Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NRG, STP and eVgo

evgo-public Want to see how complicated business can be? Consider:

Nuclear Innovation North America LLC or NINA, the nuclear development company jointly owned by NRG Energy, Inc. and Toshiba, has awarded the engineering, procurement and construction contract for South Texas Project Units 3 & 4 to a restructured EPC consortium formed by Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corporation, a US based Toshiba subsidiary, and The Shaw Group. Both the new nuclear units of the South Texas Project will use ABWR technology.

The actual contract is a natural, as NRG owns 44 percent of the South Texas Project, so Toshiba and NRG have awarded a contract for an NRG part owned project to a Toshiba part owned subsidiary. Here’s how the Shaw Group fits in:

Engineering service provider Shaw Group, Inc. announced Monday that it will expand its global strategic partnership with Japanese electronics maker Toshiba Corp.

And one of the provisions:

Under the global strategic partnership, Shaw will invest $250 million for an ABWR [advanced boiling water reactor] alliance with Toshiba. This includes providing a $100 million credit facility to NINA to assist in financing the South Texas Project.

This complex of companies (and their subsidiaries)  have the common goal of getting two reactors built in Texas and this news shows, in part, how that will be accomplished. Toshiba builds the reactors, Shaw Group offers engineering, procurement and construction services and NRG provides the site. It may seem convoluted, but the result is more electricity.

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A visit to NRG’s web site provided an answer to a question that has niggled the mind a bit: if electric cars take off commercially, is it more likely that recharging the car will happen at home or on the road at the equivalent of a gas station?  Answer, at least as NRG sees it: both.

eVgo is a dedicated ecosystem of home electric vehicle charging docks and network charging stations united by affordable, set-rate charging plans from energy industry leader NRG.

Right now, it looks like NRG is setting up its eVgo stations around Houston. eV stands for electric vehicle (I assume the cap V is marketing; maybe it stands for the “voltage” to power the car) and go stands for go.

As the bit above shows, NRG is trying a monthly plan with different tiers based on whether one wants to use the charging stations or not – but the top rate is $89 per month. This includes all the electricity the car needs, presumably as long as one stays around Houston.

So far, electric cars have been marketed as around town vehicles, but eVgo suggest one model for expanding the potential coverage area for recharging cars, even if it is currently limited to Houston and environs.

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eVgo is clearly a commercial venture. Another approach to charging stations is municipal in nature:

The city introduced two electric-car charging stations Tuesday, the first of many sprouting up across Raleigh as electric and hybrid cars become more common. Officials showcased the recharging stations in front of City Hall on Hargett Street. A third station is scheduled to be installed near the convention center next week.

Right now, Raleigh’s effort could be considered, well, careful:

The recharging stations, with 9-foot cords, will provide free electricity, though drivers will need to pay the parking meter.

The parking spaces in front of City Hall are not reserved for drivers with electric cars, so anyone will be able to use them for now.

In other words, Raleigh doesn’t want to annoy anyone too much.

I keep calling these stations – so does the story - but both eVgo and Raleigh are providing fairly modest charging poles that can be put any number of places – eVgo even has a web page soliciting businesses and apartment complexes to host one or more.

The idea of a station may take hold – it’s a well-understood paradigm - but since cars have to sit awhile to be recharged, the parking spot idea might work better.

And where’s the nuclear pick-up? Well, as electric cars gain in  popularity, they will require more electricity – and some of that electricity ought to be as clean as the cars. Where isn’t there a nuclear pick-up?

Fill, er, charge her up! An eVgo charging station in Houston.

US Nuclear Performance – October 2010

image It’s been awhile since we’ve highlighted our monthly nuclear performance report on the blog. Most of the time the nuclear units hum along at their usual pace so there’s not much to report. But worth mentioning from the latest issue is that nuclear generation in the US in 2010 could break its previous 2007 record:

Year-to-date 2010 nuclear generation is 0.4% higher than the same period in 2009. For 2010, nuclear generation was 670.0 billion kilowatt-hours compared to 667.2 bkWh for the same period in 2009 and 669.5 bkWh in 2007 (the record year for nuclear generation).

For October 2010, nuclear generation was 61.8 billion kilowatt-hours compared to 57.7 billion kWh in October 2009. The average capacity factor for October 2010 was 82.5% compared to 77.0% in October 2009.

For the 2010 fall refueling outage season, 15 units completed refueling while another eight are still shut down. Twenty-three nuclear reactors are expected to refuel during fall 2010 compared to 33 in fall 2009.

Average refueling outage durations for PWRs during fall 2010 (12 units) was 39 days compared to 29 days during the same period for BWRs (3 units).

For more stats on a unit by unit level, stop by and check out the rest of the report.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reasons to Be Thankful

Cornucopia-Print-C10353551[2] Shall Canada be thankful?

The government of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, announced plans to spend billions of dollars more on nuclear reactors, wind and solar projects and to eliminate coal plants by 2014.

This is consequential, as the story notes that Ontario generates a third of Canada’s electricity (largely, I guess, because it holds a third of the country’s population.)

Nuclear energy is to receive the largest chunk of capital spending at C$33 billion, followed by C$14 billion for wind power, C$9 billion for solar power and C$4.6 billion for hydro- electricity. The plan also marked C$12 billion for conservation, C$9 billion for transmission lines, C$4 billion for biomass, and C$1.88 billion for natural gas.

