"Nuclear Central" is going to be in Russia. The old Soviet Union, which couldn't get anything straight while running the workers' paradise, has now turned out to be a nimble entrepreneur in the coming Nuclear Era.
Russia showed how it is done yesterday — with a big assist from "Uncle Sam" — when it accepted back 4,000 spent fuel rods from a Serbian research reactor, including some highly enriched uranium. The shipment took two months to travel by truck and barge through Hungary and Slovenia to the port of Koper on the Black Sea, where it was loaded on an ocean-going cargo ship that traversed the Dardanelles into the Mediterranean and all the way around Europe to the Arctic port of Murmansk. From there it will be shipped by rail to Mayak, the Siberian city where the Russians have established their reprocessing operations and geological repository.
A lion's share of the credit for the operation goes to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an American NGO that actually pledged the initial $5 million for the $55 million project in 2002 at a time when national governments weren't much interested. Some of the material is 80 percent enriched uranium and was sitting in very insecure facilities at the Vinca site. Alarm grew after September 11th that the potential weapons material might be targeted by terrorist groups. Yet there was very little money available to deal with the problem. "At the time, the U.S. government came to us needing outside funding, and we responded very rapidly," Sam Nunn, the former U.S. Senator who is now NTI's chief executive officer, told Nuclear Street. "They asked us for US $5 million and within 24 hours, we had committed that US $5 million."
Russia is now accepting spent fuel from Eastern Europe, Libya, Vietnam and all the places where it originally sent fuel during the Soviet era. The U.S. has accepted fuel back from Turkey. The problem is that, with a highly organized reprocessing effort, the Russians will soon be able to accept spent fuel from anyone – and will be advertising its own uranium supplies on this cradle-to-grave basis.
The U.S., meanwhile, will be stuck trying to open Yucca Mountain. When it comes to preventing the diversion of weapons-grade material, we might just have to leave it in Russia's hands.
The U.S. inability to move ahead with conventional energy plants – particularly nuclear – is being perceived abroad as an opportunity by foreign companies that are gaining more experience with the technology.
Thus a Russian company, Mechel Mining Management, is proposing to build a $12 million coal processing plant in Keystone, West Virginia. Mechel already owns and operates several metallurgical grade coalmines in southern West Virginia.
“The Keystone low-volatile metallurgical coal is of a very high quality and is in great demand throughout the world,” said Boris Nikishichev, CEO of Mechel Mining Management Company, according to the Bluefield [WVA] Daily Telegraph. “Our plans to step up coal production required us to boost processing volumes as well.”
“The Moscow-based company operates mines and power plants and produces steel, hardware, heat, electric power and other resources,” reported the Telegraph. “The products are marketed domestically and internationally.”
The pattern is likely to be repeated in nuclear reactors, where France and Japan have already shown a willingness to invest in the U.S.
Why is foreign investment becoming more common? First, we have flooded the world with dollars so countries like Russia with lots of raw materials have much American currency to invest. Second, American companies seem so shell-shocked by environmental regulations that they are reluctant to undertake large energy projects.
It may be the French and Russians who are being naïve in thinking they can overcome American regulatory barriers – as EDF is finding out at Calvert Cliffs. But then again it may be these foreign companies that cash in when it finally becomes clear that windmills and solar panels will not solve the nation’s energy problems.
December 3, 2010
From the Editors
Last week we commented on Washington non-proliferation expert Henry Sokolski’s fatuous article on National Review Online arguing that we should apply a “gold standard” of nonproliferation requirements before signing deals to supply nuclear fuel to the likes of South Korea.â€¨
Washington’s non-proliferation community lives in the past – somewhere around 1975 to be exact. To see how outdated these demands are, take a look at today’s World Nuclear News. Russia has just established a 120 tons store of low-enriched uranium to the International Enrichment Center at Angarsk, an industrial city near Lake Baykal, just north of Mongolia, to be managed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. â€¨
â€¨“The store has been created for use by any IAEA member country denied access to the normal commercial nuclear fuel market for its power reactors, despite being in line with its international non-proliferation obligations,” reports WNN. “Such a country could approach the IAEA, whose director general has the authority to make a contract with Russia to release the fuel for manufacture into finished fuel rods.”â€¨
â€¨In other words, Russia is offering fuel supplies to anyone who is denied by the U.S.â€¨
â€¨Whether a nation is in line with non-proliferation obligations is all a matter of interpretation. The “gold standard” advocated by U.S. non-proliferation fanatics says that countries such as Korea should not be allowed to reprocess their own spent fuel, even if they have the facilities. We’ll do it instead. This is all the more ironic because the U.S. already has obligations to take back fuel supplied to Japan, Korea and Taiwan over the last few decades and is not following through because we haven’t yet figured out what to do with it. Russia is offering to relieve us of that obligation as well.
â€¨The U.S. is rapidly losing all leverage in the international fuel market because, as one New York Times reporter put it, “the Russians have a peculiar level of comfort with all things nuclear” and we don’t.
