Friday, August 19, 2011

TVA approves completion of Bellefonte

The utility's board of directors will spend $4-5 billion completing the 1,260 MW reactor

bellefontecolorfieldIn a unanimous vote August 18, the board of directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority  (TVA) voted to finish construction of the Bellefonte nuclear reactor located in northeast Alabama. The vote followed a three hour meeting that heard from 50 people.

Image of Bellefonte with artist’s conception of colorized cooling towers courtesy of Popatomic Studios.

TVA CEO Tom Kilgore said completing the project is the right move for the utility's 9 million rate payers. It will provide needed electricity to the region without adding to carbon emissions.

In response to comments from about 50 people during the three hour meeting, Kilgore said the board has been fully engaged in understanding safety issues related to the events that took place in Fukushima, Japan, last March.

"As we build Bellefonte we will integrate safety modifications from an extensive review of the lessons learned from Fukushima. Making Bellefonte a productive asset, with state of the art equipment, will add to TVA's generating mix."

The construction phase of the project, which will begin after TVA completes the Watts Bar reactor in 2013, will generate about 2,800 jobs and 650 permanent positions. It is expected to enter revenue service by 2020.

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

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Saudi Arabia boosts its nuclear energy ambitions

Curbing domestic oil use is a key driver

power linesThe Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) plans to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years spending an estimated $7 billion on each plant. The $112 billion investment, which includes capacity to become a regional exporter of electricity, will provide one-fifth of the nation’s electricity for industrial and residential use and, critically, for desalinization of sea water.

This past April, the Saudi government announced the development of a nuclear city to train and house the technical workforce that will be needed to achieve these ambitions. It is clear that KSA's plans for spending its sovereign wealth fund will be mostly focused on the home front.

At the same time, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States , Prince Turki al-Faisal (2005-2006), has warned that a regional nuclear arms race could start if Iran does not curb its nuclear efforts. He told the Wall Street Journal on July 20, "It is in our interest that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon, for their doing so would compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies that could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences."

According to the WSJ, the Saudi government said the former ambassador does not speak for it in an official capacity. Al-Faisal, however, is widely believed to be on a short list to be the next foreign minister of KSA. How credible his claim is about the potential for a regional arms race remains to be seen.

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

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

USEC’s centrifuge project progress at a standstill

Its investors show unusual patience while the firm plugs for a Department of Energy $2 billion loan guarantee

turtleUSEC (NYSE:USU) announced Aug 15 that it has entered into an amendment to its standstill agreement with Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corporation (Toshiba), and Babcock & Wilcox Investment Company (B&W) to extend the agreement through September 30, 2011.

The two firms want to invest a total of $200 million in the firm in return for a 30% equity stake. It's terrific bargain for the investors if the loan guarantee goes through.

To get it they will have to deal with the turtle like progress of the government in conducting its due diligence on the project. Some of the delay may be contrived as the Department of Energy hopes over time USEC can get its finances into better shape. It had better not wait too long.

The amended agreement provides only a limited additional period of time, about 45 days, for USEC to complete and enter into a conditional commitment with the U.S. Department of Energy for a $2 billion loan guarantee to support the construction of the American Centrifuge Plant (ACP) and achieve the closing of the second phase of Toshiba and B&W's investment in USEC.

So far the firms have put up $75 million, but another $125 million hangs in the balance.

In May 2010, Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox signed an agreement to invest $200 million between them in USEC, in part aimed at strengthening USEC’s financial position for the deployment of the centrifuge plant.

Additional details of the new deadline for investor action are provided in a Form 8-K that USEC has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

It is the second time in three months investors in the $3.5 billion plant have extended the deadline to give the federal government more time to grant the loan guarantee.

No minced words about the future

Uranium enrichmentIn a telephone conference call with investors last week, USEC CEO John Welch, who has never been one to mince words, said a decision is needed soon from DOE or the firm will stop work on the project. USEC "demobilized" the project once before in August 2009 when DOE said that neither USEC's technology nor finances qualified it for the loan guarantee.

After accepting $45 million from DOE for more R&D on the centrifuge technology, USEC then restarted work and inked the current deal with the two investors.

Welch told the investors on the call that DOE is still not ready to grant the loan guarantee. The reasons he said are the the firm's finances still don't meet the government's requirements and there are continuing doubts the firm can build and operate the plant.

