Friday, November 11, 2011

NRC OK's re-start of Dominion's North Anna reactors

Dominion's North Anna nuclear reactors
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized Dominion to re-start its two nuclear reactors at the utility's North Anna site.

The units were shut down on August 23 as a result of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake which had its epicenter about 11 miles from the plant.

In a press statement Eric Leeds, the NRC's head inspector for the review of the reactors said:

“The earthquake shook the reactors more strongly than the plant’s design anticipated, so Dominion had to prove to us that the quake caused no functional damage to the reactors’ safety systems."

“We’ve asked Dominion dozens of detailed questions, and our experts have examined Dominion’s answers as well as information from our own inspections. We’re satisfied the plant meets our requirements to restart safely, and we’ll monitor Dominion’s ongoing tests and inspections during startup of both reactors.”

Inspections and more inspections

The NRC's staff used more recent experience, including insights learned from a reactor site in Japan damaged by a 2007 earthquake, in asking Dominion additional questions about multiple technical areas that included: piping systems, including buried segments; nuclear fuel assemblies; steam generators; pumps and valves; and emergency diesel generators.

The NRC’s independent actions included an Augmented Inspection Team (AIT) that examined the plant shortly after the quake, as well as a restart readiness inspection in mid-October.

Both Dominion and NRC’s results showed only minor damage that did not affect North Anna’s safety systems. The NRC held public meetings near the plant on Oct. 3 regarding the AIT’s findings, and on Nov. 1 regarding the restart readiness inspection findings and the staff’s technical review.

More quake related actions

Seismograph Image: Ohio DNR
The NRC has issued Dominion a separate letter documenting the company’s commitment to several additional quake-related actions, including:
• Updating North Anna’s Final Safety Analysis Report to incorporate information from the quake and subsequent analysis;
• Additional characterization of the fault responsible for the Aug. 23 quake, as well as any special ground motion effects at North Anna;
• Re-evaluating plant equipment (including an assessment of potential improvements) identified in earlier seismic reviews;
• Developing any needed inspections or evaluations for components within the North Anna reactor vessels; and;
• Permanently updating seismic monitoring equipment for the North Anna reactors and dry-cask spent fuel storage facility.

The staff’s letters to Dominion, as well as its technical evaluation, will be available on the NRC’s Virginia quake Web page.

It will take Dominion's reactor operations staff about a week to bring the two units up to their full operating capacity.

Prior Coverage on This Blog

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INPO releases Fukushima event timeline

It puts information in one place at one time about how events unfolded in Japan on March 11, 2011

Fukushima_symbolThe Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) has compiled a detailed timeline of events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station after  the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The detailed report, prepared as part of the integrated response to the Japan events, was delivered Nov 11 to U.S. industry executives, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and members of Congress.

This is an extraordinary action by INPO, NEI, and TEPCO, which INPO says shared information “openly” for the purposes of the report.  INPO usually only makes its reports available to nuclear utilities.

“The U.S. nuclear energy industry is committed to learning from Japan’s experience and applying relevant lessons to make U.S. nuclear energy facilities even safer. We are sharing this report with the widest possible audience because it is important that we all work from the same set of facts in determining the appropriate response,” said NEI’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, Tony Pietrangelo.

“It is of paramount importance that we learn from it and take our facilities to even higher levels of safety and preparedness.”

The report presents a chronology of activities at the Fukushima Daiichi station in the first four days after the earthquake and tsunami. It does not provide analysis, draw conclusions or include recommendations on the events.  

If you read nothing else, go to the executive summary of the INPO report, a brief two pages, for a compressed view of what happened in a short period of time as the earthquake struck the plant followed by a massive tsunami.

Most of the information in the report has been previously released, but in a piecemeal fashion. The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations worked closely with the Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, to develop the timeline. Information was compiled from multiple sources, including the Japanese government, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and several Japanese nuclear and safety organizations.

In a statement NEI said the U.S. nuclear energy industry has established a leadership model among major electric sector organizations — including NEI, the Electric Power Research Institute, reactor vendors and INPO — to integrate and coordinate the nuclear industry’s ongoing response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

This Fukushima Response Steering Committee already has identified five areas that warrant action or further examination:

  • seismic and flooding inspections
  • maintaining safety during a prolonged loss of AC power
  • assuring the accessibility and functionality of reactor containment vent valves assuming loss of AC power
  • enhanced training in guidelines to manage severe accidents
  • enhanced monitoring of used fuel storage pools at reactors.

