Saturday, January 30, 2010

Next generation of nuclear reactors in Europe

Leading nuclear fuels and materials science expert talks about what has to be done to get ready to build them

Sue Ion (EPSRC)(NucNet): NucNet Editor Mathieu Carey talks to Dame Sue Ion OBE * about the future of materials science and the emergence of China and India as global nuclear energy players.

NucNet – Firstly, you have spoken very positively about the future of material science worldwide and its increased importance to the nuclear energy industry.

Ion – Yes, there are two reasons why it is important. First, we are looking at a new generation of reactors and their associated fuel cycles. Material science expertise has always been crucial to utilities and vendors, and we will quickly need to develop this even more. Having a good cadre of highly competent, highly qualified material scientists to help spot, anticipate and analyse problems when they occur – which they inevitably will – is hugely important.

Second, we want to extend the lives of many of the existing plants, especially the light water reactor systems. In the UK, we are trying to extend the lives of the AGRs, but they have a limit, come what may, whereas one can anticipate utilities trying to push LWRs beyond 60 years, and maybe to 80 years. There, we have to understand properly the long-term aging effects, such as irradiation damage and irradiation embrittlement on nickel-based materials and so forth.

So, there are two sets of challenges. One is to understand the materials which are used in construction now, and be able to anticipate problems. Then, there is a challenge in trying to understand today’s materials being used in a much harsher environment than was originally anticipated, then being able to provide the security and safety that the regulators would like, in order to continue licensing.

NucNet – With regards to R&D, how far behind is the UK compared with countries such as France and the US? What are the problems?

Ion – In the UK, we need to re-engage properly with the international community because for the last 7 or 8 years we have been passengers in the Gen-IV community. We have sent officials to wherever everyone was meeting, but we have not been proactive. We stopped working proactively when BNFL finally wound down in 2005-06. But having said that, the Americans also didn’t push fast reactor research that much for a period of about 20 years, ever since reprocessing became a ‘no-no’. Now of course they have strongly re-engaged.

France was by far and away the most advanced European nation on fast reactor R&D. Russia has always maintained fast reactor research at quite a high level, and then the Chinese and Indians have had fast reactors as part of their ongoing portfolio, both building prototype fast reactor systems.

The UK had a great deal of historical experience, given the fact we had the prototype fast reactor (PFR) and the Dounreay fast reactor (DFR) at Dounreay, and were participants within the European Fast Reactor Programme. We had expertise in the BNFL family, within universities and companies like Babcock and others, plus a great deal of archive material which was relevant to future Gen-IV programmes, provided it was refreshed and rejuvenated in short order. Otherwise, you lose the experts who can understand what was done historically and translate it.

NucNet – You mentioned China and India. How important is it that these countries develop their own indigenous technologies?

Ion – I think it is a natural consequence of becoming big fleet operators, if you take a look back at what has happened to countries which have a significant nuclear programme. Even though they may have imported the technology initially from elsewhere, such as Japan who took the technology from General Electric and Westinghouse, now very much a global player in its own right with advanced reactor design. Toshiba actually bought Westinghouse in the end, and the country itself is maintaining long-term programmes in Gen-IV- type technology.

You have South Korea who imported technology from the Canadians and Westinghouse, and became self-sufficient in its own right with some of the large components of the global supply chain coming out of South Korea from Doosan. They advanced the South Korean plant as a perfectly good system in its own right. France is the classic example of technology transfer from Westinghouse becoming an internationally global competitor.

India had its own indigenous programme anyway, as did China, but both have imported the best technology from overseas, and I would expect that within a twenty to twenty-five year time frame, they will become self-sufficient within their own right and become very significant competitors.

NucNet – Domestically in India, does their grid pose a problem to this progress, given that it is not as developed as it is in China?

Ion – My guess is that in the long-term, probably not. When you see the plans for the numbers of units that they are seeking to deploy and the gigawatts that implies, then by default, they’ve got to do something about the grid as well. I think they will find ways to uprate their grid to be able to accommodate the large modern plants of the Gen-III+ design. They will probably also look to play quite heavily in the end on Gen-IV – they will look to develop reactors of a much smaller capability, to accommodate rural grids and also reactors that are available more flexibly on a main grid.

NucNet – What game-changers might we see on the horizon? Might we see anything in the next 10 years?

