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Posts Tagged ‘NRC’


Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

February 16, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

Westinghouse jumped into the small reactor pool with a 200-megawatt model designed to compete with several other models already proposed by small, innovative companies.

“The Westinghouse SMR is a 200 Mwe class, integral pressurized water reactor, with all the primary components located inside the reactor vessel,” says the promotion sheet on Westinghouse’s website. “It utilizes passive safety systems and proven components – realized in the industry-leading AP1000 reactor design – to achieve the highest levels of safety and reduce the number of components required. This approach will provide licensing, construction and operation certainty that no other SMR supplier can match with competitive economics.”

The real race to market, of course, will not involve innovation or cost or reliability but who can get their design through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Westinghouse is obviously depending on its reputation and economic muscle to win that race. Smaller companies such as NuScale and Hyperion have a long slog ahead of them and will need help from major investors to get through the marathon.

What lies ahead can be sampled from the accompanying video where Mike Anness, manager of advanced reactors at Westinghouse and Paul Genoa of the Nuclear Energy Institute confront the lugubrious Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who tells Platts Energy Week’s Bill Loveless that “the economic case for small reactors is being made by the vendors to roll back regulations that protect the public.”  Lyman listed these savings as “the emergency evacuation planning, the number of guards needed to protect the plants from sabotage and the strength of the containment building needed to hold the radiation in case of an accident.” 

Anness insisted Westinghouse intends to crack the American market first and Genoa recites the mantra that NRC approval represents the “gold standard.”  Given the likelihood that it will take the NRC ten years to deal with the question of evacuation plans and armed guards, however, it’s more than likely that the first SMRs will be built where everything else is now being built – in Europe or Asia.

Read more at Westinghouse Nuclear


Thursday, February 10th, 2011

February 10, 2011
Nuclear Townhall

All eyes in Washington are fixed on the national debt ceiling and the brinkmanship involved when it has to be extended in the next two months. Will the government shut down or won’t it?  But by next March the same attention may be focused Vermont Yankee and the brinkmanship over whether or not New England is going to end up without any electricity.
Senators James Inhofe of Oklahoma and David Vitter of Louisiana pointed to the coming showdown this week when the charged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviewing license renewals under a “dual standard,” granting them quickly where there is no political opposition but delaying them indefinitely where controversy has arisen. Although they did not mention any specific reactors, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton last week specifically cited the Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim license renewals as having been delayed for five years.
"In cases where local opposition has been minimal or non-existent, the NRC has indeed kept to the average 22-month review schedules,” NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said in a response. “In the cases of Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and Indian Point, local residents have exercised their ability to legally challenge the renewal applications. The NRC respects their right to do so."
Local residents are indeed campaigning to close down all three reactors, since anti-nuclear sentiment is strong in the Northeast and the area is populated by the kind of professional amateurs who have no idea where electricity comes from or how it is generated. The Vermont governor’s election last year was essentially decided on the issue of Vermont Yankee (the candidate who wants to close it won) and in New York the state attorney general’s office has been laboring long and hard to close down Indian Point. Naturally, the NRC is afraid of being accused that it is “in the pocket of the industry” by relicensing. But at some point somebody’s going to have to figure out how to generate some electricity as well.
The New England Independent Systems Operator, which does know how to generate electricity, has been issuing warnings that losing Vermont Yankee’s 600 megawatts will destabilize the entire New England grid. "Without Vermont Yankee in service, potential reliability issues could include thermal overloads on high-voltage transmission lines and voltage instability, either of which could damage equipment, compromise grid stability, or cause uncontrolled outages," said the ISO in a report last August. The loss would require "emergency generation brought into Vermont temporarily, more expensive generation from outside Vermont and demand side resources" and ultimately new transmission line construction.
Even then, the drama over Vermont Yankee next March will be only a preview to the bigger show as the deadline for Indian Point 2 and 3 approaches in 2014. The two Hudson River plants produce one-quarter of New York City’s electricity. That’s an awful lot of windmills to throw up in so short a time.

