Saturday, February 20, 2010

Western uranium lands gopher for 02/20/10

gopherThis blog post is an edited version of a column published in Fuel Cycle Week 02/11/10 V9:N363 by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC.

Colorado uranium miners may face new rules for ISR operations

Two bills passed by the legislature last year aimed at uranium miners have resulted in draft implementation rules from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety. The draft rules, based on H.1161 and S.228, cover a broad swath of activities including uranium mining, permit fees, and disclosure of prospecting information to the public.

David Berry, Director of the state agency told FCW the two areas in the draft rule that have attracted the most public interest are baseline characterization of groundwater conditions and access to timely information about prospecting activities. He said the process of writing the drafts, "… had extensive public stakeholder input last year." Public comments are due to the agency March 1st.

The draft regulations require a baseline study on water quality, documentation about the technology used by the ISR operation to extract the uranium, notice of prospecting activities to nearby landowners, and reclamation of the site once the mining operation is complete.

The agency's activities are governed by the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board which will hold a hearing on the draft rules on April 6.

Berry said, after the hearing the record will remain open for comment, "which is a process that could go on for months. "

"I don't have an estimate of when the regulations will be issued in final form."

"The board may mark up the draft themselves, insert new language, or return the draft to the agency with comments and tell us to do it."

The primary driver for the new laws came from two Ft. Collins area legislators responding to concerns about a planned ISR mine near Nunn, Colo, which is about 15 miles to the east. Powertech (TSE:PWE) is planning its Centennial ISR mine at this site. The firm will apply for state permits to operate the mine It will need approval from the Reclamation Division and the Department of Health for radiation control.

Richard Clement, Powertech CEO, told FCW the new law is very restrictive in terms reclamation requirements. He said it is unusual for ISR mining to require "baseline or better" conditions when the usual requirement is "consistent" with prior conditions.

However, Clement said he is "… not overly concerned about the new regulations."

"What we've seen so far matches what's in the law."

He add that the requirements for notice of prospecting activities are more likely to impact hard rock miners who sample outcrops than ISR miners who must secure a land position in order to do drilling. The reason is hard rock miners are in a very competitive position with each other especially if they haven't yet secured leases for the areas they are exploring.

Powertech has not yet submitted a permit application to the State of Colorado for the Centennial mine. Clement said the state has asked the firm to hold off until the draft regulations are final. He said, "the firm would like to see a quick process so that we can move ahead with the permit."

Diana Orf, a spokesperson for the Colorado Mining Association agreed with Clement about the reclamation requirements which she says are now among the strictest in the nation.. She told FCW the association's primary concern is, "…the statute and implementing regulations not be used to prohibit this kind (ISR) of mine."

What's new Orf said is the requirement for prospecting filings with the state agency being available to the public.

"Our concern is that proprietary information isn't served up to public inspection. The vulnerability is that specific information on mineral deposits be kept confidential."

Cotter Mill problems spark new legislative drive

While cleanup work is continuing at the Cotter uranium mill in Canon City, three Colorado state legislators say they want more laws on the books to prevent a repeat of contamination problems in the state.

Rep. Buffie McFadyen (D-Pueblo), Sen. Ken Lester (R-Las Animas), and Sen. Bob Bacon (D-Ft. Collins) are working on the Uranium Accountability Act.

The bill would increase the financial bond a uranium mill is required to establish to insure cleanup. It would also require mills to notify area landowners of any subsurface contamination resulting from mill operations. Environmental Groups in south central Colorado are pushing for the new laws because of contamination of drinking water wells from the Cotter mill.

The legislators said their interest in the bill came after Cotter said it planned to reopen a mill at the Canon City site in 2014.

TaylorRanchProjectDrilling2Black Range minerals (ASX:BLR) is developing an underground uranium mine in Fremont County, Colo., which is within haul distance of the Cotter Mill. The mine could enter operations within the next few years. The Taylor Ranch project is part of a series of uranium mining projects being developed in the region. (Photo courtesy of BLR shows drilling at one it the firm’s sites in Colorado.)

