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Showing posts from August, 2012

NuScale Back in Action with Unexpected Support

The other day, we mentioned Babcock & Wilcox’s small reactor project and its indirect use in the Gubernatorial race in Indiana. Now, another vendor of small reactors, NuScale, has attracted some press attention from Reuters. It’s especially nice to see that NuScale has overcome its financial difficulties.NuScale staff half-jokingly refer to the first half of 2011 as the "Great Pause," when NuScale could not pay its bills and dozens among its 100 employees at the time had to be let go. It now employs 260 people, and hopes to add another 70 by year-end.And how did it do this, at least in part?But NuScale is trumpeting the safety aspects of its new technology, and has found helpful supporters including U.S. engineering giant Fluor Corp, which bought a majority stake in the 5-year-old company last October.Fluor is no stranger to the nuclear energy business. Start here for more on its activities. Fluor has been around for much of the nuclear age.Like Indiana, Oregon, where Nu…

NEI Energy Markets Report (August 20-24, 2012)

Here's a summary of what went on in the energy markets last week:Electricity peak prices fell $1-$16 last week across the country to all settle below $40/MWh. “Next-day power markets were mixed but generally lower across the U.S. to open the workweek Monday, Aug. 20, as traders eyeballed higher load forecasts in most areas but also weak natural gas prices and an overall healthier generation picture. … Other sources of generation were improving Monday. According to data from IIR Energy, just more than 19,300 MW of various generation was offline across the U.S. early Monday. By fuel type, 3,866 MW was coal-based, while about 8,150 MW was nuclear-based and 1,969 MW was natural gas-driven” (SNL Energy’s Power Daily – 8/21/12). Electricity production was down 8.3 percent last week compared to the same week in 2011. For the first 34 weeks of 2012, electricity production is down 2.3 percent compared to the same period in 2011.…For more of the report click here.

Indiana: Introducing Nuclear Energy into the Race

Indiana has no nuclear energy facilities. It might never have them – well, never say never – and nothing, such as a ban, actually stops the state from having them. But any large infrastructure project needs a local advocate; one with authority in the state helps, too.

So – meet Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who is currently running for governor of Indiana.
"When you look at much of the industrialized world today, the technology and the safety record of nuclear energy is one that I think Hoosiers ought to be willing to look at, in addition to developing all of our traditional sources of energy and our renewable sources of energy," Pence said. The story explains that Indiana has flirted with nuclear facilities a couple of times, but has ended up instead as the rare Midwestern state without one. Illinois has 11, for example.
Pence isn’t hiding his enthusiasm for nuclear energy under a bushel. Many of the stories I looked at about this have it in their headlines and ledes. Pence i…

Japanese Business to Nuclear Energy: Stay

Reuters has released a poll gauging the attitude of Japanese businesses toward nuclear energy. Based on a number of stories I’ve read, I expected the numbers to be extremely dismal.And while not exactly warming, they’re not nearly as awful as anticipated, either.About one in five big Japanese firms wants to see the share of nuclear power in the electricity supply reduced to zero by 2030, a Reuters poll showed, amid a growing anti-nuclear clamor after last year’s Fukushima atomic disaster.But underlining concerns about a rise in energy costs without nuclear power, the rest of the respondents supported a continued role for nuclear energy, with the biggest group opting for a share of 15%.A little more specifically:In the Reuters poll, 19% of big firms sought to cut nuclear power’s role to zero, but 39% called for 15% by 2030, as a majority of companies brace for slower economic growth as reliance on nuclear energy declines.One-quarter said they wanted to see a 20-25% share and the remain…

Uranium of the Sea – and How to Get It – and Why

This is interesting, but it doesn’t seem quite enough:Japan developed an adsorbent that attaches the uranium-loving chemical group amidoxime to a plastic polymer. ORNL examined the binding process between the plastic and chemical groups and used that knowledge to enhance the uranium-grabbing characteristic of the amidoxime groups on the adsorbent material's surface.PNNL tested the adsorbent's performance at its Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim, Wash., DOE's only marine research facility. Using filtered seawater from nearby Sequim Bay, PNNL established a laboratory testing process to measure the effectiveness of both Japan's and ORNL's adsorbent materials. Initial tests showed ORNL's adsorbent can soak up more than two times the uranium than the material from Japan.Why would anyone want to do this? With the Japanese, it makes sense because the country is so light on natural resources. But elsewhere? The article – really an abstract – says that there are abou…

NEI Energy Markets Report (August 13–17, 2012)

Here's a summary of what went on in the energy markets last week:Electricity peak prices fell from $3 to $11 last week across the country in continuing mild weather to settle in a range of $31-52/MWh. Gas at the Henry Hub fell 13 cents to average $2.79/MMBtu for the week, and the rig count continued its decline by another eleven rigs to 484. …Crude oil rose $1 last week, to average $94/barrel at Cushing, Oklahoma. “The U.S. average retail price of regular gasoline increased two cents this week to $3.74 per gallon, 16 cents per gallon higher than last year at this time. …” Average nuclear plant availability fell to 89 percent last week. One unit returned to service, and seven shut down. Turkey Point 3 returned to service after a six month refueling and maintenance outage to uprate the unit 15 percent. …For more of the report click here.

