Friday, September 17, 2010

Blog operations update

No major changes, just sweeping up a few loose ends

Broom_icon.svgFrom time-to-time I let readers know what is going on with the blog in terms of the back room operations.

In the past month I’ve been sweeping away some dusty and moldy widgets to get a leaner, faster blog.

Here’s a list.

Scripts & Links

  • Deleted the script for Yahoo’s MyBlogLog. It was hanging up loading the page. Yahoo has been drifting in terms of its management of this service so it is no big loss. Also, it imposed a performance burden by tracking clicks per day on links which wasn’t that useful.
  • Deleted my FriendFeed' account because it was magnet for scam artists who said they wanted to be my 'friend.' Not.
  • There are no Facebook badges on this blog and there won't be. Privacy issues for the service remain problematic.
  • Deleted the Nuclear Twibe widget. It was going stale and did not generate any traffic for the blog. Plus, it was another “thing” that had to load to see the blog.
  • Shortened the Twitter feed widget from the last 9 to the last 6 tweets so it takes less screen real estate. If you want to see the whole feed, please go to my Twitter page @djysrv
  • Pruned the blog roll of blogs that don’t update their content. Three of them were dead blogs. I’m always interested in new blogs that update more frequently than once a month.
  • Removed several widgets from the “Badges” area that went to dead links. Removed several links from the resource and news listings which had gone dead.
  • Added a category high up called "Events" for local and national calendar items.

Display ads

  • Re-arranged the ads so that they don’t load in the first screen of information. You may see an animated GIF high up, but not ads from third-party servers. If there is a problem with an ad, what you will see is white space instead of a hung blog page. Please support the advertisers.
  • I do not understand why advertisers tolerate poor performance from ad servers. If the ad doesn’t get displayed where it is intended, then the advertiser gets no eyeballs and is effectively throwing their money away.
  • Resisted the temptation to place a Facebook button on the blog. Been there, done that. It’s just another resource hog. I don’t get much traffic from Facebook posts. With all the controversy surrounding privacy issues and Facebook, I’m wary of the service.

Comment moderation

  • donutsAll comments are moderated, usually in batches, and within 24 hours. My wish list to Blogger is for a ‘white list’ capability so people who demonstrate a track record of relevant comments can post them without moderation.
  • I am keeping the Blogger comment system. Recently, Blogger added an effective spam catcher.
  • All the third party systems that run on blogger have improved quite a bit in the past year. I wonder if Blogger or Google will buy one and integrate it into the service. It’d be another place to serve ads. There are no ads in the Blogger comments space now.

Blog traffic note

  • For the 90 day period ending Sept 1, according to Google Analytics, the blog averaged 9,000 readers a month or an effective rate of 108,000 readers a year. Thank you for your interest!

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nuclear supply chain trade group works fabrication issues

Getting stuff out the door to build new reactors takes innovation as well as hard work

supplychainNote to readers The Nuclear Fabrication Consortium (NFC) will be holding a two-day meeting in Cleveland Sept 20-21.

Keynote speakers for the event are Dr. Patrick Moore, co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition and a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, and Karen Alderman Harbert, President and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

FCW_logo_smallI will be covering the conference for Fuel Cycle Week. On this blog today is an edited version of my coverage in last week’s issue of the Consortium's work on welding, nuclear fuel bundle cladding and more information about the conference.

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Parts make the sum of the whole

NFC logoThe April 2010 issue of Nuclear News published by the American Nuclear Society listed over 900 firms that manufacture components for nuclear reactors. Vendors make everything from nuts and bolts to valves and sensors to complete steam supply systems. About two dozen of these firms, including some of the industry's giants, have formed the Nuclear Fabrication Consortium (NFC).

Nate Ames, Technical Director of the organization based in Columbus, OH, told FCW in a telephone interview NFC was established to independently develop fabrication approaches and data that support the establishment of a vibrant US nuclear industry.

"Our goal is for the American nuclear supply chain to compete successfully on the global stage by enabling more cost-effective and reliable nuclear power in a carbon constrained environment."

