Thursday, July 5, 2012

Safety certification and reactor brands

Does having a nuclear reactor design certified by the NRC, or any other country, help or hinder access to markets?

Nissan 2011 Infinit Fx
When two German nuclear utilities announced they were pulling out of the Horizon project to build up to 6 GWe of nuclear reactors at two sites in the UK, it set off a scramble among other vendors to invest in the project.

Unlike buying a car, you can't just decide that if you don't want an Audi or BMW, that you can just walk over to the Nissan lot to look at Infiniti models. Ordering a nuclear reactor is a bit more complicated and you can't just drive one off the lot.

Nuclear reactors have to pass stringent safety reviews by national regulatory agencies full of inquisitive engineers being paid to ask pesky questions about pumps, pipes, and power.

In the UK the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) was set up by the government to review the safety of reactor designs before they could be sold to utilities. So far just two vendors has completed most of the steps required to get the stamp of approval. Areva and Westinghouse are well on their way with the Westinghouse AP1000 nearest to the finish line.

Buy a Russian reactor?

Coming in from the outside, the Russian state-owned nuclear export firm Rosatom is said to be interested in the Horizon project. The challenge facing Rosatom is that its 1200 MW PWR design hasn't even been submitted, much less reviewed, by the GDA process.

The Russians are coming
Russian state media reported that an executive of Rosatom subsidiary ZAO Rusatom Overseas announced the company would pursue the certifications.  The process in the U.S. or the U.K. could take up to five years. 

State-run publication “Russia Beyond the Headlines” also quoted Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko as saying the country is interested in offering VVERs for the Horizon Nuclear Power project.

Even more interesting is the uncorroborated report that Rosatom might seek safety certification from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Nuclear Street, an Internet based news and commercial portal, reported last week Rosatom is expected to apply for design certification in the U.S. and the U.K. for its VVER pressurized water reactor design.

My guess is the Russians have no interest in actually selling any VVERs in the US. What they may want is the NRC's "gold standard" safety certification for confidence building with customers in global markets.  In effect, they would be buying the nuclear equivalent of an Underwriters' Laboratory label.

Get a customer or take a number?

The problem with a Russian reactor design certification submission to the NRC is the lack of a plausible U.S. customer. That could result in a message from the NRC to the Russians that might say "call us when you get one."  It doesn't mean Rostom's ambitions are stymied.

The Russians are building two VVERs domestically and pushing the design globally. Rosatom also has a deal to build two VVERs for Vietnam. I'm not familiar with how India certifies reactor designs, but some official process had to have been brought to bear on the twin 1000 MW VVERs built and now in hot start up at Kudankulam. 

It seems that globally, safety certification is not necessarily a precondition for a sale. As far as reactor vendors are concerned, the lunch counter is open and anyone can place an order.

Want fries with that?
The Czech tender for Temelin calls for reactor certification of some kind for any vendor to be qualified. The EPR is "certified" in France where one is under construction, and in Finland, where one is headed toward much delayed, and costly, completion.

The UAE bought the South Korean 1400 MW units solely on that nation's say so they are safe.  Of course that's what we've done here in the U.S. with the Westinghouse AP1000. However, China signed up to build four of them several years before the NRC issued its certification in December 2011.

Two reactors slated for U.S. markets delayed

Platts reported June 20 that the NRC's certification of G.E. Hitachi's new 1,500 MW ESBWR reactor has been delayed until 2013. World Nuclear News reported May 31 that Areva's EPR reactor is unlikely to receive certification before the end of 2014.

One customer in the U.S. has referenced the ESBWR which is Detroit Edison for the Fermi III.  Dominion dropped the ESBWR for North Anna 3 in favor of a 1500 MW version of a Mitsubishi PWR type reactor.  However, the NRC website shows the certification schedule for that reactor being under revision. No date is shown for completion.

Platts reported that the issue with the ESBWR has to do with calculations that address the performance of the steam dryer for the unit.

The NRC's 'gold standard'
for reactor safety certification is important,
but not a requirement for global deals
Delays in the U.S. may not impact prospects globally.  According to Platts, Danny Roderick, GE SVP, told the trade wire service that the firm is in early stage discussions to build six ESBWRs for NPCIL at a site in Andhra Pradesh.

The delay for the Areva EPR at the NRC may not matter either, or at least not very much, in the U.S. Four COL applications were submitted to the NRC referencing the Areva EPR, but progress is unlikely on any of them in the near term.  And some may give up on the reactor entirely.

