and environmental review. This happy result comes after the second try at getting the paperwork right by the Denver-based firm. Last August, the NRC sent the firm's application back to the desktop to be done over. The firm also got the "incomplete" stamp the same month from the State of South Dakota on its Underground Injection Control permit.

Randy Birch, a spokesman for the firm, told FCW in an email Oct 9 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier found Powertech’s UIC application complete. As for the "incomplete" from the State of South Dakota, he wrote, "This is the first UIC/ISL application the State has reviewed. Powertech hasn’t applied, yet, for the Large Scale Mine Permit."

It appears the engineers at the State of South Dakota dove into their job with gusto. A review of the State's Aug 6 letter shows it includes 41 pages of comments some of which include corrections of spelling, grammar, and plain old typos. Birch said the firm is working to respond to the state's comments.

Mark Hollenbeck, Powertech's South Dakota project manager, told the Rapid City Journal on Oct 8 the NRC review of the now docketed ISR permit application will take about 18 months. He also said the firm has drilled over 100 exploratory holes, and 30 groundwater monitoring holes, on the 10,580 acre site 13 miles west of Edgemont, SD, near the Wyoming border. The actual mine site, he said, will have a footprint of about 200 acres. The firm expects to get all of its permits in place by 2011.

So, there is more work to be done on the regulatory front for the Dewey-Burdock project. The federal Bureau of Land Management also gets a crack at review the proposed mine. The folks at Powertech must have a lot of patience, or a lot of Moose Drool, or both, to see this through to getting a mine into production.

Texas ISR mine cuts back

Privately held Mestena Uranium LLC isn’t the kind of firm that posts its operating numbers on a billboard. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to read some frank comments about cutbacks by company President Paul Goranson. He told the Austin-American newspaper Oct 9 the firm has cut its payroll from 225 employees to 135 at its Alta Mesa operation 12 miles west of Encino, Texas. He chalks up the drop on production to the feeble price of uranium. On Oct 5, Ux Consulting reported the price of U3O8 at $43.50/lb up $0.75 from the September close.

Goranson told the newspaper the mine has cut capital costs and production reducing output from 850,000 lbs to 650,000 pounds this year. However, he also said with the number of new nuclear plants planned for the U.S., the price of uranium should rebound in the future. How much he's not sure, but more nuclear reactors has to mean more business for the Texas-based firm.

That is, unless that Ohio butterfly flaps its wings some more. Goranson and some of his fellow uranium miners have been making the rounds of Capitol Hill trying to convince Congress to cut Sec. Chu off at the pass with his wagon train of uranium headed for an auction.

Titan Uranium to acquire 100% of Sheep Mountain property in Wyoming

Titan Uranium (CVE:TUE) announced it has closed the previously announced agreement with Uranium One Inc. (TSX:UUU) to acquire the 50% interest held by Uranium One in the Sheep Mountain property, Fremont County, Wyoming. This will result in Titan holding a 100% interest in the property which hosts an NI 43-101 compliant Inferred Resource of 15.6 million pounds of U3O8.

In conjunction with this transaction, Titan will acquire Uranium One's 50% interest in the Hollie claims, Emery County, UT and transfer its 50% interest in the Breccia Pipe project, AZ and the Burro Canyon project in Colorado to Uranium One.

The initial cash price of the transaction is $850,000. However, the deal could cost Titan as much as $6 million if the price of uranium rises above $85/lb in the next three years. Titan's stock at market close Oct 9 was $0.30 against a 52-week range of $0.11-0.64 with a market capitalization of just under $16 million.

Crosshairs completes earn-in at Bootheel property and starts NRC licensing process

Crosshair Exploration & Mining Corp. (AMEXC:CXZ) announced that it has completed the 75% earn-in of The Bootheel Project, LLC from Ur-Energy Inc. (AMEX:URG). The Bootheel Property, together with the Buck Point Property, cover 8,524 acres of mineral lands within the Shirley Basin in southern Wyoming and make up the Bootheel Project.

