Friday, June 30, 2006

Another Al Gore Supporter for Nuclear Energy

Over at the Huffington Post, Raymond J. Learsey is praising Al Gore, and proposing that nuclear energy be part of the solution:

But serious discussion, not just lip service, by us on nuclear power is long overdue (Please see my blog "Color Nuclear Energy Green" June 2,2006). New technologies and new perceptions are emerging on this issue. As but one example the Department of Energy, through its Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, is working on a method of stripping out certain elements from nuclear residue, that would, in the words of the government agency, create "proliferation-resistant fuel." More on this and other initiatives in a future posting. I don't doubt that there will be many hurdles to overcome along the way, but given the grave and imminent danger of climate change, and given nuclear's capability to generate vast amounts of power without fossil fuel emissions, not seriously and expeditiously considering nuclear power as a viable alternative carries even greater risks now than ever before. And that is said with a full appreciation of the downside.
We've heard from Learsy before on this issue. Click here and here for posts from our archives.

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60 Minutes to Profile French Nuclear Industry

According to my colleague in media relations, Steve Kerekes, 60 Minutes is putting the finishing touches on a report on the French nuclear energy industry. Though it won't run this Sunday, look for it to air sometime in the next few weeks.

For more on the French nuclear program, which provides 80% of that nation's electricity, visit the World Nuclear Association.

UPDATE: My boss, Scott Peterson, sent in the following note:

Let's not forget the the French program is modeled after the U.S. program, using U.S. technology as its base. Despite the fact that the French have gone forward with a state electricity company to build 57 (?) reactors, the U.S. still produced more electricity from nuclear energy than France and Japan combined!
NEI also maintains a library of nuclear statistics.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Energy Information Digest

The June issue of Energy Information Digest is now available on the NEI Web site, in the Newsroom. In it, you'll find articles about legislation for a solar tax credit extension, the recent rise in bicycle use, Ontario's and the United Kingdom's future nuclear energy plans and other topics.

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Sierra Club Sues Pentagon Over Wind Farms

From AFP:

The Sierra Club filed a federal lawsuit in San Francisco charging the US Department of Defense (DOD) with blocking the construction of wind power plants.

The environmental group accused the Pentagon of essentially creating a nationwide moratorium on new wind farms by barring their construction within the line of sight of military radar.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the DOD failed to complete a congressionally-mandated study to determine whether windmills actually interfered with radar, the suit maintained.

"While the Defense Department drags its feet studying if wind farms are a threat to national security, Americans are missing out on cleaner, cheaper energy," said Sierra Club attorney Kristin Henry.

"If the military can have windmills and effective radar at Guantanamo, why can't we have both in the Midwest?"
For more on this story, take a look at SEJ's Tip Sheet. And for more on those wind turbines at Guantanamo, click here.

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Turkey and Russia May Deal on Reactors

Turkey wants to build three nuclear reactors by 2015. And Vladimir Putin wants to make sure that Russia builds them.

Meanwhile, more details concerning yesterday's announcement on consolidating all of Russia's civillian nuclear agencies are beginning to emerge.

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India's Bihar May Get a Reactor

So says DailyIndia.com.

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Sweden Nuclear Update

The World Nuclear Association is reporting the results of a poll on nuclear energy in Sweden:

85% support nuclear power in Sweden

The support for the continued use of nuclear power is gaining momentum in Sweden. A poll of 1016 phone interviews conducted 7-13 June this year shows that 85% of the population want to keep using nuclear energy.

32% want to let existing power plants stay in service until they will be decommissioned for technical/economicial reasons (with a 60-year operating life time, this will be in the range of 2035-2045). 31% think existing plants should be replaced with new reactors when necessary, and 22% would like to build new reactors in addition to replacements. Only 13% want to shut down units prematurely using governmental decisions.
Looks like the momentum for new nuclear is picking up. For another look at Sweden's energy situation, click here.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

German Utility Mulls European Markets for New Reactor Build

Unable to build nuclear capacity at home due to a long-standing moratorium on new reactor build, German utility E.On may is looking to build reactors elsewhere in Europe:

Additionally, [E.On Energie Chief Executive Johannes] Theyssen confirmed E.On's interest to build nuclear power plants in foreign markets.

The company has already sent a letter of intent to the Romanian government stating its interest to participate in the construction of two new nuclear reactors in Cernavoda as a strategic investor, Theyssen said.

At the same time, Theyssen said, E.On is monitoring the Dutch market, where nuclear power is being reconsidered as an option, and the U.K. where the government is in favor to build new nuclear facilities, Theyssen added.
I have to wonder if Germany may wind up importing electricity from abroad, generated by reactors they refused to build at home.

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S&P: Nuclear Power is "Heating Up"

S&P Ratings News just published a research note entitled "Nuclear Power Is Heating Up Again:

Interest in the energy source is on the rise across the country, and financial risks are lower. S&P sees no slowing of the trend...

(snip)

Standard & Poor's recognizes that the federal government is initiating numerous structural changes designed to prevent a repeat of the extremely negative and financially ruinous experience of the last nuclear construction cycle.

These include things such as standardizing reactor designs, providing tax breaks and loan guarantees, and creating a combined construction and operating license. This is occurring while the industry itself has demonstrated an ability to operate safely and efficiently in recent years. So, while it may be slow and steady, the return of the nuclear power option has considerable momentum that is not likely to wane.
For more on this area, visit NEI's Financial Center -- in particular, our latest Wall Street Briefing.

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U.K. Nuclear Update

In a reception for magazine editors at 10 Downing Street, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair reiterated his support for new nuclear build, contending that Britain couldn't afford to rely on renewable sources of energy alone.

