Saturday, April 17, 2010

Paying for the nuclear renaissance in the U.K.

Setting a floor price on carbon taxes has become an election issue

carbon taxThe role of carbon taxes as a source of financial support for new nuclear plants in the  U.K. is shaping up to be an election issue.  Britain will have a general election in May. 

The ruling Labour Party and the challengers from the Conservatives agree on only one thing, and that is no direct government subsidies for new nuclear plants. 

That doesn’t stop either party from talking about carbon taxes which are transfer payments from fossil utilities and ratepayers.

It is one thing to plan a nuclear renaissance in the U.K.  It is an entirely different matter to pay for it.  Brownouts by 2017 are a real threat if decisions to build are not made in the next year. 

The major utilities planning to build nuclear reactors in the U.K. have told the ruling government it is dreaming if it thinks the reactors will be built without a floor price on carbon that raises real money for energy infrastructure.


Read all about it exclusively at Cool Hand Nuke, a nuclear jobs portal and a whole lot more.


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USA Today & Vermont Yankee

Road warrior readership gets fleeting look at nukes

bumper_carsOne of the perils faced by a highly technical industry like nuclear energy is the appearance of a general assignment reporter on a controversial story. Today’s case in point is a USA Today article published this week on Vermont Yankee.

Articles like this one are a challenge for the nuclear industry because the reporter approaches the subject like a bumper car ride at an amusement park. The more collisions between supporters and detractors the reporter can write about, the more ink he’ll get in the newspaper.

The reporter gets most of the story right, but it’s clearly a case of catch-up. Readers get a review of the events of the past few months, including the forced vote in the Vermont legislature and the tritium leak. If you were just reading about the controversy in the newspaper, you’d be current to the middle of March.

The reporter then tries to put the story in context by referring to Ameren’s failed efforts to convince the Missouri legislature, two years ago, to allow it to capture costs for a new reactor as it is being built. What’s wrong here is that this is old news and has nothing to do with the issues affecting Vermont Yankee. Also, the failure of the bill in Missouri was as much a result of over reach by Ameren as it was a response from rate payers including the utility’s largest customer, an aluminum smelting plant.

Entergy added to the negative impact of the story on the nuclear industry with this juicy quote about why Vermont citizens are so opposed to re-licensing the reactor.

hippie busLarry Smith, spokesman for Vermont Yankee, says its opponents won't listen to reason: "They're hippies from the '60s who want to be against something, and it's nuclear power."

I think it is comical when a corporate PR person puts their foot in the bucket with a mis-statement like this. It was not comical when Entergy suspended 11 of its employees, including five senior managers, without pay, for failure to communicate with the Vermont legislature, who mostly are not hippies.

USA Today gets it right when quoting a response from one of the former legislative supporters of the plant.

"If the board of directors and management were infiltrated by anti-nuclear activists, I do not believe they could have done a better job destroying their own case," said Republican state Sen. Randy Brock, a surprise vote against the plant.

Now our general assignment reporter is in full swing of a practice well known in journalism as “he said, she said.”

The article ends with a “man in the street” interview with two Vermont citizens who air their views in the most literate part of the news report. However, the interviews read like a side bar rather than being part of the main article.

Years ago a journalism review in Denver called the “Unsatisfied Man” used to award “laurels and hardleys” to examples of good reporting as well as the bad and the ugly. USA Today’s news article about Vermont Yankee doesn’t peg on the “ugly” scale, but it wins no awards either.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nuclear reactor design standards get international support

Benefits could include a more robust supply chain and faster construction of new plants

WNAglossy_logo(NucNet) A number of the world’s nuclear industry leaders have endorsed proposals by the World Nuclear Association (WNA) for greater international standardization of nuclear power reactor designs.

WNA director-general John Ritch has said that the benefits of international standardization include better economies of scale in manufacturing supply chain, enhanced experience feedback on component performance and safety, and regulatory efficiency and predictability in new-plant approval and construction.

In an open letter sent this week to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, the World Association of Nuclear Operators, the European Nuclear Safety Regulator Group and the Multinational Design Evaluation Program, Mr Ritch said:

“To achieve standardization will require the combined efforts of industry, regulators, national governments and inter-governmental institutions.”

Signatories to the letter included Areva’s chief executive officer (CEO) Anne Lauvergeon, the chairman and CEO of Electricit√© de France, Henri Proglio, the president and CEO of Westinghouse Electric, Aris Candris, and the executive vice-president and chief nuclear officer of the Tokyo Electric Power Company Ichiro Takekuro.

Mr Ritch said the WNA vehicle for engaging on the topic is its expert working group on Cooperation in Reactor Design Evaluation and Licensing (CORDEL). The WNA letter references a CORDEL report which envisages three stages by which standardization might be achieved.

