Tuesday, August 10, 2010

U.S. Vietnam nuclear talks focus on enrichment

Nonproliferation objectives get attention from Congress and China

vietnam-mapThe Wall Street Journal reports Aug 3 that US talks with Vietnam about its plans to build nuclear reactors has “unsettled“ key members of Congress. The Hindu, one of India’s largest newspapers, reports Aug 9 that China is annoyed by reports Vietnam might develop uranium enrichment capabilities with U.S. technology.

The WSJ report leads with news that the Obama administration is “in advanced negotiations to share nuclear fuel and technology . . . that would allow Hanoi to enrich its own uranium.”

It didn’t take long for a reaction in Congress. On Aug 6 the WSJ reports that Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the negotiations are an example of a double standard when compared to the “hard line position” the US took in its 1-2-3 agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE promised not to develop its own uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing capabilities in return for the right to import U.S. commercial nuclear energy technologies and components. So far the arrangement hasn’t done much for U.S. nuclear firms as last December the UAE awarded a $20 billion contract to South Korea to build four 1,400 MW reactors.

China reacts to US initiative

China, which considers Vietnam to be within its sphere of political influence due to their long common border, is not happy about the potential for US uranium enrichment technology being sold to its neighbor to the south.

zhai dequanIn an interview with the Hindu newspaper, Zhai Dequan, (right) deputy secretary of the China Arms Control & Disarmament Association, criticized the US negotiations.

He called the negotiations with Vietnam a “double standard” in comparison to the UAE 1-2-3 agreement. He said China is “worried” about the potential for Vietnam having enrichment capabilities.

The Chinese state-controlled news media frequently rolls out statements by Dequan when it has something to say about nonproliferation issues. Also, the Times of India reports Aug 6 that China was “surprised” by reports the US plans to introduce enrichment technology in Southeast Asia. India is worried about China’s plans to sell nuclear reactors to Pakistan.

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley was widely quoted by wire services as dismissing these concerns saying the decision to involve the US in Vietnam’s nuclear energy plans “don’t involve China.”

The WSJ reported that Vietnam denied it had any interest in plans to enrich uranium. Vuong Huu Tam, Director of the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute, told the newspaper the county feels the issue is “too sensitive” to pursue.

All nonproliferation agreements are not the same

The WSJ reported that the State Department highlighted differences in its approach to nonproliferation issues in the Middle East and in Asia. The newspaper cited a senior government official who said the US is “setting a different standard for Hanoi” because it consider the proliferation risks in the Middle East to be much more serious.

“We believe the UAE agreement is a model for the region. These concerns do not specifically apply to Asia. We will take a different approach region by region and country by country.”

Henry SokolskiA leading nonproliferation expert questioned the wisdom of the US stirring up China on this issue. Henry Sokolski, (right) director of a Washington,DC, arms control think tank, told wire services, “Does it make sense to be peddling nuclear cooperation in a way to make and influence friends there?”

He said the US would be “buying trouble” by selling enrichment technology to Vietnam.

What does seem clear is that the U.S. civilian nuclear renaissance is involved in a head-on collision with foggy bottom's foreign policy objectives. It ain't pretty.

Where would the US get enrichment technology to sell?

There are two possible sources of uranium enrichment technology from US firms. The first is USEC’s American Centrifuge Facility being built in Piketon, OH. The facility is behind schedule with a revised application for a loan guarantee pending with the Department of Energy for the $2.8 billion plant.

GE-Hitachi is developing a laser enrichment plant in Wilmington, NC. However, the answer to the question of whether the technology will scale to a production facility from the test loop is still under wraps. The firm has said publically it will complete the NRC licensing process and have the plant under construction by 2012.

Nonproliferation experts have seized on the laser enrichment technology as a proliferation threat. In response, Tammy Orr, the CEO of the GE business unit, told the Global Security Newswire for Aug 2 the technology would have "detectable signatures" to prevent illegal use of the laser enrichment process. Neither GE nor USEC firm have said anything in their public marketing programs about exports or licensing of their respective technologies to other countries.

Areva’s planned Idaho Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility and Louisiana Energy Services operating New Mexico enrichment plant do not have the ability to export the enrichment technology they use in their facilities. The European supplier puts strict controls on the use of the centrifuges in these plants.

Does Vietnam need enrichment?

fuel-pellet-assemblyIn fact, for its first deal for new reactors, Vietnam doesn’t need uranium enrichment technology. The country earlier this year signed an agreement with Russia to buy several nuclear reactors. The Russians typically supply the finished fuel rods for their export reactors and also retrograde the spent fuel from customers.

Japan is planning a major push to export its nuclear reactor technology to Vietnam. The country has been training Vietnam’s nuclear engineers for years. The Financial Times reports Aug 10 that while Japan has tremendous capabilities in the nuclear energy field, getting organized to export its reactors to other countries will be a challenge for the “fragmented” industry. Still, Vietnam is close at hand for Japan which makes it an easy sales call.

