Welcome to AtomWatch - world nuclear power news and analysis

This blog is aimed at tracing the world news related to nuclear power development internationally and in particular countries. Being an independent resource, we accept all kinds of opinions, positions and comments, and welcome you to discuss the posts and tell us what you think.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Shutdowns and plunging profits cast doubt on nuclear future

British Energy, the nuclear power group, reported a sharp fall in profits yesterday - the same day a series of mishaps at its stations left more than 60% of its capacity out of action.

An unexpected shutdown at Hunterston on Scotland's west coast yesterday followed the closure of its Sizewell B station on Tuesday which left thousands of homes without power. The shutdown at the Ayrshire plant meant 10 of the company's 16 units were out of action.

The nuclear generator, which is to be sold off after the government announced plans for a new generation of nuclear stations, has been dogged by problems in the past year. It blamed other, ongoing problems at two power plants, Hartlepool and Heysham 1, for the fall in underlying profits from £1.22bn to £882m.

Bill Coley, chief executive, said the figures were disappointing but insisted the company was making progress on technical problems. "We have made good operational progress ... We are well positioned to manage our existing fleet to best advantage and look ahead to playing a pivotal role in the new build programme." Sizewell B was expected to be back in production in a few days, he said.

The problems come as a report today into the failings of the UK nuclear industry casts doubt on British Energy's prospects and is likely to alarm foreign power firms preparing to launch multibillion-pound bids for it. The study, published by Friends of the Earth and written by former Guardian journalist Paul Brown, claims the company could be forced to shut down some plants because the reprocessing facility at Sellafield is running out of storage space.

Although Coley said the company was not experiencing any problems with waste storage, the report claims the financial legacy of Sellafield and failures of British Energy make it too dangerous for the government to embark on a new generation of nuclear plants.

Many of the companies considering a bid, such as EDF of France, want to use the UK company's sites for constructing a new generation of plants. They insist they do not need financial help to do so. But Brown concludes: "The economics of new nuclear power stations for the UK do not add up. It is not possible to achieve what the government says it will do - build a new generation of nuclear power stations in England without public subsidy."

Ministers had made many promises over the past 50 years that nuclear would pay its own way, Brown says, only to see huge new liabilities develop. The government had underwritten all the debts of British Energy when it collapsed in 2001 so the company can never go bankrupt, a commitment that dwarfs that made to the nationalised bank Northern Rock.

"Employing more than 10,000 people, the Sellafield nuclear complex is in crisis. Its reprocessing works and plutonium fuel plant are all failing at a massive cost - annually already £100 each for every taxpayer in this country - and this is rising," he says.

John Large, a nuclear industry consultant, believes British Energy might solve its storage problems but agrees it will be impossible to sell off the company without "massaging" the finances and handing financial liabilities to the public purse.

The doubts were underlined yesterday by an admission from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority that the cost of cleaning up Britain's nuclear legacy would increase from the current estimate of £73bn. Director Jim Morse told the BBC: "I think it's a high probability that in the short term it will undoubtedly go up." The £73bn figure, published in January ,was an increase of £12bn on a 2003 estimate.

(Source: Guardian)

China's ambitious plan for more nuclear power


By Emma Graham-Harrison ReutersPublished: May 27, 2008

BEIJING: Nuclear power companies in China aim to join automobile and electronics makers as export powerhouses, but big domestic expansion plans may not leave them the capacity to make an overseas push for more than a decade, analysts say.

A $1 billion deal signed last week with Russia to build and supply a uranium enrichment plant in China was another step toward civilian nuclear independence, less than two decades after China's first nuclear generator came on line.

The country sealed deals last year with Areva of France and Westinghouse for several third-generation reactors and the blueprints to allow them to develop domestic versions.

The nuclear power companies have mastered the construction of older models at a speed that is impressing Asian neighbors who cannot afford nuclear models sold by Western companies or are not allowed to buy them.

Countries like Vietnam and Indonesia are eager to build plants to convey a sense of modernity and to cut their fuel bills, and they see Beijing as the answer to financial and political problems.

"They know the Chinese have a lot of money and they're not necessarily as rigid as Western investors," said Bob Herrerra Lim, an analyst for Eurasia Group, a consulting firm based in the United States. "The Chinese could be the accelerator. They could say, 'We're willing to take a longer term look, because these countries have a strategic value to us.' And obviously there's a lot of policy behavior in many of their companies."

The timing could not be better for China, as the fight against climate change and the search for cheaper energy sources revives global interest in nuclear power.

"Their technology will improve, and worldwide demand is big," said Colette Lewiner, an analyst at Capgemini, adding that when demand starts to grow at a high pace again, "Areva, Westinghouse and other nuclear reactor suppliers cannot meet it on their own."

"I know it is serious," she said, because the Chinese had "told me they are looking for partners to export the technology."

But China is also ramping up its domestic nuclear expansion plans, aiming for a total of 60 gigawatts by 2020. Its current nuclear capacity is only 9 gigawatts, under 2 percent of its total installed power generation capacity.

Its own experts admit that they will have to devote most of the country's technical knowledge and a large portion of both listed and state-owned companies' capital to what will be the fastest nuclear build-out the world has ever seen.

China will need to start construction on about four new generators a year through 2015 to meet its ambitious target.

Beijing sees nuclear plants as a partial answer for its mounting pollution and energy security problems, although China's electricity use is growing so fast that even after the breakneck expansion nuclear will provide only about 5 percent of its power.

The speed of the expansion is tying China to the second-generation models that have faced teething troubles rather than the safer third-generation plants it has begun buying.

Ambitious managers at all the country's big five listed power companies want to join the sector, once the preserve of two state-owned firms.

One of the country's biggest electricity producers, Datang International Power Generation, has already invested in the Ningde Plan in southeastern Fujian Province, with the first reactor due to come on line in 2012.

Nuclear is attractive because it diversifies Datang's generating mix, adding a type of plant with a relatively predictable operating margin because fuel is such a small portion of costs.

Despite China's desire for a speedy expansion, its focus on developing domestic technology means companies like Westinghouse and Areva are unlikely to repeat deals for entire plants.

But they will be rewarded for handing over some of their secrets by a continuing stream of smaller deals for parts that Chinese companies cannot yet manufacture or cannot produce on a large scale.

"In the future, I see a two-way flow of business," Lewiner said. "There will not be so many sales of big third-generation plants, but equipment sales to China will be good."

"In the other direction," she added, "Western firms will be re-exporting from China nuclear equipment and sharing skills."

Another area where Areva looks set to pick up steady business in China is reprocessing nuclear waste.

"Fuel manufacturing and reprocessing of used fuel are areas where China needs Western technology, because they cannot do this on an industrial scale," she said.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The hidden costs of nuclear power

As one of Florida’s largest utilities prepared to unveil details about its nuclear plans last March, its executives showed a noticeable wariness about one detail in particular: the price.

At Progress Energy Florida’s new St. Petersburg headquarters, the top brass carefully husbanded their latest estimates. As the date of their public filing neared, the utility’s executives arranged meetings with newspaper editors throughout its territory. Bill Johnson, chairman, president and CEO of the Florida utility’s parent company, flew down from North Carolina for a meeting with Governor Charlie Crist.

Progress Energy’s extraordinary care acknowledged that the “nuclear renaissance” perched delicately on the public’s goodwill. An erosion of public support could shake the political support that new nuclear has lately enjoyed. Florida wouldn’t be the only casualty; 21 other new nuclear projects have been announced throughout the U.S.

When the price was unveiled, the reason behind Progress Energy’s caution became clear: the price for two reactors topped $14 billion – more than double the original estimates proffered by Progress Energy and other utilities throughout the country.

The nuclear industry defends its expansion despite the surging costs. Nuclear power is cheaper to operate than natural gas, won’t exacerbate carbon dioxide emissions like adding new coal, and provides around-the-clock power, unlike weather-dependent solar and wind.

“We talk with the wind people all the time. We talk to solar folks all the time. They have a role to play,” says Mitch Singer, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group. “But there's no way that they can take the place of the base load power nuclear can provide. It's physics.”

But nuclear opponents worry that a massive investment in nuclear could come at the expense of renewables. They also worry that conservation efforts will obviate the need for a massive investment in nuclear, and consumers will be left holding the bag.

“Given the seriousness of global climate change, what’s required here is an honest look at the economics of power generation,” says Susan Glickman, a lobbyist for The Climate Group, a non-profit that pushes governments and businesses to take action on climate change. “We need to look first at the cost-effective options like energy efficiency, and balance that against the expense of nuclear.”

Throughout the U.S., plans have been announced for 33 new nuclear reactors; eighteen are slated for the Southeast, and as many as eight will be the same Westinghouse AP1000s that Progress Energy picked.