“This timeline doesn’t tell us why events unfolded—a comprehensive root cause analysis will likely take several months if not years to achieve that understanding.  However, the facts presented in this timeline reinforce the industry’s and the NRC’s independent assessments on what our response priorities should be,” Pietrangelo said.

On the web

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2011 Market Uncertainties Clobbered Uranium Equities

Hathor is the exception as a subject of a bidding war by Rio Tinto and Cameco

This is my updated coverage based on a semi-annual look at selected uranium stock prices.  This article was published in Fuel Cycle Week  V10:N447; October 27, 2011.  FCW is a publication of International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC.

The spot price of uranium is at $52/lb
Uranium juniors and producers on the North American stock exchanges felt the pain last summer as global markets struggled through months of  uncertainty about the U.S. budget showdown and the E.U. debt crisis. Generally uranium equity share values rise and fall on the strength of the U3O8 spot price. But recent experience demonstrates that a lot of other market forces are also at work.

According to Evolution Markets, the U3O8 spot price tumbled from a February 2011 high of $72 per pound to $57 per pound by last May and as of Oct. 24 has held at $52 per pound. That means the spot price dropped 27% in eight months.  (FCW: Stock Table)

With two exceptions, the companies in last May’s FCW stock table have watched their share prices sink 25-45% over the last six months. The losses in market capitalization have outpaced the drop in the price of uranium by 10-20%.

Sensitivity to Market Trends 

In an Oct. 4 note to clients, Dundee Capital Markets uranium analyst David Talbot wrote that general weakness in equity markets was more to blame than spot-price changes. The broader market along with the uranium spot market and uranium equities are all “hypersensitive to any piece of news,” he wrote.

Even before the spot price dropped in response to the events at Fukushima, uranium equities had fallen when rumors circulated about lower Chinese demand, Talbot pointed out, adding that a U.S. Energy Department announcement that it would sell surplus UF6 into the market also put a dent in uranium stocks last February (FCW #415, March 10).

The Toronto Venture Exchange composite index dropped from 13,680 on Feb. 2 to 11,949 on Oct. 2, a decrease of 1,731 points, or 13%. This suggests that small-cap firms in general have seen less volatility than the changes in major capital markets.

By comparison, the S&P 500 stock index dropped 230 points over the same time period, from 1,304 to 1,131 or 17%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1,999 points, 16% down from 12,807.

Yet uranium equities fared much worse than their peers in the Toronto Venture Exchange. What accounts for that, FCW asked Talbot. The analyst responded that uranium stocks are much more sensitive to shifts in equity markets, as many of them are smaller firms without enough liquidity to buffer them against the hardest knocks.

Also, as concerns mounted about European debt over the summer months, people simply stopped buying stocks. Consequently, each trade had an outsized impact on the movement of the market.

“Smaller firms feel the effects [of these changes] first,”Talbot said.

Low market liquidity creates more volatility and that’s why a 17% drop in major equity markets results in a 25-45% drop in the price of uranium juniors. Uranium developers and miners may not see relief for some time, according to an Oct. 18 Wall Street Journal report. Big investors bent on reducing their exposure to risk are going to be more reluctant to step into trades.

UEC Preserves Liquidity, Holds Back Sales 

UEC is holding on to its yellowcake
Uranium Energy (AMEX:UEC) is a notable exception. Its stock price stayed exactly where it was last May at $3.24 per share. It is the only firm in  the FCW stock table, besides Hathor, that did not see a rapid drop in its stock price in the past six months.

One issue the company does not face is scant liquidity. According to its SEC 10-K filing, cash on hand is $30.7 million as of the end of the firm’s fiscal year on July 31, compared to 21.1 million in 2010. The filing also shows that the firm has pursued no uranium sales. Financial losses have piled up nearly doubling from $14.5 million in 2010 to $27.4 million in 2011.

“During the fourth quarter [of FY 2011, ended July 31] only the second full quarter of Palangana Mine production, the company produced 83,000 pounds of U3O8 in inventory, including work-in-progress, as compared with 49,000 pounds in the previous quarter.
Since commencement of production in November 2010 through to July 31, 2011, the company has produced a total of 153,000 pound of U3O8 at a cash operating expense of approximately $13 per pound,” the company’s fourth-quarter report said.

Why hold back sales, FCW asked Stephanie Makagon, UEC’s investor-relations spokeswoman, when UEC has contracts to sell 300,000 pounds over the next three years with the first transaction by the end of 2011? “We are waiting for the right price to sell,” said Makagon.

