Monday, May 31, 2010

Growth of nuclear energy drives need for better communications skills

Opposition from mainstream political leaders will not go away just because new reactors get built

One way communicationsThe nuclear industry continues to be of two minds when it comes to communicating with the public. On one hand, it’s engineers feel that facts will speak for themselves and that all that has to be done is present them to make the case for nuclear energy. Professional scientific groups also tend to follow this paradigm which is a view that is widely shared across various disciplines.

On the other hand, some working in the industry, and that includes engineers and scientists, feel the climate/energy issues of the day demand advocacy, backed by facts, and that civil dialog and rational public policy are easily manipulated by organizations with agendas detrimental to the growth of nuclear energy.

These differences are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. The rise of social media has extended the dialog on public venues, but participation by official representatives of the nuclear industry is by exception rather than the rule. That said, noted here is a blog post from Gail Marcus, a former president of the American Nuclear Society (ANS), who has some advice to advocates of all stripes about how to "play fair" when being an advocate for nuclear energy.

Communications from nuclear utilities is often one way and sometimes received as a form of shouting rather than an invitation to intelligent dialog. In other cases, the utility sees no upside to being a polite corporate citizen and settles for the minimum legal exchanges with regulatory agencies leaving the public and the press to fend for themselves. The resulting silence allows even small incidents, with little or not safety impacts, to be blown out of proportion.

However, in Europe where the new nuclear build is taking place despite a strong “green” movement with years of anti-nuclear activism under its belt, the need for better communication is becoming more real due to the rapid pace at which plans for new reactors are taking shape.

Here are three reports on how the issue is viewed based on recent developments in Europe. The European Nuclear Society is holding its annual meeting in Spain which paradoxically is playing political games with re-licensing of one of its reactors. The need for better communications skills is highlighted in the conference sessions.

UK Energy Minister Softens Opposition To Nuclear

Chris HuhneDow Jones Newswires reports that U.K. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne (right) told the Sunday Times in an interview that new nuclear power plants will be built, despite the government's opposition to subsidize the industry.

Huhne, who has a background in finance, said that the cost of fossil fuels will rise over time due to carbon taxes which will make nuclear energy a strong choice for utilities.

"It is very clear from the [U.K.] coalition agreement that there will be a new generation of nuclear power," Huhne said in the interview. New reactors are planned at 11 sites in the country to replace older reactors and to begin the long process of decarbonization of the nation’s energy supply.

However, Huhne has long standing views in opposition to nuclear energy and can be expected to continue to speak out against it. He told the newspaper, "I am simply a skeptical economist about the record of nuclear power on delivering on time and to budget in a way that can make returns for investors."

World Could Have 1,400 Reactors By 2050

Whether Huhne likes it or not the world could have as many as 1,400 nuclear reactor units in commercial operation around the world by 2050, although whether this figure is realized will depend partly on the performance of the nuclear industry itself.

Luis EchávarriLuis Echávarri, (right) director-general of the Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), told the European Nuclear Conference (ENC) in Barcelona, Spain, that the industry has tremendous opportunities, but also tremendous challenges to do things well.

In a keynote speech May 31 he said the NEA foresees a minimum of 600 reactor units in commercial operation by 2050, but 1,400 is “a realistic upper limit”.

He pointed out that in the 1970s and 1980s around 25 units were being built a year, so raising that number to around 55 is within reach.

Other factors that will influence the number of reactors that are built include electricity demand, the cost of oil and gas and the price of CO2.
The three main drivers between what is “a promising future” for nuclear are security of supply, economics and environmental protection, Mr Echávarri said.

One of nuclear energy’s advantages is that it is a highly competitive option for the production of baseload electricity. He highlighted the findings of a recent International Energy Agency and NEA report which showed “nuclear delivers significant amounts of very low-carbon baseload electricity at stable costs over time”.

He said last week there were 57 reactors being planned or under construction around the world, but that number had now risen to 61 because of plans to construct four units in Turkey. He said Vietnam was also close to signing a deal with Russia to start a nuclear energy program.

Nuclear Industry ‘Needs To Improve Its Communications’

nuclear powerIf the planet is going to have 1,400 nuclear reactors built in the next four decades, the nuclear industry needs to improve the quality of its communications if it is to gain the full support of the public. This claim should come as no surprise to readers of this blog.

The latest version of this message comes from Andrea Brentan, CEO of Spanish utility Endesa. On May 31 he told the European Nuclear Conference (ENC) in Barcelona, that one of the problems facing the industry in Spain is that the debate is not “thorough enough.” He said many people do not yet have “a definitive opinion” on nuclear energy and the industry must be transparent about the risks.

He pointed out that the industry has now gathered 13,000 years of reactor operating experience and the lessons learned from this experience must be more widely disseminated from trade unions to students.

Another potential problem for the industry is the lack of a new generation of skilled workers. He said almost all the universities in Spain “seem to have forgotten about nuclear engineering.”

