Saturday, May 22, 2010

New Jersey has more nukes in its future

PSEG will file an early site permit for the state’s fifth reactor

PSEG logoEnvironmental groups in New Jersey have something new to be unhappy about. Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) it will file an Early Site Permit (ESP) for a new nuclear reactor to be located in Lower Alloways Creek Township on the Delaware River in Salem County, NJ. If built a new reactor will join Salem 1 & 2 units and the Hope Creek reactor all operated by PSEG.

The NRC held an informational meeting on May 6 in Salem County to begin the lengthy regulatory process that could lead to approval of construction of a new reactor. The ESP is the first step in a process which could take up to 20 years depending on how fast the utility chooses to develop the project.

Green groups fast off the mark

fast parrotEnvironmental groups were quick to criticize the move parroting familiar lines about why nuclear energy won’t work. Jane Nogaki, spoke for the New Jersey Environmental Federation. Nogaki, who according to her web site profile, is an expert on pesticides, told the meeting the new reactor is not needed.

She said that wind energy "would outcompete nuclear and coal every time." She said the utility should not move forward with plans for a new reactor because it does not have a plan to dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

Christine Guhl, speaking for the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, expressed similar views. She told the news media an new nuclear plant will compete for investor funds that should be going to renewable energy projects. She added that nuclear power plants “are not cost effective.” Ms. Guhl, who works out of the Trenton, NJ, office of the Sierra Club, is an advocate for wind power.

Local elected officials in favor

Elected officials praised the utility. Salem County Commissioner Bruce Bobbit said that with unemployment at 12%, the new plants would provide new jobs to the region. Lower Alloways Creek Mayor Ellen Pompper said she has no problem with it.

“The other 3 plants are right in the town’s back yard. No one from the public has come to any township meeting with any concern. I have not received any phone calls from any resident."

ESP is not a decision document

PSEG spokesman Joe Delmar pointed out the ESP is not a commitment to build a reactor, but does identify a site that is suitable for one. Delmar said the biggest area of uncertainty for a new reactor will be cost issues.

PSEG also said that once the ESP is submitted it will take the NRC about two years to review it. A decision to build a new reactor will require an application for a combined construction and operating license (COL) which could cost the utility $25-50 million. It would then take the NRC another four years to review that application. Assuming the utility pursues the process with reasonable speed, it could break ground for a new reactor by the latter half of the next decade.

If built, the new reactor would be located next to the three other units. Salem 1 & 2 generate a combined total of about 2,300 MW and Hope Creek generates another 1,000 MW making the site one of the biggest nuclear power stations in the country. A fourth reactor would most likely be built in the power range of 1,000-1,500 MW based on current reactor designs planned for other sites in the U.S.

Relicensing existing reactors

PSEG is also pursuing relicensing of the three existing reactors. NRC resident inspector Harry Balain reportedly told the Atlantic City Press May 6 that “Salem is struggling with performance issues.” However, he also said the plants are safe. “The performance has been trending up.”

In response Tom Joyce, PSEG Nuclear’s president and chief nuclear officer, said, “At PSEG, we understand our obligation to the local community, the environment and our friends, families and coworkers to provide safe, reliable, economic and green energy.”

“We operate our plants within a culture of safety and transparency. We encourage our employees to raise issues and to be open on how we can do things better. There are always lessons to be learned. Our success is made possible by our 1,500 employees.

Joyce also pointed out that the future prospects for a new plant, and public support for it, depend on how well the firm operate the plants it has in revenue service.

“There are no surprises. Not in our operations and certainly not with our stakeholders. As I say to our employees — ‘there is no new nuclear, without good old nuclear.’

Anti-nuclear focus on cooling towers

Elsewhere in New Jersey environmental groups have been on the offensive trying to close down the Oyster Creek nuclear reactor on the state’s Atlantic coast. The strategy is to impose onerous costs for cooling towers which would force Exelon, the reactor’s owner and operator, to shut it down rather than pay hundreds of millions to build the towers.

The plant uses a once through cooling system. Environmental groups say the water intake kills fish. The plant’s operators and marine science studies dispute that claim pointing out the warm water from the cooling water discharge enhances the productivity of Barnegat Bay. Marine studies have shown that nutrient loadings in the bay reduce oxygen in the water. The brackish bay is subject to tidal forces and slow mixing of salt and fresh water.

Update May 26

26 May (NucNet): Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) filed an early site permit (ESP) application with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission as part of its efforts to construct an additional nuclear unit in the state of New Jersey.

PSEG Power president Bill Levis said the application is “an important first step” in the regulatory process to determine if a new plant is viable. Filing the application is not a commitment to build, but it would determine that the location for a potential new unit is suitable.

The preferred location for a new unit is next to PSEG Salem and Hope Creek nuclear plants in New Jersey. Salem has two pressurized water reactor units in commercial operation and Hope Creek has a single boiling water reactor.