Alistair Darling, the U.K.'s new secretary for trade and industry, told the Guardian in an interview that he supports including new nuclear as part of a diverse energy portfolio:

"We run a serious risk that some day someone will go into the living room, flick the switch and and nothing will happen because we do not have the capability to generate any energy from any source at all," said Mr Darling.

Britain needed the widest possible energy mix and the minister did not accept that support for one form of energy damaged development of another, as some in the renewable sector have claimed in their arguments against increasing nuclear capacity.

Faced by the twin objectives of energy security plus lowering carbon emissions to counter global warming, Britain had little option, he said, but to act as the current fleet of atomic stations came to the end of their lives.

He said: "No solutions are easy. One of the factors in nuclear is that the costs have got to be met. We know it is expensive but to have an energy review that says we are not going to do it, especially given the carbon problem we face, does not make any sense at all."
A new study by the U.K.'s Health and Safety Executive estimates that licensing a new reactor should take 3-4 years, about half as long as it took to license the Sizewell B station.

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Russia to Consolidate Civillian Nuclear Agencies

From Reuters:

Russia will restructure its nuclear industry over the next year to boost atomic power generation, its nuclear chief said on Tuesday.

The work is central to a longer term plan by President Vladimir Putin to raise the share of nuclear energy to 25 percent of electricity production from 16 now, which would involve building at least two reactors a year.

"The main aspects of the restructuring of the civilian parts of the atomic sector must be completed within a year, a year from now," Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia's nuclear energy agency (Rosatom), told reporters.

(snip)

If the plan is implemented Atomprom would include nuclear power company Rosenergoatom -- which controls Russia's nuclear power stations -- and the civilian units of Rosatom.

Rosatom's main units are Tekhsnabexport (Tenex), the state owned uranium trader, TVEL, the state owned nuclear fuel producer and trader, and Atomstroiexport, the state controlled builder of nuclear reactors abroad.
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Debunking Anti-Nuclear Talking Points

There are a pair of letters to the editor that appeared in today's edition of the Financial Times that offer good rejoinders to a number of standard anti-nuclear talking points.

The first comes from our friend Ian Hore-Lacy of the World Nuclear Association:

Nuclear energy's carbon output from the full fuel cycle is not a matter for conjecture; audited figures are published, and are very much the same as the best figures for renewables. In particular, they are typically about 2 per cent of what you would get from using coal, and if one goes to very low-grade uranium ores, that figure could rise to 3 per cent. Hardly a big deal, and it certainly shows that greenhouse-friendliness is significant.
For more on total lifecycle emissions, go into our archives for a review of the issue by David Bradish. Be aware that WNA maintains its own blog as well.

The second letter comes from FT reader Terence Price, and deals with the question of the uranium supply:
What is not always realised by those unfamiliar with the mining industry is that the published figures for "reserves" have no automatic relationship to the amount of material in the earth's crust. They simply describe the amount that has been identified from geological exploration, and could be mined commercially given the market price. If the price rises, this automatically increases the accessible "reserves". A senior geologist once told me: "Uranium is where you look for it". There is plenty in countries friendly to the UK - Canada, Australia and half a dozen others.
Our definitive post on this subject was contributed last Summer by Clifton Farrell. Give it another read.

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Seed's Nuclear Crib Sheet


For those of you who would like a simple primer on nuclear energy, check out Seed's Nuclear Crib Sheet, available as a GIF or a PDF.

And be sure to bookmark a story from their archives on environmentalists who have changed their minds on nuclear energy -- also available as a podcast.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

NEI Nuclear Performance Report (May 2006)

Here's a summary of U.S. nuclear plant performances last month:

For May 2006, NEI estimates the average net capacity factor reached 83.4%. This figure is 0.3 percentage points higher than the same one month period in 2005. NEI estimates monthly nuclear generation at 62.5 billion kilowatthours for May 2006 compared to 63.5 BkWh for the same one month period in 2005.

For 2006, NEI estimates year to date nuclear generation at 317.8 billion kilowatt-hours compared to 311.1 BkWh in 2005 (2.2 percent increase).

For the report click here (pdf). It is also located on NEI's Nuclear Statistics webpage.

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NEI Energy Markets Report (June 19th - 23rd)

Here's a summary of what went on in the energy markets last week:

Electricity prices increased last week (see pages 1 & 2). Gas prices at the Henry Hub rose $0.36 to $6.70/MMBtu (see page 4).

Nuclear capacity availability was at 97 percent last week. No units are in refueling outages, and two units are down for maintenance (see pages 2 and 3).

Uranium prices (from UxC and TradeTech) were at $45.50 and $45.25/lb U3O8 (see page 8). Last week, natural gas futures at the Henry Hub traded at $6.53/MMBtu for July and $10.61/MMBtu for January 2007 (see page 6).

For the report click here (pdf). It is also located on NEI's Nuclear Statistics webpage.

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Industry Encouraged by Senators’ Effort to Find Common Ground on Used Nuclear Fuel Management

Earlier today the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee'’s Energy and Water Development Subcommittee today approved a fiscal year 2007 appropriations measure that includes provisions addressing the Department of Energy'’s nuclear waste management program. The following is a statement from the Nuclear Energy Institute's president and chief executive officer, Frank L. "“Skip"” Bowman:

"“The industry has yet to fully review the nuclear waste-related provisions contained in the markup of the fiscal 2007 energy and water development appropriations bill.

"“However, the specifics of the bill aside, it is tremendously encouraging that Chairman Domenici and Senate Minority Leader Reid are working to find common ground with the potential to advance the federal government'’s program for managing used nuclear fuel. It is very important to industry that, in addition to this new proposal, the legislation fully fund the Yucca Mountain repository program.

"“Nuclear energy is vital to our nation'’s long-term energy security. The sooner that the federal government begins meeting its obligations under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the greater the prospects that America can maximize the myriad benefits that we derive from this clean, reliable energy source.

