Tag Archives: Dan Yurman

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.

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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.

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Dan Yurman is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

San Onofre reactors face divergent paths to restart

Southern California Edison submits a plan to the NRC for Unit 2

By Dan Yurman

 The twin 1100-MW nuclear reactors (Units 2 & 3) at Southern California Edison’s (SCE) San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) that have been shut down since January 2012 will take different paths to a decision to restart each of them.

On October 3, Southern California Edison submitted a response to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s confirmatory letter, and a restart plan for Unit 2.

The utility said, however, that it won’t submit a similar response and restart plan for Unit 3 until mid-2013.  In late August SCE said it would remove the fuel from Unit 3, a clear signal that any restart plan for it is well down the road.

(The documents submitted by the utility to the NRC are online at http://www.songscommunity.com )

No timetable for review

The NRC said in response that there is no timetable for review of the restart plan for Unit 2. NRC Chairperson Allison Macfarlane told Reuters on October 4, “Our inspections and review will be painstaking, thorough, and will not be rushed.”

NRC Regional Administrator Elmo Collins said on October 9 that the restart plan could require an amendment to the Unit 2 reactor operating license, a process that could last months or even years.

Anti-nuclear groups have pressed the NRC to address the restart plan with a license amendment. The groups claim that the utility should have asked for the license amendment in the first place when it installed the steam generators.

NRC’s Collins also said that the NRC is still considering penalties against SCE over the generator issues.

Costs of shutdown considered serious

Three weeks after the technical response to regulators proposing to restart one of the reactors, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted unanimously to consider whether or not ratepayers should pay for repair costs and the additional costs of replacement power.

The review could take several years. By the time the PUC makes up its mind, mid-to-late 2014, both reactors could be back in revenue service.

PUC Chairman Mike Florio said that prior rate reviews are not predictors of how the agency will deal with SCE. He said that “serious errors” have been made by the utility, and he added that the PUC might take preliminary action to reduce rates and/or order refunds sometime in early 2013.

SCE said last July that restart of Unit 2 would cost $25 million in addition to the $48 million it had spent since January on inspections and repairs. Also, it had, as of July, paid out another $117 million to buy replacement power while the reactors were out of service.

These costs have increased since then. The LA Times reported on October 4 that replacement power costs had climbed to $142 million.

SCE has said that it will seek to recover the costs of the prolonged outage from insurance and from Mitsubishi, which supplied the steam generators used at San Onofre. The Japanese firm has denied that a computer error in the design phase of the steam generators was to blame for excessive tube wear.

Computer model and tube wear

Both reactors were safely shut down in January 2012 after excessive wear was discovered on the tubes in the almost-new steam generators.

SCE said in its response to the NRC Oct 3 that the tube wear was caused by a phenomenon called “fluid elastic instability”, a combination of high-steam velocity and low-moisture conditions in specific locations, combined with the impacts of ineffective tube supports at the same locations.

The damage to the tubes in the steam generator at Unit 3 was more extensive than at Unit 2.

One of the root causes of the troubles with the steam generators is that a computer model developed and used by Mitsubishi significantly underestimated key factors involving the flow of steam through the units.

SCE said on its website, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) determined that computer modeling used during the design phase by the manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, under-predicted the thermal hydraulic conditions in the steam generators which contributed to the unstable tube vibration. The unstable tube vibration caused the unexpected wear in the steam generators.”

Elements of Unit 2 restart plan

SCE’s restart plan for Unit 2 calls for the utility to operate it at 70 percent power, which SCE says will prevent the vibration-causing environment by decreasing steam velocity and increasing moisture content. After five months, SCE will shut down Unit 2 to inspect the steam generator tubes, to confirm that this solution is working as anticipated.

SCE Chief Nuclear Officer Pete Dietrich told the Associated Press on October 4 that the restart plan “is not an experiment.” He said the utility has conducted 170,000 tube inspections and has held technical reviews with independent experts to evaluate the situation.

With regard to Unit 3, Dietrich said that Unit 3 has significantly more of the excessive wear on its steam generator tubes. He told the LA Times that it would be “next summer” before SCE is ready to propose a restart plan for it.

Anti-nuclear groups oppose restart

Anti-nuclear groups were divided about SCE’s restart plan for Unit 2. Arnie Gundersen, who has been working as a consultant to Friends of the Earth, said that the group thinks the restart plan isn’t credible. And S. David Freeman, also a consultant to Friends of the Earth, said, “Both reactors are alike and neither is safe to operate.”

David Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, was less strident, however, in expressing his opinion. He said that although he is not convinced that the 70 percent power level for Unit 2 is the right number, he recognized that SCE planned to install better monitoring equipment.

On October 10, the NRC’s Collins rejected Gundersen’s harsh characterization of the restart plan. He said, “It is far from a done deal. We will take the time we need. We do not experiment with safety.”

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Dan Yurman is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

UK nuclear new build faces new landscape of vendors

Areva and Chinese partner pull out of bidding for Horizon

By Dan Yurman

When two German utilities, RWE and E.on, dropped their plans to develop the Horizon project—6 Gwe of nuclear power at two new sites in the United Kingdom —disappointment in their departure was tempered by the appearance of three bid teams seeking to acquire the joint venture. Yet, when the bids were opened, a widely anticipated joint proposal from Areva and the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPG) was not among them.

Areva’s decision to drop out just three months after making a media splash with its announcement to proceed with a bid left nuclear industry analysts scratching their heads over the about-face. Neither Areva nor CGNPG gave any reasons for it.

The joint French-Chinese effort was widely expected to offer Areva’s 1600-MW EPR design similar to the units now under construction in Finland, France, and China. Chinese financial backing from a state sovereign wealth fund would have provided the upfront money needed to acquire the Horizon project.

The withdrawal by Areva leaves two other bid teams in place. One is a consortium led by Japan’s Hitachi and the other is a group headed by Westinghouse, which also had reportedly been in talks with China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Group. Westinghouse, which is owned by Japan’s Toshiba Corp., came forward with a bid without Chinese backing, however.

This month Toshiba bought back a 20-percent stake in Westinghouse from The Shaw Group, which is slated to merge with Chicago Bridge & Iron. Industry observers feel that Toshiba will eventually offer that stake to new investors to free up the capital.

The current situation favors Westinghouse, which has completed most of the steps required to obtain the necessary safety certification from the government to build its AP1000 design in the UK.

