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Archive for September, 2010


Thursday, September 30th, 2010

In a day when even the major news outlets don’t seem to have a good grasp on what’s happening in the energy world, you have to rely on the blogs.

Dan Yurman’s “Idaho Samizdat” (now relocated to Ohio) gives a magnificent example in this long and penetrating analysis of Germany’s nuclear follies.

Did you know that Chancellor Angela Merkel may have imposed the 50 percent tax on nuclear reactors profits as a trap for German Green groups?  Once the government becomes so completely dependent on these revenues, it will be impossible for the Greens to close them down. And did you realize that Greens foresaw this trap and opposed the tax anyway because they will settle for nothing less than a nuclear-free Germany?

 â€¨Did you know that millions of Germans have their pensions vested in the nation’s four utility stocks and that the utilities may be using the threat of dividend cuts in their efforts to escape the burden of the tax?
 â€¨As Patrick Moore comments, every wind farm and solar collector the Germans put up just means more natural gas imported from Russia. Yet anti-nuclear sentiment is running so strong in Germany right now that is may cost Merkel the next election.

Read this blog entry for the best analysis yet on Germany’s dance with energy suicide.

Read more at Idaho Samizdat


Thursday, September 30th, 2010

With the fading possibility of a stand-alone renewable electricity standard looming over the lame-duck session of November, a handful of Senators have begun demanding that nuclear energy be included in the mix.

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), a long-time supporter of nuclear, said yesterday he would introduce a bill that would include nuclear energy in any mandate that required utilities to get a certain percentage of their electricity from “clean” sources. To date, environmental groups have insisted that such a clean standard include only so-called “renewable” sources such as wind, solar and geothermal.

 â€¨"From my part of the country, that’s a bad proposal because it doesn’t acknowledge nuclear power as being a low, carbon-free source of energy, and it disadvantages nuclear power," Graham told The New York Times. "But I could support a clean energy standard, which I will introduce today."

Graham’s move won immediate support from Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn), who told the Times:  "The RES provisions were the worst part of the bill in my opinion and had the comprehensive bill reached the floor, I planned to offer an amendment that stripped or greatly altered the RES provisions to include nuclear energy. I do not support the stand-alone RES bill that was recently introduced."

The Times story calls Graham’s proposal a “stumbling block” to passage of a renewable standard.  But as one longtime energy observer told Nuclear Townhall: “It’s more likely the nation will go stumbling down the path to energy oblivion of a renewable standard passes in its present form. Besides limiting utilities to sources that produce only a trickle of unreliable electricity, the RES as presently conceived would do enormous environmental destruction.”
In one of the more bizarre developments, Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln – who appears likely to lose her seat in November – is proposed that burning down Arkansas forests be included in the list of approved “clean” sources of energy. Preserving forests was an early goal of the 19th century Conservation Movement. That was long before contemporary environmentalists decided they would rather revert to the 18th century strategy of using wood for fuel rather than accept the 21st century technology of nuclear energy.
Read more at the New York Times Greenwire


Thursday, September 30th, 2010

AREVA, the world’s largest nuclear company, 80 percent owned by the French government, may be challenged for dominance in Europe shortly by its co-national and longtime rival, EDF, the French national utility.

Relations between the two companies have been strained over a two-year delay and cost overruns at Flammanville, where a 1,650-megawatt European Pressurized Reactor is being built, the first new French reactor in 20 years. AREVA is also having similar difficulties at Olkiluoto-3, Finland, where the original EPR project, first licensed in 2000 and originally scheduled for completion in 2009, is now three years behind schedule and 50 percent over budget. Despite the delays, the Finnish Parliament has authorized construction of a fourth reactor at the site.

Problems with both reactors – plus the loss to a South Korean in the sweepstakes to build four reactors in the United Arab Emirates – have caused soul-searching about France’s international nuclear effort. In July, the French government sought to bolster the national effort by having EDF raise its stake in AREVA from 2.4 percent to 7 percent and on Monday the government raised the figure to 15 percent.