"Our members include the most influential OEMs, suppliers, and innovators in the nuclear industry."

According to the NFC's web site, members include Areva, B&W, Nucor, and Westinghouse; as well as 16 others.

Ames said the group has identified over 200 key issues that need to be resolved to open up the industry to innovation and making the manufacturing of reactor components more competitive relative to global costs. They've got their work cut out for them with other countries with lower labor costs also seeking to enter the global nuclear market, particularly in Asia.

Ames pointed out several issues the organization would like to address. Early on the group felt that ASME code for manufacturing components could be made more accessible with better organization.

Improving welding processes

welding A key process for the group is welding. Ames said that innovative welding techniques already embedded in the codes and standards for other industries need to be accepted by the nuclear industry. For example, adoption of welding methods from the ship building industry adopted "to make big round things like containment structures" will save 10,000 work hours making one.

The primary focus is thick section welding. Many nuclear facility components are large and have heavy section thicknesses. Even when forgings are used, numerous thick section welds are required. By further developing and validating technologies that other industries are using (such as laser welding, Laser-Gas Metal Arc Hybrid Welding, Tandem Gas Metal Arc Welding, and inertia-based welding processes), production costs could be reduced while improving quality and lowering the residual welding stress.

NFC has been working the Washington wire. In 2009 NFC and the Edison Welding Institute secured $2 million in federal funding to advance this agenda. The funds are targeted at being used for fabrication process and equipment development; material evaluation and testing; standards development; supply chain development; fabrication data management technology development; and sponsoring education in nuclear fabrication technologies.

Fuel bundle cladding materials

Silicon-carbide-3D-ballsA longer-term welding initiative is to find a way to use silicon carbide as cladding for nuclear fuel bundles. The advantage Ames says is that "you can't get 'core on the floor' with this type of material because unlike zirconium alloys, it won't melt.

The problem is that it is very difficult to join two pieces of the material. Testing is underway at the Idaho National Laboratory and may produce results within the next year. The goal is to develop a cladding material that won't fail under high neutron flux, increases fuel burn up, and enhances safety under accident conditions. Regulatory approval is still a long way off, but so is construction of a lot of reactors.

Separately, a consortium composed of MIT, EPRI, ORNL, and several specialty ceramics manufacturers hope to have test assemblies in nuclear reactors in the next few years. The consortium said in an article published Sept 3:

“An improved cladding material could thus offer better safety margins and reduced maintenance, while also allowing a greater portion of the uranium fuel to be burned safely – a move that could reduce waste.”

NRC ruling making

acceptance testingIn Spring 2011 the NRC will being work on a rulemaking for performance-based cladding acceptance criteria. Tara Inverso, the NRC project manager, told FCW the purpose of the rule will be to move from prescriptive to performance based criteria for fuel cladding materials.

"Extensive acceptance testing would still be required for new materials," she said.

Among other things, the rulemaking will govern the evaluation of ceramic cladding and require suppliers to demonstrate the safety of the material under a variety of normal and off-normal conditions

The NRC Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published on August 13, 2009 (PDF file)

Supply chain firms to hold conference in Cleveland

Cleveland, Ohio will host "The Future of Nuclear Technology in the U.S." in partnership with the Nuclear Fabrication Consortium and the Greater Cleveland Partnership September 21, 2010 at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel. (map)

The event will be an educational forum on the future of nuclear power in the U.S. Discussions will include current realities of nuclear technology, common misperceptions about nuclear power, global investments in nuclear energy, and future needs of the domestic nuclear energy industry.

mooreThe forum will include subject-matter experts speaking on technology, the environment, economic impact on U.S. manufacturing, and public policy. Keynote speakers for the event are Dr. Patrick Moore, (right) co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition and a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, and Karen Alderman Harbert, President and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The CASEnergy Coalition is a national grassroots coalition of nearly 2,500 members which strives to bring facts rather than emotional hyperbole to the discussion, by promoting the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear expansion as part of a diverse clean energy portfolio.