The goal here is to keep nuclear energy generation stable at about 50 percent of the total – Ontario has 10 plants currently and will increase to 12 under the plan - with renewable energy picking up for fossil fuels. The end result: the plan fulfills “the government’s pledge to eliminate 6.4 gigawatts of coal power in four years”.

Now, to be fair, this plan sets idealistic goals and the target for nuclear energy appears to depend on factors that will need to be resolved:

But as [Provincial Energy Minister Brad] Duguid acknowledged about the new nuclear plants, he’s not even sure whether the preferred buyer – Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. – will be around in its current form to make a sale.

The federal government has put it up for sale, and some buyers may not be interested in new construction.

But of course, they might well be interested. It just isn’t known yet – Ontario is signaling what it wants to happen and will help to have happen and that may be determinative in who buys the company and how it proceeds. So there are wait-and-see factors.

You can read more about the plan here.

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Shall China be thankful?

The China Nuclear Energy Association has recommended the government adopt a 2020 target of 70 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity, but companies in the sector are pushing for more, association Vice-Chairman Zhao Chenkun told Reuters on Wednesday.

And that’s about all I could find about this. Many may well consider it enough, but I’ll follow up when more emerges.

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And say, what about the United States?

U.S. nuclear production rose to a seven-week high on output gains at Progress Energy Inc.’s Robinson 2 reactor in South Carolina and Entergy Corp.’s FitzPatrick plant in New York, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report today showed.

Output from U.S. plants since Nov. 19 increased by 2,619 megawatts, or 3 percent, to 89,310 megawatts, or 88 percent of capacity, according to the report from the NRC and data compiled by Bloomberg. Twelve of 104 plants are offline.

Bloomburg provides a list of plants. Here’s a taste:

Exelon Corp. boosted its 1,112-megawatt Peach Bottom 3 reactor in Pennsylvania to 95 percent of capacity from 1 percent on Nov. 19 after crews replaced one of the unit’s transformers.

Peach Bottom 2, another unit at the plant located about 18 miles south of Lancaster, is at full capacity.

Southern Co. raised output at its 851-megawatt Farley 1 reactor in Alabama to 80 percent of capacity from 30 percent on Nov. 19. Another unit at the site, Farley 2, is operating at full power. The plant is located about 18 miles south of Dothan.

And it goes on like that. No holding back the cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving.

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Travel safely, eat plentifully, appreciate your loved ones gratefully. And happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

It’s Good to Be the Queen

calder-hall Because you get to do fun things like this:

Ground was broken yesterday on the UK's Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who used virtual reality to operate a digger.

And what might this freshly dug Centre do?

The new facility is intended to "help UK companies become global leaders in the production of components and systems for the new generation of nuclear power stations" said the University of Sheffield. The other main collaborators in the project are the University of Manchester, the government and Rolls-Royce as lead industrial partner.

Rolls-Royce again – see the post below for more on that company. But what about Queen Elizabeth? It turns out she’s been hanging around nuclear energy plants as long they’ve been in England. Here she is in 1956:

The Queen has opened the world's first full-scale nuclear power station, at Calder Hall in Cumberland.

A crowd of several thousand people gathered to watch the opening ceremony, which was also attended by scientists and statesmen from almost 40 different countries.

That event spurred considerable optimism:

The Lord Privy Seal, Richard Butler, described the event as "epoch-making".

He added, "It may be that after 1965 every new power station being built will be an atomic power station."

And if that had occurred, some of the larger conversations taking place today would be considerably muted. Certainly, the need for energy security would remain much the same – unless cars switched to flux capacitors – while concerns over global warming might be less urgent.

Or not. ‘What If’ is a fun game, with part of the fun being able to ignore all factors except the ones you want to include. The world would always be a better place if it were organized according to our personal interests – wouldn’t it?

Anyway, it remains a fun notion to think of the queen being there at the beginning of nuclear energy in England and still there to see it through to a new generation. I fully expect her to be there when it is her hologram running a virtual digging machine to build an avatar of a nuclear energy plant.

The Calder Hall plant. It operated until 2003, just shy of its 50th birthday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Stadium and the Turbines; Nuts in Germany

philadelphia_eagles_stadium-14591 No problem with this:

The [Philadelphia] Eagles have contracted with SolarBlue, a renewable energy and energy conservation company based in Orlando, Fla., to install about 80 20-foot spiral-shaped wind turbines on the top rim of the stadium, affix 2,500 solar panels on the stadium's façade, and build a 7.6 megawatt biodiesel/natural gas cogeneration plant with monitoring and switching technology to operate the system.

After all, putting a nuclear energy plant at a sports stadium might well be considered overkill by the staunchest advocate – though the small reactor people might call foul on that – and it’s not as though nuclear is badly represented in Pennsylvania. It provides 35% of the electricity capacity there – second only to coal, at 48% – NEI has a fact sheet with a bunch of interesting factoids here.

I don’t know if or how much Lincoln Financial Field benefited from the nuclear presence, but it doesn’t really matter. This move is intended to send a message and engage the fans and it’s impossible to quibble with the net good of the undertaking.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie called the plan a "vital step towards energy independence."