Fox Gets It Right on Emissions – Or Close Enough

Media Matters for America and Fox News are not the best friends in the media landscape, with the former often calling out the latter for what it perceives as bias in its reporting. I have no particular brief on that subject.But I do recognize that the energy business has done a fair amount to bring down carbon emissions through the increased use of natural gas, renewable energy and nuclear energy (through uprates) – and is quite conscious of it - so I found this report from Media Matters somewhat amusing:But Fox is ignoring the confluence of factors and touting the decline as a triumph of the free market. A Fox Nation headline today declared: "Free Enterprise Makes the Air Cleaner." On Varney & Company, Fox Business contributor Charles Payne said: "The free market, cleaning up our air. Says a lot about the free market, doesn't it?" Payne is essentially correct here. We might focus on “bringing down carbon emissions,” though “cleaning up our air” is fine for…

Plant Vogtle Crane One of Largest in the World

That is one mighty big crane. Here are all the details from Southern Company:
Testing has begun on a major component in the construction of two new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle 3 and 4 – a 560-foot tall heavy lift derrick, one of the biggest cranes in the world.

The derrick, which will be used to move large pieces at the site of the first new nuclear units built in the United States in 30 years, has the capacity to move the equivalent of five 747 jets across the distance of more than three-and-a-half football fields in a single lift.

In addition, major components will begin arriving to the site later this year and early 2013, the first of which will be the reactor vessel for Unit 3. The Unit 3 condensers have arrived from South Korea, where they were manufactured. Unit 3 is scheduled to go online in 2016, and Unit 4 will follow in 2017.

Also at the site, significant work has been done on turbine islands, cooling towers and nuclear islands. Over the next several months, progress will c…

Nuclear Today, Lignite Tomorrow: Germany’s Withering Choices

Color Bloomberg unimpressed:
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government says RWE AG’s new power plant that can supply 3.4 million homes aids her plan to exit nuclear energy and switch to cleaner forms of generation. It’s fired with coal. And Herr Dieter Helm, energy policy professor? Also not impressed:
“Angela Merkel’s policy has created an incentive structure which has the effect of partially replacing nuclear with coal, the dirtiest fuel that’s responsible for much of the growth in the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions since 1990,” Dieter Helm, an energy policy professor at the University of Oxford, said by phone Aug. 17. Building new coal stations means “locking them in for the next 30 years” as a type of generation, Helm said. The problem is that natural gas, inexpensive here, is expensive in Germany, so it isn’t as viable a fuel for large installations. As we’ve seen, Germany’s grid isn’t equipped (yet – let’s be optimistic) to handle the intermittency of solar and wind stably. What…

The Most Polite Strikers Ever and Nuclear Energy in Canada

Way up north, a group of nuclear engineers are striking against contractors of Canada’s Candu Energy. They haven’t had a new contract since January 2011 and, presumably, want to negotiate a new one.
Striking nuclear engineers from SNC-Lavalin Group Inc's Candu Energy subsidiary escalated their dispute with the company on Wednesday, setting up picket lines at Ontario reactors for the first time and delaying shift changes at the plants. Uh-oh. Does this close the plants?
The reactors' operators, Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation, both said the pickets do not threaten safe operations at their facilities.
"They delayed staff coming in but there was no impact on operations," said Ontario Power Generation (OPG) spokesman Ted Gruetzner. Canadians being as they are, the whole thing seems very polite.
"We decided to do this to try to get our customers to send a message to our employer that it's time to do something about this," said Michael Ivanco, a sen…

Examining the Data in the INL Cave

Thanks to the folks at the ANS Nuclear Cafe for pointing to this video from Idaho National Laboratory's Center for Advanced Energy Research. It's all about the CAVE: a "computer assisted virtual environment" that enables researchers "to literally walk into their data and examine it."

Very cool stuff. Leave your comments here, or over at Reddit.

