Category Archives: China

2012 ~ The year that was in nuclear energy

Plus a few pointers to what’s in store for 2013

By Dan Yurman

Former NRC Chairman Gregory Jackzo

On a global scale the nuclear industry had its share of pluses and minuses in 2012. Japan’s Fukushima crisis continues to dominate any list of the top ten nuclear energy issues for the year. (See more below on Japan’s mighty mission at Fukushima.)

In the United States, while the first new nuclear reactor licenses in three decades were issued to four reactors, the regulatory agency that approved them had a management meltdown that resulted in the noisy departure of Gregory Jazcko, its presidentially appointed chairman. His erratic tenure at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cast doubt on its effectiveness and tarnished its reputation as one of the best places to work in the federal government.

Iran continues its uranium enrichment efforts

The year also started with another bang, and not the good kind, as new attacks on nuclear scientists in Iran brought death by car bombs. In July, western powers enacted new sanctions on Iran over its uranium enrichment program. Since 2011, economic sanctions have reduced Iran’s oil exports by 40 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In late November, the U.S. Senate approved a measure expanding the economic sanctions that have reduced Iran’s export earnings from oil production. Despite the renewed effort to convince Iran to stop its uranium enrichment effort, the country is pressing ahead with it. Talks between Iran and the United States and western European nations have not made any progress.

Nukes on Mars

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is a scientific and engineering triumph.

Peaceful uses of the atom were highlighted by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, which executed a flawless landing on the red planet in August with a nuclear heartbeat to power its science mission. Data sent to Earth from its travels across the red planet will help determine whether or not Mars ever had conditions that would support life.

SMRs are us

The U.S. government dangled an opportunity for funding of innovative small modular reactors, e.g., with electrical power ratings of less than 300 MW. Despite vigorous competition, only one vendor, B&W, was successful in grabbing a brass ring worth up to $452 million over five years.

The firm immediately demonstrated the economic value of the government cost-sharing partnership by placing an order for long lead time components. Lehigh Heavy Forge and B&W plan to jointly participate in the fabrication and qualification of large forgings for nuclear reactor components that are intended to be used in the manufacture of B&W mPower SMRs.

Lehigh Forge at work

The Department of Energy said that it might offer a second round funding challenge, but given the federal government’s overall dire financial condition, the agency may have problems even meeting its commitments in the first round.

As of December 1, negotiations between the White House and Congress over the so-called “fiscal cliff” were deadlocked. Congress created this mess, so one would expect that they could fix it.

The Congressional Budget Office has warned that if Congress doesn’t avert the fiscal cliff, the economy might slip into recession next year and boost the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared with 7.9 percent now. Even record low natural gas prices and a boom in oil production won’t make much of a difference if there is no agreement by January 1, 2013.

Japan’s mighty mission at Fukushima

Japan’s major challenges are unprecedented for a democratically elected government. It must decontaminate and decommission the Fukushima site, home to six nuclear reactors, four of which suffered catastrophic internal and external damage from a giant tsunami and record shattering earthquake. The technical challenges of cleanup are daunting and the price tag, already in the range of tens of billions of dollars, keeps rising with a completion date now at least several decades in the future.

Map of radiation releases from Fukushima reported in April 2011

  • Japan is mobilizing a new nuclear regulatory agency that has the responsibility to say whether the rest of Japan’s nuclear fleet can be restarted safely. While the government appointed highly regarded technical specialists to lead the effort, about 400 staff came over from the old Nuclear Industry Safety Agency that was found to be deficient as a deeply compromised oversight body. The new agency will struggle to prove itself an independent and effective regulator of nuclear safety.
  •  Japan has restarted two reactors and approved continued construction work at several more that are partially complete. Local politics will weigh heavily on the outlook for each power station with the “pro” forces emphasizing jobs and tax base and the anti-nuclear factions encouraged by widespread public distrust of the government and of the nation’s nuclear utilities.
  • Despite calls for a phase out of all nuclear reactors in Japan, the country will continue to generate electric power from them for at least the next 30–40 years.
  • Like the United States, Japan has no deep geologic site for spent fuel. Unlike the United States, Japan has been attempting to build and operate a spent fuel reprocessing facility. Plagued by technical missteps and rising costs, Japan may consider offers from the United Kingdom and France to reprocess its spent fuel and with such a program relieve itself of the plutonium in it.

U.S. nuclear renaissance stops at six

The pretty picture of a favorable future for the nuclear fuel cycle in 2007 turned to hard reality in 2012.

In 2007, the combined value of more than two dozen license applications for new nuclear reactors weighed in with an estimated value of over $120 billion. By 2012, just six reactors were under construction. Few will follow soon in their footsteps due to record low prices of natural gas and the hard effects of one of the nation’s deepest and longest economic recessions.