"“We commend Senators Domenici and Reid for their willingness to propose innovative concepts that have the potential to effectively address longstanding delays in the government'’s used nuclear fuel management program. We look forward to studying these provisions further and working with interested parties -- —including Congress, governors and state utility commissioners -- —to ensure that the federal government meets its obligation to accept used fuel as it was supposed to have begun doing in 1998."”
Here's an AP account of the story. And click here for the press release from Senate Energy and Natural Resources.

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President Bush on Global Warming

Yesterday at White House event launching America Supports You, an umbrella group dedicated to supporting men and women in the military and their families, President Bush had this to say in response to a reporter's question about global warming:

Q I know you are not planning to see Al Gore's new movie, but do you agree with the premise that global warming is a real and significant threat to the planet that requires action --

THE PRESIDENT: I think -- I have said consistently that global warming is a serious problem. There's a debate over whether it's manmade or naturally caused; we ought to get beyond that debate and start implementing the technologies necessary to enable us to achieve a couple of big objectives -- one, be good stewards of the environment; two, become less dependent on foreign sources of oil for economic reasons and for national security reasons.

That's why we're pressing for clean coal technology. That's why the hydrogen initiative is robust. In other words, we want our children being able to drive cars not fueled by gasoline, but by hydrogen. That's why I've been a strong advocate of ethanol as an alternative source of fuel to run our cars. I strongly believe that we ought to be developing safe nuclear power. The truth of the matter is if this country wants to get rid of its greenhouse gases we've got to have the nuclear power industry be vibrant and viable. And so I believe in -- and I've got a plan to be able to deal with greenhouse gases.
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Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Meet Scott Kirkwood.

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U.K. Nuclear Update

With oil and natural gas production in the North Sea declining, the Royal Society of Edinburgh says that Scotland needs to keep energy alternatives in mind:

A 50% rise in energy demand in the next 45 years means that Scotland needs to keep its nuclear option open, according to a group of the country's most senior academics.

With a sharp fall in generating capacity looming, the Royal Society of Edinburgh warns that demand for energy will continue to rise, and a mix of solutions is required.

Its estimate of a 50% increase by 2050 is based on trend growth in demand and 2% average annual economic growth.

Given the spiralling rates of energy consumption, the institute concluded that the option of replacing nuclear power plants should be left open, but with a plea that it should not become a political football.
The RSE has posted video of the press conference announcing the publication of the report. The RSE also has serious concerns about Scotland's electrical grid. For more on the report and local reaction, visit Rob Edwards.

According to the Independent, dissidents in the Labor Party are planning on making the question of new nuclear build an issue when the party chooses a successor to Prime Minister Tony Blair later this year:
Labour rebels said that they intended to challenge Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, on the issue when he takes over from Tony Blair, which many expect will be soon after Labour's annual conference in September.

Michael Meacher, a former environment minister, is likely to make opposition to nuclear energy a key part of his leadership challenge to Mr Brown, if he can get sufficient nominations.

Mr Brown's support last week for a new generation of British nuclear weapons will increase the determination of some Labour MPs, such as Clare Short, to back a challenger. Mr Meacher has told allies he wants to campaign on a wide-ranging agenda which focuses on green issues.

"Nuclear energy has now become a central issue for the succession," said Alan Simpson, a member of the Campaign Group of Labour MPs. "The more Gordon Brown drapes himself in the clothes of Tomorrow's World, the more he looks like Yesterday's Man. There is a growing fear now that he is going to lead us into a hung Parliament."
Finally, Blair addressed the issue of climate change in a speech yesterday at King's College in London. Click here for a transcript.

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Toshiba Has High Hopes for Westinghouse

There was some interesting nuclear energy news made at Toshiba's annual shareholders meeting yesterday:

Japan's Toshiba Corp. said on Tuesday that Westinghouse, which it is buying from British Nuclear Fuels, is expected to win about 16 orders for new nuclear power plants in the United States.

Toshiba, Japan's second-largest electronics conglomerate behind Hitachi Ltd., agreed to buy Westinghouse in February for $5.4 billion to boost its position in the resurgent nuclear power industry, creating the world's largest nuclear reactor maker.

"In the United States, construction of nuclear power plants are set to pick up as we go forward. Among about 20 units in the pipeline, Westinghouse is estimated to take some 16," Toshiba President Atsutoshi Nishida told an annual shareholders' meeting.

(snip)

Toshiba has said its stake in Westinghouse will be 51 percent or a few percentage points more, and that the company is in talks with five or six companies about taking a minority stake in the Pennsylvania-based company.
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NRC Renews Licenses for Brunswick 1&2

Congratulations to the team at Progress Energy on the news that NRC has renewed the operating licenses for Brunswick 1&2.

The Brunswick plant is located south of Wilmington, N.C., at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. The licensee, Carolina Power & Light Co., submitted its license renewal application Oct. 18, 2004. With the renewal, the license for Unit 1 is extended until Sept. 8, 2036, and the license for Unit 2 is extended until Dec. 27, 2034.
Counting Brunswick 1&2, NRC has now renewed the licenses for 44 reactors.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy

Meet Kuro5hin.

Thanks to Noblesse Oblige for the pointer.

UPDATE: Thomas Goering wants more nuclear energy too.

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More Advice for Al Gore From Robert Scoble

Ex-Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble read Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth over the weekend, and he writes that there was a glaring ommission:

I read your book today, an Inconvenient Truth. Great book, I wish everyone would read it, but the ones who really need to read it probably won’t. I guess that’s inconvenient truth #1.

When I was in college I wrote a lot of editorials. Imagine that! Heheh. But — by far — the most unpopular one I wrote was when I advocated raising gas taxes by several dollars to encourage Americans to buy smaller cars and to encourage the car industry to come out with smaller and more fuel efficient cars.

