Friday, February 12, 2010

Do Iran’s nuclear claims hold water?

U.S. and France dismiss results as “politics not physics,” but the threat is real

Iran centrifugesIran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (right) claimed this week in a speech marking the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that it has the capacity to make “weapons grade” uranium which could lead to the fabrication of an operational nuclear bomb. Iran has also been developing a 1,200 mile range ballistic missile which could be used to deliver one. The question for Western powers, and especially Israel which Iran has repeatedly vowed to destroy, is how credible are these claims?

The immediate responses from the U.S. and France to Iran’s latest statement about its nuclear program are its not credible. Both nations cited assessments by nonproliferation experts that show setbacks rather than progress with uranium enrichment technologies.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, in an unusually blunt statement, said Iran “… has made a series of statements that are … based on politics not physics.”

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree to which they say they are enriching.”

In Paris French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a radio program, “Americans do not believe, any more than us, that Iran is currently capable of enriching uranium to 80%.”

While diplomats struggle to find new ways to bring pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program, it is important to assess what Iran really has, and does not have, in term of a nuclear weapons manufacturing capability.

Setbacks in centrifuge operations

David Albright ISISThe Washington Post reported Feb 11 that Iran has experienced a series of setbacks in its efforts to produce enriched uranium both at the commercial level of 3-5% and at higher levels up to 20%.

According to a report by David Albright (right) at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), production has fallen off significantly at the Natanz plant. (NTI maps) More than half of Natanz’s nearly 9,000 centrifuges were idle at the end of 2009.

Equipment malfunctions and obsolete centrifuge technologies are said to be the reasons for the slowdown in enriched uranium production. Albright did not rule out sabotage as a cause of the breakdowns.

The ISIS report is supported by a parallel assessment from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). The Washington Post reported that Ivan Oelrich, Vice-President of the FAS security program, said that Iran’s nuclear technology development is being pushed too fast for political reasons.

A third think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the newspaper the breakdowns of the gas centrifuges could result in a delay of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Patrick Clawson, deputy director, told the Post, “Whether Iran has deliberately slowed down or been forced to, it stretches out the time.”

All three think tanks agree that while Iran is having problems now with gas centrifuge technology that is 50 years old, it is only a matter of time before it masters the machines and begins production of weapons grade uranium from them. None of the think tanks suggested that U.S. policy options should consider near-term technical difficulties as a solution to Iran’s nuclear menace in the Middle East

Known and unknown weapons sites

The most significant uncertainty about what Iran is doing centers on a formerly secret uranium enrichment plant built into a mountain inside a military base outside the city of Qom [links to images via Google search]. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) worries that Iran may have other undeclared nuclear facilities also hidden away in other underground sites.

IAEA_logoThe agency’s inspectors say that such a facility can only have one purpose and that is to build a nuclear weapon or be able to assemble one relatively quickly from components. In September 2009 IAEA made it official saying Iran had violated its international obligations to report new nuclear facilities to the agency.

Iran has two motivations for the site at Qom. The first is to take low-enriched uranium from Natanz to spin it up to levels above 80% U235 which is the minimum level for bomb materials. The second is to duplicate an above ground uranium conversion plants at Esfahan and Fasa (NTI maps), which take yellowcake from a uranium mill and turn it into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas. The gas is then spun in centrifuges separating the slightly lighter U235 isotope from the heavier U238.

Iran is following the example of North Korea which reportedly has over 300 miles of underground tunnels housing its nuclear weapons manufacturing plants. In both cases, once the overburden of rock above the plants exceeds about 100 feet, the underground factories are effectively immune from direct aerial bombardment even by so-called “bunker buster” bombs.

Policy parallels for Iran and North Korea

Iran may have the same objective as North Korea in pursuing development of nuclear weapons. Both nations want to demonstrate they can build them as a deterrents, but might not actually assemble a working weapon capable of being delivered to a target 1,200 away via an intermediate range missile.

sopranosNorth Korea is not a government as we understand the idea in the West. It is a collection of criminal families. Think Sopranos rather than Politburo. The whole country is probably run by less than a few hundred people at the top of each family tree.