Read more about it at Platt’s


Friday, January 28th, 2011

January 28, 2011
Nuclear Townhall
From the Editors

Perhaps in keeping with the popular misconception that living near a nuclear reactor is the equivalent of living in the neighborhood with a mushroom cloud, the Augusta Chronicle is reporting that the Vogtle Plant in Georgia has opened an “information center” with emphasis on how to escape the area if something goes wrong at the new reactors.

“The two-building complex adjacent to Georgia Power Co.’s offices in Waynesboro would serve as a media and information center if a serious accident or emergency were to occur at the power plant, situated 20 miles away on the banks of the Savannah River,” the newspaper reports.   There was no mention of reduced air pollution or other benefits the new plants might bring.

The new $2 million headquarters in Waynesboro is designed to be a kind of emergency command center. “[T]he center includes a newsroom with desks and other facilities for reporters; and offices for local emergency officials, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other agencies that would be involved in such an emergency,” says the Chronicle.

The article emphasizes that Vogtle officials have already held annual emergency drills for the last two decades preparing for the hypothetical disaster scenario. "They’ve done it all," Ken Davis, public information director of the Georgia Emergency Management Association told the Chronicle. "Worst-case, unimaginable scenarios are their specialty."

All this is undoubtedly necessary to reassure the public and meet some federal requirements imposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other agencies. But it would be good to note that anti-nuclear activists also use such elaborate precautionary measures as proof positive that nuclear is unacceptably dangerous. At a recent nuclear seminar at the New York Academy of Sciences, one anti-nuclear protestor was carrying forth about Three Mile Island when another participant asked, “How many people were injured at Three Mile Island?”  “That’s not important,” the protestor responded. “They had to be evacuated!

Read more about it at the Augusta Chronicle


Friday, January 28th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 28, 2011
While it hasn’t had much success in issuing licenses for new reactors, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has managed to produce a new manifesto on safety culture that probably won’t be read by anyone but will serve as a legal benchmark for anti-nuclear groups trying to prove that reactors aren’t being operated properly.  
The 53-page document, “Proposed Final Safety Culture Policy Statement,” issued this week, was written in response to a 2008 Staff Requirements Memorandum titled, “A Commission Policy Statement on Safety Culture.” The intent, according to this report in The Day, of New London, Connecticut, is to “minimize human error and managerial problems at reactors across the country.”
The document is not “an enforceable regulation, but rather a guide to “expectations" about how reactor employees should conduct themselves to enhance safety and security, NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko told The Day. Read the full report here.
The publication drew immediate criticism from David Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who said the requirements should be mandatory. "Bottom line, the NRC should be an enforcer of regulations that ensure safety, not an encourager of unreliable traits that might lead to acceptable safety levels,” he told The Day. Lochbaum cited a shutdown of the Millstone reactor in Connecticut in the 1990s as a reason for his concern.
Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the NRC, said that regulatory procedures can and do lead to heightened oversight of reactor performance without being mandatory. He cited a recent occurrence at Palo Verde as an example. "If inspectors see a pattern of behavior that doesn’t link up with a positive safety culture, we bring that to a plant’s attention, and that can affect a plant’s overall standing," he told The Day.
The report must receive the approval of the full Nuclear Regulatory Commission before being officially published in the Federal Register.

Read more about it at the Day


Friday, January 28th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 28, 2011

The first indication that the 112th Congress will give a high priority to nuclear energy has come from the new Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, who knocked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a statement for taking five years to decide on license renewals.

"Today marks an unfortunate milestone for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the timeline for the reactor renewal process has now doubled without explanation,” said the chairman. He noted that the renewal applications for the Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee reactors “eclips[ed] 60 months with no end in sight. “Gone are the days of reasonable expectations for a stable and predictable regulatory process," continued Upton. "This uncertainty and lack of transparency in the process is needlessly putting plants and thousands of jobs at risk.” 