An ESP is valid for 20 years and can potentially be renewed for an additional 10 to 20 years. PSEG would need to submit and receive approval from the NRC for a combined operating licence (COL) in order to actually construct and operate a new plant.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Obama seeks $9 billion more in nuclear loan guarantees

Energy Sec. Chu calls for support for three short-listed new reactor projects

2006_AESilverProof_O_180Congress will get a pair of requests for new energy loan guarantees of $9 billion each – one for nuclear energy and one for renewable energy technologies including solar and wind. The move comes as the gulf oil spill continues to spiral out of control bringing home to the Obama White House the perils of over-reliance on fossil fuels and offshore oil development.

The nuclear part is needed to complete support for the remaining three short-listed reactor projects on the Department of Energy list released earlier this year. The renewable energy piece comes at the insistence of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) who wants it to replace funds shifted from the Economic Stimulus Bill to the wildly popular ‘cash for clunkers’ program.

The Washington Post reports May 20 that the request follows two decisions to award nuclear loan guarantees to the Southern Company kast February for its Vogtle twin reactor project and this month to Areva for its Eagle Rock uranium enrichment plant.

Status of climate legislation

The request is separate from section in the Energy & Climate legislation introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) which adds $36 billion for nuclear energy loan guarantees. The prospects for passage of the bill in the Senate are dim right now. That could change as the White House ramps up its campaign to get the nation’s international climate change commitments embedded in legislation.

The urgency of action was highlighted this week by three reports from the National Academy of Sciences that call for limits on greenhouse gas emissions and establishing a price for carbon. The reports titled “America’s Climate Choices” lay out the need to cut U.S. CO2 emissions by 50-80% from 1990 levels by 2050.

Raising the loan ceiling

Steven-ChuEnergy Sec. Steven Chu (right) said April 28 in congressional testimony that there was not enough ceiling in the current loan guarantee program to cover the three remaining projects on DOE’s short list. He asked Congress for $13 billion in new loan authority and got most of it with this measure for $9 billion. He emphasized that nuclear power plants are carbon emission free sources of electricity to meet base load demand.

Last February President Obama announced the first award of $8.3 billion. The other three projects awaiting loan guarantees are Constellation’s Calvert Cliff’s III in Maryland, Scana’s V.C. Summer Station in South Carolina, and NRG’s South Texas Project.

South Carolina is home to Sen. Lindsay Graham who is a pivotal figure on the Republican side of the Senate for the Energy & Climate legislation. He balked earlier this month at helping to swing other Republican Senators to support the bill after Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) switched priorities on the legislative calendar to emphasize immigration reform.

The Scana project involves two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. Supporting the loan guarantees for the the project could influence Graham to swing back into the Administration’s camp on the climate bill and by rounding up needed Republican votes.

The separate request for $9 billion in additional loan guarantees is expected to be attached to a defense-related spending bill scheduled to clear Congress by Memorial Day.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Areva gets loan guarantee for Eagle Rock

U.S. Department of Energy measure will boost investor confidence in the $2 billion plant.

eagle rockThe long wait is over for Areva. The U.S. Department of Energy has offered a conditional commitment for a $2 billion loan guarantee to AREVA to facilitate financing of its Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility planned for development near Idaho Falls, Idaho. The conditional commitment was offered through DOE’s Loan Programs Office.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a news release . . .

"Increasing uranium enrichment in the United States is critical to the nation's energy and national security."

"Existing reactors will need additional sources of enriched uranium soon. New nuclear plants that could start to come on line as early as 2016 will also need a steady, reliable source of uranium enrichment services. AREVA's project will help to meet that demand."

For its part, Areva was ecstatic.

“AREVA is elated by this decision which will enable us to continue development of our Eagle Rock facility in Idaho and contribute to rebuilding America’s energy infrastructure so we can produce more CO2-free electricity,” said Jacques Besnainou, CEO of AREVA North America. “AREVA has considerable experience building and operating enrichment facilities and is putting that experience to work with the Eagle Rock project.”

Speaking to the Idaho Falls Post Register Bob Poyser, Areva's vice president in charge of Idaho Falls operations, said of the loan guarantee. "It's a great step forward for us. It'll give us the ability to go out and get financing for the project."

Areva has said repeatedly that the construction of the $2 billion facility would be "difficult if not impossible" if the loan guarantee was not offered for the plant.

Last week Areva executives told a conference call of nuclear bloggers the parent firm was selling a 15% stake in the company to Mitsubishi and the sovereign wealth fund of the state of Qatar.

Areva plant will use proven technology

Uranium enrichmentAreva’s Eagle Rock facility will use the same gas centrifuge technology already installed by URENCO in the Eunice, NM, uranium enrichment plant which will begin operations in June.

Like its counterpart in New Mexico, when operational, the Eagle Rock plant will produce about 25% of the enriched uranium needed to fuel the nation’s 104 operating nuclear reactors.

