Friday, February 18, 2011

Two new entries to market for small modular reactors

Westinghouse and Holtec offer “passively safe” light water reactor designs

small reactorsTwo new small modular reactor designs were announced this week, both using scaled down light water reactor (LWR) designs. The use of conventional reactor technologies well understood by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may speed up approval for commercial use.


Westinghouse unveiled a 200 MW PWR derived from its much larger 1,100 MW AP 1000. The reactor has all of its primary components inside the reactor vessel. Westinghouse describes the reactor as “passively safe,” but unlike some other SMR LWR designs, Westinghouse uses pumps to move coolant.

The reactor is intended to be built in a factory and shipped by rail to a customer site. According to a company press statement, Kate Jackson, Westinghouse VP for R&D in Pittsburgh, PA, said that the design is being developed in response to customer demand for a smaller and less expensive reactor.

Utilities have been cautious about betting the company on a $ 6 billion reactor like the AP1000. If the SMR can be offered at $3,000 Kw, a 200 MW unit would cost just 10% of the price of a large one or $600 million. Under a pay-as-you-go business plan, units could be added in modular fashion as revenue from the first reactor pays the way for the next one and so on.

Holtec Int’l

supplychain The New Jersey firm is a late entry into the U.S. race for market share among small modular reactors. The firm unveiled limited information about the HI-SMUR-140 which presumably refers to a 140 MW LWR design. A company spokesperson declined to provide more information, or any images, beyond a press release.

What is known is that the reactor is designed to be “passively safe.” It is to be operated by gravity flow in an underground silo with no reactor coolant pumps. The press statement claims that there would be no need for emergency or off-site shut down power.

Holtec also said that like other SMRs, this one would be “shop manufactured and capable of having the components delivered by conventional surface transportation modes. Holtec also said it would develop its own supply chain of components to build the new reactor.

Holtec is privately held and does not report earnings or sales. A company spokesperson declined to provide information on investors. The press statement said the firm is funding development of the reactor from internal cash flow.

Big nuclear utilities skeptical of SMRs

skeptical Platts reports that large nuclear utilities like Progress are not convinced of the economic viability of SMRs. Bill Johnson, CEO of Progress Energy (NYSE:PGN), which just merged with Duke Energy, told a Platts conference in Washington, DC, this week he thinks the market for SMR’s won’t mature for another two decades.

Johnson said that regulator inflexibility by the NRC could impose unacceptable costs on SMRs in areas of security, staffing, and safety. He said these costs issues are, “going to make it difficult.”

Johnson added that Progress will be more likely to replace its aging coal-fired plants with ones that burn natural gas rather than build new nuclear reactors.

The firm told Bloomberg wire service it will push back plans to build new reactors in North Carolina and Florida by at least a decade due to costs, regulatory uncertainty, and lower demand for electricity. He cited the cost of a new twin AP1000 power station in North Carolina at $13 billion.

Energy Dept 2012 budget calls for $500 million for SMRs

The New York Times reports in an in-depth article that the Department of Energy (DOE) 2012 budget includes $100 million/year for five years to help develop small modular reactors.

DOE is also asking for funds to pay for half the licensing costs of SMRs when the designs are submitted for review to the NRC.

The Energy Department is also interested in the use of SMRs at military bases.

DOE’s budget request for 2012 may be dead on arrival since Congress has still not passed the FY 2011 appropriation. House Republicans are threatening to make deep cuts in the 2011 omnibus appropriation bill in an effort to set a precedent for 2012 funding decisions.

Commerce calls for tax credits

balance the budgetThe Commerce Dept. issued a statement this week calling for tax credits for development of SMRs. Dow Jones News said that a Commerce Dept report called for civil nuclear reactor projects in tax-credit programs and set aside "a portion of future nuclear loan guarantee funds to support the rebuilding of U.S. nuclear capacity."

The government also can foster trade agreements to help U.S. firms export the technology to 123 international markets, the report said.

"This is the future of nuclear energy, and I personally am excited at the potential it holds for our country not only in terms of energy security and reduced carbon emissions but also in terms of U.S. jobs and economic growth," Nicole Y. Lamb-Hale, the Commerce Department's assistant secretary for manufacturing and services, said.

Several challenges to eventual deployment of SMRs include intense foreign competition from state-owned enterprises, the lack of a global nuclear liability regime, and the erosion of U.S. nuclear manufacturing capacity.

SMRs at military bases

c-17 globemasterA paper on SMRs published by the National Defense University explores the application of small reactors at military bases.

Richard B. Andres and Hanna L. Breetz write that without Department of Defense (DOD) intervention, the United States runs the risk of a small reactor market dominated by foreign countries, further eroding U.S. commercial nuclear power capabilities and damaging U.S. control over nuclear energy proliferation.

