Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rolls Royce expands nuclear markets

It acquires a U.S. firm and opens for business in Russia

expanding global marketsRolls-Royce announced this week the acquisition of R Brooks Associates, a specialist civil nuclear reactor services business located in upstate New York about 20 miles east of Rochester.

Brooks is a market leader in secondary steam generator inspections in the US and a growing presence in the French and UK reactor support markets. It is a supplier of inspection and recovery solutions for the core of the nuclear steam supply system (NSSS).

Brooks opened an office in the U.K. in October 2010 to work with British Energy.
Rolls-Royce has 50-years expertise in developing technically-advanced inspection, repair and refurbishment solutions for operational reactors.  Much of its work was done for the Royal Navy nuclear submarine fleet.  Rolls-Royce said the acquisition of Brooks will further facilitate accelerate growth for firm. 

And in Moscow

In an unrelated announcement Rolls-Royce announced that it will collaborate with Russian state-owned atomic energy corporation, Rosatom, in the area of civil nuclear power.
The agreement between the two companies follows a September 1 joint announcement by UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, in which the two countries pledged to work more closely in  a number of areas, including civil nuclear power.

Rolls-Royce told World Nuclear News, "The transfer of any goods or technology, will be subject to receiving relevant export licenses and Rolls-Royce has the very strictest discipline in all matters relating to export control."

Rolls-Royce also provides safety-critical instrumentation and control systems to all 58 operating nuclear power facilities in France and to more than 50 others across Europe, the USA and international markets.

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Nuclear reactor vendors sign on to international code of conduct

Initiative promotes safety, security and nonproliferation in the commercial nuclear power industry

WASHINGTON—The world’s leading civilian nuclear power plant vendors announced September 15, 2011, a common set of principles that reflects global best practices in connection with the export of nuclear power plants, including to those countries with an emerging interest in developing civilian nuclear energy.


The unprecedented “Principles of Conduct” reflect the participating companies’ commitment to their customers and all those who stand to benefit from nuclear power to assemble and share best practices that reinforce and enhance existing codes, standards and regulations.

They articulate concisely the nuclear power plant industry’s shared high standards in the areas of safety, security, environmental protection and spent fuel management, compensation in the unlikely event of nuclear-related damage, nonproliferation and ethics.

No such voluntary, international comprehensive, export-oriented code of conduct has previously existed in the nuclear industry.

Facilitated by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) over a three year period starting in 2008, the voluntary Principles of Conduct were crafted by representatives from all the major exporters of nuclear power plants. They have been adopted by nine companies based in Canada, France, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States. 

Karly Schledwitz, a spokesperson for CEIP, said in response to a question that neither the Nuclear Energy Institute nor the American Nuclear Society were formally involved the project.  An industry observer familiar with NEI and other groups said the effort might generate little interest domestically since there are no regulatory requirements nor is there a legal enforcement mechanism associated with the Principles which take effect immediately.

Update 5:00 PM 9/15/11: The Nuclear Energy Institute issued a press statement late this afternoon praising the initiative.   NEI vice president for policy development Richard Myers, said,
Richard Myers, NEI VP for Policy

“The U.S. nuclear energy industry congratulates the Carnegie Endowment for this tremendous achievement. The principles for exports will help ensure the safe expansion of nuclear energy with uniform adherence to international standards. Carnegie deserves great credit for its vision in launching this initiative and for providing a framework within which the world’s leading nuclear suppliers could reaffirm their commitment to safety, security and nonproliferation."

The role of the initiative

CEIP said it is statement the principles have an important role.

“This initiative is unique in the history of the nuclear industry, helping to enhance confidence in the commercial nuclear power plant sector,” said Jessica T. Mathews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“While recognizing the preeminent regulatory role of governments, these companies are reaffirming their own vigilance as responsible stewards of nuclear technology.”

The Principles reiterate the companies’ independent commitments to conducting business in an ethical, transparent manner. The Principles incorporate the requirements of international treaties, reflecting and conforming entirely with the guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). While development of the Principles began years in advance of the Fukushima nuclear accident, the completed text also reflects initial lessons learned from the accident.

“Nuclear power plant technology is important to meeting global energy requirements in a sustainable manner,” said Sir Richard Giordano, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Endowment. 

“Whatever lessons particular countries draw from Fukushima over time, new nuclear plants will continue to be built," he said

Principles not legally binding

As a voluntary initiative, the Principles are not legally binding, but each company has independently undertaken to implement the Principles in the course of its business activities.

