Friday, June 18, 2010

Sweden stays on flight path to nuclear future

glide pathDespite a close vote in parliament, polls show strong support for new reactors to tackle climate change

Sweden’s parliament overturned June 17 a 30-year-old ban on new nuclear reactors, adding to the renewed momentum behind nuclear energy in Europe as countries try to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The Riksdag voted by a narrow 174-172 margin in favor of replacing Sweden’s existing fleet of 10 reactors, which provide nearly half the country’s electricity, when they get too old in the next few decades. The new reactors will be built as the old ones are taken out of service.

Andreas_Carlgren The Financial Times reported June 18 that Andreas Calrlgren (left), the environmental minister, said, “With this bill we can leave decades of political strife behind us..” He added that nuclear power is essential to secure stable supplies of carbon emission free power.

The alternative for Sweden is to become even more dependent on natural gas from Russia along with the political risk that is part of the deal. Next door to Sweden, Finland is planning new reactors for the same reasons.

Under the bill, the number of new reactors cannot exceed 10, but there is no limit on the power level for new units. The current level of power generation is about 9 GWe.

AFP wire service reported that the bill sets goals for decarbonization of the Swedish economy with a focus on transportation and industrial sectors.

The bill also limits government involvement in building the new reactors banning any subsidies and lifting a cap on liability for utilities in the case of an accident.

Sweden had been committed to phasing out nuclear power since a 1980 referendum in which voters ruled out a new generation of reactors. The government decided last year to push for a change in policy after two members of the four-party coalition reversed their anti-nuclear stance. The oldest reactor in Sweden is Oskarshamn-1 which began commercial operation in 1972.

Industry supports new reactors

Swedish utilities welcomed the vote saying it is important because it allows them to plan for new reactors to replace the old ones by 2025. The country has energy intensive industries including paper and steel who have campaigned for the legislation on the grounds wind and solar energy cannot provide enough power their factories.

Tens of thousands of jobs hang in the balance. Labor unions in Sweden, generally in a center-left political stance, support new nuclear plants and aligned with industry in lobbying parliament to pass the measure.

Opposition plays on uncertainty of the election cycle

The Social Democrats, who generally oppose nuclear power, pledged to overturn the law if they win the next election scheduled for September. In the meantime, their plan is to sow enough uncertainty in the minds of utilities that they will postpone plans to replace the country’s aging reactors. None will start new projects if they feel a future government will pull the rug out from under them.

Forsmark gateGreenpeace staged a protest at a nuclear plant in Forsmark last week in which a 50 people participating in the action were arrested for trespassing on to the plant grounds.

The Financial Times June 18 quoted a Greenpeace spokesperson who said, “All evidence shows that nuclear power is dangerous, expensive, and a dead end distraction from real solutions to climate protection and energy security.”

The BBC reported that 29 of those arrested came from the UK, Germany, and Poland indicating the activism is not especially home grown since Greenpeace had to import more than half the people involved in the protest. Authorities later released those arrested on their own recognizance setting a hearing for July 1.

(NucNet) contributed content to this report.

Prior coverage on this blog

  • February 2009 - Sweden soars to center of new nuclear movement in Europe

# # #

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lightbridge testing fuel at Idaho lab

Uranium-zirconium fuel will get irradiation at ATR in joint project with Texas A&M University

Lightbridge logoLightbridge Corp (NASDAQ:LTBR), announced June 15 that its joint nuclear fuel testing proposal with Texas A&M University has been approved by the Idaho National Laboratory Advanced Test Reactor National Scientific User Facility (ATR NSUF).

The proposal entitled "Irradiation Behavior and Performance of a Uranium-Zirconium Metal Alloy Fuel" includes capsule irradiation testing of Lightbridge-designed uranium-zirconium metal fuel samples in the Advanced Test Reactor and their post-irradiation examination in hot cells at Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

Testing will take four years. As the project progresses, interim and final results will be published by the INL-Texas A&M University-Lightbridge research team in a major technical journal.

seth grae "This is a positive technical development for Lightbridge as it provides us access to US-based test facilities on a cost-sharing basis," said Lightbridge CEO Seth Grae (left). "We have been testing and demonstrating our advanced nuclear fuel designs in test facilities in Russia for a number of years.