The NRC approved licenses for two new reactors at Southern’s Vogtle site in Georgia and two more at Scana’s V.C. Summer Station in South Carolina. Both utilities chose the Westinghouse AP1000 design and will benefit from lessons learned by the vendor that is building four of them in China. In late November, Southern’s contractors, which are building the plants, said that both of the reactors would enter revenue service a year late. For its part, Southern said that it hasn’t agreed to a new schedule.

The Tennessee Valley Authority recalibrated its efforts to complete Watts Bar II, adding a three-year delay and over $2 billion in cost escalation. TVA’s board told the utility’s executives that construction work to complete Unit 1 at the Bellefonte site cannot begin until fuel is loaded in Watts Bar.

The huge increase in the supply of natural gas, resulting in record low prices for it in the United States, led Exelon Chairman John Rowe to state that it would be “inconceivable” for a nuclear utility in a deregulated state to build new reactors.

Four reactors in dire straights

In January, Southern California Edison (SCE) safety shut down two 1100-MW reactors at its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) due to excessive wear found in the nearly new steam generators at both reactors.

SCE submitted a restart plan to the NRC for Unit 2 in November. The review, according to the agency, could take months. SCE removed the fuel from Unit 3 last August, a signal that the restart of that reactor will be farther in the future owing to the greater extent of the damage to the tubes its steam generator.

The NRC said that a key cause of the damage to the tubes was a faulty computer program used by Mitsubishi, the steam generator vendor, in its design of the units. The rate of steam, pressure, and water content were key factors along with the design and placement of brackets to hold the tubes in place.

Flood waters surround Ft. Calhoun NPP June 2011

Elsewhere, in Nebraska the flood stricken Ft. Calhoun reactor owned and operated by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), postponed its restart to sometime in 2013.

It shut down in April 2011 for a scheduled fuel outage. Rising flood waters along the Missouri River in June damaged in the plant site though the reactor and switch yard remained dry.

The Ft. Calhoun plant must fulfill a long list of safety requirements before the NRC will let it power back up. To speed things along, OPPD hired Exelon to operate the plant. In February 2012, OPPD cancelled plans for a power uprate, also citing the multiple safety issues facing the plant.

In Florida, the newly merged Duke and Progress Energy firm wrestled with a big decision about what to do with the shutdown Crystal River reactor. Repairing the damaged containment structure could cost half again as much as an entirely new reactor. With license renewal coming up in 2016, Florida’s Public Counsel thinks that Duke will decommission the unit and replace it with a combined cycle natural gas plant. Separately, Duke Chairman Jim Rogers said that he will resign at the end of 2013.

China restarts nuclear construction

After a long reconsideration (following the Fukushima crisis) of its aggressive plans to build new nuclear reactors, China’s top level government officials agreed to allow new construction starts, but only with Gen III+ designs.

China has about two dozen Gen II reactors under construction. It will be 40–60 years before the older technology is off the grid. China also reduced its outlook for completed reactors from an estimate of 80 GWe by 2020 to about 55–60 GWe. Plans for a massive $26-billion nuclear energy IPO (initial public offering) still have not made it to the Shanghai Stock Exchange.  No reason has been made public about the delay.

India advances at Kudanlulam

India loaded fuel at Kudankulam where two Russian built 1000-MW VVER reactors are ready for revenue service. The Indian government overcame widespread political protests in its southern state of Tamil Nadu. India’s Prime Minister Singh blamed the protests on international NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

One of the key factors that helped the government overcome the political opposition is that Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited told the provincial government that it could allocate half of all the electricity generated by the plants to local rate payers. Officials in Tamil Nadu will decide who gets power. India suffered two massive electrical blackouts in 2012, the second of which stranded over 600 million people without electricity for up to a week.

Also, India said that it would proceed with construction of two 1600-MW Areva EPRs at Jaitapur on its west coast south of Mumbai and launched efforts for construction of up to 20 GWe of domestic reactors.

India’s draconian supplier liability law continues to be an effective firewall in keeping American firms out of its nuclear market.

UK has new builder at Horizon

The United Kingdom suffered a setback in its nuclear new build as two German utilities backed out of the construction of up to 6 Gwe of new reactors at two sites. Japan’s Hitachi successfully bid to take over the project. A plan for a Chinese state-owned firm to bid on the Horizon project in collaboration with Areva never materialized.

Also in the UK, General Electric pursued an encouraging dialog with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to build two of its 300-MW PRISM fast reactors to burn off surplus plutonium stocks at Sellafield. The PRISM design benefits from the technical legacy of the Integral Fast Reactor developed at Argonne West in Idaho.

You can’t make this stuff up

In July, three anti-war activitists breached multiple high-tech security barriers at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Y-12 highly enriched uranium facility in Tennessee. The elderly trio, two men on the dark side of 55 and a woman in her 80s, were equipped with ordinary wire cutters and flashlights.

Y-12 Signs state the obvious

The intruders roamed the site undetected for several hours in the darkness of the early morning and spray painted political slogans on the side of one of the buildings. They were looking for new artistic venues when a lone security guard finally stopped their travels through the plant.