Impact on Energy Fuels mill ?

The legislators drafting the bill said it would also apply to a new mill being planned by Energy Fuels Corp. (TSE:EFR) in Montrose County on the western slope.

Two Utah conservation groups have announced their opposition to the Energy Fuels mill. Moab-based Red Rocks Forests and Living Rivers are challenging the company's application to pump water from the Dolores River, a 250-mile long tributary of the Colorado River.

It appears that environmental groups are taking a multi-pronged approach to stopping uranium mining by also trying to stop the mills. The groups have also attempt to block operations of the Daneros Mine in Utah which began shipping ore to Dension's mill in Blanding last month. They failed and the mine is shipping ore to the mill.

Uranium One to open Christensen Ranch ISR mine in 2011

Uranium One (TSE:UUU) is planning to open the Christensen Ranch ISR mine in 2011 to feed the refurbished Irigaray plant in Wyoming. The target level of production from that facility is will be 1.3 million pounds a year at an "all in cost" of $30/lb.

Chris Satler, VP at Uranium One, told FCW "We expect to make money even at the current spot price of $43/lb."

Uranium One acquired the mine and the plant for $35 million from Areva. Satler said the Irigaray plant will take a feed from the Moore Ranch property in 2012 which he expects to produce roughly 500,000 lbs of uranium a year. The Moore ranch is current in the process of getting a permit from the NRC.

"Right now, "Satler said, "we will have enough work from the Christensen Ranch site to keep us busy in 2011. We're expanding the Irigaray plant with a new dryer on the back end. When we're done it should be able to have enough production long-term from a number of satellite sites to meet the production limit of our NRC license which is 2.5 million pounds a year."

Wyoming isn’t the only place the company is busy. It is retaining interests in properties even as it sells them to other firms.

Satler said Uranium One sold its South Texas Mining Venture to Uranium Energy Corp (AMEX:UEC). for 2.5 million shares of stock. Satler told FCW the firm plans to keep the stock as an asset even though Uranium One is carrying the risk in terms of stock valuation. At market close Feb 5 the stock was trading at $3.15/share making the investment worth $7.9 million.

In Colorado, Uranium One sold its Coyote Basin uranium mine in Moffat County in the northwest part of the state to Vane Minerals (LON:VML). Under the terms of the deal, Uranium One retains a 2% gross royalty on federal lode claims and a 1% royalty on state leases claims. Satler said Uranium One also holds the right to convert the royalties into a 10-35% interest in the property prior to feasibility.

Uranium One and Vane are also involved a joint venture in northern Arizona. Steve Van Nort, Vane CEO, said in a statement the project has the potential to produce 50 million pounds of uranium. Satler told FCW that while an NI 43-101 reports was due soon, it has not yet been published so he couldn't confirm the figure.

VANE now has an interest in about 160 projects in the Arizona Strip breccia pipe district, outside the Grand Canyon National Park boundary on lands open for mining. According to a statement on Vane's web site, SRK Consulting completed a NI 43-101 report in 2007 verifying VANE’s breccia pipe holdings in Arizona. This report is being updated to include the significant property additions.

Uranerz reports NI 43-101 for Doughstick property

Uranerz Energy (AMEX:URZ) reports it has an NI 43-101 report for its Doughstick property in Wyoming.

The report estimates a "measured and indicated" mineral resource of approximately 967,883 pounds of uranium (eU3O8) at an average grade of 0.082% and an "inferred" mineral resource of approximately 87,981 pounds at an average grade of 0.055%.

The properties comprising the Doughstick Project include the company's wholly-owned Doughstick properties and the Doughstick and North Jane properties held by the Arkose Mining Venture. Arkose is a joint venture operated by the company (81%) and United Nuclear, LLC (19%).

NRC extends public comment period on three uranium EIS

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is extending until March 3 the public comment period on the draft supplemental environmental impact statements (SEIS) for three proposed uranium ISR mines. The draft reports are the first to be published under the agency's Generic Environmental Impact Statement for In-Situ Leach Uranium Milling Facilities.

