Saturday, January 8, 2011

Areva U.S. CEO updates nuclear bloggers 01/07/11

Jacques Besnainou says the Calvert Cliffs III reactor project is alive and well

Jacques Besnainou2Areva U.S. CEO Jacques Besnainou (left) told a conference call of nuclear bloggers on Friday Jan 7 that the Calvert Cliffs III reactor project is still moving forward. He said that Unistar and EDF, which now own the project, are proceeding with the application for a combined construction and operating license from the NRC.

Also, he said that Areva is continuing its effort to attain design certification for the 1,600 MW US EPR reactor. According to a published NRC calendar, that milestone will be achieved in mid-2012. It is the design reference for the Calvert Cliffs license application.

After Constellation (NYSE:CEG) walked away from the Calvert Cliffs III reactor project in Maryland in 2010, many thought a new Areva 1,600 MW EPR reactor might never be built there. The reason the utility quit is that it could not get commercially viable terms from the federal government for a loan guarantee for 80% of the cost of the $8 billion project. Constellation’s CEO pointedly blamed the feds for an “unworkable” set of terms.

A challenge for the project is to find another U.S. partner since Electricite de France (EDF) is a French state-owned corporation. U.S. law prohibits foreign entities from having a majority stake in a nuclear energy project.

The immediate impact of Constellation’s departure is that plans to break ground in 2012 may have been set back. It is unclear whether EDF and Unistar can recover the lost time.

Besnainou said he is “optimistic these efforts will bear fruit.”

“It will take longer to get the project to a point where it can break ground. We must find another American partner.”

U.S. capital construction projects

Uranium-hexafluoride There is much better news about Areva’s plans to build a three million SWU uranium enrichment plant in Idaho. Besnainou said the firm is hoping to break ground this summer for the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility on a 4,500 acre site 18 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID.

The NRC license is expected in this time frame. A parallel effort is to complete and sign off on the $2 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy and then line up the financing to pay for construction of the plant.

Elsewhere, Areva said it is “adapting to the market” in its stretch out of the construction schedule for the nuclear component manufacturing factory at Newport News, VA. The plant broke ground in 2009 and now expects to start operations in 2013. Once that happens, it will make pumps and parts for Areva’s EPR at Calvert Cliffs and also for other nuclear reactor new builds. The slowdown in the U.S. nuclear renaissance is the reason for the stretched out schedule to complete the factory.

Waiting for the Blue Ribbon Commission

waiting-for-godotLike the rest of the nuclear industry, Areva is waiting for the draft report of the Department of Energy’s Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) which is due by mid-2011. Besnainou said Areva executives have testified before the BRC that the U.S. must reinstitute spent fuel recycling.

Areva has said previously that if U.S. policy permits it, the firm will make plans to build a $15 billion, 800 tonne/year factory in this country. One development that may support such a project is a legislative proposal to pull the nuclear waste fund out of the Department of Energy.

First proposed by now retired Ohio Senator George Voinovitch, the FEDCORP would be a quasi-government corporation that would be funded by ratepayers and decoupled from the appropriation cycle. Legislation would be needed to set up the organization, establish its charter, and move the waste fund over to it. In some ways, it would function the same way as the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). While TVA generates power, FEDCORP would finance, build, and operate nuclear waste storage and reprocessing facilities.

Asked about the prospects for these developments, Besnainou punted saying, “it is too early to predict what Congress will do.”

Clean Energy Parks advances

areva-m5000One of Areva’s U.S. marketing thrusts is to establish clean energy parks around new reactor sites. In the U.S. there are proposals, still in the paper stage, for these types of multi-energy source solutions at Piketon, OH, and in Fresno, CA.

Actual construction could be a decade or more in the future, but the firm seems to have the tenacity to pursue these efforts. Each park would be anchored by a nuclear reactor and support clean energy technologies such as wind, solar, and biomass.

A similar effort is being developed in the eastern Canadian province of New Brunswick. There Areva is talking with utilities and the provincial government about a scaled-down reactor design, possibly having a 1,000 MW profile. This might be the first place Areva proposes to build its mid-sized generation III ATMEA reactor.

Besnainou said the reason for thinking about the smaller reactor is that it is much easier for the grid in the province to take the output from the ATMEA than from the much larger EPR. According to Areva, the ATMEA is the answer to market demands for a mid-sized PWR .