According to the NRC’s own website, “License renewal is expected to take about 30 months, including the time to conduct an adjudicatory hearing, if necessary, or 22 months without a hearing.”

Both Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee are hot-button issues and any decision will be met with huge opposition. A renewal is likely to end up quickly in court.

But the real question said one industry source is "if license renewals seem a problem, what about new licenses?” 

"Upton is hitting the right buttons, however,  Nuclear energy will never resurge in the U.S. until the NRC licensing process become more accountable and transparently predictable."

Read more about it at the Energy and Commerce website


Friday, January 21st, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 21, 2011

The Advisory Committee on Reactor Safety confirmed yesterday what the Department of Energy thought it had proved in the 1990s – that the containment structure of the Westinghouse AP1000 could withstand a direct hit form a commercial jet liner.
In the 1990s, the Department of Energy strapped an F-4 Phantom to a track in the desert, accelerated it to 500 miles per hour and crashed it into a wall approximately the thickness of a containment structure. The plane “just disappeared into dust,” as the commentator says on a YouTube video that has been viewed by 35,000 visitors.   “Only the tips of the wings escaped total destruction [because they missed the wall].”  The test might be enough to satisfy any ordinary individual but anti-nuclear groups began their usual, “What if . . . ?”  and “You didn’t think of this . . . .”  The most common argument was that a jetliner would weigh about three times as much as a fighter jet and therefore the result would be different. But the impact is measured by E = ½ mv2, which means that the velocity is a much more important factor. A hijacked jet liner trying to score a direct hit on a nuclear reactor would barely achieve 200 mph, so even if the airliner weighed three times as much, the impact would be less than half.
Still, opponents got their usual day in court and after giving design approval to the AP1000 in 2005, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission withdrew it, asking Westinghouse to design some kind of overhead shield to protect the containment structure. When Westinghouse came back with the shield in 2009, the NRC said, “Hey, that thing might fall down in an earthquake” and rejected the design.
Meanwhile, China has begun construction on four AP1000s, with the first scheduled to open next year.
The most recent “What if . .” of anti-nuclear groups has been that debris from the atomized aircraft might get through the 32-foot opening at the top of the structure that allows water to fall onto the containment vessel if the reactor needs emergency cooling. The Committee ruled this was not a problem. It also said that there was minimum possibility that the spent fuel storage pool would be drained by an air attack.
All this, however, is just the beginning, since the Advisory Committee’s ruling still has to be approved by the full five-member Commission. Then there will be on to the inevitable court challenges by anti-nuclear groups, who are certainly not ready to give up.
Meanwhile, Plant Vogtle in Georgia, which has received a federal loan guarantee, plus at least four other projects in Florida, Alabama and North and South Carolina, which are also planning to build the AP1000, will sit and wait.

Read more about it at the Miami Herald


Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Nuclear Townhall
January 5, 2011

In a feature story right from the anti-nuclear playbook (“Flirting with Disaster…Every few years the defenses of the nation’s nuclear plants are tested. What’s scary is how often they fail”), Newsweek magazine reports that “eight times out of roughly 100 attempts over the past five years, … mock terror teams have successfully broken through … defenses” of U.S. nuclear plants.

Right on script, the article quotes a Union of Concerned Scientist spokesman accusing the industry of “hiding behind the 9/11 tragedy to withhold information—like which plants have failed tests and repairs that have been made—that should be available.”

Newsweek surmises that “worries are particularly acute because the nuclear-energy industry is experiencing a new era of growth” – citing positive support from President Obama for loan guarantees and Energy Secretary Chu’s recent public statement that nuclear energy was “clean energy.”
On a positive note, the feature concludes that “advanced technology has virtually eliminated the risk of accidental meltdowns, like the one at Chernobyl in 1986, adding repetitive safeguards that allow the plant to shut itself down if operators can’t.”