I looked around for more context for that quote, since energy independence isn’t what’s happening here – nuclear and coal are both home-grown and lots of fans will still be driving their gas-powered cars to the stadium. Here we go:

“The Philadelphia Eagles are proud to take this vital step towards energy independence from fossil fuels by powering Lincoln Financial Field with wind, solar and dual-fuel energy sources,” said Jeffrey Lurie, the team's owner and CEO.  “This commitment builds upon our comprehensive environmental sustainability program, which includes energy and water conservation, waste reduction, recycling, composting, toxic chemical avoidance and reforestation. It underscores our strong belief that environmentally sensitive policies are consistent with sound business practices.”

Well, that makes better sense, even if nuclear energy doesn’t really fit the formulation. Regardless, they’re really all in on this – good for them – so let’s see if they take the next step and close their parking lots to encourage fans to use public transportation. (Which sounds snarky, but it’s logical and would do a lot of good.)

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When one thinks of overreach in a social democracy, one assumes it would have to do with policy issues related to the so-called nanny state, such as the French protests over raising the retirement age from 62. But some German utilities are trying an argument against keeping the country’s nuclear plants open that  feels like capitalistic special pleading:

The recent amendments of the [German] Atomic Energy Act extending the operating times of the German nuclear power plants remain controversial. Several local utilities (Stadtwerke) are questioning whether the extension is compatible with EU law, and have lodged a complaint with the European Commission.

It’s why they’ve done this that is rather mind boggling:

The nuclear power plants were written off [as in a financial wrtie-off], hence they could produce energy at unbeatable prices, Johannes von Bergen, Managing Director of the municipal utility of Schwäbisch Hall (Stadtwerke Schwäbisch Hall) explained.

Well, yes, indeed they could – if you pay off the plant, there’s nothing left but running costs. That can mean a lot of extra profit and better prices for consumers. It’s a classic win-win outcome and exactly what you want to happen.

But not if you expected those plants to close and they don’t:

The nuclear power extension distorts competition to the detriment of the smaller power generating companies, managing director Achim Kötzle of Stadtwerke Tübingen told the regional television and radio station SWR. His company had invested in new capacities, relying on the phase-out timing in the old AtG [the German Atomic Energy Act].

Now, Germany does have a rather more fraught relationship with nuclear energy than is true in many other parts of the world. I can’t find much to explain this other than a Chernobyl hangover, but there it is. So an argument from an aggrieved utility against charging customers less may gain traction in such an environment. But that doesn’t make it less nuts.

Eagles stadium.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Good Thing in Minnesota

prairie_island A good thing?

Xcel applied to add 164 megawatts to the plant’s 1,100-megawatt power generating capacity in 2008. The MPUC approved the request the next year.

Maybe not:

[T]he move was challenged by the city of Red Wing and Prairie Island Indian Community. They argued that the extra capacity wasn’t needed, alternatives like hydropower weren’t given adequate consideration and that the increased power capacity would harm the surrounding communities and environments.

The Indian community is right next to the plant. But are these items legitimate? – they seem oddly miscellaneous and contradictory. After all, if the area doesn’t need more electricity then no one needed to look at hydro, either.

Anyway – back to a good thing:

The court [the state court of appeals, to be exact] said those claims were unsupported and affirmed the state’s approval…

Xcel, Prairie Island’s parent, still needs NRC approval, but this part is done. Good.
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There are several stories today about growing American interest in participating in Armenia’s drive to build a new nuclear energy plant. Currently, the one operating plant, Metsamor, produces about 40 percent of Armenia’s electricity generation.

If you want a sense of how nuclear energy enhances energy security, Metsamor’s your go-to plant in the Caucasus. Closed in 1988 after an earthquake in the region, Armenia repaired and reopened the plant in 1993 when neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan blockaded Armenia and created electricity shortages. With Metsamor up and running, no imports were needed and so it has been since.

However, the plan has been to close it again once a new plant is up and running – which Armenia has to do before it is considered for European Union membership. The problem has been to get the new plant up and running.

And that brings us to today. The major takeaway is that the Russians remain the major partner here:

The Russian and Armenian governments set up late last year a joint venture tasked with building the plant's reactor. Armenian officials said other plant facilities might well be built by or receive equipment from Western nuclear-energy firms. They said equipment suppliers will be chosen in international tenders.

And that’s where the Americans find an opening:

The State Department hopes to gauge US private interest in funding Armenia’s new nuclear power station in the place of rusting, Soviet-era Metsamor.

“ We are interested in having U.S. companies participate [in the nuclear project,] if possible," Daniel Rosenblum, the State Department's Coordinator of US Assistance to Europe and Eurasia, told a November 16 press conference, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

That’s not the most ringing endorsement imaginable. But consider:

The U.S. will allocate $44 [million] to Armenia in 2011, out of which around $20-22 [million] will be directed for the development of enterprises and improvement of competitiveness, while $8 [million] will be allocated for reforms in the social field, specifically, healthcare, Yeritsyan said.

Nothing about nuclear energy, but a lot about American interest in Armenia. Consider further:

Armenia is interested in boosting its trade and economic relations with the United States, Armenian economy minister Nerses Yeritsyan said today at the opening of the 19th meeting of Armenian-American intergovernmental commission in Yerevan.

This is the conference that brought in the $44 million. So the atmosphere for trade in nuclear services is certainly clear and sunny.