Nuclear Energy and Those Who Are Reasonable

It should come as no surprise that environmentalists oppose the use of nuclear energy in the same way they oppose coal or the fracking technology that is unlocking huge new reserves of natural gas. Currently nuclear energy provides about twenty percent of the electricity used in the U.S. Their attack on coal—led by the Obama administration—has driven its use down from just over fifty percent a few years ago to about 47% today.Not to mention the rise of natural gas. But you’ve got to take your triumphs as they come.---In Germany:[Holger] Arntzen is now project manager of Wind Comm, a nonprofit that supports wind farm development. For him, the key to stopping the backlash against the power lines is to do more to inform Germans that the nuclear phase out comes with a price and changes in lifestyle."To show what is possible, and how I, as a citizen, can influence the load on the grid, like putting on my dishwasher only when the sun shines, because we have a lot of photovoltaics. Or w…

Why We Need to Keep a Level Head About the Nuclear Butterflies from Fukushima

Over the last few days, we've seen thousands of stories around the Web concerning a study that concluded that radiation released into the atmosphere from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power had caused mutations in the local population of butterflies. At the same time, another piece of research noted that there hasn't been any observable effect thus far on people.

When I read the story, I do what I always do, and shot off a note to Ralph Andersen, NEI's chief health physicist. Here's what he had to say about the study:
Please note that there are species of plants, insects and animals that are particularly sensitive to changes in environmental conditions, including radiation. The pale grass butterfly is among the most sensitive, which is why it was selected for study following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

This article provides a rational perspective on what has been found, what it may mean, and what it doesn’t necessarily mean.

Similar findings in some species of…

What Does the NRC’s Order on Waste Confidence Mean for New Plant Licensing?

It is not every day that the Nuclear Regulatory Commissionadvises everyone to “take a deep breath,” but when it comes to people misconstruing the facts about new plant licensing activities following a recent order, that is exactly what happened.

In a nutshell—last week, the NRC issued an order saying that it would not issue final reactor licenses or license renewals until the agency addresses a recent federal court ruling on waste confidence. Many people and some news articles mistakenly reported that this means all current licensing reviews and proceedings will come to a screeching halt, which is simply not the case. The order basically means that licensing reviews will move forward, but that final licensing will be put on hold.

The NRC clarified its position in a blog post late last week:
Let’s be clear: Tuesday’s Order was not a “Full Stop” to NRC’s licensing process. The Commission stated that licensing reviews should move forward—only final licensing was put on hold. NEI’s Vice …

How the North Anna Nuclear Power Plant Weathered the 2011 East Coast Earthquake

We're coming up on the first anniversary of the 2011 earthquake that jolted the East Coast of the U.S. While the quake did little damage -- other than fraying the nerves of millions who never experienced even a tremor that small all of their lives -- plenty of folks were moved to ask questions about the safety of nuclear energy facilities, especially as the quake came just months after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

As it turned out, virtually all of the plants on the East Coast endured the event without missing a beat. The only exception was Dominion Virginia Power's North Anna Power Station. North Anna was the nuclear facility closest to the epicenter of the quake in Mineral, Virginia.

When the quake struck, the facility shut down safely and automatically, just as it was designed to do. Just ahead of the anniversary of the quake, the team at Dominion Virginia has published a video recounting how its team responded to the earthquake, inspected it to ensure that it could …

A Nuclear Namibia Nearer Than Naught?

If you’ve read enough of our posts here, you know we like to keep up with what’s happening around the world – who’s interested in nuclear energy, who’s building facilities, and who’s making a big mistake – the aspirational, the inspirational and the laughable. But even when you pay close attention, a surprise will come along now and then:The Minister of Mines and Energy (MME), Isak Katali, says the inadequate supply of power in Southern Africa leaves the door open for the possibility of a nuclear power station in Namibia.Namibia? Really? It could use the development – half of its 2.1 million people live in poverty – and the country has enough uranium deposits to ensure energy security. It also has a stable government, no small thing. Namibia currently imports about 50 percent of its electricity and is suffering shortages despite this (the story doesn’t really explain why).Namibia will face a shortage of about 80 megawatts (MW) of electricity by this coming winter.…[Minister of Mines a…

Japan: Onagawa Good - Emissions Very Bad - Nuclear Energy?

The nuclear facility that was nearest the epicenter of the 2011 earthquake in Japan was not Fukushima Daiichi but Onagawa. How did it do?
An IAEA team of international experts on Friday delivered its initial report at the end of a two-week mission to gather information about the effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake on the Onagawa Nuclear Power Station (NPS), saying the plant was "remarkably undamaged". A little more:
Onagawa, facing the Pacific Ocean on Japan's north-east coast, was the nuclear power plant closest to the epicenter of the March 11 magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck Japan and resulted in a devastating tsunami.
The plant experienced very high levels of ground shaking - among the strongest of any plant affected by the earthquake - and some flooding from the tsunami that followed, but was able to shut down safely. The story doesn’t mention this, but Onagawa also acted as safe harbor for the people of the town, with over 200 taking shelter inside the …

For Great Britain, New Nuclear is a Gold Medal Strategy to Reduce Carbon Emissions

Our Olympics-hosting friends in Great Britain appear poised to react to climate change in a manner far different from the Germans, who have designs on abandoning nuclear energy. Britain Gives Nuclear a 2nd Chance, the New York Times informed this week, and in it we learn that the British government "is courting the nuclear industry." Why? "It wants low-carbon power to aid its goal, enshrined in law, of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050."