The government said that the unprecedented security breach was no laughing matter, firing the guards on duty at the time and the contractor they worked for. Several civil servants “retired.” The activists, if convicted, face serious jail time.

None of the HEU stored at the site was compromised, but subsequent investigations by the Department of Energy found a lack of security awareness, broken equipment, and an unsettling version of the “it can’t happen here” attitude by the guards that initially mistook the intruders for construction workers.

The protest effort brought publicity to the activists’ cause far beyond their wildest dreams and produced the predictable uproar in Congress. The DOE’s civilian fig leaf covering the nation’s nuclear weapons program was once again in tatters.

So long Chu

Given the incident at Y-12, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who came to government from the quiet life of scientific inquiry, must have asked himself once again why he ever accepted the job in Washington in the first place.

DOE Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Chu is expected to leave Washington. That he’s lasted this long is something of a miracle since the Obama White House tried to give him the heave ho this time last year after the Solyndra loan guarantee debacle, in which charges of political influence peddling by White House aides colored a half a billion dollar default on a DOE loan by a California solar energy company.

The predictable upswing in rumors of who might be appointed to replace him oozed into energy trade press and political saloons of the nation’s capital.

Leading candidates are former members of Congress, former governors, or just  about anyone with the experience and political know how to take on the job of running one of the federal government’s biggest cabinet agencies. It’s a short list of people who really can do the job and a long list of wannabes. With shale gas and oil production on the rise, having a background in fossil fuels will likely help prospective candidates.

_______________________________

Dan Yurman published the nuclear energy blog Idaho Samizdat from 2007–2012.

China restarts approvals of new nuclear reactor construction projects

A second nuclear IPO also is announced

By Dan Yurman

Chinese nuclear reactor under construction

The Chinese State Council has unfrozen approvals of construction of new nuclear reactors after stopping them in 2011 following the Fukushimna crisis in Japan. China will build new reactors at a slower place, however, and only at coastal locations, and only Gen III+ designs. No date has been given for the first new approval decision.

According to the China Daily for October 25, two programs—the national plans for nuclear power security—were approved for the period 2011–2020 at an executive meeting of the State Council chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao. The Council also approved a national energy development program through 2015 that addresses fossil and renewable energy sources.

Nuclear energy expert He Jiankun, at Tsinghua University, said the decision to restart approval of new nuclear reactor construction strikes a balance between increasing energy production and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. China is the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases and is believed to significantly under-report its output of them.

Gen III+ Designs to be built

Sun Qin, chairman of the state-owned China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC), told wire services in Beijing on November 8 that the publication of new safety guidelines in late October has opened the door to construction of new reactors similar in design to the 1150-MW Westinghouse AP1000.

Four such reactors are under construction in China. Two more based on Gen III+ design features, which are Areva 1600-MW EPRs, are also under construction in China. It is unlikely that any new starts based on the CPR1000, a Gen II design, will be approved by the government.

The changes in policy regarding new starts will reduce completion of new nuclear power generating capacity from 80 GW by 2020 to about 50—60 GW. Even these numbers may be ambitious despite assurances from CNNC.

While Chinese state-owned nuclear energy firms have significant experience building and operating the current fleet of about 12 GWe of nuclear power, all of the units are based on the older CPR1000, Russian VVER, or Canadian CANDU designs. New starts will require learning from the current construction experiences with Gen III+ designs.

The reason that coastal sites have been selected is to facilitate delivery of large components. One of China’s challenges for new reactors at inland locations is that it lacks the transportation infrastructure to ship systems like reactor pressure vessels, steam generators, and power turbines long distances over land.

The thaw in approvals of new construction projects will boost employment not only at the sites themselves, but also in China’s domestic supply chain. Contracts with Shanghai Electric and Dongfang Electric will resume stepping up manufacturing at their plants.

Long-term safety issues

China has 15 operating reactors and another 26 under construction. Only six of the 26 under construction are Gen III+ designs. This means that by 2020 there will be 35 operating reactors with Gen II designs. The numbers work out to a long-term commitment to safety issues related to Gen II designs.

One of the long term safety issues for China is the variety of reactor designs it will live with for the next 40–60 years. It complicates the nuclear safety regulatory effort. China is still under invested in nuclear safety oversight and regulation.

The Environmental Ministry, which issued the new safety regulations in October, said that the government might phase out older reactor designs sooner. The reason is that they lack the passive safety features of the AP1000 and the EPR.

To get to its goal of 55-58 GWe, it will have to complete a minimum of 15 Gen III+ design reactors. Many of the new Gen III+ units won’t be completed by 2020 when the first group of units in the original group of 15 start to be decommissioned. This scenario suggests that coal and other fossil sources, such as natural gas, will continue to dominate China’s energy supply as fuel sources.

