Monthly Archives: November 2010

Social Media gathering on November 9 at ANS Winter Conference

ANS Conference Twitter hash tag: #ans10

A meet-up of anyone attending the ANS winter meeting in Las Vegas who is interested in the use of social media in the nuclear industry will be held Tuesday, November 9, from 6-9 PM at the Riviera Hotel & Casino, in the Royale 3 room. The American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting “Nuclear Progress!” has achieved more than 2000 meeting registrants, a record for the Society, which was established in 1954. The conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, focuses on the latest developments in nuclear science and engineering.

Social Media Meet-Up
Sponsored Exclusively by INL
6 pm.—9 pm….Royale 3
Refreshments available


Book signings at ANS meeting

Marcus

Gail Marcus will be signing copies of her new book, Nuclear Firsts: Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development, at the ANS Winter Meeting in Las Vegas at the Riviera Hotel. The schedule for the signings is:

  • Sunday, November 7, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Monday, November 8, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Wednesday. November 10, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Marcus will be situated at the ANS bookstore near the meeting’s registration desk. Copies of her book (and other publications) will be available at the bookstore. The book is also available by visiting the online ANS Store.

 Nuclear Firsts traces the technical evolution of nuclear power development in the United States and around the world. In all, about 80 facilities and events in more than 10 countries are profiled. Developments in reactor technologies of all types are covered, as well as developments in reprocessing, enrichment, waste disposal, and some nonelectrical applications of reactors, such as radioisotope production, district heating, desalination, and neutron beam therapy. The book also covers the first government and private organizations that developed around the nuclear industry.

Well-known facilities and events, such as the first demonstration of controlled fusion and the first uses of reactors to produce electricity, and lesser known ones, such as early reactors in Antarctica and at the Panama Canal, are covered. Although many facilities are mentioned in the text or in tables, only “first of a kind” are discussed in detail. Tables are included to identify other firsts, such as the first reactor in a state or country, that may be of interest to the individual reader.

The book’s six chapters cover:

  • The scientific developments leading to the first demonstration of controlled fission.
  • The developments leading to the the first demonstration of the production of usable amounts of electricity.
  • The rapid evolution to an operating commercial nuclear plant built for peaceful purposes only.
  • The growth of nuclear reactor applications.
  • The maturation of the nuclear industry.
  • Where the firsts have led and what lies ahead.

Nuclear Firsts is written for a broad audience. Nuclear professionals will find it useful as an authoritative reference, while science teachers and students can use it as a general educational tool. The book also will appeal to organizations associated with the various firsts and to residents near the sites of the firsts because it provides information about the historical importance of locations in their own neighborhoods. The international community will also find the book of interest because it is not limited to U.S. firsts.

Gail Marcus is a consultant for nuclear technology and policy. Previously, she served as deputy director general for the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, principal deputy director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, and in various senior-level positions at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She is also a past president of ANS (2001-2002).

Welcome to the ANS 2010 Winter Meeting

By Eric Loewen

As we gather to discuss innovations and the next steps forward in nuclear development, I am taking advantage of our new ANS blog site to talk about some communications initiatives undertaken by the Society. As nuclear professionals, we have an obligation to share our technical understanding and scientific perspective with policymakers, educators, students, and the public–and we also need to be sure that we are communicating effectively with each other so that we can speak to today’s energy issues with a unified voice.

As Vice-President/President-Elect of ANS, I have had the privilege of representing our Society on several different stages, including:

The above list includes hyperlinks to my remarks and presentations, which are available online at the ans.org Web site on the Elected Officers page. I am sharing my remarks with ANS members because I hope to hear your perspectives on these issues. This exchange of information and knowledge is one of the tremendous values that a professional membership society provides. So, let’s take advantage of the opportunity afforded by our new ANS Nuclear Cafe!

Communications Survey

The Society will be surveying ANS members in January 2011 to learn more about about the communications tools that you are using and how you prefer to receive information and updates from ANS. Consider the range of applications that people use to communicate every day:  Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, blogs (hello!), chats, Smartphones using all of the above, snail mail, and probably a few more that have been deployed since you started reading this post.

Maybe you prefer Nuclear Advocacy Alerts via text message, but want to receive meeting updates by e-mail. The 2011 Communications Survey will be your chance to let the Society know your preferences for receiving information– so watch for the survey announcement.

iPad Application:  Radiation Dose Chart

Take a break during this Winter Meeting and stop by the Public Information Table to check out the Interactive Radiation Dose Chart application that was recently developed by ANS for the iPad (the link is to the online version featured at the ans.org Web site, which differs in appearance, but has the same content).  The Interactive Radiation Dose Chart application made its debut at the USA Science & Engineering Festival and was a brilliant success, especially among elementary and middle school students. Everyone wanted to play with the iPad, even if they weren’t certain what they wanted to know about radiation!