Their primary motivation is self-preservation of power. While North Korea has exhibited some bizarre behaviors, they probably are rational enough not to actually mount a nuclear warhead on a missile and threaten to shoot it at someone.

North Korea’s army is no match for the combination of the U.S. and South Korea. The development of nuclear bomb making capability is seen as a deterrent designed to keep conventional armies at bay and to avoid the threat of tens of millions of deaths on the Korean peninsula.

Iran’s sociopathic leaders exhibit some of the same qualities including xenophobia, adherence to a “rejectionist” philosophy as a basis for legitimacy, governmental demands for blind obedience by the masses, and with the additional unique overlay of Islam. There are other differences and that is Iran is better fed, has fuel for transport, and access to western goods and services including some information over the Internet when it is not blocked for political reasons.

Can Iran make HEU?

What Iran is probably talking about when it refers to 10 new enrichment facilities are new capabilities across the entire nuclear fuel cycle. These include enrichment plants, but also precursors such as mills to turn uranium ore into Yellowcake, conversion facilities to make the Uranium Hexafluoride needed for the enrichment plants, and fuel fabrication facilities to make the fuel pellets and assemblies.

Iran will have considerable difficulty executing a plan costing tens of billions in a short period of time. For instance, in the U.S. construction of a new $3 billion enrichment plant takes three years and that’s after two years of design work.

Uranium enriched to 20% is not weapons grade material. It is suitable as fuel for nuclear reactors to make medical isotopes and for fuel in ships and submarines. Some Soviet naval reactors ran as high as 35%.

Weapons grade uranium is at least 80% U235. It is called “highly enriched uranium” or HEU. That said it is a fast if expensive path to reach weapons grade levels of enrichment once engineers prove they can reach 20%, but these are two profoundly different numbers.

Iran has all the pieces of the complete fuel cycle, but it is not proven that it can make a bomb. That next step requires very different capabilities.

Can Iran make a bomb?

Litte Boy Atomic Bomb cutawayEven after Iran has 50-60 pounds of HEU, it will still need a lot more high tech capabilities to build a bomb. For examples, even a rudimentary device needs special electronics to detonate the conventional explosives in a shaped charge to implode the HEU core. Iran got some of its nuclear technology from Pakistan via black market smuggling and semi-official intermediaries. This unclassified image is of a "gun" device. An implosion device would need additional technology including high speed switches and a beryllium reflector to work.

Another issue is what kind of command and control systems will Iran use to prevent unauthorized detonation of a nuclear device. Given the multiple groups which contend for power in a theocratic regime, the possibility of compromise of the civilian-military relationships by rogue jihadists is an ever present threat.

Intelligence estimates are all over the map whether Iran can make a nuclear bomb. Clearly, Iran wants the West to believe it can, but in pursuing what may be a gigantic bluff, it threatens its own interests. The West and Israel must take the threat seriously until evidence proves otherwise.

No plutonium from reprocessing

fuelcycleGraphic2One area where North Korea and Iran diverge is that Iran has not developed nuclear fuel reprocessing capabilities to separate plutonium from spent fuel. This is a dirty business which requires extensive and expensive infrastructure, and a lot of nitric acid, and which produces a less pure poorer grade of plutonium than by other methods such as special reactors to make plutonium. [Addendum: See this explanation about reprocessing spent fuel.]

Also, there is a staffing issue. You don't run one of these places with help from the local chicken farm. It takes several years of hands-on training for a skilled operator to manage the remote control tools and systems needed to manage the highly radioactive materials.

It creates a large waste volume is created of liquid radioactive material which requires a tank farm to manage it. For instance, the infrastructure of the now decommissioned Idaho Chemical Processing Plant is easily visible from low earth orbit satellites. Putting these facilities underground still requires electricity transmission to the site, rail and truck transport, as well as procurement of sophisticated equipment and materials.

