Saturday, November 7, 2009

England will keep the lights on with nuclear energy

A new generation of nuclear power stations will be built to prevent an energy crisis

Miliband,_EdThe award for decisiveness in energy policy this month goes to Ed Miliband, Energy & Climate Change Secretary (right) in the U.K. government who has committed the nation to “significant infrastructure construction” in the next decade.

Miliband told the daily Telegraph Nov 7 Britain will face a serious energy crisis unless plans to build new nuclear power plants are sped up. The government warned that endless delays will have only one result – lights out. He told the newspaper, “”saying no to nuclear is no longer an option.

“We have go to say yes to nuclear energy. It isn’t just the green thing, it is the right thing by way of energy security.”

Miliband also targeted the expected backlash from anti-nuclear groups. He said, “We can’t have endless delay.”

The reason for Miliband’s move is that natural gas fields in the North Sea are running out and so-called clean coal technologies are not available at a commercial scale. He wants the first nuclear power station, at Hinkley, Somerset, 40 miles southwest of Bristol, to be in revenue service by 2017. He wants eight under construction by 2015 Otherwise, he says, the U.K. could experience blackouts on a major scale.

The government has selected a list of sites which include some that already have nuclear reactors. The sites include two at Sellafield, Wylfa, and Dungeness.

Private sector wants floor price on carbon

The government will rely on the private sector to build the plants, but that’s where controversy broke out. At the same time Miliband was making a historic speech in support of nuclear energy, the Times of London reported that carbon cap-and-trade prices could push up family energy bills on average of {L}227 or $377 a year.

Humphrey Cadoux-HudsonGreen groups fastened on the claim by EDF Energy CEO Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson (left) that the price of carbon would have to rise to {L}25-35/ton as a floor price to push energy investments to nuclear energy. He reportedly said that the current price of carbon permits is too low.

“The waste product of fossil fuel generation needs to have a cost.”

If there is a loose spike in the tracks to derail Miliband’s plan for more nuclear energy, it is a public perception that the government will subsidize construction of new nuclear plants with increased prices for carbon permits. Taxpayer groups reacted to Hudson’s comments saying that EDF was trying to hold the government hostage.

Green groups went much further in their condemnation of EDF’s position. Ben Ayliffe, (right) a spokesman for Greenpeace, told the Times,

BenAyliffe-Greenpeace“They [EDF] has them by the short hairs. Even with the full resources of the French government behind them, it seems they cannot make the economics of new nuclear stack up.”

Government spokesmen responded that there are no plans to provide any subsidies and that private industry must provide the financing for new nuclear reactors. The spokesman told the Times,

“The government has no current plans to introduce a floor price for carbon. All our efforts are towards an ambitious deal at Copenhagen.”

What Miliband and the U.K. government know is that while nuclear reactors are expensive to build, once operating they are huge profit centers. They are banking, literally, on the fact that EDF and other firms planning to build reactors in the U.K. are focused on the profit potential as well.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Exelon exits growth through acquisition strategy

CEO John Rowe tells WSJ focus is on earnings

weathervaneOver at Atomic Insights Rod Adams has a long piece in which he tries to figure out what Exelon’s John Rowe is really doing about the nuclear renaissance. Adams has some strong opinions about where Rowe and Exelon are going. Right now the paradox is that Exelon (NYSE:EXC), as the nation’s largest nuclear utility, has no plans to build a new nuclear reactor in the next decade. The question is which way is Exelon headed in the nuclear renaissance?

Rowe is a force to be reckoned with since he is the CEO of Exelon and the past president of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). So, when he has something to say, people listen. Exelon’s corporate web site has the full text of his testimony to the Senate late week plus all his other speeches.

More significantly, Rowe has been talking a lot to the Wall Street Journal about earnings. On Oct 19, Rowe sat for an interview with WSJ reporter Rebecca Smith. A video segment from that interview captures him talking nonstop for almost three minutes about how he makes decisions and what factors drive them. That monolog isn’t in the text of the published interview which makes it is a good place to start.

Discontinuous data can make you dizzy

roi graphicOne of the hallmarks of executive thinking is the ability to deal with discontinuous data, events, and the general panorama of things you cannot control that impact your business. Rowe says he uses time as the organizing principle for investment decisions. He tells the WSJ utility executives have to use multiple time horizons. This is important because what he is saying is that he is focused on earnings and the time it takes to deliver gains from investments to stockholders.