Areva is in discussions about the financial feasibility of building a new reactor at Point Lepreau. However, Beasnainou said Areva is not interested in owning and operating the reactor.

“We do not want to be in the business of our customers,” he said.

Final Safety Evaluation Report for MOX plant

nuclearfuelIn a separate development, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a Final Safety Evaluation Report (FSER) for review of the license application for the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) under construction at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, SC.

Areva said in a statement the release of the NRC report proves that the technology currently in use at AREVA’s MELOX and La Hague facilities in France has been successfully adapted to meet rigorous NRC safety requirements.

“With the issuance of this report, the NRC is formally acknowledging that AREVA’s proven technology which has been in use for nearly 30 years meets U.S. regulatory requirements. This is a significant licensing milestone for the project,” said David Jones, Senior Vice President, Back-end Business Group, at AREVA Inc.

The MOX facility will be a major component in the United States’ program to dispose of surplus weapon-grade plutonium. The facility will take surplus weapon-grade plutonium, remove impurities, and then mix it with uranium oxide to form MOX fuel pellets for reactor fuel assemblies to be used in U.S. nuclear power plants.

The facility is expected to begin operations in 2016 and is being built by Shaw AREVA MOX Services, LLC, which is comprised of AREVA and Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Shaw Group.

& & &

Areva reads blogs

Areva’s interest in social media is way ahead of the rest of the industry. Besnainou said he reads some of the nuclear blogs to find out what they are thinking. It is a nice compliment. Thanks Jacques.

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Saturday morning cartoon

It is more interesting than Winky Dink

Areva, the French state-owned nuclear energy giant, has a new video out about the transition of energy from burning wood to harnessing the power of the atom. It is very cool stuff.

The video is part of a new online advertising campaign for Areva. You won't see it on TV.

It features a one minute ride through time with music by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Here is it

Quiz for readers – why was the Winky Dink TV cartoon program, aired in the 1950s, program decades ahead of its time in terms of interactive experiences?

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Idaho inks new spent fuel agreement

It allows a national laboratory to test small amounts of commercial spent nuclear fuel

Ray of sunshine in IdahoIn what looks like a ray of sunshine in the historically tense relationship between the Idaho National Laboratory and the State of Idaho, a new agreement expands the lab's ability to conduct tests on commercial spent nuclear fuel in small quantities.

The objectives of the tests on about 900 pounds a year of commercial irradiated fuel will be to assess its reliability and to discover any previously unobserved characteristics of the fuel while it was in a commercial nuclear reactor.

According to the new agreement, the tests will support improvements to fuel reliability and develop a better understanding of how nuclear materials age. What’s significant about it is the strong support the lab is getting from Idaho’s governor.

spent fuel“The INL has unique testing capabilities that are critical if we as a nation are serious about increasing the operating lives and improving the performance of existing reactors,” Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said.

“My goal is to help build Idaho’s and INL’s research reputations, and this agreement better positions the lab to meet the growing technology development and demonstration needs of the nuclear industry.”

New role testing commercial spent fuel

Under the MOA, INL’s relationship with the commercial nuclear industry is clarified to allow the lab to:

* Identify and receive research quantities of irradiated commercial fuels worthy of post- irradiation examination at the Lab.

* Create a library limited to 10 kg total heavy metal that would allow for efficient re-examination of materials and measure improvements to fuel characteristics.

This agreement will enable the lab to accept small amounts of used commercial fuel from industry and other federal agencies and perform examinations that have historically been done outside the US.

ANS logo race carThe new testing activity on the back end of the fuel cycle could establish the basis for new R&D activities related to nuclear fuel fabrication on the front end of the cycle. It could lead to new missions and new facilities for the lab. Lessons learned from fuel performance are valuable to utilities and to fuel fabrication vendors.

To illustrate by analogy, at the end of a professional car race the mechanics pull the vehicle apart to see how well the engine performed during the run.

Lessons learned from that process result in faster cars that need fewer repairs during a race. Examples of items examined include wear-and-tear on parts, expected v. actual power, and so on.

Idaho anti-nuclear group’s reaction

The anti-nuclear Snake River Alliance (SRA) was not happy about the new arrangement. Liz Woodruff, a spokesperson for the SRA said it "erodes the integrity of the Batt Agreement."

"It opens the door to a potential slippery slope to ship more spent commercial fuel to Idaho."