Ion – Within that time, probably not much, but within the Gen-IV family, we might see some game-changing concepts in terms of linkage in high temperature reactors, and in terms of our understanding of the materials that will go into them, their mode of operation and their coupling with hydrogen economies and process heat economies.

So there are very different rationales for designing a nuclear plant. We’ll probably see some game-changing concepts there, and we might see some new concepts as we push for very high burn-up out of the materials we’ve got in today’s reactors.

We’ve used zircalloy from time immemorial, since Admiral Rickover’s (inventor of the nuclear submarine) days, so maybe we’ll actually see a strong push for some form of ceramic sheath as opposed to a metallic sheath. That will take some time to deliver, but it’s worth it, because today’s Gen-III+ plants will be around for 60 years. You can afford to do quite Gen-III+ a bit of R&D to guarantee that at high performance.

NucNet – Are there any technological challenges to the UK industry on the horizon?

Ion – In the UK, the challenges are more about logistics and project management, initiating an emergent supply chain, rather than technological per se. It is more about getting people to understand the long-term supply issues, because for both of the designs on offer in the UK, the Areva EPR and the Westinghouse AP1000, there is little to be done in the way of concepts or materials.

NucNet - How would you interpret the recent UK Health and Safety Executive feedback for the EPR design?

Ion – The safety authorities will find nuances which the vendors will have to address. However, these are readily surmountable, and can be sorted out in terms of how they finish off the detailed design… and also the justification behind the detailed design. There is quite a lot of clarification in the detail, as opposed to fundamentally changing the design. Although, both vendors as I understand will have made some design changes.

Sometimes, the challenges have arisen because the regulator wouldn’t necessarily have considered all aspects in the way that the vendors have. For example, Westinghouse are subject to licensing in the United States where they have a completely different approach to regulation. So, it’s quite often about re-justifying, using more facts and making sure the regulators have all the evidence available, which they may not have had before.

On the things that have changed technically – the plants have been built with the same materials as the Gen-III plants. We are still using alloy 690, the nickel-based material in quite a lot of the plants. Traditional low-alloy steels, stainless steels throughout the plant, and industry over time has understood how those materials perform and are viable for long term service. But there are always issues associated with them. Particularly the fact that the materials, which will be used now, the new vintage materials: many of them are produced by slightly different methods, particularly through steel-making, than the original materials operating in today’s plants.

When it comes to manufacturing, you are looking for validation of new component supplies. Some of the components might be different, even if made from similar materials, but the suppliers will be different because historically they were a vertically-integrated industry with much of the supply coming from within the companies themselves, meaning it was under the control of the reactor vendors. This is no longer the case; or it is to a certain extent with the Areva design, but not the Westinghouse design. So, supply chains grow globally and the reactor vendors qualify new players into the game to produce high-quality, qualified, validated components. There have got to be a lot of materials qualification tests to support acceptance of components as they are made.

Some of the methods of manufacturing are very different. There are quite a lot of large components; integrally forged piping etc. which weren’t there in the previous generation of reactors.

NucNet – A couple of weeks ago, the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre was established in the UK…

Ion – That was a really great piece of news, and also the manner in which it was finally delivered, because it brought together the strength of two of our strongest universities – Sheffield and Manchester. Sheffield is on the manufacturing side, building on the back of an already established manufacturing centre which they have had for many years with Boeing, and other links with manufacturers. At Manchester the focus is on the research angle and they have got the UK’s biggest concentration of nuclear engineering and science R&D.

NucNet – According to a recent study, public acceptance would improve with technological improvements. Surely this stands to reason?

Ion – When the public see excellent progress is being made on the technological front, and things being introduced, which do have a positive safety and security implication, it gives them confidence that people are looking for continuous improvement. But the other thing too is that we live in a very different world.

In the developed world, we are totally dependent on electricity 24/7 to run everything. We rely on IT systems for control of much of what we do. The telecommunications industry would collapse if there were no power, whereas back in the 1970s, that wasn’t the case. We could survive without electricity for significant periods of time and still carry on. So, there is a security of energy supply issue, where people are looking at the supply of fossil materials and where they are housed – in the Middle East and Russia etc. – and also the carbon issues of which people are very aware. The combination of security of energy supply issues and the climate change issue put nuclear into a completely different landscape from what it in was over the past 30 years.

NucNet – Do we still have another 30 to 40 years to wait until fusion?