The three draft SEISs cover license applications for the Moore Ranch Project, proposed by Uranium One in Campbell County; the Lost Creek Project, proposed by Lost Creek ISR, LLC, for Sweetwater County; and the Nichols Ranch Project, proposed by Uranerz Energy Corp. in Campbell and Johnson counties.

The GEIS analyzed environmental impacts common to in situ recovery operations in four regions of the western United States. The SEIS for each facility incorporates relevant discussions and conclusions from the GEIS and examines site-specific impacts unique to that proposed facility and its location. All three draft SEIS preliminary recommendations are that, unless safety issues mandate otherwise, there are no environmental impacts that would preclude granting licenses for the proposed facilities.

David McIntyre, a spokesperson for the NRC, told FCW the extension of time for the public comment is "routine." He said, "We extend comment periods frequently and I wouldn't read too much into it."

Several environmental groups, including NRDC, asked for more time to review the documents.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Obama announces nuclear loan guarantee for Southern

Breaking News Feb 16, 2010

Mainstream news media coverage updated Feb 17th
Analysis of Issues
Press Releases & Transcripts
Update Feb 16 at 9:33 PM MST

I found the news media coverage to be overwhelming which shows what happens to an issue when the President says something about it. See video below courtesy of Clean Skies.

The New York Times has other ideas and published a mostly one sided "debate" about the loan guarantees. The news coverage from reporter Matt Wald is in a different section of the newspaper.

There is 18.5 billion authorized for the current round of loan guarantees. Southern got $8.3 B leaving enough, at this rate, for two more sites. My guess is they'll be Calvert Cliffs and V.C. Summer. NRG may have been the first mover with their COL application, but the firm is embroiled in an increasingly difficult legal battle with CPS Energy over costs. The dispute could impact their chances.

(More links follow video below)

Clean Skies video of President Obama's announcement
Text of news reports and link to video at Clean Skies



Links of Interest Regarding President Obama’s Announcement on Loan Guarantee

From Dave Bradish at NEI's Nuclear Notes blog

Carol Browner
America’s Building Trades Unions

Monday, February 15, 2010

Entergy facing new challenges at Indian Point and Vermont Yankee

Public perceptions and NRC regulatory views are at odds with each other

entergylogoEntergy (NYSE:ETR) must feel that more than a few people got out of the wrong side of the bed this week as it pursues relicensing of two nuclear reactors in New York and one in Vermont. At the Indian Point plant In New York, a combination of unrelated setbacks from technical and financial regulators are making sleepless nights for company managers. At the Vermont Yankee plant, minor leaks of Tritium have raised the profile of a former whistleblower with nuclear engineering expertise who now has the state legislature listening to his recommendation about whether to support relicensing of the reactor.

In New York the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission delayed the review of the environmental section of the license review in response to new information submitted by the utility. At the same time, the New York State Public Service Commission issued a staff report which said the utility’s proposed spin-off of six reactors was not in the public interest.

In Vermont nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson, 61, has become the new best friend of State Senate Leader Peter Shumlin (D-Windham). He’s paying Gunderson $47,000 to review nuclear plant technical issues about relicensing Vermont Yankee and he’s showering the former whistleblower with praise for the work.

According to the Burlington Free Press for Feb 15, Shumlin said, “Arnie Gundersen is the only person who’s been right about Vermont Yankee every time.”

Not everyone shares this view. The Free Press reports that Vermont Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien told the newspaper Gunderson isn’t always right and, “… is eager for attention and barrages officials with accusatory questions.”

NRC delays Indian Point environmental review

nrc logoFor the second time in as many years, the NRC has delayed the scheduled review of the environmental documents that are part of the license renewal schedule. This time NRC has pushed the review back from February 12 to May 31. NRC said the schedule change is needed because Entergy is replacing data on aquatic conditions affected by the plant’s operations and submitted updated analyses on how the utility would respond to a severe accident.