The new, higher estimates for nuclear – driven by the rising cost of labor, steel, cement and metals like copper – has the nuclear industry worried about giving the public sticker shock. Utilities around the nation will soon be asking state regulators for permission to spend billions on high-priced nuclear plants. When utility customers start seeing those enormous costs reflected in their monthly electric bill, politicians may start hearing from some very unhappy constituents.

As Progress Energy’s Johnson told a group of analysts in early April, “To do this, to build nuclear in this country, what we need to have is continuing regulatory and political support.”

The nuclear industry still suffers a credibility hangover from the huge cost overruns of the 1970s and 1980s, when nuclear power plants were taking 10 to 12 years to complete and costing up to $5-billion, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. Much of the rising cost owed itself to delays -- delays often exacerbated by wavering political and regulatory support.

Those interminable battles, combined with the disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, led to a 30-year break in new nuclear plant orders. Despite the ballyhooed renaissance, the industry has girded itself against a repeat.

As if the words possess a talismanic power to make it so, the mavens of the nuclear renaissance have taken to repeating, with liturgical sameness, why this nuclear boom won’t be like the last. This time, the licensing has been streamlined. This time, the plants have been standardized.

The fact is no one really knows what the plants will cost because no utility has built one in nearly three decades. As Progress Energy noted in its public filing, its cost estimates remain non-binding. The price could go higher.

Progress Energy is one of few U.S. utilities that has offered a public estimate for new nuclear. Another is Florida Power Light, which estimates that it will spend $18 billion to $24 billion, depending on the technology it selects for its two reactors. Although other utilities have remained mum, Florida’s estimates appear in line with what other utilities can expect.

At those prices price – more than $6,300 per kilowatt – building nuclear costs three times more than building wind. So why would FPL Energy, parent of Florida Power & Light and one of the largest wind power producers in the world, invest in more than 2000-megawatts of nuclear? The reason is simple: weather.

“The biggest attribute, the biggest benefit of a nuclear plant, is that it's a baseload source of power,” says David Bradish, manager of energy information for the Nuclear Energy Institute. “It produces power all the time, all day.”

A cloud passing over a solar installation can substantially ding its output, as can a sudden drop in wind. The availability of power – known in utility jargon as “capacity factor” – dramatically alters the cost landscape. As Bradish put it, to get a wind farm to produce as much power in a year as a nuclear plant, you’d have to build 3,000 megawatts of wind to 1,000 megawatts of nuclear.

The utility’s use “levelized” costs that take capacity factor into account. By those estimates, fossil fuels like coal consistently number among the cheapest sources of power, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy.

By 2020, traditional pulverized coal will cost $59 per megawatt -- less than a quarter of the projected cost of solar photovoltaics. Of course, the estimates have a glaring weakness: they don't take into account the potential cost of carbon. Cap-and-trade programs, now in place in more than twenty states and favored by all three presidential candidates, could add considerable costs for high carbon fuels like coal, and make low-carbon alternatives more financially attractive.

But at $66 per megawatt projected for 2020, no other low-carbon power source will beat the price of nuclear.

(Source: Plenty Magazine)

British Energy races against time after worst power cuts in a decade

British Energy today vowed to get the Sizewell B nuclear power station working again within days after Britain suffered its worst blackouts in a decade.

Half a million people were hit by unscheduled power cuts on Tuesday after seven power stations, including Sizewell B in Suffolk, unexpectedly stopped working within hours of each other.

The blackouts forced hospital operations to be cancelled at High Wycombe after an emergency generator caught fire, and also cut the lights at the town's shopping centre. Thousands of homes were left without power in south London, while in the north east the problems reportedly left eight people trapped in a lift. Cheshire, Liverpool and Lincolnshire were also hit.

The other power stations which suffered power outages included the coal-fired Longannet plant in Fife, and sites in Kent, Nottinghamshire, South Humber and Deeside. The outages forced the price of wholesale electricity up 35% to a new record high of £95 a MW hour.

It is unclear why so many power stations shut down at the same time. Maintenance work is often scheduled for this time of year, as the typically mild weather means demand for power - for heating or air conditioning - is less.

The outages forced National Grid to issue its first Demand Control Imminent warning – the indication that the system could not cope - in three and a half years. Industry insiders have said that the extent of the disruption, with so many different sites going offline at the same time, has not been seen for at least 10 years.

According to David Porter, chief executive of the Association of Electricity Producers, the disruption was due to a "gigantic coincidence".

"It is still possible for something like this to happen in exceptional circumstances, and the fact that power stations are either young or old is neither here nor there," he said.

Speaking after British Energy reported that earlier power plant problems had eaten into its profits for the last financial year, chief executive Bill Coley pledged that the 1,180MW plant would be back online soon.

"It appears to be an instrument problem. There is no issue with the plant and it should return (to operation) very quickly," Coley said.

This is Sizewell B's first outage in three-and-a-half years. British Energy suffered boiler closure unit problems at two other sites last year - Hartlepool and Heysham 1 plants - which forced it to buy power on the open market to meet its contracts.

In its financial results for the 12 months to March 31, published this morning, British Energy blamed these problems for a drop in earnings before interest before tax, depreciation and amortisation, which fell to £882m from £1.2bn last year.

Two other plants also ran at below their previous full load capacity. Fuel prices for the company's coal-fired plant at Eggborough were sharply higher.

Coley said the company had made "good operational progress" despite its disappointing financial performance, and claimed that Sizewell B was operating to "world class standards".

"We are well positioned to manage our existing business to best advantage and look ahead to playing a pivotal role in the new build process," he added.

British Energy has been at the centre of intense bid speculation since the government gave the green light to the construction of new nuclear power plants.

The company is well placed because its existing sites are seen as the most likely locations for the next generation of nuclear reactors.

A number of companies have looked at British Energy's books and the company has said it is in discussions with a number of interested parties.

Though the generator has declined to name its potential partners, though they are thought to include France's state owned EDF and a combination of Spain's Iberdrola and the German utility RWE.

All three companies already have generating capacity in the UK as well as large supply businesses, so their acquisition of Britain's biggest independent generator would cause some concern among other independents.

The discussions are continuing, British Energy said today.

The company's shares fell over 2% today, losing 17p to 720p by 1.30pm.

(Source: Guardian.co.uk)

Role of Nuclear Power is Posing a Dilemma Reactors Are Feared, but Emit Little CO2

After part of a cooling tower collapsed last August at the only nuclear power plant in Vermont, the company that runs it blamed rotting wooden timbers that it had failed to inspect properly. The uproar that followed rekindled environmental groups' hopes of shutting down the aging site.

The proposed closure, albeit a long shot, has gained some support this year among Vermont politicians. The discussion here is bringing into sharp relief a conflict between two objectives long held by environmentalists: combating nuclear power and stopping global warming.

Nuclear plants supply nearly 20 percent of the electricity in the United States, and they do so without emitting the carbon dioxide that is the principal cause of global warming. The 36-year-old plant in Vermont, which feeds into the regional power grid, represents a third of the state's electrical generation.

Antinuclear advocates who are arguing for closure hope to replace the lost electricity with renewable generation from wind turbines, solar power and the combustion of plant material. Additionally, they cite the potential for cutting electrical demand by making homes and businesses more efficient.

Even so, some environmentalists have reluctantly acknowledged that no combination of renewable power and improved efficiency can replace the plant, called Vermont Yankee, at least in the near term. Instead, the state would probably have to tap the northeastern U.S. grid - which derives more than half its energy from fossil fuels - for extra power.

"We'll likely have to go to the market, and that will mean an increase in Vermont's electricity portfolio that comes from fossil fuels," said Andrew Perchlik, director of Renewable Energy Vermont, a group that promotes clean power, speaking about the prospect of the plant's closure. He faulted the state government and power companies for not focusing earlier on renewable energy, saying that if they had done so, "We wouldn't be in this predicament."

The Vermont debate comes as interest in nuclear power is increasing across the United States, driven by rising demand for power as well as emissions concerns.

Like other plants nationwide, Vermont Yankee is seeking a 20- year extension of its operating license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees the country's reactors. A decision, which could allow the plant to keep operating until 2032, is expected this year. Several utilities, encouraged by the U.S. government, are considering building new nuclear reactors for the first time in three decades.

In Vermont, home to many people with a back-to-the-land viewpoint, surveys show that people want to move away from fuels like coal and oil that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide. They also support renewable energy.

But the same surveys show less consensus on nuclear power. At energy workshops last year, nearly two-thirds of the participants said Vermont utilities should stop buying power from the nuclear plant - unless fossil fuels and out-of-state nuclear power were the alternatives, in which case more than half would continue with Vermont Yankee.

Not counting dams, another low-emission energy source that many environmental groups oppose, renewable power makes up just 2.5 percent of the electricity generation in the United States. That figure is higher in Vermont, at 6 percent, but renewable sources are still a long way from supplying the bulk of the state's power.