DOD has recently expressed interest in the possibility of integrating small nuclear reactors on military bases as part of its strategy to “island” bases from the fragile civilian power grid.

Small nuclear reactor technology offers a host of benefits over traditional large reactors—namely, a smaller footprint, scalable design, factory-based construction, portability, and passive safety features.

DOD has a chance to become a “first mover” in the emerging small reactor market; by providing assistance and guidance to the private sector, DOD can ensure that successful designs meet its operational needs.

Richard B. Andres is a Senior Fellow at the National Defense University. Hanna L. Breetz is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

New York could lose Indian Point spent fuel case

A ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of appeals may weigh in the balance

denied_stampNew York may lose it lawsuit against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NY state attorney general sued the NRC claiming it needs to conduct an environmental impact assessment on spent fuel storage at the Indian Point reactor site.

On Feb 15 the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a very similar lawsuit brought by an anti-nuclear organization against the Diablo Canyon nuclear power station in California operated by Pacific Gas & Electric.

The so-called "watchdog group" San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace lost its court case in an attempt to overturn an NRC licensing decision that allowed dry cask storage of spent nuclear fuel at the power plant.

Arguments not persuasive

The appeals court said the group’s arguments “were not persuasive” regarding a contention on terrorist threats to the spent fuel and cited the legal precedents and environmental assessments that were the basis for the NRC’s decisions. The San Luis Obispo Mother for Peace wanted an entirely new environmental impact statement to justify current and future dry cask spent fuel storage at the reactor site.

In the legal petition, Mothers for Peace argued the NRC violated federal environmental law when it refused to prepare an environmental-impact statement for the potential impacts of an attack on the dry-cask storage facility.

The group demanded a hearing to challenge the NRC’s determination that no credible type of terrorist attack could damage to the environment by release of radioactivity.

The case began in 2002 when the NRC said it was not required to evaluate the environmental impacts of an attack on the proposed dry-cask facility before issuing a permit to PG&E to store spent fuel on the site.

Dry cask storage to continue

Diablo Canyon dry cask padPG&E owns and operates Diablo Canyon, a two-reactor nuclear power plant that sits on the coast just north of Avila Beach. The site is home to two Westinghouse PWR reactors of 1,100 MW each. The transfer of spent fuel from PG&E’s reactors at Diablo Canyon to dry-cask containers started in summer 2009.

The anti-nuclear group is not happy about the decision. They told a local newspaper:

“Only when members of the public are informed and permitted to participate in licensing decisions can they hold the NRC accountable for protection of public health and the environment,” said Jane Swanson, Mothers for Peace spokeswoman.

The State of New York has sued the NRC on the same grounds. If courts in New York look at the Ninth Circuit ruling for precedent, it could turn serious litigation into nothing more than a publicity stunt.

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Vietnam's nuclear ambitions quickly realized

Russia and Japan will build the first 4 of 16 planned reactors

transformerstationFlying under the radar of global market intelligence reports, Vietnam has quietly inked deals with Russia and Japan to build 4 GWe of nuclear power generating capacity.  A total of eight sites in five provinces are being considered for the new power stations.

The first power station, composed of twin Russian 1000 MW VVER reactors, will enter revenue service in 2020. The second, composed of two Japanese-built reactors, will follow a few years later.

There are two drivers for rapidly rising demand for electricity. The first is Vietnam is now a major global center for high tech manufacturing.  Also, Vietnam has substantial bauxite ore reserves and wants to develop an finished goods aluminum manufacturing industry.

Vietnam's rapid build-out of nuclear reactors faces some stiff challenges including the need for trained personnel and an effective, fully funded nuclear regulatory infrastructure. For now, the country is importing nuclear engineering expertise, along with technology, while sending its citizens to Japan and Russia for technical training.

Read the full story at ANS Nuclear Cafe online now.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New York finds new reasons to litigate over Indian Point

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gets two other states to join him

schneiderman_profileNew York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (right) announced Feb 15 that he is suing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) over storage of spent nuclear fuel for up to 60 years after the Indian Point reactors are taken out of service.

The lawsuit has the political objective of creating a sense of inevitability, that is a public perception, that the twin reactors will be closed rather than re-licensed by the NRC.

By raising the issue of long-term storage of spent fuel in dry casks, Schneiderman is implying that decommissioning of the twin reactors is imminent and that once the site is cleared, the dry casks will be all that remains. Contrary to the “risks” cited in the lawsuit, the NRC has said dry cask storage of spent fuel is good for at least 150 years.

State Attorney Generals in Connecticut and Vermont, who are seeking to shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, joined New York in the lawsuit. This blog predicts a similar lawsuit to be brought over spent fuel stored at the Vermont reactor. In Vermont newly elected Gov Peter Shumlin has promoted the idea Vermont Yankee will be shut down in 2012 by raising issues about disposal of low-level waste from decommissioning the plant.