Description of the three stages of reactor design certification
(text from executive summary)

The CORDEL proposal is a set of actions - to be taken by industry, governments and regulators - that build on current activities in the direction of achieving the standardization goal.

The proposal envisages three phases:

1) Share design assessment. Once a design is licensed in one country, the approving regulator should share information with other national regulators, conveying its full experience in the safety assessment of the design, and receiving regulators should draw upon this experience.

Additionally, if several regulators are concurrently reviewing the same design, they could form a collaborative network and discuss their assessment methodology (including criteria) and share their assessment results. This sharing process, which can be undertaken without any change in existing regulatory frameworks, may itself foster tendencies toward harmonization of licensing standards and procedures.

2) Validate and accept design approval. Once a design is licensed in certain countries, such design approval could be taken by other countries' authorities after validation as sufficient for licensing there. Although using this simplified validation procedure would heighten efficiency for industry and regulators, it may require some adjustments in existing national regulatory and legislative frameworks.

3) Issue international design certification. By international agreement, a procedure could be created whereby a design could be certified by a team of national regulators (from countries with a direct interest in the design). Under the agreement, participating countries would accept this certification.

Alternatively, such international certification could be facilitated by a designated international organization. Of course, national regulators would remain responsible for assessing the adaptation of the internationally certified design to local circumstances and for the supervision of construction, commissioning and operation.

These three phrases, representing a steadily increasing level of innovation and international cooperation among regulators and governments, would serve the combined goals of increased safety and regulatory and industrial efficiency. Expanding regulatory harmonization has to be simultaneously facilitated by alignment of licensing processes and by harmonization of national safety requirements, which currently vary significantly from country to country.

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New interest in doing more with spent nuclear fuel

President Obama’s nuclear summit and DOE’s retreat from Yucca Mountain bring them out

blue_ribbonThe combination of an meeting of international leaders and a high profile ‘blue ribbon commission’ are bringing out ideas to be taken seriously about what to do with spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors. Similar ideas are getting parallel visibility in other countries.

The latest round of ideas being floated by various nuclear industry leaders are designed, in part, to influence the thinking of the high profile members of commission. (prior coverage)

Ideas on what to do with spent fuel were in the nuclear industry trade press this week from GE-Hitachi, former NRC Commissioner Dale Klein, and in related developments coming out of the nuclear security summit.

GE-Hitachi promotes PRISM reactor

The volume of spent nuclear fuel in the U.S. could be reduced by 90% if the country built reprocessing centers. Jack Fuller, CEO of GE-Hitachi, told Bloomberg wire service April 14 his company is developing the PRISM reactor as part of its Advanced Recycling Center concept. He said it burns up more of the original material. GE-Hitachi has been promoting its reactor design based on the Integral Fast Reactor, a sodium-cooled “fast reactor.”

Fuller said he plans to meet with Energy Department officials to seek funding for his firm’s technology.

“The process needs to be further developed before the first plant can be built. It also needs federal aid. The question is funding,” Fuller said. “It’s probably a large funding project, but nothing more than Yucca Mountain.”

According to Bloomberg, Fuller said he will tell Chu, “Don’t go to reprocessing, go right to recycling. Don’t take the interim step.”

ANLWestLast June, as reported on this blog, GE-Hitachi briefed Congress on the PRISM reactor. PRISM is GE’s proprietary name for the Integral Fast Reactor, a design that was developed in Idaho by the nuclear scientists at Argonne West (ANL-W). (right)

Fuller told Bloomberg his firm’s recycling is superior to reprocessing because it burns up plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons. “You get rid of the proliferation risk,” he said. He also distinguished his proposal from Areva’s methods which make Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel by mixing plutonium and uranium.

Areva has been promoting its methods for reprocessing spent fuel in the U.S. In a Q&A page on its North American blog, the firm notes it has already reprocessed 22,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel in France from customers.

Dale Klein has left the NRC, but he’s still talking

Former NRC Chairman Dale Klein has returned to Texas, but he’s not going quietly. Reuters reports that in a speech to an energy conference in Houston, Klein said the U.S. should develop two strategies for dealing with spent nuclear fuel. He called for centralized interim storage and fuel recycling.

NRC INTERVIEW The U.S. is lagging behind international practices in the rest of the global nuclear industry. France, Japan, and the U.K. all follow the dual model. According to Reuters, Klein said a centralized interim storage location would be more efficient than keeping used fuel at existing nuclear plants.

"It is certainly more efficient for regulation and it's what the rest of the world does."

An interim storage site could “be the solution for spent fuel for 50 to 100 years.” Nevada might not want the site, but other states could be convinced it can be done safely with long-term economic benefits Klein said. He added that recycling will substantially reduce the amount of storage needed for remaining high level waste.