Starting from these slim figures, many advocacy groups hope to achieve a nuclear-free mix supplied by local renewable sources. State researchers estimate that as much as 48 percent of Vermont's power could one day come from local renewables, including small hydropower projects.

"When you look at all the scenarios for climate change, nuclear is not a must-do," said James Moore, a clean-energy advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, a group that opposes the nuclear plant.

But utilities in Vermont, like their counterparts elsewhere in the country, argue that environmentalists are deluded if they believe a low-emission future can be achieved without nuclear power. They note the intermittent nature of power sources like windmills and solar panels, and say the United States needs more, not fewer, big power plants that emit no carbon dioxide.

"Vermont is in an enviable position right now," said Steve Costello, a spokesman for the largest utility in the state, Central Vermont Public Service. "We have arguably the cleanest power in the country from an air-emissions standpoint, and we have the lowest rates in the Northeast." His utility is willing to build more renewable sources, he said, but closing Vermont Yankee would make maintaining clean and low-cost power "much more difficult."

Even as some Vermonters argue for more renewable power, proposals to build it have hit snags. Vermont has only has one commercial wind farm, 11 turbines located along a mountain ridge. They have less than 1 percent of the capacity of Vermont Yankee, a relatively small nuclear plant.

Other proposed projects have been stalled by local opposition. One wind project would infringe on a bear habitat. Another won approval from state regulators, but a local group filed a court appeal to block it.

"Vermont is very protective of its environment regulation," Perchlik, of Renewable Energy Vermont, said. "It's not going to be done Texas-style, where you can get a permit in a month." He nonetheless hopes that wind turbines can provide 20 percent of Vermont's electricity by 2015.

Besides tapping into the northeastern grid, Vermont could import more power from Hydro-Quebec, a giant dam system in Canada that already accounts for a third of Vermont's electricity, but that would probably help push up prices. Solar power is also costly. Burning wood chips or other plant material is one option - Burlington already has such a plant - but a emit high levels of pollution.

The best bet for reducing the state's emissions may be energy efficiency, in which Vermont already excels. Since 2000, an outfit called Efficiency Vermont has urged homeowners and businesses to use energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances. State officials say they believe it has already cut power demand slightly this way.

Concerns about the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, in the town of Vernon, focus on the disposal of spent nuclear fuel, a nationwide problem, and on more localized concerns about safety.

Last August, Vermonters were shocked to see images of water gushing out of a huge pipe onto a heap of collapsed wooden beams. A portion of one of the plant's two cooling towers had fallen after decay weakened the wood. No radioactivity was released, but Entergy, the plant's operator, labored to explain how it could have missed such an obvious problem.

Rob Williams, an Entergy spokesman, said the event "certainly impacted reliability, but the safety was not at all impacted." Major repairs and improvements to both cooling towers have just been completed, he said, with crucial timbers replaced by fiberglass- reinforced plastic.

The Vermont Legislature has already voted to tighten plant oversight, and next year it is likely to take a vote on shutting down the plant, though whether the state would actually have the power to do that is unclear. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses and regulates all reactors, and some experts predict lawsuits if Vermont attempts a shutdown.

(Source: RedOrbit)

Belene nuclear power plant could cost double, physicist warns

The cost of building Belene nuclear power plant nuclear could be several billion euro higher than the four billion euro price tag originally announced by the Bulgarian Government, according to Georgi Kastchiev, the physicist who was in charge when the first four units of Kozloduy nuclear power plant were opened.

Kastchiev, speaking at a May 26 news conference, also alleged that consumers would have to front the additional 110 million euro a year cost through their electricity bills in order to serve the loan from BNP Paribas and pay associated charges, according to Bulgarian-language daily Dnevnik.

Kastchiev was also one of the chief scientists who oversaw the opening of the fifth unit. He holds a PhD in reactor physics from Vienna and Tokyo universities and now teaches at Vienna University's department of risk research.

Kastchiev claimed that construction of the new nuclear power plant would cost nine billion euro, while the value of electricity accrued from it would be nine eurocent a kWh. He said the price of four billion euro announced by the constructor, the Russian company Atomstroyexport, was unrealistic. He said that this figure failed to take into account a 16 per cent increase in steel prices and a 12 per cent increase in the price of concrete. It also excluded the cost of two turbo generators, fuel charges and the construction of power transmission lines.

Other experts have also claimed that Belene NPP would be uncompetitive as an electricity supplier in the marketplace at these prices after 2015.

The Bulgarian government’s justification for the construction was that electricity from Belene would be cheap and that construction costs would not increase. According to Kastchiev, however, NEC’s envisaged prices only include the costs of environmental assessment, terrain maintenance and the cost of employing the project’s architect-engineer and financial consultant. Kastchiev also claimed that the cost of repaying bank loans had been excluded from the equation as well as the cost of supplying raw nuclear fuel and returning the processed nuclear fuel to Russia.

According to the MP from the energy commission, Yordan Kostadinov, the higher price envisaged by Kasschiev was out of the question. He told Bulgarian National Radio that Kastchiev was “an exceptional specialist in the field of nuclear safety, but he has never been an economist and never addressed the problems of a nuclear power plant”. The National Electricity Company (NEC) said that Kastchiev needed to provide the evidence to support his statements.

Contacted by The Sofia Echo on May 27, Kastchiev said that it was not enough for the Government to repudiate his forecasts. He said that the Government had to reveal whether the supply of fuel and turbines had already been contracted and, if not, what the price would be. Kastchiev said these were still unknown quantities and he deduced that their respective costs had not been included in the announced future price of electricity from Belene nuclear power plant.

During his presentation, Kastchiev also said that the project had not been properly financed. He said that banks would charge a double-figure interest rate to lend money to such a high-risk project. NEC had already chosen BNP Paribas to structure the project’s finance and the French financial institution has agreed to extend a 250 million euro loan. However, according to Kastchiev, the bank can refuse to provide the funding if its shareholders are against it.

Kastchiev told The Sofia Echo that the government’s energy policy was creating the conditions for unfair competition and the European Commission has to be alarmed about that because it has strict rules concerning competitiveness.

(Source: Sofia Echo)

Scana to build 2 nuclear plants in South Carolina


Scana Corp.'s South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. said Tuesday it signed an agreement with Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC and the Shaw Group Inc. to design and build two nuclear power plants in South Carolina for about $9.8 billion.

The company said it will jointly own the plants with Santee Cooper, a state-owned electric and water utility. The two companies already jointly own and share operating costs and generating output of the existing nuclear plant in the area.

The company said under the agreement, it will be responsible for 55 percent of the cost and output of the new plants while Santee Cooper will have 45 percent.

South Carolina Electric & Gas will pay $5.4 billion of the total price for the new plants and Santee Cooper will pay about $4.4 billion, the company added.

Before the plants are built, the companies must receive a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The two companies submitted an application March 31. The review process takes about three to four years, the companies said.

South Carolina Electric & Gas estimated that the first plant could begin service in 2016 with the second plant following in 2019.

Scana shares rose 32 cents to $40.50 in after-hours trading. During the regular session, shares added 18 cents to close at $40.18.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Nuclear energy best option for Gulf states: experts


By Lydia Georgi AFP - Tuesday, May 27 11:46 amDUBAI (AFP) - Nuclear power rather than renewable sources like the wind or sun are the best option for oil-rich Gulf Arab states to meet growing energy demands, especially if produced collectively, say regional experts.

"Renewable energies are (playing) only a very small part in supplying even those who started (developing them) a long time ago," Saudi Electricity Company president Ali Saleh al-Barrack told a conference in the United Arab Emirates on Monday.

He said that while Saudi Arabia was conducting research into renewable energies, options such as wind and solar power were either limited or less attractive for technical reasons.

Given the high demand for power and the population growth in the Gulf region, "I think the only immediate solution is nuclear energy," which is the best option in economic and environmental terms, Barrack said.

He dismissed fears of environmental damage from nuclear energy as "driven by Hollywood-style fiction."

"The danger really is from what we are doing now, by adding more and more of this fossil and coal which is destroying the environment and (causing global) warming," he said.

Gulf Cooperation Council partners Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE decided in December 2006 to develop a joint nuclear technology programme for peaceful uses and have been in talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The move by the pro-Western oil and gas producers came amid concerns over non-Arab Iran's nuclear drive, which has sparked a standoff with Western powers. Some of these, led notably by the United States, accuse Tehran of seeking to develop an atomic bomb, a charge Iran denies.

The UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have since concluded bilateral nuclear cooperation deals with the United States.

The UAE, which is in the midst of an economic boom, has also signed an agreement with France to receive help to develop civilian nuclear energy.

Saudi deputy electricity minister Saleh al-Awaji stressed that while Riyadh started studying medical and industrial applications of nuclear technology two decades ago, it was now barely in the process of examining the feasibility of using it to produce power.

"The issue is still at the stage of feasibility studies. The same goes for the GCC (as a bloc)," he told AFP.