Even though Rowe is the CEO of the largest nuclear utility in the country. he freely admits he is benefiting from 40-60 year investment decisions made by his predecessors. Worse for them, they never got to deliver these gains to stockholders. Rowe made money for Exelon buying nuclear reactors for a song and increasing their operating efficiency.

It’s like saying if a turnip falls off the truck Exelon will be there to pick it up. On the other hand, stockholders taking their dividends to the bank have no complaints. The depreciated assets are cash cows for the firm’s investors especially the big ones who own 5% or more of the stock.

The older plants are also magnets for controversy when it comes to relicensing them for another 20 years. Exelon isn’t alone in this field. Rival utility Entergy (NYSE:ETR) has a similar strategy and multiple headaches relicensing Indian Point and Vermont Yankee. Also, like Exelon, Entergy has no plans to build new nuclear power plants and is yet again reorganizing its assets for maximum earnings rather than growth. Entergy pushed back the dates for new reactors at Grand Gulf and Riverbend sites to the 2020s.

For Rowe, the best investments are those that deliver gains within three years. He tells the WSJ, “from an investor point of view, something that doesn’t pay off in 10 years isn’t viable.” That’s probably a clue why the firm isn’t building any new reactors which take a minimum of 10 years from a cold start to entering revenue service.

Exelon’s failed effort to acquire NRG

In fact, that single sentence is probably the biggest pointer to the reason why Exelon looks like it is exiting its growth by acquisition strategy and concentrating on earnings.

NRG LogoEarlier this year, Exelon tried to acquire NRG (NYSE:NRG) which owns and operates the South Texas Project (STP). Exelon’s $6 billion all stock offer was designed to not only buy two operating reactors, but also NRG’s planned two new units.

Exelon stockholders would have reaped immediate benefits from the cash generated by STP units 1 & 2. The deal looked good to Exelon, but NRG’s stockholders and Wall Street said it was priced too low. Exelon called off the effort after an NRG stockholder’s vote turned down its offer last July.

The value of the transaction was based on the idea it is lot cheaper to buy someone else’s the reactors rather than build new ones. This is how the beer industry grew in the U.S. Chances are your favorite micro-brew is actually owned by a major brewery. Note that Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD) itself got acquired by a Belgian company when the decline of the U.S. dollar put American assets up for grabs at fire sale prices. This is why Exelon went after NRG which itself had grown through acquisitions. It was a case of a bigger fish chasing a smaller one, but it got away.

Victoria Texas two-step

Exelon also exited its near-term plans to license and build twin nuclear reactors in Victoria, Texas. For a while no one, even Exelon’s contractors, were quite sure what the utility was doing in Texas. It finally became clear Exelon would not continue to pursue a license to build twin reactors at that site.

Instead, the firm will develop an Early Site Permit that holds its place in line with the NRC. The project was also complicated by Exelon’s low ranking for Federal loan guarantees when it chose the GE-Hitachi ESBWR reactor for the project. The Department of Energy reviewed the ESBWR’s then long-term prospects to get the design certified by the NRC and raised a red flag about time-to-market. Since then the ESBWR reactor has made progress at the NRC, but it came too late for Exelon.

Federal loan guarantees a long shot. Harvest strategy rules.

HarvestGrainAnother way to see what Exelon is doing is to call its direction a “harvest strategy.” For instance, if carbon cap-and-trade legislation eventually passes in Congress, Exelon, with 17 carbon emission free reactors, will benefit handsomely without having to invest a single dollar of its own money in new plants or uprates to existing plants.

What will it take for Exelon to invest in new nuclear reactors? Rowe tells the WSJ natural gas prices have to go up, and stay up, and the federal government has to offer substantial support via loan guarantees.

To this end, Rowe testified at a Senate hearing last week. He said the current ceiling of $18.5 billion should be raised to $50 billion. He targeted this number because it is a figure that got enough votes to pass in the Senate in 2008 when it was working on economic stimulus legislation. The Nuclear Energy Institute called for $100 billion.

Rowe also said he thinks the first round of new nuclear power plants will include just four new reactors. He cited as key reasons the current recession, the long-term price of natural gas, and infrastructure and supply chain limitations. He also said it could be as late as 2030 before the nation really gets up a head of steam to build large numbers of new nuclear power plants. Sen. Lamar Alexander may have a long wait for his 100 new nuclear reactors.

Nuclear utility likes sun dials

Money futuresWhile Rowe was offering his views on nuclear energy to the Senate, he was also working on following his own advice on investments and earnings. He announced plans to build a $60 million solar energy project in its home town of Chicago. It helps that the Department of Energy is issuing loan guarantees for the project.