The reason Iran has not pursued reprocessing is that it has no commercial reactors producing spent nuclear fuel. The Russians only agreed to provide fuel for the 1,000 MW VVER commercial reactor at Bushehr on condition that it will take back the spent fuel.

What’s next?

Straits of HormuzFrance and the U.S. are now working to convince China, Russia, Brazil, and other U.N. Security Council Members to back a new, fourth round of sanctions against Iran. The danger is that in response Iran might take pre-emptive action to close the world’s oil supply choke point which is the Straits of Hormuz (map right) cutting off oil shipments to much of the world from the Middle East.

Military action by the U.S., France, and other nations to reopen the narrow waterway could succeed, but the resulting “security premium” for oil prices might trigger a new round of contractions among battered global economies.

It is outside the scope of this article to speculate whether Israel would make a pre-emptive military strike against one or more of Iran’s nuclear fuel facilities. Even if they did, the scope of Iran’s infrastructure is already so vast that knocking out one above ground plant might not delay for very long Iran’s apocalyptic path towards building a capability to deploy nuclear weapons. Regime change and a more rational top echelon in charge of a now thoroughly traumatized country may be the only real solution.

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1st DOE nuclear loan guarantee to Southern

Vogtle’s twin reactors are expected to enter revenue service starting in 2016

DOE logoDow Jones News Wires reports the Department of Energy will award the first conditional loan guarantee for a new nuclear power plant in the U.S. to Southern Co.'s (NYSE:SO) Vogtle plant in Georgia. The official announcement is expected early next week.

Also, there is speculation that DOE will soon make a decision on a loan guarantee for Areva’s Eagle Rock Enrichment Plant. Elected officials in Ohio, who support USEC’s enrichment plant, had a media meltdown on Feb 12 over this rumor which was denied by DOE spokesperson.

According to a newspaper in southern Ohio, DOE Spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said. “It is not accurate. We have not made a decision yet on the loan guarantee.”

Two weeks ago Areva said through its Bethesda, MD, office that DOE’s “due diligence” for the project was complete and that document approving the loan guarantee on a conditional basis was waiting for a signature by Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The federal government offices of DOE in Washington, DC, have been closed all week due to two major snowstorms. Next Monday Feb 15 is an official federal holiday which means it will be Tuesday, Feb 16 before the curtain will rise on the next act in this multi-billion dollar drama.

Southern is first of four expected actions

Southern logo Dow Jones noted that David Ratcliffe, Southern's CEO, has previously said that he expected the Vogtle plant to receive a preliminary guarantee before the end of the first quarter. Southern, along with Oglethorpe Power and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, plan to build two new Westinghouse AP1000 1,150 MW nuclear reactors near Augusta, Ga.

The Vogtle project received an early site permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year. The permit allows the company to begin early stage construction at the site. Southern has filed for a combined operating license to build and operate the twin reactors, which could enter revenue service in 2016 and 2017. It has signed an EPC constract with Shaw to build the reactors.

Dow Jones noted the government won't award final loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants until the projects receive their NRC combined operating licenses, which are expected in 2011. As a practical matter, the utility doesn’t want to pay the premiums for the loan guarantee until they can draw funds from investors covered by the insurance.

Under the loan-guarantee program, the government promises to assume a company's debt obligations if it defaults on debt incurred for the projects. DOE has invested a lot of time, along with protracted dialog with OMB, over the calculation of the risk premium relative to due diligence for each project.

Loan guarantee program to expand?

Congress has authorized $18.5 billion for the nuclear loan guarantee program, enough for only two or three projects. The Obama administration has proposed tripling the program. As of May 2009, Southern, Scana Corp., Constellation Energy Group, and NRG Energy Inc. were the four companies with projects on the short list for the federal insurance.