The UAE announced last month that it would import enriched uranium for any reactor it builds, ruling out the controversial aspects of Iran's nuclear programme.

But Awaji said other Gulf states need not necessarily follow suit.

"This option (of producing nuclear energy) is still being studied. But if a decision is made to go ahead, each country would have its own circumstances in acquiring fuel sources ... within the regulations governing peaceful uses of nuclear energy," he said.

Saudi and Qatari speakers at the conference agreed that it would be more efficient for GCC countries to develop nuclear energy as a bloc.

"I think it's logical, but I don't think it's going to happen," commented Raja Kiwan, an analyst with energy advisers PFC Energy.

Since the GCC signalled an interest in developing civilian nuclear technology in 2006 "each country seems to be pursuing its own track" and talking to various suppliers, he told AFP.

If the current pace continues, the UAE will probably be the first to produce nuclear energy, Kiwan said.

Kiwan said the growth in energy demand in the region will result in a gas deficit in several countries and makes it inevitable that alternative sources of power will be sought.

"Nuclear is probably the most tested and the most applicable source of energy for the (level) of demand growth that this region is going to be seeing over the next 20-25 years," he said.

"Renewable is a fairly new phenomenon in the energy world and it is primarily being led by the private sector -- the big international oil companies that are becoming a little bit greener ... Renewable energy is a tiny fraction of global consumption."

Flamanville nuclear plant concrete work stopped after inspection finds anomalies

[The nuclear industry may have to hire in more experienced personnel as the new plants are built. After all, it has been many years since nuclear plants have been built in the West.]


PARIS (Thomson Financial) - Concrete pouring at the site of the future EPR nuclear reactor in Flamanville was stopped May 21 after an inspection found "anomalies", France's nuclear safety authority said. "The anomalies pose no safety problem, but they demonstrate an unacceptable lack of rigour at the construction site," said Thomas Houdre, head of the authority's Caen office, said at a press conference.

The authority, the ASN, requested that EDF stop new concrete work until internal controls are improved. greg.keller@thomsonreuters.com gk1/ajb

EU Proposal Ready for Iran Nuclear Talks, Solana Says

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he has a new offer ready for Iran as part of the effort to convince the country to halt nuclear enrichment.

``We have worked on another proposal and that is finished,'' Solana told reporters before a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels today. ``I would like very much to send it.''

The incentive package, the latest step in three years of nuclear negotiations with Iran, is a revised version of one that Solana presented to the Iranians in 2006. The original offer included a pledge to provide Iran with enriched uranium for power stations in exchange for suspension of its own enrichment efforts.

Iran says its nuclear program is needed to produce fuel for power stations, while the U.S. and its allies allege the project is being used as cover for the development of an atomic weapon.

The U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China, along with Germany, have already agreed on the new proposals, though they haven't been made public.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last week that his government has agreed to a trip by Solana to Iran to deliver the package. After the EU meeting today, Solana said that he hopes to make the trip within a month.

The United Nations Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions against Iran since 2006 in order to pressure the country into stopping enrichment.

(Source: Bloomberg)

NKorea may hand over nuclear declaration this week: report

North Korea may hand over a declaration of its atomic activities during US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill's trip to Beijing this week or shortly afterwards, a report said Monday.

But it is not clear whether Hill's Pyongyang counterpart, Kim Kye-Gwan, will show up in the Chinese capital to meet him, a South Korean government source told Yonhap news agency.

Hill will be in Beijing from May 27-29 and Moscow from May 29-31.

US State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey has said Hill was open to meeting Kim Kye-Gwan during his trip to China and Russia.

South Korean nuclear envoy Kim Sook may also visit Beijing for talks with his North Korean counterpart, Yonhap said.

Kim Sook is to visit Russia but the schedule for his return has not yet been set, foreign ministry spokesman Moon Tae-Young told reporters. "Nothing has been decided either on whether he will visit Beijing or not."

The North agreed last year in landmark talks to disable nuclear plants at Yongbyon under a deal reached with the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

Kim Sook said last week that North Korea plans to blow up the cooling tower at Yongbyon to symbolise its commitment to disarmament soon after it hands over the declaration.

But disputes over its declaration of nuclear activities due last December 31 have delayed the permanent dismantling of the plants and the handover of all nuclear material.

Hopes are growing that the impasse will soon end since the North this month gave the United States 18,000 pages of operating and production records for its Yongbyon reactor and reprocessing plant.

These produced weapons-grade plutonium, including the material that the North used to stage a nuclear test in October 2006.

In return for total denuclearisation, the North would receive energy aid, a lifting of US sanctions, the establishment of diplomatic relations with Washington and a formal peace treaty with the United States.

Washington is expected to start the process of removing the North from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states following the destruction of the cooling tower.

(Source: AFP)

Kirkilas expressed his opinion about Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in Prague

In Prague, where was the second European Nuclear Energy Forum, Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas participated in the meeting with President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and the prime ministers of Slovenia, the Baltic States and the Visegrad Group Countries.

The meeting focused on the importance of nuclear energy for the European Union, as ELTA was informed by the Lithuanian government. According to Kirkilas, from the economic viewpoint, nuclear energy is among the most attractive alternatives to other energy resources, and at the same time it is an important tool in combating global warming.

Kirkilas told about the progress in preparing the project on a new nuclear power plant in Lithuania. He described Lithuania’s situation with regard to energy supply and threats to country’s energy and national security after 2009. Lithuania, said Kirkilas, was like an island within the EU in terms of energy supply, and the construction of power bridges with Poland and Sweden would take another few years. In addition to that, import of electricity would be hardly possible, and Lithuanian energy sector would largely depend on a single external supplier.

The prime ministers shared the opinion that energy security is a question of solidarity and common responsibility of the EU. Kirkilas emphasized that Lithuania would stick to its international obligations, however, considering that implementation of measures compensating for the closure of Ignalina NPP could not realistically be expected before 2012, and that there was increasing public demand to extend its operation, a decommissioning regime alternative to the "immediate shutdown" was worth serious consideration.

(Source: The Baltic Course)

Uranium fuel for Kudankulam power plant arrives

The first consignment of Uranium fuel for unit-1 of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), arrived here on May 25.

KKNPP comprising two units of 1000 MW each are at an advanced stage of completion in technical collaboration with the Russian Federation. The two units belong to the advance design of VVER family, a pressurised water reactor that constitutes majority of power reactors in the world, the officials of Nuclear Power Corporation of India said.

These reactors use light enriched uranium (LEU) as fuel. This kind of fuel is in use in VVER 1000 MW units in several countries around the world since 1980s and has given excellent performance. The lifetime fuel supply for Kudankulam reactors is covered through a sovereign guarantee of Russian Federation.

The KKNPP is under construction at Kudankulam in Radhapuram taluk of Tirunelveli district of Tamilnadu. The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project is being set up through a bilateral agreement between the former USSR and the Republic of India. The construction activities are being carried out round the clock for an early completion of the project.

A physical progress of about 86 per cent has already been achieved. All major components have already been erected at the site. Concurrently, the pre-commissioning activities too have commenced. Indian engineers and scientist have been trained and qualified for commissioning, operation and maintenance activities of the reactor.

(Source: Sify News, India)

Monday, May 26, 2008

New Zealand too small for nuclear power - electricity chief

The head of the Electricity Commission says a nuclear power plant would be too big for New Zealand's needs.

A survey of 500 people by Research New Zealand suggests 36% of respondents believe nuclear energy should be considered.

Commission chairman David Caygill says an average-sized nuclear plant of 1000-megawatt capacity would end up creating system problems.

He says any single generation plant needs the equivalent backup in case it fails for any reason.

Mr Caygill says this is difficult enough now when the biggest single source of generation in New Zealand is 375 megawatts.

He says the cost of producing electricity at a nuclear station is about twice that of alternatives.

Mr Caygill says a nuclear power industry would also require huge infrastructure.

(Source: Radio New Zealand)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Italy's nuclear move triggers chain reaction

Italy, which last week decided to embrace nuclear power two decades after a public referendum banned nuclear power and deactivated all its reactors, could be just the first of several European countries to reverse its stance on nuclear power, a leading industry group has said. Ian Hore-Lacey, spokesman for the London-based World Nuclear Association, said: "Italy has had the most dramatic, the most public turnaround, but the sentiments against nuclear are reversing very quickly all across Europe."

When asked which nations were likely to join Britain and France as major producers of nuclear power, he replied: "Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and more."
With oil now at record high prices, countries throughout the developed world are now looking at the nuclear option.

The developing world is also looking at nuclear power, with Iran the most high-profile proponent. However, with many other countries crippled by energy costs and needing a short-term fix, the nuclear option is increasingly attractive. Despite having the perfect conditions to harness wind and solar power, South Africa, which is suffering from acute electricity shortages, has just asked American and French companies to tender to build a second nuclear plant.

