Archive for February, 2011
Friday, February 25th, 2011
February 25, 2011
The international nuclear chess game of nuclear power witnessed another bold gambit this week when Japan entered talks with Lithuania over the possibility of building the Lithuanians a new nuclear reactor.
â€¨Lithuania has been at the mercy of Russia for the last year after the European Union forced the country to give up the close its Ignalina reactor as a condition of entering the Union. The EU bureaucrats argued that Ignalina had the same design as Chernobyl and was therefore dangerous. The Lithuanians argued that they had added safety features and modifications and that Chernobyl had been as much a human error as technical malfunction, but the Brussels bureaucrats refused to relent. Ignalina supplied Lithuania with 70 percent of its electricity. â€¨
Since then the Lithuanians have been forced to buy gas from Russia at steep prices. The country put out a request for bids to build a new reactor last year and received proposals from Korea Electric Power and another unidentified rumored to be Electricite de France. The Lithuanians found the unidentified proposal unacceptable but were pleased with the Korean bid. Then the Koreans suddenly withdrew their offer. One story says the Russians pressured the Koreans because they did not want to give up the gas monopoly in their former satellite, but there has been nothing to substantiate this interpretation.
â€¨Japan’s entry into the discussions holds promise that Lithuania may once again be able to restore its energy independence. Energy Vice Minister Arvydas Darulis told Bloomberg that Japan “has very high standard of nuclear safety” that would meet EU requirements. “We need high technologies and those technologies are here in Japan,” Darulis said. Lithuania is hoping to complete the project by the end of the decade.
Read more about it at Bloomberg
Friday, February 25th, 2011
February 25, 2011
In October 1945, less than three months after Hiroshima had introduced the world to nuclear energy, Scribbs-Howard science reporter David Dietz wrote a breathless account of the coming wonders:â€¨
â€¨“A nonstop flight around the earth’s equator in 24 hours . . . A 240,000-mile rocket trip to the moon . . . These are but two of the miracles just ahead of mankind in the coming Era of Atomic Energy.”â€¨
We made it into orbit and to the moon without much help from nuclear energy.
But a much more pedestrian dream may soon be realizes as the Russians have announced the first attempt to power a railroad train with a nuclear engine.
â€¨Barents Observer reports that Rosatom and Russian Railways are developing a nuclear-powered locomotive. The engine will be a small fast breeder reactor. In its first trial runs, the train also will be a scientific exhibition to inform the public of the wonders of nuclear power.
â€¨â€¨“I looked at the design of the train, I liked it and I support the idea originally presented by Rosatom since it is a innovative way of develop nuclear energy,” Valentin Gapanovich, vice-president of Russian Railways, told Interfax.
â€¨â€¨Russian scientists first proposed a nuclear-powered locomotive in 1956 that would operate in remote regions of Siberia, where refueling is difficult. Those plans have now essentially been revived, according to an article in the Russian version of Popular Mechanics.”
By hooking two engines in tandem, the Russians could also leave one locomotive in Siberia to power remote industrial installations. Rosatom officials say the engine will easily convert to a power plant. Already underway is a plan to barge a small reactor from St. Petersburg to the Chukotka region on Siberia’s arctic coast in 2012. The locomotive technology would allow reactors to be delivered to inland villages and industrial sites as well.
â€¨Although David Dietz may not have imagined it in 1945, Siberia may end up being the new nuclear frontier.
Read more about it at Barents Observer
Thursday, February 24th, 2011
Press release follows below:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 24, 2011
Energy & Commerce Leaders Press Energy Dept. on Yucca Mountain, Status of Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Collected for Disbanded Project
WASHINGTON, DC – House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) today sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu seeking answers on the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository. Upton and Shimkus are concerned that despite the scientific community’s seal of approval as well as billions of taxpayer dollars collected for the project, the administration inexplicably pulled the plug on the Yucca repository without offering a viable alternative.