Once the environmental report is issued, the NRC is expected to hold hearings on a series of contentions filed against the license renewal by environmental groups. Riverkeeper, a Hudson River valley green group, argues that the plant should not have its license renewed because it is too old. The group points to a series of Tritium leaks from corroded and aging underground pipes as evidence of their claim.

The NRC told the New York Times on March 1, 2009, the latest release of Tritium, 2,000 picocuries/liter, was one-tenth the permissible level for drinking water. Diane Screnci, a spokesperson for the agency, said,

“There was no threat to public health and safety. There are levels of Tritium that are allowed to be released and this would be well below those limits.”

Indian Point has two operating reactors, the 1,020 MW Unit 2 and the 1,025 MW unit 3. They entered revenue service in 1973 and 1975.

Entergy spinoff blocked by New York

utility polesPlans by Entergy to spin-off six nuclear power plants into a new operating entity hit a roadblock this week in the form of a staff report from the New York Public Service Commission. In a document released Feb 11, the staff wrote the spin-off was “not in the public interest.”

“Staff considered the proposed transaction was problematic because the amount of debt leverage employed to finance Enexus was excessive when the business risks of this new merchant enterprise was considered.”

The staff report laid out a series of conditions that would modify the financial principles of the deal. The key elements include reducing the debt by $550 million and assuring the long-term financial viability of the deal through performance and maintaining certain financial ratios for debt, equity, and market value.

Next steps depend on whether the commission accepts the staff report and hold hearings on it.

Six nuclear plants are involved in the deal and three of them are in New York. They are FitzPatrick and Indian Point Units 2 and 3.

Vermont State legislature hires its own expert

coolingtowercollapse822Emotions are running high in Vermont over reports of leaks of radioactive Tritium from Vermont Yankee. In the legislature, the pied piper of the moment for anti-nuclear sentiments is, paradoxically, an nuclear engineer and former utility executive.

Vermont State Legislators are listening intently these days to Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer and one time whisteblower, who is now under contract to help them understand what’s going on at the reactor. Gundersen, who once served in a management position at a Connecticut nuclear utility, and is a nuclear engineer, also represents anti-nuclear groups such as the New England Coalition, which is opposed to relicensing the Vermont Yankee reactor.

Gundersen’s standing with the legislature rests on his claims of credit for predicting various mechanical failures at the plant including the collapse of the cooling tower in 2007, cracks in the steam dryer in 2006, and Tritium leaks which showed up in 2009.

David O’Brien, the Vermont Public Service Commissioner, says Gundersen is taking more credit than justified for having insights into failures at the plant. He told the Burlington Free Press,

“Arnie has in some ways been more lucky than right. His argument was that the weight of the cooling fans would cause structural problems. That’s not why the cooling towers failed.”

The problem was caused by wood rot and Gundersen is quick to respond with criticism of Vermont Yankee for failing to maintain the aging structures.

Shumlin State Sen. Peter Shumlin (left), who is running for governor, has no qualms about leveraging Gundersen’s expertise to engage the legislature over issues regarding the future of the plant. He appointed Gundersen to a state oversight panel in 2008 which some regard as a case of stacking the deck. Rep. Joseph Krawczyk, R-Bennington, was one of them and reminded the Free Press he wrote an opinion piece at the time critical of the appointment.

While Krawczyk and other legislators are willing to listen to Gundersen, they don’t automatically accept everything he says. For instance, they discounted his claims that contamination of the Connecticut River with Tritium was “a certainty.”

NRC discounts claims of danger from Tritium

An official from the Boston office of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission official told a legislative panel by telephone last week that so far it has found nothing to warrant closing the plant.

"We do have concerns about the [Tritium] leak. That's why we're doing our h3-molecule inspection activities," said John White of the NRC.

"And relative to the operation of that plant relative to nuclear plant safety... Entergy Vermont Yankee continues to remain in conformance with all NRC rules and regulations... And remain able to continue to operate that facility."

For the legislature, facts may not be enough. There are allegations that Vermont Yankee engineers knew about the leaks and failed to report them.

