Thursday, October 29, 2009

2nd Update - Nuclear bloggers at ANS winter meeting

An open invitation for dialog on new social media and nuclear energy

2nd Update - the event will take place at the OMNI Hotel, 2500 Calvert St., NW, which is the ANS conference hotel, in the Capitol Room at 6:30-8:00 PM, Tues Nov 17. The hotel is a block from the Woodley-Park Metro station. [map]

Look for a poster in the lobby for the conference room location. Light refreshments will be available.

The resources for this event are provided by three generous sponsors . Please be sure to thank them for their support.

Many thanks to Jarret Adams at Areva, Jeff Madison at CoolHandNuke, and Andrea Jennetta at International Nuclear Associates. Also, thanks to my fellow nuclear bloggers for publicizing the event.

RSVP

We'd like to get a head count so drop me a line via email: djysrv@gmail.com
or leave a voice mail at my Google Voice number: 208-419-3881

Note: this event is not part of the official ANS conference program. ANS has graciously agreed to let us use one of the hotel meeting rooms for this informal forum.

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The winter meeting of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) will take place in Washington, DC, November 14-18, this year, at the OMNI hotel just off Connecticut Ave., NW, at Calvert.

bloggingWhile there is no formal session on blogging and social media in the program, several nuclear bloggers will be there. We plan to have an informal discussion about how social media, including blogs, instant messages, and web services are shaping public perceptions of the nuclear energy industry.

If you are interested in participating, please drop me at email at: djysrv [at] gmail.com Include an email address so that a broadcast notice can be sent to everyone once we firm up the details. Or use my Google Voice service 208-419-3881 to keep in touch.

See my prior report "Nuclear bloggers attain critical mass at ANS Atlanta" from the June 2009 ANS meeting.

Hope to see you there.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Price of South Texas Project could go up by $4 billion

Toshiba shocks San Antonio CPS Energy. City Council postpones $400 million bond vote.

CPS energy logoThe estimated cost of two new 1,350 MW ABWR reactors to be built by Toshiba for NRG at the South Texas Project (STP) rose by $4 billion this week. According to a report in the San Antonio Express, the project cost will be "substantially higher" than the current estimated cost of $13 billion.

In response to the announcement of the massive price increase, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and the city council have postponed a vote on a $400 million bond issue to support their 20% share in the plant. So far CPS Energy has invested $280 million in the new reactors.

At a quickly organized press conference this week, Castro said CPS Energy knew about the price increase ahead of the pending vote, but said diplomatically it "was less than proactive" in telling elected officials about it. He added the city-owned utility found out about the price increase just last week. As a result, Castro says, the city council will not take up the bond issue until January 2010 in order to get more information about the ultimate cost of the new reactors.

Don’t play poker with billions

poker chipsCPS interim general manager Steve Bartley told the San Antonio newspaper the $4 billion price increase could be a "negotiating tactic." He agreed with Mayor Castro that the decision to postpone the bond vote "sends a signal to Toshiba" that the delivered price of the twin reactors must come down. Bartley added that CPS Energy will send a delegation to Japan to sit down with Toshiba to discuss costs.

City council members joined the mayor in expressing their concerns about the price increase. None are happy about it. Councilman John Camp told the newspaper, "you don't play poker with billions."

Last August Mayor Castro expressed concerns about the way the planned 5% rate increases associated with the bond issue was being explained to the public. He said he was uneasy about potential cost increases and this month reduced the city’s planned investment in the twin reactors from a 40% stake to 20%.

CPS General Manager Steve Barley told local newspapers the recession played a significant role in the decision to scale back to a 20% share. Rate increases associated with building the plant, in the current economic environment, have to be kept within 5% every other year. He said the utility couldn’t come up with a feasible plan to hit that number due to declining revenues from lower electricity usage due to the recession.

When NRG first announced the filing of their COL application with the NRC, the utility cited a price of $2,000/Kw or about $2.7 billion for each reactor and a total price, not including balance of plant, of about $6 billion. Since then the price of the total project, as estimated by CPS Energy, has grown to $13 billion. The announcement of a potential $4 billion price increase would put the total price at $17 billion.

Throwing gasoline on an anti-nuclear fire

flamesOpponents of the new nuclear project said the announcement of the price increase confirmed their worst fears and gave them new ammunition to develop public support to stop a 20% share investment by CPS Energy in the reactors. A spokesman for the ant-nuclear group Energia Mia said, "I told you so."