That taught me the depth of the problem. We aren’t willing to face the hard truths.

Hey, Al, even you aren’t willing to propose one of the best answers: nuclear power.
Be sure to stop by and join the conversation. The last time I looked, Robert's readers had left 60 comments and counting.

UPDATE: Scoble friend Mike Amundsen is on board too.

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Paul Johnson: America Needs New Nuclear Build

In an upcoming edition of Forbes, historian Paul Johnson proposes a solution for America's long-term energy challenges:

In the past I've paid little attention to world oil short-ages and the consequent increases in oil prices because they tend to end naturally, when supply catches up with demand. But in the current instance no such rectification by the market has taken place, so more fundamental remedies must be studied.

As the world's biggest consumer of energy--as well as the one power with the technical resources, capital and experience in leadership to apply bold measures--the U.S. has a duty to think on the largest possible scale. It should contemplate becoming the world's supplier of electricity generated by nuclear reactors.

(snip)

Russia, a nearly third-rate economic power a decade ago, has leapt back into the race through its large-scale export of natural gas and oil. The U.S. could consolidate its superpower status with a Global Nuclear Energy Supply System, which, in time, would not only solve the world's energy problems but would also generate unimaginably vast export earnings, thereby providing a permanent solution to America's balance-of-payments deficit.
UPDATE: Olivia Albrecht from the Center for Security Policy is having similar thoughts.

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Supreme Court to Hear Global Warming Case

Just off the wire from the AP:

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether the Bush administration must regulate carbon dioxide to combat global warming, setting up what could be one of the court's most important decisions on the environment.

A dozen states, a number of cities and various environmental groups asked the court to take up the case after a divided lower court ruled against them.

They argue that the Environmental Protection Agency is obligated to limit carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles under the federal Clean Air Act because as the primary "greenhouse" gas causing a warming of the earth, carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

The administration maintains that carbon dioxide -- unlike other chemicals that must be controlled to assure healthy air -- is not a pollutant under the federal clean air law, and that even if it were the EPA has discretion over whether to regulate it.

A federal appeals court sided with the administration in a sharply divided ruling.
More later.

UPDATE: From SCOTUS Blog:
In the EPA case, that agency concluded that it did not have the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" from new cars and trucks and, even if it had that authority, it would not exercise it for policy reasons. The D.C. Circuit Court upheld that ruling, but the Justices agreed on Monday to hear an appeal by Massachusetts, 11 other states, three cities, and a variety of environmental groups. Both issues -- EPA's authority, and its discretion not to regulate in this field, are before the Court in the case. The cases do not directly raise a "standing" issue, although that was debated vigorously in the Circuit Court and by EPA in replying to the appeal. Presumably, the Justices will have to determine on their own if any of the challengers did have a right to sue.
UPDATE: Coincidentally, today E&E TV is featuring an interview with David Conover, Republican Counsel to the National Commission on Energy Policy:
Conover, former director of the U.S. Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP) and current counsel to the National Commission on Energy Policy, discusses why he believes a market signal is needed to spur action on climate change, and whether President Bush would ever endorse that strategy. Conover also explains why he feels the administration has the right idea when it comes to international partnerships on global warming.
Click here for a transcript.

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Duke's Oconee 1 Back at Full Power

From Reuters:

Duke Energy Corp.'s (DUK.N: Quote, Profile, Research) 846-megawatt Unit 1 at the Oconee nuclear power station in South Carolina ramped up to full power by early Thursday, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a report.

On Wednesday, the unit was operating at 46 percent after exiting an outage.

The Charlotte, North Carolina, company shut the unit for planned work on June 14.
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NRC Issues License to LES for National Enrichment Facility

Congratulations to Louisiana Energy Services on the news that was released late Friday that NRC had issued a license for the $1.5 billion National Enrichment Facility. From the Washington Post:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued its first license for a major commercial nuclear facility in 30 years, allowing an international consortium to build what will be the nation's first private fuel source for commercial nuclear power plants.

Construction of the $1.5 billion National Enrichment Facility, under review for the past 2 1/2 years, could begin in August, and the plant could be ready to sell enriched uranium by early 2009, said James Ferland, president of the consortium of nuclear companies, Louisiana Energy Services.
Late Friday night, our senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, Marv Fertel, had this to say:
"The Nuclear Energy Institute congratulates LES on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's approval of its license application for a new uranium enrichment facility in the United States. Once built, LES's state-of-the-art facility will help ensure a competitive, reliable and stable supply of low-enriched uranium. This achievement will enhance our domestic supply of fuel to produce reliable, emission-free electricity from nuclear power plants for decades to come.

"With the nation's 103 operating nuclear power plants running at 90 percent capacity and the prospect of new nuclear power plant construction moving steadily closer to reality, this new enrichment facility will add to our energy security as it increases our domestic capability to produce nuclear fuel for electricity production by commercial nuclear power plants.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission also is to be commended for completing its detailed examination of the LES license application within the original, 30-month schedule. This disciplined licensing experience is a welcome confidence-builder that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can effectively review safety and licensing issues in a timely manner. This experience bodes well for the construction and operating license applications for new nuclear power plants that are expected to be submitted to the agency beginning in 2007."
For more from NRC, click here and here. Norris McDonald and Nuke Beat are chiming in too.

UPDATE: More support from Kung Fu Quip.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Greenpeace and the Reality of Reactor Safety

Back in April when Chernobyl's 20th anniversary was approaching, Greenpeace published a report titled An American Chernobyl: Nuclear "Near Misses" at U.S. Reactors Since 1986. In Greenpeace's report, they claim that an American Chernobyl could happen due to a "nuclear reactor meltdown and the subsequent failure of containment."