The firm is expecting a radioactive materials license from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for the Goliad project. The Environmental Protection Agency must concur with a state action that exempts the underground aquifer for the purpose of uranium recovery operations.

Update 11/12/11

Uranium Energy Corp announced the completion of its first uranium sale which will be reflected in the Company’s upcoming Fiscal 2012 Q1 report.  A total of 60,000 pounds of U3O8 were sold for $52 per pound for gross proceeds of $3.12 million under the terms of the multi-year uranium sales contract as originally announced on June 14, 2011. 

This contract calls for the delivery of 300,000 pounds of U3O8 from the Company’s Hobson processing facility over a three-year period starting in Fiscal 2012, with the price to be based on published market price indicators at the time of delivery.

Hathor Awaiting Acquisition-Bid Outcome 

stock_pricesThe other exception to falling stock prices is Hathor (TSX: HAT). Its stock price has soared from C$2.28/share last May to C$4.50 at market close on  Oct 24. It is now trading at a 52-week high as a result of a competitive bid by Rio Tinto in response to a low ball, all-cash offer of C$3.75 per share from Cameco on Aug 25 (FCW #446, Oct. 20).

Based on resource estimates for Hathor’s Roughrider project, Hathor considers the Cameco offer “predatory and opportunistic.” In a presentation posted on its website Hathor acknowledges that the depressed uranium price makes its Roughrider deposit a bargain. Still, the firm argues, prices will rebound making the deposit’s long-term worth much more than Cameco is offering for it.

On Sept.14 Hathor’s board rejected Cameco’s offer because, it said, “it does not offer full value” to investors. Hathor added in a long list of objections that “Cameco can and should pay more.”

Cameco responded in an Oct. 17 statement that despite two months of “just say no” statements from Hathor, no other investor has come forward with a better offer, in effect saying that if Cameco’s offer was indeed undervalued, someone else would have fielded a better offer.

Two days later Rio Tinto rode into town on a white horse with an offer of C$4.15 per share. In an Oct. 19 press statement Hathor’s board unanimously recommended that shareholders accept the Rio Tinto bid.

The stock price situation so far this week has indicated that some investors may think even the Rio Tinto bid is too low. Hathor’s share price rode up to a new 52-week high of C$4.50 per share, or 8.4% higher than the price the Hathor board had endorsed. Neither Hathor nor Cameco is talking to the media.

While no one knows who the ultimate buyer of Hathor will be, it is clear that uranium equities are not dead yet, despite the Fukushima downer. Investors must believe on some level that global nuclear energy markets will expand in time.

China is chasing deals for uranium to lock up supplies for decades, with plans for more than two dozen new reactors to be built by 2030. The U.K. is moving ahead with plans for 19 GWe of new reactor construction, and if India can extract its nuclear new build from the clutches of opposition parties, there will be progress there as well.

Hathor’s Roughrider deposit is estimated to hold 17 million pound U3O8 indicated resources and 41 million pounds inferred resources. It is less than 20 miles from Cameco’s Rabbit Lake uranium mill. That mill will likely have capacity for toll milling since Cameco recently announced it would move all its Cigar Lake ore at its McLean Lake mill.

This makes the synergies in a Cameco-Hathor tie-up very strong, leading Talbot to release a note on Oct 26 predicting that the big producer will pony up for a higher bid.  So far they haven't done so.

In briefings Nov 9 with analysts, Cameco would only say it had extended its $C3.75 a share offer until November 14 and the market would be hearing from it "in due course."  Foreign ownership rules in Canada may force Hathor, Rio Tinto, and Cameco to agree on a three way deal.

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Chu talks nuclear science with Russia

It's about doing nuclear R&D with a former cold war adversary
Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is still first and foremost a scientists at heart. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997 at the relative young age of 50.  Since January 2009 he's been the Obama Administration's 'go to guy' for everything related to energy.

This means he gets the call when programs goes well, such as energy efficiency, and when it goes badly, right off the end of the dock, such as the current $535 million failed effort to rescue Solyndra, a California based solar energy manufacturing firm.

Occasionally, Chu still gets to do the part of the job he probably likes a lot more than mucking around in bottom feeding politics in the nation's capitol.  In September Chu signed off on a joint cooperation agreement with his counterpart in Russia the energetic Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Rosatom.

Joint Agreement with Russia

The Joint Statement outlines DOE and ROSATOM plans to collaborate on commercial, security and scientific cooperation and reaffirmed the intention to establish a framework to support the expansion of interaction between U.S. and Russian nuclear laboratories, institutes, and sites, on the broad range of scientific and technical topics.