Yet it is in Europe that nuclear power is being most urgently considered. The continent turned its back on nuclear power in the 1980s in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, but political and economic conditions are markedly different now. Oil was under $50 a barrel then, global warming was a fringe science and climate change had not been linked to manmade emissions.

Although economic considerations and global warming are driving the debate, energy security is also an issue never far from the surface. Few European countries have their own energy reserves and are completely reliant on imports. As well as escalating prices for oil and gas, plus the political upheaval in the Middle East, Europe watched in horror in 2006 as Russia's President Vladimir Putin cut off the natural gas supply to Ukraine in a price dispute, leaving it in darkness.

Although Europe is committed to harnessing wind and solar energy, so far the problems to doing so have proved insurmountable. Solar power is problematic in northern Europe, while dense populations in many parts of the continent make it difficult to find suitable sites for wind farms.

Even biofuel, once touted as a possible panacea, has gone out of fashion as its unsustainable impact on the environment and food prices has become apparent.

Once the most-scorned form of energy, the rehabilitation of nuclear power was underscored in January when John Hutton, Labour's Minister for Business, grouped it with "other low-carbon sources of energy" like biofuels. It was barely mentioned in the Government action plan on energy three years earlier.

There is now a determination to tackle the issue head on throughout the continent. With nuclear plants taking up to 20 years from conception to becoming operational, European nations are now having to answer some very difficult questions. The dilemma of Italy, as the biggest importer of oil and gas, are the most pressing: there is no chance of reactivating sites or building new ones within the next five years.

"By the end of this legislature, we will put down the foundation stone for the construction in our country of a group of new-generation nuclear plants," said Claudio Scajola, Italy's minister of economic development. "An action plan to go back to nuclear power cannot be delayed anymore. Only nuclear plants safely produce energy on a vast scale with competitive costs, respecting the environment."

Environmental groups in Italy attacked any plan to bring back nuclear power. Giuseppe Onufrio, a director of Greenpeace Italy, called the announcement "a declaration of war", and pointed out that there are still 235 tonnes of contaminated nuclear waste stored at the decommissioned plants, and no sites for new waste to be stored.

Emma Bonino, an opposition politician and vice-president of the Italian Senate, said building nuclear plants made no economic sense because they would not be ready for at least 20 years.

Enel, Italy's leading energy provider, announced this year that it would close its oil-fired power plants because the fuel had become too costly. Italians pay the highest energy prices in Europe. Enel has been building coal plants to fill the void left by oil. Coal plants are cheaper but create relatively high levels of carbon emissions.

Enel, which operates power plants in several European countries, already has at least one nuclear plant, in Bulgaria, and has been researching so-called fourth-generation nuclear reactors, which are intended to be safer and to minimise waste and the use of natural resources.

(Source: News.Scotsman.com)

Friday, May 23, 2008

AtomWatch on air at Jeff and Mike show

Last Saturday I had a pleasure of being a guest on air in California, San Diego, on phone in studio of Jeff and Mike show. We talked about Chernobyl accident, many aspects of it, the past secrets and the future uncertainty, and many other things. The podcast is available on the web here.

Japan May Aid Nuclear-Plant Builders' U.S. Efforts, Nikkei Says

Japan's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, a unit of the trade ministry, is considering offering financial aid to the country's nuclear-power-plant builders working on U.S. projects, Nikkei English News said, without saying where it obtained the information.

In a move to reduce investment risks of companies that participate in U.S. nuclear-plant projects, the agency might ask the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to make loans to companies such as Toshiba Corp., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Hitachi Ltd., the news service reported.

U.S. and Japanese energy officials are scheduled to meet May 23 in Tokyo to discuss Japan's policy on aid to the U.S., which plans to build 30 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years, Nikkei said.

Japan has an increasing stake in the U.S. nuclear market, the news service said. Toshiba, which bought Monroeville, Pennsylvania-based nuclear-power-systems builder Westinghouse Electric Co., has secured orders in the U.S., and Hitachi is exploring the U.S. market by teaming up with General Electric Co., Nikkei said.

(Source: Bloomberg)

Rosenergoatom Denies Rumors of Incident at Nuclear Plant

MOSCOW. May 21 (Interfax) - Rosenergoatom, which runs all nuclear power plants in Russia, has denied rumors about an incident at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, saying the plant is operating normally.

"The Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant is operating normally," Rosenergoatom's Technical Director Nikolai Sorokin told reporters on Wednesday.

Sorokin said this is not the first rumor about an incident at a nuclear power plant. "I do not know what it is, hooliganism or something more," he said.

He recalled a similar incident that occurred in the south of Russia about one and a half years ago, when someone spread rumors about an incident at the Volgodonsk Nuclear Power Plant.

Rosenergoatom Deputy Director Vladimir Asmolov said such rumors can be caused by things such as regional training exercises conducted by agencies such as the Emergency Situations Ministry, when "people in white clothes appear."

Asmolov did not rule out that opponents of nuclear energy may be behind these rumors. "The organizers [of such actions] are very media savvy, and it is possible," he said.

(Source: RedOrbit)

French power myths

France may export massive amounts of nuclear power, but that success doesn't come without its difficulties

In his rebuttal to Lawrence Solomon's May 13 column on France's nuclear power system, French ambassador Daniel Jouanneau made a number of highly misleading claims (letter, May 16). These assertions are especially relevant in light of France's recent entry into Ontario's potential multi-billion market, in which Franco-German Areva NP, the world's largest nuclear vendor, is competing against Japanese-owned Westinghouse Electric Co. and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

Working in France on nuclear issues for 25 years, four of them as a direct advisor to the Environment Minister's Office, I am familiar with the French nuclear establishment. The Ontario government should thoroughly scrutinize both the French nuclear program in general and, in particular, the ongoing difficulties of Areva NP in meeting quality-control standards, deadlines and budget terms at its current building sites in Finland and France.

The ambassador's general claims conveniently confuse electricity and energy. While nuclear energy provides 78% of France's electricity, this corresponds to only 18% of the total energy that consumers use. In other words, France's nuclear program does not come close to "ensuring its energy independence." Oil meets almost half, and fossil fuels over 70%, of France's final energy needs, as is the case in many other countries. Moreover, all of France's uranium is imported.

"Since 1970, 50% of France's CO2 emissions have been avoided thanks to nuclear energy." That statement by the French ambassador is flatly wrong. France's carbon dioxide emissions in 2006 were some 13% lower than in 1970, but even higher than by the middle of the 1980s.

"Efficiently meeting the power needs of its population"? Let's rather say, the government-owned electricity utility -- Electricite de France (EDF) -- deploys massive efforts to encourage ever more electricity use, in particular in the form of highly inefficient space heat. Picture this: To generate electricity, you heat water and lose between half (a modern gas plant) and two-thirds (a nuclear plant) of the energy in the transformation process, plus an additional 7% to 10% in the grid before the electricity heats air in the home. A modern natural gas or oil-based central heating system loses less than 10% of the energy in the form of waste heat.

"Environmentally responsible"? The Hague plutonium factories emit thousands of times the amount of radioactivity of a French nuclear power plant and cause a collective dose to the world population comparable with those that resulted from the major accidents in 1957 at Kyshtym in Russia or Windscale in the U. K.

France's nuclear energy policy is anything but "innovative." The best example is the nuclear establishment's total inability to adapt to the failure of the plutonium-fuelled fast-breeder program. Having squandered tens of billions of dollars on the plutonium economy, it now sits on two giant plutonium factories at The Hague, despite having lost nearly all of its foreign commercial reprocessing clients. Yet Areva continues to boast that one gram of plutonium is "equivalent" to one ton of oil. It is amazing that such an apparently valuable resource gets a zero value in the accounts of EDF, owner of a stunning 50-ton plutonium stockpile -- at US$100 per barrel of oil, the plutonium should be worth more than US$30-billion! Even more amazing, the Dutch pay EDF to rid them of their plutonium separated at The Hague. Usually, one sells a valuable resource.

(read more)
(Source: National Post)

Barroso: Nuclear energy to help fight climate change

Nuclear energy, a cheap and carbon-free source, could contribute to Europe's battle against climate change, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Thursday. Nuclear energy "can help protect our economies against price volatility and reduce dependence on imported gas," Barroso told a nuclear-energy forum in Prague. Barosso, however, said that the European Commission will not promote nuclear power to EU members who have "an absolute right to choose freely."Some EU countries, such as Austria, fiercely oppose nuclear power. The commission's package of climate change and renewable energy proposals omits nuclear power. Currently 15 members in the 27-member bloc generate power in nuclear reactors, Barroso said. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, where such a conference was first held in November, have been pushing for a nuclear-power revival. "It is clear to all of us that without nuclear we are unable to ensure energy security in Europe," Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said at a news conference. Before entering the union in 2004, Slovakia was among several prospective members who made a commitment to close down its Soviet-era nuclear reactors. Slovakia and Lithuania would now like to extend their operation in a bid that would require renegotiating their accession agreements and the approval of other member states. "We have to stand by our commitments," Fico said. The only way out is "to reach a new agreement."Slovakia agreed to close down two nuclear reactors at the Jaslovske Bohunice plant by 2009. The move will result in the central European booming economy importing 20 per cent of its energy, Fico said. "We need realistic answers on how to secure such a large fallout that is awaiting us in 2009," he said. According to Fico, the Jaslovske Bohunice plant was safe and business interests to build new plants in Slovakia were behind the upcoming closure. Lithuania faces similar obstacles after shutting down its nuclear plant near a town of Ignalina at the end of 2009. Construction of a new nuclear plant is lagging behind.