In Missouri, Ameren is pursuing development of a small modular reactor design being offered by Westinghouse.  The 225 MW unit could come in at a cost of about $1 billion compared to a price tag of  $6.6-7.0 billion for a 1,600 MW EPR.

In Maryland, Constellation has been acquired by Exelon which has publicly said that very low prices for natural gas make it economically impossible to build a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs.

The NRC told Areva the delay in safety certification hinges on the reactor vendor resolving issues involving the complex interactions of various safety systems. World Nuclear News noted in its report that the NRC sent a letter to Areva saying completion of safety certification by the end of 2014 could be a challenge.  

Meanwhile. Areva said in June that it expects to sign a deal with NPCIL to build two EPRs at Jaitpur, a port city on India's west coast in Maharashtra. The firm is also building two EPRs for China. It is bidding on the Temelin project in the Czech Republic, expected to bid on a 9 Gwe tender in South Africa, and is offering a scaled down version to Jordan. 

So while safety certification delays come and go, marketing goes on in spite of progress, or the lack of it, by the US NRC or anyone else.  Gold standard or not, to roads that lead to new reactor deals will roll on.

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Three bids submitted for Temelin

The stakes are $10 billion in contracts to build new nuclear reactors for CEZ the Czech Republic’s state-owned power utility

QualificationsThe drive for energy independence in the Czech Republic got a step closer to its goal this week as three nuclear reactor vendors submitted bids to build new at least two new nuclear reactors at CEZ’s Temelin site.

Westinghouse and Areva confirmed via company press releases that they submitted the massive documentation associated with the bids. The bids are a major milestone in a process that CEZ began in 2011.

Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy state-owned firm, also submitted a bid  but did not issue an official statement.

Westinghouse will offer the 1,150 MW AP1000. Areva will offer the 1,650 MW EPR. Both reactor designs are PWR types with advanced safety features.  Rosatom will offer a 1,200 MW PWR type design, the MIR 1200

CEZ CEO Daniel Benes said in an official statement completion of the new reactors is a key element of the Czech Republic’s drive for energy security.

The Czech government wants to lower its exposure to volatility in natural gas supplies from Russia. Also, CEZ faces the need to replace aging coal-fired power stations after 2020. Benes said CEZ will choose a reactor vendor in 2013 and break ground in 2014.

Read the complete details exclusively at ANS Nuclear Café online now.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

In Congress July 4, 1776

We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .
John Trumbell's painting "Declaration of Independence" (right) was placed in the Capitol Rotunda in 1826.

The original Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. Here are the opening lines of text.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. 

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. 

& & &

Blogging on nuclear energy topics will resume later this week. Enjoy a safe and happy fourth!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Updates on UK Nuclear New Build

Chinese firms are interested in partnering with Areva and Westinghouse. Business support for new nuclear reactors is strong, but the government’s hands off policies are unlikely to help get plants built without help raising capital says a committee in parliament. The committee also was critical of the government’s lack of investment in nuclear energy R&D.

Areva And Westinghouse Remain Quiet On Horizon Rumors

chinese-dragon-mosaic22 Jun (NucNet): Westinghouse and Areva have both said they will not comment on press reports that they have each teamed up with a Chinese company to bid for the British nuclear power venture Horizon Nuclear Power.

Press reports in the UK said Areva and Westinghouse, which make competing designs of reactor, are thought to have each secured the backing of a Chinese state company.

The reports said French firm Areva has submitted a bid for Horizon with China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Company.

They also said Westinghouse, owned by Japan’s Toshiba, has submitted a bid with China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation, with which it has a partnership to build plants in China.

Reuters, quoting “industry sources in China”, reported that the two Chinese companies would be teaming up with each other to bid for Horizon. Reuters said it was not immediately clear if the Chinese consortium would bid separately or join forces with either Areva or Westinghouse.

E.ON and RWE Npower said in March they would be seeking a new owner for Horizon Nuclear Power, a 50-50 joint venture established in 2009 that was working on plans to build nuclear plants at Wylfa on the island of Anglesey and at Oldbury-on-Severn in Gloucestershire.

In May, UK energy minister Charles Hendry said any potential buyer for Horizon is likely to be a consortium and could be based either inside or outside the European Union.

He told the energy and climate change committee that a buyer would probably emerge from the private sector, but that the government does not have any objections to the involvement of sovereign wealth funds.

UK Report Makes Case For New Nuclear Program

27 Jun (NucNet): The Fukushima-Daiichi accident in Japan has had little impact on business leaders’ enthusiasm for new nuclear plants with more than 80 percent in favor of a new nuclear program in the UK, a report shows.