The event's goal is to share fact-based information about nuclear energy to begin the process of breaking down misperceptions about the country's largest base load clean energy source and enable the industry, decision makers, and the general public to make informed decisions about the future of nuclear power in the U.S.

Businesses involved in advanced energy, consumers, and policymakers with an interest in nuclear energy are encouraged to attend the forum. For more information, or to register, visit http://www.nuclearforumcleveland.com/.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Liability law puts India’s nuclear future in doubt

It imposes conditions which go beyond international law

India nuclerAmerican firms hoping to get a piece of India's expected $150 billion nuclear energy market over the next two decades got a rude shock Sept 1.

Instead of an open door to hundreds of billions in trade deals, with the passage of a divisive liability law, India's parliament imposed harsh liability measures on both suppliers and operators of any new nuclear plants.

The law goes beyond international rules that limit liability to operators of the plants. It effectively stops any American firm from selling nuclear reactors, fuel, or components to India. This may have been the opposition party's goal all along which used the Bhopal tragedy as a poster child for their cause. The new law has created a huge headache for both countries.

Read the full details exclusively at the Energy Collective now online.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Italy needs nuclear energy to grow

Plans are good, now government must act

Giulio_Tremonti(NucNet) The absence of a civil nuclear energy sector is one of the reasons that Italy lacks economic competitiveness, finance minister Giulio Tremonti (right) said last week.

Tremonti told the UK’s Financial Times Sept 5 that Italy has the second largest manufacturing base in Europe after Germany, but does not have civil nuclear power.

“When you calculate rival rates of GDP in different countries, you see what a difference there is between those who have and those who don’t have nuclear power – those who produce energy and those who import it.”

Tremonti conceded that the government must take fresh steps to improve the country’s sluggish growth rate, which remains well behind that of Germany and other leading European Union states as it tries to emerge from the financial crisis.

“The Italian economy must become more competitive,” he said, speaking at the annual Ambrosetti forum in Cernobbio. “The structure of our economy is good. We have got the second largest manufacturing base in Europe after Germany and we’ve got a sound banking system. But we don’t have civil nuclear power.”

In February 2010 Italy moved a step closer to reinstating nuclear energy it abandoned more than 20 years ago in the wake of the Chernobyl accident. In 2010 the government gave final approval to construction of new units.

The policy is designed to pave the way for starting work on new plants in 2013 and production of nuclear power in 2020. Italy plans to build at least four nuclear reactors.

Benefits quantified

calculatorEarlier this week an International Energy Agency-led study said an energy mix that incorporates nuclear is “the most advantageous” for Italy in economic and environmental terms and could save the country up to EUR 69 billion ($88 billion) between 2020 and 2030 compared to a mix that does not include nuclear.

Bloomberg wire service reported the analysis was prepared by expert from the Italian energy company Enel and France's EdF, which last year formed a joint venture to develop nuclear energy in Italy. It was chaired by Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the Paris-based IEA.

The study on nuclear power in Italy concludes that if nuclear accounts for 25% of electricity generation by 2030, Italy will save up to EUR 57 billion in generation costs and up to 381 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

It says introducing nuclear power would reduce and stabilize energy costs and prices, and would improve the energy supply chain resulting in a positive impact on end-users. It would also lead to greater energy security.

Can Italy cut the mustard?

mustardLast February, the European-based International Energy Agency (IEA) said Italy is making progress in energy policy, but challenges remain.

This is European diplomatic talk for “stuff not together yet, keep trying.”

Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said in a press statement in February 2010, that “a common theme that emerges in the IEA review of Italy's energy policy is the difficulties faced by energy infrastructure providers in taking projects from the initial planning phase to completion.”

Tanaka said that “while numerous initiatives have been taken at central and regional government levels in recent years, fundamental problems remain as evidenced by the delays in the construction of new LNG facilities and renewable energy installations.”

“Under present circumstances, it is likely that the recently adopted nuclear energy proposals may face similar obstacles.”