(Source: The Earth Times)

Electrabel confirms interest in Belene nuclear power plant

Electrabel of Belgium, one of the two candidates shortlisted in the tender to pick a strategic investor for Bulgaria’s second nuclear power plant at Belene, confirmed its interest in the project, Bulgaria’s Economy and Energy Minister Petar Dimitrov told reporters emerging from a meeting with the company’s vice-president for Central Europe, Jean Claude Dorcimont, Dnevnik daily reported on May 21.

The deadline for filing final offers to acquire up to 49 per cent in the future company to build and operate the Belene power plant is early June. According to Dorcimont, Electrabel’s interest in Bulgaria includes also investments in hydro-power, wind and other power plants.

The meeting comes shortly after the economy minister met representatives of Germany’s RWE, the other shortlisted candidate. He then dismissed reports in the German press that the company would withdraw from the procedure over environmental concerns and doubts that the technology to be used at Belene was hazardous.

Czech CEZ, Italy's Enel and Germany's E.ON were all shortlisted by Bulgaria's National Electricity Company (NEC) at an earlier stage, but did not make the final cut.

NEC will hold the remaining 51 per cent in Belene, which, Bulgarian authorities hope, would once again make the country a major electricity exporter in South-Eastern Europe, after it had to shut down Soviet-built reactors at its Kozloduy power plant before joining the European Union in January 2007.

Belene's twin 1000-MW reactors would be built by Russia's Atomstroiexport, controlled by gas company Gazprom, with France's Areva and Germany's Siemens as subcontractors. The construction costs have been set at four billion euro, but the total outlay on the project is expected to be closer to seven billion euro.

At his meeting with Dimitrov, Dorcimont also expressed Electrabel's interest in participating in the Gorna Arda cascade and the construction of a gas-powered facility.

(Source: Sofia Echo)

Italy to reverse policy and build nuclear power stations: minister

The Italian government said Thursday it would begin building nuclear power stations, reversing a 20-year ban in an initiative likely to spark strong resistance and take a long time to come to fruition.

"During the term of this parliament, we will lay the first stone for the construction in our country of a group of new-generation nuclear power stations," Economic Development Minister Claudio Scajola told the Italian employers' federation Confindustria.

"We can no longer avoid an action plan for a return to nuclear power," he said, recalling a campaign pledge by Italy's newly named right-wing prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, to take such a step.

"Only nuclear power stations can produce energy on a large scale, in a secure way at competitive costs and one that respects the environment."

A decision to abandon nuclear power was taken in a 1987 referendum following the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986. The country's four nuclear plants operating at the time were shut down.

But Confindustria head Emma Marcegaglia said the time has now come "to invest in nuclear energy" as the country has become too dependent on foreign sources of oil and gas.

Following the Confindustria meeting, Fulvio Conti, head of Italy's principal power group Enel, said his company was "technically ready" to take part in the initiative, the Ansa news agency reported.

"It's a good start on the part of the government, which confirms the need to diversify (energy) sources and to invest in infrastructure," he said. The Italian government controls a 30 percent stake in Enel.

Conti last month said it would likely take "seven to 10 years for a new nuclear generator to come online."

Italy has suffered occasional power shortages in recent years, due in part to problems with its electricity distribution network.

In September 2003, the entire country was hit by a power cut because of problems with the supply of electricity bought from Switzerland.

As with other countries in Europe, Italy buys power at peak periods from neighbours, including France where most electricity is nuclear generated.

In the winter of 2006 the government had to impose economy measures and tapped into its strategic reserves in the face of an interruption in Russian gas supplies.

Italy depends on foreign sources for 87 percent of its energy needs. Oil accounts for 43 percent and gas 36 percent of its energy use.

Russia and Algeria along account for 67 percent of Italy's gas needs. Sixty percent of the country's electricity output is powered by gas, according to Enel.

A return to the nuclear option promises to be long and complicated, not least because of expected political and activist opposition.

"The creation of a body to manage nuclear power, the authorisation to build a facility and the construction of the first plant means that the first station would have trouble becoming operational before 2020," Edison, another Italian energy group, said recently.

The government's announcement Thursday sparked criticism from groups such as Legambiente, the country's leading environmental defence association, which pledged to mount "very determined" opposition and questioned where the government would get the money to finance its nuclear ambitions.

"Mr. Scajola speaks of a new generation reactor, suggesting that it would be the fourth generation, which is still at an embryonic stage," said Legambiante president Vittorio Cogliati Dezza.

"Those reactors, if all goes well, would be ready 20 to 25 years from now."

Ermete Realacci, environmental spokesman for the leftist Democrat Party: "To return to nuclear power in Italy in five years time (the life of the current parliament) is a political statement."

(Source: AFP)

Suspects in Swedish E.ON nuclear plant sabotage probe released - police

OSKARSHAMN, Sweden (Thomson Financial) - Two contractors suspected of planning to sabotage a nuclear power plant partly owned by E.ON AG in southern Sweden using explosives have been released from custody, police said on Thursday.

'After completing the interrogations with the detained, the prosecutor has today decided to release them, but the suspicions remain,' Sven-Erik Karlsson of the Kalmar county police told reporters in Oskarshamn, where the plant is located.

The two Swedes were arrested on Wednesday after a routine security control at the entrance to the plant detected traces of highly explosive material on the handle of a plastic bag one of the men was carrying.

The men, who according to police were born in 1955 and 1964, had been working for several weeks as welders on one of the plant's three reactors, which had been shut down for maintenance.

A search of that reactor, called reactor two, turned up no explosives or other suspicious material, police said, adding that a second reactor was also being shut down to be searched.

'Both deny any wrongdoing. They have no explanation whatsoever for what has happened,' Karlsson said, adding one of the men had a criminal record, but only for petty crimes.

The explosive material detected was believed to be TATP, which is relatively easy to make and has surfaced in a number of recent terrorism investigations, including bombings in the Middle East and the London bombings in July 2005.

The men's homes in the town of Norrkoeping, some 180 kilometres (110 miles) north of Oskarshamn, as well as their temporary lodgings near the nuclear plant had been searched, but nothing linked to the suspected sabotage plans had been discovered, Karlsson said.

The plastic bag that set off the alarm only contained toiletries, police said, adding that both the bag and its contents had been sent to a national forensics lab for analysis.

The company that runs the plant, OKG, meanwhile tried to defuse speculation that its explosive detection equipment made a mistake.

'When the welder was stopped because the equipment indicated something on his plastic bag, further tests were done,' OKG spokesman Anders Oesterberg said in a statement, adding 'there was no doubt' there was an illegal substance on the bag.

While the two other reactors at the plant remained up and running all day Wednesday, OKG said Thursday morning it was shutting down the one closest to the reactor the men worked on, so it too could be searched.

'When you have access to unit number two you also have some formal access to some areas of unit number one,' OKG spokesman Roger Bergman told AFP.

'Even though we haven't detected any movement from these two people inside this unit number one we still want to make sure that they haven't been there,' he added.

Bergman said the shutdown was expected to cost around five million kronor (550,000 euros, 850,00 dollars) a day.

'We don't know yet how long the reactor will be stopped. It depends on the police investigation,' he said, adding that the third reactor would remain up and running.

The three boiling water reactors at the Oskarshamn plant, which is majority held by German energy giant EON, have been in service since 1972, 1974, and 1985 and produce about 10 percent of Sweden's electricity.

Nuclear power accounts for nearly half of all electricity production in Sweden, which has 10 working nuclear reactors.

(Source: Forbes)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Exelon to cooperate with watchdog on TMI

[Similar arrangements have been made in the past (e.g., Comanche Peak cooperated with antis on document access to eliminate permit opposition).]


Exelon to cooperate with watchdog on TMI
By David Dagan

Exelon Corp. agreed to help a nuclear watchdog group keep tabs on Three Mile Island for the next five years.

The agreement was reached with EFMR Monitoring Group, which is led by nuclear activist Eric Epstein. Under the deal, Epstein agreed not to file legal challenges to the relicensing of Three Mile Island Unit 1. The unit's license expires in 2014, but Chicago-based Exelon is trying to extend the life of the plant until 2034.