On the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the worst commercial nuclear power accident in history, Greenpeace has documented nearly 200 "near misses" at U.S. nuclear reactors since 1986.
I'm not sure how Greenpeace defines "near miss" but the NRC uses the terms "significant", "important" and "precursor" when categorizing events.

This categorization is based on event probabilities. To give you a general background, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry measure and run reactors based on probabilities of the risks for core damage.

As a reactor runs, events occur which have some risk. For instance, if I need to replace a pipe or valve, some risk exists in replacing it depending on the type of pipe or valve that I'm working on. If my action has little impact on the overall operations of the reactor than little risk is involved.

Risk always exists when operating nuclear reactors. After decades of experience an appropriate and accepted level of risk for both the regulator and the industry is 1E-6 reactor years or a one in a million reactor years risk of core damage.

A reactor year is one year a reactor operates. If you have 10 reactors which each have run one year then you have 10 reactor years. If you have 100 reactor years who each have run 10 years than you have 1,000 reactor years of operation. (For ease of calculation, 7,000 critical hours per year are assumed for a reactor year.)

Here's what the NRC says:

For assessing public safety and developing regulations for nuclear reactors and materials, the NRC traditionally used a deterministic approach that asked "What can go wrong?" and "What are the consequences?" Now, new information for assessing risks also allows NRC to ask "How likely is it that something will go wrong?"

New techniques for measuring, analyzing, and ranking public health risks make it possible for the NRC to incorporate risk insights into its regulations. By risk-informing its regulations and regulatory processes, NRC can focus the attention of its licensees on those design and operational issues most important to safety and move away from prescriptive regulations based on conservative engineering judgments toward regulations focused on issues that significantly contribute to safety.

To give you more of an idea, check out this link to a NRC SECY (letter to the commissioners) on this issue (pages 2 & 3):

The Accident Sequence Precursor Program systematically evaluates U.S. nuclear power plant operating experience to identify, document, and rank the operating events that were most likely to have led to inadequate core cooling and severe core damage (precursors), accounting for the likelihood of additional failures.

(snip)

The objective of the Standardized Plant Analysis Risk Model Development Program is to develop standardized risk analysis models and tools that staff analysts use in many regulatory activities, including the ASP Program and Phase 3 of the Significance Determination Process (SDP).

On to Greenpeace (pg. 17):
According to the NRC, accident precursors with a Conditional Core Damage Probability or CCDP or CDP of 1 in 1000 are considered significant, accident precursors with a CCDP of 1 in 10,000 are considered important and those with a CCDP of greater than 1 in a Million are consider precursors.
Other than an incorrect tense at the end of this statement this should give you an idea of the probability categories of running a reactor.
Of the nearly 200 "near misses" to a meltdown cited in US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) documents, eight "near misses" are considered the most significant. This means that according to the NRC, the risk of a core meltdown is greater than one in 1,000.
Of the 8 significant near misses Greenpeace documents, the greatest risk since 1986 was the Davis Besse vessel head degradation event. This event had a risk of 6E-3 reactor years of potential core damage. In other words it was .6% reactor years away from core damage.

Does less than one percent chance of core damage sound risky? To the nuclear industry and its regulator, it's huge. Because it's huge to us it should give the reader an idea of how conservatively we operate these plants.

As well, the low probability of core damage from the Davis Besse event should tell the reader that many more events needed to happen in order for the reactor core to become damaged.

Why is it huge to us? Well, if we have 100 reactors operating for 10 years and every one of them has a vessel head degradation event, than the probability says that 6 of them will have core damage as a result.

Here's a little snip from our fact sheet on Safety Benefits of Risk Assessment:

The many nuclear plant improvements and new regulations based on risk assessment have dramatically improved nuclear power plant safety. Industry wide, the likelihood of a reactor core-damaging accident declined from an already low level of one in 12,000 per year in the early 1990s to one in 40,000 per year in 2000.

(snip)

Combining the known information on radiation heath effects with the results of risk analysis, the risk of death for a resident near a nuclear plant is less than one-in-a-million per year. To put this in perspective, this is 25 times lower than the risk of being killed by a lightning strike and 12,000 times lower than the risk of dying in a car accident. Other forms of energy production, such as hydroelectric or fossil-fueled power stations, result in risk impacts higher than those of nuclear plants.

I did a random Google search for other risks and found a nice table halfway down this page. According to the link, this year you have a 1 in 100 chance of your car being stolen, 1 in 200 chance of your house catching fire, 1 in 500 chance of dying from cancer and a 1 in a million chance of winning the state lottery.

Now that we have covered risks and probabilities, lets go to containment structures and Greenpeace:
If any of these "near misses" had progressed to a meltdown, the government regulators have little confidence that any of the nuclear reactor containments would survive. In fact, some containment designs used in General Electric and Westinghouse reactors are virtually certain to fail after a meltdown of the radioactive fuel.
According to 10 CFR Part 50 Appendix J, reactors before operation and during are required to test and demonstrate they can withstand the pressures and contain the leaks which may occur during operation of the plant.
One of the conditions of all operating licenses for water-cooled power reactors as specified in § 50.54(o) is that primary reactor containments shall meet the containment leakage test requirements set forth in this appendix. These test requirements provide for preoperational and periodic verification by tests of the leak-tight integrity of the primary reactor containment, and systems and components which penetrate containment of water-cooled power reactors, and establish the acceptance criteria for such tests. The purposes of the tests are to assure that (a) leakage through the primary reactor containment and systems and components penetrating primary containment shall not exceed allowable leakage rate values as specified in the technical specifications or associated bases and (b)periodic surveillance of reactor containment penetrations and isolation valves is performed so that proper maintenance and repairs are made during the service life of the containment, and systems and components penetrating primary containment.
While Greenpeace can pull all the references they want, it appears they are not aware of the federally mandated requirements for the containment structures. These structures are tested before the reactors can become operational and they are tested every 10 years thereafter.