But Newsweek warns:  “The bigger problem is the highly radioactive waste that is left over once most of the energy-producing juice has been sucked out of it” – stuff that “will remain dangerously radioactive for about 10 millennia, until the year 12011.”

The features rebuts a pithy quote from American Nuclear Society President Andy Kadak that modern nuclear plants are like prisons opining that “prison breaks still happen from time to time”  and the “security measures that are in place result in very little transparency.”  Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko offers Newsweek a bureaucratic defense saying “we think in the end overall security is best achieved by keeping most of [our security information] protected.”  This prompts another rebuff from Newsweek, which observes that “yet as the Gulf Coast oil spill showed, an industry out of public view can get sloppy.”

Newsweek offers a new rationale not yet floated by the Obama Administration for the termination of the Yucca Mountain project, which it describes positively as “dry, desolate, not prone to natural disasters – the perfect location for a repository” saying the project was canceled “in pursuit of something less risky than concentrating millions of pounds of waste in one place.”

Not to worry, we’re told the Energy Department has a Blue Ribbon Commission “researching other ideas, such as burying it in the oceans, shooting it into space, or finding a new repository somewhere else in the world.” The Newsweek feature concludes with this oddity:  “That site’s defenses, however, would need to be foolproof,” an observation presumably not applicable to an outer-space-based repository.

Read more at Newsweek



Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Nuclear Townhall
December 16, 2010
From the Editors


Anti-nuclear groups have discovered a new way to block the development of new nuclear reactors – call in the Securities Exchange Commission.
This week the SEC suspended trading of Alternate Energy Holding Corporation (AEHI) after the Snake River Alliance orchestrated a campaign to block the company’s plans to build a nuclear reactor in rural Idaho.
In announcing the investigation, the SEC raised concerns about AEHI’s ability to fund construction of a $5 billion reactor plus compensations made to “certain AEHI officers.”  "The commission cautions brokers, dealers, shareholders, and prospective purchasers that they should carefully consider the foregoing information along with all other currently available information and any information subsequently issued by the company," the SEC warned.
The probe comes at a crucial point when AEHI appearing to be making substantial progress with its admittedly ambitious plans. This week the Payette County zoning commission voted 10-to-1 to rezone AEHI’s property to accommodate a reactor. Don Gillispie, the Navy veteran who is CEO of AEHI, called the decision “monumental” and said it was “the first decision of its kind regarding a western US Greenfield nuclear site in 33 years and the first rezone ever of a Greenfield site for an independent company.”  “We haven’t had any complaints from investors,” he added.
Instead, according to Sun Valley Online, the entire SEC investigation has been prompted by complaints from Snake River Alliance, which has opposed the project from day one. “The Alliance and legions of concerned Idahoans have been urging state and federal securities investigators for more than two years to examine the behavior and financial practices of AEHI,” Liz Woodruff, policy analyst for the Alliance told Sun Valley Online. “This is a company that has been misinforming Idaho investors, county officials, and others almost since arriving in Idaho four years ago today. AEHI President and CEO Don Gillispie has tried to explain away the reasons for his company’s failure to attract legitimate investors and to move this project forward, but he cannot explain away an SEC investigation. It is unfathomable that AEHI can now attract any investors with an SEC cloud over its head.”
“Woodruff, who has worked with local residents in Elmore and Payette County, . . called on Payette County officials to immediately halt their consideration of AEHI’s rezoning application, which just last week received a favorable 10-1 recommendation by the Planning and Zoning Commission to the County Commission for consideration,” the Sun Valley Online report continued. “Woodruff said. `For Payette County, it’s better late than never.’”
What is obviously shaping up, then, is the usual situation where the broad community supports a project but a highly dedicated band of activists with better access to the media and government agencies is able to neutralize popular sentiment. The pattern is seen over and over with reactors, where local support often approaches 90 percent but small, vocal activist groups are able to convince the media that there is widespread opposition. Press reports routinely declare that “NIMBY” opposition is what is holding up nuclear progress but the opposite is true. People who are most affected by reactors are usually most in favor of them.
The SEC may also discover that AEHI’s ambitions are not as impractical as they might seem. Gillispie has no illusions that he will be able to raise $5 billion to build a reactor but says AEHI plans to do all the preliminary work leading to a license application before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and then hand the project over to an established company. Many start-up ventures work this way. Since France, Korea and Japan are all offering funding and loan guarantees to support their domestic nuclear industries, the prospect that one of them might pick up the Idaho project is not all that unlikely.
In addition, although the reactor project serves as AEHI’s shop window, the company has several other potential sources of revenue. AEHI just completed its first full-scale model of an Energy Neutral Home and is planning to franchise their construction. Its Green Water World subsidiary also has an agreement with a Chinese company to market reactors for desalinization of water in the developing world.
Nuclear critics always argue that nuclear technology is completely impractical and is only being forced on the country by some gigantic “nuclear industry.”  (The fact that such an industry no longer exists in the United States usually escapes them.)  AEHI represents the complete opposite – a small, entrepreneurial venture working from the ground up in an attempt to realize nuclear energy’s enormous untapped potential. It’s nice to know the anti-nukes are opposed to that business model as well.
AEHI will have until December 28 to respond to the charges.