The Prairie Island plant.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Holes at the Elbow

Pimlico Enthusiastic nuclear energy boosters are a good thing, but nobody’s more enthusiastic than when they have something to sell:

Nuclear is soaring and the sector has the wind at its back.  Energy costs are on the rise, nuclear power demand is going to grow, utility stocks are close to recent highs and the economy is no longer expected to slip back into the red.  There are several drivers, and several ETFs and major companies that are set to benefit.

ETFs are exchange-traded funds, which is your tip-off that this comes from a stock related site, in this case Investor Place.

Apparently, wild hyperbole is nothing new to stock touts, but it reminds me of when my father took me to Pimlico and a fellow outside the track was pitching a tip sheet containing “ten sure winners.” His jacket had holes at the elbows, but he had ten sure winners.

None of which is to say you shouldn’t invest in energy-related stocks, just that your own research will trump any hyped promises.

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Presumably, any of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates can pursue nuclear energy on its own. Most attention up to now has focused on Abu Dhabi, but now Dubai has weighed in:

Dubai will meet 20 per cent of energy needs from nuclear energy and another 20 per cent from clean coal, Saeed Al Tayer, Vice-Chairman of the Supreme Energy Council, said on Wednesday at the launch of Dubai Global Energy Forum 2011.

Dubai has about 2.2 million people within its borders, so I wondered if plans had progressed far enough to determine what kind of plant the country had in mind. But nothing – too soon to tell. Currently, Dubai generates most of its electricity from imported natural gas, so energy security may be playing a part here, too.

Several stories, especially from gulf news sources, made very sure of their adjectives:

Al Tayer said clean coal and peaceful nuclear technology were the main options the Dubai government was considering, in an attempt to diversify energy resources.

And:

[Dubai’s Supreme Council of Energy] is also concerned with the generation and distribution of electricity for public consumption, as well as production of electricity from renewable sources, and generation of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, notably for electricity and desalination plants.

Non-peaceful uses wouldn’t power a light bulb, so “peaceful” here seems code for “not Iran.” Iran’s poor standing could easily discourage other gulf nations from pursuing anything that might be viewed as controversial, but Dubai and fellow UAE emirate Abu Dhabi have not shied away.

These countries need the electricity and they’re in a position to grow their generation while decreasing their carbon footprints – and they aim to do that, at least partially, with nuclear energy.

At Pimlico. It was named after a British pub (Olde Ben Pimlico’s Tavern) when it opened in 1870 in Baltimore. The colt Preakness won the first race held there, hence the modern Preakness Stakes. The 2007 Preakness attracted over 120,000 spectators, the largest crowd for a sporting event in Baltimore history.

Friday, November 12, 2010

On YouTube and Not on YouTube

Thomas Farrell As the post below reminds us, NEI has a thriving YouTube channel where anything regarding nuclear energy is neatly extracted from longer talks or press conferences for your viewing pleasure. Here’s White House Science Director John Holdren during the Q&A after his speech at MIT (our transcript):

I think for a whole variety of reasons the United States needs to stay at the cutting edge of nuclear technology. And in order for us to do that, it would be nice if we had a domestic nuclear industry; building nuclear power plants in this country. I would like to see that happen. Steve Chu would like to see it happen. The President would like to see it happen.

Not least, because if I didn't make that clear enough in this talk, although nuclear energy is not a panacea for the climate problem, there is no panacea, it could make a significant contribution if we could make it expandable again. It would be easier to solve the climate problem with the help of nuclear energy than without it.

And I think it's in our interest therefore to help ourselves and help the rest of the world figure out how to get that done; with the appropriate technologies, the appropriate training, the appropriate regulations.

And:

The Unites States is not yet in any danger of being left in the dust in this domain. But we've got to pay attention. We've got to make the investments. We've got to do what needs to be done to create the environment in which this technology becomes expandable again.

You can watch the whole thing here.

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But all right, just as all your friends have not friended you on Facebook, so it is that every speech doesn’t make it onto YouTube.

For example, Thomas Farrell, Chairman, President and CEO of Dominion Energy, gave an interesting speech to the Harvard Business School Energy and Environment Club’s Energy Symposium 2010 in which he lays out his views on energy policy - very timely given the recent election. It’s a long talk and well worth reading but here’s a bit of the take-away:

Ultimately, I believe, we must center our energy policy on the concept of security – the most meaningful principle, as it recognizes the interdependencies, scale and complexity of the energy supply system.

Energy security is rooted in a number of different things:

Supportive legislation and regulation that provide access to and responsible development of our domestic resource base:  natural gas and oil, both onshore and offshore, as well as coal and uranium.

A modernized, smart power grid – empowering consumers and moving electricity reliably and efficiently to population centers where it is needed most. Here is where conservation may yet have a chance to promote reduced energy demand, lower costs and protect environmental quality.

Robust international relations and trade that help maintain stability and long-term economic growth.

And perhaps most important of all, reliance on the full range of energy sources at our disposal.

Energy diversity is really the key to America’s energy security.  As any decent financial adviser will tell you, the best hedge against a market is a diversified portfolio.   You knew that – even before you came to HBS [Harvard business School].  The same is true for energy.