Funding for the iPad application was provided by ANS’s Operations & Power Professional Division (OPD). Many thanks to the OPD and to Donald Eggett, OPD chair, for recognizing the outreach value of the application and acting promptly to secure OPD Executive Committee approval for the support. After a few minor modifications are made, the application is expected to be certified by Apple and made available for download in the App Store.

A core mission of ANS is to reach out in new and innovative ways to the engineers and scientists of the next generation. We need to communicate our information in any way that works–from our science teacher workshops to the growing world of electronic media. We cannot lose sight of that responsibility and our duty to improve continuously in our outreach efforts.

QR Coding

As you walk around the conference area, look for QR codes on signs advertising the ANS Nuclear Cafe and the #ANS10 twitter hashtag. A QR Code is a matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by QR scanners, mobile phones with a camera, and Smartphones. You can download free QR code reader applications on a variety of Smartphone platforms, including Android, Blackberry, and iPhone.   Open the application, scan the QR code (using your camera in most instances), and the QR reader application will automatically take you to either the front page of the ANS Nuclear Cafe or to the #ANS10 twitter hashtag without you having to type in the web address. It’s an electronic shortcut, and I hope you find it useful.

Who Dunnit?

Thanks to the teams from Nuclear News magazine and the Outreach and IT departments at ANS headquarters for integrating their expertise to find better ways to communicate our message across the growing media spectrum.

Loewen

Eric Loewen, PhD, is chief consulting engineer, Advanced Plants Technology, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, in Wilmington, NC. Loewen was the ANS 2005 Congressional Fellow, where he worked in the office of Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) and coordinated the Senator’s inclusion of America’s first legislation addressing global climate change policy into the Energy Act of 2005. Loewen is Vice President/President Elect of the American Nuclear Society and has been an ANS member since 1988. In November 2009, Esquire profiled Loewen as The Man Who Could End Global Warming.

ANS Landis Communication Award to Denis Beller

He mobilized movies stars and race cars to tell nuclear energy’s story

By Dan Yurman

Denis Beller, research professor, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

What do you say to a man who hung out with Paul Newman’s racing car team, facilitated meetings of minds about nuclear energy among top corporate and political leaders and, while he was at it, got published in Foreign Affairs magazine?

It is easy to say “howdy” to Denis Beller, who will receive an award from ANS at the 2010 Winter Meeting for his effective communications activities on behalf of nuclear energy.

Beller will be honored with the Landis Public Communication & Education Award on November 9 at the annual awards luncheon during the ANS Winter Meeting, being held at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., on November 7-11, 2010.

The award citation reads, “In recognition of outstanding personal effort in furthering public understanding of the peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology.”

Beller has spent many years as a nuclear engineering research professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to teaching and research, he worked diligently as a member of the ANS Public Information Committee and chaired it during his tenure. (Note to readers: Beller’s outstanding communication work was profiled last year in ANS News; available online to members (see Pg 5 at this link).

A paradigm for public communication

Beller’s view on how to get information to the public is summed up very quickly.

The concept of “educating the public” is an “insult,” Beller said.

“Many in our field don’t understand that we need to communicate with people. We need to talk to the public and answer their fears,” he said.

Adventures in movie land

In 2000, Beller and Richard Rhodes co-authored an article on the need for nuclear energy that was published in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs. In the article, which was widely circulated to members of Congress, the co-authors wrote:

“The world needs more energy, and there is one clean, efficient, and safe way to get it: nuclear power. As the global appetite for electricity grows, atomic powerwhich scarcely pollutes, generates relatively little solid waste, and is far more efficient than the alternativesshould be embraced. A worldwide effort to develop and share nuclear technology is in all our interests.”

Beller had some real adventures in his role as a communicator for nuclear energy. In the late 1980s, Paul Newman–yes, that Paul Newman (1925-2008)–had been cast to appear in a new movie, Fat Man & Little Boy, about the making of the atomic bomb. (YouTube link to original movie trailer)

General Leslie Groves (Photo: LANL archives)

In preparing for his role as Gen Leslie R. Groves (1896-1970), who led the Manhattan Project, Newman turned to Rhodes, the author of the book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” (Amazon link 1986) for technical advice. After the publication of “The Need for Nuclear Power” in Foreign Affairs, Rhodes put Newman in contact with Beller to answer questions about the disposition of “nuclear waste.” The story of how the three men met and worked together is well-told in this 2008 story in the National Review by William Tucker and Stephanie Guttman.

New York dinner debates

To answer Newman’s questions about nuclear energy, Beller suggested to Newman that he pay a visit to UNLV, where a large research project had begun on recycling used nuclear fuel, and to the Yucca Mountain Project. Afterward, Newman said that he would like to do something to tell the story, but that he didn’t want to make a media splash. He preferred a low-key approach.

