Saturday, November 14, 2009

Live from ANS Winter Meeting

There’s a lot going on at the American Nuclear Society conference in Washington, DC, Nov 15-19

Wash Dc

Wheels down at OMNI Shoreham hotel!

If you work in the nuclear energy industry, the “can’t miss” conference is ANS Winter Meeting & Nuclear Technology Expo. It will take place Nov 15-19 at the OMNI Shoreham hotel in Washington, DC.

The opening plenary session Monday morning, Nov 16, will set the stage for the meeting. It will include, among others,

  • Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) who has called for 100 new reactors to be built by 2020;
  • Gregory Jaczko, Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
  • Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, Chairman of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee,
  • Mike Wallace, COO Constellation Energy, which is expected to break ground in 2012 with Calvert Cliffs III, an Areva EPR,and,
  • Warren (Pete) Miller, Assistant Secretary, Nuclear Energy, U.S. Department of Energy.

I’ll be blogging from the ANS conference where there are always lots of exciting developments in the nuclear energy field.

Nuclear bloggers meet-up

blogging Another interesting event will be the meeting of nuclear energy bloggers on Tuesday, Nov 17, at 6:30 PM, in the Capitol Room. This is a continuation of the dialog we started at the ANS meeting in Atlanta last June.

I’m incredibly excited about this session for two reasons. First, I want to thank my colleagues who also publish nuclear blogs for their support. Second, we have sponsors including Areva, CoolHandNuke, and Fuel Cycle Week. See this blog post for details and Areva's blog announcement (poster below). We hope to see you there.

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 social media event is not part of the official ANS program nor is it sponsored or endorsed by ANS. They have graciously allowed us to use one of the hotel conference rooms for this meeting.

Wiznucleus Exhibit Booth

As readers of this blog know, it is not my day job. I make my living in the world of marketing communications for clients in the nuclear industry.

Wiznucleus logo

At the ANS meeting, I’ll be helping staff a booth for one of my most important clients. It is Wiznucleus, which is a knowledge management software company. This is not your usual exhibitor booth full of sales reps in suits. It will be staffed by principals for the firm and its partners.

Wiznucleus develops and implements knowledge management solutions for the nuclear energy industry. These tools are designed to meet the challenges of knowledge capture, risk management, and regulatory requirements in the nuclear industry. Wiznucleus is a nuclear company with extraordinary IT capabilities.

Here’s a profile of the key executives who will be at the ANS Exhibit booth.

Krish_Shetty Krish Shetty CEO – a graduate of Harvard Business School, Mr. Shetty has in the past 20 years successfully started and developed several profitable high-technology firms delivering hardware and software solutions to customers.

Wiznucleus got its start with work done during Mr. Shetty’s earlier efforts in partnership with another firm. They developed knowledge management solutions for reactor design certification and reactor licensing under NRC’s standard review approach and One-Step Licensing. Wiznucleus is his latest start-up which is rapidly developing an international customer base.

Read more about Krish Shetty at Linkedin

Bruce_Hinkley Bruce Hinkley VP at Beckman Associates, and a graduate of the US Naval Academy, has over 30 years of nuclear industry experience as both a consultant and utility executive in the areas of design engineering, operations, start-up testing/commissioning, and construction.

He currently leads Beckman Associates, a partner with Wiznucleus, in the areas of nuclear engineering and business services. He has been an engineering executive for Maine Yankee, Yankee Atomic, and Carolina Power & Light. He served on the U.S. nuclear submarine Simon Bolivar SSBN 641 as a nuclear division officer.

Read more about Bruce Hinkley at Linkedin

Margaret-Harding Margaret Harding, a graduate of Iowa State University, is President, 4 Factor Consulting. She serves as a strategic advisor to Wiznucleus.

She has over 27 years experience in the nuclear energy business including an executive career at General Electric’s Nuclear Energy business unit leading large engineering groups. She is a Nuclear Quality Assurance Auditor and has extensive experience in BWR reactor core and fuel designs.

Read more about Margaret at Linkedin.

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Please stop by and see us. The Exhibit Hall will be open for the President’s reception Sunday night, 11-5 Monday, and 10-1 on Tuesday. You can also check out the company's website and blog.

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Tamar’s Law: You say you want a carbon revolution?

But world governments must open their wallets first

Guest Blog Post by Tamar Cerafici*

Kattegatt1This is my last post from Sweden, as things heat up for the climate change conference next month in Copenhagen which is just across a narrow body of water (left) called the Kattegatt.

A bit of history: the Kattegatt is an interesting maritime formation, where the Baltic Sea flows through narrow and shallow straits before it joins the north sea. Dutch mariners called it the "Cat's Hole" because it was so narrow and shallow that even a cat would have difficulty squeezing its way between the reefs and narrow passages.

Copenhagen lies at one of the narrowest points of this treacherous course (the honor for narrowest goes to Elsinore, where Sweden's shores are a mere 2.5 km northeast ).

There will be some interesting goings-on at the climate change talks in Copenhagen next month.

Some, like the Guardian, have already hinted the something is rotten in Denmark, or at least in predictions of the World Energy Outlook (WEO), the leading energy forecast prepared for the 15th round of climate change talks since the international community sang kumbaya in Rio.

Rotten or no, the WEO is grim

The international community as a whole has failed to make adequate infrastructure changes to support a meaningful response to climate change. Developed nations have, in fact, cut back on energy investments that would contribute to reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

kattegat3jpgThe International Energy Agency (IEA), publisher of the report, clearly recognizes the world Is in a deep recession and life is miserable on many fronts. It also recognizes that with the recession carbon emissions have gone down, and the international community has a unique opportunity to make the investments it needs to meaningfully address climate change this time around.

With the recession carbon emissions have fallen to the point that there is some breathing room. Investments have fallen, too.

Time for a low-carbon revolution

This is a problem. With the lack of capital the impact on more efficient use of energy is seen when a household keeps an old refrigerator and our energy security rises when exploration ceases and low carbon projects are shut down.

Sure, households and private industry must make significant Investments. But governments must also step up to the plate. They set national and international policy – households and industry don’t.

Governments hold the keys to changing the mix of energy development. Only governments can make the national and international policy framework that can steer Investment and consumption decisions to low carbon options.

An alarming fossil energy path

This is big news, because the economists behind the WEO don't generally get terribly excited, or political. They are this year.

For example, one set of predictions, the Reference Scenario, assumes that no changes are made in world energy policy. The Reference Scenario predicts that increased fossil fuel use (arguably as a result of our failure to invest now) moves us "inexorably" towards a long-term concentration of GHG in the atmosphere that will cause a 6° C rise in global average temperature. Sea rise follows as day follows night.

maldives_colourbox999476 Recent photograph of an island in the Maldives. Courtesy COP15 website

Increased reliance on imports from countries that still have fossil fuel will adversely affect energy security worldwide.

Moreover, failure to invest now will lock us into high carbon energy use for years to come as a result of long engineering, procurement and construction lead times for most low carbon alternatives.