Second IPO

China Nuclear Engineering Co. (CNEC) announced on November 2 that it is planning the country’s second initial public offering (IPO). The firm will issue 525 million shares on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, raising the equivalent of $288 million. The IPO was initially slated to be released in early 2011, but was shelved as a result of the Fukushima crisis in Japan.

The first IPO for new nuclear construction, said to be worth up to $27 billion, was announced by the China National Nuclear Power Co. (CNNP) last June, but it has not yet been released to investors.

Reasons for the first IPO

Andy Mulkerin, managing partner at the Nicobar Group, a consulting firm with offices in Shanghai and New York, said in a statement last June that the CNNC IPO announcement is exciting news for both the Chinese and global nuclear power markets.

“While other Chinese nuclear power manufacturers and uranium mining subsidiaries are already listed in Shanghai and Hong Kong, this IPO represents China’s first for a nuclear plant operator and could be China’s largest IPO to date,” he said.

“Our opinion is that this is a sign of China’s continued dedication to nuclear power, despite the delay in new construction starts, and the country’s long-term vision that nuclear power will play a major role in fulfilling its growing energy needs. More importantly, it is a milestone event in the beginning of a period where we see more and more Chinese outbound activity in global nuclear markets.”

Asked why the IPO is being developed at this time, Mulkerin said that there are several possible considerations contributing to the decision for CNNC’s IPO, the strongest of which likely includes international branding and raising capital.

“An IPO will allow CNNC to project more accountability and transparency as they look at more international opportunities. CNNC’s IPO may be a way to demonstrate that they are on par with [State Nuclear Power Technology Corp., SNPTC] and [China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, CGNPC] in terms of their international prowess, as they have lagged behind both since the introduction of 3G plants in China,” he said.

Another issue is that during China’s long suspension of new starts, the projects that will be funded by the IPO have seen cost escalation. Nicobar’s analysts say the IPO should help them to ease the financing of these plants in completing the projects. They also observe that having assured funding will attract the kind of management expertise needed to bring the projects in on time and within budget.

“Secondary reasons for IPO may include attracting and retaining top internationally experienced management, seen in the appointment of Qian Zhimin as general manager, who was formerly at CGNPC, [the World Association of Nuclear Operators, WANO], and [the Nuclear Energy Agency, NEA], and other financial motivations such as facilitating acquisitions and creating various investment opportunities, i.e. convertible debt and equity offerings,” Mulkerin said.

No bid for Horizon

The State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. (SNPTC), which is a separate entity from state owned firms authorized to build and operate domestic nuclear power plants, was at one time in talks to invest $10 billion in the United Kingdom’s Horizon nuclear power project.

The funds that would have been made available are not associated with the $27 billion IPO announced by CNNC. However, SNPTC did not submit a bid for the Horizon project, which was purchased by Japan’s Hitachi Corp. The Chinese firm did not issue a statement explaining why it chose not to bid on the project.

_________________________________

Dan Yurman is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

“I&C” in Nuclear News

The December issue of Nuclear News magazine, which contains a special section on instrumentation and control, is available in hard copy and electronically for American Nuclear Society members (must enter ANS user name and password in Member Center). The special section contains the following stories:

  • Duke upgrades to digital I&C at Oconee
  • The role of I&C technology in enabling the deployment of small modular reactors, by Dwight Clayton and Richard Wood
  • Digital I&C for research reactors

Other news in the December issue: Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff sends AP1000 final rule package to the commissioners and the Office of Management and Budget; U.S. EPR’s digital I&C system gets first NRC approval; US-APWR design certification now scheduled for October 2014; NRC reschedules work on Turkey Point-6 and -7 into 2014; Entergy submits Grand Gulf license renewal application to the NRC; Comments on Fermi-3 draft EIS accepted through January 11.; Robinson-2 moves higher, Sequoyah-1 lower in NRC’s ROP action matrix; stolen sodium diuranate traced to Areva’s Trekkopje mine in Namibia; regulatory control of USEC’s Portsmouth plant being returned to the Department of Energy; NRC issues final environmental assessment for Nuclear Fuel Services’ fuel fabrication facility; NRC investigates yellowcake incident at Wyoming site; ORISE report shows shifts in career opportunities for nuclear engineering grads; University of Pittsburgh hosts Nuclear Night; Czech utility ?EZ invites vendor bids for new Temelin reactors; Taiwan’s new energy policy calls for nuclear power phaseout; commercial start of Finland’s Olkiluoto-3 may be delayed again; UAE’s Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation requests approval for site preparation work at Braka; dome of China’s first EPR, Taishan-1, is put in place; Russia applies for membership in OECD Nuclear Energy Agency; IAEA mission team issues preliminary report on Fukushima Daiichi; and much more.

Past issues of Nuclear News are available here.