Thomas Farrell.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nuclear Energy Could Be Key to Energy Compromise

FlintAt a press conference at NEI, Alex Flint, senior vice president for government affairs at NEI, discussed some priorities for the upcoming Congress. The question-and-answer session with reporters focused on several key issues affecting the nuclear energy industry: a clean energy standard, DOE loan guarantees, EPA water regulations, the Nuclear Waste Fund fee and a federal corporation for managing used nuclear fuel. A recurring theme was that nuclear energy could be an area for bipartisan cooperation on energy legislation in the new Congress. Original reporting from NEI’s Nuclear Energy Overview follows: 

Nuclear energy might hold the key to a compromise on energy legislation in the next session of Congress, an NEI executive told reporters during a briefing on the impact of the midterm elections on the nuclear energy industry.

“Nuclear energy is at the center of the debate about energy policy,” said Alex Flint. “We view it as the middle ground on which both parties can compromise and, if they’re going to pursue energy legislation, one of the foundation elements in that policy.”

Flint’s remarks echoed statements last week by President Obama, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the presumptive House speaker, citing nuclear energy as common ground which both Democrats and Republicans could seek in crafting energy policy.

A clean energy standard might garner broader bipartisan support and would include nuclear energy and other low-carbon options in addition to renewable energy sources, Flint said. 

“If a renewable energy standard is expanded into a clean energy standard, we do believe that the technologies have to be evaluated based upon their ability to contribute to the objectives,” Flint said. “As a result, we need to expand the suite of technologies that qualify for a clean energy standard.”

Asked about the potential for greater fiscal austerity in the new Congress, Flint said that there are ways for Congress to offer incentives that do not have a large budgetary impact. 

“Clearly, there is a concern about spending money, but the issue becomes what is the most effective way of spending money? Loan guarantees provide tremendous leveraging opportunity,” Flint said. “For our industry, the applicant pays the costs to the government, yet it encourages behavior that would not otherwise occur. Loan guarantees are a very effective way for government to affect policy at a minimal cost.”

Flint said that effective implementation of the DOE loan guarantee program is a top policy priority for the industry.

“Can DOE, working in conjunction with OMB [the Office of Management and Budget], effectively implement that program?” Flint asked. “We’ve seen limited success with the Vogtle reactors and the Eagle Rock enrichment plant, but clearly there are frustrations that others are experiencing.”

Flint said that the method for determining the fees that companies must pay to access the loan guarantees for nuclear energy projects is critical to the success of the program.

“Nuclear loan guarantee applications are each unique and the numbers are sufficiently large that we think each application needs to be evaluated individually. It’s a different approach than OMB has been taking to date, but if we could get that done, the program would be much more effective.”

Flint said the industry is closely monitoring a proposed rulemaking by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement phase II, Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act, expected as early as February 2011. The proposal will determine what actions may be necessary at more than 400 power plants to protect the environment from the possible effects of cooling water intake structures.

“There are a lot of regulations coming out of EPA that affect electricity generation. Probably the most impactful is 316(b),” Flint said. “Our view is that you can’t have a blanket policy on cooling water intake structures—there needs to be site-specific consideration. There are a lot of variables that will affect what the best technology is for each site.”

Asked whether NEI would continue to pursue the suspension of fees into the Nuclear Waste Fund, Flint said the issue is an industry priority.

“It’s something we’re going to be pursuing quite strongly. We are obligated to pay for a program that is not functioning,” Flint said. “Our view is that the government should be implementing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.”

Flint said that in addition to suspending the Nuclear Waste Fund fee, Congress should create a federal corporation to provide more efficient management of the federal government’s used nuclear fuel management program. “A Fed Corp-type organization is the most appropriate structure for pursuing the used fuel program,” Flint said. “They are really two issues: what is the program—and how to implement the program.”

Regardless of the path forward, nuclear energy is seeing increased support from both sides of the aisle, Flint noted. “We have seen a substantial increase in support for nuclear energy over the last several years,” said Flint. “We find ourselves now with broad-based political support from both parties.”

The entire press conference is at NEI’s YouTube site in five parts: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

When Only a Rolls Will Do

German protest Something you might not know:

Rolls-Royce has signed a contract with China Nuclear Power Engineering Corporation (CNPEC) to provide six Rod Control Systems (RCS) and eight Neutron Instrumentation Systems (NIS). These systems will operate with the new Chinese designed CPR1000 nuclear power plants and will be manufactured in the Rolls-Royce facility in Meylan, France.

I hadn’t seen Rolls-Royce mentioned in a story in a long time, so thought it might be a good idea to see what it’s up to these days.

Following the global acquisition of ODIM ASA, Rolls-Royce is in the process of fully integrating ODIM Numet - the nuclear division of ODIM ASA, into its overall product and service offering to its commercial nuclear customers.

So now you know. (Well, okay, that’s a little obtuse even for a press release. ODIM Numet is an engineering and fabrication firm focused on the CANDU reactor. Buying it broadens the kinds of reactors for which Rolls-Royce can build parts.)

The Rolls-Royce site is actually interesting to browse through. it explains its broad range of offerings very clearly (the press release above an exception) and you can learn a lot about the work of nuclear plant suppliers.

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It could be worse:

Despite efforts to expand the perception of the IAEA as simply the world's "nuclear watchdog," the agency's role in nuclear verification has garnered the greatest attention amongst UN member states.

And for good reason, given the essential geopolitical importance of the role. I get that the IAEA does a lot more:

The label "does not do justice to our extensive activities in other areas, especially in nuclear energy, nuclear science and applications, and technical cooperation," said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano as he presented his first report to the UN General Assembly.