NRG’s project has been beset with turmoil lately in disputes about costs between CPS Energy of San Antonio and Toshiba which will supply the reactors and build them. If NRG cancels its planned construction of two GE-Hitachia 1,350 MW ABWR reactors, Luminant at Comanche Peak, also in Texas, is the runner up site on DOE’s short list. There Luminant plans to build twin Mitsubishi 1,750 MW reactors to feed electricity into the Dallas/Ft. Worth region.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Update on widgets

Everyone wants their badge on your blog

Out with the Old

bloggingIn response to a comment about web page load time, I’ve removed a few widgets and badges from the left column and streamlined a few other things.

The three Facebook badges seem to have been the main culprits for Javascript errors. Despite the fact there are 400 million people on Facebook, which makes it hugely popular by any definition, they’re gone. I can't change the scripts or the load time from Facebook's servers for the data that runs in the widgets.

The Postrank ‘Top Blog Posts’ widget is gone too because the rankings seem to be circular. People tend to click on these items even though the service measures all clicks on all links. They’ll continue to measure the clicks, but the badge was randomly appearing and disappearing depending on what browser you used to view the blog.

The ‘Recent Blog Posts’ widget from Blogger is gone because most of the time it just didn’t work. I did not find an answer to the problem in the Blogger Help forum.

All three of the Technorati widgets are gone including the ‘Cloud Tag,’ the 'Authority’ badge, and one that allowed you to make the blog a ‘Favorite.' The Technorati web site says the company no longer supports any of them and that it has moved on to providing other services.

A whole bunch of small badges from various blog tracking services are gone. They didn't do much, and just added to the visual clutter. To speed things up generally, I deleted two widgets that pulled data from their home pages in order to display information here. They include one that displayed CO2 data from an observatory in Hawaii and a weather widget from the Weather Channel .

In the with New

new lamps for old The blog roll has been upgraded to show the most recent post from each site and the time of the last update. This seems to be a popular feature one that has been widely adopted by other sites that use the Blogger service.

The blog now features a Tweet feed from the ‘Nuclear Tribe,” which is a continuous stream of blog posts from about 50 people, at this point, who post on Twitter about nuclear energy. The number of people using it will likely grow over time.

Still Standing

Several of the online services will continue. They include the SphereWhat’s Related’ button at the bottom of each blog post and the Add This drop down menu to tie into social media also located at the footer of each blog post.

The Adaptive Blue service embedded in blog posts highlights movies, books, and Wiki entries. There is an extension for it that works with Mozilla’s Firefox.

Lastly, the Twitter feed that accompanies this blog is at the top of the list. People seem to enjoy it.

& & &

I’m always interested in feedback about these kinds of issues. Please leave a comment here or drop me an email: djysrv [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks.

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Europe’s plain talk about nuclear energy

Budapest hosts annual PIME Conference for nuclear communicators

PIME201011 Feb (NucNet) The annual PIME meeting (conference website) for nuclear communications professionals begins in Budapest, Hungary, on Sunday with three days of plenary sessions including a special showcase with presentations on recent communications developments.

PIME, the conference on Public Information Materials Exchange, runs from 14 to 17 February. According to its organizers, PIME is the annual focal point for professional nuclear communicators all around the world. It is the only conference of its kind designed especially for communicators in the nuclear industry and research communities – a unique international meeting that has grown in value and stature year-on-year.

Program notes

PIME revolves around a series of plenary sessions and workshops for people working in the nuclear energy and nuclear research communications sectors.

Welcome addresses will be given by Vladimir Sluge, president of the Slovak Nuclear Society and the European Nuclear Society; Eld Holló, president of the Hungarian Nuclear Society; and Péter Hónig, Hungary’s minister of transport, telecommunication and energy.

Other sessions include presentations by environmentalist Stephen Tindale, former head of Greenpeace UK, and James Gillies, head of communications at CERN, the Switzerland-based European Organization for Nuclear Research.