The U.S. and the world in the nuclear power race

Excelsior College on Wednesday, January 26, is hosting a webinar, Can the U.S. Catch the World in the Nuclear Power Race? which will bring together scholars and nuclear technology practitioners from across the United States for a panel discussion on the subject matter. The event is being held in conjunction with National Nuclear Science Week.

The webinar, sponsored by Excelsior College’s School of Business & Technology, will take place from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. EST and is available online here. Please take time to send an RSVP e-mail to Excelsior College’s Tina Perfetti.

Excelsior College, in Albany, N.Y., is one of 41 schools nationwide that has a student chapter of the American Nuclear Society, and is the only distance learning institution with an ANS student chapter.

U.S. engagement in nuclear energy production

The webinar will open with a look at recent claims by China of a major breakthrough in nuclear fuel reprocessing, as a starting point for discussion on America’s international engagement in nuclear energy—the technology that was pioneered in the United States—and the consequences of falling further behind France, Russia, Japan, and other nations that continue to expand their investments in nuclear power generation.

The panel will include:

  • Gilbert Brown, professor, Nuclear Engineering Program, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Faculty Committee member, Excelsior College, Fellow, American Nuclear Society
  • Byron Thinger, senior nuclear engineer, Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, Faculty Committee member, Excelsior College
  • Jay James, nuclear engineer (retired), Faculty Committee member, Excelsior College
  • Anthony DeAngelo, health physicist, Instructional Faculty, Excelsior College, president-elect of the Northeastern New York Chapter of the Health Physics Society
  • Patrick Berry, director, Training and Development, Entergy Nuclear, Industry Advisory Council, Excelsior College
  • Peggy Caserto, Instructional Faculty, Excelsior College
  • Randy Fromm, senior consultant, The Westwind Group, Inc., Instructional Faculty, Interim Program director, Excelsior College

To follow along on Twitter, search the term #NukeWeb.

This post appeared on the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

China announces a 3000-year fuel resource

By Rod Adams

On Monday, January 3, 2011, China Central Television announced that scientists and engineers at the China National Nuclear Corporation’s No. 404 Factory, located in the Gobi desert in Gansu province, had demonstrated their mastery of nuclear fuel recycling technology that would allow them to improve fuel utilization by a factor of 60 over the current once-through fuel cycle they are using. This means that a resource base that was projected to last between 50-70 years would now have the potential to last 3000-4200 years. For a country full of people who think in terms of millennia, I assume that this was very good news indeed.

Despite the way that some media sources are reporting the news as a “breakthrough”, it really is not news of any kind of scientific discovery or a previously unknown physical process. Though details about the specific technology that the Chinese have mastered are a bit murky based on the available English language sources, there is wide recognition among U.S. nuclear technology experts that a judicious combination of chemical or pyroprocessing techniques, fast reactors, certain kinds of thermal reactors, and careful material selection will enable fuel utilization gains on the order of the factor of 60 that the Chinese have announced.

There is more than one way to make this kind of improvement; one of the systems that would have demonstrated such a gain was the Integral Fast Reactor. As you can read in Chuck Till’s story titled Plentiful Energy and the IFR Story, the United States had essentially demonstrated its own mastery of the necessary technology components by 1994. The team at the Argonne National Laboratory had developed adequate tools, developed the fuel forms, developed the reactor technology, developed the control systems, and were ready for a full-scale integrated production test when the project was abruptly “defunded”.

The Chinese announcement indicates that it recognizes the importance of abundant sources of affordable energy. It is what enables future development. China has now completed enough steps of a technology development process similar to what Argonne scientists and engineers conducted that they are comfortable in announcing this accomplishment to the world.

Unlike the Argonne team, the technologists at No. 404 Factory have apparently been able to convince decision makers with a long view that steady efforts can address cost concerns associated with used fuel recycling. Decision makers that are familiar with manufacturing development will recognize that the processes of improvement are not fundamentally different from the ones associated with rare earth metal production, hard disk manufacturing, and producing large screen LCD television displays.

According to some news reports, the recycling development process in China has been underway for 20-25 years. My assumption is that the scientists involved have been actively attending international conferences and reading as much material as they can find in order to help improve their own creative efforts. This is not an area where there is a great need for originality or creativity; the required math, chemistry, and physics are reasonably straightforward.

Not surprisingly, some of the news reports provided discouraging quotes from people who have made a career out of trying to slow down fuel recycling technology. Here is a quote from an article published in R&D magazine’s online edition titled China says it knows how to reprocess nuclear fuel.

To produce that amount of fuel, however, China would have to build a hugely expensive and highly dangerous breeder reactor, said Matthew Bunn, an expert on the Chinese nuclear program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Rather than build a breeder reactor or even start reprocessing on a commercial scale, China should simply store used fuel for the next several decades while safer and less expensive technology emerges, Bunn said.

“Reprocessing the spent fuel is much more dangerous,” Bunn said, adding that it increased the risk of nuclear terrorism if recovered fuel were stolen.