The agreement, which includes the usual high level diplomatic hand waving, is back up by a nine page list of current and potential projects that, if funded, would engage U.S. national laboratories and universities in nuclear energy R&D with Russian counterparts.

The agreement was signed at a conference taking place last September at the IAEA. In an address to the meeting, Chu said that nuclear energy's role is growing in importance in terms of three priorities - climate change, energy demand, and the need for energy security.  Chu also cited the Fukushima crisis as a need for increased focus on nuclear safety.

Chu called for progress to be made on development of an international fuel bank to which the U.S. has already contributed $85 million.

Russians out in front

That's all very nice, but when it comes to global influence of the nuclear industry, the Russians are way out in front. Kiriyenko, Chu's Russian counterpart, told the meeting Russia will continue to aggressively pursue nuclear reactor exports.

He cited the contract between Atomstroyexport and Turkey to build 5 Gwe of nuclear powered electricity generation at Akkuyu on the country's Mediterranean coast.  Kiriyenko noted that the plant is contracted to be built at a fixed price and will be owned and operated by Rosatom for the first 15 years.

The Russians are also building new reactors in Vietnam and India and in the bid process for two new reactors in the Czech Republic.  By comparison U.S. based Westinghouse has a contract to build four reactors in China and is mostly owned by Japan's Toshiba.

The U.S. has been losing ground domestically with the withdrawal by NRG from the South Texas Project and recent comments by Exelon CEO John Rowe that building a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs is "inconceivable."

What's in the Russian agreement?

What will the U.S. do in its partnership with Russia based on the accords signed last September?  According to an supplementary document, the areas of cooperation in civil nuclear energy and safety include;
  • Reactor demonstration projects
  • R&D for new nuclear technology
  • Global fuel banks
  • R&D on nuclear safety
A short list of proposed, but apparently not yet funded projects, include;
  • New materials for fuel cladding in LWRs
  • Development of fast reactors and related fuel cycles
  • SMRs including HTGR and "wave" reactors
Additional sections of the annex cover cleaning up nuclear waste and nuclear security measures for fissile materials.  It's a long list. Mostly it is a wish list because each country has to go back to its respective funding mechanisms to get these projects supported with resources, people, and facilities.

One item that was not on the list is the almost comical effort last July by the U.S. to establish a spent fuel facility in Mongolia, in cooperation with Japan, in return for setting up the country as a center for reliable fuel services based on its extensive uranium deposits. As events unfolded the Mongolians denied any support for the project all the while holding hands with the Russians.  That's one science sandbox that won't be part of the joint agreement.

It would be a lot more interesting if the U.S. Congress woke up and smelled the coffee as Russia is leaving the U.S. at the starting gate when it comes to nuclear energy exports.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cash on the barrel head for nuclear energy

Money is flowing into nuclear energy projects

The idiomatic phrase "cash on the barrel head" has its roots in the shipping business.  According to Wiki Answers,  barrel head is the top flat side of a barrel. Picture a sea port and a ship is delivering barrels of salt or rum or some other item.

The seller and the buyer stand facing each other with a barrel between them and strike a deal. The cash is put on the barrel, the seller takes the cash and the buyer takes the barrel after he paid for it "on the barrel head".

Critics of nuclear energy claim the technology is too expensive and too risky and that investors will stay away.  If that was really the case, then the reports that follow would not be happening.

Florida Decisions

In Florida the Public Service Commission (PSC) unanimously approved on Oct 25 a request by Progress Energy to continue collecting moneyto build two new nuclear reactors at its Levy County site on the state's west coast.  The decision allows Progress to collect $85 million to cover the next round of costs under a pay-as-you-go system which is called "construction while in progress" or CWIP.

CWIP was approved by the Florida state legislature in 2006.  Utilities can pass along to rate payers the cost savings of not having huge interest payments on borrowed funds to build new reactors.  FPL said it estimates CWIP will save ratepayers $1.5 billion in costs to build its two new reactors.

A week earlier the Florida PSC unanimously approved a request by Florida Power & Light (FPL) for $196 million towards costs of building two new nuclear reactors at the utility's Turkey Point site.  The money also will go toward upgrading existing reactors.  Assuming the reactors are licensed by the NRC and built by the utility, they could enter revenue service starting in 2022.