The joint project with Texas A&M University at INL is part of a US-based testing and demonstration program, with a focus on Western-type light water reactors. The proposed project went through extensive technical review and evaluation by technical experts from INL and DOE officials.

SeanMcDeavittTAMUSean McDeavitt, Assistant Professor, Nuclear Engineering, at Texas A&M University (right), stated, "It's very exciting to be selected for this program. The primary goal of this project is to continue the development of the advanced fuel design created by Lightbridge.

Fuel information

According to the company website, Lightbridge’s primary fuel design incorporates uranium-zirconium metal fuel rods in the seed region and thorium-uranium oxide fuel rods in the blanket region. The company states this fuel design offers enhanced proliferation resistance, significantly reduced volume (approx. 40% volume reduction), weight (70% weight reduction) and long-term radio-toxicity (90% reduction) of used fuel, and improved fuel cycle economics, particularly on the back-end. In some earlier technical publications, this fuel design was also referred to as Radkowsky Thorium Fuel or RTF.

Next steps

In a May 2010 slide presentation to an energy conference sponsored by Deutsche Bank, Lightbridge CEO Grae laid out the timelines for commercialization of the fuel. He presented timelines indicating licensing activity could start by 2015 with fabrication scheduled for 2018 and first deliveries to customers in the period 2018-2021.

Commercial expectations for the firm are increasing as it was added in 2010 to the World Nuclear Association’s (WNA) Nuclear Energy Index.

Idaho lab selects five new projects for ATR

ATR coreThe Idaho National Laboratory Advanced Test Reactor National Scientific User Facility (ATR NSUF) has selected five new university-led research projects to conduct nuclear energy experiments that will advance research in nuclear fuels and help extend the lifetime of structural components in nuclear systems. [Press release]

The ATR NSUF is one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Scientific User Facilities located throughout the country that grants universities access to world-class facilities at no cost, with the goal of facilitating the advancement of science and technology.

Research teams from Boise State, University of Central Florida, Texas A&M, University of Michigan and Drexel University in Philadelphia will work with INL scientists on their proposed experiments.

• Darryl Butt, Boise State University (team members include Westinghouse and the University of Wisconsin): an irradiation and post-irradiation examination on "High Temperature In-Pile Irradiation Test of Single Phase U3Si2."

• Yongho Sohn, University of Central Florida (team members include Georgia Institute of Technology, Idaho National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory and Ohio State University): an irradiation and post-irradiation examination on "Low Fluence Behavior of Metallic Fuels."

• Sean McDeavitt, Texas A&M University (team members include several researchers from the Lightbridge Corporation): an irradiation and post-irradiation examination on "Irradiation Behavior and Performance of a Uranium-Zirconium Metal Alloy Fuel."

• Emmanuelle Marquis, University of Michigan (team members include TechSource, Inc., and Idaho National Laboratory): a post-irradiation examination experiment on "Radiation-induced Segregation/Depletion at Grain Boundaries in Neutron Irradiated 304SS at Low Dose Rates."

• Mitra Taheri, Drexel University: a post-irradiation examination experiment on "Multi-scale Investigation of the Influence of Grain Boundary Character on RIS and Mechanical Behavior in LWR Steel."

The INL ATR NSUF and affiliated partners have facilities capable of conducting reactor testing, post-irradiation examinations and beam line experiments. The INL said in a statement the ATR NSUF is the only U.S. research reactor capable of providing large-volume, high-flux neutron irradiations in a prototypic reactor environment. So far 25 projects have been approved under the program.

Open solicitation for projects

The ATR NSUF has open rolling solicitations for proposals with two closing dates each year. The newly announced proposals awarded were submitted during the previous call, which began in October 2009 and closed in April 2010. The next call for solicitations is currently open and scheduled to close Oct. 5, 2010. A U.S. university or college investigator must lead the proposal. The lab encourages collaboration between research organizations.

The INL provides a list of program and technical contacts on its website for additional information.

# # #

Nuclear news roundup for 06/17/10

UK government retreats from nuclear renaissance

sheffield forge BBC photoThe BBC reports June 17 an {L}80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters has been axed as part of budget cuts being implemented by the new Liberal government. The loan would have funded development of a facility to build critical components for the next generation of nuclear reactors in the UK.