CEIP said legal counsel monitored all discussions to ensure that competitively sensitive information was neither exchanged nor discussed.  Also, the lawyers worked to avoid any appearance or violation of U.S. and European laws regarding anti-trust activities.

CEIP said the companies recognize that their own long-term interests align with the interests of their customer states in promoting the high export standards.  More information about the Nuclear Power Plant Exporters’ Principles of Conduct is available at http://www.nuclearprinciples.org.
  • PRINCIPLE 1. Safety, Health, and Radiological Protection 
  • PRINCIPLE 2. Physical Security 
  • PRINCIPLE 3. Environmental Protection and the Handling of Spent Fuel and Nuclear Waste 
  • PRINCIPLE 4. Compensation for Nuclear Damage
  • PRINCIPLE 5. Nonproliferation and Safeguards 
  • PRINCIPLE 6. Ethics
A CEIP spokesman said that the principles are "not designed to exclude anyone from building civilian nuclear power plants."  

The spokesman added that about 60 countries have indicated interest in doing so without having any capability today. 

"It takes about 15 years for a country to evolve to being an operator of nuclear power plants so there is plenty of time," the spokesman said.

The companies said that they would set up implementation and audit mechanisms by December 2011 to turn the principles into action items.

Press conference highlights

George Perkovitch, CEIP
Speaking at a press conference in Washington, DC, George Perkovitch, a nuclear expert at CEIP, said the initial response from vendors was dubious.  Six meetings were held with the last one in October 2010.  Release of the principles had been set for March 2011.  Events at Fukushima, Japan, forced CEIP to postpone release until conditions stabilized at the site.

Richard Meserve, former Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that the panel took the Fukushima events into account in developing the principles.  Four key areas were the focus.

(1) Regulatory infrastructure
(2) Site selection
(3) Accident characterization
(4) Emergency response

Meserve said that no one today would build plants based on the same designs used 40 years ago in Japan.

"Today's plant designs are much safer," he said.  He cited the use of Probabilistic Risk Assessment as a method for lowering the likelihood a nuclear power plant "would get in trouble."

Who signed on?

The following companies have adopted the Principles of Conduct:  These are the major players in the global  nuclear industry.

- AREVA
- ATMEA (an AREVA-Mitsubishi joint venture)
- Atomstroyexport
- Candu Energy (the successor exporting company to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd
- GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy
- Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy
- Korea Electric Power Company (KEPCO)
- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
- Toshiba
- Westinghouse Electric Company

Not everyone on-board

None of the nuclear combines in China or India have signed on to the CEIP vendor principles.  In response to a question, a CEIP spokesman said the reason is that none of the nuclear reactor vendors in these countries are currently exporters.

"If and when these vendors are ready to export, they will be invited to sign on to the established norms," the spokesman said.

The principles are being adopted outside of the IAEA's efforts to adopt international nuclear safety standards.  Reuters reports that these efforts are controversial with significant differences among member states. 

According to Reuters, one group of nations -- including Germany, France, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada and Denmark -- voiced disappointment about the final version of the IAEA's safety action plan for not going far enough.

It represents a "considerable step backwards" compared with the aspirations voiced by many at a ministerial safety meeting in June, the Swiss representative told the board.

Reuters reported that the United States, India, China and Pakistan were among countries resisting any moves towards mandatory outside inspections of their atomic energy facilities.

About the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program

The Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program is an international source of expertise and policy thinking on nuclear industry, nonproliferation, security, and disarmament.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Questions about Areva's committment to Eagle Rock Enrichment

A wire service report suggests the new CEO plans to freeze investment

Luc Oursel, Areva CEO
A report by the Bloomberg wire service that ran about noon Monday September 12 cites a French financial newsletter published in Paris that Areva may freeze capital investment spending including the planned Eagle Rock Enrichment Plant in Idaho.

According to Bloomberg, Areva CEO Luc Oursel will make sweeping across-the-board cuts at its headquarters including marketing, communications and finances, La Lettre de l’Expansion said, without citing anyone.

Most significantly for U.S. projects, he is reported considering freezing some investments including the construction of an uranium enrichment plant in Idaho. 

The action makes no sense in terms of its progress to date nor in terms of its competitive position.
  • The Department of Energy awarded the project a conditional commitment of a $2 billion loan guarantee in Spring 2010.
  • An NRC license for the project is expected to be issued this Fall.
  • Areva has reportedly sold contracts for more than 70% of its future capacity to customers
This blog asked Areva spokesman Jarret Adams, based on Bethesda, MD, for some answers.  Here's what he said,

"It is normal for a new management team to review the company's major planned investments around the world. However, Eagle Rock is but one of many such investments. We do not know why this article chose to focus on this project. From our perspective, the Eagle Rock project is moving forward as planned."