Areva has also pursued safety certification of its EPR design in the UK, but reportedly has a list of issues to be resolved with the regulatory agency that has responsibility for nuclear reactor safety. In December 2011, the UK’s Office of Nuclear Regulation issued an “interim approval” of both the EPR and the AP1000. Neither Westinghouse nor Areva wants to move forward to complete the costly regulatory process without a firm order in hand from a UK customer.

That said, Areva is still further along by several years than Hitachi, which hasn’t even started the process. It is expected, as part of its bid for the Horizon project, to offer the new 1500-MW ESBWR design. Hitachi is teamed with Canada’s SNC-Lavalin, which now owns the reactor division of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. Another option might be a CANDU design. Like the ESBWR, however, it would be starting from scratch to obtain a safety certification in the UK.

China’s entry into the UK nuclear market wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms. Compounding security fears about the UK becoming dependent on Chinese financing were reports that Russia’s Rosatom might try to enter the UK nuclear market as well. While neither country has a place at the table at this time, public and government perceptions of their respective roles would result in stepped up scrutiny on two entities that have a long history of resisting that kind of transparency.

EDF has also reportedly been in talks with Chinese state-owned firms with an eye toward getting them to take a 20-percent stake in two other nuclear power stations. These deals would likely involve Areva EPR reactor designs and financing from Chinese and UK sources.

The question of the extent of Chinese financial interest in the UK nuclear new build may turn on recent news that China will restart its domestic nuclear new build by the end of 2012. China at one time was said to be committed to build upwards of 80 GWe of new nuclear electrical generation capacity, but now it may build far less. Demand for coal-fired electrical power has fallen due to a cooling off of China’s economy. Also, China’s top leaders may be rethinking how many of the older CPR-1000 units to build relative to the safety features of the Westinghouse AP1000.

China has a long-term goal of becoming an exporter of nuclear technology, based on a 1400-MW version of the Westinghouse AP1000. That design won’t be ready for another few years, but cash infusions in Western projects would display China’s growing desire to be a player in the global nuclear market. How much money China would put up remains to be seen, especially if balanced against domestic energy needs.

Czech CEZ rejects Areva for Temelin

While Areva was pulling out of bidding on the Horizon project in the UK,  it suffered an unexpected setback in its effort to win the bid to build two new reactors at Temlin. The deal is expected to be worth about $10 billion.

CEZ, the Czech state-owned electric utility that operates Temelin, said on October 5 that it was disqualifying Areva from the bid process. The utility said that it took the action based on the failure of Areva’s bid to meet “legislative and commercial” requirements.

CEZ did not provide details of what was deficient in the Areva bid, only that there were “fundamental shortcomings” in it.

Areva said that it would appeal the decision, stating that it firmly believes that it has met all the conditions of the tender.

The action by CEZ, if upheld, would leave two other bidders for Temelin. They are Russia’s Rosatom and Toshiba’s Westinghouse.

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Dan Yurman is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Japan’s Non-nuclear decision

Implementation of the energy policy announced last week will keep reactors running well into the second half of the 21st century.

By Dan Yurman

Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda

Japan Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda announced on September 14 that his nation will end reliance on nuclear power by 2040. On paper it looks like a replay of Germany’s decision to scrap its reactors by 2022. In reality, it isn’t anything like that, plus the government plans to complete several reactors that are already under construction.

Unlike Germany, which immediately closed half of its aging fleet, Japan has already restarted two of its reactors shuttered following the Fukushima crisis and will like restart many of them by the end of 2013. The most urgent effort is Tokyo Electric Power Company’s work to restart the seven reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.

The launch of an independent nuclear safety agency this month is expected to add credibility to the government’s plan to keep the lights on with nuclear energy.

The political motivation for Noda’s decision includes an obvious reading of the overwhelmingly anti-nuclear mood of the Japanese electorate that has lost the traditional trust of the government and the nuclear utilities that run the reactors. Elections expected to take place this fall, or certainly by early 2013, center on two issues–nuclear power and taxes. Pulling the teeth on one of them, the fate of the reactors, is seen as a tactic designed to improve the chances of Noda’s party to stay in power.

Noda’s party may still lose the election. The reason is that many in Japan see the decision to move away from nuclear energy as a smokescreen. Noda’s Democratic Party is, in any case, deeply unpopular, which suggests that the late arrival of the policy of appearing to pull the plug on the reactors may have little lasting political effect.

The policy leaves decades of time for future political decisions that would undo Noda’s policy. And there are plenty of reasons why that might happen.

Take for instance the views of Japan’s biggest corporations represented by the Keidanren business federation. It insists that the cost of replacement fossil fuels are crippling the country’s economy and forcing its members to consider moving their heavy industrial manufacturing operations offshore to countries like Vietnam.

There the government has committed itself to building eight new nuclear reactors to provide reliable electric power. Intel has opened a $1-billion computer chip manufacturing center, one of the largest of its kind, based on Vietnam’s reliable electricity and cheap labor.

And the United States isn’t happy either about Japan’s decision. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman said on September 14 that dropping reliance on nuclear energy in Japan could have negative impacts on fossil fuel markets, particularly regarding the current cheap prices for natural gas.

According to the Japan Times, Poneman told Japanese political leader Seiji Maehara that if Japan starts “snapping up” fossil fuels, energy prices will rise dramatically over the short term. Poneman is reported to have urged Japan to “exercise caution” in moving too quickly to shut down its reactors.

The energy policy announced by Maehar’s boss, Prime Minister Noda, calls for reactors to operate to the end of their 40 year life, but it offers a loophole to operate them for another 20 years if it can be proven they can do so safely. That loophole would allow a reactor that loads fuel for the first time in 2015 to have a decommissioning date of 2075.

Reactors already under construction will be completed, says Yukio Edano, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry trade minister. They are the No. 3 reactor at the Shimane plant (94- percent complete) in Matsue, capital of the Shimane Prefecture, which is operated by Chugoku Electric; a reactor at the Oma plant (38 percent complete) in Aomori Prefecture, which is operated by Electric Power Development; and, No. 1 reactor (10 percent complete) at the Higashidori plant also in Aomori Prefecture.

It should come as no surprise that Edano made his remarks in Aomori Prefecture. There provincial officials have also told the government that unless it starts up and operates a spent fuel reprocessing center located there, they will send the material back to wherever it came from. Japan has no deep geologic repository for spent fuel, nor a national interim storage site.

Edano’s other problem is what to do about Japan’s heavy industries that export nuclear components. The firms include Japan Steel Works, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, and Hitachi. On September 3, Edano noted that he does not see a contradiction between ending reliance on nuclear power at home and exporting the technology overseas. The problem with that policy is that Japan’s nuclear exports have always relied on a robust domestic market. Take that away and there might not be enough business for some manufacturing operations to stay open.