In 2002, Newman organized the first of a series of dinner-debates on nuclear energy at his apartment in New York. Beller was there to facilitate the off-the-record discussions between key industry and media leaders.

Left to right, front: Linden Blue, General Atomics; Paul Newman; Joanne Woodward; Denis Beller, UNLV; and Joe Colvin, ANS. Back: Dan Keuter, Entergy.

Beller later introduced Newman to two other advocates, Susan Eisenhower, whose Eisenhower Institute has promoted nuclear power as part of a legacy of President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, and Al Trivelpiece, former director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The Eisenhower Institute arranged two more meetings in Newman’s apartment during 2005-2006 with a larger group of people from industry and government.

Beller says that the one-on-one conversations changed minds and influenced the views of thought and opinion leaders in business and government.

Racing car days

ANS logo on real spoiler of Paul Newman's race car. (Photo: Judy Beller)

In 2006-2007, Newman agreed to place the ANS logo, along with 27 other nuclear industry decals, on his racing car as it traveled the high performance racing circuit in the U.S. The car was exhibited throughout the country and known as the IndyCar.

The race car attracted lots of attention, which gave Beller the opportunity to talk to people about nuclear energy. Beller says that these events allowed people to have one-on-one conversations with nuclear engineers.

“I can see the expression on someone’s face change when we answer their questions. This is how we change the paradigm of nuclear communication. It is not knowledge we have to address. It is belief, ” Beller said.

What’s changed and what’s new?

Closeup ANS logo on Newman's race car. (Photo: Judy Beller)

Asked what’s changed since he worked with Newman nearly a decade ago, Beller says that he’s pleased to see more use of online media to spread the message about nuclear energy.

“Young people are very oriented to the new media,” he said.

What’s needed in the future?

Beller says that the continuing engagement of ANS members with the Public Information Committee is very important.

“It is part of the changing paradigm of nuclear communications. Scientists and engineers in the nuclear industry will gain the respect of the public if they just go out and talk to people.”

A thank you note from Denis Beller

My wife Judy supported me in many ways, including traveling to exhibits with an IndyCar in tow. She helped me push it into places like the Mall of America, speaking with ANS members and other professionals.

Judy convinced Ambassador Kennedy to support ANS IndyCar Outreach. She was the source of photography at many venues. She set up tables with ANS materials, worked with students, spoke with the public, and so much more.

Another great supporter was Sharon Kerrick at ANS who worked with us for much more than a decade. Others I’d like to thank include Don Hoffman of Excel Services Corporation, several people from the Nuclear Energy Institute, and others too numerous to name here.

______________

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy. He is a contributing reporter for Fuel Cycle Week and a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Green Business Blog Carnival #22

The 22nd Carnival of Green Business blogs is up at Eco-Libris!  Founded in 2007, Eco-Libris is a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices in the industry, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. To achieve these goals Eco-Libris is working with book readers, publishers, authors, bookstores and others in the book industry worldwide.

The Carnival of Green Business Blogs is a roundup of featured content highlighting news, opinions, and insights on issues of interest to the green business community.  This week’s blog carnival includes Jennifer Varnedoe and Liz McAndrew-Benavides’ entry — We always knew nuclear was green!— about  how the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published a definition of “Green Jobs” that is inclusive of nuclear careers.

Please pay visit the Blog Carnival to see the innovative coverage of sustainable business topics.  If you have a blog that covers issues of interest to green businesses, and would like to submit an article to the Carnival, please visit the Green Business Blog Carnival submission page.  If you are interested in hosting a Green Business Blog Carnival, visit the Green Business Blog Carnival Calendar at sustainablog.

Thank you.

26th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

Special edition for ANS Winter Meeting

This is the weekly Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers with contributions from the leading pro-nuclear blogs in North America. The blog posts here are selected by the bloggers themselves as the best posts for the past week. If you are looking for the voice of the nuclear renaissance, you will find it here.

Fluid core reactors

At NuclearGreen, Charles Barton writes about the Aqueous Homogeneous Reactor. It is an account of the early history of fluid core reactors. This account discusses the role of the Aqueous Homogeneous Reactor, in early reactor development, as well as a brief account of the attempt by Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop the AHR for the generation of electric power and thorium breeding.

Thorium reactors and Asian nuclear deals

There are two items from Brian Wang at Next Big Future. David LeBlanc explains why thorium reactors can need so much less fissile uranium to get started and why ongoing material requirements are less. Vietnam makes deals with Russia and Japan for nuclear reactor construction, and Philippine organizes a push and a plan for nuclear energy.

Are the Russians coming for a Czech nuclear deal?

At Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman reports that the $25 billion reactor deal for the Czech Republic’s Temelin Power Station, and two other sites, is still in play. The utility CEZ, which will build, own, and operate the reactors, has short-listed three firms–Areva, Westinghouse, and Atomstroyexport. The Russians have major energy deals with most of eastern Europe, Germany, and Poland for natural gas. If they win the $25 billion Temelin contracts, they could easily dominate the nuclear energy space as well.