Ion – When I am challenged on this by someone saying that fusion has always been forty years away, what I say is that the challenges are different. When it was 40 years ago before, people were looking to try and answer some of the detailed physics nuances, and make sure they could try and get sustainable plasma. That is no longer an issue: people know and understand that we can achieve the sorts of plasmas and reactions that are required to drive a fusion plant. The issues now are all about engineering and materials, to make sure that the plant that you would build, is capable, available and reliable on a 24/7–365 basis, which is a completely different set of challenges.

NucNet – Do you consider there to be a nuclear renaissance at the moment, or has this been overhyped?

Ion – I don’t think it’s been overhyped. Both mainstream global vendors are busy: with the plants that Westinghouse is building in China, and those that Areva is building in Finland and France. Both are recruiting very, very heavily on the global stage with engineers to support their anticipated long-term plans. Westinghouse has a few orders in the United States. Some of the orders are pushing back a little in time, but they are nevertheless real orders. When you look at the intentions of countries like Brazil, and the need to refresh the European fleet in 15 to 25 years, and the demands of new nations who historically haven’t been anywhere near nuclear, such as the UAE and others: yes, the global renaissance is indeed real.

& & &

* (bio) Sue Ion, is a visiting professor at Imperial College London and chair of the UK Fusion Advisory Board. She was British Nuclear Fuel Ltd's Executive Director of Technology 2002-2006. She graduated from Imperial with first class honors in metallurgy in 1976 and went on to complete her PhD in the same subject in 1979. She is the UK's representative on the International Atomic Energy Agency Standing Advisory Group on Nuclear Energy and was awarded the OBE in 2002 for services to the nuclear industry.

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Next generation of nuclear leadership in Europe

The people who will run Europe’s new reactors are learning their skills now

Nuclear%20Engineering%20Jobs1(NucNet) (WNN): A group of major European nuclear companies announced the launch of the European Nuclear Energy Leadership Academy (ENELA).

In the wake of Europe’s nuclear energy renaissance, the purpose of the Academy is to train post-graduates and high potential employees with different backgrounds to become leaders in European nuclear corporations and institutions.

Broad scope of training options

The Academy will offer a comprehensive nuclear management program based on a theoretical and practical approach focusing on specific European requirements and specifications (economics, politics, technology, legislation, safety standards, certifications). ENELA’s action will be threefold. The academy will offer two training programs.

  • The first one is focused on young graduates from different backgrounds (engineering, natural sciences, law, economics, social sciences…) with no professional experience will allow them to acquire skills in nuclear management.
  • The second program will train experienced professionals and senior managers to improve their managerial skills.
  • Finally ENELA will also serve as a think-tank and organize meetings to bring together representative from the nuclear industry, the political world, the media and civil society.

Strong support from the nuclear industry in Europe

strongmanENELA’s six founding stakeholders – Areva, Axpo, EnBW, E.ON Kernkraft, Urenco and Vattenfall – told a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, that the academy will train young graduates and high-potential employees from different backgrounds to become leaders in nuclear energy. The academy will be in Garching (near Munich).

"This is a very important and unique signal," said Stephan Döhler, executive vice president of Axpo. "The academy addresses the strong need for joining our efforts in attracting and training on an international level the best heads for the European nuclear energy community."

Walter Hohlefelder of EOn Kernkraft added: "Today marks the birth of what could become in the future the one European institution in the field of nuclear energy management and leadership training.”

EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs welcomed Enela's establishment, saying: "The nuclear sector faces a serious challenge: it needs to keep and develop knowledge on nuclear at an appropriate level. This is a matter of concern not only to the industry, but also for researchers, regulators and the health sector." He added, "Enela, by focusing on leadership skills, can help to close the gap in existing training programs."

Academy open to additional sponsors and partnerships

The Academy will bring together members of the international nuclear community, including employers, prospective employees as well as political and social opinion leaders. It will facilitate a dialog with industrial and non-industrial stakeholders while improving their mutual awareness and understanding of nuclear energy.

Hohlefelder, who is a member of the supervisory board of E.ON Kernkraft and chairman-designate of ENELA’s advisory board, said the academy could become a leading European institution in nuclear energy management and leadership training. He invited other organizations to join or support the initiative.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

DOE’s Warren (Pete) Miller is good news for the nuclear renaissance

PST Logo2

Guest column -- Lane Allgood, Executive Director, Partnership for Science & Technology (PST) (Facebook) Tel: 208-313-4166 Idaho Falls, ID

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to end our addiction to foreign oil, reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, deal with climate change, and create millions of new energy sector jobs that can’t be shipped overseas. To many of us, the only way for the President to show he was serious about achieving these goals was through a demonstrated commitment to nuclear energy.