But it’s not a pejorative “label” and the IAEA can be sure any country wanting its services will know what it does. This can’t be the biggest fish in the IAEA fry pan. Let’s assume Amano got caught by a pesky reporter on a particularly sour morning.

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Activists rappelled down from a high bridge, broke through police lines and chained themselves to German train tracks Sunday, trying to halt a shipment of nuclear waste as they protested Chancellor Angela Merkel's plans to keep using nuclear energy.

German activists can be nothing if not demonstrative:

Some protesters poured flammable liquid on a police vehicle and set it alight.

Feels very 1969, doesn’t it? We’ve followed the tortuous story of Germany deciding to keep its nuclear plants operating in the face of no alternative when it comes to keeping its carbon emissions low. The specific event being protested is less important than that decision. Regardless, all the excitement happened near or on those train tracks.

Police used water cannons and pepper spray and wrestled with activists to break up the protest, but some still reached the rail line.

That sounds like 1969, too, unfortunately.

But don’t look over here for a mighty tut-tut. If some Germans want to protest nuclear energy, power to them – even atomic power. How effective such a protest is depends on a lot of factors – sometimes, it leads to conciliary statements, sometimes to stiffened spines – but this is another country’s issue and will be worked out to suit it.

The story doesn’t really finish – it doesn’t tell if the train was halted. CNN finishes it up:

[Nicole Ramrath of the Lueneburg police] described the protests overnight as "peaceful." About 3,500 protesters sat on the tracks, and police asked each person individually whether they would like to move and whether they would then leave the site, she said.

The majority dispersed, but several hundred protesters had to be carried off the track and kept in an outdoor detention area to keep them from returning, Ramrath said.

Consequently:

A train carrying nuclear waste in Germany is back on the move Monday after thousands of protesters blocked the track by sitting on it.

Another story said it was about 14 hours late.

An ongoing story, no doubt – a train with many boxcars.

At the protest. I can’t quite read the words on the back of those shirts – maybe it’s just the name of the group.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Safety Culture on the Frontline

Last week the PBS series Frontline took on the safety culture of BP. Although titled, "The Spill", and ostensibly focused on the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the 54 minute expose dwelt almost entirely on the history of significant events at BP's mainland American facilities. Using bits of the backstory on the 2006 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery which killed 15 people, a 2006 leak from an Alaskan pipeline that spilled more than 206,000 gallons of oil, and the 2007 swamping of the Thunderhorse oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, Frontline portrays BP as taking risks other companies thought unreasonable and putting cost-cutting ahead of safety. Frontline makes it appear that Deepwater Horizon was the inevitable result of putting production before safety.

Some online comments about the Frontline documentary question the balance and accuracy of the presentation. We'll leave that to others to decide, but take the appearance of the Frontline documentary to reflect media interest in the culture of the oil industry that rose sharply with Deepwater Horizon last spring.

The U.S. nuclear industry has dealt with similar questions. Since the founding of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) in 1979, the industry has recognized its obligation to strive for excellence - a standard higher than mere compliance with regulations. This striving has produced remarkable results: U.S. nuclear plants are demonstrably safer and more productive today than they were before INPO was formed. Even so, the industry continues to learn from its difficulties, such as the 2002 near-miss at the Davis-Besse plant.

In 2002, Davis-Besse brought attention to nuclear safety culture in the same way that Deepwater Horizon has brought attention to the oil industry's safety culture this year. For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the issue came to a head in a May 2004 oversight hearing in which Senator George Voinovich (D-OH) asked tough questions about safety culture at Davis-Besse. Since that time, the NRC, NEI and INPO have worked to delineate the features of a sound nuclear safety culture and determine what each organization should do to promote it. Last August, the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission heard testimony from INPO's CEO, Jim Ellis, on some of the insights and lessons that the oil industry can take from the nuclear industry's experience in this area. In a November 2 posting, the New York Times Green blog shared more recent thinking on this subject from Interior Secretary Salazaar.

In the past year, the nuclear industry has been pilot-testing a process for managing safety culture. That process is described in a draft NEI document, NEI 09-07, "Fostering a Strong Nuclear Safety Culture." (NEI 09-07 is available through NRC's ADAMS public document system.)

The challenge in monitoring and managing safety culture is seeing the faint signals of emerging problems amidst the normal noise of a large, productive organization. In high-performing organizations, the faint signals may include subtle patterns linking seemingly unrelated equipment failures or human errors; anecdotal information; or perceptions and attitudes reflected in employee survey data, for example. NEI 09-07 describes a systematic way to examine this disparate data by having management step back periodically from their other daily activities and review the normal noise with a "safety culture filter". Evidence from the pilot program suggests this approach is yielding helpful insights for participants. The power reactor pilot program is expected to be completed in the first half of 2011.

We hope that media interest like that indicated by the Frontline documentary encourages improvements in safety culture throughout all high-performance industries. As shown by Mr. Ellis' testimony last August and other contacts between the nuclear and oil industries, we know that the nuclear industry will do all it can to share lessons learned in the pursuit of excellence with other industries eager to learn as well.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Election and Nuclear Energy

congress There are many post-election news stories that try to explain what the new dynamic in Congress and between Congress and President Obama means for various policies. Energy policy and nuclear energy have not been left out of consideration.