SRA logo_thumb[2]Woodruff also stated her group wants to know more about the scope of the R&D work to be performed by the lab.

Woodruff clarified that while her group "does not have trust issues with the Department of Energy, "we are concerned about the lack of public input in the process that resulted in this decision."

Amy Lientz, VP for Communications at the Idaho Lab, said in a statement to a Boise newspaper that the agreement does not increase the amount of used fuel allowed in state.

Lientz writes that the SRA's claims are "misleading," and adds that the the Batt Agreement already authorizes the lab to import small quantities of spent fuel for research purposes.

"In today's agreement, commercial entities can now send used fuel in research quantities to Idaho as long as the amount coming into the state does not change what is specified in the Settlement agreement."

R&D work scope

INL logo blue largeIt is probably too early for the lab to name the commercial entities that will be sponsoring R&D at the site with its spent commercial fuel. As a practical matter, the fuel likely be five-to-ten years old having cooled off in wet storage after leaving the reactor .

One potential line of work will be failure analysis of the fuel. This type of assessment supports safety measures for current and future commercial nuclear reactors. The Idaho lab has a long history of work in the area of "post irradiation examination."

Once the test procedures on the fuel are complete, the fuel could be “archived” in a “fuel library” for potential future research reference.

How much fuel is involved? Not much as it turns out.

Actually very little fuel by volume or weight is coming to the lab. Under the new agreement, no more than 400 kilograms (880 lbs) heavy metal content of commercial spent nuclear fuel can be received into the state in any calendar year. That equates to roughly 880 pounds of fissile material like uranium or plutonium, which are very dense metals.

A nuclear fuel assembly, including the metal parts holding the fuel, weighs between 300 Kg (BWR) and 600 Kg (PWR) or about 700-to-1,400 lbs. A 400 Kg bundle, as specified in the new Idaho agreement, would be roughly equal to one spent fuel assembly from a boiling water reactor (BWR).

illust_bwr_2

If the current arrangement lasted for the next 25 years, the equivalent of only 25 more spent fuel bundles could be brought to Idaho for testing. By comparison, A BWR reactor, depending on size, can hold 300-to-900 fuel assemblies. So, 25 fuel assemblies represents a very small percentage of the fuel in a commercial reactor. An argument that the new Idaho agreement opens the door to a new and large inventory of spent fuel storage at the lab is not supported by the numbers.

Also, under the agreement, any commercial spent fuel that is allowed into the INL will be counted as part of the total amount of fuel allowed under the original Idaho Settlement Agreement. So this agreement will not result in a net increase in the total amount of spent fuel that is allowed to be stored in Idaho.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Russians are coming to India and so are the French

The U.S. is being left behind in the race for market share

ElephantTo see where India's drive is headed to build 20 GWe of new nuclear powered electric generation capacity in the next 10 years, look at its aluminum and steel industries.

As India relaxes its government rules that limit private sector participation in new reactors, two huge heavy industrial firms are preparing bids to invest in new reactors dedicated to supplying power to their plants.

State-run National Aluminum Co. Ltd (NALCO) is making plans to acquire a nuclear power station in Gujarat. The Steel Authority of India Ltd. (SAIL) is also planning to acquire a dedicated reactor at the Gujarat site. Both companies will take minority stakes, up to 49 percent, in the reactors.

India now has the second most ambitious program on the planet to build new nuclear reactors, worth an estimated $150 billion. (Map of India's nuclear infrastructure.) With plans to build 20 GWe in the next 10 years. Total investments in nuclear energy by India could boost its contribution to as much as 8 percent of electricity by 2020.

A key factor in acquiring new reactors is India's reliance on Russian technology and, to a smaller degree, on similar offerings from France. U.S. firms simply aren't in the running due to a harsh supplier liability law that was enacted by India's parliament in 2010.

India, which once touted its "nonaligned status" in world politics, is now aligning itself with Russia on the east and France on the west to acquire nuclear reactor technologies.

Read the full story exclusively at ANS Nuclear Cafe now online.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Canadian Uranium for December 2010

Rising stock prices fuel lucrative private placements

uranium oreThis is my extended coverage from Fuel Cycle Week, 12/16/10, V9:N405 published by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC.

The relentless rise of the spot price of uranium over the past six months from $40-to-$60/share has had a positive effect on uranium stock prices. Of eleven firms in FCW's selected stock table, five have closing stock prices on Dec 7 within 90% of their 52-week high.