Limit global temperature rise to 2° C

The IEA lays out a clear plan for avoiding Doomsday. This is going to require aggressive commitments in international agreements and national policies, and apparently some militancy from the developing world.

And it’s easier said than done.

The UN’s Barcelona run-up to Copenhagen two weeks ago wanted the developed nations to commit to reductions of 25-40% of GHG by 2020. It’s been difficult for industrialized nations to commit, so the African delegations boycotted the meeting. An entire continent walked out for a day.

In response, a US negotiator accused the boycotting countries of refusing to accept responsibility for immediate action. Really?

Governments must fund the global revolution

g20_nov09_20091107-195046-6_webThe happier "450 scenario," where governments agree to limit global rise in temperature to 2° C, is based on an international investment of around $10.5 trillion over the period between now and 2030; in the long term the investment would be returned on the sale of carbon credits, increased health, and energy security benefits. Short term government investment - in the form of stimulus efforts is crucial.

The cost averages out to an annualized investment of about $50 billion for the US, with similar commitments required from other industrialized countries. The G-20 finance ministers couldn't even agree to that last week.

Governments must commit to aggressive action

Globally, the challenge is to find the right tools and incentives to insure that developing countries will reduce their carbon emissions. The likelihood of this happening in Copenhagen is as grim as the WEO.

Nationally, at least in the US, the politics of climate change must change.

Coal state Democrats are threatening to scuttle the Senate climate change bill, likely limiting the effectiveness of US participation in Copenhagen. In any case, it is unlikely there will be any Senate action worth talking about when the climate conference kicks off.

A “thumbs up” for nuclear

The WEO notes that the low carbon revolution must be supported by increases in renewables (72% by 2030), nuclear (19%), and carbon sequestration.

Fatih Birol, the economist who prepared the report, said that nuclear energy would not be a “bridge technology” like natural gas. Instead, nuclear energy is going to play a “crucial role” in the 450 Scenario.

In fact, the report gives an unequivocal thumbs up to nuclear, noting: "Nuclear technology is the only large-scale, baseload electricity generation technology with a near-zero carbon footprint, apart from hydropower (potential for which is often limited).”

Good news on the global front. Now, if the US delegation, the administration, and Congress will pay attention, we can have a nuclear renaissance here.

Actually, I don’t think we have a choice. But if the Dutch traders could successfully navigate the Kattegatt, it’s possible that we can make it through the dangerous waters ahead.

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)

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Green groups slime Duke on MOX fuel

Anti-nuclear groups claim the end of a fuel test is “huge setback” for the utility

A rapid-fire exchange of press releases this week Friday, Nov 13 made short order of a claim [press release] by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) that the end of testing of MOX fuel in a Duke Power reactor is a “huge setback” to the program.

Identical letters sent Nov 10 by Tom Clements, representing both two green organizations, to Energy Sec. Steven Chu and NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko claimed that a decision by Duke not to reload test bundles of MOX fuel at the Catawba reactor represents a “failure to demonstrate” the safety of the fuel in a conventional light water reactor.

The letter called the situation “an aborted test” and claimed that as a result the MOX fuel is unsafe for use in civilian nuclear reactors. The remainder of the letter is incendiary with claims that the MOX fuel program should not proceed as a result of the “decision” by Duke Energy.

This is one of those stories that pretty much writes itself, but it is still worth walking you through the high points. It is not the first time these groups have promoted a rush to judgment about MOX fuel nor is it likely to be the last.

Duke Energy says ‘no so fast’

mox fuel

The first shot across the bow in response to the slime attack by the two green groups comes from Duke Energy. According to a media report in the Charleston Regional Business Journal Nov 13, Duke Power issued a statement that the decision not to reload the MOX fuel has nothing to do with success or failure of the testing program.

Instead, the utility said the fuel has been sent to Oak Ridge for testing and that the remainder of the fuel outage for the Catawba reactor is on schedule. Duke Energy spokesperson Rita Sipe told the Journal the evaluation of the fuel at a lab in Tennessee is part of the project.

“For us nothing has really changed. The technical evaluation of the fuel rods was part of the lead assembly program. We have expressed interest in a new proposal [for use of MOX fuel] and we are still supportive of the program”

According to the Journal, Sipe acknowledged that Duke’s contract with Shaw Areva MOX Services to conduct the tests lapsed last December, but she said the utility has sent the company a letter of intent to continue the relationship.

DOE answers the charges

nnsa_logo_smThe second response came from DOE’s NNSA office, which arranged the MOX fuel test, and which is building a $4.8 billion MOX fuel manufacturing facility in South Carolina. It issued a strong statement refuting the claim by the two anti-nuclear groups.

NNSA spokesperson Jennifer Wagner said in an email to this blog . . .

“The news release issued today by Friends of the Earth is inaccurate and draws incorrect conclusions about the performance of the MOX lead test assemblies.”

- The FOE press release is incorrect that three cycles of irradiation of Lead Test Assemblies are essential to license the use of MOX fuel in reactors. Irradiation of the MOX lead test assemblies (LTAs) for two 18-month cycles was successfully completed as required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. After a post-irradiation examination of five rods from the LTAs is completed next year, sufficient data will exist from the two cycles of irradiation to demonstrate that MOX fuel performs satisfactorily.

- The removal of the Lead Test Assemblies from the Catawba 1 Reactor after two cycles was not related to the fact that the fuel was MOX. As explained when the LTAs were removed, the LTAs had experienced assembly growth and rod bow slightly in excess of predictions. This had nothing to do with the fact that it was MOX fuel; the same phenomenon has been observed in many uranium assemblies of the same physical design.

In addition, she said, the Department of Energy has evaluated numerous approaches for disposing of surplus weapon-grade plutonium and, "simply put, there is no, ‘cheaper, safer and faster alternative. This critical project also is important for the Southeastern region of the United States, where it will create jobs and stimulate the local economy.”

The question has to be asked, if anti-nuclear groups don' want the weapons' plutonium used on new nuclear fuel in civilian reactors that will keep the lights on, what is their plan? Their letter doesn't offer one.

What’s wrong with this picture?

one way signThe problem here is that the two environmental groups went all in, as they say in poker, in an effort to derail the MOX fuel program. They made false claims about the MOX test to the top government officials. This isn't dialog over honest differences.

The problem for FOE and UCS is that Chu and Jaczko are smart guys and can see through this smokescreen. Chu earned a Nobel Price for his science accomplishments so this is not someone you want to blow spoke at. What kind of significance will be attached to the next letter the two groups send to the government?

There is another way to look at these distortions by the Friends of the Earth and the Union of Concern Scientists. They are no different than conspiracy theories of a decade ago that “black helicopters” are being used by the government to harass ordinary citizens.

The problem with conspiracy theories is that once they are out into the mainstream, they have no mass, and like neutrinos pass through everything, including some news media editor’s brains, without being affected by logic, reason, or analysis. This is not the case with the Charlotte Business Journal which did a good job of capturing Duke Energy's response. Whew.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Even more startling, the blunt tactics of the two groups ignore the fact that the MOX fuel program is designed to recycle plutonium from decommissioned nuclear weapons. It takes nuclear bomb material out of the weapons complex forever. It is crucial to the mutual agreement with Russia to reduce the number of nuclear weapons we still have pointing at each other left over from the Cold War.