According to the BBC report Graham Honeyman, Forgemasters' chief executive, said: "Today's government announcement to overturn the loan offered to Sheffield Forgemasters' plans to install a 15,000 tonne press is a huge disappointment to all at the company.

He added that had the press been built it would have placed the company “at the forefront of civil nuclear manufacture.” The firm will not proceed with the project without the government’s support.

The action follows a statement June 15 that drew a further division between government funding and construction of new nuclear reactors. Bloomberg wire service reported that Energy Minister Charles Hendry said the {L}200 billion needed to replace aging nuclear reactors over the next 20 years would require international investors. He said the government’s role is limited to safety, security, and environmental regulation.

Chalk River repairs done

medical isotopesReuters reports June 16 that repairs are complete at the Chalk River reactor in Ontario, Canada, which, when it is running, supplies between a third and half of all the medical isotopes used in North America. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission scheduled a hearing for June 28 whether it is safe to restart the reactor. If all goes well, production of medical isotopes will begin later this summer.

The reactor has had a troubled history in recent years. It was shut down in May 2009 after leaks were found in the cooling system. AECL said the welding required was very difficult which resulted in repeated delays completing the repairs.

The Canadian government is studying what to do next about developing new sources of medical isotopes. In May 2008 the Canadian government pulled the plug on 12 years of disjointed R&D for the Maple reactors which had been intended to replace the Chalk River plant.

German reactors get new tax

AngelemerkelSome politicians in Germany may want to take all 17 of the nation’s reactors out of service by 2020, but in the meantime, the government plans to impose new taxes on the plants because they are so profitable. Bloomberg wire service reports Chancellor Andrea Merkel (right) approved new taxes on the reactors in order to prevent a “sovereign debt crisis.” The government also imposed new taxes on banks and airlines.

Bloomberg reported that the new tax will raise 2.3 billion euros over the next four years. The government said in a statement that the new tax is justified since the reactors are more profitable, due to not having carbon emissions.

The utilities said they want to know if the government still plans to overturn the previous policy to phase out the reactors. They said that the new taxes will require the plants to run past the current deadline to recover lost value from the new levies.

The utilities also complained the tax will negatively impact their stock prices. Market data June 15 backed up their claim with E.on and RWE both seeing losses in the trading stock prices for their shares.

Reuters reported June 15 that Merkel’s economic policies are not gaining ground with the electorate. A poll of political leaders revealed increasing criticism of Merkel’s handling of economic issues due to the biggest austerity program in nearly 60 years.

Merkel’s leadership was tested and lost in regional elections last May in North Rhine-Westphalia. There massive protests occurred over Germany’s support for the Greek bailout while cutting budgets at home.

If Merkel’s government falls before 2013, it could derail her plans to extend the life of the nation’s nuclear reactors. Social Democrats and Greens, who want to shut down the reactors, are testing the waters to subject the austerity measures to a vote of confidence in the lower house of Parliament. A loss there could set in motion calls for a new election.

# # #

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Advice to the Blue Ribbon Commission

Management of spent nuclear fuel would be a good idea

nuclear fuel cycleSince the dawn of the era of commercial nuclear power, the prevailing paradigm has been the “once-through” nuclear fuel cycle model which assumes after fuel bundles have cooled off, they can be shipped to a geological storage site for permanent burial.

In terms of energy efficiency, this model is and always has been the result of short-term political punting. It’s a 19th century idea that like burning coal, once you’ve gotten the primary energy out of something, the rest is ash. The physics of nuclear energy present a different model.

This brings us to the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) which is chartered for coming up with policy for management of spent nuclear fuel. It has been called the “anything but Yucca Mountain commission.” In fact, the BRC faces a much larger problem. The U.S. is going to need a significant number of new reactors to meet new demand for electricity and to reduce the growth of greenhouse gases.

This means the charter for the BRC inevitably includes figuring how to provide for interim storage of spent fuel, recycling, and then final burial of the remaining much smaller volume of waste products. The solution is to get spent nuclear fuel management out of the hands of the government.

EnergyCollectiveLogoRead all about it exclusively at the Energy Collective.

