Friday, November 18, 2011

Ducks on the pond - the uncertain path of the nuclear renaissance

Sometimes there is real progress and sometimes not so much

Like a baseball team that strands players on base in scoring position at the end of an inning, usually from a pop fly after a 3-2 count, the global nuclear industry sometimes leaves analysts gasping for air.

On the other hand, occasionally, there is a brilliant play that sends runners to score.  The baseball term "ducks on the pond" means there are players in scoring position, usually at 1st and 3rd.

Here are some the latest examples.
Czech plans more reactors, but loses a key leader

The Czech Republic state-owned utility CEZ expects to add one more nuclear reactor to its power station at Dukovany according to CEO Daniel Benes.  He added it is unlikely it will build more than one additional unit due to limits on water supply.

CEZ has released technical documentation to three bidders for two new reactors at its Temelin site. Bids are due by July 2012.  The bidders are Areva, Atomstroyexport, and Westinghouse.

In addition to reactor projects in the Czech Republic, CEZ is working on a new reactor for Slovakia.  The firm has plans to build a "third-generation" reactor at Jaslovske Bohunice.  Getting investors for the project is the major focus of the effort as CEZ does not want a majority financial position.  Another factor is timing to insure that capital requirements for this project don't conflict with a planned reactor at Dukovany.

So CEZ is looking for investors on the Slovakia side of the project to reduce its overall capital requirements and its risk.  According to a financial wire service report, CEZ is on the hook for now invest {e}2 billion ($2.7 billion).  Assuming a 1,000 MW reactor can be delivered for $4,000/Kw by 2020, that suggests CEZ's current exposure is about two-thirds of the cost.

Reducing its equity stake to 49%, or $1.96 billion, would require other investors to come up with the remaining one third, $1.3 billion plus an additional $704 million.

Getting these projects through the bid process while simultaneously raising investor funds for a state-owned utility is often the job of a trade minister. In the case of the Czech Republic, that's going to be a problem in the near term.  Martin Kocourek, who held the position until Nov 9, quit following media reports that he deposited $854,000 in his mother's investment account to hide the assets from his now ex-wife during a divorce proceeding.

The revelations come at a time when there have been a string of unrelated financial scandals involving other government officials.  CEZ's CEO resigned earlier this year when it was learned he has an investment position in a firm that sold power equipment to the utility.  The defense and environmental ministers also resigned earlier this year over the award of government contracts.

CEZ has a new CEO and the government needs a new trade minister to keep these projects moving. Otherwise, like baseball players stranded on base at the end of a fitful inning, new reactor builds at Temelin and two other sites might not score a hit with investors.

India blinks on supplier liability

Last November opposition parties gave Indian Prime Minister Singh a black eye during a visit by U.S. President Obama.  They refused to change a supplier liability law for vendors of components for nuclear power plants thus locking U.S. firms like Westinghouse and G.E. Hitachi out of the expected $150 billion market.

That was not the way things were supposed to go after U.S. President Bush supported in 2007 India's right to buy uranium from the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The idea was that once India was again able to buy fuel, it would start building reactors and U.S. vendors would get a piece of the action.

Instead, opposition parties including India's so-called "non-aligned" communists and conservative Hindu parties pushed through a law that disregarded international conventions on supplier liability.  Speeches by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for India to change the law fell on deaf ears.

The interesting thing about legislation is that there are always implementing regulations.  This is the approach that the Department of Atomic Energy took which in its notification limits the amount and duration of claims.  The action opens India's market to U.S. nuclear component manufacturers.

The timing of the action is that the announcement was made just prior to PM Manmohan Singh arriving at the East Asia Summit in Bali where he is expected to meet President Obama.  This is clearly looks like a stand-up triple for Singh if he can show real progress.

However, a blogger for the Wall Street Journal says not so fast. He calls the whole thing a fake out and that Singh has no intention of letting U.S. firms enter India's market.  Opposition parties have complained about a "sell out" to the U.S. and are stirring up trouble with protests at two reactors sites - Jaitapur (Areva) and Koondankulam (Atomstroyexport). Work on both projects has been delayed as a result.

# # #

1 comment:

Meredith Angwin said...


Union Carbide is a U.S. company that was responsible for the Bhopal disaster which killed about 4,000 people and seriously affected (blinded, caused lung disease, etc) another 40,000 or so. The Union Carbide out-of-court settlement with India was widely considered inadequate by people in India. I mean, it was considered inadequate by pretty much everybody in India, if you can say that about such a big country! India does not trust U.S. companies about liability. They just don't.

The nuclear industry in India faces the usual anti-nuclear issues, and U S companies also face Bhopal memories. I wish it weren't so. Union Carbide is a chemical company, not a nuclear company. But that is how it is, in my opinion. U S companies haven't got a chance in that country.