EDF has now surprised everyone by suggesting it may begin its own reactor construction program instead. "It is true, . . . we and AREVA are unable to combine our engineering resources," a source inside EDF told Power-Gen Worldwide. The source said EDF’s reactors would probably be smaller, in the 1000 to 1500-MW range.

The rivalry between the two national corporations goes back to the earliest days of the French nuclear effort, when Charles de Gaulle created nuclear programs in two separate entities, EDF and the CEA (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique), the French equivalent of the Department of Energy.At the time, EDF was dominated by Communist labor unions, which welcomed nuclear energy as a triumph of the working class. AREVA was created in 2001 through the merger of Framatome, Cogma, and Technicatome, three construction companies. CEA now owns 80 percent of AREVA and the French government owns 85 percent of EDF.

Nuclear energy now makes up a considerable portion of the French economy. AREVA accounts for much of its international business and EDF’s exports 10 percent of its power each year to Germany and Italy, earning $8 billion a year, the country’s third largest source of foreign exchange.

Read more about it at PowerGen World Wide


Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Robert Stone has won an Oscar nomination and been featured at the Sundance Festival for his films about the dangers of nuclear testing and the history of the environmental movement. But it was the threat of global warming that finally changed his mind about nuclear energy.
“That so many of us conflated our legitimate abhorrence of nuclear weapons with an equally passionate abhorrence of civilian nuclear power is a subject that is not well understood,” he writes in a special appearance on Dan Yurman’s Idaho Samizdat blog. “Yet it has, I believe, contributed in some measure to at least thirty years of paralysis in our efforts to transition away from fossil fuels.
“I am sad to say this, but a certain degree of responsibility for the climate crisis must fall squarely on the shoulders of the environmental movement due to its longstanding campaign to completely do away with (rather than to improve) the one technology that has a very real potential to actually end the burning of fossil fuels,” he adds.
Now Stone is raising money to make Pandora’s Promise, a film about the need for nuclear electricity. Featured will be Jim Hansen, Stewart Brand, Richard Rhodes, Stephan Tindale, Charles Till, Gwyneth Cravens, James Lovelock, Anne Lauvergeon, Evgeny Velikhov and others, with a particular emphasis on those who – like Stone – are environmentalists who have come to recognized the advantages of nuclear. Filming begins next week at Idaho National Laboratories.
In an interview last spring, Stone said he was surprised and disappointed at how quickly many of his former funders turned away when they learned the subject of his new film. However, he has raised $20,000 in development money with large-scale commitments of nearly $500,000 once the balance of our $1.1 million budget is raised philanthropically.

Read more at Idaho Samizdat


Wednesday, September 29th, 2010


What computer technology was to Silicon Valley in the 1990s, nuclear power
is becoming to Asia today.

Malaysia and Sri Lanka became the latest countries to announce plans for
nuclear development in what is becoming almost a daily routine. In the past
week alone, India announced it will be selling reactors for export, China
and Russia announced a broad energy agreement that includes nuclear
development, and Japan fired up the world’s first boiling-water reactor to
run on MOX fuel.

Yesterday officials from Malaysian Energy, Green Technology and Water
Minister Peter Chin Fah Kui told reporters the country will present plans
for a nuclear reactor to the public over the next four years, with a
completion date aimed for 2021. Chin told reporters the plans would be
cancelled if the public rejected nuclear power.

Sri Lanka is aiming to establish the country’s first nuclear power plant
within the next 20 years, according to the Minister of Power and Energy
Patali Champika Ranawaka.

"In order to meet our energy demands in the future, we need to feed our base
load, as well as increase our spinning reserves to absorb non-conventional
renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and mini-hydro," Ranawaka told
an energy conference in Vienna this week. "Constructing a nuclear power
plant is not easy," Ranawaka added. "It is very difficult. It takes only six
months to construct a wind power plant. It takes four months for a solar
power plant, but it takes over 10 years for a nuclear plant."  Nevertheless,
the country recognizes the need for reliable base load, since shortages of
water at its hydroelectric dams have caused power outages and severely
impacted the economy.

