It's a no brainer to write about the tsunami, but a lot more happened than on one day in March
This is an updated version of my report published at Fuel Cycle Week, V10:N453 on 12/15/11 by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC
While mainstream newspaper editors are scratching their heads trying to come up with something new about Fukushima, your faithful correspondent feels it is important to write about everything else that happened in 2011. Here's a few highlights in a list from previous FCW columns.
France and Russia signed massive deals with India to build new nuclear reactors at Jaitapur (2 Areva 1,600 MW EPRs) and Kundankulam (4 Russian 1,000 MW VVERs). Much as they would like to get in on the action, U.S. firms won't touch the Indian market with a 10 foot pole because of a supplier liability law that has no bottom.
In the nuclear utility merger of the year category Duke Energy inked a deal with Progress to merge the two firms. It is the largest electric utility merger of its kind in the nation's history. Also, it creates doubt about several of the new reactors Progress still carries at least on paper,. Even more interesting is the question of how Duke will deal with the Crystal River nuclear reactor which will remain closed through 2014 due to a botched job of cutting into the containment structure to replace a steam generator.
The Department of Energy Savannah River Site (SRS) wants to be a center for development of prototypes of new small modular reactors with power ratings of less than 300 MW (electrical). One fly in the ointment is that DOE thinks it can build the pilot plants without asking the NRC for a license for each of them. DOE's reasoning is faulty says the NRC. The agency reminds their federal counterparts at Forrestal that everyone who wants to build a reactor, even with erector set parts, legos, or the real thing, needs a license. Yes, really.
The State of New York is trying really hard to close the Indian Point twin reactors. Their NRC licenses expire in 2013 and 2015 respectively. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has found the reactors to be a convenient goblin to wave in front of green groups who on reflex open their checkbooks to support his future election campaigns. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is furious with Cuomo's antics pointing out the city's subway system and its electrified commuter railways in three states depend on electricity from the reactors.
Spain came to its senses and scrapped plans to phase out its nuclear reactors. A long-standing Spanish government policy of phasing out the nation's 7.5 GWe of nuclear powered electricity (18% of total electricity) is being reversed both in the form of new policy and in renewal of the operating licenses for three of the nation's eight nuclear reactors.
Spain's electric grid is almost completely isolated from the rest of Europe which makes energy security a leading factor in the government's decision to keep the reactors running past the artificial 40-year deadline. The financial collapse of its solar energy subsidy program may also have played a role in the change of heart.
The Department of Energy is building a $4.5 billion MOX fuel facility in South Carolina which will start producing it in 2016. Someone forgot to explain to the agency that reliable fuel services, that is, actually showing up for a scheduled fuel outage at a customer’s reactor on time with the product, is the key to success. Three potential customers say they are interested in MOX, but only if they can get the fuel when they need it and not one minute later.
First Energy's Davis-Besse plant flips its lid for the third time hopes it is a keeper. The troubled plant lost its first lid to corrosion and the second was a stop gap. The third lid, brand new from Areva, went on top without a hitch.
Despite a campaign filled with half-truths and full blown pants on fire falsehoods, anti-nuclear groups in Vermont were surprised when the NRC renewed the license for Entergy's Vermont Yankee reactor. Governor Peter Schumlin says it is not over until the fat lady sings vowing a legal fight over the state's right to issue a certificate of public good as the final say whether the reactor can stay open.
NRG called it quits on the development of two 1,350 MW ABWR reactors at the South Texas Project. The reason is TEPCO, a pre-license investor, pulled out following the Fukushima crisis in March. The action stranded reactor builder Toshiba who now needs a U.S. partner if it wants to finish the project.
The Department of Energy's Blue Ribbon Commission kicked the spent fuel can down the road with a report that was dubbed by Washington wage as the "don't do anything until after 2012" report. Composed of extremely smart people from all aspects of the nuclear industry, the panel was hog tied by instructions from the Obama administration. It also rejected spent fuel reprocessing as a viable alternative which may knock the reading on the smart meter down a few points.
Saudi Arabia announced it will build 16 nuclear reactors to generate electricity and to desalinate water. The country said it is burning too much fossil fuel that should be made available for export. The first tender is expected in early 2012. A spokesman for the government said that multiple vendors will be solicited over time so that no one supplier, or country, has a lock on their market.
The private equity backers of the Blue Castle nuclear reactor project in Utah said they will file an earl y site permit in 2012. It is the first stage in seeking a combined construction and operating license for what is expected to be 3,000 MW of nuclear power generating capacity. If built, much of it will be exported to California which continues its three decade ban on new nuclear projects inside its borders.
USEC's uranium enrichment project came to a standstill from an operational and financial perspective. A breakdown of the troublesome American Centrifuge Facility 40 foot high centrifuges occurred in June. The company has not been able to make the financial case for a Federal loan guarantee for the $3.5 billion project. USEC's two major investors, Toshiba and B&W, agreed to extend their agreement into the Fall.
Canada gave away the store unloading the reactor division of AECL for a song to construction giant SNC Lavalin. The price is $15 million and $285 million in future cheeseburgers. SNC Lavalin sees a cash cow in reactor refurbishments, but first it will have to prove that AECL learned something from the Point Lepreau fiasco which went way over budget, as in more than $400 milion, and more than year behind schedule. So far the Canadian government has refused to pay for the extra fuel replacement costs due to the very elongated revenue outage.
Siemens exited the nuclear energy industry walking away from a deal that only existed on paper with Rosatom. Siemens, a German firm, also paid off Areva for breaking up its joint venture with that firm though the two companies remain joined in struggle at a nuclear reactor construction project in Finland that is way over budget and behind schedule by several years. Siemens said that it would now focus on politically correct renewable energy projects in what will become nuclear free Germany. For their part, German citizens appear to oppose new wind towers and transmission lines with as much ferocity as they do nuclear power plants.
Areva booked a $1 billion contract for engineering and construction services at TVA's Bellefonte reactor in Alabama. The government utility wants to complete the reactor which was started in the mid-1980s but abandoned due to low electricity demand. Except for the RPV and containment structure, most of the infrastructure, pipes, pumps, and controls of the 1,200 MW unit will be brand new when done in 2020. The control room will be all digital based on a design Areva has already installed at another U.S. reactor.
The United Arab Emirates said that subject to regulatory approval it will break ground in December for the first of four new nuclear reactors to be supplied by South Korea. The country's project managers also let out that the price of the four units had climbed from $20 billion to $30 billion and that financing would include money from the UAE, export credits from South Korea, and bonds sold to institutional investors.
Unhappily for conspiracy theory nuts, dry cask spent fuel canisters at the Ft. Calhoun nuclear power station, located on the banks of the Missouri River near Omaha, Neb, did not float away in the summer floods. And the FAA's reminder about the "no fly zone" over the plant wasn't intended to ban aerial photographs. It was to prevent news helicopters getting video of the flood water surround the site from crashing into each other and having the wreckage fall on to the plant site.
An earthquake in rural Virginia shut down Dominion's North Anna reactors in August. It took the NRC three months to review the minimal damage to an maintenance building and to agree to have the utility restart them. The fact that the reactors rode out the shaking with no damage is a reminder that there is "design basis" and there is "as built." Like question about a glass half full or half empty, there is a third answer – and that is it is over engineered.