"If we're not seeing a steady progress towards moving forward with the project, we're not afraid to do what we have to do," Welch said.

Cash flow is a problem and USEC has made no bones about its plans to once again shut down work on ACP if the loan guarantee is not forthcoming. Other investors, who would not be covered by the loan guarantee, are understandably cautious about putting up the additional $600 million to $1 billion that may be needed to build the plant.

Role reversal for politicians

Ohio's two senators made appropriate bipartisan statements of support given the 4,000 jobs that would be created by construction of the plant. In an ironic twist, the state's republican senator touted jobs and the democrat talked about fiscal conservatism.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman played the national security card and linked it to the creation of new jobs.

In effect, Portman said as long as the bean counters at the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) hold sway over the due diligence process for the loan guarantee, it is unlikely to happen.

Portman's view, translated from press release language, is that the federal government needs to get out of its accountant's mentality and see uranium enrichment for what it really is, and that's a step in the direction of energy security.

However, Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown hedged his bets saying, "Before approving the loan, the administration is committed to a through review in order to protect taxpayer investments."

USEC’s touts benefits of ACP

USEC also operates an expensive and antiquated uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, KY. It gobbles up electricity from coal fired plants run by TVA like a whale eating krill. USEC has pointed out that taking the Paducah plant out of service, and building the ACF, will result in a 95% reduction in electricity use. The firm has promoted this reduction in the firm's carbon footprint as one of the benefits of awarding the loan guarantee.

According to World Nuclear News for August 15 . . .

“The basic technology for the American Centrifuge is a tall carbon fibre centrifuge unit based on designs developed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and demonstrated by the DOE in the 1980s. Main buildings for the plant have been constructed at USEC's site in Piketon, Ohio. It should eventually house around 11,500 centrifuges, which together would have a capacity of 3.8 million separative work units per year. A lead cascade began operation at Piketon in September 2007.”

USEC Inc., a global energy company, is a leading supplier of enriched uranium fuel and nuclear industry related services for commercial nuclear power plants. USEC, which supplies enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power plants, applied for the loan guarantee in 2008. When complete, the American Centrifuge Plant will provide low-enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power reactors.

In June 2010 Urenco began operating its 3 million SWU/year enrichment plant in Eunice, NM. Later this year Areva expects to get a license from the NRC to build a similar plant in Idaho. Scheduled to break ground in Spring 2012, the plant is expected to start production in 2014. Both Urenco and Areva has filed license modifications to double their production capacity in 2018.

Further out, General Electric continues to maintain it plans to build a laser enrichment technology based plant. However, the firm, which completed a test loop for the technology, has not yet formally said when or if it will build a production facility.

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Nuclear news updates for 08/15/11

Highlights from wire services

Japan Confirms Plans For New Nuclear Regulator 

type keys15 Aug (NucNet): The Japanese government has announced plans to create a new nuclear safety agency under the Environment Ministry.

This will separate the country’s national regulator – the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, or NISA – from the influence of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

The plans call for the new agency to be established in April 2012 by integrating NISA and the Cabinet Office’s Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC).

The decision to separate NISA from METI was first proposed in a 750-page report into the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident published in June 2011, three months after the accident.

The report said it was unclear at the time of the accident exactly who had ultimate authority for nuclear safety. NISA is the regulator, but it is a division of METI. That means NISA – which supervises the safety of nuclear energy – is overseen by the ministry that promotes nuclear energy.

To make the new agency independent from METI, the government said it would be established under the Environment Ministry, which does not have close ties to nuclear energy companies.

Japan To Continue With Plans For Two Units In Vietnam

12 Aug (NucNet): Japan will continue with plans to support Vietnam by building two nuclear reactor units in the country.

The decision was confirmed after a meeting of Japan’s state secretary for foreign affairs, Chiaki Takahashi, and Vietnamese deputy prime minister Hoang Trung Hai in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi on Aug 11.

The governments of the two countries reached an agreement in October 2010 for Japan to build two reactor units with the first beginning commercial operation by 2021.

Vietnam’s initial nuclear plans are for four nuclear units in the southeastern province of Ninh Thuan.

An agreement has already been signed with Russia to build the first two units, with Japan scheduled to build the second two.