Nonetheless, the new law provides a legislative basis to address concerns in relation to plant sites, waste disposal, risk management and plant decommissioning.

Regulatory framework?

Reuters reported last week that Italy lacks a regulatory framework for its new nuclear reactors. Italy's nuclear power program a regulatory framework by the end of the year, Enel CEO Fulvio Conti said.

"We badly need the government to finish the regulations needed to start using the investments we are making. We hope the government will deliver the laws we need by the end of the year," he said at the Europe House-Ambrosetti business meeting.

Any utility that wants to do business in Italy to build a nuclear reactor needs the certainty of a regulatory framework. Not only are safety issues paramount, the regulations will serve as a buffer against Italy’s chaotic politics.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nuclear energy videos for Monday September 13, 2010

Another in our weekly series to give you a lift on your return to work

All videos are safe for work. There were no videos last week due to the Labor Day holiday.

William Tucker, the author of the book Terrestrial Energy, has this video on his home page. It’s set to the music from Beethoven’s 7th symphony. Makes you think we’ll all wind up living underground like THX1138 if we don’t solve the problem of global warming.

Is nuclear waste safe?

Ted Rockwell talks with TN Sen. Lamar Alexander about the value of spent nuclear fuel. Rockwell’s advice, "don't eat nuclear waste and it won't hurt you."

Security at nuclear power plants

Step back from the car and do not make any jokes. These guys are serious and they have guns.

Stewart Brand - Ted Talks about four environmental heresies

The many who brought you the Whole Earth Catalog has some serious advice about nuclear energy.

Hot rocks and they’re not stolen diamonds

Interesting review of enhanced geothermal systems including high costs and seismic side effects - from the Economist magazine

Blue Angels at Cleveland Air Show Sept 2010

Nice ride. Where’s the gun rack?

NASA tests human controlled Mars Rover. Where are the guns in that vehicle in case you meet hostile aliens? Billions of dollars spent and no gun rack? What are they thinking?

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Nuclear news roundup for September 12, 2010

Vogtle gets clean bill in NRC environmental review

GaPower.color.logoThe NRC has issued a finding that there are no environmental impacts that stand in the way of licensing two new reactors at Southern’s Vogtle site.

The draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement will be discussed during a public meeting Oct 6 in at Augusta Technical College's Waynesboro campus. Site work is under way, and company officials have said they expect the license to be issued in late 2011.

Southern Nuclear has applied for a combined operating license to build and operate two Westinghouse AP1000 1,1150 MW reactors that would go online in 2016 and 2017 at a cost of about $14.5 billion.

Southern is the only new reactor project to receive federal loan guarantees. The Department of Energy program has been mired in bureaucratic delays at and foot dragging by Congress over expansion of the program.

The Georgia Public Utility Commission has authorized the utility to charge rate payers for the cost of the plant while it is being built. This move will save rate payers over a billion in financing costs. [ See this profile in Forbes for Sept 9 for more insights. ]

Environmental groups will try to raise new issues regarding the reactor designs saying that they are subject to corrosion. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has scheduled a meeting Sept 17 to hear from the Blue Ridge Environmental League.

First components arrive at Vogtle

The first components of Vogtle's new nuclear reactors arrived in Georgia this week after a 10,000-mile journey from Japan.

"These parts are being shipped to the port of Savannah -- spending four weeks at sea," said David Jones, Southern Nuclear's site vice president for Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4.

The parts, which began arriving by flatbed truck last week, include 58 massive steel plates. The plates will form the bottom of Unit 3's containment vessel.

Exelon says low gas prices could postpone the nuclear renaissance for two decades

John_Rowe_webChicago-based Exelon CEO John Rowe (right) has never been one to pull his punches, and this week was no exception. Rowe said in an interview with the Bloomberg financial wire service in New York that low prices for natural gas are likely to continue for a long time. The effect will be pushing back the construction of new U.S. nuclear power plants by a "decade, maybe two."

According to wire service reports, Rowe said that the price of natural gas would have to rise to $8 per million BTU and carbon taxes would have to rise to $25/ton to make the power prices from new merchant nuclear reactors competitive with gas-fueled plants.