For the first time there will be a communications showcase with presentations from a number of organizations including the Swiss Nuclear Forum, the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group from the Netherlands, the Argentinean Nuclear Regulatory Authority and NucNet/World Nuclear Organization.

Reactor visit

On 17 February there are technical visits to Hungarian nuclear facilities including the Budapest Research Reactor (BRR) at Hungary’s Central Research Institute of Physics.

The BRR is a Soviet-origin tank-type reactor, moderated and cooled by light water. It is used for irradiation and neutron research.

budapestPIME is organized by the European Nuclear Society in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Brussels-based industry group Foratom and the Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency.

More information

European Nuclear Society
Ms Kirsten Epskamp
Tel: +32 2 505 30 54
Fax: +32 2 502 39 02
E-mail: pime2010@euronuclear.org

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Italy to select four reactor sites

Government takes next steps in shift from fossil fuels

The Italian government issued a policy statement this week identifying the  site selection criteria to locate four new nuclear reactors.  The first unit will break ground by 2013 and is expected to be in revenue service by 2020.  Reuters reports that Italy’s biggest utility Enel (BIT:ENEL) and French nuclear giant EDF plan to build the reactors. 

ScajolaClaudio Scajola, (left) the lead government minister for Italy’s nuclear program, said the policy will allow the government to select sites for the power stations, storage for spent nuclear fuel, and provide financial incentives to communities that agree to host the plants.

Opposition to nuclear energy runs high among local politicians in some parts of the country, but the government is taking its case to court to over turn local laws that include bans against construction of nuclear energy facilities.  Scajola said the plants most likely will be located in the southern part of Italy in Puglia, Campania, and Basilicata.

Scajola also said the government would engage in extensive consultations with local populations that would include reform of permit procedures as well as transparency for monitoring of construction and plant operations.

Utility CEO in forefront of public advocacy

fulvio_contiENEL utility CEO Fulvio Conti (right) is doing something his American counterparts might want to watch with interest. He is launching a full-throated campaign to promote nuclear energy in Italy and he is not mincing words when it comes to its benefits.  His two primary themes are;

  • Nuclear energy is the only technology to provide reliable 24 x 7 power to meet base load demand and
  • Opposition to nuclear energy is based on “prejudice, unjustified fear, and suspicion.”

“Nuclear power is cleaner, safer and more socially responsible. It is part of the solution to move towards greater independence and is friendly to the environment.”

ANSI.IT reported Conti also said at a technology conference that solar, energy and other natural energy sources, “… depend on nature, which is a somewhat erratic distributor of these sources and thus cannot guarantee meeting energy demands 24 hours a day, 30 days a month and 365 days a year”.

This is why we need a mix of energy sources which also includes nuclear power,” Conti said.

Environment and economic development mix

stefaniaprestigiacomo1Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo (left) said at the same conference a return to nuclear  power “is not an easy path, considering we are practically starting from square one”.

“The government is strongly committed to this goal, in particular the environment ministry, which is one of the two pillars supporting the nuclear agency. It’s not going to be easy but we’re working on it and working together,” she added.

In prior interviews she has emphasized the need for economic development in the southern provinces of Italy, which is where the government is planning to build the reactors.

Italy abandoned nuclear power in 1987 after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and is now the only leading western power without it. Last year the Italian parliament gave its green light to a return to nuclear power through which Italy hopes to cover 25% of its energy needs in the future.

Prior coverage on this blog

  • May 2008 – Italy reverses course on nuclear energy
  • April 2009 – Italy’s nuclear renaissance
  • July 2009 – Update – Italy’s nuclear renaissance
  • September 2009 – Italy advances on nuclear energy, Germany falters

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NEI rolls out nuclear PR campaign

Print and electronic media ads will run in multiple venues

nei logoThe Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), based in Washington, DC, has started a new advertising campaign aimed at federal and state policymakers on the benefits of nuclear energy.

The seven-month campaign includes a series of six print advertisements that will appear in publications including The Washington Post, National Journal, Congress Daily, The Hill newspaper, The New Republic, National Review and State Legislatures magazine.