Paradoxically, Japan is slated to build the second pair of Vietnam’s nuclear reactors. In doing so, it may enable the creation of exactly the conditions (reliable power) Japan’s current manufacturing firms, e.g., autos, electronics, and other durable goods, need to survive in a global market. An offshoring trend for these firms will add rising unemployment to Japan’s economic woes.

Proponents of the closure of nuclear plants argue that renewables such as wind and solar can make up the difference. This is delusional thinking. The intermittent nature of wind and solar requires baseload sources to keep the national grid stable.

But wait, Japan doesn’t have a national grid. Each electric utility has its own. Plus, Japan will have to build new natural gas plants to replace the power from shuttered reactors. Higher demand from Japan could push up gas prices and add to the cost of keeping renewable projects online.

Japan made it through a hot summer with no blackouts and just two reactors online. However, with an economy in the doldrums, electric power demand from industry was down which may have allowed the country to skip a seasonal energy crisis.

Prior to the Fukushima disaster, Japan relied on nuclear power for 30 percent of its energy and had plans to boost that number to 50 percent. Prime Minister Noda’s politically expedient decision to drive forward with a zero power option for nuclear energy throws cold water on any rational plans for the future of rational energy plans in his country.

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Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Carving up Turkey’s nuclear energy market

The question is how big is the bird and will any of the proposed deals fly?

By Dan Yurman

Competition for Turkey’s second and third nuclear power stations has heated up, but it isn’t clear whether any deals will be signed soon. China, South Korea, Japan, Canada, and Russia all want to supply the plants, which are expected to be about three-to-five GWe each depending on how many reactors are built at each site.

Turkey’s goal in pursuing a nuclear energy strategy is to gain energy independence from imported oil and natural gas and to boost export earnings through sales of electricity to other countries in the region.

The second plant is slated to be built at Sinop on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. The third plant would be placed north of the Bosporus channel along the Black Sea coast, but within spitting distance, as the crow flies, of Bulgaria’s border with Turkey.

Russia’s contract at Akkuyu

In May 2010, Turkey signed a contract with Rosatom to build Turkey’s first nuclear power site—4.8 Gwe of nuclear-powered electrical generating capacity at Akkuyu in Mersin on the country’s Mediterranean coast. The deal hinged on Russia’s financing and building four 1,200-MW VVER type reactors and operating them for 15 years, after which Rosatom expects to cash out to Turkish investors. The reactors are slated to be completed in 2019.

Rosatom was the sole bidder on the Akkuyu project after three western consortiums withdrew from responding to the tender over roller coaster disputes about protection of intellectual property and guaranteed rates. For its part, after a long-tangled process, Turkey agreed to guarantee rates to the Russian plant.

Now the Russians want to build the second and third nuclear power stations, but they have competition. There is another reason why Rosatom is not a slam dunk for the second and third power stations. The price has gone up on the first one.

On July 12, Interfax, a Russian wire service, reported that Vladimir Ivanovskiy, Russia’s ambassador to Ankara, said that the Akkuyu nuclear power plant might cost Turkey more than planned.

“Inititally its cost was estimated at $20 billion, but I think it will be much more—about $25 billion,” he told Russian journalists in Moscow. That’s not going to make the Turkish government willing to give the Russians an unconditional green light for either of the next two projects.

South Korea pulls out of Sinop

South Korea, which inked a $20-billion contract with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in December 2009 to build four 1,400-MW reactors, is still interested in doing business with Turkey. Despite two rounds of negotiations, however, the two side still hadn’t come close to signing a contract, as in late 2010, South Korea and Turkey were at loggerheads over whether the Turkish government would guarantee financing from South Korea.

The South Korean government, which is already deeply committed to the UAE deal, may have looked at its books and decided it didn’t have the ability to do another project of that size. Since then, South Korea has been exploring international financing without much success.

Playing the China card

China also has shown interest in the Turkish deal, and clearly has the money to pay to play. China, however, does not have a reactor design of its own to offer for export and no experience in financing reactor deals in global markets.

These drawbacks didn’t stop Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan from leading a trade mission to China in February 2012 to talk nuts and bolts about a nuclear energy deal.

Babacan reportedly told the Chinese that the second nuclear power station at Sinop on the southern Black Sea coast was pretty much a toss-up between Russia and Japan. He added, however, that the third site, near Turkey’s border with Bulgaria, was fair game. China has not asked for financial guarantees for a nuclear power station, which has been a sticking point with South Korea.

By the time Turkey is ready to build that plant, probably around 2015, China is expected to have its own 1,400-MW version of the Westinghouse AP1000 ready for export. China’s state-owned nuclear power firms—China National Nuclear Corporation and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation—have growing ambitions to play in the global nuclear export markets especially for nations like Turkey.

The February 2012 trade mission was followed by an official state visit to Beijing in April by Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation on nuclear energy with his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao.

In a change from the February meeting, Erdogan noted that plans for Turkey’s second power station, originally slated to be built by Japan or South Korea, were in flux.

Japan tries to re-enter the market

Japan originally proposed a team composed of Toshiba and the Tokyo Electric Power Company. With the collapse of TEPCO’s finances due to the Fukushima crisis, however, that consortium pulled out of the Turkey venture.

In October 2011, Mitsubishi said that it would explore bidding on the contract for the Synop project in cooperation with Japanese utility Kansai Electric Power Company. Construction would be handled by GDF Suez, a French multinational construction company. Japan’s government has also supported Hitachi’s plans to build nuclear reactors in Vietnam. It isn’t clear, however, whether or not Japan has put forward a solid proposal to Turkey.

Can Canada succeed with Candu?

Meanwhile, SNC Lavalin, a Canada-based company and owner of the reactor division of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, approached Turkey in April 2012 with a proposal to build 3 Gwe, the equivalent of four Candu-6 pressurized heavy-water reactors, at Sinop. At an energy conference held in Istanbul, Turkey’s energy minister Taner Yildiz said that SNC-Lavalin had six months to prepare a feasibility study as part of its proposal.

What’s interesting about this deal is that SNC Lavalin vice president Ala Alizadeh told the Anatolia News Agency, a Turkish wire service, on April 20 that financing would be provided by Chinese investors, which means state-owned nuclear firms.