The announcement of the price increase could send shock wave through the nuclear industry. When NRG hired Toshiba to build the reactors, the utility pointed to construction cost control mechanisms that the firm would bring with it from experience based on building four ABWRs in Asia.

The news coverage in the San Antonio newspaper did not include any sources from Toshiba or NRG. What everyone will want to know is what is driving the price increase and what can be done to contain it? Until this information becomes available, it is unlikely that the city council in San Antonio will vote on the bond issue.

Update 10/28/09 6 PM

According to the San Antonio Express, in a late update to the paper edition, NRG spokesman Dave Knox is quoted as saying Toshiba's latest cost estimate is “part of the back-and-forth of negotiating.” If NRG thought the latest figure was the actual cost, “we wouldn't be spending money on the project,” he said.

Toshiba must offer up a firm cost estimate in January, Knox said, “and that's the important number.”

Video of San Antonio Press Conference


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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Idaho nuclear news you can use

Two of the state’s newspapers focus on the topic

newspaperAn old journalistic tradition is that editors wait until Sunday for their biggest and most significant in-depth news stories and editorials. That tradition is alive and well in Idaho this weekend with a major feature story in the Idaho Statesman and an editorial in the Idaho Falls Post Register.

At the Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker takes a look at the future of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and its role in the emerging nuclear renaissance. What he finds is there are significant opportunities for the lab to help develop the next generation of nuclear reactors, but one analyst thinks the lab could face stiff competition for R&D dollars in future years.

At the Idaho Falls Post Register, editorial page editor Corey Taule lays out the reasons why the Snake River Alliance, a self-appointed nuclear watchdog, could use some watching of its own. The reason is its over-the-top, and misleading, rhetoric about Areva’s planned uranium enrichment plant in eastern Idaho.

INL positioned for growth

INL logo blue largeAt the INL, Dave Hill, deputy director of the lab, tells the Statesman, “I think it is pretty clear there is going to be a nuclear renaissance."

However, it may not include construction of a next generation nuclear plant on the Arco desert. Hill says that industrial partners who will help fund the project will have a say in its location.

“If industrial partners come with enough money, they will decide where you build it.”

The likelihood is that the Department of Energy, which just announced $40 million in funding opportunities for NGNP design work, will eventually want to build a prototype 300 MW plant. Where it goes may not matter much, but the INL's role will be crucial to its success.

On the other hand, Boise State Professor of Political Science John Freemuth says success could come with a price. Competition for R&D dollars from other federal labs could be on the upswing.

“If we decide to go nuclear in a big way, INL is going to have to fight for its primacy.”

For now the lab looks to a future that includes sustained funding for its nuclear R&D work in new fuels and materials for the next generation of nuclear reactors.

Watchdog needs watching

UraniumSymbol_000While the Idaho Statesman over in Boise was looking at the “half-full” picture of nuclear energy, on this end of the state the Idaho Falls Post Register was writing about the rhetoric of those who take the “half empty” view.

The reality check to the misleading claims by the Snake River Alliance (SRA) about Areva’s uranium enrichment plant is that “folks around here” [eastern Idaho] “are educated on the issues.”

“Idaho's self-appointed "nuclear watchdog" offers these headlines: "Uranium enrichment -- it's about the bomb!" and "Tell your neighbors -- uranium enrichment is an open road to a nuclear weapon."

Unfortunately for the Snake River Alliance, it's slinging that stuff in the wrong part of the country. Eastern Idaho is pro-nuclear and educated on the issue. Folks around here know that while there are legitimate concerns about Areva's plans, the creation of weapons-grade uranium isn't one of them.”

The Post Register’s editorial then steps through the claims made by the SRA about Areva’s plant. The true facts, the newspaper writes, are . . .

  • No weapons grade uranium will be made at the plant
  • Depleted uranium will not be stored at the plant
  • Demand the the U.S. for enriched uranium will grow as new nuclear plants are built in this country

It isn’t very often that an so-called “watchdog” group gets so many things wrong. It’s a plus for public understanding of the issues when a newspaper that shapes public opinion takes them to task for it.

Note: the online edition of the Post Register’s editorial is behind a subscriber only firewall. Buy dead trees media at your favorite news stand.

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