The President didn’t get off to a very good start when he made the political bargain with Senator Harry Reid to kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. But things have started looking up since then.

The Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu, has said “I think nuclear power is going to be a very important factor in getting us to a low carbon future,” and the President himself has been heard supporting the increased use of nuclear power. But the most encouraging sign yet of the President’s growing support for nuclear energy may be the man he placed in charge of the nation’s nuclear energy program – Dr. Warren “Pete” Miller.

Warren MillerThe nomination and subsequent confirmation by Congress of Pete Miller (left) as the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy is a welcome and heartening development. If our country is really going to get serious about the advancement of nuclear power there isn’t a more knowledgeable and experienced person to lead the effort.

Dr. Miller holds a PhD in Nuclear Engineering from Northwestern University and worked as a research scientist, senior research advisor and associate lab director during a 27 year career at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering and is a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society. You simply can’t find someone who is better qualified for the job.

Miller in Idaho

Of course, qualifications are only part of the picture. Recently, we got a glimpse of Dr. Miller’s intellect, character and determination from his keynote address at the 2010 Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet in Idaho Falls.

Many of us have gotten to know Dr. Miller over his decades in the nuclear research community, but few of us knew that he was a childhood friend and classmate of Emmett Till, the fourteen year-old boy whose brutal murder helped catalyze the civil rights movement.

Dr. Miller shared with a rapt audience the story of how his feelings of profound sadness over the loss of his friend were transformed into a deep-rooted determination to succeed that led to a hard-won Congressional nomination to West Point and a doctorate from one of the nation’s top engineering schools.

TugofWarWhat did we learn about Dr. Miller from his inspiring and heartfelt talk? Well, we learned that this is a man who has succeeded in the face of overwhelming adversity. And importantly for those of us who follow the INL, we learned that the nation’s nuclear energy program is in the hands of a man who doesn’t back away from a challenge.

Sure, there are still reasons for skepticism about the Administration’s commitment to nuclear energy. But for all the pro-nukes and INL supporters, the message sent in the person of Warren “Pete” Miller is louder and clearer than any Presidential sound-bite in support of nuclear energy.

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Chu names blue ribbon panel on spent nuclear fuel

The group has real expertise. Let’s hope they do real work and don’t hand it off to staff.

DOE logoSecretary of Energy Steven Chu announced Jan 29 a Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. The Commission, led by Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft, will provide recommendations on managing spent

nuclear fuel and fission waste products.

In its first year in office, the Obama administration decided not to proceed with the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. This was a political decision based on pressure from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Reid also saw to it that funding was gutted for review of the license application by the NRC.

The President needs Reid to move his major legislative initiatives through the Senate so the most expedient thing to do is punt with a favorite tool for putting a contentious issue on hold - appoint a blue ribbon commission to study the issue. By the time it reports back, Reid may be gone, a victim of the 2010 mid-term elections, or the president will have gotten what he needs from Reid, and can try to make sense out of the issue instead of being hamstrung over it.

One of the reported reasons for the delay in naming the members of the panel was that some experts simply disagreed with Obama's decision to take the Yucca Mountain site off the table. Presumably, the current members announced today do not have these reservations.

StevenChu_at_G8 The President directed Secretary Chu (left) (Whitehouse memo) to establish the commission to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. The commission will provide advice and make recommendations on issues including alternatives for the storage, processing, and disposal of civilian and defense spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.

The official statements from the White House and the Energy Dept. are full of worthy sound bites about the justification for the panel. Chu led off with this one.

“Nuclear energy provides clean, safe, reliable power and has an important role to play as we build a low-carbon future. The Administration is committed to promoting nuclear power in the United States and developing a safe, long-term solution for the management of used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste."

Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, said as the world moves to tackle climate change and diversify the nation's energy portfolio, nuclear energy will play a vital role.

“Today, the Obama Administration has taken an important step. With the creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission, we are bringing together leading experts from around the country to ensure a safe and sustainable nuclear energy future.”

"Finding an acceptable long-term solution to our used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste storage needs is vital to the economic, environmental and security interests of the United States," said Congressman Lee Hamilton.

"This will be a thorough, comprehensive review based on the best available science. I'm looking forward to working with the many distinguished experts on this panel to achieve a consensus on the best path forward."