In the letter to Energy Secretary Chu, Upton and Shimkus expressed concern over the billions of dollars that have been collected from the American public’s monthly electric bills. The two lawmakers wrote, “In the case of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (the Act) we have extra obligations: a fiduciary duty to consumers who, under the Act, have paid billions of dollars into the Waste Fund only—so far—to receive nothing in return; and a moral obligation to stop the flow of taxpayer dollars from the U.S. Treasury to pay damages to plant operators whose contracts with the Department of Energy (the Department) to transfer possession of nuclear waste material are breached.”
Upton and Shimkus further wrote, “It would be difficult to draft legislation to make the Act more plain, specific, and mandatory than it already is. However, all three of these problems must be solved: the establishment of a permanent facility for accepting high level waste; the consumers paying out billions of dollars and receiving nothing in return; and the Treasury paying out billions of dollars in damages with no real end in sight due to the Department’s failure to meet its obligations."
Thursday, February 24th, 2011
February 24, 2011
Chubu, Japan’s third largest utility, has announced plans to build 3,000-4,000 megawatts of new nuclear power in order to comply with the Japanese government’s requirements for providing carbon-free energy.
"We’ve concluded that without having a new nuclear plant, it would be difficult to meet the zero-emissions goal," Kazuhiko Okabe, an executive officer, said at a news conference on Thursday, as reported by Reuters. The two new units would raise nuclear from the current 14 percent to 50-60 percent in Chubu’s portfolio.
“Japan, the world’s fifth-biggest greenhouse gas emitter, has drawn a roadmap for a low-carbon economy, including a goal to boost the ratio of zero-emissions power from nuclear and renewable sources to 70 percent of output by 2030 from 34 percent now,” said Reuters in reporting the announcement. Chubu already has one other nuclear complex at Hamaoka that generates 3,504 MW. Chubu’s low-carbon strategy also includes plans to buy power from two reactors under construction by Japan Atomic Power, a merchant energy company. The two units at Tsuruga are scheduled for completion in 2017 and 2018.
In September, Tokyo Electric Power, Asia’s biggest utility, announced it plans to$30.5 billion on low-carbon projects by 2020 to cut its carbon emissions in half. The plans would also include new nuclear construction. Japan currently gets 35 percent of its electricity from nuclear. The new reactors would push it over 50 percent.
Read more about it at Reuters
Thursday, February 24th, 2011
February 24, 2011
Don Banner, a Colorado lawyer and entrepreneur, has won the initial round in trying to persuade Pueblo County to build a nuclear reactor.
This week, after seven hours of debate, the Pueblo County Planning Commission voted 5-3 to send Banner’s proposal to a full hearing before the Pueblo County Commission on March 15. “A passionate but respectful crowd of at least 100 people attended the meeting, many staying until the end,” reported the Pueblo Chieftain. Banner is seeking a zoning change plus an agreement to fast track the proposal by skipping environmental procedures that will be duplicated later by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“In his Clean Energy Park idea, Banner has formed Puebloans For Energizing Our Community, a limited liability company,” the Chieftain said. “Banner told the commission that he plans to have solar, wind and geothermal producers on the huge site, just a fraction of which would be taken up by the nuclear plant.”
Although trained as a lawyer, Banner has obviously done his homework in presenting nuclear to the public. “Much of Banner’s presentation focused on the safety of nuclear plants, and the fact that France and other nations obtain much of their energy from nuclear plants. And the United States has more stringent safety rules than any other nation,” said the Chieftain. “No one was injured in the incident and Banner said there has not been a single death at a nuclear plant or on any of 260 nuclear U.S. Navy ships (due to nuclear accidents) that regularly visit ports in heavily populated cities all over the world. More than 14 million U.S. citizens live within 50 miles of nuclear plants, and never have suffered an injury because of the plants.”
Banner’s efforts may seem quixotic but they are being duplicated in other local communities around the country. Alternate Energy Holdings is attempting to build a reactor in Idaho and the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group is making a similar effort in the Central Valley of California. Such projects are drawing on the growing support for nuclear around the country. Opposition groups will soon begin exercising their public-relations and legal skills – as they did in prompting an SEC to investigate AEHI in Idaho. But countering this will be the growing public awareness of nuclear’s strengths.
