Saturday, February 4, 2012

International nuclear markets gain momentum

China restarts approvals, moves to 3G designs

The China Daily reports in its English language editions Feb 1 approvals of new nuclear reactor projects in China will take place at a pace of three-to-four projects per year.

According to Xiao Xinjian, a nuclear energy industry expert, six projects that had already received approval prior to a year-long suspension over Fukushima-related safety checks will likely start construction in the second half of 2012.

He said that the government is likely to shift all new projects to more advanced light water reactor designs such as the Westinghouse AP1000 or a domestic version using the same technology.

Following the events at Fukushima, the Chinese government suspended approvals of new 2nd generation indigenous designs and safety reviews of the nation's 11 GWe of operating reactors.   The government commissioned one new reactor in May.

Westinghouse is building four AP1000 reactors in China with the first unit in Zhejiang Province scheduled to become operational in 2013.  China has signed a technology transfer agreement with Westinghouse. The Shaw Group is building a factory in China to manufacture reactor components.

According to World Nuclear News, Shaw will supply reactor pressure vessels and steam generators for two of the four being built in China at Sanmen and Haiyang.  Some steam generator and pressure vessel forgings for the two Chines AP1000s have been subcontracted to China First Heavy Industries.

An updated Chinese version of the AP1000, cited as the CAP 1400, is in the design process with significant progress toward bringing the 1400 MW concept off the drawing boards expected later this year.

Finland gets bids on new reactor
Pyhäjoki nuclear site
in Finland

(NucNet) Finnish nuclear power company Fennovoima has received commercial bids from Areva and Toshiba for the Hanhikivi-1 nuclear unit which is planned for construction in the Pyhäjoki municipality in northern Finland.

Technical bids were submitted last month and their evaluation is under way, Fennovoima said in a statement a supplier will be chosen by 2013.  Fennovoima short-listed Areva’s European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) and Toshiba’s Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) as potential technologies.

Construction of Hanhikivi-1 is expected to begin in 2015 and the plant could enter commercial operation as early as 2020.

Finland has four nuclear units in commercial operation and one, the EPR Olkiluoto-3, is under construction. Olkiluoto-3 is scheduled to be connected to the grid in 2014.  It is Areva's first EPR in Europe and has experienced significant schedule delays and cost over runs.  However, that experience hasn't stopped Finland from wanting more nuclear reactors to assure energy independence from Russia's natural gas lines.

Nuclear reactor life extension likely in France

France’s failure to make a definite decision about its energy future has left it with little choice but to extend the life of its 58 existing nuclear power plants, an independent government agency has said.

The French Court of Audit (Cour des Comptes), akin to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, said in a report that 22 of France’s 58 nuclear units are due to reach their 40-year life span by 2022. The country must either sharply increase investment in new electricity production — the equivalent of 11 new 1,000 MW nuclear reactors — or extend the lives of its existing plants if it wants to maintain output at current levels.

The agency noted that the kind of build-up in new generating capacity necessary to replace the aging reactor fleet was essentially “impossible.”  The 11 new plants could cost a minimum of $50 billion.

“This means that in the absence of an investment decision, an implicit decision has been made that already binds France: either extend the reactors beyond 40 years or significantly and quickly move the energy mix to other sources, which would require additional investment.”

No matter what route is chosen, maintenance costs will roughly double, it said, adding 10 percent to production costs.

The agency was critical of the state’s approach to energy policy, saying it would be “desirable that future investment choices not be affected in an implicit fashion, but rather according to an energy strategy formulated, debated and adopted transparently and explicitly.”

The report, made public on Jan 31, also sought to identify the various costs associated with nuclear energy. France has spent €188 billion (about $245 billion) on building its nuclear plants, when the cost of fuel, development and research are included, and the cost of nuclear energy has been rising.

The report estimated the long-term cost of managing France’s nuclear waste at €28.4 billion, a figure it said was “largely guesswork” because of the uncertainty surrounding a project to build a deep geological repository “is still not definite”.

France reprocesses some of its spent nuclear fuel, but eventually, high level waste must be permanently disposed of in a geologic repository.  France does not have one.

French Socialists soften stance on nuclear energy

A plan to shut 50 percent of all of France's operation reactors, or 29 units, proposed by a coalition of the Socialist Party and the Greens has been scaled back.  Presidential candidate Francois Hollande, a Socialist, now says only that if elected he will close two 900 MW units located at Fessenheim. He said these are among the oldest units in the French fleet.