“As the United States responds to climate change and moves forward with a long overdue expansion of nuclear energy, we also need to work together to find a responsible, long-term strategy to deal with the leftover fuel and nuclear waste," said General Brent Scowcroft. "

The Commission is made up of 15 members who have a range of expertise and experience in nuclear issues, including scientists, industry representatives, and respected former elected officials.

Timeframe for action

2x4 profile The Commission will produce an interim report within 18 months and a final report within 24 months. Getting it done by then, and having real substance in the recommendations, will take significant persuasion by the panel’s co-chairs. One early test of whether even the panel members take it seriously will be attendance at the first meeting. If it is full of flunkies instead of the principals, you can stop paying attention.

The timeframe for the draft report puts it at June 2011 which is nine months after the mid-term elections to be held in November 2010. Assuming the report comes in on time, it will need to make budget recommendations for the President’s FY2012 budget if it is to have near-term impact.

Some of the panel’s recommendations could take decades to work themselves out. For instance, assuming the panel addresses an R&D path forward for fast reactors, the first facilities might not be built until the mid-2020 timeframe or later.

Senate Republicans endorse the panel

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, issued a statement endorsing U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s announcement of the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term solution to managing the nation’s used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.

“This commission and the president’s endorsement of a new generation of nuclear power plants are welcome steps that will enable the United States to catch up with the rest of the world in building the most reliable way to produce cheap, carbon-free electricity.

If the president’s budget, as rumored, also increases loan guarantees for new nuclear plants, that would be a third significant step. This will help put our country on a course toward a low-cost, clean-energy future and move us away from a national windmill policy that has been the energy equivalent of going to war in sailboats.”

The president’s proposed budget for FY2011 is expected to include an increase in the currently authorized level of loan guarantees for nuclear power from $18.5 to $54 billion. These loan guarantees would enable utilities to lower the cost of financing and cost the taxpayer little to nothing when the loans are paid back.

Alexander has been a strong advocate of increasing the nation's use of nuclear energy. Last year he proposed building 100 new reactors in the next two decades to slow the growth of greenhouse gases.

Panel member bios

Lee Hamilton, Co-Chair

Lee Hamilton represented Indiana's 9th congressional district from January 1965-January 1999. During his time in Congress, Hamilton served as the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and chaired the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He is currently president and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and director of The Center on Congress at Indiana University.

He is a member of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board and the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council. Previously, Hamilton served as Vice Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission).

Brent Scowcroft, Co-Chair

Brent Scowcroft is President of The Scowcroft Group, an international business advisory firm. He has served as the National Security Advisor to both Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. From 1982 to 1989, he was Vice Chairman of Kissinger Associates, Inc., an international consulting firm.

Scowcroft served in the military for 29 years, and concluded at the rank of Lieutenant General following service as the Deputy National Security Advisor. Out of uniform, he continued in a public policy capacity by serving on the President's Advisory Committee on Arms Control, the Commission on Strategic Forces, and the President's Special Review Board, also known as the Tower Commission.

Mark Ayers, President, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO

Vicky Bailey, Former Commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission;
Former IN PUC Commissioner; Former Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs

Albert Carnesale, Chancellor Emeritus and Professor, UCLA

Pete V. Domenici, Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center; former U.S. Senator (R-NM)

Susan Eisenhower, President, Eisenhower Group

Chuck Hagel, Former U.S. Senator (R-NE)

Jonathan Lash, President, World Resources Institute

Allison Macfarlane, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University

Dick Meserve, Former Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Ernie Moniz, Professor of Physics and Cecil & Ida Green Distinguished Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Per Peterson, Professor and Chair, Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California – Berkeley

John Rowe, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Exelon Corporation

Phil Sharp, President, Resources for the Future

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama to triple nuclear loan guarantees

Bloomberg wire service reports the increase will be requested in the 2011 budget

DOE logoTwo people familiar with the Department of Energy budget for 2011 have told the Bloomberg wire service that the President’s budget for 2011 will include a request to add $36 billion to the nuclear energy loan guarantee program. Bloomberg also reported that Southern’s Vogtle plant, which plans to build two Westinghouse 1,150 MW AP1000 reactors, will be the first loan guarantee approved in 2010.

The federal budget for FY2011 is being officially transmitted to Congress this week. Details will be on the DOE web site www.energy.gov once the documents are released to the public.