The campaign features Web-based advertising at the Washington Post’s news website and Politico with radio advertising on WTOP in the Washington, D.C., market.

“At this critical time in the nation’s energy and environmental policy deliberations, the industry is communicating the many benefits of nuclear energy for today’s electricity consumers as well as potential future benefits, such as further reducing greenhouse gases and using nuclear energy to power plug-in electric vehicles and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Scott Peterson, NEI’s vice president of communications.

“As President Obama and members of Congress from all political parties have acknowledged, nuclear energy must be part of a comprehensive approach to meeting our electricity needs.”

The advertisements draw on statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy and other sources to show nuclear energy’s value in keeping electricity costs low, stimulating the economy and enhancing U.S. energy security.

Some thoughts about nuclear PR and green groups

Fig LeavesThe green wing of the Democratic party has been enjoying a free ride under the economic stimulus bill with $billions allocated to solar and wind technologies. Now, when the president talks about loan guarantees, which do NOT involve federal spending, and which pay for themselves, the green groups complain they've been "kicked in the gut." What nonsense!

Obama has engaged with nuclear energy, and Senate Republicans, for the same reason Nixon went to China. During the Cold War, then Pres. Nixon realized he could no longer contain the red menace so he did the next logical thing under Henry Kissinger's "realist" paradigm, and that is to engage with China.

Similarly, despite record majorities in the House and Senate, Obama has realized he cannot contain the Republicans, who are succeeded by being the party of "no" and with a disheartening flight from commitment to governance.

He's doing the right thing by offering nuclear energy as a basis for compromise on the climate bill and to appeal to demographic groups that are not in his political base.

Major nuclear energy themes

anti nuclear theme 1954-3NEI’s advertisements communicate themes designed to counteract some of the anti-nuclear themes that resurface every time a political leader, like the President, talks about the industry.

One of them is the association of civilian nuclear energy with nuclear weapons. The story of the benefits of the peaceful atom seem to get lost in Hollywood hype. Here is the rest of the story courtesy of NEI.

  • Nuclear energy produces 20% of all U.S. electricity.
  • Nuclear power plants release zero greenhouse gases while producing electricity and generate 72% of all carbon-free electricity in America.
  • New nuclear energy facilities already boost the economy by creating 15,000 new jobs in the past few years.
  • At 1.87 cents per kilowatt-hour, nuclear energy is the lowest cost, large-scale producer of electricity.
  • Nuclear energy produces electricity around the clock when consumers need it.
  • One uranium fuel pellet—about the size of a pencil eraser—produces as much electricity as one ton of coal or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas.

“As our federal and state leaders develop energy and environmental policies, it is more important than ever that they recognize the full range of benefits that nuclear energy provides to consumers,” Peterson said.

“Their constituents already support the expanded use of nuclear energy. In a recent national survey, 84% of the public agrees with taking advantage of all low-carbon sources, including nuclear energy, and 75% agree that America should expand nuclear energy as ‘one way to reduce greenhouse gases and prevent climate change.’ ”

Click here for copies of the NEI advertisements

Video channel

NEI has its own YouTube channel in addition to the videos in the new ad campaign. As readers of this blog know, President Obama has endorsed the tripling of federal loan guarantees for the nuclear industry. In the video below, Marv Fertel, President and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, talks with Clean Skies News about where these funds will go and what it means for the next wave of nuclear power plants.

Hockey anyone?

Wash Capitals Logo NEI is an official energy sponsor of the Washington Capitals and is promoting nuclear energy’s clean air benefits as part of its sponsorship with one of the National Hockey League’s most successful teams. (game schedule) The print, radio and Web advertisements for that campaign emphasize nuclear energy’s important role in preventing greenhouse gas emissions. NEI’s advertisements at the Verizon Center and on the Washington Capitals Web site will continue throughout this hockey season.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Support increasing for nuclear energy

Kentucky scouts for nuclear plant sites

Daniel BooneState officials in the blue grass state, which is dominated by the coal industry, are scouting potential nuclear power plant sites around Kentucky as part of an effort to expand the state's electricity supply beyond coal-fired generators. One of the potential uses of nuclear energy is to provide process heat for coal gasification plants.