José Gutierrez, ENC 2010 conference chair, told the opening session that “a new paradigm” of environmental protection is driving big changes for the energy sector and the nuclear industry. He added there is a clear need for new human resources.

“In the middle of this global economic crisis the nuclear energy industry is creating jobs."

ENC 2010, organized by the European Nuclear Society in cooperation with the Spanish Nuclear Society, is being held in Barcelona from 31 May-2 June.

NucNet provided content used in these reports.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Western lands uranium gopher for June 1, 2010

Denison Gets EPA Wake-Up Call;
UEC Faces Accusers in Hearing

This blog post is an edited version of an article published in Fuel Cycle Week V9:N375 May 6, 2010 by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC

gopherThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation to Denison Mines (TSE:DML) in May , alleging it had failed to notify the agency that it had restarted mining operations at the Arizona 1 property near Fredonia. In addition the agency said the miner had not secured required federal approval before testing emissions from vents to the mine, according to the notice.

The notice of violation is a civil action, and will take time—and a hearing—to resolve. If it turns out the miner made a paperwork error, chances are good that it will not be penalized. Fines are usually assessed only when there has been willful disregard of regulatory requirements.

Denison President Ron Hochstein said he was surprised by EPA’s action, as he thought that the mine had met all regulatory requirements. Last September Denison received its air quality permit for the mine from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. But EPA claims that Arizona’s DEQ air-quality permit is not valid, as the state is not authorized to approve the construction or modification of “a regulated source.”

Ammo for Antinuclear Activists

Environmental groups have attacked the restart of the mine because of its proximity to the Grand Canyon. Last September Dension told FCW the mine is exempt from the Interior Department’s order restricting new mines because it was established more than two decades ago.

Ron Hochstein, Denison CEO, said at the time, “We are within 10-15 miles of the north rim, but geologically speaking, their allegations we will impact the Grand Canyon are simply not within the realm of feasible outcomes. The idea that the mine threatens the Grand Canyon ecosystem can’t be justified by any stretch of the imagination.”

Denison also had previously told FCW it would ramp up mine operations to haul 335 tons of uranium ore per day by truck to its mill in Blanding, Utah. It plans to produce 857,000 pounds of ore over the next three years.

The high-grade ore could yield much as 11 pounds U3O8 per ton. The mine will operate four days a week and employ 32 people.

UEC’s Goliad on Track Despite Opposition

Goliad County in southern Texas continued its long-running dispute with Uranium Energy Corp. (AMEX:UEC) in a hearing this week when county commissioners asked a state administrative-law judge to overturn UEC’s permits to mine at its Goliad site in June 2009 that it obtained from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

The county claimed UEC had failed to plug test drill holes within 48 hours, resulting the contamination of drinking water supplies by storm-water runoff. Represented by environmental lawyer Jim Blackburn, with support from several Texas-based antinuclear organizations, the county also alleged that the conditions of the aquifer would not be returned to baseline conditions.

UEC COO Harry Anthony told FCW these allegations were not supported by the facts. “Baseline conditions are a target,” he said, and added, “TCEQ knows you can’t restore the groundwater ion-for-ion. “

Plus, water in mining wells is designated to industrial use, which means it is unfit for human consumption or agricultural use.” Blackburn, however, told the Victoria Advocate the firm’s failure to plug the holes showed its disregard for environmental requirements.

Mining consultant Craig Holmes testified that it is a common practice not to return groundwater conditions to baseline values once an ISR mine is done with production. He said that in a 30- year career in uranium mining in Texas, none of the operations he’d been involved with had done so.

The outcome of the hearing is many months in the future. Anthony told FCW the recommendation of the administrative law judge is advisory and not binding on TCEQ. UEC must also get an exemption from the EPA to conduct mining in the aquifer, even if parts are not designated as fit for human consumption.

UEC Stock Upgraded to ‘Buy’

An influential Toronto-based securities firm has upgraded its UEC stock rating from “sell” to “buy” because it believes UEC would trade in the range of $3.25/share within the next 12 months. As of May 3 the stock was trading at $2.77/share compared to a 2010 high of $3.80 on Feb 17. A year ago UEC was trading at $0.55. With 60 million shares outstanding, a trading price of $3.25 would set its market capitalization at $195 million.

“UEC is the best performing uranium stock of 2009,” wrote analyst David Talbot of Dundee Securities. He suggested that the firm would prosper because of its management expertise, its acquisition of mining permits and the fact that it can process uranium from its fields at its own plant at the Hobson site would produce cost savings and economies of scale from the multiple fields.

UEC’s Anthony told FCW the company is on track to turn out 750,000 pounds of U3O8 by summer 2011, assuming all goes as planned with its permits in Texas. First production at the firm’s Palangana site is scheduled for next month. Anthony said the firm still expects to start production at the Goliad site in the second quarter of 2011.

He also noted that on April 13 UEC had received a cash payment of $11 million for the sale of its 49% interest in Cibola Resources to Neutron Energy, Inc. He pointed out that the firm had no debt and $26 million in cash.

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