Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas gift for readers

New York Times reports on a new pipe organ to echo the sounds of Bach

12DaysChristmasIn an inspiring article about construction in Rochester, NY, of an exact replica of an 18th century pipe organ in Vilnius, Lithuania, the New York Times has published a breathtaking story about music from the baroque age.

It is an astounding combination of music history, technical accomplishment, cultural preservation, and performance of Bach’s music that comes alive when you read about it. Even better, you can hear it online. More on this below.

The newspaper reports, “There is no other contemporary organ like the Craighead-Saunders organ at Christ Church in Rochester.”

This is a story of people who invest in the future based on the commitments from the past. It is worth a first, and a second reading, and some reflection on the values the people involved brought to the task at hand. It is a full stop on our society's short-attention span, with an emphasis on quarterly business results and mid-term elections. It is a metaphor for how we ought to think about some aspects of life.

Ok, enough philosophy. This article actually appears in the Science Section of the New York Times so it will also appeal to your inner geek. There are plenty of technical details about how the old organ, built in 1776, was used as a template for the new one, which was completed in 2009. The article includes some excellent color photographs of the exterior and interior of the new organ.

You don’t have to be a fan of classical music to be transported by this story. The newspaper has posted three multi-media files so you can hear the sound of the new organ over the Internet. The two minutes of music of J S Bach Sonata V in C major, BWV 529 will melt your heart. There are two additional pieces by Bach played on the new organ which are available for your listening pleasure with this article.

Happy New Year

ghostlightThe blog will be dark for Christmas and blogging will be light through the first week of January. Regular reports, news, analysis, and commentary will return after the new year.

In the meantime, please see the blog posts below this one for my end-of-year take on “Laurel & Hardly” awards to the nuclear industry for 2009 for accomplishments and for inexplicable results.

Also, as part of my annual tradition, I’ve published my fearless predictions for the new year in the form of “Snapshots of the Future.” The ideas are generating plenty of comments. What’s your view?

This is a companion piece to my earlier blog post on new years' resolutions for the nuclear industry - Four Fearless Futures which discusses key challenges facing the nuclear renaissance.

Thanks to readers

I would like to thank the more than 100,000 people who read articles on this blog this year, either directly or through syndication at the Energy Collective. I am inspired by this response to the blog which will enter its fourth year of operations in January 2010.

Also, I would like to thank my editor and publisher at Fuel Cycle Week for their continued confidence in my reports on uranium mining in the West in the U.S. and in Canada.

Lastly, I would like to thank my fellow nuclear energy bloggers for their friendship and support. See my blog roll for the list.

Happy New Year.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snapshots of the future of nuclear energy

A quick look at what to expect in 2010

coin flipEvery year at this time your faithful correspondent swings for the fences with fearless prognostications of what will happen in the field of nuclear energy in the next 12 months. These are big hairy audacious guesses and should not be confused with sober reality or nor should anything in this column be used to make investment grade decisions. You’ll get better odds flipping a coin to see who buys lunch. That said, here we go.

. . . It will be fish or cut bait time for Sec. of Energy Steven Chu and the Obama Administration to award loan guarantees to at least two or more new nuclear reactor projects. Sec. Chu began his term with a reference to the great Wayne Gretzky’s comment about “skating to where the puck will be.” With Congress getting impatient about delays in awarding the loan guarantees, the game plan is to get the decision out of OMB’s hands and into the business end of the ice rink. The result will be that while you are out drinking eggnog this holiday season, Chu may quietly get the first one out the door, possibly to Southern’s Vogtle site.

. . . USEC will not get a loan guarantee for its American Centrifuge uranium enrichment plant. The firm still has to prove its technology works and fix its finances. It’s in a classic bind and the government’s due diligence says there is no way out unless you look at it as a rescue mission rather than an insurance policy. Areva gets the nod by two lengths and go on in 2011 to get its NRC license and break ground in Idaho.

. . . India’s nuclear renaissance will finally open its doors to deals with American firms, but they will be based on substantial commitments to manufacture nuclear reactor components there. This development over time will turn India into a low cost center supplier to the global nuclear industry. However, NPCIL will not give up its monopoly on who has the right to own and operate nuclear reactors. It will insure that achieving a goal of 20-30 GWe in new electricity supply will take longer than the careers of the current generation of leadership.