The agreement with Russia provides for the construction on a turnkey basis of two nuclear units, each of 1,000 megawatts.

According to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF), Vietnam plans to build 14 units by 2030 to meet the country's growing demand for electricity.

Japan’s prime minister Naoto Kan has called for Japan to reduce its dependence on nuclear power generation.

But Japan's government has decided to honor contracts for nuclear plants that have already been signed or are under negotiation, JAIF said.

China Completes Post-Fukushima Safety Tests

11 Aug (NucNet): China has completed safety inspections of its nuclear power plants, raising the possibility that work could resume on an ambitious reactor building program that was suspended in the wake of the March 2011 accident at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan.

According to a notice published on the website of the China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA) today, safety inspectors completed a tour of the country's existing reactors and nuclear construction sites on 5 August 2011.

The CNEA said inspections had been carried out by a team of 50 experts and in line with International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards.

Particular attention had been paid to “serious accident prevention and mitigation” including the possibility of flooding and seismic activity.

China suspended all new reactor approvals and ordered a halt to the construction of nuclear facilities on 16 March 2011, five days after the Fukushima-Daiichi accident.

China has 14 nuclear units in commercial operation and 27 under construction.

On 7 August 2011, the second unit at phase two of the Lingao nuclear power plant in southern China began commercial operation.

The Lingao site is about one kilometre northeast of the Guangdong nuclear site, also known as Daya Bay, with which it shares a number of facilities.

China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company said the total combined gross capacity of the two plants is now 6,108 MW (5,764 MW net), jointly making Lingao-Guangdong the largest nuclear plant site in China.

Germany’s Nuclear Pullout ‘Could Cost Every Household in Europe’

8 Aug (NucNet): Germany’s decision to close its nuclear power plants by
2022 will set back efforts to decarbonise the electricity supply by 10 crucial years and could prove expensive for every household in Europe, an article in ‘New Scientist’ magazine says.

The article, by David Strahan, says the German government has “admirable” plans to raise renewable electricity to 35 per cent of consumption by 2020. But even this planned increase falls five per cent short of filling the hole in zero-carbon electricity left by abandoning nuclear.

Germany plans to fill that hole with coal and other fossil fuels. It has plans to build 20 gigawatts of fossil-fuel power stations by 2020, including nine gigawatts of coal by 2013, the article says.

“So it looks as though by the end of the decade Germany will at best have about the same amount of zero-carbon generation as today – 40 percent – and probably less.

“Had Germany retained its nuclear capacity and achieved its renewables target, the zero-carbon share would have been 58 per cent. We are told this decade is crucial for our emissions reduction trajectory. For Germany it will be a lost decade during which emissions from its electricity generation are likely to rise.”

The article says that Trevor Sikorski, head of environmental market research at London investment bank Barclays Capital, calculates that Germany will emit an extra 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020. That is more than the annual emissions of Italy and Spain combined under the EU's emissions trading scheme.

UK Announces Closure Of Sellafield MOX Fuel Facility

3 Aug (NucNet): The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) announced today it plans to close its mixed oxide (MOX) fuel plant at Sellafield “at the earliest practical opportunity” after assessing its “risk profile” in the light of the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan.

The NDA said in a statement that working with Japanese customers, it has been reviewing the future of the plant in the light of the impact on the Japanese nuclear industry of the earthquake in March and the likely effect on the plant’s program and associated commercial arrangements. 

The NDA said the Sellafield plant will continue to store Japanese plutonium and hold discussions with Japanese customers on a responsible approach to support Japanese utilities’ policy for the reuse of their spent fuel.

The trade union representing workers at the plant said the closure decision is thought to have been influenced by the lack of funding available from Japanese contracts following the shutdown of Fukushima-Daiichi in March 2011.

Japan has four commercial nuclear reactors using MOX fuel and has been planning to build its own MOX fuel fabrication plant.

The Sellafield MOX fuel plant takes plutonium which has been reprocessed from spent nuclear fuel at Sellafield's Thorp plant and recycles it into MOX fuel, which can be reused to fuel nuclear reactors.

The NDA's decision relates to the Sellafield facility only. Separately, the government has been consulting on the policy options for dealing with the UK's plutonium stockpile, including possible re-use as MOX fuel.

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