Not all these reactors will be built, just as every dot-com company in
Silicon Valley did not survive the eventual shakeout. But many will and when
they are, the center-of-gravity of the Nuclear Renaissance will have shifted
to Asia.

Read more at People’s Daily and at All Voices


Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Fluor Corporation CEO Alan Boeckmann told an engineering conference yesterday what is becoming obvious to everyone – growing supplies of shale gas are undercutting the Nuclear Renaissance in this country.
"The emergence of the tremendous volumes of shale gas which have kept prices low — and looks like it will keep them low for a very long time in the future — really has started to knock the legs out from under the U.S. nuclear industry," Boeckmann told the D.A. Davidson & Co Engineering and Construction Conference in San Francisco. Fluor is the country’s largest publicly traded engineering company.
Boeckmann added that a failure to put a price on carbon emissions in this year’s Congress had added to the trend. “As long as there was no extra cost paid for carbon emissions in the United States, the economics of building plants to burn cheap natural gas would remain better than that of nuclear,” Boeckmann told the conference, according to Reuters.
The situation contrasts highly with Russia and the Middle East, where national energy policy has decided to build nuclear reactors in order to sell natural gas supplies on the international market. Russian officials say they can get six times the price for their gas by selling it abroad than using it at home to generate electricity.
Also promoting natural gas consumption in the U.S. has been the “alliance” between advocates of renewable energy and natural gas companies that are advertising their gas turbines as the “natural partner” of unreliable wind and solar generating facilities. Fast-starting turbines can be fired up almost immediately to make up for power losses when the wind dies down or the sun goes behind clouds. The “partnership” of renewables-and-gas-turbines actually consumers more natural gas than if the same gas were used to power more efficient combined-cycle gas plants, but the practice is being employed to satisfy the statutory demands of state “renewable energy portfolio” mandates.
Congress will be considering a similar national renewable electricity mandate when it resumes session after the November elections.

Read more at Reuters

TOWNHALL Q&A: Homegrown Hyperion Power — Shaking up the World of Nuclear Energy

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Deborah Deal-Blackwell is part of an ambitious brother-sister team that is shaking up the world of nuclear energy. Working hand-in-hand with the Los Alamos Laboratory’s Technology Transfer Division, Deal-Blackwell and her brother John “Grizz” Deal had already created several small spin-offs four years ago when they came in contact with Dr. Otis “Pete” Peterson, who had invented a small modular reactor he thought could be used in remote mining and tar sands development. Together they founded Hyperion Power Generation with Grizz serving as CEO and Deal-Blackwell as vice president for public policy and licensing.

 Deal-Blackwell immediately saw the possibility of wider applications for the reactor. She persuaded Peterson and Grizz, who was “entrepreneur-in-residence” at Los Alamos, to journey to Washington to make a presentation to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “At the time, the NRC didn’t even have anyone assigned to SMRs,” she recalls.

 What happened next is the stuff of legend. According to some stories, the NRC told them to go away until they found a customer. According to others . . . well, we’ll let her tell it. In any case, Hyperion has taken the small modular reactor idea and run with it, putting them on the map. Last March Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial saying SMRs might be the future of nuclear energy in America.

 Now Hyperion has a customer. This month the company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Savannah River National Laboratory to employ a Hyperion Power Module to power its energy park. Tomorrow, after four years of effort, Deal-Blackwell and her co-founders will sit down with NRC officials in Washington to begin discussing how the Commission might begin regulatory review for the nation’s first small modular reactor.

 Here’s what Blackwell had to tell us about the effort:

 NTH:  What are the Hyperion Power Module ’s main features?

