Saturday, August 28, 2010

Crying wolf at Union of Concerned Scientists

There is no safety lapse when a reactor system works as designed

Crying wolfThe moral of a famous Aesop’s fable is wrapped up in the phrase “the boy who cried wolf". It has also become a figure of speech, meaning that one is calling for help when he or she does not really need it. It can also mean someone is sounding a false warning.

In the realm of public policy debates, it has broader implications that affect the credibility of a person or group that, metaphorically speaking, shouts “fire” in a crowded theatre when there is none.

In the nuclear energy industry, trying to make the case there is a safety issue at a reactor, when there is none, is a case of ‘crying wolf.’

This brings us to David Lochbaum, a nuclear energy expert who has worked for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) since 1996. The group has a long history of opposing the development of commercial nuclear energy in the U.S.

This summer UCS began publishing Mr. Lochbaum’s series of articles it calls "Fission Stories" in which it claims to document unsafe practices by the nuclear industry. The purpose of the articles is to convince the public, as well as government decision makers, that nuclear plants are unsafe and that no new reactors should be built. On Aug 24 Lockbaum published the 8th article in the series about the Perry nuclear plant. a 1,245 MW boiling water reactor in Ohio.

sensor In the article he recounts two incidents incident that occurred in late 2004 and early 2005 involving a cooling system circulation pump. Mr. Lochbaum writes that a serious accident could have occurred when problems showed up with the pump.

In fact, the Perry plant had already placed sensors in the reactor core that identified the problem and automatically triggered actions that shut the reactor down before oscillations in power levels could cause a problem. The safety system worked so where is the fire?

Answering Lochbaum on Perry

Margaret Harding, a former GE engineering manager, knows this type of reactor well from long experience with boiling water reactor (BWR) systems. In an Aug 28 blog post titled "Fission Fiction or how David Lochbaum got it wrong", she walks through the safety measures that worked as designed and concludes UCS is crying wolf.

She writes, "It means that Mr. Lochbaum’s accusations regarding the inadequate actions taken at Perry are deceptive and incorrect."

bwrHarding has done her homework to explain how Perry came to install the sensors. She cites several NRC documents and the work of an industry group, Boiling Water Reactor Owner’s Group (BWROG), which organized itself to understand the issues and develop solutions.

How does she know? The answer is personal experience dealing with the engineering issues of the problem.

“As it happens, my career has included learning about these particular events and leading the team that developed some of the solutions that are currently in place to prevent/mitigate the effect.”

One of their recommendations was put in place at the Perry plant and worked exactly as specified when a pump problem created conditions that could potentially cause power oscillations. The sensors tripped the reactor by moving all the control rods to shut it down.

Also, Harding cites specific NRC documents which reviewed two incidents at Perry involving the pumps. She writes that the NRC documents acknowledge the Perry plant's implementation of the industry working group's recommendations "worked exactly as designed" with no risk to the reactor or the public.

Where does this leave us in terms of Lochbaum's allegations that pump problems at the Perry plant were safety lapses? Harding has an answer.

" . . .the Union of Concerned Scientists [needs to] make a more careful review of the facts on the ground before making unfounded allegations regarding the plant safety and performance of the US nuclear industry."

Readers of this blog who want to dive into deeper technical detail should contact Margaret Harding via her web site at 4factorconsulting where she continues to work on reactor safety issues for the nuclear industry.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

16th Nuclear Blog Carnival

This post is a wrap up of highlights from a round robin of nuclear energy blogs. The Carnival is hosted each week at a different blog site.

beachchairIt’s quiet the week before Labor Day, but there’s always some nuclear news.

At Next Big Future Brian Wang has an interesting update on the Pebble Bed reactor project. It is over in South Africa, but R&D on the technology is alive and well at the University of California – Berkeley. Prof. Per Peterson is trying to get it commercialized by 2020 and can achieve over 50% burn and set the stage for LFTR, IFR or fission/fusion hybrids.

Wang's post is based on Barry Brook at Brave New Climate having visited to Prof Per Peterson and Prof Jasmina Vujic at the Nuclear Engineering Department of UC Berkeley to talk about advanced reactor research. Peterson is in demand as he is on the Blue Ribbon Commission that is working on the future of spent nuclear fuel.