I do not expect that the international nonproliferation community that has so effectively slowed or halted used fuel recycling efforts in the United States and other western nations will have much of an impact on China’s decision to pursue continued process improvements and continued development of the kinds of hard spectrum reactors that enable achievement of that factor of 60 improvement in fuel use.

As supporting evidence for that assertion, I point to India’s recent decision to refuse permission for the International Panel on Fissile Materials to hold a meeting in that country. Though Frank von Hipple, a prominent member of that group of international arms control and nonproliferation activists, expressed shock and incomprehension at the rejection, it was not such a surprising action.

Like China, India has a very large population of people who have never had access to energy intensive features of modern society that most of us take for granted. Refrigeration, air conditioning, clean drinking water, lights at night, readily accessible transportation, and many other features of first-world living have been completely unavailable. From that point of view, the idea that anyone would voluntarily walk away from a technology that could turn a 50-year fuel supply into a 3000-year fuel supply simply because it requires some investment and effort is incomprehensible. Vague and scary words like “non-proliferation” do not mean much in countries that demonstrated long ago that they knew enough about the atomic nucleus to produce weapons—if they so desire.

China’s announcement will, I hope, have the beneficial effect of overcoming certain kinds of opposition to U.S. nuclear fuel recycling programs. We have developed and virtually abandoned various technologies with the potential to turn a world of energy scarcity into a world of emission-free energy abundance. We should take a page from the Chinese and determine that we will master and continually improve those techniques.

Borrowing words from some of the people that I correspond with on a regular basis on various e-mail lists, perhaps we will use this opportunity to inspire competitive actions that will stop the Chinese from “eating our lunch” because people with opposition agendas have purposely slowed our progress.

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. He is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

31st Carnival of Nuclear Energy blogs

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.

Nuclear Summit draws a high-level crowd

We have two reports of the meeting held in Washington, D.C., last week on the future of the nuclear renaissance in the United States. There has been some doubt of late, with suggestions that it is slipping back into the dark ages.

At Atomic Insights, Rod Adams says it ain’t so Joe. He writes that it was encouraging to hear a group of serious and committed people talking candidly about the potential for atomic energy to contribute substantially to a cleaner and more secure energy production system and that does not sacrifice the reliability that Americans assume almost as a birthright.

A number of the speakers were quite clear in their judgment that wind and solar energy were not adequate replacements for fossil fuel. Overcoming obstacles in the path of successfully building new nuclear power plants, however, is still going to require steady, sustained effort

At Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman writes that one would think that such a gathering would be catnip for the media. He point outs, however, that the New York Times reported, in one of its blogs, that the meeting was long on high-level talk about the obvious and short on innovative solutions . . . “there were few truly new ideas or even new laments.”

In a telephone interview published at Idaho Samizdat, John Grossenbacher, director of the Idaho National Laboratory, who facilitated discussions during the summit, praised Energy Secretary Chu for focusing on three key areas.

  • Developing public/private partnerships to build reactors
  • Finding ways to assure financing and certainty in the marketplace for utilities and investors
  • Rebuilding America’s nuclear energy infrastructure to manufacture components

Grossenbacher

Grossenbacher noted, “If you just let market forces drive energy policy, you will get natural gas plants being built as long as it is plentiful and cheap, but it may not always be that way.”

The Idaho lab co-sponsored the event with Third Way, a DC-based think tank.

Solar vs. nuclear

At Next Big Future, Brain Wang digs into levelized costs per kilowatt for solar, wind, nuclear, and fossil energy. He turns over piles of energy statistics that show that nuclear as a non-carbon energy source is very cost effective.

“My summation of energy price comparison information is from the OECD, DOE, and California Energy, “ Wang noted.

For nuclear, $43-54 /MWH for the main Asian (China and South Korea) countries that are building most of the new reactors (10 percent discount rate) and $68/MWH for Russia.

New nuclear build in South Korea and China and Russia is very cheap. That is where most of the reactors (nuclear and other new power) will be built. China will also build almost twice as much hydro from 2010-2020 (almost 200 GWe of hydro and a lot of coal).

IAEA fuel bank

Warren Buffett

At Cool Hand Nuke we learn that America’s best known philanthropist billionaire, Warren Buffett, (right) has given $50 million to launch the IAEA fuel bank. It will help nations peacefully develop nuclear energy

The fuel bank will be administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Buffett told the NY Times that he made the contribution because “the spread of nuclear weapons of incredible destructive capability is the No. 1 problem facing mankind.”

Buffett made the $50-million commitment in September 2006, contingent on the IAEA receiving an additional $100 million in funding to jump-start the fuel bank, a condition that was met in 2009 when Kuwait donated $10 million to put the total over the goal.

Other backers of the fuel bank include the United.States, the European Union, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates. Total funding for the fuel bank is now at $157 million, enough to buy the first fuel load for a new nuclear reactor, about 60-80 tons of uranium.