While Areva is a heavily top down organization in terms of its management processes, it is unlikely the U.S. enrichment team would be left in the dark on such a significant decision. This leads me to believe that Adams knows what he's talking about and that the French financial newsletter is trading in gossip.

Update 09/15/11: DowJones Newswires reported that CEO Oursel gave an interview to the French Daily Les Echos.  In it he reportedly said, "All of our investments are being reviewed to decide whether they should be maintained, dropped, or adjusted."

He added that Areva is planning asset sales to raise cash. Mining interests are said to be candidates to be placed on the auction block or the firm may seek new investors to lower the risk and provide much needed cash.  Overall, Oursel said the firm needed to improve its performance in addition to addressing capital requirements.

The wire service report was silent on the issue of the Eagle Rock Enrichment Plant.

Big stakes in the decision

According to Bloomberg, Oursel is a competent executive. His previous jobs include posts in government and at Schneider Electric SA and logistics company Geodis. He joined Areva in 2007.   He headed up its nuclear operations in 2010 before becoming chief operating officer in charge of marketing, projects and the international business in early 2011.  So it stands to reason he should know the stakes.
 
If Areva CEO Oursel thinks he is making his decisions in a vacuum, he needs to take another look at the information his organization is serving up.   Surely he must know you cannot walk away from a commitment to build a $2.4 billion uranium enrichment plant the way Taco Bell or KFC close under-performing fast food joints.

On the other hand, he's new in the chair, and could unsure of his support from government stakeholders. So he may be running the idea up the flagpole, so to speak, to see who salutes.  Oursel is part bureaucrat and part businessman, but he's not nearly as entrepreneurial as his predecessor Anne Lauvergeon.

Feedback from the U.S., including Areva's customers, will likely be arriving in Paris soon.  A key message is likely to be once that market share is lost, it is gone forever.  Freezing construction of the plant is tantamount to cancelling it.

Will the Russians step in if Areva crashes through the ice?

From a competitive point of view, if Areva does not build the plant, it loses market share to Urenco's operational enrichment plan in New Mexico. This could put U.S. supplies of enriched uranium on thin ice.

The reasons is the aggressive marketing efforts of TENEX which is the Russian commercial arm that sells enrichment services to U.S. utilities.  Russia is not a government as we understand it.  The country is in reality an energy combine with an overlay of government functions.


There are also national security implications for the U.S.  Does this country want to be dependent for up to 25% of its enriched uranium for its 104 commercial nuclear reactors from the Russians?  Remember, this is the same country that turned off the natural gas supplies to the Ukraine in the dead of winter over a political dispute.

What about Urenco?

There are wire service reports in Europe that the German power companies RWE and Eon want to sell their stakes in Urenco, which has German, Dutch and British owners. The British government is also said to be thinking about selling its shares and reportedly the Dutch don’t look like wanting to increase theirs. No one in western Europe is going to sell their shares to the Russians.

If Areva is suffering from cash flow problems, then it isn't a potential buyer either.  Urenco could wind up simply shutting down its operations in Holland, the U.K., and Germany while increasing capacity in New Mexico.

It's a complex world.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Explosion at French LLW plant leaves 1 dead, 4 injured

The French nuclear safety authority Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN) said in a statement one person has died and four have been injured, one seriously, after an explosion about noon local time on Sept 12 at the Marcoule nuclear site in southern France. One of the four injured workers is reported to have severe burns.

ASN said in a statement that there had been no radioactive or chemical releases into the environment following the blast.

ASN said according to its initial reports the explosion was in a furnace used for melting low-level and very low-level metallic radioactive waste.

The furnace was part of Centraco (the centre for treatment and conditioning low-level radioactive waste) operated by the waste processing group Socodei.

Response teams and the SDIS (Service Departmental Fire and Rescue) were able to contain the fire, which was brought under control within an hour, ASN said.

The building where the explosion occurred was not damaged. None of those injured were contaminated with radioactivity. ASN said the event does not involve any radiological issue and no protective actions was required for the population.

Additional details at ANS Nuclear Cafe online now. 

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Florida Reactor Forecast

Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Rate Hikes

This is my updated coverage from Fuel Cycle Week for 9/1/11, V10:N440 published by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC

OrangesFlorida Power & Light (NYSE:NEE)) and Progress Energy (NYSE:PGN) want to build four new reactors in the Sunshine State, but first they have to persuade customers to pay for them—upfront.