The future is still unknown

Turkey has a history of mercurial negotiations with reactor vendors. It doesn’t have the capital to finance the units, which is why the Russian and Chinese offers look promising right now.

Russia’s cost increase at Akkuyu, however, and the lack of a market-ready reactor for export from China, complicate what appears to be a choice of one or the other that could be made solely on available capital.

Japan’s bid seems like a long shot because it isn’t offering financing as part of its proposal.

An option by a Chinese state-owned nuclear organization to finance Candu-6 reactors could be the wild card in the Turkey nuclear market.

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Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Is the NRC on target with its call to redefine nuclear safety?

A report by a Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff task force calls for sweeping regulatory change, but also acknowledges that information about the Fukushima accident is unavailable, unreliable, or ambiguous. What should be the response in the United States to the events in Japan?

Editor: Dan Yurman

In the third of a continuing series, the ANS Nuclear Cafe explores a significant issue affecting nuclear science and engineering by asking a diverse group of nuclear energy professionals for their views on a high-profile issue.

On July 13, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a 96-page reportRecommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century: The Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Accident—calling for a redefinition of the level of protection “regarded as adequate” for safety at the 104 operating nuclear reactors in the United States.

The NRC’s task force wrote in the report that there is a need to “support appropriate requirements for increased capability to address events of low likelihood and high consequence, thus significantly enhancing safety.”

National Press Club speech

In a July 18 speech at the National Press Club, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said,

Gregory Jaczko, chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

“In its review, the task force did not find any imminent risk to public health and safety from the continued operation of the nation’s nuclear power plants. The task force was clear, however, that any accident involving core damage and uncontrolled radioactive releases of the magnitude of Fukushima–even one without significant health consequences–is inherently unacceptable.”

The NRC published a series of recommendations including boosting defenses against flooding and earthquakes, and protecting reactors and used fuel pools when there is a complete loss of electricity.

Within the NRC, and in response to the report and Jacko’s speech, three commissioners—William Magwood, Kristine Svinicki, and William Ostendorff—signaled that they disagreed with the push by Jaczko to put these changes on a fast track.

Commissioner Ostendorff told the New York Times, “I personally do not believe that our existing regulatory framework is broken.”

Nuclear industry response

Industry reaction was swift. The Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, Tony Pietrangelo, said in a press statement that the NRC may be premature in calling for wide-ranging regulatory changes.

Tony Pietrangelo, NEI Chief Nuclear Officer

“The task force report does not cite significant data from the Fukushima accident to support many of its recommendations. Given the mammoth challenge it faced in gathering and evaluating the still-incomplete information from Japan, the agency should seek broader engagement with stakeholders on the task force report to ensure that its decisions are informed by the best information possible.”

Given the wide range of points of view about the NRC report, the ANS Nuclear Cafe asked some American Nuclear Society members to comment here on the task force’s report. Following are the responses. Your views on their brief responses or the task force report are welcome in the comments section of the blog.

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Stakeholder dialog is important by James Malone

Jim Malone

The US NRC has issued Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century. As I reviewed the report, I found there to be an underlying attribute that is an important element of a strong nuclear safety culture, i. e., a questioning attitude. The task force, while formulating the report, did not let prior evaluations, regulations, or practices bias the conclusions that it reached with respect to reactor safety.

The task force concluded “… a more balanced application of the Commission’s defense-in-depth philosophy using risk insights would provide an enhanced regulatory framework that is logical, systematic, coherent, and better understood.”

The report recommends consolidating the various rules and guidelines into the regulatory framework to address “extended design basis requirements.” This is the lessons learned portion of the process. The learning, however, should not be based solely on Fukushima.

One of the most important lessons learned is related to the impact of events on multiple units at a single site. As has been pointed out, the scenarios considered in the past focused on one unit experiencing an event.

The learning from Fukushima is that multiple unit sites must be prepared to deal with off-normal events at any or all of the units. Reforming the regulatory framework to incorporate lessons learned from low-probability, high-consequence events should be completed as soon as possible. It is also important that there be a dialogue among the stakeholders such that the resulting framework provides the appropriate protection of public health and safety.

Jim Malone is chief nuclear fuel development officer at Lightbridge Corp.

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Getting it right will not be easy or quick by Margaret Harding

Margaret Harding

The world should read this report with caution. It is a mixed bag of good and bad, as has been well stated by others. My early observation of this report and the presentations that preceded it was that this task force seems to have gotten into a soul-searching exercise based upon the apparent short-comings of the Japanese regulator. That opinion still holds.

While some of the findings are well founded and targeted to potential weaknesses at current facilities in the United States, much of the substance of this report was given over to recommending significant revisions to current regulation.

Reviews and comparisons of what the Japanese regulator did or did not do can provide valuable insight into potential shortcomings in the regulations here. This effort seems to have become an opportunity to make new regulation that has relatively little to do with the events in Japan and how well prepared the plants in the United States are for similar events. Sweeping statements calling current regulation a “patchwork” and stating that a significant overhaul is required seems to me to do the NRC a real disservice.

The regulations under which the U.S. nuclear industry operate are among the most stringent and thorough in the world. They have provided for safe operation of the plants in this county for 40 years. The sweeping reforms recommended here should be approached with great caution.

Ultimately, I am concerned with how the NRC implements this report. Done poorly, they could significantly increase costs in the current operating fleet without improving safety one iota. But if done well, the NRC will get at the real issues, eliminating vagueness in the regulation and improving safety. Getting it right will not be easy or quick.

Margaret Harding, president of 4 Factor Consulting, speaks about the nuclear industry and advises clients on quality, regulatory, and technical issues. On June 28, 2011, she was awarded an ANS Presidential Citation for her role in communicating about events at Fukushima.

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Does the NRC report rest on a false dichotomy? by Robert Margolis

Robert Margolis, PE

While the NRC task force report provides many helpful specific recommendations (station blackout mitigation, better used fuel pool makeup), there is an over-arching theme of an assumed conflict between risk-informed regulation and defense-in-depth permeating the document.

This is a false dichotomy. Defense-in-depth has no meaning without a risk context to provide which barriers and the amount of redundancy that are needed to ensure public health and safety. Adding requirements or systems in isolation could merely add redundancy where it is not needed and actually miss real safety problems while chasing any particular “issue du jour.”

Public health and safety are not served by a useless debate on how to codify and promulgate obsolete concepts or artificial distinctions from the past.

The future belongs to those who develop and implement a coherent framework in which risk-informed models and defense-in-depth designs coalesce into a regulatory paradigm. It is one that provides strengthened public health and safety in addition to clearer guidance that the U.S. nuclear fleet can more easily interpret and successfully execute.