 DEAL-BLACKWELL:  It’s probably the smallest of the small reactors now heading toward licensure in the U.S. At 70 MWthermal / 25 MWelectric the HPM is really in the class of “mini”-reactors. Each reactor unit is 1.5 meters in diameter and 2.5 meters tall – about the size of two residential hot tubs stacked together. We wanted it to be small enough to fit on one truck, which is important because the unit is sealed at the assembly plant. It’s completely assembled off-site and buried in the ground in a specially designed vault. After that, it’s not to be opened or refueled. The whole assembly, including the electricity-generating component, sits on less than an acre. The entire plant can be constructed in just a few months. At the end of its useful life, which is around 10 years, we take the entire sealed reactor back to the factory where it can be refueled. We’ve got one of the few business plans that doesn’t involve leaving spent fuel on the customer’s site.

 NTH:  Does the design of the HPM have anything to do with submarine reactors or is this completely different?

DEAL-BLACKWELL: The Soviet Union created submarines using lead-cooled fast reactors that were so fast the West was forced into revamping its own technology. A lot of inspiration comes from the Soviets’ Alfa class submarine but our design team at Los Alamos National Laboratory has made significant improvements on our own.

The HPM’s lead coolant is actually lead-bismuth eutectic (LBE), a mixture of 45 percent lead and 55 percent bismuth. It’s a liquid metal similar to the sodium in a sodium-cooled reactor except that it doesn’t have the disadvantages of sodium. Sodium burns on contact with air and reacts violently with water, while LBE does not.

LBE can operate at low pressure, which reduces the need for complex, emergency-coolant injection safety systems in high-pressure reactors. The chance of pipe rupture and loss of coolant accidents are reduced significantly. Also LBE has a much higher boiling temperature (1670o C) compared to sodium (883o C), which provides greater safety margins for coping with abnormal events.

NTH:  How do you envision these reactors being deployed?

DEAL-BLACKWELL:  Primarily for mining operations, manufacturing facilities, and military bases in the U.S. There is a potential for Homeland Security/ Emergency Response use as well. Overseas, the sky is the limit. With so much of the planet still without electricity, the opportunity to raise the standard of living for impoverished populations is vast. SMRs can provide the energy to irrigate farmland, desalinate water, mine in isolated areas, run small manufacture plants and electrify whole villages and towns.

NTH:  How much will they cost?  Is there a containment structure in there?  Would that change the cost projections?

DEAL-BLACKWELL:   We are projecting that each HPM (the reactor unit) will run about $50 to $75 million, plus another $25 to $50 million for the balance of the steam to electricity generating plant. The containment structure is included in those costs.

NTH:  What was the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s initial response when you approached them four years ago?

DEAL-BLACKWELL:  Contrary to legend, no one said “This can’t be licensed – go away you strange red-haired woman.” On the whole, their response was positive. Everyone was excited about the “Nuclear Renaissance” at that point.  True, they were not ready to deal with SMRs, but they were gracious and encouraging.

On Capitol Hill, however, the idea met with more resistance. I remember being laughed at by people who are now consultants to other SMR vendors. To their credit, however, some Senators such as Jim Webb and George Voinovich were visionary. They were intrigued and saw the potential for U.S. manufacturing and jobs and for getting military bases off the vulnerable common grid. Amazingly, the hardest sell was within the nuclear industry. Some of the big names in the nuclear industry that advocate for SMRs today were against them nine months ago. All they knew were big light water reactors and they could not envision anything else. Few had a clue about the role small FAST reactors could play.

NTH:  Babcock & Wilcox has since indicated it is designing an SMR and of course the Japanese, Koreans and Russians are in the hunt, too. With the amount of investment required to go through NRC licensing, can a small company really compete in this field?

DEAL-BLACKWELL: Of course or we wouldn’t be in it. At the IAEA convention last week in Vienna, Secretary Chu asked me why we were pursuing an LBE fast reactor design. I told him because we believe it is absolutely the best design on the planet for this size range. It’s safer, more efficient, and more appropriate for many types of applications. Every day new stakeholders come to understand its advantages. We have enough advocates and committed customers now that we have secured a place in the emerging mix of nuclear energy providers. Keep in mind that many of the biggest advancements in technology have come from small companies, even start-ups. Could anyone have envisioned Microsoft or Apple? They have created entire industries.