Here’s the New York Times:

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the presumed new House Speaker, may have already etched out the blueprints for a GOP energy bill with the "American Energy Act." That legislation, which he introduced last year, calls for ramping up nuclear energy and offshore drilling as well as creating incentives for renewable energy.

But the Times’ sources think that Republicans’ disdain for large bills will favor “small ball” bills that tackle aspects of an issue, in this case energy and climate change, rather than the whole issue at once:

If comprehensive climate bills -- like the one current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed through two years ago -- are the way of the past, some think the Republican path forward may be going "small ball."

Jim Collura, a former staffer for New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg (R), thinks Boehner will dispense with thousand-page bills in favor of piecemeal moves, like a stand-alone bill for clean energy incentives or a bipartisan renewable electricity standard.

And of course, there are bills from both sides of the aisle that zero in on nuclear energy. These may find new life in Congress.

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Think Progress notes that half the incoming group of Republicans do not think global warming is occurring (or, if it is, that human activity is not exacerbating it). But that means half do think it is occurring and requires action. Additionally, of course, a number of members who retained their seats on both sides of the aisle also consider it an important issue:

– Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R- Florida): “Global warming is real and man-made.”

– Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.): “The science behind climate change is sound.”

– Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Penn.): “Congressman Gerlach believes we have a responsibility as legislators and citizens to reduce our imprint on the Earth and reverse the effects of science-based climate change for both current and future generations.”

– Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia): “I believe that global warming is real. The National Academy of Sciences has presented evidence that the Earth’s surface is warming because of human activities, including increased worldwide industrial development, over the past several decades.”

Nuclear energy, of course, answers to this issue. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is quite explicit about this:

"Through a greater commitment to nuclear, we have a unique opportunity to cut greenhouse gases, provide stability to our electrical supply and create jobs," Upton told Reuters.

All true. And although President Obama will be proceeding with a different governing dynamic, his consistent support for nuclear energy could well increase as a way to find common ground.

“There’s been discussion about how we can restart our nuclear industry as a means of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gases,” Obama said during a speech the day after the midterm elections. “Is that an area where we can move forward?”

We vote yes.

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All elections provide elation and hope for some and despair for others. That’s as true for those in the nuclear energy sphere as in any other. But I prefer hope, especially as the fluid nature of American politics makes it very difficult to really make sure predictions.

In that vein, let’s let Alternate Energy Holding’s CEO Don Gillispie have the last word:

When the history of nuclear power is written, Nov. 2, 2010 will be a major turning point for the industry," said Gillispie. "It will mark the beginning of a dramatic resurgence for nuclear power."

He may be right, he may be wrong. But there’s no quibbling with his right to hope and elation.

A weapon that comes down as still; As snowflakes fall upon the sod;
But executes a freeman's will; As lightning does the will of God;
And from its force nor doors nor locks; Can shield you,'tis the ballot-box.

By John Pierpont (1785-1866)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Collective Will to Survive

500px-Metsamor-DCP_6657 Europe has a plan for used nuclear fuel:

EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger has urged member states to bury radioactive nuclear waste, saying burial is the safest form of disposal.

The draft directive on nuclear waste says geographical storage is "the safest and most sustainable" option for disposing of spent fuel.

The U.S. is currently working on the issue of used nuclear fuel via the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which is due to report its findings late next year.

Santiago San Antonio, director general of Foratom, the Brussels-based organization that represents the European nuclear energy industry, points out in the article that used nuclear fuel is already safely handled and adds:

"We are particularly pleased that the directive acknowledges the fact that there is a world-wide scientific and technical consensus that deep geological disposal of high-level waste which has been proven by over 30 years of research, represents the safest and most sustainable option."

Safest and most sustainable might be open to some debate but safe and sustainable? No debate there.

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Armenia and UAE?

The UAE is interested in cooperation with Armenia in nuclear energy, Foreign Trade Minister Sheikha Lubna al Qasimi said in Yerevan.

This decision appeared to be unexpected for the Armenian side. Head of the Armenian Development Agency Robert Harutunyan said that he is not aware of the details but supposes that the point is scientific and technical cooperation in nuclear energy.

As happens, Armenia has a nuclear energy plant planned, but still, this just qualifies as – odd.

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The Philippines has opened the Nuclear Power Forum Philippines 2010. The country has a practical need for more electricity (“rotating 3-hour outages in Metro Manila, the country’s political and economic centre,”), so the road forward is clear enough:

Accordingly, the Philippine Energy Plan 2007-2014 indicates room for the existing Bataan Nuclear Power Plant as well as four more nuclear plants, the earliest to be commissioned by 2015.

And to hear the Filipinos tell it, the response has been terrific:

Investor interest is pouring in. “We’re overwhelmed by the response, in a really good way,” explains Frank Mercado, Director at the Center for Energy Sustainability and Economics, the forum host. “Indeed Southeast Asia is now an important emerging market for the nuclear industry worldwide.”

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Over at the Guardian, the often interesting if sometimes moonbatty English newspaper, a feature allows readers to post tough energy questions to a panel of experts. Nuclear energy does not usually get a very fair hearing at The Guardian, but I found an answer to a question about used nuclear fuel rather charming and on point, though not about used nuclear fuel.

Tanzania’s Pius Yasebasi Ng'wandu does not have a nuclear energy background; he was his country’s Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education. In most particulars, Ng’wandu probably should not have answered the question – he just doesn’t know enough about the subject.