The Institute of Directors (IOD) report, which includes a survey of 1,117 members, shows that 84 percent are in favor of new nuclear in the UK.

In February 2010, 13 months before the Fukushima-Daiichi accident, a similar survey of 1,798 IOD members found that 85 percent thought that new nuclear power plants should be built in the UK. These results show that the Fukushima accident has had little impact on members’ enthusiasm for new nuclear, the IOD said.

The report, called ‘Britain’s Nuclear Future’, makes the case for nuclear energy as “a clean, cheap and safe” way to meet the country’s energy needs.

IOD calculations, averaging out the findings of a number of studies, show that life-cycle CO2 emissions from nuclear are around 50 tonnes per gigawatt hour compared with nearly 500 tonnes from gas and more than 900 tonnes from coal.

The report says when costs are averaged out over a lifetime, nuclear is also relatively cheap.

For a 2017 project start, including the impact of a rising carbon price, levelised costs are projected to be around £70 ($109, 87 euro) per megawatt hour for nuclear, £95/MWh for gas, £130/MWh for coal, £145/MWh for onshore wind and £180/MWh for offshore wind.

The report says that according to estimates from the European Commission and the Paul Scherrer Institute, nuclear is the safest electricity generation technology, with a death rate of 0 to 0.2 per gigawatt year of electricity generated, compared with 0.2 per gigawatt year for wind, 0.1 to 0.4 for gas, 0 to 0.8 for hydro, 1.4 for peat and biomass, 2.2 for lignite, 2.8 for coal and 4.1 for oil.

The report says: “It is now clear that concern over the effects on health of the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi have been overestimated. There has been no serious casualty from the radiation and none is expected in the future.”

The report also says rules based on radiation exposure levels are too restrictive and “new tolerance of more realistic radiation exposure levels would bring large cost savings to any nuclear program, without compromising people’s safety”.

The report says the UK needs to replace nuclear reactors that are coming to the end of their lives in order to “fill the large energy gap that gas and renewables may not be sufficient to fill”.

The biggest hurdle to a program of new nuclear power plants in the UK is finance and several measures should be taken to ease the obstacles for investors in new nuclear.

“A long-term government-backed financial indemnity would have a major impact on lowering the cost of capital which today is the most important input cost to nuclear power”, the report says.

UK Has Been ‘Extraordinarily Complacent’ About Nuclear Industry

25 Jun (NucNet): The UK government has been “extraordinarily complacent” about the future of the nuclear industry and the country’s international partners view its lack of investment in the field with “disbelief”, a member of the House of Lords (the upper house of parliament) has said.

Lord Krebs, chairman of the House of Lords’ science and technology committee, said during a debate last week on a committee report published in November 2011 that the government “did not have a credible plan” for the nuclear industry.

Lord Krebs said: “Remarkably, in our inquiry, the government did not even recognize the problem that they face. They presented an extraordinarily complacent view about the future.”

He told the Lords that the 2011 report found that the UK industry will “find it difficult” to capitalize on the estimated £1.7 trillion ($2.6 trillion, 2.1 trillion euro) global market for nuclear technologies in the years ahead. Since the 1980s, the nuclear R&D workforce in the UK has declined from about 8,000 to under 2,000, counting both public and private sectors.

He said from the figures the committee had available, up to 2009, the UK’s investment in nuclear R&D was lower than countries such as Australia, which has no nuclear energy program, half that of the Netherlands and Norway, and one-100th of that of France.

The Lords was told that the global nuclear fission market is worth about £600 billion for new nuclear build and £250 billion for decommissioning, waste treatment and disposal over the next 20 years, with “considerable opportunities” for UK businesses.

A central recommendation in the committee’s report was that the government needs a nuclear energy strategy and, to underpin this, an R&D roadmap as well as a body to make sure that the roadmap is developed and implemented.

The government has since said it accepts the committee’s view that more should be done to coordinate nuclear R&D in the UK. The government has also agreed to establish an advisory board to provide assistance, knowledge and expertise on nuclear R&D.

Lord Krebs said the government had “taken on board our serious concerns about the lack of long-term planning for the UK’s nuclear energy future”.

Nuclear energy currently supplies about 16 percent – or 12 gigawatts – of the UK’s electricity, which is down from 25 percent 15 years ago. Lord Krebs said nine of the current fleet of 10 nuclear power plants are due to close down in the next 13 years, by 2025.

The government has now announced it plans to build a new fleet of nuclear power plants to replace those that are going out of commission. Lord Krebs said the aim is to build up to 16 gigawatts of power by 2025.

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