New York AG aligns with anti-nuclear groups

Anyone who thinks this lawsuit is just about spent fuel needs to look at the official press release from Schneiderman’s office which includes supporting statements from two leading anti-nuclear groups which are seeking to prevent the relicensing of the reactors.

New York Gov Andrew Cuomo was elected in 2010 on a platform that advocated immediately shutting down Indian Point. He benefitted from financial and political support by wealthy members of green groups in upscale Westchester county which is where the reactor is located on the banks of the Hudson River.

The Wall Street Journal reports Feb 16 Schneiderman cited the potential impact on property values in Westchester County as part of the rationale for the lawsuit. Cuomo and Schneiderman know the way to make check books fly open for campaign donations and election support from the region is to keep bashing Indian Point.

Schneiderman has brazenly included statements in his press release from two Westchester, NY, based anti-nuclear groups.

sleeping owl “Paul Gallay, Executive Director at Hudson Riverkeeper, said, “We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for challenging a decision by the NRC that defies science, logic and common sense.”

“Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, said, “The NRC’s failure to study the impacts of allowing our communities to become radioactive waste sites for generations to come is both outrageous and dangerous.”

No confidence in “waste confidence rule”

The lawsuit challenges both a NRC rule amending federal regulations and its “Waste Confidence Decision” as violating two federal laws, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The New York Attorney General charges that the NRC violated the two federal laws when it found – that no significant safety or environmental impacts will result from storing radioactive nuclear wastes onsite at the 104 operating reactors around the country for 60 or more years after the reactors are closed.

Schneiderman further charges that the NRC violated these laws when it found “reasonable assurance” that sufficient, licensed, off-site storage capacity will be available to dispose of nuclear power plant waste “when necessary.”

Thanks to the political horse trading between the Obama White House and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Yucca Mountain isn’t a viable project. A Department of Energy Blue Ribbon Commission is slowly working it way toward long-term policy recommendations on spent fuel management. It’s draft report is due in summer 2011.

NRC and Entergy dispute lawsuit

owl stay-awakeUsually, when lawsuits like this one are filed, the defendants clam up citing a policy of not commenting on pending litigation. This time they appear sufficiently sure of their ground to make statements about it. Make no mistake, this is not your average run-of-the mill response. These folks are seriously annoyed.

According to the WSJ, NRC spokesperson Neil Sheehan said the new rule on storage “is in full accord with earlier court decisions . . .”

Dave McIntyre, another spokesman for the NRC, told the New York Times the plaintiffs have “mis-characterized” the waste confidence rule.

Entergy spokesperson Jim Steets told the WSJ “there isn’t any evidence that [on-site storage] can’t be done safely.”

The New York Times report for Feb 15 points out that if reprocessing of spent fuel in the U.S. had not “stalled",” then the spent fuel would not be stored at Indian Point.

The newspaper also notes that the official reason Connecticut joined the lawsuit is that spent fuel from the Connecticut Yankee reactor, decommissioned in 2007, has all of the fuel ever used in it sitting in dry casks at the reactor site.

The licenses for Indian Point Reactors 2 & 3 expire in 2013 and 2015 respectively. The applications for 20-year renewal were submitted in 2007. Together, the two reactors provide about 2,100 MW of electricity to the New York metro region. Gov Cumo has been silent on how the State of New York would find replacement power at competitive rates if the reactor licenses are not renewed.

Licensing hearing delayed again

spent fuelThe hearings on the license applications for Indian Point 2 & 3 have just been pushed back by a year due to contentions filed by the State of New York and the same environmental groups that celebrated Schneiderman’s lawsuit on spent fuel.

Riverkeeper and the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater contend that the NRC must conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS) on the storage of spent fuel at Indian Point. The groups argue the NRC has failed to consider the site-specific impacts of leaks of radioactive water from the wet storage facilities into the Hudson River.

The NRC, while agreeing earlier this month to give the groups more time, nearly a year, to prepare their contentions, also said that regulation of the wet and dry storage spent fuel facilities is already covered under existing rules and that a new EIS is not needed to continue.

Separately, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has denied a water quality permit for Indian Point citing the need for construction of huge and expensive cooling towers. The agency said that too many fish are being sucked into the plant’s once through cooling system. Entergy has disputed the action saying that new screens on the water intakes, which draw 2 billion gallons of water a day, will diminish fish kills.

The State of New York, and the two environmental groups, sought to deny the ability of Entergy to seek an economic assessment of the cost of best available technology under the Clean Water Act. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that states can consider costs for technology when issuing water quality permits.

Prior Coverage

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Energy Secretary Chu 2012 budget briefing

I'm just providing the link. Congress hasn't yet passed the 2011 appropriation. When or if they'll ever get to 2012 is unknown.

Video and slides