This so-called “Florida model” for the construction of new reactors has come under scrutiny. The way it works is that rate payers cover the costs of building the reactors while construction is underway saving themselves and the utility a boatload of interest that would come from issuing bonds or taking loans. That matters because two massive power projects are proposed to be built and in revenue service a decade from now.

One is at Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) existing Turkey Point plant near Miami. The second is Progress Energy’s Levy County project on the state’s rural west coast, 120 miles southeast of Tallahassee. The combined cost of the two projects, which involve four Westinghouse 1,100 MWe AP1000 reactors, could be $25 to $30 billion.

Will rate increases rattle Florida’s elderly population?

absorb costs But the new reactors will bring rate hikes. The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) held hearings on the utilities’ nuclear cost recovery requests last month. A staff recommendation is expected from the PSC soon and a final decision in October.

In August FPL asked the PSC for an increase of $2.09/month for each 1,000 MW of power; Progress asked for more than twice that amount at $4.80/month for each 1,000 MW. For comparison purposes, an energy efficient bungalow of 1,200 sq feet kept at 72°F at $0.08/kWh will clock in at about 1,700 kWh or $136/month before taxes, fees, and other surcharges.

As of June 2011 Progress has spent $795 million on the Levy project, collected $471 million from customers, and is asking for another $141 million. FPL is asking for another $335 million, but this number includes $196 million for work on upgrades to the two existing reactors at Turkey Point. The firm said in its testimony it has spent $319 million on the new reactors so far.

Opponents: Utilities to pay licensing upfront

HitBrakesDecal

The state’s rapidly growing population will expand from 18.8 million in 2010 to an estimated 21.3 million by 2020, according to estimates prepared by the Census Bureau.

That growth will bring a lot more electricity-gobbling air conditioners on line in Florida.

A large percentage of that population growth will be fixed-income retirees with hair-trigger negative responses to electricity rate increases, and with political power because they vote. While the national average for most states in the 65 and older cohort is around 12% of the population, in Florida it is 18%.

The elderly are not the only ones that are angry about the rate increases in a bearish economy. Large commercial power users, especially those in the food-processing industry, and conservation groups and consumer advocates want both utilities to hit the brakes on rate increases.

What they particularly object to are the FPL and Progress requests for rate increases to pay for licensing costs. The opposition view is that utilities should absorb these costs upfront and then apply for reimbursement if and when the licenses are granted.

Even more aggressive is criticism that the plants will have cost overruns and schedule delays that put completion beyond the lifetimes of most of the people who would pay rate increases for them in the present. These inter-generational conflicts are particularly acute for the elderly who want to opt out of the rate increases.

Unfortunately, with the over 65 elderly making up 18% of the state's population, opting out would shove the burden of rate increases disproportionately on to everyone else. It would mean a quick death for the rate increases and the reactors. On the other hand, some experts view the prospects for reactors as less than promising regardless of who gets saddled with rate increases.

Dim prospects for completion?

dim prospects Charles Rehwinkel, the deputy of the Office of Public Counsel, a state funded “watchdog” for regulated utilities, told FCW in a telephone interview he thought the outlook for actually building the four reactors is dim at best. He gave two reasons.

First, the price of natural gas has fallen to low levels and is likely to remain there for a long time. Second, there is little likelihood Congress will enact a carbon tax to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

“These developments have not improved the rate case for these utilities. The financial feasibility of the plants has diminished as a result,” Rehwinkel said.

Rehwinkel said that while Progress claims it will complete the Levy Country reactors in 2021, he thinks a more likely date is 2027—or not at all.

FPL & Progress “might get their licenses, but getting the plants built in a cost-effective manner does not look good,” he said.

State political leaders bullish on nuclear

This dour view stands in stark contrast to that of Art Graham, PSC chairman. He told the St. Petersburg Times editorial board on Aug. 9 that he believes nuclear power “remains the least expensive way to generate electricity,” and added that problems like those that arose at Fukushima should not stand in the way of future development of reactors.

A PSC spokesman for Graham confirmed to FCW that he stands by those remarks. He added that Graham is committed to keeping reactor new-build costs down.

Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) is also bullish on nuclear energy. Press Secretary Lane Wright told FCW, “Gov. Scott wants to define a comprehensive strategy that ensures everyone in the state has access to a reliable and affordable supply of energy. Right now, everything is on the table—including nuclear.”

Scott’s Energy Advisor Mary Bane told the PSC at an Aug. 2 hearing, “Nuclear energy is a resource that is unavoidable in a state which has few energy options.”