Currently, the United States obtains half of its enriched uranium from Russia under the Megatons-to-Megawatts program, in which nuclear materials that were once pointed at the United States are converted to civilian nuclear fuel to power America's economy. The program expires in 2013, after which alternate sources of enrichment services will be required to support the continued and expanded use of nuclear power in the United States

The Idaho Falls facility will use advanced centrifuge technology instead of the more energy-intensive gaseous diffusion process. Although Eagle Rock will be only the second plant to use this technology in the US, it has been employed in Europe for about 30 years to enrich uranium for the commercial power market. The project's technology uses 95% less electricity than the gaseous diffusion technology it replaces, reducing both energy use and environmental effects.

Loan guarantees are not federal spending

DOE loan guarantees are not grants but provide a federal backstop that enables companies to invest in clean energy projects, including smart grids, renewable and nuclear energy projects.

The decision to award the loan guarantee is based on a rigorous due diligence process. It assesses financial and technical factors. The project must satisfy certain conditions before the loan guarantee can be issued, including the receipt of the NRC license and state permits.

AREVA submitted a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in December 2008 to build the Eagle Rock plant at a site 18 miles west of Idaho Falls. If approved, construction on the 3.3 million SWU (separative work units). The license is expected in mid-2011.

The plant's construction phase is estimated to create 1,000 jobs in eastern Idaho. The plant would also employ 300-400 workers to run it.

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MarketWatch has advice for investors in nuclear energy

The special section advises them how to take advantage of the industry’s growth trend

Money futuresMarketWatch, a free financial web portal published by the people who produce the Wall Street Journal, has a large special online section that is a guide to investors in nuclear energy.

The editors write that ballooning energy demand worldwide and turmoil in fossil fuel markets over global warming and carbon taxes are “pushing countries . . . to reconsider nuclear power.”

In the special report, MarketWatch takes a look at the global nuclear renaissance from the point of view of the investor. Here’s a brief overview of topics covered.

  • Energy demand globally will double by 2050 and it can’t be met by fossil sources. Nuclear is seen as being able to close the gap.
  • The U.S. nuclear renaissance has started moving with plans to break ground at multiple sites within the next few years.
  • Asia is the leader in building new nuclear reactors especially in China.
  • Safety remains a public concerns despite polls showing increased support for nuclear energy.
  • Uranium miners will benefit from increased demand.

The special section also features an interactive map that allows you to locate all the nuclear accidents that occurred over the past few years. I wonder if the editors would produce a similar maps for natural gas explosions and coal mine deaths?

There’s lots to like, and not like, about this uneven special series of reports which were prepared by reporters from all over the globe. Even so, it is sure to be read by investors who want to know if they will make money investing in nuclear energy.

Here MarketWatch is talking about major utilities and multi-reactor projects. Some “investors” may be pension funds and mutual funds as well as high-wealth individuals. Still, even if you’re wrapped around penny stocks, it is worth your time to look at issues regarding capital formation and expected return-on-investment.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

No demons in nuclear energy

Idaho lab director say romanticizing solar and wind isn’t useful energy policy

Chinese-Dragon-Yellow-3-largeDemonizing energy sources such as nuclear energy and coal while romanticizing alternative forms such as solar and wind "leads to nothing but bad decisions," the Idaho National Laboratory's director told Bonneville County business and government leaders.

Speaking at an April 30 City Club of Idaho Falls luncheon, John Grossenbacher - who also serves as president of Battelle Energy Alliance - said the future is very bright for the INL as a nuclear energy resurgence gains traction throughout the nation and world.

Full text from Idaho Business Journal (free access via Energy Central) (Tiny URL)

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Will the new U.K. government support nuclear energy?

Energy & Climate Minister pledges "not one atom of help" from the government

climate FUDThe future of nuclear energy in the U.K. does not look bright based on the rhetoric coming from Chris Huhne, the new government's Energy & Climate minister and key advisor to Conservative Party coalition partner David Cameron. In a May 13 interview with the BBC, Hunhe pledged there will be no public subsidies for new nuclear power stations in the U.K.

Hunhe has alarmed nuclear utilities who are planning to replace the U.K.'s first and second generations of nuclear reactors. He has a history of negative remarks about nuclear energy saying "it has been tried, tested, and failed."

Building new reactors takes enormous political that spans several election cycles. Given the long lead time for planning and construction, work needs to start soon in the U.K. if the nation wants to keep the lights on.

The question is whether the new U.K. government will support nuclear energy or not. A commitment to a massive new build hangs in the balance. Read all about it exclusively at the EnergyCollective online now.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Update on Europe’s nuclear renaissance

Developments occur in Germany, Turkey, Italy, and the U.K.

coolhandnukeThere is plenty of news from Europe on the nuclear energy front. Some of it is in the “pro” column, but all of it is influencing the shape of energy policy there.

In Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing new challenges to her plan to keep the nation's 17 reactors operating after 2022.

In Italy, a key government officials spearheading the country's investment in nuclear energy resigned over corruption charges. However, one of Italy's largest utilities is going ahead with a site selection process for two new reactors.

In Turkey the government finally inked a deal with Russia to build four new reactors.

The U.K. election created a new government with an anti-nuclear politician in charge of energy policy, but his party won't vote against pro-nuclear policy in parliament.

Read all about it exclusively at CoolHandNuke, a nuclear energy jobs portal and a whole lot more.

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