Also, the solar energy plants is easily bolted together from readily manufactured components with a robust supply chain. It doesn’t take rocket science to build one or run one. And it takes less than three years to reap returns from one.

Rowe knows the solar plant, even operating at full capacity only 30% of the time, will deliver a reliable carbon emission free revenue stream to his stockholders. Ratepayers might not be happy with $0.15/KwHr electricity, but that isn’t Rowe’s problem.

Rowe isn’t exiting the nuclear renaissance. He just thinks that without federal loan guarantees it makes no sense to be in one even with carbon taxes unless they hit $75/ton for CO2 which is unlikely. So he’s putting his money where his mouth is. At least he is consistent.

And consistent returns and a rising stock price are all that Exelon’s stockholders really care about. They don’t care if it comes from solar, wind, gas, or nuclear so long as it keeps coming. John Rowe says he’s there to make sure that’s what the company delivers.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

What comes after Watts Bar?

At TVA shrinking demand for electricity shifts strategy focus to the long term

tva power map The Watts Bar II unit in east Tennessee is the only nuclear reactor under construction in the U.S. According to TVA, it is on schedule and expected to be finished in 2012. Once it enter revenue service, the $2.5 billion spent over five years will payoff with 1,200 MW of new electricity for a multi-state region. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which owns it, is facing unprecedented challenges not only to the further development of nuclear energy, but also its entire energy strategy.

Environmental groups have mounted a determined effort to stop the reactor from being completed and also to prevent TVA from building new ones like the two planned for TVA’s Bellefonte site in northern Alabama. In hearings Oct 8 before the NRC a broad coalition of green groups called the utility’s focus on nuclear energy “misguided,” and accused it of “compromising public safety” in its plans to build new nuclear reactors.

NYT2008122215010447CA major source of public pressure comes from distrust related to a giant coal ash spill. On Dec 22, 2008, more than 5 million cubic yards of dangerous black mud breached a dam at a TVA coal plant. The massive spill destroyed numerous homes and polluted the Tennessee River. TVA was slow to respond to the mess.

The physical disaster has now become a public relations nightmare touching the credibility of everything it does. Former TVA employee and whistlesblower Ann Harris, who criticized safety and security issues at TVA nuclear plants, told the NRC at the Oct 8 hearing in Sweetwater, TN, that because of the coal ash spill the utility cannot be trusted. "They will lie," she said.

Declining demand for electricity challenges TVA’s nuclear future

However, the biggest challenge to the utility’s plans for new nuclear power plants is coming from the very people TVA was set up to serve. The quasi-government corporation’s customers are using less electricity due to the deepest recession in decades. TVA VP John Hoagland (right) told the Times Free Press on Oct 24,”

hoagland“The economic downturn has changed some of our energy habits. Things will be different. We expect growth to return, but it’s going to be a lot slower.”

Slow economic growth means less demand for electricity. In response, TVA cancelled one of the two planned reactors at Bellefonte. The utility still has to make up its mind whether to complete one of two partially built reactors at the site or build an entirely new used based on the Westinghouse designed AP1000. That decision is still some time in the future.

Driving to complete Watts Bar II

1965 mustangThe immediate issue TVA has is to complete Watts Bar II and convince the NRC is knows what its doing. In the court of public opinion, TVA is being hammered by vivid imagery. Dan Safer, the head of the Tennessee Environmental Council, told the NRC Oct 8 the Watts Bar II reactor, which was designed in the 1960s, is about as modern as a 1965 Mustang.

Ashok Bhatnagar, TVA VP, responded that Watts Bar I, which is the same design, has operated reliably and safely at 90% capacity.

“We expect Watts Bar II will do the same,” he said.

Shaving peak power in a carbon constrained world

electric razorMeanwhile, to meet declining demand, TVA is redoing its strategic plan. The last plan had a target date of 2010 and never anticipated a global financial crash.

Because customers are using less electricity, TVA’s Hoagland is working on a plan to shave the peak power it supplies by 1,400 MW by 2012, which is 250 MW more than the output of one of those AP1000s.

In the world of unknowns, what TVA cannot yet plan for, is how legislation currently making its way through Congress will affect its coal-fired power plants. TVA has 11 coal plants which supply 15,000 MW of power. If Congress enacts carbon taxes and/or carbon-cap-and-trade laws, TVA could see the cost of electricity it supplies to customers shift north in a time when there is less demand for it.