One would think that an anti-nuclear group like the Union of Concerned Scientists would support this program. Apparently, in the upside down world of green politics, they do not. So, for the record, here is the rationale. NNSA Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Ken Baker said last July . . .

“By disposing of surplus weapons plutonium in a transparent and irreversible manner, the United States is demonstrating our commitment to meeting our nuclear nonproliferation commitments. The MOX program is an important component of our nuclear security agenda that also holds the promise of cheaper nuclear reactor fuel for consumers.”

Over at Nuclear Street, Duncan Williams points out that the Savannah River Site is not reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from civilian nuclear reactors.

“The Savannah River Site’s process will focus on extracting “weapons-grade” plutonium. Not only is weapons-grade plutonium of a higher purity than reactor-grade plutonium, but the plutonium coming from spent nuclear fuel includes many other impurities from fission products as a result of being irradiated for years inside a nuclear reactor.”

TVA letter of intent leads the way

pu atomicIt is also noteworthy that in addition to Duke Energy, TVA has signed a letter of intent with Shaw Areva MOX Services to negotiate a contract to receive MOX fuel. Last July NNSA said in a statement the letter of intent signed by the Tennessee Valley Authority and MOX Services “is an important step forward for a critical nuclear nonproliferation objective.”

The nonbinding letter of intent signed by MOX Services and TVA came one week after President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a joint statement on nuclear cooperation that reaffirmed their commitment to dispose of 34 metric tons each of weapons-grade plutonium in the United States and Russia.

TVA is evaluating the use of MOX fuel in its Sequoyah Units 1 and 2, its Browns Ferry Units 1, 2, and 3, as well as future reactors.

NNSA said in a statement that “following further evaluation, TVA and MOX Services intend to enter contract negotiations that could result in the execution of an agreement in the summer of 2010 for irradiation of MOX fuel in two or more reactors.”

According to current schedules, the MOX facility will begin producing fuel in 2016. In addition to TVA, there are three other utilities interested in irradiating MOX fuel.

Something you can do – no more fish stories

sardinesOne of the things that makes this story so amazing is that Friends of the Earth thought Sec. Chu and Chairman Jaczko would buy their claim hook, line, and sinker. It’s really just a fish story, and there is something you can do about it.

Friends of the Earth has an office in Washington, DC. If you feel that green groups shouldn’t be going around telling fish stories, send them a can of fish as a protest. Be nice. Choose a clean can of tuna or sardines. Include a brief note explaining why you are sending them the canned fish. You can keep it simple and use a magic marker to scrawl on the can “no more fish stories." That will make the point. Here is their address.

Friends of the Earth
1717 Massachusetts Avenue, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036

Prior coverage about MOX fuel on this blog

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Mobile live blogging for ANS winter meeting coverage now enabled. Tweet hash tag is. #ans09
Wheels up in one day 4 ANS

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Update on MOX fuel in Japan, UK, and US

MOX fuel loaded in Japan

Closed nuclear fuel cycleJapan took another step to insure its energy independence this month when it began loading MOX (Mixed Oxide Fuel) at the Genkai #3 nuclear reactor owned and operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co (TYO:9508) It is the first time MOX fuel has been loaded into a commercial nuclear reactor in Japan. (diagram from Japan Nuclear Corp.)

About one-third of the 193 fuel assemblies were swapped out during a scheduled refueling outage and 16 of the new ones contain MOX fuel. The utility plans to triple the number of MOX fuel assemblies to 48. All of the MOX fuel is being produced under contract with Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). The MOX fuel was fabricated at Areva’s Melox plant in June 2009.

MOX shipmentEnvironmental groups protested the shipment of the fuel from France to Japan earlier this year despite the use of a vessel designed to carry this type of cargo. It arrived safely in Japan in May 2009.

According to World Nuclear News, MOX fuel is produced by recovering plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. Use of the plutonium in new fuel increases the energy it generates by 12%. If new, un-irradiated uranium, is used, the energy increase over conventional fuel is increased to 22% compared to conventional LWR reactor fuel. The process of recycling spent nuclear fuel decreases the volume of other fission byproducts by over 60%.

The Genjai reactor, a 1,127 MW unit, began operations in 1994. Other Japanese utilities are planning to follow its lead in the use of MOX fuel. Shikoku Electric Power and Chubu Electric Power have announced plans to start using MOX fuel next year. According to estimates published by the Japanese nuclear power industry, there will be 16-18 reactors using MOX fuel by 2015.

Testing extended for Japanese Rokkasho reprocessing plant

Nuclear fuel assembly colorJapan Nuclear Fuel (JNFL) announced recently that it will extend the trial operations of its spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northeastern Japan by another 12 months. The Rokkasho facility has suffered from equipment problems and reports of leaks of liquid radioactive waste processing byproducts.

The plant is designed to produce MOX fuel for Japan’s nuclear utility industry. The original trial run of 18 months was begun three years ago according to Kyodo News.

The reprocessing plant is now under final commissioning test. Company officials said in August 2009 on the firm's web site they are ready to confirm the safety and stability quality of the plant equipment with using spent fuels at this final stage.

The maximum reprocessing capacity of the plant is 800 tons U/year, enough to reprocess the spent fuel produced from 40 reactors at 1,000 MW-class nuclear power plants. That is nearly equal to 80% of annual spent fuel generation in Japan. One of the key issues is material accountability for the plutonium separated and handled in the plant.

The unique feature in this plant is uranium-plutonium co-denitration process. Owing to this process, the plant does not produce plutonium as a single element, which has considerable advantages for non-proliferation. Operations at all reprocessing facilities, located separately, are controlled and monitored at the central control room. The mainframe computer and central control board enables efficient operation.

Sellafield MOX plant will continue operations

The UK Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has decided to continue the operation of the Sellafield MOX plant. The facility, along with the THORP plant, make mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for Japanese utilities and European customers. The plants recovers uranium and plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, but neither has performed to expectations since they started operations in 2001.

The ‘Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant" (Thorp) suffered a major internal leak in 2005 which went on for some time due to failure of the operations staff to detect it. No external releases resulted from the leak which poured 20,000 gallons of liquid radioactive material into a sump. The British Nuclear Group, then the operator of the plant, was fined {L} 500,000 for violations of safety regulations. Restart of operations was scheduled for 2008, but has been delayed repeatedly due to continuing equipment problems.

sellafuield ltd logoThe decision by the NDA to continue to try to restart the plant for continuous operations comes following the appointment of a new consortium of contractors to run the plant composed of Areva, URS / Washington Divsion, and AMEC. The deal is worth $2.1 billion a year.

The NDA said that demand from customers for MOX fuel was one of the primary reasons it decided to assign the new contractor consortium with the task of getting the plant back into commercial operation. The NDA said it seems a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of getting plant equipment to work reliably without breakdowns or safety hazards. The NDA noted that the plant recently completed eight MOX fuel assemblies for a customer in Europe.