The NRC must realize that the concepts of risk-informed and defense-in-depth are not competing methods, but elements of the same methodology that will bring regulation of the US nuclear fleet into the 21st century.

Robert Margolis, PE, is a nuclear engineer with more than 24 years experience as a reactor engineer, startup test engineer, project engineer, and safety analyst.

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Mixed response on the NRC report by Jack Gamble

Jack Gamble

The initial statement that all operating nuclear sites are safe is the most important line in the report. I was also happy to see recommendations on emergency plans addressing multi-unit sites. Taking another look at Station Blackout (SBO) equipment and especially the operation of hardened vents during SBO is another area where the industry can learn from Fukushima. Finally, I was pleased to see the report clearly state that licensing of the Westinghouse AP1000 and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s ESBWR reactors should not be delayed due to Fukushima.

I disagree with the recommendation to change the framework of the NRC Reactor Oversight Program because of a foreign disaster affecting a foreign regulator. Fukushima should not be considered a condemnation of the NRC. Knowing what we know now, it’s reasonable to argue that the NRC has better prepared plants in the United States, given changes made after 9/11 and the command structure that doesn’t allow chief executive officers and politicians to dictate control room operator actions.

It’s important to remember that the report was written by six individuals based on incomplete information. The recommendations should be reviewed by the entire NRC staff with input from the industry and the public before being written into law.

Jack Gamble is a nuclear engineer. He blogs at nuclearfissionary.
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Falling Flat on Its Face by Paul Dickman

Paul Dickman

The report released by the NRC’s Fukushima task force fell flat on its face, but this has nothing to do with the report’s content. Rather, the effort by NRC Chairman Jaczko to control his fellow commissioners hit a buzz saw when the other commissioners objected to his efforts to direct the process for implementing the task force recommendations.

On July 18, Jaczko gave a speech at the National Press Club. This was the day before the NRC meeting to discuss the task force report. It was an obvious public relations ploy to try to capture the headlines and control the story lines. Some of his remarks and responses to questions, however, caused alarms in the industry, as he linked timely passage of the recommendations to new reactor licenses.

While some in the media saw this as a bit of grandstanding, for NRC staff and the industry this speech signaled a new and disturbing direction. As it turned out, however, Jaczko failed to note that he was not speaking for the NRC but only voicing his personal views.

The next day it was the turn of the full NRC commission and it was apparent that Jaczko had not kept his fellow commissioners informed, and was also unlikely to get their support for his proposed process.

In addition, to counteract the publicity blitz emanating from the chairman’s office, two other NRC commissioners—William Magwood and Kristine Svinicki—took the unusual step of providing public statements outlining their own approaches to the task force recommendations and reassured industry and the NRC staff that a careful and deliberative process would be followed.

Following the commission meeting, Jaczko also had to address reporters to clarify that it was not his intention to hold new reactor licensing hostage to passage of the task force recommendations.

This was not a good way for the NRC to launch what should be a serious and far-reaching deliberation on the future of reactor safety.

Paul Dickman was a career federal scientist and served as chief of staff to NRC Chairman Dale Klein.

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What are the intrinsic and fundamental issues? by Will Davis

Will Davis

Having followed the situation in Japan very closely in order to serve the readers of my blog—the majority of which were, until about two months or so ago, decidedly non-nuclear people—and after having read the report, I wonder if the report itself really addresses any intrinsic, fundamental issues in Japan—even if all its recommendations are sensible, which they seem to be.

Following the development of the immediate post-accident recovery plans, various Japanese media began presenting—disguised—a number of people from various agencies and companies that appeared to claim that there was all too cozy a relationship between Japan’s large power companies and Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).

There were further implications made that since NISA was a branch of the trade ministry, it really didn’t have an unbiased position. Further, reports of retired private executives having positions in regulatory bodies didn’t help matters, and recently the Japanese government has proposed a restructuring of its overly complicated regulatory structure in order that it might be closer to the arrangement that we have here in the United States.

It was such reasoning that spelled the end of the Atomic Energy Commission here—how can you have an agency that both promotes and regulates? The final opinion was that we can’t. The Japanese find themselves facing a similar question while also asking why their regulatory structure did not adequately see to the public safety.

Were we to simply apply plant-specific lessons learned at Fukushima to all U.S. plants, we might thus miss the bigger picture explaining how a nation with almost entirely coastally–based nuclear plants didn’t expect worst-possible tsunami effects. The answer may be a lesson we’ve already learned.

Will Davis is a former U.S. Navy reactor operator qualified on S8G and S5W reactor plants. He writes and publishes the Atomic Power Review blog.

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Closing thoughts

Reactions in the news media to the NRC report were mixed. The Washington Post, which has adopted a realistic approach to nuclear energy, said in its editorial pages on July 15 that the NRC should not throw the baby out with the bathwater:

“The NRC should use this review not merely to respond to a single event but to ensure that it is actively assessing low-probability but high-consequence risks. Polls show that Americans largely haven’t lost confidence in their nuclear plants. Government regulators should give them every reason not to.”

The New York Times editorial a week later on July 23 took an alarmist tone, asking if a Fukushima–type event could happen in the United States:

“The odds are remote that this country will confront a similarly powerful earthquake followed by an even more destructive tsunami—the twin blows that disabled Fukushima. But the possibility that something equally unexpected and unplanned for could exceed current defenses at American plants cannot be discounted.”

The Times, however, acknowledged NEI’s point that stakeholder engagement is needed to get the right regulatory approach in place. That said, the newspaper also called for the changes to regulation to be put on a fast track:

“There is no doubt that the commission would benefit from getting additional feedback from the industry, advocacy groups, the agency’s own experienced staff, and other experts to supplement the task force report. That could all be easily done in the next few months and must not be an excuse for delaying approval of the recommendations.”

The report calls for “redefining the level of protection that is regarded as adequate.” If that’s the case, just exactly what has the agency been doing up to now? This is not gratuitous skepticism. If a federal regulatory agency is moving the goal posts, then it’s necessary to take a close look at its reasons for doing so.

Yet, at the same time that the NRC calls for change, it acknowledges that the information it has on what happened at Fukushima is “unavailable, unreliable, or ambiguous.”

Even if more were known with certainty, there are lots of reasons why the 40-year-old design of the Japanese reactors at Fukushima would never be built in the current era. The task force report takes pains to point out that there is “no imminent risk” for U.S. nuclear reactors. The NRC needs to take care that it doesn’t overreact to problems in Japan that don’t and won’t affect the U.S. fleet.