These are not good prospects and the mere thought of it has driven the utility to do some serious head scratching about the role of nuclear energy in a carbon constrained world.

CSO060316: CSO Brass Portrait.  © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2006It is interesting that TVA has also brought to the table the very critics who roasted the utility at the NRC hearings. It seems counter-intuitive, like giving encouragement to the brass in an orchestra.

Then there are the 9 million people who buy electricity from TVA. Business groups also have a seat in the meetings, which take place behind closed doors to encourage free exchange of views and to prevent grand standing in the media.

Hoagland and other TVA executives have some time to put a new strategic plan together, but not too much time. And the old saw still applies, which is that life is what happens while you are making other plans. Change comes at you fast.

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AECL’s cloudy future

What if they held a sale and nobody came?

AECL SymbolOne of the arguments for having the government build nuclear reactors in Canada, via a ‘crown corporation,’ is that the private sector won’t have to take the risks given the enormous amounts of capital needed to pay for them. That principle is being called into question.

Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) is facing the prospect of being broken up via sale of its assets to investors. The problems are no one is sure what AECL is worth, who would buy it, or even whether the sale is in the government’s best interests.

No can say the conservative government of Stephen Harper hasn’t been paying attention. Members of parliament are in an uproar over the sale and also the escalating costs associated with AECL’s operations. It’s an issue ripe for the opposition party which wasted no time taking advantage of it.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen told the Montreal Gazette Nov 1 he thinks the return on investment from the sale of AECL’s assets to investors, sans the Chalk River reactor, will be near zero. He estimates the government has poured $8 billion in subsidies into AECL in recent years. Industry source reached by the Gazette apparently agree saying a sale of commercial side might bring $300 million.

According to the Gazette, the more numbers you look at the worse it gets. The newspaper reported that for the 12-month period ending last March, AECL received $642 million in government funds, including R&D support for the ACR-1000. It had $401 million in revenue, but recorded an operating loss of $413 million.

Current and former employees, speaking to the newspaper anonymously, went far beyond the boundaries of civility calling the firm “bloated” in terms of employment growth, and having “no firm prospects.”

It’s raining cheeseburgers, but they’re over cooked

cheeseburgers

At the top of the list of problems facing AECL is an ever increasing repair tab, and mounting delays, for the Chalk River isotope reactor. What started out as a minor leak has escalated into a $70 million retrofit and the possibility of return to service in March 2010 at the earliest. The closed reactor has created an international medical crisis because it supplies so much of North America's medical isotopes for diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.

Another high profile problem child for AECL is the retrofit of thePort Lepreau plant in New Brunswick province. There a planned $1.4 billion million refurbishment, designed to give the plant another 25 years of operating life, has gone south.

Best estimates are the price will increase by more than 50%, and instead of being completed in October, the plant might not be back in revenue service before next Spring. Meanwhile, ratepayers are being socked with the higher cost of replacement power at an estimated cost of $1 million a day.

Sales prospects

On the government side of the ledger, Serge Dupont, a government energy minister, told the newspaper AECL needed to be restructured if it is to survive. He thinks the new ACR-1000 reactor could generate revenue if sales could be booked for new plants in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia. Those sales would answer the catcalls of the opposition members of parliament and cement AECL’s future as a viable nuclear reactor vendor.

Dupont’s boss, Natural Resources Ministers Lisa Raitt, is trying to figure out if and when to sell AECL to investors. She hired bankers Rothschild & Sons to make recommendations, which they did, but so far Raitt has refused to release their findings.

A few entries in the order book would boost the price. Bruce Power has been looking at twin ACR-1000 reactors for a site in the tar sands region of Alberta. It would supply electricity and process heat to the oil industry there. Prospects look good for now. Bruce Power is building on its acquisition of Energy Alberta which has unmet demand for 9 GWe of electric power over the next decade.

There are doubts about the future of nuclear energy in Saskatchewan. Despite being a major exporter of uranium, the low population density of the western province puts it on the fence in terms of the economic feasibility of nuclear reactors there. Changes in Canada’s commitments to cut greenhouse gases as a result of the Copenhagen climate conference this December could boost the chances reactors will be built there.

In January 2009 AECL floated the idea of a merchant plant with two new reactors at Port Lepreau. However, the difficulty of developing a merchant project remains. None have ever been built in Canada.

Bright spots and long shots

rayofsunshineThere might be some bright spots on the horizon, but the immediate business and political climate is so dark that no one is likely to see them.