Natural gas competes with nuclear energy when it is cheap

At Atomic Insights, Rod Adams takes another look at how natural gas competes with nuclear energy. He asks does hydraulic fracturing change the game or is temporarily “cheap gas” a sales technique designed to significantly delay the potential competition from new nuclear power plants? Rod has put together a representative series of quotes and links that show the rhythmic beat of the “cheap gas” mantra. He is not a believer. The oil & gas industry has a war chest capable of a lengthy price war and plenty of cheerleaders, but the history of natural gas prices is anything but predictable.

How much energy does Ontario need?

Natural gas and nuclear energy are also topics worthy of consideration at Steve Aplin’s Canadian Energy Issues.  In a post titled “Trends v. snapshots: Does Ontario need more or less electricity?” Aplin writes that electricity demand dropped in the years before 2010, because of the recession and two consecutive mild summers.

The anti-nuclear pro-gas lobby cites the alleged down-trend as the reason to defer building new nuclear plants–they hope that short-term supply pressure will force a quick move to gas when demand goes back up. They try to reassure worried rate-payers by pointing to today’s cheap gas price. But the history of the volatile gas price since 2005 shows why rate-payers are right to worry about a move to gas.

Yes, Vermont Yankee is up for sale

Meredith Angwin writes at Yes Vermont Yankee that Republican Phil Scott won his race for Lieutenant Governor of Vermont by 10 percentage points. Scott was one of the four senators who supported Vermont Yankee in the relicensing vote. In contrast, anti-Yankee Shumlin won the Governor’s race by a squeaker. Support for the reactor was not a detriment to a winner. Also, Angwin has news on Entergy’s announcement that Vermont Yankee is for sale.

Anyone want to buy a reactor project in Maryland?

At the New York Times ‘Green Blog about Energy & Environment,” reporter Matt Wald asks who will build Calvert Cliffs 3, in partnership with Electricite de France (EdF), now that Constellation has withdrawn from the project. A review of several nuclear utilities finds cautious responses to the question. EdF must have a U.S. partner under the law concerning foreign ownership of nuclear facilities. So far the hunt is still on to find one.

Hello GOP. Goodbye Cap-and-Trade

At Fuel Cycle Week, Nancy E. Roth writes that GOP gains in Congress mean you can kiss cap-and-trade goodbye. Many nuclear industry advocates and observers expect the industry to benefit from this week’s election results, which delivered a Republican majority to the U.S House of Representatives, while significantly narrowing the Democratic majority in the Senate.

After all, constituent groups that favor nuclear energy tend to vote Republican, and it stands to reason that their representatives in Washington would reflect that in relevant energy legislation. Retired Sen. Pete Domenici (R., N.M.) was easily one of the best friends that nuclear ever had in Congress. The most outspoken nuclear advocates on the Hill, such as Sens. John McCain, Lamar Alexander, and Lisa Murkowski (who at this writing has apparently managed to keep her seat in a write-in race), are almost all affiliated with the GOP.

Conversely, most antinuclear diatribes seem to spring from the Democrats’ side of the aisle, from figures such as Congressman Ed Markey (Mass.).

But these optimistic expectations do not bear up under scrutiny of what Republicans (apart from Domenici) have actually done to help nuclear development, as opposed to what they say they want to do. The disconnect is striking. And, judging by the boisterous antigovernment and anti-climate action platforms Republican candidates embraced this year, that disconnect is not going away anytime soon.

Will nuclear energy do better with a Republican House?

NEI Nuclear Notes also writes about the election. The blog of the nuclear energy trade group writes that 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.

NEI cites the New York Times, which reports:

“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.”

Three reasons why a small country wants large reactors

At Cool Hand Nuke, we get news that Vietnam has inked deals to build four new reactors at an average price of $2800/Kw. Russia and Japan will each build two reactors in Vietnam’s central highlands. Both countries will supply and retrograde the fuel, which means Vietnam will not need enrichment capabilities nor have to deal with the issue of reprocessing.  Eventually, Vietnam plans to build eight 1000 MW reactors.

Vietnam has several strategic objectives for building the reactors.

First, it needs the electricity to support its growing manufacturing role as an exporter to the West. Intel announced on October 29 that it is opening a $1 billion microchip manufacturing plant, the biggest in the company’s history.

Second, Vietnam has huge bauxite deposits, the world’s third largest deposit, in its central highlands. It wants to develop a finished goods aluminum industry that requires a lot of electricity.

Third, Vietnam knows it cannot compete with China for Mideast fossil fuels. It needs electricity from uranium-fueled nuclear reactors to power its economy.

What is even more interesting is that with all the hype about the potential for small modular reactors to do well in markets dominated by developing nations, Vietnam has chosen to go with full-scale reactors.