Prior coverage on this blog

  • 09/27/09 – A small country wants to built big reactors
  • 07/02/10 – Vietnam plans to build 13 reactors

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New tune for UK new nuclear build?

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne says reactors on track for 2018

Chris HuhneUK Energy Minister Chris Huhne, (right) who favors subsidies for wind power projects, and opposes loan guarantees, or anything like it for new nuclear reactors, sought this week to dampen the fiery criticism about his anti-nuclear policy view.

The BBC reports that Huhne said in a radio interview “the government is fully behind opening a new nuclear power station in eight years’ time.”

"I have no intention of the lights going out on my watch," he said.

Huhne’s turnaround in his public statements about nuclear energy follows weeks of statements seemingly designed to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) among electric utilities planning to build 15-18 GWe of new nuclear powered generating capacity at 11 sites. His latest statements are seen by the UK news media as an admission that relying on alternative energy sources like wind, solar, and tidal energy systems won’t be sufficient to meet the nation’s energy needs.

Canceled loan may get new life

A signature decision by the coalition government which threatened to hurl the entire industry into the dustbin of history was the recent cancellation of the government loan to Sheffied Forgemasters. Conservative PM David Cameron wrongly accused the firm’s management of being unwilling to issue shares to raise capital. If it had gone through, the money would have paid for construction of a new manufacturing plant to build 400 ton reactor vessel components.

Currently, the only place in the world where they are made is Japan Steel Works (JSW). The loan was seen as a critical step to insure the UK new reactors would get their pressure vessels in time. JSW has a 3-4 year backlog of orders. The government has since told he company it will reconsider its decision next January.

Industry still not confident of government’s intentions

remove before flightThe UK nuclear renaissance flight plan is still stuck in the government’s grip. Shortly after taking office the new new coalition government abolished an infrastructure planning commission which had the role of speeding up site selection for the new nuclear power stations. A replacement body, to be called the Major Infrastructure Unit, isn’t in place yet.

Huhne’s turn around may be directly tied to a major media push by the business interests most directly affected by his policies. The UK nuclear industry isn’t taking off the caution light about the government’s intentions. The Confederation of British industry (CBI) told the BBC uncertainty over the way the government is doing business makes its members “wary” of committing to new projects.

CBI deputy director John Cridland said, “Energy companies are unable to get the ball rolling on new infrastructure projects when it is unclear how the future planning regime will work.”

A report by the trade association offered the astounding figure of [L]150 billion in new capital investment which was on hold over Huhne’s views.

1st new build starts work despite Huhne’s worst rhetoric

That didn’t stop Nuclear Power Delivery UK, a Westinghouse business unit, from signing a contract Aug 2 to deliver the firm’s 1,150 MW AP1000 reactors to Horizon Nuclear Power at the Wylfa site in North Wales.

Horizon Nuclear Power is a UK energy company developing as a joint venture between E.ON UK and RWE npower. The firm plans to deliver 6 GWe of new nuclear power station capacity in the UK by 2025. The program is expected to to involve more than [L]15 billion of new investment.

Horizon is the third nuclear group to announce plans for the UK. Electricite de France said it plans to have the first of four new nuclear power plants in the country operational in 2018. A consortium made up of Iberdrola, GDF Suez and Scottish and Southern Energy will also build new nuclear power stations.

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nuclear energy videos for Monday August 9th

More safe-for-work fun to lighten up the new week

This week we’re looking at videos that illustrate how nuclear power plants work. The first two videos are technically correct, more or less, but the last two are just for fun especially the one on the “nucleation cycle” involved in Mentos and Diet Coke.

Water use in a nuclear reactor

One of many videos on YouTube illustrating nuclear chain reactors with ping pong balls

Using Diet Coke and Mentos to illustrate chain reactions

Mythbusters on "Nucleation cycles" in Mentos and Coke

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Securing software for nuclear power plants

It’s 10 PM. Do you know what the computers at your reactor are doing right now?

critical-digital-assetsIn an often cited incident, in January 2003 the Davis Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio was affected by the “Slammer” computer worm for five hours. Although the plant was shut down at the time, and a redundant system safety system was not affected, the incident raised concerns across the nuclear industry about the arcane field of computer cyber security.

The issue is of critical importance for new nuclear plants that will be built in the U.S. and globally. The renewed emphasis is due to the fact that control rooms will use digital systems to operate the plants. The fact that digital instrument and control systems are now state-of-the-art makes them targets for hackers from our nation’s enemies.

The Wall Street Journal reported in April 2009 that “cyber spies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid” and left behind software to take control of it. In May 2009 the Wall Street Journal reported that the nation’s power plants are being targeted by “well organized” efforts to break into control centers for the nation’s power plants and electric grids.

In both reports defense officials cite Russia and China as the source of the cyber stalking incidents. Diplomats from both countries denied the charges in statements to the WSJ.

Get the full story exclusively at Cool Hand Nuke, a nuclear energy jobs portal and a whole lot more.

coolhandnuke

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