First, AECL’s newest design for a nuclear reactor, the ACR-1000, has completed a major milestone in its design review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). In September, the CNSC said “there are no fundamental barriers to licensing the ACR-1000 in Canada.” This means AECL will eventually be able to sell the reactor in Canada and perhaps for export.

The bad news so far -- no one is buying it. A major contract for the Darlington site in Ontario is mired in complex cost negotiations. Areva has a cost-competitive bid that is vying for the attention of provincial officials. They worry about lost AECL jobs in Ontario if they contract is award to Areva. What worries AECL executives more is how they are going to stimulate export sales abroad if they can’t sell the reactor at home.

Second, while all this turmoil is taking place, PM Harper is off to India to try to sell them the new AECL ACR-1000 reactor. Harper will be there starting Nov 16 for a three-day visit. During the trip Harper will update Canada’s civil nuclear trade agreement with India. The country has some aging, low power CANDU reactors. There is no word from the Indian government how they view Harper’s planned sales pitch. AECL could be late in its trip to the sales floor.

India is serious about building nuclear reactors. Last March it raised [euro] 8 billion from European banks for this purpose. Russia inked a deal last December involving four new reactors. Areva has a deal for two more with the longer term prospect of six EPRs. Both firms will sell India fuel for the reactors, once built, for the next 60 years.

Third, once the Port Lepreau reactor refurbishment is done, New Brunswick will sell the power station to Hydro-Quebec for $4.4 billion. However, Hydro-Quebec will not assume the debt, or cost over runs, from the current AECL refurbishment. Instead, the plant will become a subsidiary and retain its own set of business books.

HumptyDumptyNew Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham is pointing his finger at Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He wants the central government, which still owns AECL, to pay for the massive cost increases. Harper’s Natural Resources Minister, Ms. Raitt, hasn’t yet said whether she will pick up the tab.

AECl had hoped to use the Point Lepreau project as a showcase to promote its services to the global nuclear market. Instead, it has egg on its face. If Ms. Raitt succeeds in breaking up AECL, like Humpty Dumpty, no one will ever be able to put it back together again.

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Small reactors get Senate support

Two leading senators sign on with Colorado Sen. Mark Udall

SenMarkUdallColorado Senator Mark Udall, (right) has introduced a bill to authorize federal R&D for small, modular reactors. Udall said in a speech on the Senate floor he believes nuclear energy is an important part of the nation's response to global warming.

"Given the economic, national security, and environmental threats that our current energy system creates, we need a comprehensive and cleaner energy policy. In this regard, nuclear energy clearly has emerged as an important player in our search for a stable and domestic energy source that has less greenhouse gas emissions."

Going against type

In supporting nuclear energy, Udall is going against his political base and family history. Colorado is one of the greenest states with a long history of opposition to nuclear energy spurred in part by the failure of the Ft. St. Vrain nuclear reactor located 40 miles north of Denver. It never had an accident, but it was a technical and financial failure. Decommissioning was completed in 1992.

Also, Udall is the son of the late Arizona congressman Morris Udall. He is the nephew of former secretary of the interior Stewart Udall. According to media reports,he is considered an strong supporter of environmental organizations and has support their drive to expand the use of renewable energy sources including solar, wind, and biomass.

Key senators support Udall’s bill

Udall's bill, the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative Improvement Act of 2009, is co-sponsored by Senate energy and natural resources committee chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat from new Mexico, and the ranking Republican member of that committee, Sen Lisa Murkowski a Republican from Alaska. Both are strong supporters of nuclear energy which gives Udall’s bill a better than even chance of not winding up in the scrap heap of symbolic bills.

coleman220jaIt would authorize the government to research small-scale nuclear power plants as a source of electricity. Some of the R&D would take place at the Colorado School of Mines. The Colorado School of Mines has a history of R&D collaboration with the Idaho National Laboratory as a scientific user of the INL’s Advanced Test Reactor (ATR).

There was no word whether the bill would also change the way to NRC conducts cost recovery for reactor design certification for small reactors. The bill number is S.2052. Here is a PDF file courtesy of Sen. Udall's office.

Green groups target Colorado uranium mining impacts

Environmental groups in Colorado lashed out at Udall's bill. Keith Hay, a spokesman for Denver-based Environment Colorado, said his group disagreed with Udall, and called the measure is just so much "buckshot" and is not a silver bullet for dealing with climate change.

envcoeEnvironmental groups also criticized Udall on the grounds that expansion of nuclear energy means more uranium mining will take place in Colorado. Hay said the state is "on the dirty front end" of the nuclear fuel cycle.”

