Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nuclear news roundup for 01/19/11

Green groups line up to shut down Davis-Besse in Ohio

green lobbyAn unusual coalition of national anti-nuclear groups and locals from the Green Party of Ohio and Sierra Club have begun to organize efforts to deny the Davis-Besse nuclear power station a renewed license from the NRC. In mid-December the Green Party hosted a meeting in Toledo, OH, with help from the Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear, and the Coalition for Nuclear Free Great Lakes.

According to the NRC, the license renewal application process for Davis-Besse Unit 1 is moving ahead with a target date of July 2012 for a new 20-year license. The 879 MW reactor was built in 1978. It is located in Oak Harbor, OH, near Toledo. The current license expires in April 2017. The reactor is owned and operated by FIrstEnergy Corp.

The Davis-Besse reactor became a controversial site when it was discovered in 2002 that the reactor pressure vessel head had been damaged and that the full extent of the degradation had not be reported to the NRC through routine inspections. Hard feelings persist in the region even today about the incident.

In a letter sent to the anti-nuclear groups, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) reminded them that FirstEnergy was fined for withholding information about the reactor head from the NRC. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) said in a newspaper interview she is critical of the utility’s ability to conduct safe operation of the reactor.

In January 2006 FirstEnergy Corp. admitted that several of its employees made false statements to the NRC about safety violations at Davis-Besse. The utility made a deal with the US Department of Justice to avoid further prosecution. FirstEnergy agreed to pay a $28 million penalty to the Justice Department and to cooperate with criminal and administrative investigations.

Survey shows Texans support nuclear energy

NRG LogoThe Victoria Advocate newspaper reported Jan 8 the results of two statewide surveys show 72% of Texans support nuclear energy and the expansion of the South Texas Project. NRG is building two 1,350 MW ABWR reactors at the site. In both polls, Texans said they agree nuclear energy has an important role in meeting needs for electricity in future years.

NRG, which conducted the surveys, told the Victoria Advocate it is hoping to hear about DOE loan guarantees for units 3 & 4 later this year. Construction activities are expected to employ 6,000 people and the two reactors will support 1,200 permanent jobs.

The survey also shows 70% of residents in Austin, TX, support having that city’s municipal utility buy power from the expanded nuclear site. The city owns a 16% interest in units 1 & 2 at STP, but backed out of making investments in units 3 & 4.

The municipal utility in San Antonio had planned to invest in a 40% share in the new reactors. Opposition to rate increases to pay for the investment, and mistakes by utility executives in explaining them to elected officials, resulted in a reduction of the city’s share to just 8%.

Separately, NRG has announced early stage investment in the new reactors from a Japanese electric utility and financing from Japan’s export bank. The twin reactors are being supplied and built by Japanese conglomerates Hitachi and Toshiba.

Anti-nukes lose a round at Comanche Peak

ApplicationDeniedOpponents of the expansion of the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant south of Ft. Worth, TX, failed in their efforts to convince the Atomic Safety & Licensing Board to deny licensing of two new 1,700 MW Mitsubishi APWR reactors, The Ft. Worth Star_telegram reported the panel dismissed three of the four remaining contentions out of 19 that were filed by anti-nuclear groups.

Opponents include Rep. Lon Burman (D-Ft. Worth), Public Citizen, and several grass roots green groups. Their 19 contentions raised issues about water, safety, and nuclear waste.

Luminant, which is building the new reactors, said it expects the NRC to approve its license applications for them in early 2013. The biggest challenges are finding investors, getting loan guarantees from the federal government, and bringing the units online in 2018 and 2020 on time and within budget.

The combined cost of the two new reactors, and grid improvements, could be in the range of $15-20 billion making it the one of the biggest capital construction projects in Texas history.

Savannah River becoming a center for small modular reactors

small reactorsThe Augusta Chronicle reports that developers of small modular reactors (SMRs) are heading towards an energy park being developed at the Savannah River site (SRS) So far New Mexico-based Hyperion has committed to building a prototype 25 MW fast reactor at the site. Also, GE-Hitachi has announced it wants to build a prototype PRISM 300 MW fast reactor there as well.

More recently, San Diego-base General Atomics, which is developing a 240 MW reactor capable of burning plutonium and HEU as fuel, also wants to use the site to build and test a prototype.

TerraPower, a Seattle-based start-up funded by the Bill Gates Foundation, is also talking with SRS about building its 300 MW liquid metal cooled reactor there. Reportedly, the firm is considering either a depleted uranium fuel design or one using thorium fuel.

SRS will provide land, electricity, and security for the prototype sites. Raising funds to build the reactors, and hiring a skilled workforce, remain the responsibilities of each developer. Also, each reactor vendor will have to negotiate its own path to licensing the prototype projects with the NRC.

Friends of the Earth, an anti-nuclear group, said in a press statement that the prototype SMRs cannot evade NRC licensing requirements just because they are being built at a DOE facility.

Thomas Sanders, an expert on SMRs from Sandia National Laboratory, is the new manager of the 2,700 acre energy park that will host the prototype reactors.

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