Home-Kitchen-Blender_08 Competition to THORP is coming in the U.S. A MOX plant is under construction in South Carolina by the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy. The $4.5 billion facility is expected to be operational in 2016 following a two-year period of start-up testing. It will be capable of processing 3.5 metric tons of plutonium a year into MOX fuel. It’s NRC license is good for 20 years. It will blend plutonium and uranium oxides to make the "mixed oxide" fuel.

The plant is being built by Shaw Areva MOX Services. TVA and Duke Power have signed contracts to test the use of MOX fuel. Areva’s EPR reactor, which is currently in design certification at the NRC, can burn MOX fuel. The first U.S. unit is expected to break ground in 2012 at Calvert Cliffs III in Maryland. Also, Duke Power and Areva have announced plans for an EPR reactor for Piketon, OH. Two other utilities in the U.S. have also listed Areva's EPR reactor as the design reference in their license applications to the NRC for new plants.

GE-Hitachi promotes PRISM reactor in the U.K.

There may be a market for an advanced nuclear fuel recycling system in the U.K. given the size of its recently announced new nuclear build. The U.K. said this week it will commit to build 12 GWe of nuclear energy power stations with the first units expected to enter revenue service by the middle of the next decade.

In presentations to energy industry analysts, GE-Hitachi (GEH) said it is developing an “Advanced Recycling Center” or ARC, using a “4th generation” sodium-cooled fast reactor called PRISM. The ARC includes an ellectro-metallurgical separation process that would lead to manufacturing of new MOX TYPE fuel without separating the plutonium in its pure form. The name PRISM is reportedly based on the design shape of the fuel elements. GEH has not released a lot of technical detail in this area so this information is subject to change.

ANL-WestThe PRISM reactor is based on the design of the Integral Fast Reactor first developed at Argonne West in Idaho. See Eric Lowen’s briefing to ANS for technical details.

Lisa Price, the GEH executive in charge of developing the process, told the analysts this feature will meet the objections of the nonproliferation community. She said the technical challenge is building fast reactors that are cost-competitive in terms of their inputs to the total process. She said the firm expects governments to be the primary customers for the ARC system though none so far have signed contracts for it.

Energy Analyst Tim Stone of KPMG, told Reuters the design “is very clever.”

“The principles have been known for a long time. A positive part is it burns the worst radioactive waste (actinides).”

Tim Abram, a professor of nuclear fuel at Manchester University, told Reuters the basic technology has been demonstrated, but that so far it appears fast reactors will cost about 20% more than conventional LWR designs.

Ian Hore-Lacy, an analyst with the World Nuclear Association, told Reuters interest in fast reactors is increasing because of their ability to burn waste fission products that would otherwise have to be stored for very long periods of time in a geologic repository.

However, Hore-Lacy also noted that all of the MOX manufacturing operations would have to be done via remote manipulation in heavily shielded facilities due to the high levels of radioactivity.

“No one has yet demonstrated these robotic capabilities on industrial scales.”

GEH’s Price responded to comments by energy analysts saying that using fast reactors is going to be more expensive than today’s LWR reactors. She noted that the GEH PRISM system puts energy back in the economy through recycled MOX fuel. She added that when you take that factor into account, along with the comparison to long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel, then the economics of recycling and manufacturing of MOX fuel make sense.

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More reading on MOX fuel

Over at Nuclear Street Duncan Williams has another of his excellent "under the hood" series of columns on MOX fuel. It is rich in technical nuance, but very accessible for the non-technical reader. It is well worth your time.

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Western lands uranium gopher for 11/12/09

gopherGreen groups chase uranium miners in Montrose County, Colorado

This blog posted is an edited version of a report published in Fuel Cycle Week, V8:N352 by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC

Want to know what comes with the territory running a uranium mine in Montrose County, Colorado? The answer is being pecked at by ducks, metaphorically speaking, as a result of actions by the Sheep Mountain Alliance which made life a bit harder, but not impossible, for two uranium operations there.

The group attacked the supply of raw uranium ore and a planned uranium mill in a two-pronged effort to undermine the fuel cycle for the nuclear energy industry.

In the first action, the group filed a protest with the Department of Interior over the adequacy of an environmental assessment for the Topaz Mine. In the second action, it filed a lawsuit against the Montrose County Commissioners over their decision to grant a permit to Energy Fuels for a new 500 ton/day uranium mill. Both sites are in Naturita, Colo.

As a result of the environmental protest, Denison Mines (AMEX:DNN) was told this week by the Colorado State Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that it wanted more information on a proposal to expand the firm's Topaz mine. Specifically, BLM asked for more data on the condition and environmental effects of waste piles and on groundwater monitoring data related to them.

Jamie Sellar-Baker, BLM's Associate Manager for the San Juan Public Lands Center in Dolores, Colo, told FCW the waste piles have been there for three decades since mining first started at the Topaz site, and four others that are part of the Sunday Mine complex. She said the request for data doesn't stop the current mine from operating as long as Denison doesn't increase the footprint of the current dump site.

Ron Hockstein, CEO of Denison Mines, told FCW the BLM request for new information was "routine." He also said that due to low uranium mining prices, the Topaz mine was on standby status.

Hilary White, a spokesman for the Sheep Mountain Alliance, and Jeff Parsons, an attorney representing the group, from the Western Mining Action Project, said the environmental assessment [EA] was inadequate because it didn't produce a new baseline of the impacts of the 30-year old waste dump.

Sellar-Baker said that her office made a decision that since Dension wasn't proposing a new mine, that current information on the waste piles from prior owners was all that was needed for the EA. She said that new surface disturbances would add up to about 20 acres. Denison has asked for permission to drill new exploration holes, put in new vents to the underground mine, are repair some surface structures and equipment.

White and Parsons also asked the Colorado State Office to overturn the EA based on a claim there was no regional assessment of the cumulative impacts of uranium mining. BLM turned them down flat on that issue. Sellar-Baker said she thinks the groups know they have a weak case for that issue under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because they didn't take their appeals to the Department of Interior Board of Land Appeals in Washington, DC.

Sellar-Baker said that while acquiring the new information could take some time, it is likely the end result will be no change in the EA.

"There is a chance that the data will show no new mitigation efforts are needed relative to the decision to expand the dump area."

The only real substantive issue that came up in the EA for the mine was a request by the Colorado Department of Transportation that Denison improve the mine access road where it meets a state highway to make it safer from ore trucks to enter traffic. When the Sunday Mine complex is operating, ore from the mine is shipped to Denison's White Mesa Mill in Blanding, Utah, for processing.

Denison to put Arizona mine into production

Denison Mines (AMEX:DNN) will bring its 100% owned Arizona 1 mine near Fredonia, Ariz., into production in 1Q 2010 with expected output in 2010 of 156,000 pounds U3O8. Planned production in 2011 is 461,000 pounds, and in 2012 it is 240,000 pounds.

The ore, with an expected yield of 11 pounds per ton, will be hauled by truck 315 miles to Dension's White Mesa Mill near Blanding, Utah. Total production from the mine over the next three years, which is an underground breccia pipe, is 857,000 pounds U3O8 based on an ore volume of 72,121 tons.