In both cases the PSC pointed out that state law requires that once the utilities demonstrate the need for the nuclear reactors, they can proceed with the requests for CWIP.  The PSC doesn't authorize the whole cost of each reactor all at once. It grants incremental increases based on cost data provided by the utilities. Also, it has the legal ability to review any of its actions if new information becomes available.

The NRC is on the verge of issuing the design certification for the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor. The 1,150 MW unit is planned for both the Progress and FPL power stations.  Once that happens, it will add certainty the plans for all four reactors since the design certification is a perquisite for the combined construction and operating license the utilities need to build the plants.

Fluor takes $30 million stake in NuScale

In what is widely seen as a vote of confidence in the market potential of small modular reactors (SMRs), Fluor Corp. put $30 million in cash on the barrel head on Oct 12 for a majority stake in NuScale, which is developing 45 MW light water reactor.

Fluor, which is the nation's largest publicly traded engineering services firm, said it is making the investment because it sees demand for less costly nuclear reactors.  The firm also said it expects to work on the engineering and construction of NuScale reactors at customer sites.

The action comes following commitments by Fluor competitors Bechtel and Babcock & Wilcox to build a 125 MW light water reactor. That effort has a deal to build a first of a kind unit at TVA's Clinch River site.

NuScale said it expects to submit its design for safety review and certification by the NRC in 2013 and have the first unit in operation by 2020.  B&W said its plans for its mPower reactor have a similar time frame.  NuScale is based in Corvallis, OR, and B&W is in Lynchburg, VA.

UK sees cash and a renewed loan for large forgings

The German consortium planning to build new nuclear reactors at multiple sites in the UKis planning to allow vendors of nuclear reactors to invest up to {e}5 billion in return for a 25% stake in the projects.  E.on and RWE, which form the Horizon Consortium, said the equity option is on the table in terms of whether it chooses Areva or Westinghouse reactor designs for its power stations.

The scope of the planned construction is significant on a global scale.  Two or three reactors will be built at Wylfa with the first unit scheduled to enter revenue service in 2020.  Two or three more reactors will be built at Gloucestershire. Taken together, both power stations will when complete account for 30% of the UK's nuclear based electricity generating capacity.

There is good news for Sheffied Forgemasters which wants to manufacture large forgings for the 19 GWe of planned new nuclear reactors for the UK.  The government has decided to offer the firm a loan of {L}36 million to add production capacity to its plant.

This is a scaled down loan from one proposed last year for {L}80 million.  The new loan agreement may revive plans by Westinghouse to take an equity position in Sheffied Forgemasters.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

The Dalai Lama and nuclear energy

An amazing surprise for anti nuclear groups

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama, a revered spiritual leader whose influence is felt far beyond the boundaries of Tibetan Buddhism, startled his followers and the anti-nuclear community this week. In an interview with the news media in Tokyo, he said that there is a role for nuclear energy in the development process. His comments follow a tour of the earthquake and tsunami devastated areas in Japan about 40 miles from Fukushima.

He said that he is in support of nuclear energy for peaceful means as a way to bridge the socioeconomic gap in developing nations and in the absence of more efficient alternative energy sources.

"There are still many developing countries with a huge gap between rich and poor … millions of people's live remain under the poverty level."
He added that energy sources like wind and solar are too inefficient to put into realistic practice to meet the needs of developing nations.

The Dalai Lama's influence extends to many new age communities and even into the philosophical underpinnings of some American environmental groups. So it must come as a profound shock for them to find that he is urging both opponents and proponents to look at the issue "holistically."

The Dalai Lama also addressed some of the emotion laden communication that has been in the forefront of opposition to nuclear energy. In a statement that could just as easily come from an expert on probabilistic risk assessment, the Dalai Lama said that no amount of preparation can completely rule out danger.

Read more good news about nuclear energy exclusively at CoolHandNuke online now.

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Bids for new Czech reactors due July 2012

Three international consortium are competing for Europe's biggest nuclear project

Indy 500 racers prepare to start their engines
It's a case of "gentlemen start your engines" as the race to win up to $28 billion in new nuclear reactor construction begins in the Czech Republic.  The state-run utility CEZ has released the technical documentation that goes with a tender it announced two years ago.  It set a deadline for bids of July 2012.  Three international consortium led by Areva, Atomstroyexport, and Westinghouse are chasing the work which initially involves two new reactors but could evolve over time to five new units.

Contracts to build the reactors are expected to be announced by the end of 2013. Daniel Benes, CEZ CEO, said the first two units are expected to be in revenue service by 2025. Currently, the Czech Republic has six reactors that produce a third of its electricity.  The addition of five more would boost that percentage to about 50% and position CEZ to be a leading exporter of electricity to Germany and Poland.  Germany is shutting down its 17 reactors with eight already offline.