South Korea wants to reprocess spent nuclear fuel

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in a speech in Washington, DC, at President Obama’s nuclear security summit that his country wants to begin to reprocess spent fuel from its civilian reactors. An existing pact, which expires in 2014, requires South Korea to get consent from the United States to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. The intent of the pact to insure accountability for plutonium that might otherwise be used for military purposes.

nuclearsummit_logo_180_1Seoul has demanded a change to the agreement because the country's storage facilities for spent fuel are expected to reach capacity in 2016. Korea’s 20 commercial nuclear reactors supply 40% of the nation’s electricity.

The Korea Times reported that on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C., the two allies held working-level talks to discuss a revision of the nuclear pact. A South Korean diplomat told the newspaper:

"Both sides agreed in principle to renew the accord as early as possible. The negotiations may begin in a few weeks."

A South Korean official also told his country’s news media the agreement reflects Washington's confidence in Seoul's commitment to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to form closer bilateral ties on tackling nuclear terrorism. The big concern in southeast Asia is how to pull the plug on North Korean’s nuclear arms ambitions, which appears to be an intractable problem.

Separately, World Nuclear News reported that the Ukraine, may move towards reprocessing. Interfax reported that talks in Washington resulted in an agreement to build "an experimental facility to recycle spent nuclear fuel in Kharkiv." No details were given, but fuel and energy minister Yuriy Boiko said this would mean the import of advanced technology to Ukraine.

That country recently inked a deal to start using fuel for its reactors from Westinghouse, which was seen as a setback for Russia’s nuclear export ambitions especially in its own backyard.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Areva inks nuclear deals in Italy

It also makes progress with its medical isotope program

italianlandscapeOn April 9 French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Anne Lauvergeon, CEO of AREVA, signed three nuclear energy cooperation agreements in Paris with its industrial and academic partners.

The agreement is part of the rapidly changing Italian energy landscape which has gone in less than three years from an outright ban of nuclear energy to a full embrace of its climate friendly operation.

The agreements were developed in collaboration with Jean-Louis Borloo, the French Minister for Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and the Sea, Claudio Scajola, the Italian Minister for Economic Development, and Stefania Prestigia-como, the Italian Minister for the Environment and the Protection of Land and Sea.

New reactors - The first agreement, signed with Giuseppe Zampini, CEO of Ansaldo Energia, will allow AREVA and Ansaldo to build four 1,650 MW EPR reactors in Italy reducing its reliance on coal. This AREVA-Ansaldo partnership will cover cooperation in engineering, the supply of certain components, construction and fabrication, and commissioning tests.

Nuclear energy exports - The second agreement, signed with Enrico Bonatti, CEO of Techint, paves the way for the two companies to cooperate on future turnkey nuclear projects world-wide, thanks to Techint’s experience and know-how in the design and construction of large industrial facilities.

Nuclear engineering education - A parallel agreement was signed with several Italian academic organizations for training and education of new nuclear engineers. The training agreement was signed with Giuseppe Forasassi, President of CIRTEN, the inter-university consortium for nuclear research and technology which includes the universities of Rome La Sapienza, Pisa, Padua, Palermo, Polytechnic Milan and Polytechnic Turin.

Prior coverage on this blog

  • 07/01/09 – Italy’s nuclear renaissance becomes real

Medical isotope R&D with University of Cincinnati

Alpha emitters kill cancer cellsAREVA, through its subsidiary AREVA Med, signed a research agreement with the University of Cincinnati (Ohio) to develop a new treatment to combat cancer. AREVA will provide the medical-grade isotope Lead-212 to the university to conduct research on alpha radio-immunotherapy using this isotope to treat prostate cancer.

Treatments using a medical-grade Lead-212 isotope produced by AREVA have proved promising in several research efforts. Over the past several years, AREVA and its partners have worked to demonstrate significant benefits with Lead-212 when used as an innovative type of nuclear medicine to combat cancer.

“There is no doubt the nuclear renaissance will also benefit nuclear medicine." said Jacques Besnainou, CEO of AREVA Inc.

Patrick Bourdet, CEO of AREVA Med added, “This agreement illustrates the growing interest of the scientific community in creating treatments using AREVA’s medical-grade Lead-212.”

In March 2010 AREVA announced plans to build a new medical isotope production facility in southern France.

Prior coverage on this blog

  • 05/16/09 – Areva enters the nuclear medicine market

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Mischief making - survey on nuclear energy in Idaho

Anti-nukes could use the results to attack the Idaho Lab or Areva

branding strategyAn influential Idaho business weekly magazine Idaho Business Review is conducting an online survey to gauge support for nuclear energy in Idaho. At first the responses were heavy in support of Nuclear Energy in Idaho.

Lane Allgood at the Partnership for Science & Technology (PST) reports it’s obvious that anti-nuclear organizations have started campaigning to weigh in to the survey which has now moved the meter very far in the other direction.