The Louisville-Courier Journal reports the assessment is nearing completion. At the same time legislation to end a 26-year ban on nuclear energy passed in the state Senate. It is awaiting House action. The bill is backed by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. His aides know that rational dialog about nuclear energy won’t take place until the ban is taken off the books.

Len Peters, secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, told the newspaper, “We feel that having the ban in place, we cannot have a meaningful conversation” about nuclear energy. The utilities just will not come to the table.”

Chris Whelan, a utility company spokesman at E.On/LG&E, agreed with state officials that the ban restricts utility from doing anything more than talking about nuclear power in Kentucky.

“With the ban in place, we've already thought about looking at other states” if E.On. were to build a nuclear plant, she said.

Gov Beshear's 2008 energy plan envisioned putting nuclear energy roughly on par with coal as an electricity source by 2025. Coal supplies 90% of the state's electricity. So far the nuclear study has found three sites, all in western Kentucky, that are suitable for nuclear power stations. One of them is the Paducah site used by the Department of Energy. The site criteria include;

  • Access to a lot of water for cooling
  • Good evacuation routes
  • Distant from population centers
  • A buffer zone between the plant and its neighbors

In 1984 Kentucky banned new nuclear plants after the Marble Hill project was shut down before completion due to $2.8 billion in costs that included significant over runs of the original estimate.

Washington State Governor calls for more nuclear

Wash Gov GregoireGov. Chris Gregoire (right) says she supports President Barack Obama's recent push for nuclear power. The Associated Press reported this a stance that could cause political headaches in her state. Her political base includes strong support from green groups in the Seattle area.

However, with global climate change being a growing issue, Gregoire says "options that were off the table now are on the table."

Gregoire. a Democrat, has spent a lot of political capital to drive cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state. Paradoxically, her latest statement is a reversal of a prior position.

In 2007 she expressed indifference and a concern about waste issues when presented with an opportunity to support construction of a uranium enrichment plant in Richland. The $3 billion facility was eventually located in Idaho to the intense consternation of trade unions in Richland.

Now she says the Northwest is in good shape to develop alternative energy sources such as hydropower, wind, solar and - increasingly - cellulosic ethanol from wood chips and grass. She says nuclear energy must be part of that mix.

Hasting WASH district While Gregoire was touting nuclear energy, Rep. Doc Hasting (R-Wash) from the Tri-Cities area, said his district (map left) is in favor of building another nuclear power plant at Hanford.

Hastings addressed the Harvesting Green Energy Conference at the Three Rivers Convention Center.

Hastings told a conference of the green energy entrepreneurs that Hanford is the ideal location to expand commercial nuclear production.

"Unfortunately the politics in the state, particularly on the west side, make it considerably more difficult," Hastings says. "But I would totally embrace another nuclear plant here. We're an ideal place to take advantage."

Germany on track to extend life of 17 nuclear plants

Reuters reports Germany will proceed with its plans to extend the lives of its 17 nuclear plants. A government spokesman discounted comments from the Environment Minister that the government should consider scrap this strategy.

Ulrich Wilhelm, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, said the government was going ahead with the extension plan.

9321120According to Reuters, Norbert Roettgen, (right) a member of Merkel's conservatives, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in an interview that public support for the plan was too weak and his party should carefully consider whether it wanted to be remembered only for nuclear energy.

In this regard, he seems to have much in common with U.S. NRC chairman Gregory Jazcko. Roettgen includes nuclear safety in his government portfolio. Both men are outspoken critics of the nuclear industry despite having been appointed to roles that require impartial regulation of safety issues.

Merkel's government plans to change a law passed by an earlier centre-left government that requires the country's nuclear plants to be shut down by the mid-2020s.