Crosshair has also initiated the NRC licensing process for its Bootheel Property. Crosshair CEO said in a statement the firm would start additional exploratory drilling in 2010. Less than 60% of historical resource estimate has been validated he said.

The initial independent National Instrument (NI) 43-101 Mineral Resource estimate on the Bootheel Property includes an indicated resource of 1.09 million pounds U3O8 (1.44 million tons at 0.038% 3O8) and an additional inferred resource of 3.25 million pounds U3O8 (4.40 million tons at 0.037% eU3O8).

Uranium Energy acquires Texas ISR plant

Uranium Energy (AMEX:UEC) has agreed to buy Uranium One's assets in Texas. The deal for includes a licensed processing plant for ISR mining and an ISR mine which has obtained most of its permits. The all stock deal for 2.5 million shares could be worth about $9.1 million based on closing stock price Oct 16. Uranium Energy's stock has a 52-week range of $0.16-$4.16. Market capitalization is $169 million with 46.6 million shares outstanding.

The two properties being acquired are the Hobson in-situ uranium processing plant and the La Palanga uranium project. The Hobson plant has a reported capacity of 1 million pounds annually. Uranium Energy said it will use the Hobson plant as a regional operations center for its South Texas properties including the Goliad and Nichols sites.

Uranerz to float $20 million stock offering

Uranerz Energy (AMEX:URZ) announced it will offer 10 million shares of stock at $2/share to the public in the U.S. and Canada. The offering comes at a time of severe turmoil in financial markets worldwide.

The firm's stock closed Oct 16 at $1.96/share against a 52-week range of $0.40-$2.50/share and market capitalization of $106.6 million with 55.5 million shares outstanding.

The firm said proceeds from the sale of stock will support continued development in Wyoming of its Nichols Ranch property and further exploration in the Powder River Basin including its Arkose project. The company said it may acquire additional properties in the region.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tamar’s Law ~ Thoughts from across the pond

Europe’s reality check on global warming is that it is shifting to nuclear energy

By: Tamar Cerafici *

Ringhals1Tamar is offering this month’s column from Varberg, on the southwestern coast of Sweden where she’ll be for the next couple of months.

Varberg is a popular summer resort area, boasting sandy beaches and clear water. It’s not bad in the fall, except the rocky Swedish coast is the windiest spot I’ve ever lived, and I include the Idaho Samizdat’s eastern Idaho home in that comparison sample. (Editor’s note: twin nuclear reactors in photo background.)

Windmills swedenThe scrub oak along the coastline grow in the peculiar slant showing a fairly constant pounding from the southwesterly gales off the North Atlantic.

After two weeks here, I’ve counted two calm days. Huge windmills dot the coastline– even deep into the country near the SAAB plant in Trollhättan, and they’re constantly operating. The nation only derives 1.4% of its electricity from wind.

The vast majority of its renewable energy comes from hydropower, and Sweden recently moved to ban further development of the nation’s rivers for this purpose.

Varberg is also about 20 km from Ringhals, a four-unit nuclear plant whose first and second units are undergoing yearly maintenance. Unit Two is also currently undergoing significant modernization under the Westinghouse-led TWICE project (Ringhals 2 Instrumentation and Control Exchange).

Ringhals2An entirely new digital control room is being installed, and 23 analog systems are being replaced by software-based instrumentation and control systems. This is the culmination of a ten-year effort by Westinghouse and Ringhals, and from the looks of the simulator, will be pretty cool looking. Yes, control rooms can look cool!

The fast-growing industrial region still needs help from the nuclear plant at Ringhals. My sources tell me that the area (which includes industrial centers in Gothenburg and Boras) is overreaching the current capacity available. Are brownouts possible in an advanced Europan country? Some worry it could happen.

Despite the country’s high reliance on renewable energy (52% of its electricity comes from hydropower and wind), Sweden still needs nuclear energy to meet its growing energy needs and to comply with its own energy policy.