Those numbers caught my attention. They sounded eerily familiar to me, and for good reason. I work a lot with communicators at California's two nuclear energy facilities, San Onofre and Diablo Canyon. In 2006, then Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act.

Under that law California must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 -- about 30 percent. And the state must redeuce GHG by 80 percent over 1990 levels by 2050. Most a…

Another Environmentalist for Nuclear Energy

We've been talking a lot about Australia in recent weeks (click here and here), where the debate over nuclear energy has been heating up. Long one of the world's top sources of uranium, some folks in Australia are wondering out loud whether or not it might be a good idea to turn to a home-grown energy source to generate electricity.

One of the people helping to drive that debate is Ben Heard of Decarbonise South Australia and Think Climate Consulting. A one-time skeptic, he's now embracing nuclear energy as the only rational way to battle climate change while producing the electricity we need to power advanced societies.

Recently, Heard took part in a television debate sponsored by the Australian Broadcasting Company. As we've written before here at NEI, we're not climate scientists and don't take a position on the validity of research that has concluded that climate change is caused by human activity. However, it's only logical to conclude that you want t…

Crocs Live! --- With Help from FPL’s Turkey Point Nuclear Plant

The AP has an interesting story making the rounds about Florida’s Turkey Point nuclear energy facility. At first, I thought to call this post something like Unintended Consequences, because what’s happening there could seem a consequence of the facility being where it is. But really, it’s more than that, because Turkey Point, which is run by FPL, has taken an active hand in enhancing what is happening there. The good work there is active, not passive.Here’s the story:There are between 1,500 and 2,000 crocodiles in Florida — 40 years ago there were 300. They are listed as an endangered species by the state, but were downgraded a few years ago to "threatened" on the federal list. And that’s because of Turkey Point:Since the croc monitoring program began at the plant in 1978, some 5,000 hatchlings have been captured and marked. [Tukey Point biologist Mario] Aldecoa said that indicates that some female crocodiles are returning year after year to the habitat surrounding Turkey Po…

Less to Wind Energy Milestone Than Meets the Eye

Early this morning, the American Wind Energy Association pushed out some data that caught our eye:Electricity generated by the doubling of the U.S.’s crop of giant wind turbines in the past four years now equals the output of 11 nuclear power plants, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group representing manufacturers and developers.After a big build up since 2008, the U.S.’s total wind output currently totals 50,000 megawatts, or 50 gigawatts.It looks like AWEA has the calculations correct. Fifty gigawatts (GW) of wind at a 30% capacity factor generates about 131,400,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in a year. This is roughly equivalent to the annual generation from 11 new nuclear reactors with an average capacity of 1,400 MW, each operating at a 90% capacity factor. It’s also equivalent to the annual generation of nearly 17 nuclear reactors with an average capacity of 1,000 MW, each at a 90% capacity factor.This is a great milestone for the wind industry, how…

Nuclear Emergency Planning Pays Off Big in Iowa

What becomes nuclear energy most? Many things, but surely, most of all, It has to be safety. The accident in Japan might have made this seem a folly – at first – but polls, and early ones, showed that people in the U.S. understand that the accident there was extraordinary and not reflective of the safety of U.S. plants. That doesn’t mean that the Fukushima accident did not lead to a drive to improve safety, especially in the area of natural disasters such as the mammoth earthquake and flooding (the United States is not prone to tsunami per se) that overtook Fukushima. But there are other issues, too, including evacuation and access to resources to mitigate harm. A lot of lessons are emerging from Japan and the industry and Nuclear Regulatory Commission take them very seriously.So – then – how effective are efforts to protect against events that haven’t happened?Let’s consider the experience of Cedar Rapids, which is about 50 miles from the Duane Arnold facility. No, there was no accid…

A Nuclear-Powered Space Rover Lands on Mars, Brings New Hope for Space Exploration

“If anybody has been harboring doubts about the status of U.S. leadership in space, well, there’s a one-ton, automobile-size piece of American ingenuity, and it’s sitting on the surface of Mars right now.” This statement came from John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor, this morning following the landing of a 2,000-pound nuclear-powered space rover, Curiosity, on the surface of Mars. This marks the first time that NASA has ever safely landed a human-made object of this size and weight on the surface of Mars, a notable feat in American engineering.

Early reports from The New York Times describes the rover’s landing on the Red Planet like a scene in a movie script:
As the drama of the landing unfolded, each step proceeded without flaw. The capsule entered the atmosphere at the appointed time, with thrusters guiding it toward the crater. The parachute deployed. Then the rover and rocket stage dropped away from the parachute and began a powered descent toward the surface, and th…