Nonproliferation experts say that the implementation of a fuel bank creates opportunities for nations to develop nuclear energy without the threat of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear export controls mired in red tape

Kadak (Photo: Donna Coveney)

At ANS Nuclear Cafe, Andrew Kadak, a nuclear energy expert and MIT-based scientist, writes that having recently attended a Pillsbury and Nuclear Energy Institute seminar on “Export Controls for the Nuclear Renaissance,” it became clear to him why the United States is losing its leadership position in nuclear energy:  The bureaucracy is winning the war over effectiveness of policy and nonproliferation.

It is a familiar story in Washington, but Kadak has some ideas on how to fix things. Check it out.

Shumlin’s inconsistent energy policy

At Yes Vermont Yankee, Meredith Angwin writes that in terms of renewables, Governor-elect Shumlin loves geothermal heating and doesn’t like biomass.  Does he know that geothermal heating is really earth-based heat pump heating? In other words, geothermal heating is electrical heating, the kind of heat that depends on Vermont Yankee.

Wind farm footprints

Speaking of inconsistencies, Gail Marcus writes at Nuke Power Talk that “talk” about the footprint of wind farms misses important measures of access roads, transmission lines, and other mechanisms and facilities that make them work.

Adjusting for the generation per acre makes nuclear reactors much more land efficient—up to about a factor of 10 or more, depending on which end of the stated range is used for each.

# # #

China’s ambitious nuclear energy program

Capacity planning targets keep going up

By Dan Yurman

The latest dizzying numbers for China’s planned construction of new nuclear reactors, released in early November by the country’s National Development & Reform Commission, soared to 114 GWe by 2020. Chinese nuclear energy officials later said that 80 GWe was a more likely target.

The new target represents a significant increase from a prior target of 70 GWe issued last May by Zhang Guobao, head of China’s National Energy Administration. Reuters reported on November 23 that the China Nuclear Energy Association, headed by Zhao Chenkun, said that the 70 GWe target is too low. China currently has a reported 23 reactors under construction and another 140 on drawing boards in various stages of readiness to proceed.

According to the China Daily on November 12 , Geng Zhicheng, a spokesman for the commission, told a nuclear energy conference in Beijing that if this target (114 GWe) is met, nuclear power will account for just 7 percent of the nation’s estimated need for 1600 GWe of power by 2020. According to Steve Kidd, of the World Nuclear Association, speaking at the same conference, China has targeted increasing total non-fossil energy to 15 percent of the total by 2020.

All three of China’s state-owned nuclear energy companies are participating in the new build:

  • China National Nuclear Corp.
  • China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group
  • State Nuclear Power Technology Corp.

Financing the tremendous growth in nuclear reactors will require a minimum of $1500-$2000/Kw based on the zero cost of capital for the state-owned firms. Even 40 GWe of new capacity will cost a staggering amount of money. The goals of 70 GWe, 80 GWe, or 114 GWe may require China to reallocate funds from other government entities. Energy security, however, is a top priority for China. Its form of government allows it to make such decisions without broad public consultations about spending.

That said, some analysts ask the relevant question of how will China be able to execute these ambitious plans. The target of 40 GWe by 2020 could involve at least 30 new reactors. Whether the nation can achieve a goal of building three times that number is an open question. China has set a course to achieve these goals.  Here’s what we know so far:

To achieve the new targets, the country will have to become self-sufficient in reactor design, fuel cycle, and workforce development, construction; as well as reprocessing of spent fuel and activities related to waste management. The country will also need to make significant investments in rail and road transportation infrastructure for reactors located inland away from coastal seaport serviced sites.

Reactor design

AP 1000 Schematic Image: BBC

China’s reactor design of choice for this massive expansion will be based on the Westinghouse AP1000. According to the Financial Times on November 23, Westinghouse, which is owned by Japan’s Toshiba Corp., delivered a huge collection of technical design documents to China as part of a technology transfer agreement signed three years ago. That agreement was the lubricant that moved a deal forward for Westinghouse to build four AP1000s in China. The first unit is scheduled to load fuel in 2013 with all four units in revenue service by 2015.

The Financial Times reported that at least 30 percent of the new reactors built in China in the next 10 years will be based on the AP1000 design. It will take years, however, for China to absorb the technology as well as train thousands of new engineers to master it. During this time, Westinghouse can expect to continue to be deeply involved in China’s massive nuclear program. From a safety perspective, China will need Westinghouse know-how to ensure accidents don’t derail its ambitious expansion plans. As a result, Westinghouse remains bullish that it will get more orders for new reactors from China.

Competition for market share

Areva EPR Schematic Image: BBC

There’s competition for market share in China’s nuclear new build. French state-owned Areva is building two 1600-MW EPR reactors at Taishan. The deal, signed in November 2007, calls for the fuel to be loaded and the reactor to be in revenue service in just over six years, or early 2014.