“Fourteen people spoke in support of Banner’s plan, including a wildlife biologist who worked near a plant in Georgia, a couple of retirees from the nuclear field with advanced degrees, a labor representative, local business people and a CSU-Pueblo marketing professor,” reported the Chieftain. “They echoed and amplified Banner’s contentions, but did not seem to be coached or unified in their testimonials.”
Read more about it at the Pueblo Chieftain
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
February 23, 2011
Great Britain may soon join the countries showing the United States how to have a nuclear revival. The British press reports that government regulatory are close to approving the Westinghouse AP1000, a design that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been laboring over for almost six years.
“Work on assessing Areva SA’s (CEI.FR) and Westinghouse Electric Co.’s nuclear reactor designs for operation in the U.K. hasn’t identified any showstoppers so far,” reports Dow Jones. “U.K. nuclear regulatory bodies are on track to issue interim design acceptance at the end of June, they said Tuesday in a quarterly report.”
An interim acceptance would allow additional design work but construction of any new reactors would still have to wait for final approval from the authorities. Still, the British authorities seem to be avoiding the issues that have sidetracked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Final approval of the AP1000 has been delayed for several years by attempts to protect it from aerial attack. The NRC was apparently unconvinced by a 1990s DOE test that showed an F-4 fighter jet traveling at 500 mph would be atomized in a collision with a containment structure wall.
“The U.K., which is in the midst of a big revival of nuclear power to replace aging coal and nuclear plants that are closing while also meeting climate change targets, is trying to avoid a repeat of delays and cost overruns in Finland where Areva is constructing what was supposed to be Europe’s first new EPR,” says Dow Jones. So far they seem to be succeeding.
Both the Vogtle project in Georgia and the SCAN site in South Carolina are currently awaiting design approval of the AP1000. The NRC has projected it may reach a decision by the end of this year
Read more about it at Fox Business.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
February 23, 2011
One of the most persistent myths about nuclear power is that there is no residual value to spent fuel and that the costs of dealing with this supposedly intractable problem are foisted on the public’s coffers.
Disproving the latter thesis once again, the Wisconsin Electric Power Company settled this week for $45.5 million for its share of the government’s partial breach of contract for failing to acceptance commercial spent nuclear fuel beginning in 1998. The utility won a lawsuit for $51 million in 2009 but the government had appealed. Some industry estimates put the government’s overall liability at in excess of $50 billion ultimately.
“Now, WE Energies has revealed that the government initiated discussions with the utility in the second half of 2010 and offered to settle the lawsuit,” says this report on World Nuclear News. “Accordingly, on 8 February the parties signed an agreement in which the US has agreed to pay Wisconsin Electric $45.5 million in full and final settlement of the suit. Wisconsin Electric intends return the $31 million net proceeds after litigation costs to its customers, and has written to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to enable it to set up the necessary mechanisms.”
Other states and utilities have indicated they will be asking for money back as well. In December, South Carolina Governor-elect told President Obama in a private meeting that “the federal government has reneged on its promise, and South Carolina wants a refund.” Both South Carolina and Washington State have sued to block the NRC closedown of the Yucca project. Exelon collected the first $300 million refund in 2008 and other utilities are now following in its path. The payments do not come out of the Nuclear Waste Fund but out of general revenues.
Still, the unraveling of the federal effort casts a shadow over any attempt to build a permanent repository – or better yet initiate a reprocessing strategy. The situation may become clearer or cloudier when the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future makes its report sometime in the next several months.
Read more about it at Nuclear World News
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
February 22, 2011
From the Editors
Ever wonder where all those legions of young people who believe the world can run on wind and solar energy get their ideas? No need to look any further. The University of Maine has laid it all out for us.