When asked about the long haul distance, Curt Steele, VP for Marketing, told FCW, "I don't think we're breaking any records here. If we didn't have such a good grade, we wouldn't consider hauling it that far."

Steele told FCW the firm expects to see a spot price for the uranium of $53/lb and a long-term contract price of $65/pound. He said total revenue over three years is expected to be about $51 million.

Cash operating costs will be $30.50/lb of which $13.52 is for mining and hauling the ore to the mill. Mill costs are estimated to be $10.88/lb with additional costs of $5.86 for overhead and $0.74/lb for reclamation.

Capital costs are budgeted at $2.3 million as most mine infrastructure is already in place. Of this amount, $0.4 million is for new underground equipment.

The underground mine is 1,252 feet deep with expected production of 335 tons of ore per day, four days a week. The mine will employ 32 people.

Ron Hockstein, CEO, told FCW this is the first of a series of breccias-type uranium deposits the firm expects to develop in the next few years.

Energy Fuels permit is basis for lawsuit

While Denison was swatting off what amounted to a nuisance protest over the Topaz Mine, the Sheep Mountain Alliance as filing a lawsuit against the Montrose County Commissioners over a planned 500 ton/day uranium mill. The Alliance alleged in a suit filed in District Court in Telluride, Colo., that the commissioners violated county zoning rules and abused their discretion when they unanimously approved a special use permit allowing Energy Fuels (TSE:EFR) to use 880 acres of agricultural land in the Paradox Valley near Naturita for the new mill.

Travis Stills, an attorney with the Energy Minerals Law Center in Durango, Colo., argued in the lawsuit that the rezoning action from agricultural to industrial use "was an abuse of discretion." He also claimed that county officials violated open meeting laws by having technical exchanges of information with staff from Energy Fuels when they filed the paperwork for the special use permit. He asked on behalf of the Sheep Mountain Alliance that the special use permit be overturned.

Energy Fuels CEO George Glasier denied that any laws were broken. He said his staff and the county talked all the time as the permit was being reviewed to insure it was complete. He characterized the lawsuit as "a long shot."

"We're not going to stop work [on this mill site] because of a simple little lawsuit like this," he said.

He added Energy Fuels will file its request for a permit for the mill with State of Colorado regulatory authorities next month. Colorado is an "agreement state" with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which gives the state the authority to license uranium mills.

Strathmore submits Roca Honda permit in New Mexico

The joint project between Strathmore Minerals (CVE:STM) of Rawlins, Wyo., and Sumitomo Corp., the giant Japanese conglomerate, filed a permit application Oct 23 for an underground uranium mine at the joint venture's Roca Honda mine site in the Grants District of New Mexico.

John DeJoia, an executive for Strathmore, said the application describes, "the largest proposed mine in New Mexico in 30 years." A bankable feasibility study for the mine will begin in early 2010.

The Roca Honda Property was acquired by Strathmore in 2004, along with the Kerr McGee uranium data base. In March 2006, Strathmore completed an independent NI 43-101 resource calculation which estimated a Measured and Indicated mineral resource of 17,512,000 lbs. U3O8 contained within 3,782,000 tons at an average grade of 0.23% U3O8. An additional 15,832,000 lbs. contained within 4,546,000 tons at an average grade of 0.17% U3O8 are estimated as an Inferred mineral resource.

Strathmore and Sumitomo are also developing a plan for a large uranium mill at the site. In April they completed a 30% mill design report that presents the preliminary layout and equipment configuration for a 3,500 ton per day throughput capacity expandable to 7,000 tons per day.

Peninsula buys database from Ur-Energy for $1 million

Peninsula Minerals Limited, has bought a historic uranium drilling database in Wyoming from Ur-Energy (AMEX:URG) for $1 million. Labeled the “Moorcroft Database,” it consists of paper geologic maps and technical drilling logs and report reports completed in the 1970s and 1980s for more than 5,000 exploration and development holes. Uranium was first discovered north of Gillette in the late 1960s by Nuclear Dynamics, which drilled the holes and created the records.

Peninsula Minerals holds mineral and/or surface access rights on 23,400 acres in an area northeast of Gillette. The company submitted a notice to the NRC Oct 6 it plans to develop an ISR mine on the site. The Lance Project has a target production of 1.5 million pounds of uranium a year from the mine by 2012. Peninsula told the Gillette News Record Oct 24 it believes the site contains 50-76 million pounds of uranium.

Uranium Energy Corp sets $11M deal with Neutron Energy for NM property

Uranium Energy Corp (AMEX:UEC) announced it has entered into an option agreement with Neutron Energy, Inc. a privately held Nevada corporation, granting Neutron the exclusive option to purchase a 49% interest in Cibola Resources LLC for $11 million. Neutron must close the deal in 60 days or lose the option.

The property is the Cebolleta uranium project, a mining lease covering approximately 6,700 acres 45 miles west of Albuquerque, NM. Cibola is owned 49% by the Company and 51% by Neutron, a private corporation based in Englewood, Colorado.

The status of the Cebolleta project is that the Cibola partners have recently submitted an application for a permit to proceed with exploration.

Uranium Energy will use the proceeds from the proposed sale to further strengthen and expand its uranium resource base in Texas.

Monaro Mining raises $3 million

Monaro Mining (ASX:MRO), an Australian firm, has raised $3 million to pursue uranium mining projects at its Rio Puerco property in New Mexico and at the Apex-Lowboy mine in Nevada. The funds were raised by sale of 33.3 million shares of stock at $0.09/share. The firm's stock closed Nov 6 at $0.09/share against a 52-week range of $0.06-$0.16 with 108.4 million shares outstanding and market capitalization of $9.75 million.

Nichols Ranch gets air quality permit

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) approved and issued an air quality permit for the Uranerz (AMEX:URZ) Nichols Ranch ISR mine. The permit covers the central processing area and the Hank Satellite plant. A DEQ permit to mine and an NRC Source Material License are needed to break ground at the mine. Both applications were submitted in December 2007.

Production from the Nichols Ranch is reportedly planned to be 600,000-800,000 pounds U3O8 a year and the central processing facility is proposed to be licensed for a production level of two million pounds a year.

Powertech submits BLM application for Dewey-Burdock

Powertech (TSE:PWE) has submitted a plan of operations to the Bureau of Land Management for its Dewey-Burdock ISR mine located near the Wyoming border of South Dakota. While the project consists of 10,580 acres, BLM only manages 240 acres within the project, but is required to review the plan because 15 acres of BLM land are expected to be impacted by mine operations.

Richard Clement, CEO at Powertech, said in a statement he expects the BLM review will occur concurrently with reviews by the State of South Dakota and the NRC, which are ongoing. Powetech had some difficulties getting its initial application paperwork docketed by both agencies over the summer, but since then has had both agencies indicate the applications are administratively complete and ready for technical review.

Uranium Resources gets drilling permit for Ambrosia Lake

Uranium Resources (NASDQ:URRE) has received approval from the State of New Mexico to drill 10 exploratory holes to investigate the feasibility of developing an ISR mine at its Ambrosia Lake property. The permit is good until Nov 2010.