NTH:  You’ve talked about having other options, meaning that there may be other ways to get your reactor up and running without going through NRC approval. What are the possibilities abroad?

DEAL-BLACKWELL:  Certainly a design certification and manufacturing license from the NRC is crucially important to us. We are not trying to “go around” the NRC. But yes, there are other opportunities abroad. All countries have their own regulatory authority and we look forward to working with them.

NTH: How did this renewed effort with the NRC come about? Did you initiate it or did they?

DEAL-BLACKWELL: It was a mutual decision that the time had come and we were ready.

NTH: Considering the potential of nuclear energy and the degree to which public fears have been exaggerated, does it seem possible that 20 to 30 years hence someone could be selling nuclear “batteries” at Wal-Mart?

 DEAL-BLACKWELL:  I don’t see that happening in 30 years. Maybe 300 years! The nuclear industry moves at a conservative pace, particularly in this country. This is appropriate because the industry cannot make even the smallest mistake. Coal and oil-based technologies may cost many lives every year but when it happens, the public does not demand that we shut down all operations. But even the smallest incident with no fatalities or discernable injuries at a nuclear reactor can have dire consequences for the industry. No, retail sales of fission technology is not likely in the foreseeable future, but check back with me in 300 years and we’ll see who’s right!

NTH: Thanks very much for your time.




Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

There’s a worldwide gold rush in the global nuclear energy technology market going on right now and if American "policymakers" don’t know it, the Russians do.

Sergei Kiriyenko,CEO of Rosatom, the Russian national nuclear corporation, came close to bragging yesterday as he asserted that his company will be doing $50 billion worth of business around the world by 2030. "Personally I think they may reach some $65 billion to $70 billion,” he told Bloomberg News in an interview.

Rosatom was celebrating its contract to build two more reactors in China’s Tianwan province – in addition to two already completed there. “If we’re honest, China’s not even the number one priority now as we have larger- scale partnerships in India, Turkey and in the future Vietnam," Kiriyenko told Bloomberg.The company currently has $15 billion in sales.

Rosatom is competing against Toshiba’s Westinghouse Corporation, France’s AREVA and majority American-owned GE-Hitachi, plus South Korea, which has just secured a $20 billion contract to build four reactors in the United Arab Emirates. India, South America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East are all in play. Rosatom is also a principal in the 1000-megawatt reactor project in Iran.

All this undercuts the presumption of U.S. anti-nuclear groups that we are somehow saving the world from the proliferation of nuclear weapons by bridling the development of nuclear technology in the United States,. "If you don’t play the game, you don’t make the rules" is the old adage that applies here – and so goes the U.S.’s world class gold standard in nuclear energy safety and quality.

Most significantly, Kiriyenko said Rosatom will soon be extending its efforts to fuel fabrication and the development of next-generation integral fast reactors. IFRs introduce the possibility of burning 100 percent of nuclear fuel – rather than the 5 percent consumed in current thermal reactors – and extending available fuel supplies over thousands of years.  The U.S. abandoned IFRs under the Clinton Administration in 1993. At the time, the U.S. clearly had the world’s most advanced technology. Now the world appears to be moving ahead with or without the U.S.  

Read more at Business Week


Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

You can see the gradual awakening to the realities of the World Nuclear Renaissance in the thorough but flawed report on AOL news, which calls the current situation a "Race for Nuclear Power."

Judy Pasternak’s report is alert to developments that have so far escaped the mainstream press.  In the past few months alone the following developments have occurred:

    * Tunisia signed an agreement with the U.S. to share nuclear technology
    * Russia singed a similar agreement with Kuwait last Monday
    * France has similar agreements with both Tunisia and Kuwait
    * Jordan signed an agreement with Mitsubishi and Toshiba to allow it to bid on reactors there
    * Egypt picked a location for its first reactor
    * Saudi Arabia announced a whole section of Riyadh, the capital, will be powered by nuclear
    * Sudan, Algeria, Libya and Morocco have nuclear programs in the early stages

From there on, however, the article goes on to feature hand-wringing by various American public officials and non-proliferation groups that all this is going to lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. None of them find the time to lament that almost no American companies will be participating as principals in this rapid nuclear development – or that an American presence might be helpful in quelling proliferation concerns.