The news comes one day after President Obama added a line to his first State-of-the-Union address in support of nuclear energy. In his speech on Jan 27, he said, “to create more of these clean-energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives, and that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”

Both actions come just three weeks after Carol Browner, a senior White House advisor on energy and environmental issues, gave an online video interview Jan 6 in which she said, “The President believes that nuclear needs to be part of our energy future.”

"If you believe as we do that climate change is a serious problem ... then you need to be open to what are all of the ways in which we can produce energy in a clean manner. And so nuclear is obviously one of those.”

StevenChu_at_G8The statement also comes just a week after Secretary of Energy Steven Chu (right) told a Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee at a Jan 21 hearing that the White House supports nuclear energy.

“Right now 20% of our electricity is from nuclear; we would like to maintain that, possibly grow that. For that reason we are working aggressively to help restart the American nuclear industry with loan guarantees with research in the out years that will lead to more advanced, safer nuclear power.”

The action to triple the size of the loan guarantee program would, if enacted by Congress, increase the insurance coverage for new nuclear power plants, but not federal spending. An increase of $36 billion in loan guarantees could cover six-to-eight new reactors. There are currently more than a dozen viable license applications now pending at the NRC.

The current loan guarantee program of $18.5 billion could cover three-to-five new plants. the number depends on how much coverage each one needs to gain confidence from investors to lower the cost of capital.

Taken together, the two elements of the loan guarnatee program could cover nine-to-thirteen new nuclear reactors. Assuming plants average 1,200 MW, the increase to the nation's supply of carbon emission free electrical generation capacity would be on the order of 11 to 16 GWe of power.

Energy Secretary Chu has complained to Congress that getting the long-delayed first round of loan guarantees out the door has turned out to be a lot more complicated than he expected. Much the recent round of delays has centered on a difficult dialog with OMB about how to price the premiums utilities must pay to get the guarantees relative to the risk of default.

Aside from bureaucratic issues, the nuclear energy industry has sought a significant increase in the level of loan guarantees. It was rebuffed when the economic stimulus package was put together, but now new political drivers appear to be gaining the attention of the White House.

Polls tell a story

VoteAccording to ABC television news pollster Gary Langer, Obama’s call for more support for nuclear energy is aimed at bolstering his support in areas where he is the weakest. Langer’s analysis of polling data show “sharp divisions” in support for nuclear energy segmented by partisanship, ideology, age, and sex.

  • 61% of Republican support it along with 55% of independents. Langer says these two areas are in the “crucial center” where Obama has political trouble. Similarly, conservatives favor nuclear energy by 23% margin compared to liberals.
  • Seniors favor nuclear energy by an enormous margin. 67% support it compared to 28% who oppose it. By comparison, young adults, who are critical to Obama’s electoral base, oppose nuclear energy by similar margins.
  • Men support nuclear energy by a 2:1 margin, but women oppose with a 17% gap between anti-and-pro positions.

Langer concludes that Obama’s support for nuclear energy is a calculated political call to groups that are outside of his political base because it appeals to them and gives them a reason to pay attention to his administration’s policies.

Nuclear energy does not contribute to the growth of greenhouse gases. The rush by green groups to get capital for their solar and wind projects puts them in competition for investors with new nuclear energy plants. That's why one of the first objections green groups have to new nukes is cost. Loan guarnatees will level the playing field. Now solar and wind will have to compete based on the cost of electricity delivered to rate payers.

Next step is up to Congress

In Congress Republicans have told Senate Democrats the price of their votes on a climate bill is a strong section in the legislation on nuclear energy. Now the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will get a chance to put cash on the barrel head, so to speak. The provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 will also have to be updated by the relevant House and Senate committees. It will be a complex legislative effort.

The proof of the Obama administration’s support for nuclear energy will be in a drive to get Congress to approve a provision in the budget to vastly expand the loan guarantee program. The wheel is finally turning. Let’s see how far it rolls.

Bonus video – Steve Winword “Roll with It”

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

TVA gets NRC nod for Bellefonte reactors

NRC takes first step to reinstate construction licenses, but there are still big decisions ahead for TVA

phoenixThink of all the metaphors about Phoenix birds rising out of the ashes and then apply them to what’s happening on a 1,600 acre site along the banks of the Tennessee River in northern Alabama. There life may be restored for two nuclear reactors that most had given up for dead.

Last week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) agreed to upgrade the status of two partially complete reactors from “terminated” to "deferred.” It is the first step by NRC to reinstate the construction license for the two plants. However, it doesn’t mean TVA has decided to complete them or take any other actions.