Read more about it at World Nuclear News


Friday, December 10th, 2010

December 10, 2010

Nuclear Townhall
In an embarrassing slap at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s handling of a long pending review of a lower panel’s decision to reject the Energy Department’s Yucca Mountain license withdrawal, a Federal Court has lifted a stay put in place pending the review and set an aggressive expedited schedule to consider the case contesting the Obama Administration’s termination of the national repository program.
The resumption of the legal fight over the project’s proposed termination will give new ammunition to mushrooming efforts by the incoming House Republican majority to re-start the program.
In a status report filed by state of South Carolina and Washington plaintiffs on November 29 asking for the stay to be lifted, the petitioners alleged manipulation of the judicial process by the government and charged that the Administration continued to “ignore the June 29, 2010, decision” of the Atomic Safety Licensing Board, while continuing “to shut down the Yucca Mountain project.”
In addition, the brief complained that NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko “has taken unilateral action and instructed NRC staff to shut down its review of the DOE’s license application, in violation of the ASLB decision.” 
They further argued that “although apparently the NRC has taken internal votes as long as three months ago regarding its review of the ASLB decision, the matter has still not yet been decided in a formal vote of the Commission. The NRC has now taken no action for three months longer than the court’s original order granting expedited review provided for, and five times longer than the NRC gave the ASLB to review it.”
In recent statements to the media and Congress, the NRC admitted that it had no schedule for consummation of the review.
A initial response from litigants is due in early January 2011 with final briefs due on February 8.

NUCLEAR YOUTUBER STRIKES AGAIN : Cartoon Characters Tell You Things You Ought to Know About Nuclear Energy, Yucca Mountain and the NRC Chairman

Monday, December 6th, 2010

The mysterious KeKster, the YouTube nuclear film producer specializing in nuclear energy issues, has struck again with a five-minute video featuring two cartoonish characters very effectively swatting back nuclear energy myths and even explaining why Yucca Mountain hasn’t moved forward (eventually leading into what has been popularized as the “Jaczko Fiasco”, the subject of an earlier video apparently from the same source).

The chief protagonist, a eunuch-looking gnome of unknown origin approaches the questions — posed to him or her by a related imp playing Devil’s Advocate — with a workman-like Sergeant Joe Friday demeanor along with a touch of Star Trek’s Spock thrown in.

The only mild surprise is that it takes about three minutes and twenty-six seconds for them to get into Yucca Mountain and Harry Reid, with the Jascko fiasco showing up at four minutes and thirty seconds.  The video closes with the duo telling viewers to contact their members of Congress to tell them “to complete the Yucca Mountain waste repository”

To see more, follow this link or simply watch below.