There is also the usual skepticism that these efforts really have anything to do with providing energy and that "[l]ooming in the background is the widespread suspicion that the rush for civilian nuclear power is also covert preparation for a nuclear arms race." .

"Having nuclear power is a symbol of national prestige and a politically popular project. It showcases scientific and technological knowledge," Harvard University’s Martin B. Malin, an expert in arms control and international relations in the Middle East, and director of the Managing the Atom project at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. tells AOL. "But it’s really the presumed security implications" of nuclear power that are the real draw for these countries,  "They are nervous about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and would like to have some capacity in the nuclear realm."

The article does note that all Middle Eastern countries do not have oil and that many are running short of electricity – protesters in Egypt recently blocked highways after power outages.  It also notes that countries with large fossil fuel reserves can benefit by selling them abroad rather than using them at home.  It even quotes William Tobey, a former senior nonproliferation official in the Bush administration saying, "This can be good for the United States and for the worldwide supply, because oil and natural gas are fungible."

But then follows this inexplicable and unattributed sentence:

"But that scenario might not necessarily make a dent in global greenhouse gas emissions, an often cited benefit of nuclear power."

This, of course, is the mantra of  professional environmental activists arguing that because the uranium enrichment in Paducah, Kentucky uses 1000 megawatts of coal to produce the nation’s enriched uranium supply, that nuclear power will not reduce greenhouse gases as advertised.

Altogether, though, AOL offers a clear-sighted view of what’s going on in the world – something sorely missing in general press coverage of nuclear energy.

Read more at AOL News


Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Now we know where the term "environmental purity" originates.

A handful of environmentalist activists, still smarting because the Obama Administration was not able to push climate legislation through the Senate, have begun openly talking about fielding an "environmental candidate" for President in 2012.

Such talk is years premature, of course, but it’s a strong indication of how little the professional environmental movement understands about compromise and how cultish it can be in its behavior.

“Obama’s environmental record has been dismal, especially on climate, oil and endangered species,” Kieran Suckling, executive director at the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity, told Politico. But then the Center for Biological Diversity has done some pretty dismal things itself.  For instance, it is one of the principal opponents who have managed to delay the Green PATH North Renewable Electricity Transmission Line, designed to carry wind and solar electricity from the California Desert to Los Angeles, for the past five years. []

What die-hard activists seem to be longing for is a European-style "Green Party" that would concentrate the 5 percent or so of voters who place environmental causes above everything else. In a European parliamentary system, such fractional minorities can play a key role – as Germany’s Green Party has proved. In the American electoral system, however, such splinter groups can only be counterproductive. After all, wasn’t Ralph Nader running on the Green Party ticket in 2000 when he mined Al Gore’s base?
As outlined on this site last week, the major reason environmentalist activists failed to get significant climate legislation is because they insisted on  purity and refused to strike alliances with other clean energy sectors, notably nuclear energy.  Had card-caring environmentalist been willing to acknowledge that only nuclear can replace coal for base load power, the political establishment might have taken them seriously.  Even now, if they were going for a carbon-free clean energy standard for electricity instead of a limited "renewable" standard, it might have been possible to get some kind of clean energy mandate through the Senate — as yesterday’s Washington Post editorial suggested. 

In July, Vinod Koshla, Silicon Valley’s most prominent investor in renewable technologies, suggested that a renewable mandate of 15 percent would easily become practical if it were expanded to include any low-carbon technology such as carbon capture or nuclear power. Within hours, Joseph Romm, the indefatigueable blogger on "Climate Progress," ran a critique entitled, "Is Anyone More Incoherent Than Vinod Koshla?"  [] You can steer literally hundreds of millions of dollars into wind and solar projects, but if you once say something positive about nuclear power, you are immediately read out of the picture.

That’s what killed climate legislation.  


Read more at Politico