I hope I've shed some light to the reader that nuclear operations and safety go much further than a few claims and spins. With over 3,000 reactor years of operation in the U.S. and more than 12,000 worldwide, the nuclear industry has gained a tremendous amount of experience and is getting better every day.

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More on Thorium

FuturePundit takes a look at thorium reactors. For more, be sure to visit our friends at Thorium Energy and stop by the discussion at Peak Oil.

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Czech Nuclear Update

From The Prague Daily Monitor:

The price of electricity could grow substantially in the future if a coalition of the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and Greens is formed and pushes through an energy policy limiting coal mining and construction of nuclear power plants, daily Mlada fronta Dnes writes today.

The government currently being formed has, at the proposal of the Greens, decided not to lift the limits on coal mining in northern Bohemia and not to build more nuclear power plants.

Power company CEZ has warned that this would not only raise the price of electricity but would also pose the threat of its shortage.

CEZ spokesman Ladislav Kriz said that if such an energy policy was really pushed through "the country's dependence on energy imports would increase dramatically".
Could they be referring to imports like Russian natural gas?

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Nuclear Card Game


Our friends over at Nuclear Engineering International have decided to get into the card playing business:

See how the world's nuclear plants compare in a game you can play during scheduled outages!

The set of Power League cards consists of 44 cards comprising: 39 cards featuring pictures of nuclear power plants and statistics; 4 cards with information on Nuclear Engineering International and Power League sponsors; 1 covering card with the rules of the game. Power League can be played by 2 or more people, from age 5.
To order yours, click here.

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The Atomic Show: Episode #19

Here's a preview of this week's podcast:

This week Shane and I talked about recent nuclear developments in Canada, about the Ontario energy plan, and about technical choices and opportunities in the nuclear energy business in Canada.

We discuss the potential use of CANDU technology for tar sands oil production and the potential use of SLOWPOKE reactors for district heating systems.
Click here to download the show. And for more on the situation in Canada, check out NPR's Living on Earth.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Senate Hearing On New Nuclear Plants

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on the construction of new nuclear power plants earlier today, and our friend Norris McDonald was on the scene.

UPDATE: Transcripts now available.

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House Hearing On Reactor Oversight Process

Earlier this week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing reviewing NRC's reactor oversight process or ROP. Testifying before the committee were NRC Commissioner Edward McGaffigan (PDF), Jim Wells (PDF) of the Government Accountability Office and Paul Gunter (PDF) of NIRS.

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U.K. Nuclear Update

British Energy announced it plans to extend the life of the Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station 5 to 10 years past its original 2014 decommissioning date.

The BBC profiled Nexia Solutions, a subsidiary of British Nuclear Fuels, Ltd., a company poised to play a critical role in the future of Britain's nuclear energy industry.

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Canada Nuclear Update

Just a week after the Ontario provincial government announced plans for new nuclear build, a national advisory group said the plan didn't go far enough:

Ontario should expand nuclear power by more than 50 per cent over the next four decades as a key part of a made-in-Canada climate change plan, a blue-ribbon national advisory group urged yesterday.

The recommendation would add more than 9,000 megawatts of electricity generation to Ontario's current installed capacity of 14,000 megawatts.

By contrast, the energy blueprint unveiled last week by the McGuinty government froze total nuclear generation in the province at 14,000 megawatts until 2025, with one or two new reactors added solely to replace old units that shut down.

Glen Murray, chairman of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, said more nuclear was necessary to meet a goal of slashing Canada's energy-related greenhouse gas emissions to 40 per cent of current levels by 2050.

This could be done despite a doubling of both Canada's population and economic activity, including massive increases in energy exports, mainly from Alberta's oil sands.

"We see nuclear power as a bridge. Some of our members didn't like the idea of more nuclear fuel waste but if we don't solve the climate change problem, a lot of other issues like that become inconsequential," he told the Toronto Star.
For a copy of the report, click here. Meanwhile, the Toronto Star is also reporting that AREVA has approached Canadian officials about purchasing Atomic Energy Canada, Ltd. (AECL).

UPDATE: AECL is calling the above report "pure speculation".

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China and South Africa Sign Nuclear Cooperation Deal

From the Mail and Guardian (South Africa):

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in South Africa on Wednesday on a groundbreaking visit during which the two giants are to sign a nuclear cooperation pact and discuss the thorny question of textile imports from Beijing.

(snip)

South African officials have said the proposed agreement between South Africa and power-hungry China on the peaceful use of nuclear energy was vital.

"The agreement has a number of key points including ... the mining of uranium [and] South Africa and China's joint development of nuclear reactors," said Tseliso Maqubela, the chief director of nuclear energy at the Deparment of Mineral and Energy Affairs.

"Another key point of the agreement will be the exchange of personnel between South Africa and their Chinese counterparts [in the nuclear field]," he said.
A few weeks ago, we had mentioned the possibility of cooperation between the two countries in this area. For more, click here.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Odds and Ends

I've got a few links that deserve your attention before I leave for the day:

Congrats to the team at Bruce Power on the re-start of Unit 4 on Monday.

Turkey has announced it wants to build three nuclear power plants by 2015.

Finally, there are two interesting conversations at Potential Energy that you ought to check out. First, read this post on the uranium supply, and pay special attention to the comments, as the contributions from the readers really make a difference. Then, take some time for a Q&A on new nuclear build with Martin Rees of the Royal Society.

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Will We Drill on the OCS?