Pacific Basin Conference draws a crowd

At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus, a past ANS president, blogs about the Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference that took place in Cancun last week. About 300 people from 25 countries attended the meeting. She notes that plenary speakers from the United States included Joe Colvin from the American Nuclear Society, Shane Johnson from the Department of Energy, and Margaret Doane from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Speakers from Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, and Taiwan made plenary presentations.

New industry transparency gets media attention

A story at Atomwatch by Robert Margolis concerns INPO assessment information for the Columbia Generating Station. In the past, INPO assessments have been confidential. It is possible that the media are now paying closer attention to INPO assessments and are obtaining information and publishing it.

While transparency in regulation is required for a healthy nuclear industry, INPO assessments are typically designed to provide additional improvements above and beyond the required regulations. The public may become confused when they read that a particular reactor received a low rating from INPO without having the appropriate context. The NRC and INPO have separate roles and responsibilities.

# # #

Iran’s commercial reactor is not the problem

Getting the government to give up its uranium enrichment program is the key issue

By Dan Yurman

Iran started this month inserting 163 fuel assemblies into a Russian built 1000 MW VVER light water reactor located at Bushehr on Iran’s Persian Gulf coast. In a few months, technicians will withdraw controls rods to start the process of operating the reactor and making electricity.

VVER fuel assembly - source: TVEL

The fuel is enriched to approximately 4.6 percent. Russia has agreed to supply the fuel for the reactor for the next 10 years and to take it back. Many nonproliferation experts say that this arrangement ensures that the reactor will not be able to support development of nuclear weapons.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Jerusalem Post on October 26,”The United States does not see Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor as a threat.”

“Our problem is not with their reactor at Bushehr, our problem is with their facilities at places like Natanz and their secret facility at Qom and other places where we believe they are conducting their weapons program,” Clinton said.

Mike Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (ISIS) in London told Reuters on October 26, “Fueling Bushehr should not be seen as an act of defiance.”

“Nobody has asked them to stop on Bushehr. I think it is a big mistake to equate these two issues. The fact that they haven’t responded to Catherine Ashton [the European Union diplomat] is an important nonproliferation issue, ” Fitzpatrick said.

History and development of Bushehr

Iran began building the Bushehr reactor in 1975. It was one of two planned units. Work on both units ground to a halt during the 1979 revolution. Russian picked up the pieces on one of the reactors 16 years later.

Progress at Bushehr has been delayed repeatedly by disputes between Iran’s mercurial and fragmented government and Russia’s industrial export engine that runs on hard currency. At one point, work stopped when Iran made a progress payment in euros and the Russians demanded dollars.

The VVER reactor is a conventional light water design widely used in Russia and eastern Europe. The Energy Information Administration at the U.S. Department of Energy notes that the Russian Federation continues to build VVER units. The VVER reactor is not the same design as the one that was destroyed at Chernobyl. The Russians have a huge image problem that any Russian-built unit may inherit from the disaster at Chernobyl-4, an RBMK water-cooled graphite-moderated reactor. The Russians are not building any more RBMKs, although several remain in service.

The new VVER units conform to international standards and have developed an export market. The new VVER design has an estimated operational life of at least 30 years. Russia is building one for India with plans for several more, and it recently inked a deal to build two for Vietnam.

Reactor’s success undermines Iran’s need for enrichment services

Ivan Oelrich, (right) a Senior Fellow for the Strategic Security Program at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), talked on October 26 with this blog about the Bushehr reactor. His primary point is that the plant will not take Iran any closer to building a nuclear weapon.

Ivan Oelrich

“In fact, it may help stop an Iranian bomb and establish good practices for the rest of the Middle East,” he said.

“The Russian guarantee of reliable fuel services actually undermines Iran’s claim it needs its uranium enrichment plants. The fact that the Russians will take back the spent fuel, under IAEA inspections to prevent diversions, makes it impossible to extract the plutonium from the fuel,” Oelrich said.

It is not an additional danger, Oelrich said. “The Russians are in effect leasing the fuel. Once the fuel is back in Russia, it’s their problem, not Iran’s.”

Oelrich said he is “cautiously optimistic that Iran will agree to talks in Europe about its uranium enrichment program.

“Iran will want to re-engage with the European Union. The sanctions are impacting the regime a lot worse than they expected.”

His confidence was well placed. On October 29, the New York Times reported that Iran said it is ready to return to talks about its uranium enrichment program. Analysts point to the deep impacts of the fourth round of sanctions on the nation’s oil and gas industry.

There’s another point, and it goes to the reasons that Iran started its uranium enrichment work in the first place. Oelrich says that Iran isn’t getting the political benefits it expected from the enrichment program. Instead of being seen as a prestigious leader in the Middle East, the regime has become a destabilizing pariah. Internally, shortages of specialty items for the oil fields and difficulties with banking and trade have undermined the regime’s justification for the program.