CEO Don Ewigleben told the UPI wire service Oct 27 the firm thinks the property could have as much as 2.4 million pounds of uranium. The firm owns or has mineral rights to 183,000 acres in New Mexico. Its primary operations are in Texas where its operates ISR mines at several locations.

International Isotopes sets waste storage agreement with New Mexico

New Mexico environmental officials and International Isotopes (OTC:INIS) have reached an agreement on how much waste can be stored at the firm's planned uranium deconversion plant near Hobbs, NM. International Isotopes will extract fluorine gas from depleted UF6 and sell it to industrial customers. The agreement limits onsite storage to 2.2 million kilograms or 2,425 tons of uranium after the fluorine has been extracted from the UF6. The remaining material, which is almost entirely composed of uranium 238, will be disposed of at a licensed facility in Texas.

International Isotopes is building a $55 million uranium deconversion plant 15 miles outside of Hobbs, NM. A license application for the plant is pending with the NRC and is expected to be issued by the third quarter of 2011 according to a statement by Steve Lafflin, CEO. Operations employing 130-150 people are expected to begin in late 2012.

Louisiana Energy Services plans to spool up centrifuges

Reinhardt Hinterreither, CEO at Louisiana Energy Services (LES) said in Hobbs, NM, last week that the firm's three million SWU uranium enrichment plant will get a final readiness review from the NRC in mid-November. Test runs of the plant's centrifuges are expected to spool up in December. At date for start-up of commercial operations depends on completion of final NRC inspections of the plant.

Anti-nuclear group quits after lawsuit

An anti-nuclear group organized in Idaho to protest the disposition of low-level nuclear waste at the American Ecology site east of Boise has disbanded following the filing of a defamation lawsuit. According to a report in the Idaho Statesman Nov 6, Citizens for Clean Idaho, based in rural Fremont County at the other end of the state, was sued by American Ecology which charged the group was a front for Utah-based Energy Solutions. The intent of the protest, American Ecology said, was to drive the revenue associated with the waste disposition to a competitor.

Amercian Ecology said in its suit filed in the Idaho courts that organizer Steve Loosli, with support from Energy Solutions, made false and misleading statements. Indeed, Loosli's website mystified observers in Idaho familiar with the anti-nuclear environmental community. The website was sophisticated in its design, but it contained outdated and inaccurate information. For his part, Loosli said he feels the lawsuit is without merit, but he said he took down the website to avoid further problems.

Steve Romano, CEO at American Ecology, told the Idaho Statesman Energy Solutions backed Loosli and two other groups to protect its low-level waste disposal business.

Energy Solutions spokesman Mark Walker told the newspaper that Romano was just "trying to make headlines."

The issue arose when Westinghouse asked the NRC for permission to dispose of 50,000 tons of soil and debris from a site in Missouri which had very low levels of radioactivity. The NRC rejected the protest from the 'Clean Idaho' group.

Arizona governor opposes Interior ban on uranium mining

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar Nov 2 protesting the agency's ban for new uranium mining claims on one million acres of land near the Grand Canyon. She wrote that "adequate environmental controls are in place," and that "modern mine exploration creates minimal impact to the land."

She added her concerns about the economic impact of the ban on jobs, and said she supported continued exploration in the area for uranium mining.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nuclear fuel cycle and greenhouse gas emissions

Scientific American has some odd ideas about sustainable development and nuclear energy

cover_2009-11Over at Brave New Climate Barry Brook and others have published reviews of an article published in the November issue of Scientific American magazine.

Brook writes that the November 2009 issue of Scientific American has a cover story by Mark Z. Jacobson (Professor, Stanford) and Mark A. Delucchi (researcher, UC Davis). It’s entitled “A path to sustainable energy by 2030” (p 58 – 65; they call it WWS: wind, water or sunlight).

Brook writes that this popular article is supported by a technical analysis, which the authors will apparently submit to the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy. They have made both papers available for free public download here.

So what do they say? In a nutshell, their argument is that, by the year 2030:

“Wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of the world’s energy, eliminating all fossil fuels.”

That’s a big claim and it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. And here’s where the fighting words begin. It is the “no new baseload” claim of FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff all over again.

In the SCIAM article, the following objection is raised in order to dismiss the fission of uranium or thorium as clean energy:

Nuclear power results in up to 25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, when reactor construction and uranium refining and transport are considered.

Even worse, author Jacobson raises the cold war heresy that civilian nuclear power is a precursor to nuclear Armageddon and throws in the “environmental effects” of a nuclear war. Outrageous!

I posted a contribution to Brook’s blog as part of the critique of the article, and offer it here as well since there are by now dozens of comments about the SCIAM piece.

The nuclear fuel cycle and its carbon footprint

ATR coreEvery so often the issue of climate impacts of various fuel cycles comes up. In this note I will discuss some aspects of this issue with regard to nuclear energy.

Any credible claim about GHG emissions by energy source needs to do a stocks and flows analysis and mass balance analysis based on BTUs consumed at each stage of the fuel cycle and related to the type/source of energy inputs.

My challenge to people who say wind or solar is less energy intensive than nuclear must also balance the output issue. A nuclear power plant is producing electricity 90-95% of the time. Wind has 30% uptime and solar sometimes as little has half that amount. The energy inputs, and carbon emissions, for wind and solar have to be multiplied by at least a factor of three to compare them to the energy outputs of a nuclear power plant.

The following is a useful outline for someone who wants to tackle the nuclear fuel cycle.

UraniumSymbol_000In the nuclear fuel cycle, uranium is mined either through underground methods or via in- situ-recovery (ISR). The primary energy source is electricity so it just depends on where it was generated and how. Once the raw ore from a mine is trucked to a mill, usually within 50-100 Km, it is processed and converted into yellowcake.

As a rule of thumb for this discussion, you get about 4 pounds of uranium from ton of ore. A ton of uranium (2,000 lbs) requires processing 80 tons of ore which is basically four truck loads at 40,000 lbs each. In the case of ISR mines, the yellowcake is usually produced right at the mine cutting out the transport stage for raw ore.

The energy use, and carbon footprint, to produce one ton of yellowcake is the combination of electricity used at the mine, plus transport of ore (diesel fuel), and electricity used at a mill.

Once the yellowcake is produced it is sent to a conversion factory where the uranium, composed of 99.3% U238 and 0.7% U235 is "converted into UF6 or Uranium Hexafluoride.

The primary energy inputs for conversion are the energy to create the fluorine and the electricity to power the equipment to make the UF6.

Gas-centrifugeThe UF6 is sent to a uranium enrichment plant. In the plant, centrifuges spin the gaseous UF6 separating the U238 (heavier) from the U235 (lighter) so that the fissionable isotope can be "enriched" in resulting nuclear fuel from 0.7% to 3-5%. A uranium enrichment plant like the new one in Eunice, NM, that will spool up its centrifuges in December will use electricity to power the centrifuges.