The pact calls for Exelon to increase local charitable giving and to help fund an upgrade of a radiation-monitoring system EFMR operates around the plant, Epstein said. The company also committed not to store nuclear waste from other plants at Three Mile Island, Epstein said. A previous deal between EFMR and Three Mile Island had expired in 2006.

EFMR also monitors York County's Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, which is co-owned by Exelon and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.

Canada halts plan for medical isotope reactors


Canada halts plan for medical isotope reactors
Decision means 51-year-old reactor will provide half the world's supply
The Associated Press
updated 6:00 p.m. ET, Fri., May. 16, 2008
TORONTO - Canada's state-owned atomic energy company said Friday that it is scrapping development of a nuclear reactor project designed to produce medical radioisotopes after it failed a number of tests.

The decision leaves Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.'s aging reactor to continue generating half the world's supply of medical isotopes.

Canada's Natural Resource Minister Gary Lunn and Health Minister Tony Clement said in a joint statement that the MAPLE project underwent a number of tests between January and April, all of which it failed.

The reactors have never worked and have never produced medical isotopes, even after 12 years, Lunn said. The project has also faced regulatory challenges and commercial disputes that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in private and public funds; technical malfunctions that could not be resolved; and reviews conducted by the Auditor General which revealed significant concerns about the costs, the delays, and the technical issues, he said.

AECL said the decision to stop development of the MAPLE reactors is based on the costs of further development, as well as the time frame and risks involved with continuing the project.

"We are making the right business decision given the circumstances," AECL president and chief executive officer Hugh MacDiarmid in a statement Friday. "This was a difficult choice given the tremendous efforts expended by our people on development of the MAPLE reactors. Nevertheless, our board of directors and senior management have concluded that it is no longer feasible to complete the commissioning and startup of the reactors."

Isotopes vital for body scans
The MAPLE reactors, described as the first in the world dedicated entirely to medical isotope production, were intended to supply the entire global demand for a radioactive substance called molybdenum-99. Molybdenum-99 is processed and packaged for sale to big hospitals and specialized pharmacies, which turn the substance into technetium-99. Technetium-99 is injected into patients undergoing body scans to assess a wide variety of conditions, including cancer, heart disease and bone or kidney illnesses.

AECL said its 51-year-old National Research Universal reactor at the Chalk River facility in eastern Ontario will remain operational under a contract with health care company MDS Nordion. This reactor provides half the world's supply of isotopes, which are used in about 25 million medical diagnoses and treatments each year.

The AECL signed a 40-year contract with MDS Nordion in 2006 to supply it with isotopes, said AECL Dale Coffin in an interview Friday.

He would not say if AECL faces penalties or fines from MDS Nordion if it cannot deliver medical isotopes

AECL was under the international spotlight late last year after the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission forced the shutdown of the NRU reactor, causing a shortage of radioisotopes, which forced postponement of medical treatments for cancer patients in many countries.

Reactor closed last year
The Canadian government bypassed the order of the safety regulator and the reactor was restarted.

The reactor "is operating safer than it ever has been before in its entire history. This decision made today is about good governance," Lunn said.

MDS President and CEO Stephen P. DeFalco said the company was "disappointed" by the latest decision.

"The company will evaluate all options and pursue appropriate steps to protect the interests of patients, its customers and its shareholders," he said in a statement.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission did not immediately respond to calls.

The NRU reactor has an operating license from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission valid through October 2011, and AECL said it will work with the commission and MDS Nordion to continue production beyond that date.

But questions linger about how long the operating license for the NRU reactor can be extended.

"Now they're going to have to go back to the commission again and ask for another licence extension," said Shawn Patrick Stensil, a Greenpeace researcher on energy issues. "The NRU started in 1957. How long can you run a reactor before you should just shut it down?

Canada's federal auditor general reported last year that the NRU reactor is "nearing the end of its useful life."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

E.ON looks at Kent sites for nuclear power stations

E.ON, the German utility, has earmarked two greenfield sites in Kent as possible locations for new nuclear power stations.

The company is considering using its existing oil-fired power station at the Isle of Grain, near Sheerness, and its coal-fired plant at Kingsnorth, near Ashford, as sites to develop nuclear reactors, The Times has learnt.

E.ON, which said last month that it wanted to build two new nuclear stations in Britain using French technology from Areva, would prefer to develop any new reactors on existing nuclear sites that are owned by either British Energy or the Government through the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. It views this as the ideal solution because most of these sites have receptive local communities and the planning process is less likely to be subject to local opposition and lengthy delays.

However, E.ON is considering using its own brownfield sites at the Isle of Grain and Kingsnorth as fallback options. Both existing plants are due to close by 2015 because of the European Union’s Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD), which places strict limits on their emissions.

E.ON plans to build a new, gas-fired combined heat and power plant at the Isle of Grain and a “clean” coal-fired plant at Kingsnorth, but land clearance work for the new plant at Grain has only just begun, while the Government has not approved the plant at Kingsnorth. The Kingsnorth scheme has provoked a public outcry because it would be the UK’s first coal-fired power station to be built in more than 20 years.

Of the two E.ON sites, the Isle of Grain is viewed as a stronger candidate for an application for a new nuclear power station because it lies on the coast and is relatively far from large population centres.

However, E.ON is considering nominating both sites as potential candidates for new nuclear stations before a deadline for applications of this autumn set by the Government.

The Department for Business will assess all of the proposed sites for new nuclear plants and will open a public consultation on a draft list next spring.

E.ON also owns a coal-fired power station at Ironbridge, Shropshire, that is due to close by 2015. It is considered a very unlikely candidate for a new nuclear plant because of its proximity to the Ironbridge Gorge world heritage site.

(Source: The Times Online)

Iran's neighbors looking at nuclear power: report

Growing interest in atomic power among Iran's neighbors could spiral into a nuclear arms race in the volatile Middle East unless preventive measures are taken, a leading think-tank said on Tuesday.

In a report, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said Iran's nuclear program had prompted other states in the oil-rich region to consider acquiring nuclear technology.

"In the span of 11 months between February 2006 and January 2007, at least 13 countries in the Middle East announced new or revived plans to pursue or explore civilian nuclear energy," said the report, entitled "Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East In the Shadow of Iran".

"This upsurge of interest is remarkable given both the abundance of traditional energy sources in the region and the low standing to date of nuclear energy there."

Iran's plans to open a Russian-built nuclear power station at Bushehr would make it the first country in the region to develop nuclear power. Although Tehran says its program is solely for peaceful power generation, Western powers and Middle East states say they fear Iran is trying to make a nuclear bomb.

The IISS report also looked at Israel's nuclear program, concluding that the Jewish state possesses nuclear weapons despite its refusal to confirm this publicly, and would be unlikely to give them up to secure a nuclear-free Middle East.

Iran's plans should soon make it "the exception to the rule whereby the Middle East is the only region in the world without nuclear power", the report said. "If the recent aspirations of Iran's neighbors are ever realized, this exception would become the rule".

It said the United Arab Emirates is likely to become the next country in the region after Iran with nuclear power.


Signatories to the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are allowed to pursue nuclear power but must agree to controls to prevent them from building atomic weapons.

The report said nuclear power programs in the Middle East could make it easier for countries to develop weapons programs if the NPT breaks down. Treaty rules should be better enforced.

"Rules need to be rigorously enforced if the benefits of nuclear energy are to be enjoyed without proliferation risk; yet the international record on enforcement is poor.

"Violators of NPT-required safeguards agreements, export control regulations and U.N. Security Council mandates on non-proliferation have faced few real penalties. The problem is worst in the Middle East," it said.

Unlike other Middle Eastern countries, Israel has not signed the NPT. The report concluded that Israel has had atomic weapons for decades despite its official policy of "nuclear ambiguity".

"As Iran reaches one technological milestone after another in its journey towards acquiring a nuclear-weapons capability, Israel will face a sequence of dilemmas and be forced to make a series of fateful decisions as to whether and how it can live with this eventuality," it said.

Israel is unlikely to give up its own bomb as part of a deal to make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone if Iran succeeds in developing nuclear weapons, the IISS report added.

"Under the present circumstances, if prevention fails, Israelis would not look to arms control as a solution."

(Source: Reuters)

Uranium shortage hits Indian nuclear power

Some of the uranium mining projects have been hampered due to delay in getting environmental clearances and also on account of the difficult terrain in which the mines are located.

Shortage of uranium and a shut-down at four plants dragged down revenues and profit of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd for the fiscal ended March 2008.

The corporation’s net profit for the year dipped by 31 per cent to Rs 1,078 crore, from Rs 1,570 crore the previous year.

Income from operations declined by 7 per cent, to Rs 3,333 crore from Rs 3,592 crore.

Mr S Thakur, Executive Director (Corporate Planning), said that due to insufficient uranium supply, power production for the year fell to about 16,960 MU (million units) in 2007-08 from 18,000 MU the previous year.