In more news about advanced reactor R&D, Brian Wang reports the Russian government has allocated the equivalent of $3.6 billion in this field over the next decade.

Casting a wider net to include current reactor technologies, Wang reports India approved the construction of two new 700 MWe PHWRs at Kakrapar in Gujarat state. They are expected to start operating in 2012.

finish the jobAt NEI Nuclear Notes Dave Bradish continues his fine series of analyses on the benefits of nuclear energy. This week he looks at employment and job creation comparing nuclear energy to hydro, coal, wind, and solar.

NNadir is posting at NuclearGreen. He reports that residual heat from four VVER reactors could be piped 40 Km to the Czech town of Brno. He says the the supply should also be very reliable. There have been no unplanned shutdowns at Dukovany's four reactors in the last ten years.

A nuclear reactor is a terrible thing to waste. Rod Adams writes at Atomic Insights that refurbishing the Zion plant in Illinois would make a lot more sense than decommissioning it. EnergySolutions has been hired by plant owner Exelon to do the work which will take ten years and cost $900 million.

Kirk Sorensen at Energy from Thorium is deep into the technology, and measurement, of uranium enrichment for use in commercial nuclear power plants. Bring your calculator.

The Democratic primary for governor in Vermont, which is a five way race, is still too close to call writes Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee. Why should you care? The reason is State Rep Peter Shumlin,the arch-druid of anti-nuclear forces in Vermont, is leading the pack by 178 votes. A recount is expected because the margin among candidates is less than 2% of the vote.

*** (Update 0145 GMT 28 Aug 2010 Shumlin
appears to have won by less than 200 votes. How will he get the other 50% of Democrats who voted for his rivals to support him on election day?) ***

At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus reflects on modern urban life without electricity following a thunderstorm in the Washington, DC, area that took it out. She asks people to remember where the juice comes from the next time they flip the switch. Will it be there if you rely on windmills?

Nucler renaissanceAt Areva’s North American Next Energy blog, Jarret Adams casts a skeptical eye on an essay by Carl Pope, director of the Sierra Club, on Huffington Post. Pope says nukes don’t add up.

Adams asks how Pope can think that when nuclear energy’s revival already is well under way with more than 50 new plants under construction worldwide. More than 20 of these new reactors are being built in China alone.

Steve Hedges writing at Nuclear Town Hall agrees. He notes that financial analysts at Standard & Poors published this note:

“In other countries, new nuclear construction is in full swing. Many have adopted nuclear generation as an integral energy source option; about 60 nuclear plants with various reactor technologies are currently under construction around the world, and many more are in the advanced development and planning stages.”

He also reports that S&P even has positive words for Europe where “a steady stream of new reactors in Europe and Asia has established a relatively cheap supply chain and a skilled labor force there.”

In the U.S. TVA has just committed $248 million for 2011 to continue the re-start of construction of its Bellefonte reactor in Scottsboro, Ala. Read all about it at CoolHandNuke. TVA has successfully re-started a reactor at Browns Ferry and will complete work on one at Watts Bar in 2012.

At Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman writes that taxes and liability issues tie nukes in knots in Germany and India. If these two countries want nuclear energy, they have a strange way of showing it. India’s parliament finally passed the liability measure after protracted debate. It will open Indian markets to U.S. firms. Germany’s nuclear utilities now want to issue government backed bonds to pay for investment in alternative technologies instead of paying a tax on fuel rods. Stay tuned.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Taxes and liability issues tie nukes in knots in Germany and India

If these two countries want nuclear energy, they have a strange way of showing it

truck stuckThe political leaders of two countries that really need their nuclear reactors are pursuing the goal with all the grace and style of an oversized truck stuck in reverse.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is not backing down from her pursuit of a 50% tax on the profits the nation’s 17 nuclear reactors which supply a quarter of the nation’s electricity. On the other side of the globe, Indian Prime Minister Mammohan Singh is battling opposition leaders in parliament who want to put “unlimited” liability on both the suppliers of nuclear reactors. The country plans to build 20 GWe of new reactors in the next 10-15 years. (update below)

Germany roiled over nuclear taxes

The Wall Street Journal reports Aug 26 Merkel sees the reactors as cash cows. Merkel wants to raise [E]3.2 billion/year from the reactor tax on fuel rods. With an austerity budget creating angst among her supporters, revenue from the reactors looks sweet.