However, he maintained a committment to reduce France's reliance on nuclear energy from 75 percent to 50 percent, but did not specify where the replacement power would come from or how to pay for it.  (See also on this blog: French nuclear fleet could be sunk by socialists - 11/17/11)

Bernard Cazeneuve
According to wire service reports, Bernard Cazeneuve, a Socialist member of the Franch parliement, has called for an aggresssive program of development of renewable energy.  Also, he attacked development work by Areva to produce a 1,000 MW version of its high end 1600 MW EPR design for sale to developing nations.

And he criticized a technology transfer agreement Areva signed with China as part of a deal to build two 1600 MW units in that country along with providing fuel and a separate $15 billion reprocessing plant.  Cazeneuve said these agreements will allow China to compete with France for global market share.

Like their German and Japanese anti-nuclear counterparts, it appears domestic opponents of nuclear energy in France see no contradiction in promoting exports abroad while throttling nuclear energy at home.

Sarkozy's government bites back

Energy minister Eric Besson said Jan 17 that France must maintain its nuclear fleet to remain competitive in terms of its manufacturing exports.  He said that energy intensive industries in France would go under if they lost the electricity they now get from the nation's 58 reactors. He pointed out that an aluminum plant has told the government it is concerned about the rates it will have to pay for renewable energy compared to nuclear.

CEZ on the hunt for investors

CEZ, the state-owned nuclear utility, has contracted with BNP Paribas to search for a financing partner to build two new reactors at the Temelin site said to have a price tag of $10 billion. The project has been scaled down and divided into two pieces.  The first piece for two units is what is on the table for now.  (See also on this blog - Temelin nuclear deal still in play  11/03/10

If CEZ doesn't decide to go it alone to finance its nuclear power plants, it will seek partners in Europe and possibly Asia and especially with other energy companies.  For instance, since Germany is likely to be a big customer of power from the new reactors, it is within the realm of plausible speculation that CEZ might approach German utilities for equity financing.

According to a CEZ spokesman, partners in the financing of Temelín will be sought primarily among European, but also Asian energy giants, with their stake in the project to be limited to 50 percent.

CEZ deputy chairman and CFO Martin Novák has said cash flow remains the main source for the project to expand the nuclear plant in South Bohemia.

CFO Martin Novák recently confirmed the hunt for investors in an interview with Bloomberg Jan 26. He told the wire service agency that CEZ is monitoring the construction of nuclear power plants globally and the trend has been to share the associated costs and risks.

“We are definitely looking at models of how nuclear plants are built today in Europe. We are looking at forms of sharing the risk,” Novák said, adding that by taking on a financing partner, CEZ would have greater space for investing in other ventures.

There are contradictory reports whether CEZ could pay for the units on its own. The original plan was for five new reactors, but it was recently scaled back.

Daniel Beneš, CEZ's CEO, says he is in favor of a British model of offering guaranteed rates for nuclear generated power aimed at financing new plants.

Czech English language media reports indicate that neither CEZ nor the Czech government have publicly gone into detail about how it intends to finance the proposed Temelín plants or what kind of state support or guarantees might be offered.

The government has aired its options following a skeptical analysis by Candole Partners earlier this month about the economic arguments CEZ can offer to back up the case for going ahead with the Temelín project.

The three bidders to carry out the Temelín expansion contract — France’s Areva, US-based nuclear company Westinghouse, and a consortium led by Russia’s Atomstroyexport and Czech nuclear industry supplier Škoda JS — are due to submit their offers to carry out the work by July 2012. The choice of a contractor, or decision whether the contract goes ahead at all, is expected to be made by the end of 2013.

Horizon completes land purchase for new build

(NucNet) Horizon Nuclear Power has completed the purchase of land at Oldbury-on-Seven in the UK, the planned site for a new nuclear power station, the British joint venture has announced.

The land is being purchased by Horizon Nuclear Power Oldbury Limited from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), under terms agreed in a 2009 land auction.  Horizon said it is bringing forward plans for the development of about six gigawatts of new nuclear at two sites, Oldbury, and Wylfa in North Wales.  The price of the purchase was not disclosed.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Two fast moving stories with surprising twists

A series of breaking news reports, followed by energetic denials, create confusion about the status of two new nuclear reactor projects

Two fast moving stories caught people by surprise this week.  First, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported that a key investor in the privately-held Blue Castle nuclear reactor project was being investigated by the Securities & Exchange Commission for alleged fraud.  Second, The Tampa Bay Times reported that Progress Energy (NYSE:PGN) had cancelled its EPC contract with The Shaw Group throwing the future of the twin reactor project into serious doubt.