Oelrich says that a real blow to Iran’s view of their ability to withstand the sanctions was China’s vote for them in the U.N. Security Council last June. These sanctions impact Iran’s banking system, air cargo, and shipping industries that stop the flow of critical equipment for the country’s oil and gas industries.

Since China is a major customer, and is also the country closest to Iran in the U.N. Security Council, Iran may have felt confident about how it would vote. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in Shanghai the day China voted in New York for the new round of sanctions. The vote in the U.N. was a wakeup call for him and the Iranian government.

The scope of Iran’s enrichment program

Uranium enrichment centrifuges

Iran has been enriching its uranium at Natanz to 20 percent, but what alarms the U.S., Israel, and other countries is the route from 20 percent to 90 percent high enriched uranium (HEU) to make a bomb. Iran claims it is enriching to 20 percent to support a medical isotope reactor.

In May 2010, the IAEA said that Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make two atomic bombs. The U.N. Security Council sees Iran’s duplicitous communications with the IAEA as evidence that it is engaged in building a bomb. According to the New York Times on May 31, 2010:

“‘The toughly worded report says that Iran has expanded work at one of its nuclear sites. It also describes, step by step, how inspectors have been denied access to a series of facilities, and how Iran has refused to answer inspectors’ questions on a variety of activities, including what the agency called the ‘possible existence’ of ‘activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.’”

Oelrich says that having 20 percent uranium is one thing, but having 90 percent HEU is entirely another. He thinks that Iran doesn’t have enough 90 percent HEU to make even one bomb, much less two, and that it lacks other types of bomb-making know-how.

An underground test is out of the question, as one would be readily detected and would create an entirely different crisis for Iran in its relationship with the rest of the world. As for Iran’s missile program, Oelrich says that his assessment is that Iran is a long way from being able to package a bomb for use on an intermediate range ballistic missile.

What does the West want from Iran?

European Union negotiations will be influenced by Iran's complex trade relationships

Regardless of how much bomb material Iran has, a new agreement may be difficult to achieve. According to an October 27 report in the New York Times, a new agreement would require Iran to send an increase of about two-thirds from the amount required under a tentative deal offered in Vienna a year ago.

Iran stalled on implementation and then walked away. The reason for the increase is that Iran has been making more enriched uranium since it broke off talks a year ago. Even as Iran rejected that deal, it continued its uranium enrichment program.

The Wall Street Journal reported on October 27 that the IAEA now estimates that Iran has an inventory of 2800 kilograms (6200 lbs), compared with a stockpile of 1800 kilograms (4000 lbs) in September 2009. The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. diplomats want to expand the original fuel-swap deal to remove more of the enriched uranium.

Instead of 1200 kilograms discussed last year, Iran would need to agree to secure at least 50 percent more, or 1800 kilograms, at another country such as Turkey. Nuclear experts say that this would keep Iran’s inventory below the level that could sustain development of a working bomb. Iran would not be able to retrieve the uranium without IAEA consent.

The Times also reported that the Obama administration will demand that Iran halt all production of nuclear fuel that it is currently enriching to 20 percent. That would cut off the path to HEU, which at 90 percent U-235 is bomb material.

Can Iran cut a deal?

Iran's political climate is a mosaic of factions

It isn’t clear that Iran has the political will to make such an agreement. The country lacks a cohesive leadership structure complicated by theocratic politics. There is dissent among conservatives and domestic opposition that has been brutally suppressed by the Revolutionary Guards since the June 2009 elections.

Iran’s hard liners might again stop an agreement and tough it out. The lack of a united front at home, however, may be seen as an opportunity by some Iranian leaders as a rationale to stop enrichment, which would lift the sanctions.

The U.S. and the European Union have to convince Iran that the sanctions will put more of a dent in the nation’s economic life and that things could get a lot worse. By the time you read this blog post, the ground may shift again. The agenda for the negotiations, which are set to start on November 10, hasn’t been set, and Iran has already sent conflicting messages about what it is willing to put on the table.

Will Iran change or will it be more of the same?

Iran may yet twist, turn, and delay the negotiations in an attempt to delay an agreement.

The fourth round of sanctions have hit hard. However, China’s vote for them was a signature change in the political landscape further isolating the Iranian regime on a global scale. Still, it remains unclear whether Iran will respond in a rational manner.

So far signals from Iran do not bear out western optimism.  Reuters reported November 2 Iran’s envoy to the U.N. nuclear agency scoffed at a U.S. position that Tehran would have to agree to tougher conditions than those it rejected last summer.

“I’m afraid there is no logic for these kind of statements,” Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Reuters when asked about a U.S. media report that Iran would be required to part with some two metric tons of its uranium stockpile under a revised proposal.

The Los Angeles Times reported that a highly placed European Union diplomat says Iran is unlikely to come to terms over its nuclear program.