Over at NAM Blog, our friend Pat Cleary has been tracking the progress of legislation that would lift the moratorium against energy exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf. Click here for the latest.

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Senate Negotiators Break Impasse on Cape Wind

Just off the wire from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee:

Washington, D.C. – Senate Energy and Natural Resrouces Chairman Pete Domenici and Ranking Member Jeff Bingaman announced that they have reached an agreement with Senators Ted Kennedy and Ted Stevens on changes to a provision inserted at conference into H.R. 889, the Coast Guard appropriations bill, related to a controversial wind project in the Nantucket Sound.

The four senators have agreed to a concurrent resolution that will replace Section 414 of the conference report, which would have given the Coast Guard and the governor of Massachusetts final approval over the siting of the Nantucket Sound wind farm. The concurrent resolution drops any reference to the governor of Massachusetts and gives the commandant of the Coast Guard only the authority to spell out the terms and conditions for the wind project which are necessary for navigational safety.

Chairman Domenici’s statement:

“I’m pleased that we’ve been able to address the concerns of my colleagues while preserving the integrity of the siting procedure we outlined in the Energy Policy Act. In this instance, the governor veto is gone and the Coast Guard is only allowed to address navigational safety concerns. For all future projects, we will use the siting model we created in the energy bill. That’s a sound model. It gives the Coast Guard and other federal agencies a voice; it gives local and state governments a voice; but it prevents local special interests from torpedoing a reasonable and much-needed energy project in federal waters.”

Senator Bingaman’s statement:

“The Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the Secretary of the Interior the authority to issue permits for alternative energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf. But it did not diminish the Coast Guard’s authority over navigational safety, and it expressly required the Interior Department to consult with the Coast Guard before granting leases for projects like Cape Wind. The new language for Sec. 414 confirms the Coast Guard’s role for ensuring the navigational safety of the Cape Wind project. This is an appropriate clarification to make and it ensures that Cape Wind’s proposal will receive a fair and unbiased consideration on the merits.”

The agreement was finalized late Tuesday with House and Senate leaders. The House will, in the enrollment of the HR 889 conference report, pass a concurrent resolution that makes the agreed-upon changes. The Senate will follow suit.
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New York Post: "Nuclear or Bust"

In the wake of last week's speech on energy policy by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the New York Post is endorsing new nuclear build in New York State:

[T]the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester, which provides Gotham with 20 percent of its juice, has been a constant target of local activists, fearmongers and demagogues who demand it be closed.

That is truly pathetic. A federal report recently noted just how indispensable the plant is to the region's energy supply - and just how nutty it would be to close it, given the lack of alternatives.

At the same time, you just need to recall the 2003 blackout - and the billions lost in that debacle - to appreciate New York's (and America's) need for adequate supplies of electricity.

For nuclear power to play a greater role in the energy mix, pols must show some commitment to the industry. (Hear that, Gov.-Presumptive Eliot Spitzer?)

Giuliani - who, as mayor, proved New York to be governable after all - had it right again last week: For the sake of the economy, and U.S. security, it's time for America to go nuclear.
As my colleague David Bradish noted a number of months ago, convincing Spitzer of the value of current and new nuclear generating capacity may be an uphill battle. For more, click here.

Thanks to our friend Norris McDonald for the pointer.

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NEI Energy Markets Report (June 12th - 16th)

Here's a summary of what went on in the energy markets last week:

Electricity prices were mixed throughout the country last week (see pages 1 & 2). Gas prices at the Henry Hub rose $0.25 to $6.34/MMBtu (see page 4).

From 2006-2010, the current capacities in the pipeline coming into operation are 42,590 MW for coal, 41,275 MW for natural gas, and 17,987 MW for wind (see page 8).

Nuclear capacity availability was at 95 percent last week. No units are in refueling outages, one unit completed its refueling outage last week and five units were shutdown for maintenance (see pages 2 and 3).

For the report click here (pdf). It is also located on NEI's Nuclear Statistics webpage.

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Rolling Blackouts in New England?

After reading an article in the Boston Globe on the possibility of rolling blackouts in New England, my friend Chris Lynch had this to say:

1. At no point in the article do the words "nuclear energy" appear. Nuclear power is the cheapest and cleanest power available but a nuclear boogey man exists which clouds common sense out of people's minds. It should have been at least been mentioned as an option.

2. This "we need to conserve" is a sham. Yes we need to conserve just on basic principle (good old Yankee "waste not - want not" - the environment, etc), however, the power companies want to raise prices and they will this summer (and may even have a few rolling blackouts just to make it look good).
I can understand my friend's frustration with the current situation in the Northeastern U.S. when it comes to electric power generation. The best description of what's happening now that I've read comes from Geoffrey Styles, who wrote the following a little less than two weeks ago:
First, there's the inherent incompatibility of economic growth facilitated by increasing energy consumption with regulatory policies that make it extremely difficult to build new energy facilities near population centers. This is compounded by the sort of NIMBY-ism that takes no account of the economic benefits of the facility in question. Add to this the current strain of unprioritized environmental concern, and you have a recipe for disaster.
UPDATE: Chris responds:
You can't have economic growth without addressing energy concerns and you can't be an Al Gore environmentalist without eventually embracing nuclear energy. You can feel good about yourself driving to work in your hybrid car but what good is that if your workplace is fueled by coal-burning plants? It is time to stop being ampere wise and kilowatt foolish.
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NRG to Spend $16 Billion on New Generation -- Including Two New Nuclear Reactors

Just off the wire this morning -- from NRG's press release (not available online):

NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE: NRG) today announced plans to develop approximately 10,500 megawatts (MW) of new generation capacity over the next decade to help meet the energy needs of its high-demand, capacity-constrained markets and to support NRG's continued growth. This repowering initiative, which will be funded with the support of partners and project finance debt, would represent a total investment of $16 billion.