â€¨ â€¨Does that upset the Washington non-proliferation experts? Not a bit. Scratch any of them – the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center – and you’ll find a 1970s-style anti-nuke crusader grousing about how America’s “nuclear industry” is forcing the technology on the world – as if America was the only team on the playing field.
â€¨ â€¨How this ends up on the Conservative National Review Online opinion page is anybody’s guess.
November 30, 2010
From the Editors
As Russia moves into a competitive position in the international nuclear market, President Vladimir Putin is starting to feel his oats. Yesterday in addressing a group of German businessmen, he mocked German fears about nuclear.
“The German public does not like the nuclear power industry for some reason,” Putin told his audience. “But I cannot understand what fuel you will take for heating. You do not want gas, you do not develop the nuclear power industry, so you will heat with firewood? Then you will have to go to Siberia to buy the firewood.”
Putin has good reason to boast. Russia’s Rosatom is moving ahead smartly in the international market, selling reactors and other nuclear services to India, Vietnam, Iran, Turkey and Venezuela. The Russians have offered uranium supplies to all their clients and have even volunteered to take their spent fuel for reprocessing. “The Russians have a peculiar level of comfort with all things nuclear,” was the comment of on New York Times reporter.
Meanwhile, Germany is struggling to keep its 19 reactors operating in the face of widespread public opposition. Chancellor Angela Merkel has sugar-coated the issue, claiming that nuclear is only a “bridge to the renewable future.” But anybody who understands renewables knows there is no “renewable future” and the reactors will be around until new ones are built to replace them.
That’s why Putin’s sarcastic remarks are so much to the point. What do the Germans expect to do for energy? They already import twice as much gas from Russia as does France, since France is 80 percent nuclear. Is burning Siberian firewood next? It would be “renewable,” wouldn’t it?
China and Russia are breaking out of the shadow of the U.S. economy so rapidly that the press can hardly keep pace. In the last two days, a) China and Russia have agreed to drop the U.S. dollar in their bi-lateral trade, and b) China has revealed ambitious plans to start exporting reactors by 2013 and develop an integral fast breeder program that will complete its nuclear fuel cycle.
All this has extraordinarily implications for America’s economic future. Approximately 40 percent of the dollar’s value comes from its use as the world’s international currency. Yet inflation and U.S. debt have eroded that value and China and Russia are catching on. If the world follows their lead in dropping the dollar, every American will lose 40 percent of his or her net worth overnight.
At the same time, both Russia and China are solidifying their economies by charging ahead with nuclear energy, while U.S. concerns remain fixated on tritium leaks and Yucca Mountain. At the China International Nuclear Symposium this week, Zhang Shanjing, president of China’s Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation revealed that the company will probably start selling reactors for export within three years.
Chinese technicians have already reversed-engineered Areva 900-MW reactors built at Daya Bay into the CPR-1000 and have 16 under construction, the first scheduled to open next September. Zhang said that once certain intellectual property issues are cleared up with Areva, Guangdong would begin exporting, probably by 2013.
Chinese engineers are already doing the same thing with the Westinghouse AP1000 as well. Testifying before the French Senate this week, Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon said is it “very worrying” to her company how quickly and efficiently the Chinese are building Areva reactors. Construction of two EPR-1700s at Taishan is ahead of schedule and on budget, while construction of the same reactors in Finland and France are years behind and far over budget.
Lauvergeon said the Chinese versions would come in costing 40 percent less than European efforts. Completion of the reactor at Olkiluoto is now expected to take 86 months and Flamanville 71 months, while the Taishan 1and 2 reactors are being completed in 46 months. Construction at Taishan 1, begun in 2009, is actually being slowed down so it does not overtake construction at Flamanville, which began in 2007, so that lessons learned in France can be applied in China. The implication is, of course, that once the Chinese enter the international market with similar reactors, they will be able to outbid Areva on any project.
Russia is making rapid headway on nuclear as well. Just this week, Rosatom signed an agreement with Fortum, the Finnish nuclear corporation, to apply Russia’s “nuclear competencies in future nuclear power projects." Even France’s foothold in Finland may be challenged by the Russian effort.
All this is incredibly important to the future of the U.S. economy, yet it is making almost no news. The Russia-China deal on dropping the dollar has appeared only on Drudge Report. The only U.S. response to China’s export announcement has been a warning from the ever-vigilant Carnegie Endowment for International Peace saying that China’s development of a fast breeder may lead to “nuclear proliferation.”
Russia has increased its stature as an international developer of nuclear technology by offering to send highly trained young staff members to volunteer at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The IAEA promotes peaceful use of nuclear energy and tries to inhibit the development of nuclear weapons. Established by the United Nations in 1957, it now runs autonomously out of Vienna, with regional headquarters in Ontario and Tokyo and liaison offices in New York and Geneva.
Rosatom executive director Sergei Kiriyneko said that the staffers will be under 32 years of age and will serve one-year internships entirely at Russian expense. Director General Yukiya Amano represented the IAEA on the agreement.
