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Posts Tagged ‘Westinghouse’


Friday, October 22nd, 2010

“Disruptive technology” was a phrase that kept coming up at Infocast’s Small Modular Reactors Conference in Washington, DC this week.

The term was coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen in his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, in which he showed that even the innovators of new technology can hurt themselves by introducing it if they are already well established in the old technology. Therefore, new technologies are usually developed by newcomers in the field.
The description would seem to fit the U.S. Nuclear Renaissance at this moment. The proposals for small reactors are coming mostly from upstart companies such as NuScale, Hyperion, Advanced Reactor Concepts, Radix, TerraPower and a reincarnated Babcock & Wilcox, which has dropped out of the full-scale field. Meanwhile, the established companies – AREVA, Westinghouse, General Electric and General Atomics – are “keeping up with the Jones” at best.
But there is a new element to the equation – the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The limiting factor in any reactor development, old or new, in this country, at least, will be getting licensed by the NRC. The Commission’s time – which is subject to Congressional appropriations and dedicated to safety issues first – can be finite even at its pass-through rate to users of $260 hour.  And any effort spent on SMRs could logically be subtracted from time spent reviewing larger reactors. Thus, when Hyperion sat down with NRC officials earlier this month, the company was only adding to the Commission’s overload.

There won’t be any Apples or Netscapes upsetting the established order in the nuclear industry. Ultimately, along with securing customers, everything will depend on successfully navigating uncertain NRC regulatory regime waters over a five-year period at a minimum. In this department, established technologies will have an advantage, since, even more than major corporations, bureaucracies have trouble adjusting to innovation.
“I believe if the nuclear industry is going to succeed, we have to succeed as a whole,” said Gary Barbour, senior advisor for regulatory affairs at NuScale Power at the conference. In winning public acceptance, this is obviously true. But is there also a sibling rivalry?  Are big and small reactors partners or rivals?  Are small reactors and large reactors an either/or proposition for the industry or can the industry and the NRC multi-task?  Are small reactors an untimely distraction at a time when the Renaissance should be focused on consummating a spate of new large reactor deployments over this decade?




Friday, October 1st, 2010

On paper, you’d think the Japanese were giving the United States a run for the money in global nuclear energy leadership. Toshiba has bought Westinghouse. Hitachi is helping GE crack the international market. Japan is 30 percent nuclear as opposed to our 20 percent. They now have three operating MOX reactors.

Yet in one crucial factor, the U.S. still holds an astonishing technological edge. We run our reactors at 90 percent capacity while the Japanese are still at a remarkably low 69 percent.

The news emerged yesterday at Reuters updated Japanese performance. The average run was for July-September was 690 percent as opposed to only 66.1 percent a year ago. For April-September it was 67 percent, up from 73 percent the year before. In September, the country cracked 70 percent.

Yet these are rates the U.S. was achieving in the 1990s, before the great run-up that occurred with Entergy and Exelon started buying up reactors as merchant companies.

The numbers prove one underlying truth. U.S. technical expertise in nuclear is still at world class.  Combating any U.S. overconfidence, however, there’s another statistic worth noting. The Koreans run their reactor fleet at 95 percent capacity.

Read more about it at Reuters



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


Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

If there is any doubt that China intends to lead the world in developing nuclear power, it was effectively erased yesterday when the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) announced a comprehensive 0 billion plan for nuclear energy expansion over the next two decades.

In addition to government funding, CNNC adds a capitalistic twist by saying it will tap world investment markets. “We plan to rope in strategic investors by the end of this year,” Chen Hua, president of CNNC Nuclear Power Co Ltd., told China Daily. “Our company will get ready for listing in the first half of next year.” 

Chen did not specify where the stock would be offered.  China just finished installing the third steel ring of the containment structure on the world’s first Westinghouse AP1000 at Sanmen. The project is on time and on budget, scheduled to be finished in 2013 at an estimated cost of $5 billion. At this rate, China could build as many as 24 new reactors with its $120 billion plan, providing about one-quarter of its electrical needs.