It turns out there is a lot more to the rest of the story in both cases. The good news is that despite the startling nature of the reports the facts did catch up with them.

Funny business in Utah?

On Jan 26 the Salt Lake City Tribune reported that a company providing financial backing to a planned nuclear plant is a fraud. The newspaper wrote that the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) says a hedge fund, supposedly into the nuclear project for $30 million, scammed its investors.

The firm, LeadDog Capital, of New York, had an agreement with Blue Castle to provide the funds at the front end of what could wind up being an $18 billion project. The SEC's complaint states the the principals of LeadDog Capital misrepresented the nature of the investments they made and that the firm concealed from new investors information on disputes it had with unhappy customers.

The significance of the SEC complaint, which undermines the credibility of Blue Castle's claim it has the $30 million in hand, is that Blue Castle reportedly used the financial commitment to convince the State of Utah Water Engineer its request for water rights for the reactor was not speculative.

For its part Blue Castle issued a formal denial that it has any current ties to LeadDog and that it had plenty of money to back its project.  Aaron Tilton, who heads Blue Castle, told the Salt Lake City Tribune "he never pulled the trigger" on the funding commitment from LeadDog.

As for the water rights, State Engineer Kent Jones said even if he had known about the problems with LeadDog, he would have signed off on the water rights anyway. He said he assumed that if one pocket was empty, that Blue Castle would have another that was full.

That said it isn't likely this controversy is wrapped up in a neat package.  Anti-nuclear groups, including Utah HEAL and Uranium Watch, vowed to challenge the water rights decision based on the newspaper's report.

Prior coverage

Did Progress cancel its Levy County, Florida reactors?

The short answer is no, Progress Energy did not cancel its EPC contract for the reactors, but for a few days things were looking pretty dicey.  On Jan 25 the Tampa Bay Times headlined that Progress Energy was looking to cancel the main construction contract to build two 1,100 MW Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. The news came out of nowhere and caught many people who follow the industry by complete surprise.

Progress Energy's decision not to comment on the newspaper's report that it planned to cancel the main engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contract added to the confusion.  Clamming up just didn't seem like a very good idea.

Perhaps the company was as surprised as anyone else and needed time to get its story straight?  In any case, an anti-nuclear group called NC Warn issued its own press release along the lines of the famous refrain from the Wizard of Oz - "ding dong the witch is dead."

Worse, Progress is in the middle of protracted rate proceedings with the Florida Public Service Commission to obtain increases to pay for the construction of the two reactors as they are being built.  Critics of the rate increases, and of the reactors, howled that Progress was trying to get money for a project it never planned to complete.

Two days later Progress formally denied that it plans to cancel construction of the reactors or its contract with The Shaw Group for the $20 billion project.  A previously reticent Progress spokesperson now said the 2009 contract with The Shaw Group is still in place. The company also said that the revised estimate of costs of the project, and requests for rate adjustments, would take place in 2013 which is when the firm expects to get its combined construction and operating licenses for the two reactors from the NRC.

Progress is also in hot water in Florida over the estimated $2.5 billion in costs for repairs to the containment structure of its Crystal River reactor which will also be out of service until 2014. Some of these costs will be covered by insurance and some by a previous rate agreement that allows it to charge for the cost of replacement power.  That's a lot of hot water for a reactor in cold shutdown.

Are you sure?

Progress has spent approximately $860 million on the Levy County project so far, mostly on engineering and licensing costs.  Through the end of 2011 it has collected $545 million or just under two-thirds of what it spent.  One of the elements of its agreement on rates related to covering the Crystal River repair costs is that the utility will throttle back on what it spends on the new reactors at Levy County at least through 2014.

J.R. Kelly
Public Counsel
The situation became confused because Florida's public counsel, who represents rate payers, said the settlement with Progress over the repair costs for the Crystal River reactor led him to believe that the utility will cancel the Levy County reactors outright or at least stop the EPC work until it gets Crystal River back in revenue service.

J.R. Kelly said cancelling the EPC contract would not kill the reactors.  In fact, he'd prefer to see Progress get its license, evaluate its costs, and then come back to the rate payers for funds, and not before.  Progress has said it plans to complete the two reactors by 2021.

Separately, Progress and Duke Energy have pushed back the effective date of their planned mega-merger in order to sort out rate issues at both the state and federal government level.  The flap over the status of the EPC contract offers one more fish to add to a fine kettle.  Or and Hardy said famously to Laurel, "this is a another fine mess you've gotten us in."