Sweden’s ambivalent nuclear history

As a result of the Three-Mile Island accident, Sweden voted three decades ago to phase out nuclear plants. The referendum canvassed three options for phasing out the country’s nuclear program, but had none for maintaining it. The overwhelming majority preferred allowing the plants to operate through their economically viable life. Sweden’s Parliament placed the embargo on new development and sought to close the country’s 12 reactors by the end of 2010. This policy turned out to be unworkable.

swedfuel

(Chart courtesy World Nuclear Association: “Nuclear Power in Sweden”)

Easy to vote, hard to do

In 1994, the government concluded that the effort would not be within the art of the possible. Under a 1997 statute, the government asserted control of the decision to close nuclear plants provided new electricity was obtained from other sources. It did closed two units not far from Copenhagen in 1999 and 2005.

This may have been a wise political move, but it increased the country’s reliance on fossil imports and forced uprates to the existing nuclear fleet to compensate for the lost generation capacity.

Ten of the country’s 12 reactors are still operating today. Earlier this year, Sweden lifted its ban on new nuclear plants, citing the country’s environmental and climate policy as primary motivation for the move. (See coverage on this blog: “Sweden soars to center of new nuclear movement in Europe” 02/08/09)

A key issue is that public opinion seems to be swinging in favor of maintaining or increasing development of nuclear power in Sweden.

In a 2004 survey . . .

  • 77% prioritized restraint of greenhouse gases, and
  • 13% prioritized protection of Sweden’s unspoiled rivers.
  • Only 7% supported the continuation of Sweden’s current nuclear phase-out policies, with
  • 27% favoring continued operation of nuclear plants,
  • 32% favored operation plus replacement, and
  • 21% wanted further development of new nuclear plants.

With slightly different questions, a 2006 poll showed 79% in favor of nuclear development and in 2008, support rose to 82%. 42% favoring expansion of nuclear capacity and 40% favoring continuing operation and uprates of existing plants.

Sweden’s needs for energy, and following public opinion polls, illustrate the current turnaround in nuclear policy all over Europe.

Whither Europe?

EU Flag Bkgnd2 European countries seem to be following Sweden, and bans on continued nuclear operations and new development are falling like leaves from the trees this October.

Belgium On Oct 13, the Belgian government announced that it was postponing its phase-out of nuclear plants for 10 years, although the industry must pay for the privilege. The resulting fund will support a “rigorous and proactive” plan to develop renewable energy and develop efficiency programs. World Nuclear Association director general John Ritch lauded the decision, but also noted that the Belgians had implemented the principle with “stunning silliness.”

Germany In September, Angela Merkel’s conservative coalition retained a narrow margin of power in German elections. With the German FDP, however, her government will retain a comfortable majority in the Bundestag. As noted previously in this blog, the victory was important for Germany’s existing nuclear plants, slated for phase-out by 2022.

The phase-out was a central feature of the opposition campaign, heralding a likely shift in German national sentiment towards nuclear power. Germany’s plants may also have to pay for the privilege of continued operation.

Italy & United Kingdom Both promised new reactor construction as important components of their climate policies running up to the December climate talks in Copenhagen. On October 12, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommended increased nuclear capacity as a way to dramatically lower CO2 emissions.

Greenpeace UK also issued its annual manifesto to Parliament on October 11, and none of its 12 goals asked for an explicit ban on nuclear. By its omission, is Greenpeace UK acknowledging some necessity for new nuclear capacity in the UK? Nope. Greenpeace still remains anti-nuke in principle.

On the other hand, rather than attacking the CCC’s conclusions on development, it followed up with a gentle statement disagreeing with the CCC’s stand on nuclear, while lauding the Committee’s call for “radical action.”

Spain A holdout with Australia on aggressively phasing out its nuclear plants, it was told recently by the International Energy Agency that it needed to keep open all of its options, including nuclear to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) indulged in a bit of a wrist-slapping, finding difficulty with Spain’s stance on nuclear power. In an uncharacteristic lapse of diplomatic “niceness,” the energy regulatory advisory agency noted, “[i]ndeed, it is difficult to see how phasing out nuclear energy could serve Spain’s energy and climate change goals.”