Bane did not return calls from FCW asking for her views on the rate increases.

Greens: Cost overruns vs. cheap natural gas

saceBut a determined coalition of green groups, led by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), has been working with legal and financial experts to challenge the requests for rate increases at every step of the process. Jamie Whitlock, an attorney representing SACE, told FCW the group sees severe risks that raise the question of whether the plants will ever be built.

Whitlock says both utilities are well aware of the rapidly rising costs of building the plants that may make them unaffordable. He said that Progress and FPL, “are just paying for a place in line at the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission). They have no commitment to actually build the reactors. They must demonstrate a commitment to build or stop asking for the rate increases.”

Whitlock agrees with PSC Public Counsel Rehwinkel that a 2027 completion for the Progress reactors is a plausible date. He said that the struggling economy, lower energy demand, and long term prospect for low natural gas prices all work against the 2021 schedule Progress has indicated in testimony to the PSC.

Utilities: Reactors on-time, on budget

An FPL spokesperson disputed this type of argument, saying that once the nuclear reactors are built, ratepayers will not face the inevitable volatility of natural-gas prices in their electric bills.

Suzanne Grant, a spokesperson for Progress, disputes the claim by opponents of rate increase that the plants will not be completed or that they will be delayed until 2027. She added that Progress is looking for investors in the twin reactors, but declined to reveal any information about what interest the firm has received to date. She declined to comment on what effect, if any, the pending merger with Duke will have on the project.

“Right now we’re required to operate as separate companies,” she said.

transformerstationIn response to charges that the costs of the Levy project have been rising too fast, Grant pointed out that some of them are for transmission and distribution infrastructure to get the power from the reactors to customers.

She told FCW the current estimate of $17 to $22 billion is an “all-in estimate” including the reactors, land, transmission, fuel and financing costs. The transmission cost estimate for Units 1 and 2 is about $2 billion.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Will China build a 1700 MW reactor?

Technology transfer and R&D efforts in the past few year say they are thinking hard about it

VendorEveryone familiar with China's civilian nuclear energy program knows that there are three principal sources of technology coming into the country.

The first is the Russian VVER, a 1000 MW reactor which also comes in a 1200 MW model.

The second is the Westinghouse AP1000 which is an 1100 MW design.

Finally, there is the Areva EPR which weighs in at an impressive 1600 MW.

All three vendors are building reactors in China and both Westinghouse and Areva have signed licensing agreements to share their technological know-how with the Chinese.

But China has its own ideas about where to take these agreements. One of them is to explore development of an even larger reactor, a 1700 MW design that would borrow best-in-class features from its vendors' offerings.

In January 2010 the State Nuclear Power Technology Corp, held a conference to assess the state-of-the art relative to a 1700 MW reactor. The Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research & Design Institute and the State Nuclear Power Board sponsored the meeting.

According to English language media reports, the meeting considered topics like thermal reactor core physics, passive safety injection system capacity, serious accident mitigation measures, and, most importantly, how to handle the complex intellectual property rights that would be involved in transferring technology to the new design.

As a result of the meeting, and other internal government deliberations which are not transparent to the media, it became apparent that two of the major power companies in China will collaborate to build advanced, third-generation reactor designs in the city of Weihai in Shandong province.

Read the full story exclusively at CoolHandNuke online now.

Hat tip "Pro-nuclear activist" David Walters

coolhandnuke

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9 11 Ten Years On

The World Trade Center was built after I'd grown up enough to learn about the hidden treasures of lower Manhattan.  Before the twin towers and surround office buildings went up, the area was a rabbit warren of traders in all things mechanical, electronic, and useful.

You could find a metric socket wrench, one-of-a-kind radio tube, or parts for an old trombone. This is where you went for widgets, the kind you hold in your hand, not what you see today on the screen.

It was blocks of small shops with every imaginable thing you might need to complete a job with that one last piece. Think in terms of a combination of Harbor Freight and Radio Shack, except the stuff was sitting in crates or just loose in boxes. It was the ultimate flea market.

When the city cleared the area and built the World Trade Center, a part of old New York had gone as well.  So the new reality of Wall Street offices was not part of my growing up and swept away experiences from my formative years with something that had no relationship to my life.

But none of this prepared me, or I think anyone, for the terrible events of September 11, 2011.  We as a nation are still coming to terms with the death and destruction at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and with the heroism over Pennsylvania.  Lots of words will be spoken today about what took place. I won't burden you with mine. It is enough that remembering is in your heart for the souls departed that day.

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