. . . Areva will dig itself out the cost and schedule hole at its in at Olkiuoto3 site in Finland making peace with state regulators, its partners, and suppliers. The drive to complete the first-of-a-kind 1,650 MW EPR reactor will produce important lessons learned for the firm’s project in Flammanville, France. It will improve its prospects of breaking ground at Calvert Cliffs III in Maryland in 2012. Failure to finish the Finnish reactor could put many other new nuclear builds at risk with perceptions that no one knows how to bring in one of these deals on time and within budget.

. . . After provincial elections in 2010 in Germany, Chancellor Andrea Merkel will make peace with the owners of 17 nuclear reactors over tax issues. She will also admit the obvious which is the country’s need for baseload electricity won’t come from renewables. Germany will eventually decide to build new nukes rather than be held hostage to the vagaries of the Russian gas combine.

. . . Vermont Yankee will get its license approved by the NRC regardless of what the State of Vermont legislature thinks about its say in the matter. Entergy will offer state utilities a rate package that undercuts other sources of fossil fuel generated electricity in New England by as much as $0.06-0.09/KwHr. Green groups, heedless of the impact of their opposition to nuclear energy on ratepayers, will mount noisy protests, but the utilities will sign the deals.

. . . The United Arab Emirates will award the first of as many as five new nuclear reactor projects worth upwards of $40 billion. Two cents says it will split the award with the reactors going to Areva/EDF and the construction tasks going to a consortium from South Korea. American expatriate EPC firms will not prosper in this environment, but the UAE may source some of its supply chain from U.S. based manufacturers.

. . . Eskom’s financial collapse in South Africa will not respond to conflicted government attempts to revive its new nuclear build tender for at least two new 1,000 MW nuclear power stations. The Pebble Bed reactor project will find a home at the Idaho National Laboratory merging its with R&D work on the high temperature gas cooled reactor work scope for the “Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP).

. . . AEHI, which still has its stock in the under a dollar price range, will not file a license application with the NRC for a nuclear reactor anywhere in Idaho.

. . . Luminant will ponder selling off its Comanche Peak reactor as well as its planned new build there with a giant 1,700 MW Mitsubishi reactor. However, the prospect of having an enormous cash cow for the next six decades will be too good to let go of, and its parent firm will find other ways to resolve its financial future.

. . . Congress will pass legislation funding NRC reviews of small reactors opening the way for several new markets for American grown nuclear reactor technologies and the high paying jobs that come with them.

. . . TVA will decide this April to do nothing at Bellefonte finding no good way to build a new AP1000 with its current debt ceiling and no economic justification to try to restart construction of two mothballed and gutted reactor projects from the 1980s. At some point Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander will stop making speeches about 100 new reactors and get focused on getting at least two built in his home state.

. . . TVA will reclaim its mantle as a center of innovation in the field of nuclear energy by being the first customer for small reactor, as a replacement for a coal-fired boiler, and by testing MOX fuel in one of its operating nuclear plants.

. . . The new nuclear build in the U.K.will survive a change in governments because North Sea gas is running out and new coal plants are not an option. Blackouts are not an option as older nuclear plants are taken out of service.

. . . China will unveil two indigenous nuclear reactor designs based on the Westinghouse AP1000. However, these units will come in 1,400 and 1,700 MW profiles making China the most committed nation on the planet to cutting the growth of greenhouse gases with nuclear energy.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nuclear energy ‘Laurel & Hardly’ awards for 2009

Recognition earned for advancing the industry and for inexplicable outcomes

laurelEvery year at this time this blog recognizes the best outcomes in the field of nuclear energy worldwide. Also, results which cannot be invented nor replicated are documented here without fear or favor.

The choices are made based on a sincere test of significance, which is that your faithful correspondent found them more interesting than other stuff that happened in 2009. So here we go.

Laurel – Sweden soars to center of new nuclear movement in Europe. After looking at coal as an alternative, and rejecting it because of greenhouse gases, Sweden set aside its plan to get rid of its 9 GWe of nuclear power and agreed to replace the current fleet of reactors as needed.