China is also aggressively entering the world nuclear supplier market, as indicated by its announcement this week of an agreement to build two reactors in Pakistan. The announcement had a Cold War tinge to it, since the U.S. has already signed agreements with India to help develop its nuclear program. The move has been criticized in some quarters because India has refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"In any case," said one nuclear industry observer. "the unavoidable conclusion is that the rapid adoption of nuclear power will probably be the world’s most significant technological development over the next decade — and China is the odds on favorite to catapult into the lead."

Read more at The China Post


Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

From the Editors
"China is a sleeping dragon," said Napoleon. "Let him sleep. When he awakes, he will shake the world."

The dragon is awake. According to figures just released by the International Energy Agency, China has just surpassed the United States as the world’s largest consumer of energy. In fact, things have been headed in that direction for some time. Predictions were that China would overtake the U.S. by 2015, but the slump in the economy, coupled with China’s shrugging off the downturn, have pushed China past us five years ahead of schedule.  Ten years ago, the Chinese consumed only half as much energy as the U.S. In another twenty years, they could be consuming twice as much.

What does this mean for nuclear?  In fact it probably assures that the power of the atom will be the dominant source of energy in the 21st century. Although China now relies heavily on coal, they are currently building 23 reactors, with plans to build 100 more by 2030 on the drawing board. With the entire Chinese rail system straining under the task of ferrying coal around the country, the prospect of switching to uranium – which has 16,000 times the energy density – obviously makes sense to the Chinese.

But this is only the beginning. So far the Chinese have been content to buy reactors from other countries – Areva, Westinghouse, and Russia’s Rosatom models. But the Chinese are obviously working on their own designs as well. When they roll out their model – probably within five years – they will immediately move to the forefront as one of the world’s dominant competitor. Even the Japanese, the Russians and the Koreans will feel the heat.

Nuclear power is on the verge of becoming the first major technology since the time of the American Revolution in which the United States has not spearheaded world development. France, Japan, Korea and now China are positioned to beat us to it. The consequences if realized –
political, economic and historic – are going to be enormous.


Friday, July 16th, 2010

By William Tucker
Last April, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu sounded an optimistic note in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.  While the U.S. is challenged in the manufacturing of full-sized reactors market, he said, an opportunity was opening in small modular reactors in the range of 75 to 150 megawatts.

“Small modular reactors  . . have compact designs and could be made in factories and transported to sites by truck or rail. SMRs would be ready to "plug and play" upon arrival. . . . Their small size makes them suitable to small electric grids so they are a good option for locations that cannot accommodate large-scale plants . . .. If we can develop this technology in the U.S. and build these reactors with American workers, we will have a key competitive edge.”

The article caused a flurry of excitement in the nuclear industry where a bevy of companies — ranging from established competitors Babcock & Wilcox (B&W), GE, Westinghouse and General Atomics to emerging companies such as NuScale and Hyperion — were advancing new SMR initiatives.  The government was becoming a proponent for serious nuclear energy innovation.  Legislation was introduced in the Congress to spur development and $40 million proposed in the President’s FY2011 budget request. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission followed suit projecting approval of a design as early as 2017.  TVA announced its interest in SMR deployment. Experienced manufacturers such as Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman were at the ready. And this week, Bechtel jumped on board the SMR express.  

Notwithstanding the U.S. awakening in this arena, the rest of the world is moving ahead rapidly.  Toshiba has a 10-MW “4S” (Super Safe, Small and Simple) reactor it offering to give to Galena, an isolated Alaskan village, as a demonstration.  Russia has a modular reactor it is floating into Siberian villages on barges.  Two weeks ago the Koreans announced they are entering the field as well.

Ironically we’ve been building “small modular reactors” for 50 years.  They go on U.S. Navy nuclear submarines. The reason B&W has a technical domain in SMRs — and related U.S. manufacturers have expertise in this market — is because it already has a business supplying them to the Navy.

But at the current pace of NRC design and licensing approval, it may be the better part of a decade before anybody can get something out the door in the U.S.  By that time, agile Japanese and Korean competitors may have moved out front in the global market.

So is it realistic to think America can compete in this field international?  And if not, what can we do about it?


Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

While it sometimes seems as if American companies are being completely cut out of the highly competitive international market for nuclear development, in fact there have been some successes.
Yesterday the Shaw Group, of Louisiana, Exelon, the spin-off of Commonwealth Edison that owns America’s largest nuclear fleet, and Toshiba, which owns 80 percent of Westinghouse, announced an agreement to pursue opportunities to provide a full complement of services in designing and constructing nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia.
Shaw, founded only in 1987, has 26,000 employees and is one of the world’s leaders in engineering, procurement and construction of all varieties of power plants. It holds the other 20 percent share of Westinghouse and already participates in many international ventures.
But for Exelon it represents one of the Chicago company’s first efforts to operate in the international market. Although Exelon has a proposal to build two new reactors at Victoria Station in Texas, its prospects for expansion are of course limited by the slow pace of license approval at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Saudi Arabian venture opens up new avenues for experience and success.
Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, complains that American private companies are basically competing against government-run enterprises in the international market. True enough. Areva is 80 percent owned by the French government and Russia and South Korea are basically government enterprises. Only the Japanese rely on private companies and they are encouraged to cooperate under Japanese law. Toshiba, Hitachi, Tokyo Electric and three other Japanese companies just announced a joint venture to sell reactors in Vietnam and other countries.
But what American companies may lack in size and government backing, they may be able to make up in speed and performance. The Shaw-Exelon-Toshiba venture shows that American companies are still in the race.


TURNING JAPANESE? Tokyo Electric to buy 9.2% of South Texas nuclear project

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

One of the most common criticisms of the Nuclear Renaissance these days is that “we can’t afford it.”  “Wall Street won’t invest,” the argument goes. “It’s too risky and expensive. That’s why it needs government help.”

But there’s a third option that naysayers never consider but is shaping up to be the answer. Foreign countries will invest. That’s what happened this week in Texas.

Tokyo Electric Company – an electric utility, not a nuclear construction company – invested $125 million for a 9.2 percent share of the South Texas project in which Nuclear Innovation North America, a consortium headed by NRG Energy of Princeton, N.J.

The 1,350-megawatt reactor is already being built by Toshiba, which has inherited the Westinghouse nuclear franchise. Tokyo Electric had been offering technical assistance and decided to take a share – an unusual move by American standards. Imagine Southern California Edison taking a share in a reactor in Japan!  They’ve got enough trouble already building useless renewable energy projects to satisfy deluded California politicians.

The deal is both good news and bad news for the American nuclear effort. The good news is foreign countries will provide the needed capital. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Middle Eastern sovereign wealth companies investing soon. This is the way we built the railroads in the early 1800s, mostly with European capital.

The bad news is the U.S. failure to develop nuclear power has put us back where we were in 1820 – a relatively undeveloped country that needs foreign assistance to build its infrastructure. It could be worse. It could be we aren’t building anything at all.

Read more at Business Week

William Tucker

China Will Surpass U.S. in Electrical Output by 2012

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

In a comprehensive report from Hong Kong, The Economist this week says that China will account for 80 percent of the world’s new electrical generating construction this year and will pull abreast of the U.S. in overall generation within two years:

“Capacity added this year alone will exceed the installed total of Brazil, Italy and Britain, and come close to that of Germany and France. By 2012 China should produce more power annually than America, the current leader.”

The report is based on a recent study by Credit Suisse.

Although coal construction continues, the pace will slow, with overall dependence declining from 75 percent to 65 percent. New dams are being built but most of the new capacity will be in wind and nuclear. Wind will climb from 3 to 7 percent and nuclear from 1 to 5 percent.

Equally important, China is rapidly developing a nuclear supply chain. Although the current reactors are being built by Westinghouse, Areva and Russia’s AtomEnergoProm, the Chinese are reverse-engineering and 70 percent of the content of the latest reactors is homemade.

“By 2020, China’s goal is to build advanced reactors entirely by itself, and to export its prowess abroad. Chinese firms have already built one reactor in Pakistan, are working on another and plan two more.”

The long article – an excellent summary – also notes that this power construction is allowing China to compete in international manufacturing, even though its wage levels are starting to rise.

“Cheap, reliable electricity is one reason why China remains the preferred destination for manufacturing even as its wages rise above those in such countries as Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.”

An excellent report, well worth reading.

Read more at The Economist

William Tucker