She is quoted as telling reporters, “We are eying the levy to achieve our goal to consolidate the budget.”

balance the budgetIn an “energy tour” last week she told the four major utilities that run the reactors to stand down from their very public protests about the tax. They told her the tax on profits would cause the utilities to shut down the very reactors Merkel says she wants to save from the clutches of green groups.

The green groups are part of the opposition to Merkel’s center/right coalition that won re-election last September. The German Greens want all the reactors shut down by 2022. Instead, they propose to build wind farms and solar energy arrays.

German industry is hard over opposed to this plan because they want reliable, base load power from the reactors to power their factories. Germany’s economy leads with exports from manufacturing which makes electricity supply a crucial success factor for the nation.

The controversy over the tax has led to “chaotic” communications between Merkel and the business community. Bloomberg wire service reports Aug 26 the controversy is causing some equity analysts to recommend to investors that they sell their shares in the under-performing German utilities.

Compounding the problem is that some of the junior members of Merkel’s coalition want to split the tax revenues between bolstering the budget and subsidizing new solar and wind projects. According to the Bloomberg report, Klaus Breil, a spokesman for the Free Democratic Party, wants the revenue to be used for alternative energy projects including R&D.

His statements raise the question of whether Merkel will pursue just a fuel rod tax, a windfall profits tax, or both. Two years ago Merkel floated the idea of using the tax to fund alternative energy projects, but with the global economic downturn, she now wants the money to balance the budget.

India wrapped too tight over liability

snakecharmerGetting legislation through India’s parliament is taking all the skill of a snake charmer trying to get one to climb a rope. No one has ever really seen a snake do it, but many claim it is possible.

This is the third try for reasonable liability legislation for Prime Minister Singh who has been set back on his heels twice before by opposition leaders. They claim the liability limits in the bill are too low and that Singh is compromising national interests to serve those of U.S. firms that want to build reactors for India.

The Hindustan Times reports Aug 25 that India’s lower house of parliament passed a bill after the government modified several legal clauses in the measure that create almost “unlimited” liability in case of an accident. This can’t be good news for any U.S. firm that wants to sell reactors, or components to India.

U.S. firms aren’t the only one worried about the way the liability bill will turn out. Indian heavy industry firms, which would supply components for the reactors, are wound up like tops over a provision that would put no timetable on when a supplier’s liability ends and an operator’s begins.

The Financial Times reports Aug 25 that a coalition of the country’s major business groups told PM Singh the legislation in its current form would be a “deterrent” to the new nuclear build.

“No manufacturer, Indian or foreign, would be able to serve the nuclear power industry,” said Sudhinder Thakur, executive director of Nuclear Power Corp of India.

According to the World Nuclear Association, India will have the second largest nuclear build on the planet over the next 40 years after China. India expects to have 20 GWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63 GWE by 2032. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.

And India’s business groups aren’t alone in their opposition. The Russians, who have a major deal to build 4.8 GWe of new nuclear reactors at Kudankulam told the Business Standard newspaper Aug 24 flat out they will not accept the liability clauses in the legislation. The Russians also said they would pull out of the deal if India pressed them on the extended liability terms.

American diplomats, speaking on background to the newspaper, conveyed the message that the current proposal would be a “disaster” for American firms. U.S. President Obama is planning to visit India in November. Singh wants an acceptable bill in place before then. Whether he gets it depends on whether that snake can climb a rope.

Update 0200 GMT August 27, 2010

Wire services report the Indian parliament has reached an agreement on a nuclear liability bill. It triples the compensation cap in the event of a nuclear accident to 15 billion rupees (€254 million) from an earlier version of the legislation. It will open up the country’s $150 billion atomic energy market to overseas suppliers.

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Challenges of financing a new reactor

Conference organizer offers free briefing

nuclear energy insider logoAs a celebration of Nuclear Energy Insider's inaugural Nuclear Investment and Project Finance Conference, they are giving away a presentation by Paul Murphy who was Senior Council - Legal and Risk Management at Bechtel.