During the Manhattan project in World War II an older technology called "gaseous diffusion" was used which is very intensive in terms of use of electricity. The gas centrifuge process which is used by France and the U.S. is 90% more energy efficient than gaseous diffusion.

Once the "enriched uranium" is ready, it is shipped to a fuel fabrication site where it is made into nuclear fuel pellets and fuel rods/bundles.

The "depeleted uranium" is sent to a deconversion plant where the fluorine is separated out from the UF6, purified, and sold to industrial customers including computer chip manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and other high tech users.

Electricity, often from nuclear power plants, a carbon emission free source, often powers deconversion plans and fuel fabrication plants.

The remaining U238 is then sent by truck or rail to a licensed disposal site. Note that "depleted uranium" can never be more radioactive that it was in the original ore because it has been stripped of its U235 isotope during the enrichment process.

* * *

If SCIAM had published a stocks and flows analysis, with numbers, then it would have been credible. What they published isn’t science. It is propaganda. The editors of SCIAM ought to be ashamed to have printed it.

Here’s a song in response to the SCIAM article. It is Aretha Franklin singing “Chain of Fools.”

It is a Fox special from 1993 with Smokey Robinson, Rod Stewart and Elton John providing backup on Chain Of Fools. Enjoy the music!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Turkey’s nuclear plans spiked by lawsuit

A court ruling throws out the government’s RFP saying it violated the terms of its own offer

lawsuitThe Agence France-Presse wire service reports that a Turkish court has blocked a 2008 contract award for a new nuclear power plant won by a Russian company.

The Union of Turkish Engineers' and Architects' Chambers, or TMMOB, said in a statement it filed the lawsuit because it claimed the government violated the terms of its own RFP by awarding the contract to a single bidder.

Other bidders dropped out of the process and did not submit contract proposals after the government dismissed their appeals for more time to resolve issues related to revenue, indemnification, and protection of intellectual property. It is the latest in a series of setbacks that have thrown the tender into turmoil. [complete coverage]

A consortium led by Atomstroyexport, the Russian state nuclear export agency was the only bidder in the tender to build and operate the plant. After months of wrangling over price, the Turkish government has still not made a decision to award the contract.

The engineers' group declared victory saying that with the court ruling the RFP for the new nuclear reactors was declared invalid. Mehmet Soganci, chairman of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, which brought the case against the tender, said,

"The Council of State has decided to suspend three articles in the tender process.”

Soganci is no stranger to making his views heard and impacting government policy. He is a featured speaker on environmental and social issues at forums involving Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

Battle over price now superseded by a lawsuit

fusion graphicWhile the legal standing of the RFP has been in question for some time, the contractual battle has been over the price of electricity to be generated by the new nuclear power station. Despite several downward changes, energy analysts in Turkey said the price of $0.15/KwHr was still too high taking into account it would be five-to-ten years before the plant entered revenue service.

The consortium, including Russia's Inter Rao and Turkey's Park Teknik, later revised its offer to supply electricity, but the national government in Ankara said the new offer was still too high.

The project had plans to build four nuclear reactors, at 1,200 MW each, with a total capacity of 4,800 MW at Akkuyu, in the Mediterranean province of Mersin.

The planned reactor has been fiercely opposed by environmentalists who argue that Akkuyu is close to a seismic fault line. They cite a powerful earthquake that killed more than 140 people in the neighboring province of Adana in 1998.

Earlier this year, Greenpeace protestors were arrested in Ankara after draping anti-nuclear banners over the front of government offices.

The national government as recently as last month was counting its chickens before they were hatched. A debate broke out over how to handle the revenue from the reactors once built, which would make Turkey a regional exporter of electricity.

There was no indication from the government how it planned to respond to the court ruling.

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William Ramsey on emerging nuclear markets

Nuclear Becomes ‘A Real Business Opportunity’ For China and India

William_RamseyThis is the full text of an interview with William Ramsay, (right) director of the energy program at the Institut Fran├žais des Relations Internationales.

He talked Nov 9 to NucNet about emerging nuclear markets in China and India, and the future of Yucca Mountain. [Reprinted with permission.]

NucNet – Before joining the IFRI, you worked at the International Energy Agency (IEA). What are your thoughts on the major challenges to new build faced in emerging markets such as India?

Ramsay: India is a rather immature market, and you’re talking about a 10 billion dollar investment. I think this may be less in India because of manpower and other lower costs, but it’s still a very expensive proposition – into a marketplace where politicians still play with electricity prices and where you haven’t really got a national grid where you can sell it around the country. How do you assure yourself of the market conditions to make that kind of an investment? That to me is the biggest challenge.

The state will have to meet this challenge, which is probably why around the world most nuclear power plants are run by states because of the huge upfront investment. If states want to go with that investment and carry the burden of that front-end capital, then perhaps private investors will also want to play a part. There is a lot of money, a lot of capital inside India. But there needs to be some degree of assurance for the investors that they will get a return. Progress here is going to be slow, which is why the state is going to have to pick up some of the burden of the nuclear power plants.

NucNet – How would you assess the Chinese nuclear expansion in the coming years?

Ramsay: In China they are hell-bent on building. They not only see an opportunity for indigenous power, so that they don’t need to depend on Russian gas, or anything coming across an open ocean where they haven’t got a deep ocean navy. An indigenous fuel cycle is wonderful for the Chinese. They also see an opportunity to export their reactors and are looking at a real business opportunity. In the medium term I think they will become a major nuclear technology power.

NucNet – With regards to nuclear new build, both the US approach to climate change and the future of the loan guarantee program have been cited as major factors during this Obama administration. What developments for the loan guarantee program are on the horizon?

Ramsay: This depends on particular legislative proposals. I know legislators who are enthusiastic about nuclear want a bigger loan guarantee program because 18.5 billion dollars [12.4 billion euro] is not going to be enough for more than three or four reactors. That particular debate isn’t visible from the outside yet, but the reactor builders are pressing the administration for expanding on that. It’s hard to do this now when there is so much budget pressure on other things, such as health care.

NucNet – Energy Secretary Stephen Chu has not formally announced a nuclear program expansion in the US, but is said to remain positive on nuclear energy. Is he sending out mixed messages about nuclear?

Ramsay: I think he is. He has a couple of reservations himself, in terms of the back-end of the fuel cycle and non-proliferation. He doesn’t view nuclear energy as the silver bullet; he views it as part of the mix. So he’s not going to want to appear as a proponent and he’s been quite careful not to do that. It’s really a portfolio approach, which is appealing to congressmen because they can pick the part of their portfolio which satisfies their constituency.

NucNet – With regards to the Yucca Mountain project, is it correct that the Obama administration cannot actually close it, because it is mandated under the terms of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act?

Ramsay: Yes, that’s right; there are some residual obligations in that Act.
It has a fair amount of bearing on some of the utilities’ attitudes to other waste disposal opportunities. Yucca Mountain has almost gone into cryogenic suspension, but it’s not dead.

NucNet – Yucca Mountain funding has been cut, but will this affect new build?

Ramsay: States that have got legal impediments to new build because the back-end is not resolved are probably not going to be building or expanding capacity. So for the short to medium term there isn’t a reason to think that Yucca will change anything.