Even though the question is specific to a nuclear power plant in Idaho (and one has been proposed), the highly unscientific collection of data in this survey could possibly be used against the Idaho National Lab, Areva’s enrichment plant, and future nuclear energy development in the state.

The other problem is that a “pro” outcome will be exploited by Alternative Energy Holdings Inc, (OTC:AEHI) which is proposing to build a new nuclear power station in Payette County. The firm continues to have challenges making the case it is a credible developer of a project of this size, cost, and complexity. That’s a side issue.

The real threat is that a “no” outcome would be exploited by the Snake River Alliance (SRA) to attack the Idaho Lab, its cleanup project, and Areva’s planned uranium enrichment plant. Make no mistake, this is a serious public relations exercise.

The horse has left the barn

idaho-stampThe survey is the brainchild of an editor with some time on his hands, and has no official connection to any state or federal agency nor any nuclear industry supplier, at least none that we know of.

Once you let the horse out of the barn, it is gone no matter who’s brand is on it.

Please log on to the web site, scroll down to the bottom left of the page and log your vote.

It is a simple yes or no. Right now the anti-nukes are winning. The sooner the better just in case this survey goes away in the next edition.

Update April 13, 2010

The poll closed with 65% in favor, 35% opposed to nuclear energy in Idaho. The poll was at an entirely different set of numbers yesterday morning when it stood at 82% opposed and 18% in favor. The poll was "unscientific" and tracked responses from about 500 people.

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NRC thinking about licensing issues for small reactors

A workshop with industry leaders explores the issues

nrclogoThe U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as part of its commitment to transparency, does a lot of its thinking out loud and in the light of day. One of the latest iterations of this practice is a recent Commission meeting on small reactors held at the NRC offices April 6th. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko set the stage for the meeting explaining its agenda.

“Our meeting today will focus on policy issues concerning design certifications for new and advanced reactors. Specifically, the Commission will discuss the strengths of the design certification process, potential areas for improvement, and the lessons we might apply to the advanced reactor area. We also will have to grapple with some general policy issues that need to be worked through before the potential approval of any combined license (COL) applications or the possible submission of advanced reactor design certification requests.”

It is significant that this is the first meeting of the Commission attended by newly sworn in Commissioner Magwood and Commissioner Ostendorff. Commissioner Apostolakis will be officially sworn in on April 23rd.

Most of the small reactor developers presented at the meeting except Bill Gate’s Terrapower project which has been the subject of some media hype. It’s still not clear what relationship Terrapower has with Toshiba and its sodium-cooled nuclear battery. See more details below in a news article from Der Spiegel.

This type of meeting is a good window into the coming challenges for the NRC and the developer community. Both get a chance to see what it will take to develop “complete” designs of, in some cases, entirely new reactors that require safety reviews to be certified by the agency.

Links to presentations

The NRC posted electronic copies for public access of all of the presentations made at the workshop. There are more than a dozen links so go to this NRC web page to access them.

Germany interested in small nukes

German newspaper Der Spiegel has an interesting review of the world of small reactors, in English, which includes extensive comments by anti-nuclear groups. As you might expect, several of them are alarmed at the prospect of affordable and efficient reactors that could be widely deployed around the globe.

Overall, the piece is a good example of the “he said, she said” school of journalism. In that respect, it is worth reading to see how the U.S. small reactor world is viewed in Europe.

The article also notes the U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu wants to set aside some of the $54 billion in federal loan guarantees the Obama administration wants from Congress to support small reactor projects. No details were provided beyond that broad news note.

Hat tip to Tamar Cerafici who occasionally blogs here.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

World Bank nixes nuclear energy

South Africa gets loan for massive new coal plant

medieval-spit-roast-drawingThe World Bank is getting roasted by significant political heat over its decision to grant a $3.75 billion loan to South Africa to build a 4,800 MW coal-fired power plant.

Missing from dramatic protests about the climate impacts from the Medupi coal plant is the answer to the question of why the World Bank chose fossil fuel instead of nuclear energy?  The answer is found in a set of ideological policies the bank has relied on for the past 15 years.

A bank with global reach has leadership responsibilities

Banker not making loans todayThe World Bank sees itself as being justified in its logic of approving coal-fired electricity generation to help South Africa get back on a solid economic footing as soon as possible.

However, that isn’t leadership on a global scale. Real leadership would require forethought and looking ahead to slowing the growth of CO2 in the atmosphere.

It is clear that the decision was also driven by ideological blinders on that date back to its policy against nuclear energy loans set down in 1996. A global institution cannot lead by looking in the rear view mirror.

energycollective_logoNuclear energy is growing as a choice for new carbon emission free electricity generation worldwide, but you’d never know it reading the missives from the money mandarins at the World Bank.

Read the full story exclusively at the Energy Collective.  


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