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Dan Yurman

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog on nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Are India’s nuclear deals going south?

Domestic liability laws and international issues may put limits on the country’s ambitious plans to build new reactors

By Dan Yurman

U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton meets with India Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna on July 26, 2011.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is in India this week to pressure India to open its nuclear energy markets by changing its domestic supplier liability laws.

If she is successful, it would give American vendors hunting licenses to bid for massive nuclear reactor contracts said to be worth $150 billion over the next several decades.

In a joint news conference July 20 with Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, Clinton said that differences over trade and nuclear legislation must be resolved if the benefits of U.S. support for India’s civilian nuclear program three years ago is to accrue to U.S. companies.

Under then President George W. Bush, the United States successfully pushed the Nuclear Suppliers Group to allow India to buy uranium for its civil nuclear program. In return, India pledged in return to open its markets to U.S. vendors.

Political opposition forces in the Indian parliament, however, saw an opportunity to give Prime Minister Monahan Singh a black eye and imposed a draconian supplier liability law on nuclear energy projects. The parliament has locked out American firms, but not French and Russian state-owned nuclear agencies that now have significant commitments for the bulk of foreign supplied reactors.

Clinton was characteristically straightforward in her remarks. She said, “We need to resolve those issues that still remain so that we can reap the rewards of the extraordinary work that both of our governments have done.”

Enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group

Since then, the United States has been working to bring pressure on India through the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). While neither nation will openly admit it, the United States may be seeking leverage to get India to reconsider its liability law by squeezing in another area.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group supports non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation of Guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear related exports.

In June 2011, the NSG adopted new rules that ban the sales of key technologies and equipment that have primarily civilian applications, but are considered “dual use,” e.g., also can be used to make nuclear weapons.

In the meantime, the U.S. relationship with India with regard to nuclear energy matters is in a downward spiral. Ashley Tellis, an expert on U.S.–India relations at the Carnegie Endowment, told the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) on July 19 that, “The Americans have reasons to be peeved about how [the NSG agreement] has worked out.”

Others accuse the United States of using the NSG as leverage to open India’s markets to U.S. firms. This is one of those obvious moments that illuminate the gamesmanship involved in the high stakes outcomes.

Bharat Karnad, a foreign policy expert in New Dehli, also told the CSM that the “NSG is being used by the U.S. as a tool to advance reactor sales.”

India is a nuclear state, but has refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation agreement. Its stance kept it from accessing world markets for uranium for more than three decades. The Bush administration helped push the NSG to make a special exception for India. The new rules, however—also supported by Russian and France—address uranium enrichment and used fuel reprocessing technologies.

The intent is to prevent the proliferation of technologies that can be used to make highly enriched uranium or extract plutonium from used fuel. Instead, the United States, Russia, France, and other nations are offering access to international fuel banks. These programs would essentially lease nuclear fuel to other countries and retrograde the used fuel back to the fuel bank. This way, nations could be assured of reliable fuel services without having to build their own fuel cycle facilities.

Will India blacklist suppliers?

Nirupama Rao, India’s Foreign Secretary

India isn’t buying it and, what’s more, is officially annoyed at these latest developments. Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao implied that India would blacklist any nation that supported the new rules by denying them new nuclear contracts.

“We will defend ourselves to the hilt,” she said, but added diplomatically, “I think the latest NSG decision is not the end of the road.”

A move to “blacklist” American firms would be more or less pointless and ineffective since the liability law already does this. The French and the Russians, however, have significant skin in the game and are much more vulnerable to this kind of pressure.

France has contracts with India to build two 1600-MW EPR reactors, and Russia has built two and is completing two more 1000-MW VVER reactors, with options to build as many as eight more 1000-MW units and six 1200-MW units.

In a preemptive move, the Russians said in early June that they had dealt with the liability law by simply adding insurance for the future costs of compensation to the delivered price of the two new units at Kudankulam. In effect, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. will be paying a risk premium for its country’s liability law.

Japan exports at risk?

Life is getting more complicated for India since it plans to also have a civil nuclear agreement with Japan. That nation’s nuclear exports are very significant and also represent a major piece of its domestic steel industry. Key firms including Toshiba, Hitachi, and Mistubishi all want the two countries to sign off on the agreement.

The banana peel on the negotiating room floor is a statement by Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who said that as part of Japan’s retreat from nuclear energy, it would also suspend its exports to India, Brazil, and several other countries.

This statement set off howls of protest from the business sector. The Japan Times quoted business think tanks as estimating a half a million people could lose their jobs. Kan has subsequently backed off, claiming that he meant the nation would reduce its nuclear sector “eventually,” but not right away.

The key issue is that Japan Steel Works provides the large forgings for reactor pressure vessels. If Japan stops exporting these components, the whole global nuclear industry is facing a significant delay.

India and the United Kingdom have plans to build new forging plants, but production is years away. South Korea has a contract with the United Arab Emirates, which would take priority for its output from Doosan.

All of the Japanese nuclear firms that export their reactors also sell components, including turbines, steam systems, and generators. The Japanese prime minister’s comments may be the stuff of political opportunism of the moment, but the rock he threw in the pond made waves that washed up on India’s shore.

If India decides to “blacklist” Russian, French, and U.S. firms over NSG policies in terms of sales of nuclear components, it needs to think carefully about where it will get reactors for its ambitious nuclear energy program.

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Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe

Hall talk at ANS special session on Fukushima

Two people with long experience working with the nuclear industryone in Japan and one in the United Statesshare some “hall talk” with ANS Nuclear Cafe about Fukushima

By Dan Yurman

At its national meeting held during the last week in June in Hollywood, Fla., the American Nuclear Society conference included two back-to-back special sessions on Fukushima. ANS Nuclear Cafe had an opportunity to talk with two of the speakers in the halls.

Akira Omoto

Omoto

Akira Omoto is currently a commissioner with the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. Previously, he was at the International Atomic Energy Ageny where he headed up the organization’s division of nuclear power. This week he was a speaking to the ANS national meeting in Hollywood.

ANS Nuclear Cafe had a chance to catch up with him at the ANS President’s Special Session on Fukushima.

In response to informal questions after the session, he said that the first priority in terms of decommissioning the reactors is to remove the spent fuel from the reactor buildings. Next, it will be necessary to remove fuel and debris from reactors 1, 2, and 3.