But he does say this:

We must move away from the self inflicted fear of nuclear energy. Let us combine knowledge, technology and the collective will to survive. Fifty years after President Eisenhower's speech on "atoms for peace", we must build the will to tame these atoms for peace and development.

I think the atoms have been sufficiently tamed, but there’s no doubting the sentiment. Ng’wandu is a policymaker, so he’s clearly focused on the potential of nuclear energy in his country and continent.

Off in the distance. Armenia’s Metsamore Armenian Nuclear Power Plant. Armenia planned to shut it down in 2004, but decided against it when it could not find a way to replace the 40% of the country’s electricity generation supplied by the plant.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Global Nuclear Conspiracy Unmasked

Helen Caldicott In the United States, nuclear energy plants are inspected by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In other parts of the world, local authorities handle inspections or arrange for the International Atomic Energy Agency to do so. There’s really no need for the IAEA to spend much time at U.S. plants and it doesn’t – unless, of course, it’s invited to do so:

The delegation of 14 experts from around the world, three observers and three agency staff members was invited to size up how well the American authorities monitor civilian power plants, including plant operations, and how the agency communicates internally.

That might be a little nervous-making, but by and large, the IAEA folks seem pretty pleased:

The group will not present its report for several months. In a preliminary statement, it said that the United States had “a transparent licensing process that accepts input from public citizens and environmental reviews, and ensures that key documents are publicly available.”

And there’s no point in showing up without a few suggestions:

The group also said the commission should consider “increasing its effort to use I.A.E.A. safety standards in its own regulations’’ but was not specific about the differences.

Or maybe IAEA could use some of the American safety standards. Whatever works. In any event, the group’s report in a few months will make for interesting reading.

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A little international action:

Vietnam:

Vietnam has selected Japan to supply its second nuclear power plant and the deal can go through as soon as the parliament in Tokyo approves an atomic cooperation treaty, Japanese officials said Monday.

Singapore:

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Monday that nuclear power is a viable, clean source of energy that produces low carbon emissions, and the island state "cannot afford to dismiss the option of nuclear energy altogether."

Loong also said he expects to see a plant operational in his lifetime. We’ll assume he means in the next 25 or so years – though even that guess feels a little ghoulish.

Turkey:

Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz said Monday negotiations with Korea over the construction of a nuclear power plant planned to be built in Sinop was not yet concluded as parties disagreed over certain issues.

Well, it can’t be all good news all the time. The real story here will be when the negotiations conclude one way or another.

If you talk to anyone in the middle of negotiations, they always say everything’s gone to hell – it gets the other side moving (hopefully) and signals your toughness – there’s no downside unless the other side gets annoyed and leaves. No sign of that from South Korea, so it’s a wait-and-see.

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Be afraid:

A huge conspiracy of silence has been perpetrated by the global nuclear industry in its quest to build hundreds more nuclear reactors around the world as a solution to global warming.

Be very afraid:

Aside from the fact that the generation of atomic electricity adds substantially to global warming, an alarming recent publication by the New York Academy of Sciences titled "Chernobyl, the Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment" documented that the accident in 1986 has so far killed over 985,000 people from cancer in all nations affected by the radioactive fallout.

Uh-oh. The conspiracy had better swing into action:

Are people aware that the Academy of Sciences only printed 700 copies in 2010 of this outstanding scientific publication for which they charge $150 and they are reluctant to print more? Why?

Well, you can buy it at Amazon at a slight discount.

All this comes courtesy of old friend Dr. Helen Caldicott. While you may be inclined to think that this study reflects work done by the Academy of Sciences, it isn’t so:

The references are largely in Slavic languages and represent only a fraction of the material that is available worldwide. This volume presents the authors’ reaction to reports, such as those from the Chernobyl Forum …, that have not shown the full scale of negative impacts that have resulted from the Chernobyl accident.

That is, the Chernobyl Forum vastly understated the impacts. That’s the premise, though ignoring sources outside Eastern Europe and Russia might seem a little too provincial. But there are bigger problems with the work:

The inconsistent use of scientific units, the grouping of data collected with variable time and geographic scales, the lack of essential background information, and the consistent exclusion of scientific research that reported lesser or no negative impacts leave objective readers with very limited means for forming their own judgments without doing their own additional extensive research.

And even the Academy has been standoffish:

The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences issue “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”, therefore, does not present new, unpublished work, nor is it a work commissioned by the New York Academy of Sciences. The expressed views of the authors, or by advocacy groups or individuals with specific opinions about the Annals Chernobyl volume, are their own.

In other words, a book with an agenda. Let’s not make the mistake of saying that Chernobyl was insignificant – of course it was significant – but this book seems a slender peg on which to hang a global conspiracy.

Now, back to scheming.

Dr. Helen Caldicott. I admire Dr. Caldicott, although I agree with almost nothing she says. She’s been at this for some 30 years now and has never veered from her course.She has always been encouraged – there’s a lot of honorary degrees on her wall and The Smithsonian Institution called her one of the most influential women of the 20th century – so dismissing her as an anti-nuclear fanatic or some such is needlessly reductive. History has produced many such figures and will produce many more – admirable and honorable people who see acceptance of their views rise and fall like a tide, in some cases swept totally out to sea.