Netherlands The Dutch have been pursuing new nuclear plants since 2006. In 2009, utilities began seeking preliminary approvals of a second unit at Borssele, the Dutch nuclear plant.

Additionally, the German utility RWE announced plans to buy Essent, a Dutch utility with a 50% interest in Borssele, and promised to pursue new nuclear capacity in Netherlands.

European Union In an unprecedented run-up to the UNFCCC talks in Bangkok, the IEA issued an early excerpt of its annual energy outlook, specifically geared to addressing the energy sector’s role in a climate agreement in Copenhagen.

Nuclear energy is a key component to the IEA’s goals of achieving long-term stabilization of greenhouse gases at 450 ppm of CO2 equivalent. The 2009 World Energy Outlook promises to be exceptionally grim, with an analysis of the world’s capabilities to meet climate change goals during the financial crisis.

All of these countries have aggressive plans to expand their renewable portfolios. They recognize the environmental, political, and diplomatic necessity to include nuclear generation as part of a low carbon energy mix.

Implications for the U.S.

As the U.S. Senate prepares for debate on the Kerry-Boxer bill, Senators may do well to look across the pond as they start to reach across the aisle. It seems that at least some of our European neighbors are thinking realistically about nuclear power’s role in averting potential energy catastrophes as well as environmental disaster. And their careful consideration of these issues now may go a long way in averting diplomatic trouble in December.

Author ID

Tamar_Cerafici_profile* Ms. Cerafici (right) is an attorney in private practice with expertise in nuclear licensing and environmental law.

Contact info

Tamar Jergensen Cerafici, tnelaw@gmail.com

(She is currently on travel in Sweden)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

AEHI picks new site for Idaho reactor

This is the third site selected in the firm’s search for a suitable location

payettee county sealAlternative Energy Holdings Inc. (OTC:AEHI) announced Oct 20 it has selected a new site for its planned nuclear reactor in Idaho. The site in is Payette County, Idaho, some 60 miles northwest of Boise and about five miles northeast [at Stone Quarry Rd.] of the intersection of State Highway 52 and Big Willow Rd.

In a press release, AEHI said it submitted a comprehensive plan amendment application in Payette County, Idaho for the development of a nuclear power generating facility on approximately 5,100 acres of land.

“This is a key step to developing an additional nuclear site in Idaho,” said CEO Don Gillispie.

In a telephone interview with Mary Mejia, Administrator of the Payettee County Planning & Zoning Office, I confirmed that AEHI has filed the amendment. It is now being reviewed by the staff. At this time, Mejia said, the company has only requested a change in the plan from agricultural use to industrial use. The current plan calls for non-irrigated agriculture uses such as grazing.

“This is not prime farmland,” she said.

The site is just north of the Payette River [map]. AEHI would have to acquire water rights in the area to provide cooling water for the planned reactor.

payette_riverIf all goes well in the review, a public hearing could be held as early as Nov 12th at which time the county planning & zoning commission will make a recommendation to the Payette County Commission.

Once that happens, the county has a minimum of 30 days to hold a hearing on a decision to change the plan.

The comprehensive plan change is the first of two steps to approve use of the site for a nuclear reactor. Mejia said AEHI will also need a conditional use permit for the site since nuclear reactors are not listed as an allowed use in the industrial section of the county zoning ordinance. That permit would also require a separate public hearing.

Third time for site selection process

simco road This is the third time AEHI has selected a site for its planned nuclear reactor. The firm has an application pending with nearby Elmore County, but that process is bogged down with the county commissioners sending the application back to the planning commission for more work. The site selected by AEHI in Elmore County, near Mountain Home, ID, would be adjacent to the Snake River. However, the county commissioners indicated a preference for a high desert site without nearby water supplies, but near the American Ecology hazardous waste landfill.

A prior application in Owyhee County was withdrawn after AEHI decided the site wasn’t suitable in terms of its physical characteristics. That site, near the intersection of state highways 78 and 51, would also have used water from the Snake River.