According to the NRC’s Eric Leeds, director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, “This is just one step in a long list of actions TVA must complete before they can resume construction at Bellefonte.”

The utility has several options for the site which include completing its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant, building another new reactor at the site, pursuing energy efficiency and demand management; or, do nothing. At one time, TVA had a more robust set of options which included either re-starting construction of the two original 1,200 MW reactors or building two new Westinghouse 1,150 MW AP1000s. Since then TVA had limited its options to completing or building one additional nuclear reactor at the site.

According to Leeds, placing Bellefonte in “deferred” status lets TVA evaluate whether it makes sense to complete construction and then attempt to license the reactors for operation. TVA has different time frames to make up its mind. The permit for Unit 1 expires 10/01/11 and for Unit 2 10/01/14. TVA says it is too early to say whether it will seek to extend the permits.

Lucy you got a lot of explaining to do

LucyEthel_I_Love_LucyAccording to a Jan 16 report in the New York Times, TVA spent the equivalent of $4.5 billion in today’s dollars on the two reactors but didn’t finish either one of them. After TVA decided not to complete the two reactors in 1988, some of the equipment was removed from the construction sites. TVA says in 2010 the condition of the two plant is open to question.

Terry Johnson, a spokesman for TVA, told the newspaper Unit 1 isn’t 87% complete. He said the number is closer to 55%. He also said that the instrument and control systems installed in the 1980s could not be used today.

Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the NRC, told the New York Times TVA has a lot of questions to answer about the condition of the equipment from the original builders. He said TVA has to make the case that the equipment the utility wants to use can meet current safety requirements.

The NRC isn’t the only party with these questions. The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, the Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy are challenging the NRC’s actions to change the status of the two reactors.

What’s Next?

bellefonte scottsboro alTVA still has a lot of engineering evaluation work and number crunching before it makes up its mind what to do. In a series of statements over the summer of 2008, TVA's CEO talked about how the utility will evaluate the options.

"We intend to thoroughly explore potential power supply sources to determine the best and most cost-effective methods of meeting future power needs in the Tennessee Valley,” said TVA Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum.

“That includes energy efficiency and demand reduction, which we are currently pursuing aggressively, as well as adding new generating units as the demand for power grows.“

McCollum said that it makes good business sense to look at existing TVA assets at Bellefonte and evaluate them along with other power supply alternatives. Reinstating the construction permits is the first step to determine if completing the units is viable.

“As we look for the best choice for new base load generation we recognize that nuclear fuel costs are much more stable over the long term than what we’ve recently experienced with coal prices,” McCollum said. “Nuclear power is safe and reliable, reduces our carbon footprint and will help stabilize energy costs.”

According to an August 9, 2009, report by World Nuclear News, TVA said that it has identified the need for additional base load generation in the 2017 to 2020 time frame. TVA wants to have at least 50% of its generation portfolio comprised of low or zero carbon-emitting sources by the year 2020.

TVA has a long way to go to make a decision on what to build, if anything, at the Bellefonte plant. In the meantime, it is finishing the Watts Bar plant and it completed and re-started the 1,500 MW Browns Ferry reactor.

Prior coverage on this blog

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Are dark days ahead for nuclear energy in the sunshine state

Florida regulators slam on the brakes over rate increases

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The two major nuclear utilities in Florida, Progress Energy (NYSE:PGN) and Florida Power & Light (FPL) (NYSE:FPL), came away Jan 13 from a meeting with the Public Service Commission (PSC) with a lot less than they asked for to build new nuclear power plants.

After a 10-month regulatory review, FPL got just $75 million out of a request of $1.3 billion to develop two 1,150 MW Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors at Turkey Point near Miami.

The PSC also rejected the recommendation of its staff for a $357 million rate increase for FPL, denied the utility's requests of $49 million for executive compensation;, and, refused to agree to a request to set aside $150 million for future storm damage. Finally, the PSC slammed on the brakes for FPL's regulated rate-of-return dropping it from 12.5% to 10%.

Progress Energy fared much worse getting none of the $500 million it requested for two similar reactors at Levy County on the state's west coast.

Both utilities reacted by calling for a stop to work on a combined total of 4.6 GWe of new nuclear powered electricity generation capacity. The PSC's decision threatens to take the sunshine state from being one of the brightest spots in the nuclear renaissance to one of the darkest.

Read the full story exclusively at the EnergyCollective.

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