Update 02/03/12

The following statement was received from Progress Energy.

“Progress Energy Florida has not stated any intention to cancel the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for the Levy County nuclear project. The contract remains in effect and we continue to pursue the combined operating license (COL) with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

As the company has stated since April 2010, Progress Energy will reassess the Levy County nuclear project's timeline and cost once we receive the COL, expected in 2013. 

We strongly believe state-of-the-art nuclear power is important to our state’s energy future. The project continues to be the best baseload generation option for Florida taking into account costs, potential carbon regulation, fossil fuel price volatility and the benefits of fuel diversification.”

Prior Coverage

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Japan stressed out over future of its nuclear reactors

Safety checks by the IAEA haven't boosted public confidence

An IAEA expert mission to Japan arrived there the last week of January to check on so-called "stress tests" of the nation's 54 reactors. While preliminary responses from the team were generally favorable, a final report, including proposed corrective actions, is still forthcoming.

In the meantime, Japan's nuclear energy industry continued a domestic downward spiral with only three reactors remaining on the grid. At the rate things are going, all of the country's nuclear reactors will be closed by May. Japan gets 30% of its electricity from them. The lack of power, and fuel replacement costs, contributed in January to the nation's first balance of payments problem in more than three decades.

The IAEA team said in its preliminary report that the comprehensive safety assessments that are being carried out are generally consistent with the agency's international standards. Japan's nuclear utilities are conducting the reviews based on instructions from the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which is soon to be reorganized as an independent agency.

An incomplete grade?

Two areas of vulnerability highlighted in the IAEA preliminary report as missing pieces in Japan’s stress tests are seismic safety margins and severe accident management. In the diplomatic language of a United Nations agency, the IAEA wrote that NISA should address these topics in greater depth and soon.

James Lyons, leader of the eight member IAEA team, told the New York Times Feb 1, “there is room for improvement.”

IAEA spokesman Greg Webb clarified to the newspaper that the agency was not certifying the safety of Japan’s nuclear reactors.

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

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

89th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

This post is the collective voice of blogs with legendary names which emerge each week to tell the story of nuclear energy.

If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it.

Past editions have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee,  Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Idaho Samizdat, NEI Nuclear Notes, and CoolHandNuke, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

The publication of the Carnival each week is part of a commitment by the leading pro-nuclear bloggers in North America that we will speak with a collective voice on the issue of the value of nuclear energy. While we each have our own point of view, we agree that the promise of peaceful uses of the atom remains viable in our own time and for the future.

If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog, and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brian Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival.

This Week's Carnival

Cool Hand Nuke - NRC vote for Southern reactors "imminent" Fertel

A vote will take place soon by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to award combined construction and operating licenses for twin Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at the utility's Vogtle site in George.

That's according to Marvin Fertel, the CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)  Fertel says he expects the action approving the licenses to take place "within days."

In addition to Southern, Scana, a South Carolina utility, is also seeling licenses for twin AP1000s at its V.C Summer Station. According to Fertel, the announcement on Southern's reactors is only a matter of time.  He said the vote on Scana's application will take place later this winter.

Nuclear Diner - Cheryl Rofer
The Helmholtz Research Center in Munich tested it on several sources and it seems to work though calibration is a question.
Summarizes a discussion on the Nuclear Diner Forum on that fuel element, which seems most likely to be a plate for the Tehran Research Reactor. The available information is not clear. However, Iran has been known to inflate its claims about its technical progress.

Pop Atomic Studios - Susie Hobbs Baker (Link courtesy of Nuclear Street; Cam Abernethy)

The daughter of a nuclear engineer, Suzanne Hobbs Baker was initially afraid of radiation when she first learned about in biology class at 15 years old. So she and her dad spent the day at the Oconee nuclear plant in South Carolina, learning about safety systems, taking dose readings and discovering more about how nuclear power works.

Today, Hobbs Baker is a visual artist who leads PopAtomic Studios and uses her medium to address fears and misconceptions about nuclear energy. In this TEDx Talk, she elaborates on her work and the organization’s outreach, as well as the ways visual art can illustrate concepts in physics that can be difficult for non-scientists to grasp using equations alone.