Disposition paths for the spent fuel, heat deformed fuel, and debris from the reactor pressure vessels isn’t yet clear because Japan does not have a high level waste repository and is years away from establishing one.

Omoto said with uncharacteristic Western directness that Japan’s reaction to the announcement by U.S. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko calling for Americans to evacuate to 50 miles was “an embarrassment.”

He pointed out that Japan had not been consulted and was still working at the time to establish its own basis for evacuating its citizens from around the reactor.

See also Commisioner’s Omoto’s slides from the ANS President’s Special Session on Fukushima held Monday June 27 at the society’s national meeting in Hollywood, Fla.

Nuclear energy for sustainable development

I asked Commissioner Omoto to talk about conversations he’s had with ordinary people in Japan about the nuclear crisis at Fukushima. He responded that in talks with family members, he has consistently emphasized the need for nuclear energy in Japan.

“It is vitally needed to attain sustainable development. We cannot reach this result without it,” Omoto said.

Omoto added, “The shift to a low carbon economy while not abandoning base load electricity is essential to sustain and improve the performance of the Japanese economy.”

Mike Weber

Weber

Another speaker at the ANS President’s Special Session on Fukushima was Michael Weber, deputy executive director, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Weber spoke to the ANS national meeting on Tuesday, June 28, as part of a second panel discussion on the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

He told ANS Nuclear Cafe that he has been involved with the rapidly changing situation in Japan since March 11. One of the first things that struck Weber as the NRC mobilized its emergency operations center was the enormous amount of information coming in from government sources and the Japanese news media and the challenge to make sense of it.

Initially, the NRC sent three people to Japan to assist the Tokyo Electric Power Company, but this was not part of an effort to get the word out generally on what was happening at Fukushima. The White House decided that the U.S. government would not be a source of information on Fukushima. The thinking was that this was a task for the Japanese government.

Moments of anxiety stretch into hours and then days

In the first few days of the Fukushima crisis, Weber felt a strong sense of anxiety about what was going on with the boiling water reactors at the site. The NRC wanted to know the status of the reactors, the condition of safety equipment, and whether everything was under control or whether there were real problems.

“Fundamentally, we wanted to know how much damage there was,” Weber said.

“The NRC staff felt a real sense of frustration that we could not do more since this was a Japanese nuclear power station and not a U.S. licensee,” Weber said.

Weber, who was working a series of graveyard shifts at the NRC, said that by the third day of the crisis there was more reliable information coming in from Japan.

The NRC’s ongoing assessment of the conditions at the Fukushima site was augmented by remote sensing information from a variety of U.S. government sources.

“It was vitally important to know where the radioactivity being released from the plant would go given prevailing winds. DOE’s aerial surveys helped us understand what might happen. With over 100,000 U.S. citizens, including military personnel, in Japan, we had to know what was happening,” Weber said.

The biggest concern, Weber noted, was whether any of the radiation from Fukushima would reach the United State and at what level.

Human factors

A human factor for the NRC was that it had been a while since the NRC had stood up a ‘round-the-clock’ emergency response. The agency had staffed its emergency operations center with three shifts of 80 people each. Between March and mid-May there were the inevitable needs to replace people needed elsewhere in the agency or who had to stand down for other reasons.

Weber observed that the newer people had a hard time getting up to speed and were initially less adept working in the emergency operations center.

“To use a basketball term, we didn’t have as much bench strength as we thought going into it (Fukushima),” he said

Differences from a U.S. response scenario

Another difference is that in a U.S. incident, the NRC would be getting real time data on reactor temperature, pressure, and other important information. In the Fukushima crisis, the NRC got this information only after the fact, when TEPCO or Japanese government agencies released it.

Also, in a U.S. incident, the NRC would have resident inspectors on the ground acting as the NRC’s “eyes & ears” throughout. Initially, in Japan, TEPCO barred the NRC’s first three reactor specialists from entering the company’s emergency operations center in Tokyo.

Taken together, these factors created the anxiety that Weber referred to as the NRC came to realize that there was no power to run cooling systems or power instruments at any of the reactors.

Revising the NRC’s assessment of Fukushima spent fuel pool #4

In mid-March, based on simulation and scenarios, and the limited information available, NRC Chairman Jaczko testified before Congress that the spent fuel pool at reactor unit 4 had lost all of its water.

It took several months to verify that, despite a hydrogen explosion, the fuel assemblies at that location were intact, covered with water, had not been deformed by excessive heat, and that there was only a small amount of debris in the pool area.

Weber said that the condition of the fuel in the pool was verified by use of a video camera and by water chemistry analysis.

“The information we had at the time indicated that there was a significant drain down of the spent fuel pool.  As we are now receiving additional information, it appears that there may not have been a significant drain down based on the condition of the fuel and pool water chemistry data.”

Weber, who has been through a lot, retains a mostly cheerful disposition about the NRC’s continued assistance to Japan and monitoring of the situation. He says that even when he got home at all kinds of odd hours, his family was still there to support him, for which he is grateful.

“They knew when I was spending all this time at the office on a weekend that something was up,” he said with a wry smile.

# # #

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog on nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Why is there irrational fear of radiation?

Improvements are needed in explaining the significance of the numbers to the public

Editor for this multi-author blog post: Dan Yurman

The Fukushima reactor complex, before March 11, 2011, provided 10% of Japan’s nuclear generated electricity.

The crisis at the Fukushima nuclear reactor complex in Japan, caused by a record earthquake and equally record shattering tsunami, has created a maelstrom of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) when it comes to radiation measurements.

For instance, the importance of distinctions between fast and slow decaying isotopes of iodine and cesium are sometimes lost on media and the public.

Worse, the differences between accounting for the sheer amount of radiation and giving an assessment of the potential health effects of uncontrolled releases takes place using different sets of measurement units. Is it any wonder that mainstream news media editors get headaches when their reporters file stories about radiation?

It hasn’t helped that Japanese and American nuclear experts have called for different distances for evacuation zones around the plant site. Can we fault the public for concluding that any report about radiation at a nuclear reactor is bad news?

Organizations with agendas that call for removing nuclear reactors from the energy mix have been known to exploit public fears of radiation. In doing so, they’ve sometimes failed to understand the scientific basis for the measurements.

In one case, a critic of a reactor relicensing application, writing in a political news magazine, said that a tritium release was 500 times more than expected, which was none. What he failed to realize is that the measured quantity was still 500 times less than the EPA drinking water standard.

Calling this type of mistake “junk science” misses an important point. What the public thinks is that regardless of how much radiation you are talking about, it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. FUD fosters fear.