AEHI at one time it said would build an Areva 1,600 MW EPR. More recently, AEHI has not told the NRC what reactor design it will reference in a COL application. The NRC lists AEHI as expected to file a COL application in 2009. With the kickoff of a new site selection process, it is uncertain when AEHI will file with the NRC for either an Early Site Permit or a Combined Construction and Operating License.

Nate Poppinio, a reporter for the Twin Falls Times News, told this blog in a comment that in a Sept 10 letter to the Nuclear Street web site, AEHI CEO Don Gillispie said his firm was considering a Korean reactor for the Idaho site.

"We are in the process of negotiating on the price to bring the Korean advanced reactor, APR 1400, to the US. This reactor will be lower than the cost of the other reactors currently in the US market making us more than competitive with any new source of electricity in the country. As a backup, we have begun to talk with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries about their advanced reactor as well. Further, we have a large energy trust that is willing to loan us up to $5 billion for the plant construction phase."

Neither the Korean reactor nor the Mitsubishi unit are certified designs in the U.S. The Mitsubishi reactor was submitted for design certification by the NRC in January 2008. The NRC does not list any information about the Korean reactor on its reactor design certification web page. A review in ADAMS, the NRC's massive online document library, turns up eight references to the reactor, but none focus on it for certification purposes. If AEHI references either design in a COL application, it will have to wait for the NRC to certify either design before it could get a license approved and break ground.

Not Warren Buffet’s site

In 2007 Warren Buffet’s Mid American Energy utility evaluated a ‘greenfield’ site in Payette County for a 1,750 MW Mitsubishi nuclear reactor. Buffet withdrew funding for the project when it became clear how many difficulties he faced with the Idaho site. One of them was the huge expense of upgrading the transmission and distribution infrastructure to get the power from the reactor to customers. There are no other commercial nuclear reactors in Idaho.

500 KV power lines Idaho

(map of high voltage power lines in Idaho courtesy Idaho Power)

Martin Johncox, a spokesman for AEHEI, told this blog in a telephone interview that the new site in Payette County selected by AEHI is not the same one evaluated by Warren Buffett in 2007.

Andrea Shipley, head of the Snake River Alliance, told reporter Rocky Barker at the Idaho Statesman Oct 20 "Warren Buffett's Mid American Energy spent millions of dollars researching whether or not Payette County was a good place to build a nuclear power reactor and pulled out."

"This [Buffet] is a company with money and expertise, two things that Gillispie is struggling with," Shipley said.

Even AEHI gets the firm’s newest site approved by the Payette County Commissioners, it still must raise $4-6 billion from investors. The firm’s assets, as described in recent SEC filings, are less than $500,000. In the past few years, AEHI has hired three investment banking firms. So far, none of them have succeeded in getting major investors, like a utility, to sign up for the project.

While there are many uncertainties ahead for AEHI, one thing is sure. CEO Don Gillispie is persistent in the quest for his reactor even it it leads him trekking across the landscape of southwestern Idaho in search of a home for it.


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Nations cannot cover the globe in windmills

Nor most of west Texas for that matter

Strong stuff is in this week from the staid OECD about nuclear energy and renewable energy. Also, Nuclear energy may be the solution to global warming, but someone has to pay for it writes Matt Wald, NYT reporter, in the December issue of MIT’s Technology Review

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wind_power(via NucNet) Tackling climate change should include acceptance that nuclear energy “must play a central role in global base load energy”, a former secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has said in a speech Oct 8.

Donald Johnston, who is also a former Canadian science and technology minister, said those who disagreed with this view were “well intentioned but politically perhaps naive”.

And he told the 2009 congress of the International Nuclear Law Association on 8 October 2009 in Toronto, Canada, that he was pessimistic about the likelihood of any enforceable agreements being reached at next December’s 15th session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Mr Johnston said:

SolarTowerMojaveDesert“Within the short time frames we face… we will not cover the world with windmills. We will not supply the world with solar energy by covering an area half of the state of Texas with solar panels.”

So why aren't we following the French and investing in nuclear energy, the only proven technology which does not produce significant greenhouse gas emissions?