Atomic Power Review - Will Davis
Nuclear icebreaker Lenin -
Image: Atomic Power Review

As a special feature for National Nuclear Science Week, Will Davis has two posts covering a little discussed job nuclear energy does really well - icebreaking.
The first post is a general history with links to great photo galleries and related sites; the second is an APR exclusive technical look at the powerplant of the first nuclear icebreaker, the LENIN.
Talk Nuclear - Laura Allardyce, Canadian Nuclear Association

Our top three reasons why we think the licenses for Cameco’s facilities in Port Hope and Blind River, Ontario should be renewed by the regulator, the CNSC.

Yes Vermont Yankee - Meredith Angwin

Federal Judge Murtha ruled against the State and for Entergy in the Vermont Yankee lawsuit. This was a major court victory for nuclear energy. Near the day of the ruling, Yes Vermont Yankee blogger Meredith Angwin had some scheduled surgery. Angwin thanks several guest bloggers, and spotlights three fine guest posts on the blog:
Next Big Future - Brian Wang
Conceptual drawing - Myrrha
Image: Belgian Nuclear Research Centre
A first-of-a-kind reactor system has been set up in Belgium by coupling a subcritical assembly with a particle accelerator. The equipment, known as Guinevere, is a demonstration model that supports the project for a larger version that will be called Myrrha (Multipurpose Hybrid Research Reactor for High-tech Applications).

MYRRHA, a flexible fast spectrum research reactor (50-100 MWth) is conceived as an accelerator driven system (ADS), able to operate in sub-critical and critical modes. It contains a proton accelerator of 600 MeV, a spallation target and a multiplying core with MOX fuel, cooled by liquid lead-bismuth (Pb-Bi). MYRRHA will be operational at full power around 2023.
The DOE is funding up to two small modular reactors by 2022 and has grants for $452 million over the next 5 years. There is also an overview of the small modular reactors that are under development.

Idaho Samizdat - Dan Yurman

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced in early January it is starting work on an update to the Waste Confidence decision. With the Obama administration’s successful bid to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository project, one of the agency’s key assumptions for the update is that interim storage of spent fuel will be the norm for up to 200 years after a reactor's operations come to an end.

Critics of the effort, and there are many, weigh in about the agency's process and the perception it is trying the make policy instead of implementing it.

Nuke Power Talk - Gail Marcus

Gail Marcus responds to a reader who is a student of nuclear engineering and is seeking a summer internship.  She tells him about the WISE program, with which she has been involved, and other science policy internships, mainly in Washington, DC.  She also invites readers who know of other opportunities to share them through the blog comments for the benefit of this student and others.

ANS Nuclear Cafe - Paul Bowersox

The Department of Defense is shifting to clean energy sources that reduce greenhouse gases.  Can Small Modular Reactor system lifecycle costs compete with existing installation electricity costs?  William J. Barattino at the ANS Nuclear Cafe summarizes his initial assessment of the market size of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) on U.S. Army installations - and the results are encouraging.

The Neutron Economy - Steve Skutnik
Steve reviews cultural bias and ignorance about science and technology with regard to nuclear energy.
Beyond the direct implications for Entergy and Vermont Yankee itself, Entergy's recent victory in federal court has implications for both nuclear and energy projects writ large.
Digging into the historical electricity generation statistics, Alan Rominger looks  at how prior key events have impacted Japan's nuclear generation capacity, including the post-Fukushima regulatory backlash toward reactors in Japan's fleet unaffected by the recent Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. With this in mind, he extrapolates outward to give a peek at what Japan's energy mix may look like for the near term.

i-Nuclear - David Stellfox

The UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority remains in talks with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to build its Prism fast reactors at Sellafield as a means of managing and disposing of the UK’s 84-tonne stockpile of civil plutonium, an NDA spokesman said January 24.

NDA spokesman Bill Hamilton described reports in today’s Guardian newspaper that the NDA had rejected GE-Hitachi’s proposals as “completely without foundation.”

“Discussions are ongoing,” Hamilton told i-NUCLEAR.  He said the NDA was prepared to provide financial support to develop the proposals if ongoing discussions demonstrate promise.

NEI Nuclear Notes

The Blue Ribbon Commission issues its final report. Enumerating shortcomings of the nation’s used fuel management program, a federal government panel this week recommended eight steps to improve it.

Among them, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future said in a report issued today, is that levies on nuclear energy that American consumers have been paying for years should be fully available to a new organization created to manage the federal government’s used nuclear fuel program.

The commission also recommended development of at least one consolidated storage facility for used nuclear fuel.

Congressional hearings on a new used fuel management organization should begin “as soon as possible,” the commission said.

Atomic Insights - Rod Adams

This blog post tells the real story about nuclear plant liability insurance.

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