In her blog post of Feb 4th, Meredith Angwin looked into these allegations. She writes that state legislators were given pipe diagrams, but paid little attention to them. Also, there were “serious” mis-communications between Vermont Yankee engineers and state officials contributed to the rising noise level.

Commissioner O’Brien gets the last word here. He told the Free Press legislators and the public should be careful and not blow information out of proportion especially if it supports their point of view.

In the poisonous atmosphere in Vermont surrounding the license renewal application for Vermont Yankee, any mis-step on either side is likely to result in a serious crash of public confidence not unlike this video.

It shows how mixed traffic signals resulted in a horrific train truck collision. Luckily, no one was inured in this incident. Will Vermont’s energy future escape unscathed with only the debris of missed signals as a legacy?

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Save U-233 stockpile for LFTR R&D

The Department of Energy wants to dispose of it

by Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights
Cross-posted with permission - link

Thorium symbolThe US Department of Energy has a stockpile of approximately one ton of Uranium 233 that was produced as part of several experimental programs including the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment and the Light Water Breeder Reactor.

According to a March 3, 1997 decision by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the stockpile is held in a number of different physical and chemical forms and is located in secure storage facilities at several DOE sites with the majority of the inventory held at either the Oak Ridge National Laboratory or the Idaho National Laboratory.

The current plan for this material is to blend it with about 15-20 tons of depleted uranium. The design effort for the facility to be used for this blending process has been running into some cost and schedule issues; the most recent cost estimate is $477 million with an expected start date of the blending at the end of 2012 with the project completing near the end of 2015.

This plan seems like a waste of both money and a potentially valuable feedstock. The reason that the U-233 exists is that a number of forward looking scientists and engineers recognized that thorium, a heavy metal that is 3-4 times as abundant as uranium in the Earth's crust, is a potentially valuable nuclear fuel. It is not fissile in its natural form, but it can be converted into U-233, which is fissile. A thermal spectrum reactor using U-233 as the fissile material and Th-232 as the fertile material can breed; that has been proven with much greater than laboratory scale experiments.

See World Nuclear Organization profile of Thorium as a fuel.

The existence of an inventory of U-233 gives the concept of a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) a head start. Destroying that material now would raise the barrier to getting that concept off the ground.

The process set into motion by a 1997 decision should not be viewed as irreversible, especially since so much has changed since then with regard to energy supplies, interest in thorium, and recovery of the knowledge that was gained many decades ago. There is a group of students at the University of Cincinnati who have started a petition to ask the DOE to reconsider the decision and to save the U-233 for future development efforts.

Hat tip to Kirk Sorensen at Energy from Thorium for his continuing efforts to spread the word and keep the conversation going about the use of this valuable resource that should not be considered to be a waste product.

Here is a comment that I posted on Frank Munger's Atomic City Underground blog entry titled U-233 project in flux; pricetag's on the rise. My comment followed one by a reader named Mike who mentioned that the project was similar to blending the gold in Fort Knox with silver to reduce it to something that did not need as much security.

I have to agree with Mike. Refined U-233 is a "special nuclear material" that can produce valuable heat, with special utility as the igniter for reactors that turn thorium into useful fuel.

It is a resource that should be put to use, not a waste product that needs disposal. It is especially offensive to think that the Department of Energy would even consider spending nearly half a billion dollars to turn this cache of something with an energy value that makes it worth more than gold into a far less valuable product and then burying that still valuable material in the Utah desert.

Every gram of U-233 contains a MegaWatt-day of heat. That is nearly 82 million BTUs. The current wholesale market price for on million BTUs is about $5.50 if it is natural gas and about $12.00 if it is oil.

Every pound of U-233 thus contains
82 million BTU/gram x 454 grams/lb x 5.5 $/million BTU = $204,000 worth of heat.

Actually, I am exaggerating to make a point. Despite the fact that nuclear heat is cleaner and more concentrated than heat from gas or oil, nuclear fuel vendors only charge their customers about 50 cents per million BTU for manufactured fuel.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

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