However, recent developments in Colorado show green groups may not be holding sway on the issue of uranium mining. Recently, the Montrose County Commission unanimously approved a special use permit for a new 500 ton/day uranium mill to be built by Energy Fuels (TSE:EFR) in the Paradox Valley.

Most uranium mining in the western slope is underground. However, Powertech (TSE:PWE), a Canadian firm, is developing an ISR mine near Nunn, Colo. Despite noisy opposition in Weld and Larimer counties, the company continues to make progress with permitting the mine with Colorado regulatory authorities.

Video of Udall’s Senate speech on nuclear energy

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On keeping up with the news

Twitter is not a substitute for blogging

twitter-emeraldReaders of this blog will note a few changes in recent weeks. I’ve been doing less “tweeting” and more in-depth reporting about the nuclear industry. While Tweeting is important for breaking nuclear news, it is not a substitute for blogging.

Yet, the temptation is there to just tweet away and not do the skull work necessary to bring readers answers to the “so what” questions. The reason is the volume of nuclear energy news is increasing at a rapid pace. This past week, with three days of Senate climate and energy hearings, it was overwhelming. Like most of the other nuclear bloggers, I’m a one-man operation and this isn’t my day job.

Frankly, that is the challenge. Answering the “so what” questions is the heart of the spirit of this blog. Anyone can write a summary of a wire service story. In the nearly four years this blog has been in service, what readers and other nuclear bloggers tell me is this.

Alchemists Explaining is better than telling. Creating understanding of how the pieces of the puzzle fit together is even more valuable.

On the other hand, writing a blog isn’t alchemy. I’m not turning lead into gold here, but I do strive not to burden you with leaden prose.

So, while I will continue to tweet breaking news, and publish new posts on this blog, I am focused on the writing. The tweets will come and go, but the blog posts remain. Just in case you were wondering. :-)

Oh yes, for those who want to follow the breaking news tweets, I’m djysrv on Twitter.

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China plans commercial fast reactors

fast_neutronTwo units are being acquired from Russia and a domestic design is in the works

China’s massive drive to build 70 GWe of conventional light water reactors by 2020 will be augmented by an emerging effort to also build advanced “fast” sodium-cooled reactors (large graphic) that burn and produce nuclear fuel at the same time. The Wall Street Journal reported Oct 30 the “Experimental Fast Reactor” is being designed to have a power generating capacity of 800 MW and is due to come online in 2020.

The WSJ report indicated the fast reactor would be built at Sanming City in Fujian province. However, an Oct 15 report by World Nuclear News put the two Russian units at a coastal location though possibly still in the same province. In any case, the WSJ report indicates the project will break ground by 2013.

XuMi China NuclearXu Mi, the chief engineer (right) of the Fast Reactor Experiment Department at the China Institute of Atomic Energy is reportedly the leader of the effort. An undated 24-page English translation of the conceptual design for the Chinese fast reactor by this engineer was published by the IAEA. It is for a 65 MW unit and appears to have been published following initial R&D work in the late 1990s. More recently, he was listed on the program of the 2009 China Nuclear Energy Congress held in Beijing May 19-21,2009.

China to buy two units from Russia

russiaNot all the work will be home grown. Like its work on light water reactors, China is developing its new fast reactors with a combination of its own scientific work and buying needed expertise from other sources. China signed an agreement with Russia to build two fast reactor units similar to the BN-800. If the agreement is carried out as planned, it will be the first export of a fast reactor by Russia.

While there are numerous R&D efforts related to fast reactors, only Russia is committed to the design for commercial purposes. According to the GlobalSecurity, Russia is working toward having the BN-800 in commercial service as early as 2012

U.S. lags behind Chinese and Russian efforts

ANLWestEarly work on fast reactors in the U.S. took place at Argonne West in Idaho (EBR-II) and was shut down in the mid-1990s. More recently, GE-Hitachi has indicated it is developing its PRISM rector based on the Integral Fast Reactor design. According to the NRC, GEH plans to submit the PRISM reactor design for certification in 2011. Assuming it meets this milestone, the NRC could issue a safety evaluation report by 2015. An operating fast reactor, depending on its size, could be operational in the realm of 2020-2022.

Additional Information

See also the report on this blog from last June on the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) and the excellent briefing on the IFR by Barry Brook and Steve Kirsch on the blog Brave New Climate.

For more information on technical aspects of fast reactors, see the World Nuclear Association briefing on this technology. For a plain English briefing, with pros-and-cons of the technology, see What is Nuclear.

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