Shutdown of plants

The lack of uranium supply was compounded by the shut-down of Narora-I, Kaiga-III, Rajasthan-II and Madras-I plants. These 220 MW plants are under going technical upgradation, said Mr. Thakur.

The average plant load factor has decreased to 60 per cent from 90 per cent achieved last year. The 220 MW plants are now running at 150 to 160 MW so as to optimally use the fuel (uranium), he said.

He said that some of the uranium mining projects have been hampered due to delay in getting environmental clearances and also on account of the difficult terrain in which the mines are located. A new uranium mill, which was to go online, has also been delayed, Mr Thakur said.

Tariff reduction

Mr Thakur said the earnings of the corporation have also been affected due to tariff reduction. Per unit tariff which was Rs 2.70 in 2006-07, has reduced to Rs 2.28 per unit in 2007-08 and the benefits passed to the customers. “As the tariffs are decided for five years there is no provision to increase it,” Mr Thakur said.

NPCIL has been affected by employee attrition too, said Mr. Thakur.

(Source: The Hindu Business Line)

Monday, May 19, 2008

France's EdF confirms nuclear deal with Exelon


Last update: 6:55 a.m. EDT May 19, 2008
PARIS (Dow Jones)--French power giant Electricite de France (1024251.FR) Monday said it had signed a five-year memorandum of understanding with U.S. peer Exelon Corp. in April to exchange experience of nuclear maintenance, fuel use and plant shutdowns. The deal is "very technical" and is "in parallel" with EdF's cooperation with Constellation Energy, with which it plans to build nuclear reactors in the U.S., an EdF spokeswoman told Dow Jones Newswires. The confirmation follows a report in French newspaper Les Echos Monday, which said EdF appears to be "preparing a new breakthrough" in the U.S. As well as reporting the Exelon deal, Les Echos also cited matching reports from sources as saying that EdF's planned build-up of its stake in Constellation could happen faster than planned, possibly resulting in the company breaching the threshold of a 10% stake "in the next few months."
EdF declined to comment on that aspect of the Les Echos report but said its stake in Constellation, as of Dec. 31 2007, stood at 3.1%. A cooperation deal signed between EdF and Constellation in July 2007 foresees EdF raising its stake to up to 5% in the first year, then up to 9.9% between the first and the second year, the EdF spokeswoman said.
-By Adam Mitchell, Dow Jones Newswires, +33 1 40171740; adam.mitchell@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 19, 2008 06:19 ET (10:19 GMT)
-Contact: 201-938-5400

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Russian senior official: Peaceful nuclear energy inalienable right of Iran

Chairman of Russian Federation Council said using nuclear energy for peaceful goals is Iran's inalienable right.

According to the Ria-Novosti ( A Russian News Agency), Sergei Mironev, who is in Jerusalem to attend 60th anniversary of establishment of the Zionist regime in occupied Palestine, told reporters on Wednesday, "Iran as an independent country has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful goals under control of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)."

Underscoring Russian stance on the issue, Mironev said production of atomic weapons by Iran is impossible and continued, "We believe Iran's access to the weapon is very dangerous."
Concerning Russia-Iran nuclear cooperation, he said the cooperation has no danger regarding expansion of nuclear weapons and is continuing under full observation of international standards.

He added, "Russia is obliged to its commitments on Iran until Iran is committed to the IAEA control standards and there would be no danger in this concern."
The Federation Council is the upper chamber of the Federal Assembly and consists of 178 deputies.

(Source: Islamic Republic News Agency)

U.S.-Saudi Arabia Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Energy Cooperation

Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation. The Government of the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will establish a comprehensive framework for cooperation in the development of environmentally sustainable, safe, and secure civilian nuclear energy through a series of complementary agreements. Both of our countries face growing energy needs and we seek to address them in a responsible manner that contributes to reducing the effects of greenhouse gases on the global climate.

The United States will assist the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to develop civilian nuclear energy for use in medicine, industry, and power generation and will help in development of both the human and infrastructure resources in accordance with evolving International Atomic Energy Agency guidance and standards. Saudi Arabia has stated its intent to rely on international markets for nuclear fuel and to not pursue sensitive nuclear technologies, which stands in direct contrast to the actions of Iran.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia became the 71st nation to join the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. As a partner in this multilateral initiative, Saudi Arabia will work with partner nations to address all aspects of the nuclear terrorism threat, including deterrence, denial of safe havens, detection, material confiscation, and response.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also presented the United States with a diplomatic note endorsing the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Saudi Arabia joins more than 85 states participating in the Initiative, which responds to the growing challenge posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery vehicles, and related materials worldwide. PSI participants commit to undertake measures to interdict transfers of WMD related items, exchange relevant information, and strengthen national legal authorities.

(Source: U.S. Department of State)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Japan says to help Vietnam build nuclear power plant

Japan said Thursday that it has signed an agreement to help Vietnam build its first nuclear power plant.

The Vietnamese government is preparing to start construction of the plant in 2015, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a statement.

The agreement was signed by Masashi Nakano, senior vice minister of economy, trade and industry, and his Vietnamese counterpart, Do Huu Hao, in Hanoi, the statement said.

Japan, which has 50 years of experience in nuclear power generation, will provide assistance for preparation and planning, as well as training of specialists. It will also help Vietnam establish safety regulations.

'It is very significant that a framework has been established for Japan to help Vietnam with its 50-year history in nuclear power development and its expertise in operating 55 nuclear power plants,' the statement said.

'Under this agreement, we will combine efforts at government and private sector levels to cooperate with Vietnam.'

Vietnam, which is enjoying rapid economic growth, has previously said it wants to build a nuclear power plant that would produce electricity from 2020.

The agreement signed Thursday is in part aimed at making it easier for Japanese companies to win orders for the construction in Vietnam, Kyodo News said quoting government officials.

Companies from France, South Korea and other countries are also showing strong interest in taking part in the construction, Kyodo said.

(Source: Forbes)

Nuclear plans will triple South Africa’s power prices

And Eskom GM says a mild winter will go a long way to minimise load shedding.

The government’s plan to include nuclear and renewable sources in the energy mix could push electricity bills even higher than currently foreseen, a senior Eskom official said yesterday.

The Cabinet has formally committed the country to build conventional and Pebble Bed nuclear power stations.

In his budget address to Parliament yesterday, Public Enterprise Minister Alec Erwin said South Africa had to double its generating capacity over the next 20 years but also reduce carbon emissions, “ which means that we have to diversify our primary energy sources away from coal”.

Andrew Etzinger, Eskom’s general manager: demand-side management, said yesterday that between now and 2024, SA needed to double the price of electricity to pay for capital expenditure and input costs. But if the country also opts for nuclear and renewable energy options, this will put upward pressure on costs and prices would need to increase more than threefold.

Eskom has asked for a 53% increase excluding inflation, followed by two further 50% increases over two years.

Etzinger was cautiously optimistic about winter, but said South Africa needed mild weather and an ongoing reduction in demand for electricity to see winter out without load shedding.

The system remains vulnerable.

Eskom plans to announce a winter plan, which will include its expectations for reduced demand, next week, so that people understand that the situation remains critical.

While domestic and commercial users saved between 5% and 8% during load shedding — with a total saving including industrial users of 7% — power stations still needed additional maintenance going into winter, he said.

Eskom has planned for various scenarios for winter depending on the weather and the amount of power saved. For the best outcome, SA needs a combination of good weather and demand reduction of 10%. In that case power cuts may be avoided.

“I suspect there will be days when the system is tight to the extent that we won’t meet demand,” Etzinger said, adding that the chances increased if there were three to four days of sustained cold weather across the country.

But he said current levels of demand were similar to last year, but with some additional new capacity and with maintenance and coal stocks picking up, “we are in better shape than last year”.

One of Eskom’s biggest concerns was to ensure that a 10% power saving could be locked in on a sustainable basis. This is likely to be based on quotas for certain sectors and tariffs which would include penalties and rewards. Reuters reported yesterday that the African Development Bank has lent $500- million to Eskom.

(Source: The Times.co.za)

Scotland: Nuclear power plant back in action after reactor shutdown

Torness Nuclear Power Station is back to full strength after a three-day shutdown for one of its reactors.
Reactor one was stopped at 4.20pm on Wednesday last week due to a "routine maintenance issue", but was back working again by 3.26pm on Saturday.

Plant owner British Energy did not release any more details on the problem but it was not thought to be significant.

The last shutdown at Torness happened on April 12 when a reactor was closed for a planned repair to the turbine generator water system. The reactor was back in service on April 28. There have now been nine stoppages at Torness in 12 months.

The Scottish Government has recently pledged to extend the life of Hunterston B to at least 2016, and keep the younger Torness plant running "until the end of its operational life".

This will take it until 2023 but there are no plans to replace the reactors beyond this time.

(Source: News Scotsman)