On the other hand, people in the nuclear energy field, who routinely work with some of the most dangerous radioactive materials in the universe, are quite calm about it, citing and practicing the principles of time, distance, and shielding. In fact, some can’t understand what all the panic is about because they know, by the numbers, that the risk isn’t commensurate with the noise level.

Is it time for a change in the way radiation measurements are communicated and explained to the public? At the ANS Social Media list, I asked four contributors to share their views on this question.

These four people have deep insights into the world of nuclear energy, but they also have very different takes on the current systems of radiation measurement and how they are used to explain risk to the public and the press.  In this multi-author guest blog post, an ecologist, a chemist, an energy expert, and a public affairs consultant offer ideas about what to do about making radiation numbers more understandable and, in doing so, foster better public understanding about what they mean.

Is obfuscation deliberate?
~ Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand

The aversion to nuclear would be due to aversion to the uncertainty of radiation risk, itself a product of lack of familiarity with the weird units of measurement.

NO KIDDING! Sieverts, rems, rads, grays, becquerels, curies, and roentgens are reported in their densely confusable forms of milli, micro, and mega. None of them are calibrated around dimensions that might make intuitive sense concerning human safety, and they all obfuscate each other.

Listening to engineers debate about how many microcuries can dance on the head of a megabecquerel all by itself introduces profound dread in anyone listening in.

With its Babel of measurements, the nuclear power industry has guaranteed that all of its communications with the public are maddeningly confusing and frightening.

It is such conspicuously incompetent social engineering that observers understandably suspect that the nuclear engineering behind it is equally incompetent, and that nuclear engineers must hate people.

Stewart Brand, an ecologist, is the author of many books including, most recently, “The Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto” (Amazon) or see his home page.

Stick with health effects measurements
~ Cheryl Rofer

Cheryl Rofer

What people want to know about radiation is whether it’s a danger to them. What they get is numbers with funny units attached. These numbers may be presented as multiples of some standard. But that doesn’t say what the health risks are. Recent changes in the units themselves have provided more confusion, along with the prefixes indicating powers of ten.

Each unit has a use:

  • Monitoring instruments count disintegrations (counts per second, becquerel, curie); roentgens,
  • Rads and grays measure the absorbed energy from those disintegrations; and
  • Rems and sieverts measure the biological dose.

All of which moves toward health effects. But there is a big step missing.

That step is how the biological dose translates into disease, cancer in particular. That translation depends on many factors: the age and sex of the person exposed, the rapidity of the exposure, which part of the body is irradiated, and very likely the basic health of the person exposed and his or her genetic makeup. Even when all that is combined for an individual person, the result is a probability, not a certainty.

I don’t see an easy way to make these units more understandable. But it would help if regulators, engineers, and reporters would stick with sieverts or millisieverts. These are the units and the range most relevant to health effects.

Cheryl Rofer, a chemist, worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for 37 years on a variety of projects, many of them related to the nuclear fuel cycle. Her blog is The Phronesisaical, covering politics, philosophy, and fruit

 

 

No one has died from radiation at Fukushima
~ Steve Aplin

Steve Aplin

Why do we fear radiation? Throughout the Fukushima emergency, media stories have reported radiation in terms of picocuries, becquerels, rads, grays, millirems, microsieverts. Few of us know what these units represent; they sound ominous, uncontrollable. They scares us. In the 21st century, with our digital TVs and smart phones, we humans are still afraid of the dark.

There is one measurement, however, that almost nobody has mentioned in the coverage of Fukushima. It is a familiar number—zero. It represents the number of people who have died, so far, from radiation at the plant. That’s right: after five weeks, thousands of hours of broadcast airtime, and millions of newspaper column-inches, zero people have died.

The number zero may be familiar to us today, but it took thousands of years to enter our mathematical lexicon. That’s because as a concept, it is extremely elusive and complex.

Zero’s subtlety may be why “zero deaths by radiation” has so little effect on our gut-level imagination. Contrast that with lurid descriptions of something unknown, out beyond the edge of darkness, beyond our control: something measured in picocuries, microsieverts. That “something” grabs our imagination; its mystery scares us. “Zero deaths” does neither.

Well, when you step down into a dark basement, what’s the quickest way to turn off your fear? Turn on the light. Same with curies, rads, and microsieverts. The light of knowledge will help. Learn about radiation.

When you do, you’ll understand why there have been zero deaths because of radiation at Fukushima.

Steve Aplin is vice president of Energy and Environment at The HDP Group, an Ottawa-based management consultancy. He blogs at Canadian Energy Issues.

Say it simply and say it in English
~ Mimi Limbach

 

Mimi Limbach

The events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have brought many technical experts into contact with journalists who have little knowledge of nuclear energy, science, and technology.

Some of these experts are speaking a different language—jargon—than the journalists and the public. Environmentalist Stewart Brand said it better than anyone in a companion blog to this one. I showed his comment to a group attending last week’s ANS Student Conference, and it brought down the house with laughter. As my audience looked sheepishly at each other, it was clear that most people in the room were guilty of using jargon that would be incomprehensible to the public.

Risk communication research tells us that when people hear jargon, they believe the speaker is trying to mislead them. So when you use jargon, you’re also losing credibility with your audience.

Several years ago, I attended a community meeting in Jackson, Wyo., about a controversial facility that was to be built nearby. In the midst of a presentation, the woman sitting next to me said, “What are they hiding from us? Why can’t they just say it in simple English?” The facility was never built.

Jargon is a shortcut for technical professionals … or a very precise way of expressing concepts or measures. It works for technical audiences. But to most people, it is meaningless and insulting.

So, how should technical people make complex ideas meaningful to the public? Use examples and analogies that relate radiation measures to something we all live with in our everyday lives. Say it simply. And say it in English.

Mimi Limbach is a partner at Potomac Communications Group, Washington, DC. Her business blog is From the Potomac.

Last word from blog post editor

All four contributors, coming at the problem from very different perspectives, nevertheless find fault with the way current radiation measurement systems explain their results. The fault finding is not with the internationally accepted scientific measurement units, but rather in communication of the numbers to a skeptical and fearful public.

Until risk communication practice by nuclear regulatory agencies catches up with the public’s needs for understanding, the nuclear industry may paradoxically continue to find itself sliced and diced in the news media by its own measurement precision.

____________________________________________________

Dan Yurman

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy. From 1994 to 1999 he served as a citizen member of a Federal Advisory Committee to the Centers for Disease Control on radiation health effects studies at Department of Energy sites.