Sunday, September 23, 2012

US nuclear news roundup for 09/23/12

Despite seemingly intractable problems at several reactor sites, there are some positive developments

Common sense report on Indian Point

New York Governor
Andrew Cuomo
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has tried mightily to create a rationale for closing the twin nuclear reactors at Indian Point. However, it appears there is opposition based on the expected economic consequences of losing 2,200 MW of carbon emission free power.

It turns out, according to a New York think tank, (video)(report) that if the Indian Point reactors are closed that the results will be higher electricity costs, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, and an economic downturn for the New York City region.

The Manhattan Institute, no paragon of liberal white wine and cheese thinking, says that any combination of wind power and natural gas will cost more than keeping the reactors running for another 20 years. The report, written by energy analyst Jonathan Lesser, makes no bones about the outcome of not relicensing the reactors.

"Politicians should be under no illusion that closing Indian Point will be painless. It will not be."

Among the report's findings;

  • The cost of electricity will rise by $2.2 billion a year
  • The average annual residential electric bill will rise by $76
  • Businesses will layoff as many as 40,000 workers to pay for increased electricity costs
  • The cost of running New York city's subways will rise by $1-2 million more per year with the increases passed on to strap hangers
The anti-nuclear group Riverkeeper, which is partnered with Gov. Cuomo in terms of politics and funding raising sources, dismissed the report saying that Indian Point kills fish in the Hudson River and that power from the reactors can be replaced by other sources.

The NRC is analyzing the safety of the plant as part of its determination whether to grant Entergy, the owner and operator, a 20-year license extension. Because of the twisted politics of spent fuel management in Washington, the agency has suspending licensing decisions for the next two years. 

That timeline coincides with the next gubernatorial election in 2014. This will give  Mr. Cuomo a gorilla in the closet to frighten people with and a means to raise more cash from the white wine and cheese folks who populate his political base in Westchester county. However, the results of fund raising parties do not drive NRC licensing decisions. 

Gov Cuomo may discover the same hard fact as Gov. Peter Shumlin, his anti-nuclear colleague in Vermont. In terms of licensing decisions, only the NRC can decide whether a reactor stays open or shuts down. 

Duke Energy says it will build twin reactors in Florida

Newly merged nuclear electric utilities Duke and Progress will proceed to build twin Westinghouse AP1000 1,100 MW reactors in Levy County, Florida, on the state's west coast and bring them online in 2024. That's what Jeff Lyash, a senior executive with Duke, which now runs the show, told the Florida Public Service Commission Sept 10th.

"We have made a decision to build," Lyash said. "I am confident in the schedule and the numbers."

Lyash said that to meet the 2024 date for entering revenue service, construction of the reactors needs to start by 2016. It will need combined construction and operating licenses for the reactors from the NRC. That's probably doable assuming the regulatory agency doesn't make hash out of its its current two year suspension of licensing decisions and turn it into a permanent policy.

Opponents of the plant say that the reactors do not make economic sense because they believe low natural gas prices are likely to remain so for some years to come. However, Progress says that over the next decade, natural gas prices will rise as the economy recovers from its current depressed state. 

One of the issues that gives opponents leverage in Florida is the state's policy designed, paradoxically, to reduce the cost of building new reactors. It allows Progress to request rate increases to cover new reactors costs as they are incurred while the plant is being built. This policy saves the reactor owner huge sums in terms of interest it does not have to pay on borrowing the money.

However, Florida's demographics are skewed by retirees who object to being billed for construction of a power plant they might never live to see. These intergenerational conflicts offer so-called rate payer groups the opportunity to leverage that opposition in rate case hearings.  

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) is in the forefront of such groups that are challenging an agreement Progress Energy made with the Florida PSC last January. It limits what Progress can collect to pay for the new reactors to $3.45/month through 2018. It means Progress will have to borrow some funds to get construction started in 2016 increasing the costs of completing the reactors.

What it boils down to is that in putting a cap on the basic policy of pay-as-you-go, opponents of the plants are insuring that future electricity costs will be higher once the reactors come online. So for the sake of political expediency and appeals to to current retirees, SACE is pushing higher costs on to the next generation of settlers in the sunshine state.

As Laurel once said famously to Hardy, "That's another fine mess you've gotten us into."

MidAmerican eyes potential site for SMRs in Iowa

MidAmerican Is an adviser to
NuScale which is developing
a 45 MW LWR design
Despite a setback in the last session of the Iowa State Legislature, MidAmerican is evaluating alternative sites in the state for building one or more small modular reactors (SMR) which have power in the range of 100-300 MW. Two sites are being looked at - one in Fremont and the other in Muscatine county. 

The utility is holding public meetings to explain what it is doing, but it also said it is not considering building an SMR next to its existing reactor at the Duane Arnold reactor site in Palo.

A spokesman for MidAmerican stressed in statements to the news media that the site feasibility studies do not represent a decision to build an SMR. The spokesman also said that the utility might consider a natural gas fired plant at those sites, but it won't build anymore coal plants due to environmental regulations covering mercury emissions. The spokesman also declined to give a schedule for the utility to make a decision or build any new power generating facilities saying it was too early in the process.

Opponents of a new nuclear power plant of any kind have piled into the state legislature twice so far and successfully beaten back legislation that would allow MidAmercian to request rate increases to cover the costs of the reactors while they are being built. Environmental groups and the AARP have battled against the proposal. They bottled up the bill in the State Senate preventing a floor debate on its merits.

A spokesman for the Iowa Environmental Council said that a combination of wind and natural gas plants would be cheaper and quicker to build to meet new demand for electricity.  He made no distinction between conventional large reactors and SMRs.

A 100 MW SMR costing $4,000/Kr would come in at $400 million and have an operational life of 60 years. Revenue from the first unit would pay for subsequent units.

MidAmerican may be betting on success among one or several U.S. SMR developers that are seeking $450 million over five years in cost sharing funds from the federal government. The Department of Energy is supposed to make a decision on who gets the money by end of this month. Once awarded, the funds can be used for technical and licensing costs. 

With or without the federal funds, SMRs using LWR designs are expected to get their safety certifications and first customer orders by the end of this decade.

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1 comment:

Jack Keeling said...

Item #2, completion of the Levy County plant in 2024, twelve years off, is window-dressing for the coming closure of Crystal River and its replacement with a gas-fired power plant.