With this repowering initiative, NRG will:
  • Enhance its dispatch mix with almost 8,000 MW of new baseload capacity --– including 2,700 MW of nuclear --– and 2,500 MW of new, highly efficient intermediate and peaking capacity;
  • Further diversify its fuel mix and reduce reliance on higher-priced, imported fuels, not only through its solid fuel repowerings, but also through the acquisition of a new wind development company with wind projects in active development in Texas and California;
  • Create thousands of new construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs; and
  • Reduce the carbon intensity of NRG's baseload fleet by 20-25 percent.
Those 2,700 MW will come in the form of two additional reactors at the South Texas Project. Also from the press release:
On June 19, 2006, NRG filed a letter of intent with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct 2,700 MW of nuclear power at the existing South Texas Project (STP) nuclear facility...

(snip)

Construction of Units 3 and 4 is expected to cost $5.2 billion, creating approximately 3,000 construction jobs per unit during the peak construction period and an additional 500 new operating staff positions per unit. Our development plan for each of the new nuclear units is expected to create over $9.2 billion of economic activity for the State and result in 5,600 new permanent jobs statewide.

NRG will proceed with permitting and development of new nuclear power generation at STP based on ABWR nuclear power plant technology, which is proven in design and construction and has a track record of reliable and safe operation. NRG filed its letter of intent to submit an application with the Nuclear Regulation Commission on June 19, 2006 to construct two new ABWR units at STP. The ABWR technology is the most advanced nuclear technology in operation in the world today with a history of on time, on budget construction in Japan. The General Electric Company's ABWR design has been certified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It is NRG'’s intent to work with GE and Hitachi,(which has been involved in developing and constructing four ABWR plants in operation in Japan) as well as GE's other international team of suppliers with experience in successfully constructing ABWR nuclear power plants.

"“Nuclear power is an important part of the continued development of our baseload fleet in Texas,"” said Steven Winn, NRG'’s Executive Vice President and President, Texas Region. "We recognize the need for new, low-cost generation and we recognize the importance of reducing the emissions profile of power generators within the growing ERCOT market."”
For more on the ABWR design from Wikipedia, click here. This past January, our CEO Skip Bowman delivered a speech at the Houston Forum on why America needed more nuclear generating capacity where he said the following:
In 2004, South Texas Project and Comanche Peak produced about 11 percent of the state's electricity.

Replacing the South Texas Project (STP) and Comanche Peak generating capacity with fossil fuel sources would mean an additional 31.6 million tons of carbon dioxide. That'’s the equivalent of emissions from six out of every seven cars in the state.

By building emission-free generating capacity such as new nuclear power plants to meet growing electricity demand, we reduce the clean-air compliance costs that otherwise would fall on other types of generating capacity that do produce emissions. Nuclear power plants create headroom underneath emissions caps for the industrial sector and for transportation, and to allow continued economic growth.

To the extent we build new nuclear power plants, we also reduce the demands placed on natural gas supply. This time last year, as many of you know, the Texas Institute for the Advancement of Chemical Technology proposed construction of a new nuclear power plant in the Texas Gulf Coast region. That study was inspired, in part, by the desire to free up natural gas supplies used in the electric sector for hard-pressed industrial users.

The idea deserves your consideration.
Glad to see the message got through. For more, click here.

UPDATE: Coverage from the Houston Chronicle.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Short duration nuclear blog post

My friend, R Margolis, was invited to submit an article as a guest blogger here, on a primarily climate-change focused blog, at Stolen Moments of Island Time. Since I've always found him to be an individual thinker and a reasoned bridge builder across opposing arguments, I was looking forward to the opportunity to read what he submitted. [Depending on when you find this post, you may have to scroll down the page. The Margolis article is titled A Place for Nuclear Energy in a Post-Greenhouse World?]

Many of the alternative advocates also see this situation as an opportunity to remold society into one that uses distributed energy, has less centralized energy facilities and less centralized societal institutions altogether. The acceptance or rejection of nuclear energy is perceived as locking civilization into one path or another. It is this perception that causes the vehemence over the use of nuclear energy.
Before and after this snippet I quoted, he goes on to explain somewhat how keeping your eye on the big picture (and in this case, I mean 'global energy needs') can help all of us out of our personal favorite rut of rhetoric toward cooperative solutions, no matter what ideology we may claim. Drop by and check it out soon, though - Timethief says she only posts guest blog columns for a few days.
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Ted Turner Willing to Give Nuclear Energy a Hearing?

It would appear that way. Here's "Captain Outrageous" in an interview with The Sunday Paper earlier this month:

Ted Turner knows there are dangers associated with nuclear plants. He acknowledges the risk of meltdown and the possibility of reactors being targeted by terrorists.

But if those issues can be worked out, he says, an expanded nuclear power program might be a viable, environmentally sound option in America’s critical search for alternative energy sources.

“I’ve got an open mind about nuclear power and I think it would be good to have a public debate about it,” he says. “Let’s give it another look.”
Welcome aboard Ted, we're glad you're ready to listen.

Thanks to Tom Benson for the link.

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Asking Some Uncomfortable Questions

Our friend Norris McDonald snuck into a press event promoting the release of Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change by Bruce Smith of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER). One reporter managed to ask an uncomfortable question:

Mr. Smith provided us with a complimentary copy of the book and we will review it soon. Their reliance on wind energy as a replacement for nuclear power is the weakest of their arguments. One reporter questioned how many windmills it would take to back out their estimate of 2,500 nuclear plants needed by 2050 and the number was astronomical. It is also unacceptable to single out nuclear power for opposition while accepting all other forms of electricity generation. The world needs a mix of energy sources, particularly nuclear power, to meet current and future electricity needs.
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