According to Czech English language wire service reports, Anders Jackson, head of European operations for Westinghouse, called the tender "one of the biggest opportunities we see in Europe."  

U.S. President Obama reportedly lobbied on behalf of Westinghouse during a state visit to Washington, DC, by Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas in October.  Next month Russian President Dimitry Medvedev is expected to visit Prague with lobbying for the nuclear project on his to do list.

Being a neighbor is not always good for business

The Russian bear has its eyes
on Europe's energy needs
While Prague is a former Iron Curtain country, doing business with the Russians isn't always a given just because the country is still in Moscow's perceived political sphere of influence.  CEZ CEO Benes told French wire services Oct 30 he's wary of being tied too closely to the Soviet Union for energy.

"If we lose our nuclear power, we will find ourselves at the mercy of Russian gas. There is no other way. Renewable sources won't cover our energy needs."

Two of the Czech Republic's reactors at Temlein are 1,000 MW Russian VVER designs, but they were built by a Czeck firm (Skoda Pizen) and uses equipment and fuel from Westinghouse.  The Dukovany plant has four 440 MW VVER type reactors also built by Skoda Pizen.

Local content may still be a key factor

In previous statements CEZ officials said that one of the key evaluation factors for the winning bid would be how much local component manufacturing and construction work went to Czech firms.  It appears with the release of the technical documents, that the utility is backing off this requirement.  Czech Minister of Industry and Trade Martin Kocourek said Nov 4 the contract will not specify how much contract work and local jobs must be associated with a bid. However, he also said "We welcome statements about this {topic] from bidders."

Vitkovice Ironworks
That didn't stop Sergei Kirienko, head of Rosatom, from visiting Prague Oct 27 offering promises of up to 120 billion CZK ($6.57 billion) to 12 Czech firms if the Russians win the bid.  He singled out machine engineering firm Vitkovice Machinery Group as one of the potential beneficiaries of these contracts,. However, a spokeswoman for the company declined to confirm to Czeck English language wire services any details of potential contracts.

Kirienko also dismissed the prospects of Westinghouse pointing out its AP1000 reactor design had been repeatedly held up in terms of safety review and approval by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  In an unrelated statement, the NRC has said it expects to issue the design certification for the AP1000 by the end of 2011 and combined construction and operations licenses for four of the units, at two separate reactors sites, in the first part of 2012.

Guaranteed Fuel for Nine Years

Another surprise in the bid documents is a requirement that the vendor guarantee fuel for the first two new reactors for at least nine years.  Assuming the reactors have a refueling cycle of about 18 months, that comes to the first fuel load for both reactors plus a total of eight fuel outages with new fuel for about a third of each reactor each time.

Given the amount of fuel involved, it is no surprise that the Czech's have focused on reliable fuel services as a key element of the bids. For instance, to calculate total fuel supplies over nine years, consider that a Russian built and fueled 1,000 MW VVER reactor uses 163 fuel assemblies.  An 1,150 MW Westinghouse AP1000 uses 157 fuel assemblies.  The 1,600 MW Areva EPR uses 241 fuel assemblies.  All three reactors are PWRs.  The Russians may bid a 1,200 MW VVER design which would increase the amount of fuel required for the first load and for refueling over the next nine years.

Austria's symbolic protest

While all the attention has been focused on the bid process, across the border in fiercely anti-nuclear Austria, that activity has not set well with the government.  Austrian Environmental Minister Nikolaus Berlakovitch said the Czech Republic is failing to heed the lessons of Fukushima.

Austrian officials said they would block the transmission of electricity from the new reactors through their country.   This appears to be a somewhat hollow threat since the Czeck Republic shares its western border with Germany which is likely to be the biggest customer for power from new reactors at Temelin.

Alan Svoboda, VP for Sales at CEZ, rejected the criticism from Austria.  He said the Czechs will defend their right to build the reactors against any interference.

US & Czech Republic sign cooperation agreement

On September 29 U.S. and Czech nuclear energy government officials signed a bilateral nuclear R&D agreement.  Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman and Miroslav Horak, Director of the Rez Nuclear Energy Institute jointly announced the agreement in Washington, DC.  The scope of work includes a cooperative relationship with Texas A&M University.

The agreement has little bearing on the Temlin project since it covers advanced reactor design concepts, coolant experiments, and work on nuclear waste.

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