Hardly – Vermont’s legislature continues to play “chicken” with the future of its cheap electricity by harassing its one nuclear power plant aptly named Vermont Yankee. Closure of the plant would likely also drive some of the state’s largest employers elsewhere resulting in the loss of at least 6,000 jobs.

Laurel – Italy’s nuclear renaissance blooms as the country reverses its 1980s era flight from nuclear power. The country will seek energy independence and a reduction in new investment in coal fired plants with the first new reactor breaking ground by as early as 2013.

Hardly – AECL is down for the count at Darlington. The future of Atomic Energy Limited Canada has been sealed by the failure of the Ontario provincial government to award a $20 billion project to the crown corporation. It also ends export prospects for AECL. Who will buy its reactors overseas if it can’t sell them at home?

Laurel – Areva launches at Newport News. The revival of the nuclear industry in the U.S. requires a restart of the supply chain. Areva’s joint venture with Northrop Grumman for the $300 million factory is a major vote of confidence in the nuclear renaissance. It also will bring 500 high pay jobs to the area.

Hardly – Exelon exits hostile takeover of NRG. It was a Wall Street saga straight out of the movies. Exelon’s all stock bid, widely appraised by analysts as falling short in value, was rejected by NRG’s major investors who bet on the utility’s plans to build two new reactors at the South Texas Project.

Laurel – Utah’s Blue Castle nuclear reactor project uncloaks. The privately- held firm announced it is hiring a major EPC firm to prepare an Early Site Permit for a 3,000 MW reactor project in Green River, Utah. California’s decision to classify nuclear energy as a “renewable” import adds an incentive to pursue the project.

Hardly – Snake River Alliance vows to drive Areva out of Idaho. The Idaho anti-nuclear group posted a deceptive web page that left readers with the impression weapons grade uranium would be manufactured at the planned enrichment plant 18 miles west of Idaho Falls. The group’s cold war paradigm is sadly out of touch with modern reality.

Laurel – England vows to keep the lights on with nuclear energy. North Sea gas is running out and coal isn’t an option. A plan is announced to build new nuclear reactors at 10 sites with up to eight new reactors under construction by the middle of the next decade.

Honorable mentions

blue_ribbon_honorable_mentionFor every major award there are always runners up. These are the runners in the race who came in with a ‘place’ or ‘show.’ Those that didn’t make the “win” column are still worth an honorable mention.

China set a goal of building 70 GWe of new nuclear power over the next several decades. Some, including the Chinese themselves, worry whether safety and quality will be impacted by the enormous effort. China removed from office one of its senior nuclear energy ministers for corruption.

The NRC renewed the license for the Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey after rejecting a claim by opponents that terrorists wanted to smash airplanes into its containment walls. The anti-nuclear groups are now back trying to force the plant to build cooling towers which would be ruinously expensive.

Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world’s largest nuclear power station, resumed the generation of electricity after being knocked offline by an earthquake two years ago. The power station provides 13% of all the electricity in Japan. Japanese utilities spent millions making up the difference with coal-fired plants.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu launched a Facebook page confirming that the new social media has a place in the way the government communicates with its citizens. How many Nobel Prize winners are you friends with on Facebook?

The prospects for small nuclear reactors, less than 300 MW, improved as multiple firms, some backed by venture capitalists, announced plans to enter the market. While two based their designs on well-known LWR technology, two more are placing bets in liquid metal cooled fast reactors.

Russia and Turkey played a year long game of “deal or no deal,” for a 4.8 Gwe nuclear energy program. Pricing and legal issues saw to it, that in the end, “no deal” was the outcome.

President Obama remained agnostic at best about nuclear energy. The Senate proposed, but the House rejected, an increase in loan guarantees for new nuclear plants in the economic stimulus package.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander called for 100 new nuclear reactors to be built and made his views a centerpiece for Republican votes on the Administration’s climate change legislation.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) cancelled one of two proposed new reactors at Bellefonte. The reasons are an unforgiving debt ceiling and declining demand for electricity. The utility is still trying to decide whether to finish two partially complete reactors there or build a new one.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce fell victim to a stunning hoax over its opposition to climate change legislation. Separately, noted environmental author Stewart Brand published a new book calling for more investment in nuclear energy.

That’s it folks. Goodnight Chet.

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