“Had the world embraced nuclear energy as a source of electrification as France did where over 80 percent of electricity is of nuclear origin, we would not be faced with global warming and climate change today,” he added.

However, Mr Johnston said a major expansion of nuclear energy must address a number of issues in order to satisfy the public and political leaders of its safety, including proliferation concerns.

He said: “There should be rotating international teams of experts to monitor and audit the running and maintenance of all existing and future nuclear facilities, and in particular reprocessing facilities.”

Greatest risks to nuclear energy are financial

comanche peakWhile the OECD was tilting at windmills in Toronto, just a few hundred miles away, MIT’s Technology Review Magazine was publishing another of NYT reporter Matt Wald’s gloomy assessments of the future of nuclear energy.

Mr. Wald contrasts the costs to build various kinds of energy plants, and their time to market, and concludes, regardless of size, nukes don’t cut it. He writes

“If a reactor producer produces power at 10 cents/KwHr and a natural gas plant produces [electricity] at 12 cents, the reactor builder makes a killing. Reverse the numbers and the reactor builder gets killed.”

He writes that Congress has little inclination to expand the federal loan guarantee for new nuclear power plants. He also correctly points out the $18.5 billion made available is shrinking relative to the impact it will have on the industry. With prices rising to $4,000/Kw, it is unlikely the loan guarantees will support more than three-or-four new reactors.

Jim Miller, CEO of PPL, a nuclear utility, tells Wald, “Nothing is currently in place to move the industry along at the pace people perceived it would when the 2005 act was passed.”

Wald also puts a finger up in political winds, metaphorically speaking, and pronounces that “odds are not good enough for the nuclear industry to place a bet with its own money.”

flounderEnergy Secretary Steven Chu has called for an expansion of federal loan guarantees to $37 billion. And Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Lindsay Graham have written, a NY Times OP ED, that the Senate climate bill needs to include incentives for nuclear energy. But, if wishes were fishes, we’d be knee deep in flounder.

Right now nothing is in place. And what’s really needed are long term political and financial commitments that won’t be overturned by opportunistic whims by a future administration. That includes realistic thinking about fuel recycling and an end to endless bickering about Yucca Mountain.

In short, while some people are worried about safety, or risk, Wald points out the biggest risk to the future of the nuclear energy industry is financial.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Chamber of Commerce climate story is a hoax

Pranksters create turmoil at National Press Club

Chamber logoThe Washington Post reports that a press conference held at the National Press Club today (Oct 19) purporting to be a statement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reversing its position on climate change is a hoax.

Environmental activists held a hoax press conference Monday morning, pretending to be the business group -- and pretending to announce that the chamber was dropping its opposition to climate-change legislation now in Congress.

The event, complete with fake handouts on chamber letterhead, at least a couple of fake reporters, and a podium adorned with the chamber logo, broke up when a spokesman from the real chamber burst in.

The Post also reported that the prankster was confronted by an official from the real Chamber of Commerce who shouted that the giant business lobby has not changed its mind about global warming.

"This guy is a fake! He's lying! This is a stunt that I've never seen before," said Eric Wohlschlegel, an official at the actual Chamber of Commerce, who said he'd heard about the hoax event from a reporter who'd mistakenly shown up at the chamber's headquarters.

The fake Chamber of Commerce official, who called himself "Hingo Sembra," did not give his real name to reporters, saying only that he represented a coalition of climate activists.

The Guardian UK also reported that the event was a hoax, and it worked way too well.

In today's instant news era, that wasn't quite soon enough. Several green organizations tweeted or blogged on the about-face. Reuters news agency put out a straight news story about the Chamber's apparent U-turn, and the Washington Post and New York Times put the story on their news sites (both later removed the stories from their websites). CNBC actually sought – and got – comment from analysts. It also broke its programming to have a reporter read out the fake press release.

Another “balloon boy” stunt baffles the media

It looks like the balloon boymainstream news media has been taken in by another “balloon boy” story. However, it doesn't detract from how serious the issue is or how ticked off some of the Chamber's dues paying members are about the issue.