Put another way, if you invested in 100,000 shares for each of these firms last June, for a stake worth $3.2 million, six months later your investment would be worth $5.87 million for a capital gain of $2.65 million.

Rising stock prices lead to investor interest

Canadian uranium firms are taking full advantage of the rising stock prices to raise capital for exploration and development of their Canadian properties. Here's a brief rundown in date order.

Nov 25 – Athabasca Uranium (CVE:UAX) raised $2.2 million at $0.23/share to fund exploration programs at its McCarthy Lake, Webb River, and McGregor Lake uranium properties in northern Saskatchewan. However, on Dec 7, due to investor interest, the firm increased the size of the offering to $3.1 million. Of that amount, $1.2 million was acquired by MineralsFields Group, an investment firm that manages tax shelters for high net worth individuals. On Dec 13 the stock opened at $0.25/share or $0.02/share higher than the offering.

Nov 26 – UEX Corporation (TSE:UEX) raised $9.1 million at $1.65 share underwritten through Dundee Securities and Middlefield Capital. Funds will be used for the firm's exploration of property in the Hidden Bay project. On Dec 13 the stock opened at $2.29 for a gain of $0.64/share over the offering.

Hidden Bay is host to three uranium deposits which have recently estimated N.I. 43-101 compliant resources: Horseshoe, Raven and West Bear. At a cut-off grade of 0.02% U3O8, global N.I. 43-101 compliant Indicated resources on the Hidden Bay property now stand at 41.62 million pounds U3O8.

Dec 2 – Titan Uranium (CVE:TUE) in a nonbrokered private placement raised $6.9 million, at $0.30/share, for licensing and permitting of its Sheep Mountain property in Wyoming. On Dec 13 the stock opened at $0.38/share for a gain of $0.08/share.

The Sheep Mountain mine hosts a NI 43-101 compliant Probable Reserve of 14.2 million pounds U3O8 (6.4 million tons at an average grade of 0.111% eU3O8). The mine is a past-producer of uranium and the preliminary feasibility study will provide the necessary documentation required to amend the present mine permit. The company plans to develop the project with both conventional underground and open pit mining, followed by heap leach extraction of the uranium with a solvent extraction recovery plant producing up to 1.5M pounds of U3O8 per year.

Dec 3 – Fission Energy (CVE:FIS) raised $13 million via a syndication of underwriters led by Dundee Securites at $0.80/share. The firm has entered into a 50/50 three-year, $30 million, exploration program with South Korea's KEPCO at the Waterbury Lake property in Saskatchewan. It is adjacent to the Areva/Denison Midwest uranium deposit.

Dec 7 – Uravan Minerals (CVE:UVN) completed a private placement worth $2.26 million at $0.30/share. Of that amount, $1.75 million was subscribed by the MineralFields Group. The funds will be use for exploration of Uravan's properties in the Athabasca Basin. General surveys were completed in 2010 along with chemical sampling. A drill program is scheduled for 2011. On Dec 13 the stock opened at $0.33/share for a gain of $0.03/share.

Dec 7 - Kivalliq Energy (CVE:KIV) raised $5.0 million, at $0.70/share, in a private placement. The proceeds will be used to explore and develop the firm's Lac Cinquante uranium property in Nunavut, Canada. On Dec 13, the stock opened at $0.76/share for a gain of $0.06/share.

So far the firm has invested $9 million in exploration and drilling at the Angilak site which it acquired in 2008. Drilling results reported Dec 13 at two holes show 0.83% U308 at 34 meters and 0.6% U3O8 at 72 meters.

Dec 9 – Denison Mines (AMEX:DNN) closed a private placement of $65.45 million through a syndication of dealers led by GMP Securities and Scottia Capital. The funds will be used exclusively for work on the firm's Canadian properties in order for investors to accrue certain Canadian tax advantages. The firm's Wheeler River property has NI 43-101 results, released Nov 9, showing 18% U3O8 for Indicated resources of 35.7 million pounds U3O8.

Uranium One closes Russian deal

Uranium One (TSE:UUU) announced it has closed its sale of two mines in Kazakhstan and properties in Wyoming in the U.S. to JSC Atomredmetzoloto (ARMZ) for $610 million. The primary interest ARMZ has in Uranium One is in two mines in Kazakhstan which are the Akbastau and Zarechnoye mines.