Swiss support new nuclear power plants in survey results

(NucNet): Most of the Swiss believe it is necessary to build new nuclear reactor units to replace existing units that are taken out of service at the end of their operating lifetimes, according to the latest survey carried out on behalf of Swissnuclear, the nuclear energy section of the Swiss electricity grid companies’ organization Swisselectric.

The telephone survey, carried out by market research company Demoscope, showed that 54.6% of those questioned were in favor of constructing replacement units, while 41.1% were against and 4.3% undecided.

The survey showed that as in previous years most people (82.4%) felt Swiss nuclear facilities were safe.

The number of those who believed nuclear units were essential for providing the country with electricity rose to 73% from 70.4% last year.

Swiss Nuclear said the attitude towards nuclear energy in Switzerland could be summed up as “critical, but favorable”. The group said it had noticed during the 10 years the survey has been carried out that there has been a general tendency towards acceptance of nuclear energy.

But the survey also showed that nuclear waste disposal was considered a significant challenge. However, 53.5%, an increase of 4.3% on last year, considered that solutions could be found in Switzerland.

Switzerland has five nuclear units in commercial operation contributing about 40 percent to the country’s electricity production.

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No more fish stories at Indian Point

Green groups must scale back baiting the public because the fact don’t support their claims

flounder(NucNet) There are “no significant differences” between radioactive strontium 90 (Sr-90) levels in fish caught near the Indian Point nuclear power plant compared to fish caught further upstream in the Hudson River, a new report shows.

The 31-page report from New York state’s Department of Environmental Conservation agrees with a previous determination by state health officials that there is no public health concern, relative to Sr-90, connected to eating fish caught in the Hudson River.

It concludes that the levels of radionuclides – including Sr-90 – were “two to five orders of magnitude lower” than criteria established for the protection of freshwater ecosystems.

The report also concludes there were no differences in concentrations of Sr-90 and naturally occurring radium 224 in resident fish from the three locations sampled in the lower Hudson River. The locations were near Indian Point, Roseton (about 24 miles upstream) and Catskill (about 75 miles upstream).

The DEC analyzed fish flesh and bones caught in June 2007 near the nuclear plant and from the two areas further upstream.

Environmental groups produced a public uproar four years ago, when a leak was discovered from a spent fuel pool and used the news since then to attack the plants effort to renew its NRC license.

Oh, you mean those fish?

A spokesman for the self-appointed ‘watchdog group’ Riverkeeper told area news media they were reserving comment until they finished studying the new report.

"Riverkeeper is reviewing the DEC's report and will respond once we have fully analyzed its conclusions," said Phillip Musegaas, an attorney and Hudson River program director for the environmental organization.

"Regardless of the report's findings, however, Riverkeeper will continue to pursue all avenues to force Entergy and the NRC to address the risk of future leaks from the spent-fuel pools and buried pipes at the plant that could add to the contamination already on-site and leaching into the Hudson."

NRC not surprised

However, the feds had a different point of view, one which matters significantly to the future of the nuclear power station.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told a regional newspaper the state's results were consistent with "previous data gathered on potential environmental impacts from the groundwater contamination at Indian Point."

He added the agency's review of the Indian Point license renewal application is still in motion, and that data reviewed confirm the reactor complies with federal radiation protection standards in its operations.

IndianPointEntergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said the state's results verified what the company has maintained for years — that its nuclear reactors are operating safely.

"The DEC results were not unexpected, but very helpful in reassuring the public about the safety and environmental impact of Indian Point."

In 2005, Indian Point’s owner Entergy discovered a spent fuel pool water leak to groundwater while installing a new crane to facilitate transfer of unit 2 spent fuel to dry cask storage. This leak was determined to have generated a groundwater plume of tritium (H-3). During efforts to track the H+3 plume, Sr-90 was discovered in a portion of the plume and traced H+back to a leak in the unit 1 spent fuel pool.

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