The Taishan site is expected eventually to host six of the French reactors. The degree of French and Chinese participation in the next two units is still in negotiation. The first two reactors are bundled into a deal involving uranium and fuel cycle facilities.

Areva will build new uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing facilities in China. These are areas where Westinghouse is at a comparative disadvantage. Areva has signed long-term deals with China to supply the fuel for the new reactors and access to uranium production from Areva’s mines in Canada.

Russia’s AtomStroyexport has signed a deal for two new reactors, units 3 & 4, at China’s Tianwan power station. The first two units were built by Russia and completed in 1997. The new units will likely be 1000-MW VVER light-water reactors. Further out are plans for units 5 and 6 being 1200-MW VVERs. Like Westinghouse and Areva, the Russians have promised China to “localize” the supply chain to the extent that domestic firms can meet demand and quality requirements.

While China built two medium-sized Candu-6 reactors from AECL, completing them in 2002 and 2004, it appears unlikely that it will seek additional Candu reactors. The Westinghouse PWR will become the basis for China’s indigenous designs.

Workforce

According to an assessment by John Ritch, director-general of the World Nuclear Association, published on November 23, China will emphasize on-the-job training to develop skilled trades and reactor operators. Ritch said that China has the capability to develop the workforce necessary, including engineers, to run the new reactors.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, demand for nuclear talent in China is “huge” because of the development of nuclear power. Because of the long time needed to acquire the necessary expertise, many Chinese students choose to study computer science, business, manufacturing, and other disciplines rather than nuclear sciences.

Chinese education officials have told the IAEA that they realize there is no “instantaneous effective way to attract brilliant students to nuclear engineering.”

The IAEA reported that major universities have introduced changes in nuclear engineering programs, as part of educational reforms, to attract more students. These include greater on-the-job training opportunities for students. In the short term, China expects to have more and extensive interaction with foreign universities and institutions associated with nuclear engineering and technology, through professional and information exchange programs.

Uranium

All those new reactors will need fuel.That means China will be importing a lot more uranium. According to forecasts from UxC Consulting cited in the Financial Times on November 25, China will boost its imports by an factor of four to 50-60 million pounds/year, or 25-30 percent of total global demand (190 million lb in 2010). China appears to be building a strategic stockpile of uranium. Domestic production is only 2 million lb/year. Key international suppliers include Kazakhstan, Australia, and Canada.

Supply Chain

Development of a supply chain of reactor components will require rapid development of domestic manufacturing capabilities that can meet nuclear quality standards. Industry experts say that China will seek to achieve ASME standards for its nuclear components. Key areas will include cooling pumps, digital instrument and control systems, steam generators, and large forgings.

The Shaw Group, which owns 20 percent of Westinghouse, has contracts in China to supply engineering and construction management services. Also, Shaw is building a factory in China to deliver components for China’s massive new nuclear build.

Exports

Until recently, China has not shown any interest in commercial exports of nuclear reactor technology. It offered Pakistan two 300-MW reactors, but this transaction is seen as part of China’s international posture relative to India, and not as a commercial venture.

Ling Ao II reactor is a CPR-1000 that can deliver 1080 MWe and has a design life of 60 years.

World Nuclear News reported on November 25 that by 2013, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPG) is planning to have available for export a Generation III design, which at 1000 MW would be a scaled-down version of the 1600-MW Areva EPR.

Zhang Shanming, president of CGNPG, told a conference held in Beijing sponsored by the World Nuclear Association (WNA) that the reactor will have a design life of 60 years and the target time and cost for delivery to a customer is 52 months at $1500/Kw.

China expects to negotiate clearances by 2013 with Areva and Westinghouse to use transferred technology in its export designs. If China can deliver the schedule and cost structure targets, it could become a competitor globally relative to Russia’s expanding export program.  China would have to demonstrate success with its domestic new build to gain the confidence of international customers.

Fast reactors

Longer term, China is pursuing development of fast breeder reactors that will generate more plutonium than they consume. This program will raise significant nonproliferation issues with any country that China contracts with for the technology.

The strategic intent of a fast breeder reactor program is based on the assumption that China will eventually face the same competition for uranium it now contends with for Mideast oil. A fleet of fast breeder reactors, coupled with fuel recycling centers, could give the nation a long-term supply of fuel.

Dow Jones News Wires reported on November 24 that China National Nuclear Corp. is working on a deal with Russia to import two 800-MW fast reactors to be installed at a site in Fujian province. It seems likely that these reactors will be used as platforms to test the commercial viability of fast reactor technologies.

China is also developing a 165-MW high-temperature, gas-cooled pebble bed reactor for commercial use especially in remote areas that are not connected to the national electric grid. The project was launched in October 2008 at Shandong

The challenges are that China has little experience with fast reactors and developing a a fuel cycle to supply them. In that regard, China has a lot in common with Western nations that see fast reactors as technology more likely to come online in the second half of this century. China’s nuclear companies are thinking that far ahead. Are we?

—-

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