At market open Dec 13 the stock traded at $4.82/share making the ARMZ stake worth $857 million or a gain of $247 million over the closing price inked on Jun 8 of this year.

The deal also includes Uranium One's NRC licensed Irigaray-Christensen ranch ISR mine in eastern Wyoming. A brief political tempest in a teapot took place in October when four House Republicans protested the sale on the grounds uranium from the Wyoming property might be sold by Russia to Iran. The NRC said in a statement these concerns were unfounded as the U.S. subsidiaries of Uranium One lack export licenses to sell their product overseas.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

China’s spent fuel reprocessing plan

A state-run nuclear group may also be pursuing fast reactors

AlchemyThe Associated Press and other wire services reported Jan 3 that China has begun to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. The technology, tested at the China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) plant in the Gobi desert in remote Gansu province, enables the re-use of materials from irradiated fuel.

If deployed on an industrial scale, would be able to boost the supply of uranium for the nation’s nuclear reactors.

China has been stockpiling uranium for its hugely ambitious nuclear build of as much as 40-80 GWe in the next decade.

There are few confirmed details about China’s reprocessing technology so far. China has made a point of saying the process is a secret. It is unclear if China has made improvements to the reprocessing processes that are used in France and are being developed for use in Japan.

According to the AP report;

"Wang Junfeng, project director for the state-run China National Nuclear Corporation, told CCTV the Chinese scientists had employed a chemical process that was effective and safe. CCTV said the country now had enough fuel to last up to 70 years and the new technology could yield enough to last for 3,000 years."

Not a breakthrough?

This development is most likely not a breakthrough, but the execution of an 800-to-1000 tonne/year plant that is part of the deal inked in 2007 with Areva. That deal also includes two 1600 MW EPR reactors, uranium enrichment technology, and 20% of Areva’s uranium output from Canadian mines.

I reported in November 2007 in Fuel Cycle Week . . .

“France and China will become long-term partners in spent nuclear fuel reprocessing. Areva signed a separate agreement with China National Nuclear Corporation to begin a feasibility study to build a spent fuel reprocessing plant. The plant could be worth EU$15 billion / US$22.3 billion at today's exchange rates according to a report from the Bloomberg wire service.”

World Nuclear News has an update, published on 12/10/10, which confirms my FCW report from 2007. WNN reported “The China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE) says the country will develop an industrial reprocessing plant of about 1000 t/yr in operation” by 2021.

Background on pilot reprocessing plant

NTI reported in 2009 a pilot (50 tonnes/yearr) reprocessing plant using the Purex process was opened in 2006 at Lanzhou Nuclear Fuel Complex. (located 25 km northeast of Lanzhou, Gansu Province 103.41E/36.03N). It is reported to be capable of expansion to 100 tonne/year.

NTI also reported the Lanzhou Nuclear Fuel Complex, may eventually be combined with an industrial-scale reprocessing plant, and will be used to store spent fuel after its completion. According to CNNC official Sun Donghui, separated plutonium would initially serve in MOX fuel for an experimental 25 MWe fast breeder reactor (FBR) and also used in conventional PWRs.

China’s big bet on fast reactors

The Chinese statement about the enormous extension of uranium supplies strongly suggests fast reactors have to be in the picture.

A nuclear expert on fast reactors told this blog today "the French "MOX-in-LWR " does NOT close the fuel cycle."

He added, “The best it can do is to increase the uranium utilization by about 20%-40% still leaving unused about 99% of the energy in the mined uranium.”

The only way to further close the uranium cycle is by means of fast reactors most likely using metal-cooled systems such as liquid sodium. China has also begun commercial development of a "pebble bed" type high-temperature gas-cooled reactor. However, it isn't clear that it is part of this program.

An 800-1000 tonne/year plant is thought by some experts to be about as large a plant as can be efficiently managed with current technology.

France, the U.K. and Russia, operate reprocessing facilities to manage spent fuel and as a source of material for future nuclear fuel supply. Japan is building a reprocessing plant, but has had several setbacks getting it to work.

The U.S. stopped reprocessing fuel many years ago and also deep sixed its fast reactor program including the Integral Fast Reactor. An ill-fated effort to revive these technologies during the Bush administration went nowhere with Congress.

Update FYI: See commentary on China's announcement by Rod Adams at ANS Nuclear Cafe

Prior coverage on this blog

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