This op-ed, written for the school newspaper by a senior engineering students, describes a recent Renewable Energy Meeting in which faculty and administrators decided what will be taught on the Maine campus in campus in coming years. The lessons will be:
1) Global warming is a world threat
2) China is increasing its consumption of fossil fuels
3) World peak oil may soon be a reality, and
4) “we don’t have the infrastructure to ship and deliver our own natural resources; and the threat of terrorist attacks is too high to trust the far most efficient energy source of nuclear power. “ (Just what terrorists would do with a nuclear reactor besides shut it down is never discussed.)
As a result of all this, wind and solar are the only options and are the only thing that will be taught or discussed on the UMaine campus.
Author Alexander Polk describes one engineering student, Jim LaBrecque, who had the courage to stand up and question all these assumptions. “Before LaBrecque could finish his complete thought, he was rudely interrupted by Evelyn Silver, the senior advisor to UMaine President Robert Kennedy,” writes Polk. “Throughout LaBrecque’s moment on the floor, Silver shook her head and spoke with her neighbors. She was very close-minded on the issue, cutting off all naysayers.”
And for this people are paying $15,000 a year in tuition? A job in the local power plant would provide a better education.
Read more about it at Maine Campus
Saturday, February 19th, 2011
February 19, 2011
An amendment seeking to cut funding for the Yucca Mountain program for government fiscal year 2011 was defeated by a voice vote shortly after midnight during the stretch drive by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to finalize a spending bill with “the largest single discretionary spending cut in the history of the nation.”
The Yucca defunding amendment was offered by Congressman Dean Heller (R-Nevada). The Heller amendment would have eliminated approximately $200 million in funding for the program, which continues to receive funds under a continuing resolution despite efforts by the Obama Administration to terminate the program.
The House bill also includes a pro-Yucca Mountain provision seeking to thwart an ongoing effort by Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko to shut-down the agency’s Yucca Mountain review without any final determination by the Commission with regard to the Atomic Safety Licensing Board’s rejection of the Energy Department’s license withdrawal request.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers hailed the Yucca Mountain review rider in a statement saying “in addition to spending cuts, the legislation also contains multiple provisions to stop harmful regulations or programs that would hurt the nation’s economy and inhibit the ability of American businesses to create jobs, such as onerous EPA “greenhouse gas” regulations, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility application process, and the Obama Administration’s health care reform act.
The House spending package, which passed the House with a party line vote, heads to an uncertain future in the Senate. The current continuing resolutions expires on March 4.
Friday, February 18th, 2011
February 18, 2011
â€¨â€¨In an announcement that will echo across the Northeast in anti-nuclear circles, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy announced it has discovered a flaw in the control rod blades that may require their more frequent replacement.â€¨â€¨
"The design life if not revised, could result in significant control blade cracking and could, if not corrected, create a substantial safety hazard and is considered a reportable condition," the company told the NRC, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Anti-nuclear groups immediately pounced on the announcement, predicting runaway reactors. “David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry engineer who now frequently consults with groups critical of the industry, said the faulty blades could make affected control rods inoperable,” reports the Journal. "`It could either slow down or stop the control rod from inserting" when plant operators were trying to reduce power or shut a plant down,’ Lochbaum said. Gundersen said control rods `are like the brakes on a nuclear reactor. It’s almost like they have a 100,000 mile warranty on them and they need to be changed out at 40,000.’
”â€¨â€¨On closer inspection, however, the story reveals that alarmist hand-wringing over a gloom-and-doom scenario is not warranted. If the rods begin to crack, they release boron and tritium into the cooling water, a condition that can easily be monitored. "As long as there is no significant increase in boron or tritium observed, the recommendation would be continue operation until the end of the operating cycle," NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan, told the Journal. â€¨The list of 27 reactors that use GE’s boiling water technology includes some of the oldest plants in the nation. Massachusetts’ Pilgrim, Vermont Yankee, Oyster Creek, and the TVA’s Browns Ferry units are among them. After 40 years of operation, none have yet reported any problems. Connecticut’s Millstone 1 unit, also listed in the Journal story, closed permanently in 1998.
Read more about it in the Wall Street Journal