Simply go to the web site that hosts the conference brochure and view the free presentation entitled "Meeting the Challenges for Developing and Financing a Nuclear Power Project"

You will be asked to provide a valid email address prior to accessing the briefing, which is a large PDF file.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Update on nuclear energy exports

Global markets for sale of reactors are expanding

exportsExport of nuclear reactors is a growing business despite the global economic downturn. The most interesting aspect of it is that state-owned corporations in China, Russia, and France are the leading exporters of nuclear technology.

In December 2009 a consortium of South Korean firms joined this exclusive club with a $20 billion deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to build four 1,400 MW reactors.

U.S. participation in global nuclear markets is led by Westinghouse, but it is owned by Toshiba, a major Japanese firm. The firm is building four reactors in China with prospects for more. The primary U.S. firms involved in the nuclear export industry are engineering procurement construction (EPC) firms like The Shaw Group, Bechtel, and others.

The key success factor for Russian and Chinese exports is their willingness to finance the construction of the reactors in return for guarantees of profitable rates over a fixed period, usually several decades. This is the form Russia’s agreement took with Turkey. Russia is also building four new reactors for India and recently inked a deal to build the first two reactors in Vietnam.

Russia

kiriyenkoBloomberg wire service reports Aug 24 that Sergei Kirienko, CEO of Rosatom, (right) Russia’s state-owned nuclear corporation, said he expects the number of nuclear reactors globally to double by 2030. According to the World Nuclear Association, in 2010 there are 440 reactors in operation worldwide.

Kirienko told an investor conference in Toronto that Rosatom wants to capture a significant share of that growth. The company is also seeking market share in the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle with its acquisition of a controlling interest in Uranium One for $610 million plus interests in two uranium mines in Kazakhstan.

China

The Wall Street Journal reports Aug 24 that in a first China is talking with South Africa about building nuclear reactors there. Previously, China had not sought to export its domestic PWR designs which resemble the Westinghouse AP1000. What makes the Chinese offer attractive to South Africa is that they will could finance the construction costs and obtain payback from electricity revenues. Eskom, the state-owned utility that supplies most of the country's electricity, will have to convince the government to approve rate increases to make such a deal work.

South Africa has tried and failed to attract external investment for new reactors cancelling a tender to build 12 light water reactors in 2008. Also, South Africa’s efforts to develop a commercial version of the 165 MW Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) collapsed earlier this year with the withdrawal of government funding.

It is unlikely that China would transfer its work on a Pebble Bed reactor technology to South Africa without considerable financial return. A first-of-a-kind commercial version is under construction in China.

China is also reportedly in talks with Argentina to build that country’s fourth nuclear reactor.

France

Areva EPRAreva’s efforts to export its reactors to the UK and the US are having mixed results. In the UK Bloomberg reports Aug 25 that the firm’s design for a 1,600 MW European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) is likely to be approved by regulators in 2011. In the U.K. several utilities are planning to build the EPR at one or more of the 10 sites approved by the government for new nuclear power stations.

U.S.

In the U.S. the failure of Congress to pass new loan guarantee legislation in 2010 is seen as a setback for the construction of new reactors. Areva’s plans to develop a $363 million reactor component manufacturing facility in Newport News, VA, has been postponed to 2013.

A company spokesman told wire services the delay is directly related to market demand. Without the loan guarantees, Constellation’s Calvert Cliffs III reactor project, which is slated to be a US version of the EPR, will not go forward. It would have been the first customer for components from the factory.

The biggest export deal that you never heard of is a proposal by Chicago-based Exelon Corp., a nuclear utility, The Shaw Group, and Toshiba, to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia. Toshiba and Shaw would provide the reactors, the construction expertise, and Exelon would operate the reactors once they are built.

While Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest exporter of oil, it is burning huge amounts of it to generate electricity. The country wants more oil to go to earning exports which is why it is interested in nuclear reactors. According to a report in World Nuclear News Jul 14, Saudi Arabia is setting up an Atomic and Renewable Energy Center to manage the country’s efforts.

Currently, there is no diplomatic agreement between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. to manage the export of nuclear technologies to that country. A legal agreement is needed under Section 123 of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act. A key issue is that if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) wants to build reactors, it must decide how to fuel them. The ‘make or buy’ issue for enriched uranium will be a key aspect of U.S. negotiations with KSA.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Will rate issues limit FPL’s nuclear future?

A mixed outlook indicates no sunny days in sight

boxingFlorida Power & Light (FPL) looks like a boxer on the ropes when it comes to the issue of getting rate increases to fund operations and especially to pay for construction of new nuclear reactors.