The volunteer effort highlights Rosatom’s efforts to be recognized as an international good citizen and to be part of the drive to develop nuclear energy that is gathering steam in all parts of the globe. The arrangement also emphasizes Russia’s success in developing a new generation of nuclear technologists, who will also help Rosatom in gaining a foothold in building reactors both in Russia and other countries. Rosatom is already building five reactors at home and has plans for ten more abroad in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India, Vietnam, Turkey, Argentina and Venezuela.
Once upon a time, America might have led the world in converting the nuclear energy. We were far ahead in the technology and had good solid reasons for sharing it with the rest of mankind.
But then we lost our nerve. We stopped building reactors in this country and sat mumbling about how transferring the technology to other countries would cause “nuclear proliferation.” As a result, we have fallen behind and must now sit and watch while Russia, France, Korea and Japan introduce nuclear to the world.
That was the scene this week as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – no friend of the U.S. – visited Moscow and hailed the two countries’ pact to transfer the technology. "We are going to develop nuclear power and nothing will stop us," he told Russian and Venezuelan students at the Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow.
Although details were not revealed, Venezuela is apparently going to supply some of its abundant oil and gas in exchange. The two countries are also about to close on a deal where Venezuela will sell Russia some oil refining capacity it owns in Germany with BP. The British company is holding a fire sale to pay for the damage from its Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Whether Venezuela will use its new nuclear capacity to siphon off some plutonium and make a nuclear weapon, of course, is anybody’s guess. The Russians probably wouldn’t mind it. Once upon a time we almost went to war to present Russia from installing nuclear warheads in Cuba. Now we may have them on our doorstop with a hostile dictatorship in South America. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but as the saying goes, “If you don’t play the game, you don’t make the rules.”
A lot of people would like to think that Chernobyl spelled the end of nuclear power around the world. Well, the Russians certainly don’t think so.
“We never stopped building, even after Chernobyl,” said Sergei G. Novikov, a spokesman for Rosatom tells The New York Times in this report. “We moved very slowly but never stopped.”
Things are moving a lot faster now. Of the 60 reactors being built around the world, Rosatom is building 15 of them – 10 in Russia and five abroad – and are hoping to build more. To date, the Russians have built at home, and in India, China and Iran, where they are busy putting up a commercial reactor even as the rest of the world tries to prevent the Iranians from enriching uranium.
Now Rosatom is about to bid on the Temelin station in the Czech Republic, going head-to-head for the first time with Areva and Westinghouse. Still smarting from losing the United Arab Emirates contract to Korea, the French and Japanese giants are likely to pull out all the stops.
But the Russians have a few cards to play as well. Saddled with the world’s largest supply of highly enriched uranium and with 40 percent of the world’s enrichment capacity, the Russians are turning swords into plowshares, prospering by exporting nuclear fuel. They already supply 17 percent of the world market – half of America’s fuel, 30 percent of France and 100 percent of Switzerland. Now they plan to leverage this role of fuel provider in order to sweeten construction offers to other countries.
To an American observer such as Times reporter Andrew Kramer, the Russians have "a peculiarly high comfort level with all things nuclear." That includes so-called nuclear waste. They import large quantities from France and are volunteering to take it off the hands of their new clients. This “waste,” of course, includes plutonium and depleted uranium that can be recycled into MOX fuel. This will only fill their coffers even more. Rosatom CEO Sergei Kiriyenko says Russia hopes to increase its foreign sales to $50 billion by 2030.
And what about the possibilities of building in a country that can’t build reactors, can’t manufacture anything for sale anything abroad and is terrified of dealing with its own "nuclear wastes?"
The Russians — who are making a play for majority shareholder interest in Uranium One, which has significant assets in Wyoming — say they hope to be doing business in the U.S. on the fuel cycle and reactor front soon as well
The international dogfight to build new reactors for the emerging global Renaissance market continued yesterday as Toshiba said it would enter the bidding against Russia and Korea to sell its technology to Turkey.
The Japanese are still smarting over losing the $18.5 billion contract to Korea to build four reactors in the United Arab Emirates. Russia, on the other hand, is coming off a successful bidding in Vietnam – plus putting the final touches on a barge-loaded small modular reactor to be floated into a village in the Arctic Circle.
Toshiba’s bid comes just as Bloomberg News is reporting that the Turks are very close to signing a deal with the Kepco, the international arm of Korea’s nuclear effort. According to Kim Sang Su, CEO of Kepco, Korea would provide 70 percent of the financing for the Turkish but Istanbul would retain 60 percent ownership.
The Turks currently have only one TRIGA Mk2 research reactor operated by the Energy Institute at Istanbul Technical University. However they have announced plans to build 3,600 MW of nuclear generating capacity over the next 20 years in order to meet the rising demand for electricity.
The Koreans’ offer to provide the bulk of the financing is not unusual and may become the rule for such international ventures. Last week they made the same off to the Emirates, suggesting the Korean Development Bank may put up $10 billion to finance its own technology. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation has also announced it might put up $4 billion for NRG Energy’s South Texas Project, which is waiting to see if it receives a federal loan guarantee. The two reactors will be Advanced Boiling Water Reactors, owned jointly by Toshiba, Hitachi and General Electric.
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.