Since the imposition of the latest sanctions, over the summer, “the whole question has been, ‘Is that going to create a new political situation?'” the diplomat told a group of reporters. “We haven’t seen anything yet.”

Future posts on this blog will attempt to follow the negotiations and seek to answer the “so what” questions that emerge from the blizzard of news media reports.

—–

Dan Yurman is the publisher of Idaho Samizdat, a blog on nuclear energy. He is a contributing reporter for Fuel Cycle Week and a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

We always knew nuclear was green!

By Jennifer Varnedoe and Liz McAndrew-Benavides

This year’s North American – Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN) continental conference was held in May and was themed “Leading the Change: Go Green.” Participants learned that the future of electricity production in the United States would be heavily influenced by the desire to combat global warming. This desire is starting a national debate on how the country should select technologies for new electricity production facilities.

The common consensus is that only technologies deemed to be green have a chance at new construction, so Young Generation conference attendees were disheartened that nuclear was not recognized as a green energy. Until the environmental benefits of nuclear energy were recognized, new nuclear power would have a difficult time moving forward.

As of the end of September, there isn’t any reason for the young generation of nuclear professionals to be disheartened. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently published a definition of “Green Jobs” that is inclusive of nuclear careers.

BLS has defined green jobs as:

  1. Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.
  2. Jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

Easily missed because the BLS definition is generic, the great discovery is made when reviewing the list of job codes associated with the definition. Four nuclear jobs are included in the BLS definition:

  • turbine manufacturing
  • nuclear electric power generation
  • nuclear waste disposal
  • industrial valve manufacturing

Being included in this definition will allow nuclear power to have an equal seat at the table at any future federal discussion on energy generation. State public service commissions will be able to point to the federal definition of green jobs to count electricity produced by nuclear power toward their clean energy standards. Most importantly, the young generation of nuclear professionals can rest assured that the federal government understands the importance of nuclear power in the global warming debate.

As members of the young generation, we applaud the Department of Labor’s work to clarify once and for all, what is a green job.

Jennifer Varnedoe is Vice-Chair of the ANS Young Members Group.  She is a Project Engineer with Advanced Programs at GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.  She has been an ANS member since 2007 and is a guest contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Liz McAndrew-Benavides is President of NA-YGN.  She is Managerof Industry Infrastructure at the Nuclear Energy Institute. In this role she is focused on work force development and supply chain issues for the nuclear industry. Prior to this job, she worked for Constellation Energy in their new nuclear division, UniStar Nuclear.

November 2010 Nuclear News online

The November issue of Nuclear News will soon be available electronically to ANS members. The issue contains a special section on nuclear nonproliferation, featuring the following articles:

  • Current efforts toward a sustainable nonproliferation policy, by Melvin R. Buckner and Benjamin J. Cross
  • Proliferation pathways and barriers, by William E. Burchill and Melvin R. Buckner
  • Status of nonproliferation agreements, by Paul Nelson
  • Reducing proliferation risks through nuclear energy assistance to developing countries, by David R. Boyle, Amir H. Mohagheghi, and  Kate M. Putman
  • Nonproliferation initiatives and plutonium disposition in Russia and the United States, by Steven P. Nesbit
  • Safeguarding and protecting the nuclear fuel cycle, by Trond Bjornard, Humberto Garcia, William Desmond, and Scott DeMuth
  • How proliferation resistant is resistant enough? by Shaheen A. Dewji, Michaela E. Eddy, and Robert A. Bari

To access the issue, go to http://www.new.ans.org/pubs/magazines/nn/ (subscriber log-in required for access to full issue).

Also, keep an eye out for a free copy of the November issue of Nuclear News at the 2010 ANS Winter Meeting and Nuclear Technology Expo, November 7-11, at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev.

Good progress report from South Carolina’s new nuclear power plant

By Rod Adams

A friend wrote me a nice note the other day that has brightened my outlook on the future of nuclear energy in the United States. Like many people who write about both the industry and the technology, I have been focusing on the complex story of nuclear loan guarantees. As an Annapolis, Md., resident and DC area worker, it was difficult to escape the frequently negative news coverage of the troubled Calvert Cliffs unit 3 project.

The communication from my friend reminded me to look a bit further afield to a place that is less affected by the kind of groupthink that often occurs inside the Washington DC beltway and gets transmitted–a bit like a contagious disease–to its commuter communities. He sent me a link to SCANA’s third quarter earnings report, which included a status report about the two-unit expansion project at the V. S. Summer Nuclear Station.

Here is the BLUF (bottom line up front). Note: that is a recent DC phrase to show you that I really was an inside-the-beltway kind of guy.

The Summer expansion project is on time, under budget, and shows excellent potential for keeping on that path. The first of the new units will be operating in 2016 and the second by 2019. The project leaders have stated that loan guarantee decisions made inside the beltway will not affect their schedule one way or the other. The estimated project total cost is $9.8 billion, which is less than $4500 per kilowatt of capacity. There is a good chance that the final number will be lower than that.