FPL’s relationship with the State of Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) is becoming more difficult due to a news report in the SunSentinel for Aug 24 which reveals FPL may have given “outdated” information to the PSC.

Complicating the picture is the fact that hearing started the same day on FPL’s request for a rate increase to cover new reactor costs for two new reactors at Turkey Point near Miami. The same hearing will also address a rate increase requested by Progress Energy for two new reactors in Levy County on the state’s west coast.

The SunStentinel reports that FPL gave “outdated” cost information in the proposed two new reactors to the Public Service Commission. The news comes as a result of a report from a consultant, hired by FPL, to investigate whistle blower allegations that estimates provided by FPL to the PSC are $300 million less than the most current internal numbers.

The information comes at a time when green groups are raising questions about the reactor costs. The news article quotes one of them commenting on the consultant’s report which was obtained by the newspaper.

According to the SunSentinel, Sara Barczak, a program director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an opponent of FPL's nuclear projects, called the lack of disclosure "problematic," especially because the utility employees were speaking under oath at hearings.

"Perhaps it could have happened that the PSC could have voted differently last year," she said. "I'm just glad the information came out with the hearings starting this week."

FPL spokesman Mark Bubriski told the newspaper the utility does not agree with parts of the consultant's report. He said FPL did not share the newest information about higher nuclear nuclear costs with regulators because senior managers felt the information might change.

Perception v. Reality

perception-vs-realityThis is a good example of the issue of perception v. reality. The green groups could get a lot of spin out of the issue of which cost figures should have been presented to the PSC.

Some of them may even make charges FPL is cooking the books. Reality suggests the issue is a lot more complicated, but we won’t know all the details until FPL presents them during the hearings.

In the meantime, there is the possibility critics of nuclear energy could use the FPL case, which involved whistleblower allegations, to tar the national nuclear industry with this brush. It could also be used as an attack generally on the Florida model of “construction work in progress,” or CWIP, which is also used in other states, like Georgia, to allow rate increases to pay for nuclear plants while they are under construction. It reduces the cost of financing the plants.

In Georgia CWIP is going ahead. Customers of Georgia Power will pay $108 million to support construction of two new reactors at Southern’s Vogtle site. Customers will pay fixed annual increases in rates until 2018 when the reactors are expected to enter revenue service.

FPL to freeze base rates until 2012

ice_cubesIn other financial news for FPL, the Wall Street Journal reports that the utility has agreed with state officials to freeze base rates through the end of 2012. The deal comes after months of sometimes “acrimonious debate” according to the WSJ.

Last January the PSC rejected FPL’s requests rate increases of $1.3 billion a year over the next five years to cover new capital costs, none of which involved nuclear facilities.

The WSJ also reported that FPL is not alone in its struggles to earn a 10% regulated rate of return. According to the newspaper, Moody’s cites similar problems in Maryland and Illinois. The rating service says there will be a consumer backlash if energy prices rise faster than the economic recovery. For its part, FPL said electricity demand showed a 3% increase in the last quarter which is seen as a sign of economic progress.

Right now this looks like a bad news story for FPL and the nuclear industry. It will take a few days for the dust to settle to see where truth lies on these issues.

Prior coverage on this blog

  • January 24, 2010 – Are dark days ahead for nuclear energy in the sunshine state?
  • October 15, 2008 – Florida approves early construction costs for new reactors

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nuclear energy videos for Monday August 23

More easy on the eyes stuff to help you start the work week

Disposal of the Engineering Test Reactor in Idaho

Removal of the Experimental Test Reactor at the Idaho Cleanup Project. This video includes some controlled demolition sequences.

Crash test for nuclear fuel cask hit by railroad train at 100 MPH

What’s interesting about this news report is that Greenpeace made some outrageous claims the test was faked. The the company that produced it took them on calling the claims “rubbish.”



How FED Ex will deliver small reactors to customers World's biggest airplanes

Bet after looking at one on taxi, you wonder if it will take off?


Interview on Clean Skies with Paul Lorenzini, CEO of NuScale

This is one of the people who will want to ship one on that plane.



Another Rube Goldberg machine, this time from Honda

This is geek glory at its finest. It sneaks up on you.

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