In recent weeks dues paying members like Exelon (NYSE:EXC), the nation’s largest nuclear energy utility, and Apple Computer (NASDAQ:APPL), quit in protest over the Chamber’s head-in-the-sand views on climate change legislation.

The prospects of empty pockets became real as its members did the unthinkable, and in independent, but unprecedented, actions, walked away from the top business lobby group in the country because it was unyielding in its opposition to President Obama’s climate change initiatives.

In the view of this blog the Chamber, and the remaining business groups that support it, ought to try science instead of politics. Then they won’t have to eat nearly so much crow when they do change their minds for real.

Video of the hoax press conference


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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Westinghouse gets a scare from NRC

Halloween comes early for the AP1000

westinghouse logoWestinghouse engineers are burning the midnight oil in Pittsburgh this week, and it’s not because they are filling trick-of-treat goodie bags. The reason is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) threw a scare into the company and with it set teeth on edge at five U.S. power utilities and two provinces in China.

What happened is that the NRC appears to have lost its patience with the company after holding discussions with firm for the past 12 months on design changes to its AP1000 reactor. According to an NRC press release, the agency feels the shield building, which provides the primary containment safety barrier for the reactor, isn’t going to do everything expected of it.

The decision has the potential to delay construction of 14 new U.S. reactors worth collectively over $80 billion. Public utility commissions in states that allow cost recovery for reactors while they are being built are nervous about the possibility of these delays. The NRC’s action has already hammered the stock of a key contractor building the plants.

Full details in my exclusive report at the Energy Collective.

EnergyCollectiveLogo

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Nukes v. Coal at ELI Forum

Baseload demand gets a rhetorical workout

FireworksPsst! Wanna see some rhetorical fireworks about nuclear energy and coal? Then reserve a free seat at the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) forum Oct 29th in Washington, DC.

The topic is whether expanded use of nuclear power and coal is inevitable in our climate-constrained future, and if so, how best to manage them. There are some people who believe we don't need any more baseload power plants -- that solar, wind, and energy conservation can meet our needs. And, some of these people have President Obama's ear which may account for his tone deafness when it comes to nuclear energy.

There are other views. Patrick Moore, the founder of Greenpeace, says that nuclear power is essential to combating climate change. Producers of coal maintain that it is impossible to ignore the most-abundant fossil fuel -- and that it can compete with lower-carbon energy sources. OK, see it’s a debate so be civil about it.

bio_wellinghoff_j_high Jon Wellinghoff, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, (right) will be among the panelists participating in the Forum. Representing a very different viewpoint, Wellinghoff once told reporters, "we may not need any, ever," referring to new coal and nuclear power plants. This guy has gone out of this way to be a lightning rod for the electric power industry, which his agency regulates. Talk about controversy?

State regulators, meanwhile, are responsible to ratepayers and pollution control mandates. Environmental organizations have mostly opposed expanded use of both energy sources.

To represent the diversity of this debate, the following panelists will
contribute to the Forum: My comments about them are in italics.

  • new-york-timesMatthew L. Wald, New York Times energy reporter (Moderator) (covers all the energy news that’s fit to print)
  • Peter Bradford, Vice-Chair, Union of Concerned Scientists (anti-nuclear activist despite having once served as an NRC commissioner)
  • Hon. Garry Brown, Chairman, New York State Public Service Commission (New York’s state attorney general Andrew Cuomo wants to close Indian Point)
  • Alex Flint, Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs, Nuclear Energy Institute (pro nuclear utility trade group)
  • Mike Morris, President and CEO, American Electric Power (owns & operates nuclear, coal, gas, and wind power plants)
  • Jon Wellinghoff, Chairman, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (arch druid of “no” to new nukes and new coal plants)

WHEN: October 29, 2009, 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM
Speakers will begin promptly at 4:00 PM

WHERE: Omni Shoreham Hotel; Hampton Ballroom; 2500 Calvert St NW Washington, DC 20008

RSVP: This event is free and open to the public; however, space is limited. To reserve, e-mail: bkitchen@eli.org. Please reserve by October 23, 2009.

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