If there is no carbon tax, gas would have to rise to $9 or $9.50 to make the reactors economically attractive, Rowe said. Natural gas prices have fallen 33 percent this year and are down 76 percent from the 2005 high of $15.378.

Exelon has essentially mothballed its planned twin reactor project in Victoria County, Texas. It scrapped its license application with the NRC and turned in an Early Site Permit which preserves its options for 10-20 years.

For anyone who follows Rowe’s pugnacious prognostications, this isn’t news. He said “it isn’t a renaissance yet” in a February 2010 interview with Bloomberg following President Obama’s award of an $8 billion loan guarantee to Southern for the twin-reactor Vogtle site.

Exelon has aggressive power uprate plans underway that could generate between 1,300 and 1,500 MW of additional generation from existing nuclear plants within 8 years without any new construction at about half the cost of building a new nuclear power plant.

Exelon manages the nation’s largest fleet of nuclear reactors with 17 of them at 10 sites in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Davis-Besse to flip its lid in 2011

Pot-Lid-OrganizerFirst Energy’s Davis-Besse 879 MW plant located near Toledo, OH, will replace its reactor lid in 2011 instead of 2014. The utility said at an NRC meeting held last week that it will move up the date for the 15-month shut down to October 2011.

The decision follows the completion of a six-month long special inspection by the NRC of cracks in parts replaced just six years ago.

Also, First Energy has submitted an application to the NRC to extend its license for another 20 years. The current license expires in 2017. The reactor came online in 1977.

The plant has a checkered past which it has sought to overcome with a renewed emphasis on safety. NRC Manager Mark Satorius, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer Sept 11 the six month review that just ended at Davis-Besse “probably constitutes one of the most thorough inspections” he’s ever worked on.

First Energy said it made a decision, “based on safety” to set aside its plan to change out the reactor vessel lid in 2014 and move the project up to 2011. Davis-Besse VP Barry Allen told the Plain Dealer the decision to do so “was not made lightly” because of the work that will need to be done to meet the earlier date.

License renewal for Seabrook draws opposition

pitchforkNew England loves cheap electricity when it can get it from nuclear reactors because it pays so much for fossil fuel. That hasn’t stopped a coalition of local and national anti-nuclear groups from seeking to pitchfork an early license renewal for the 1,245 MW Seabrook nuclear power station.

The plant started operations in 1990 and has applied to extend its license, which expires in 2030, to run until 2050.

Opponents say they want the application to be set aside until 2020, or ten years prior to renewal. They say the application is “premature” given the unknowns of plant maintenance, safety, reliability, technology, and future power needs.

The plant has an outstanding safety and operating record which makes the opposition by the anti-nuclear groups more of a knee-jerk reflex than one based on reality.

Salem containment cracks and leaks draw attention

salem-1-containment-rebar-constructionThe NRC has ordered New Jersey-based PSEG to answer questions about cracks in the exterior containment walls of the Salem, NJ, reactors. The agency is concerned that numerous cracks were not identified due to a 10-year cycle of inspections rather than one every five years.

(Image: steel reinforcement bars at the Salem 1 nuclear reactor via Energy Matters blog.)

The NRC also found evidence of multiple unreported leaks and corrosion.

Environmental groups pounced on the NRC’s review. They said the issue, which came up during a review of the twin Salem, NJ, reactors license renewal application, should be treated as violations. But Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman, told wire services safety was never an issue. He acknowledged there “are some flaws in the containment structure.”

The NRC review turned up corrosion and leaks that had not previously been publically disclosed. This incensed the ’Unplug Salem’ environmental group which called the reported leaks “negligence.”

Roger Witherspoon, a New Jersey-based journalist, has a detailed report on the problems at the Salem plant.

Joe Delamr, a PSEG spokesman, said the utility is addressing the NRC’s concerns.

PSEG is also in the planning stages to build one or two new reactors at the site. No decision has been made, but the utility filed for an Early Site Permit last May.

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