For all of the time that I spend on line, reading Google news alerts about new nuclear power plants, and talking with fellow nuclear professionals, all of those facts came as either news to me or as something that I might have heard in passing once and promptly forgotten. Major news outlets (Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal) are not paying much attention to the success, possibly because it is happening in a relatively small state with only one company listed in the Fortune 500. That company happens to be SCANA, the holding company that owns South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) and is a 55 percent owner in the nuclear plant expansion project. Santee Cooper, a state-owned utility company, owns the other 45 percent of the project.

After I remembered that Santee Cooper was involved in the project, I recalled the only recent news story I have seen about V. C. Summer–it was a story that indicated that Santee Cooper was considering reducing its share of the project. Duke Energy and Progress Energy, both headquartered nearby in North Carolina, have expressed interest in talking with Santee Cooper about buying part of their stake in V. C. Summer. The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), a professional antinuclear organization, put a  negative spin on that story as just one more example of a company involved in new nuclear build getting cold feet.

The  transcript of SCANA’s third quarter earnings call, not surprisingly, gave a completely different perspective of the project’s current progress. Among the financial jargon, it is possible to detect the enthusiasm of the people who are working hard to turn paper designs into two productive generating units that will help keep South Carolina’s power prices among the lowest in the nation.

The transcript is a bit on the dry side and should be read with an understanding of the context of the situation–analysts and responders do not fully explain all of their questions or responses.

Kevin Marsh, president SCE&G (a SCANA subsidiary), introduced the discussion about the nuclear project, which is an important topic for the analysts that follow the company. Although it is the largest company in South Carolina, SCANA has a total market capitalization of just $5.2 billion, roughly equal to the total cost of its 55 percent share in the $9.8 billion project.

I would like to direct your attention to slide nine, which shows on a total project basis that the current projected nuclear plant construction cost, including estimated escalation, is approximately $1 billion under the forecasted final costs including in our initial BLRA filing from 2008. Additionally, you will note on the slide in the red dashed circle we have approximately $6 billion in the committed category projected to the total project cost of $9.6 billion.

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(Note: the acronym BLRA means Base Load Review Act, which is the South Carolina state law covering the treatment of costs associated with the construction project.)

An analyst from Goldman Sachs started the question and answer session with a follow-up on V. C. Summer (aka, BLRA).

Michael Lapides (Goldman Sachs): Hi guys. Just a lot of moving parts regarding the BLRA and the Summer build. I just want to make sure I understand what are the basics. What are you now saying the cash cost of construction will be between today and the end of the project, and then the total cash costs all in?

Jimmy Addison: (SCANA Corporation senior vice president and chief financial officer): We expect the total cost based on what we know today, including installation, would be $5.8 billion, the $5.896 on the second call which includes the AFUDC (Allowance for Funds Used During Construction).

The interesting part of that discussion is that the plant construction cost is only about 60 percent of the total project cost–much of the rest is due to the effects of inflation and interest cost during the 12 years between the budget projections and the project completion.

The transcript included hard questioning about various project risks and about the talk that Santee Cooper might want to reduce its share of the project. Though the language is a bit stilted and veiled, it is clear that the company believes that the project risks are falling due to low inflation and low interest rates. Company spokesmen also provided ample hints that they are not at all worried about finding a willing buyer for any portion of the project that Santee Cooper decides to sell. I expect that there have been any number of phone calls or private discussions that have given them some confidence.

There is little doubt that the good people headquartered in Columbia, S.C., are moving forward at a steady pace and that they have the project costs and schedule under their control. They are not waiting for inside the beltway bureaucrats at the Office of Management and Budget to produce a model that gives a reasonable credit subsidy cost computation. They have developed a financial model that works, keeps their analysts assured, and reassures their customers who are helping to pay for the project.

They are taking advantage of uncertainty in other projects to keep their borrowing costs low and their labor rates from going up. During the period since the project was announced, SCANA’s stock price has varied and shown the effects of a major economic recession, but it is now trading for essentially the same $40 per share as it was before the company announced that it was going to invest billions into a new nuclear power plant.

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As a former resident of the great state of South Carolina, I fully expect that this story will end up something like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, with SCANA playing the role of the tortoise. The people who move forward at a steady pace and refuse to be tempted by fast burning attractions–like temporarily cheap natural gas–will succeed.

They will bequeath a valuable long-term productive asset to their children; which is always a great reason to face and overcome difficult challenges. That kind of thinking was hard to escape when I lived in Charleston, S.C., a place where leaving a legacy is a major motivator for any action.

Nuclear professionals should spread the story of this success around a bit. We need to do what we do best–learn lessons from “best practices” and share those lessons with others so that they can improve their own performance.

Adams

Rod Adams is a pro-nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc., and host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005 and is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.