# # #

Waves of new reactors get deals

Radical designs seek investors

Building a business from scratchSeveral developers of new reactor designs reported progress this week during the semi-annual meeting of the American Nuclear Society (ANS). The investor looking for something completely different that might make a difference to the nuclear energy industry has three new ideas to choose from this week.

Traveling Wave

At the head of the parade of press releases comes TerraPower, a brainchild of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold, the former head of Microsoft’s R&D unit. TerraPower is a spinoff from Intellectual Ventures, which is headed by Myhrvold and funded in part by the Gates Foundation. The Traveling Wave reactor project got $35 million in start-up money from two high profile venture capital funds – Charles River Ventures and Vinod Khosla. [Press release]

What’s interesting about the investments is that they run counter to the timeline for cash out by VC firms which typically is a maximum of three-to-five years. It could easily take a decade or more for the new reactor design to be ready for commercial applications.

The 500-1,000 MW reactor design is larger than some of the other so-called small reactors (SMRs) that have come forward in recent years including the 45 MW NuScale design and Babcock & Wilcox with their 125 MW mPower project. Both are conventional light water reactor designs.

TerraPower’s “traveling wave” design is a sodium cooled reactor that uses U-238 and PU-239 after an initial start with U-235. It is designed to run for 60 years without refueling and also would be less attractive to would-be bomb makers because of its fuel design.

Hyperion teams with AEHI

In an unusual deal New Mexico-based Hyperion Power Generation signed an MOU with Idaho’s Alternative Energy Holdings Inc. (OTC:AEHI). The intent of the agreement is for AEHI to license and market the 25 MW Hyperion fast reactor to Asian markets especially China. [Press release]

Hyperion’s design is based on a uranium alloy fuel with a liquid metal coolant to take reactor heat to the secondary loop. The reactor is to be marketed for desalinization plants, remote mines, and for other “distributed power” off-the-grid applications at remote sites. Reliable power for military bases is also touted as a possible application.

The reactor is expected to be small enough to be trucked or barged to a site. Once the fuel is exhausted, in about five years, the entire unit would be replaced.

Hyperion’s reactor is still in the design stage. Given the daunting challenges it would face getting through the NRC’s certification process, it is no surprise that the firm is seeking customers in markets outside the U.S. AEHI has been developing business relationships in China which is one of the world’s most intensive developers of new reactors.

AEHI has also been working to develop a conventional large light water reactor in Payette County, Idaho. However, one of the challenges faced building a 1,400 MW reactor at that site is the transmission and distribution infrastructure in the region isn’t capable of taking that amount of power and delivering it to customers.

It has been suggested to AEHI that it consider small reactor designs for the Idaho site. However, AEHI has persisted in claiming it will deliver a KEPCO 1,400 MW reactor for the Idaho project. The design is not certified in the U.S. by the NRC.

While Hyperion has some venture capital funding, and the prospects for attracting more investors, AEHI has hired and fired two investment banking firms. Neither had experience in the energy business. Unhappily for AEHI, the second firm took AEHI’s $25,000 fee and allegedly spent it on parties at Utah ski chalets. The third firm has not produced any investors for AEHI though CEO Don Gillisipe says he remains optimistic that funding is just around the corner. In the meantime, the firm has funded its operations with stock purchases by board members and executives of the firm.

Advanced Reactor Concepts offers 100 MW design

The ARC-100 reactor is a 100 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with an expected refueling cycle of 20 years. The core runs at 510 C to transfer heat to a liquid sodium secondary loop. The reactor can be used to heat water for steam to make electricity or for process heat applications especially those that are not connected to the grid. ARC is planning to offer customers a turbine that runs on supercritical carbon dioxide based on the Brayton Cycle that has the potential to offer higher levels of thermal efficiency.

ARC lists four advantages for its design

  • Security of a sealed reactor unit
  • Passive decay heat removal
  • Plug and play fuel replacement
  • No fuel or spent fuels stored at the reactor

The ARC reactor design is based on the EBR II reactor developed at Argonne West in Idaho. The ARC technical team includes scientists and engineers who were senior members of the EBR II team.

Like several other small reactors, ARC has attracted an initial round of investors, and with its official announcement this week, is on the hunt for additional financing.

# # #