NucNet – Energy Secretary Stephen Chu has said loan guarantees should be doubled. Is something going to happen soon?

Ramsay: I think so, yes. He’s not going to come forward with big numbers and terrorise the current debate on health care, but as soon as that is finished, we can get back to those numbers. There was an article concerning nuclear power sent by senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham* to the ‘New York Times’ Apparently this was part of an effort by the administration to draw Republican support.

NucNet – This year’s Gallup Environment Poll put US public support for nuclear energy at 59%, an increase on 2007. Surely public acceptance must still represent a challenge in light of Yucca?

Ramsay: Well, it is surprisingly high, and I’ve seen public acceptance figures even higher than that. So you’ve got a bit of a license [for nuclear energy] there. I think there is some degree of convergence, albeit reluctant, between the environmentalists who are looking for answers to sustainability, and who are coming to recognize that it’s really pretty hard to ignore nuclear. By no means is there still a tremendous amount of resistance to nuclear out there… unless there is an accident.

NucNet – So is it premature to speak of a renaissance in the US?

Ramsay: If we get any new units it’s a renaissance. We haven’t had anything for a long time, but now we have all the applications, a smoothing of the regulatory process and much better public acceptance of nuclear power. The only thing slowing things down is the drop-off in short-term demand because of the economic crisis. But everybody knows that’s going to pass.

* * *

William Ramsay is senior fellow and director of the energy programme at the Institut Fran├žais des Relations Internationales (www.ifri.org). He was deputy executive director of the IEA from 1999 to 2008. Prior to that he had a high profile career in international energy policy as a U.S. diplomat.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nuclear energy investment power curves up

Worldwide utilities are adding to existing plants or planning new ones

U.K. investments in new reactors

new nukes UK A consortium composed of Spanish utility Iberdrola, GDF-Suez, and Scottish & Southern has purchased a 500 acre site for $114 million at the Sellafield nuclear site according to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority which sold the land. The purchase is the first step towards construction of new nuclear reactors at the site with a planned capacity of 3.6 GWe. If the current schedule is met, the reactors could enter revenue service as early as 2015. (map from New Scientist May 2007)

In other U.K. nuclear reactor investment news, a new joint venture composed of E.ON and RWE announced it plans to build 6 GWe of nuclear energy generating capacity by 2025. Earlier this year it secured sites at Wylfa, north Wales, and Oldbury.

CEO Alan Raymant, of the new company, called Horizon Nuclear Power, said the new nuclear build could involve an estimated $25 billion in reactors and related infrastructure. He said an evaluation is underway to select either Areva EPR or Westinghouse AP1000 reactor designs for each site. Once built, the reactors will have 60-year operating lives.

Elsewhere in the U.K., EDF Energy is reportedly planning to build four 1,650 MW Areva EPR reactors at Sizewell and Hinkley Point. Combined with other investments in the U.K., a minimum of 12 GWe in new nuclear reactors is coming off the drawing boards in the next two decades.

Exelon plans major up-rates (see update 11/10/09 below)

exelon logoU.S. nuclear utility giant Exelon (NYSE:EXC) is embarking on an investment plan in new capacity at existing reactors worth $3.5 billion. By 2017 the utility plans to increase the output of its fleet of 17 reactors by 1,300 to 1,500 MW.

That’s roughly equal to one of the new ABWRs being built at the South Texas Project. Put another way, the total scope of investments over an eight year period will come in at $2,300/Kw or half the expected “overnight cost” of a new reactor.

John Rowe, CEO at Exelon, told the Edison Electric Institute finance conference (webcast) Nov 3 that over the next five years the easiest changes, worth $800 million, will be to non-nuclear plant components including better turbines, generators, pumps, and electrical substation equipment. The investments, which do not require NRC approval, will result in an additional 500 MW for the entire fleet.

Rowe also said that in the middle of the next decade Exelon plans to invest $2.4 billion to “up-rate” current reactors by 900-1,000 MW. These investments require NRC approval, but are fairly routine as they involve nuclear power stations with currently operating reactors.

Earlier this year Exelon gave up on a hostile takeover of NRG and abandoned the growth by acquisition paradigm, and it gave up on a the planned new construction of a twin reactor complex in Victoria, TX.

Rowe also told the the conference, composed mostly of coal utility executives, that he expects the U.S. to have carbon offset regulations in place by 2012. Any carbon cap-and-trade program will benefit Exelon’s investments in uprating its nuclear fleet and could become a significant source of investment capital for the program.

Entergy says no to new reactors for now

entergylogoJ. Wayne Leonard, CEO at Entergy (NYSE:ETR), told the Edison Electric Financial Conference (webcast) Nov 3 his firm is unlikely to build new nuclear power plants in the next decade.

At one time, Entergy had plans for dual new reactors at its Grand Gulf and River Bend sites. It cancelled the projects when it realized the GE-Hitachi ESBWR reactor design it planned to use would not be a viable candidate for federal loan guarantees.

Leonard said that key factors in putting off plans for the new reactors is a long-term trend toward lower electricity demand as a result of the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the current deep economic recession.

UAE plans investment in nuclear energy

prudent investorEven as the United Arab Emirates plans to award a $20 billion contract for the first stages in a program to build up to five new nuclear reactors, a new investment arm will be planning to put money into the global nuclear industry.

The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. has no connection to the contract award an official for the form told the Financial Times of London Nov 3. He said the investments have two purposes.

  • First, Abu Dhabi wants to take stakes in companies that are building its new infrastructure.
  • Second, having these stakes will insure the Emirate gets the technology it needs to complete the projects.

Danny Sebright, president of the U.S.-UAE business council told the Financial Times he didn’t expect these investments to involve controlling interests.

Update 11/10/09

Exelon VP for Communications Craig Nesbit submitted the following comment via email on portion of this blog post about John Rowe's speech to the Edison Electric Institute Conference.

"What Mr. Rowe said was that, over the next five years, the simplest uprate changes, worth $800 million, will be to replace major components in the nuclear plants with newer technology as part of normal equipment change-outs and upgrades. These will bring increased operational efficiency and, as you wrote, involve equipment such as upgraded turbines, generators, pumps, and electrical substation equipment. These investments do not require NRC approval and will result in an additional 250 megawatts for the entire fleet.

Exelon will add approximately 200 megawatts of additional capacity through the use of advanced techniques and more precise instrumentation. This brand of uprate, known as “measurement uncertainty recapture,” will require investments totaling $300 million and must be approved by the NRC."

The original report referenced an increase of 500 MW for the $800 million investment. However, Mr. Nesbit clarifies the increase for the fleet as a whole for this investment is only 250 MW or half the reported amount. Also, the original blog post did not mention the changes to reactor and control room instrumentation involving a $300 million investment that requires NRC approval.

I would expect that Mr. Nesbit is also contacting Reuters which also reported the $800 million will result in a 500 MW increase for the fleet. This is a big difference. Mr. Nesbit's clarification is welcome in terms of getting the facts straight from the source.

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