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, March 26, 2009

Values predict attitudes toward nuclear power


March 25th, 2009 Concerns about climate change and energy independence have led to renewed calls for the resurgence of nuclear power. Therefore, it is important to understand the level of and bases for public attitudes, both supporting and opposing nuclear power. According to a new study published in the March issue of the journal Risk Analysis, the American public is ambivalent about nuclear power. Public support is highest among those who trust the nuclear industry and the agencies that regulate it, and traditional values predicted support of nuclear power.

Stephen C. Whitfield of Booz, Allen and Hamilton, Inc., Eugene A. Rosa of Washington State University, and Amy Dan and Thomas Dietz of Michigan State University examined data from a U.S. national survey to see whether public attitudes toward nuclear power were affected by perceptions of risk as well as people's values, beliefs, and trust in the institutions that influence nuclear power.

Results show that perceived risk is lowest among those who trust the nuclear industry and its regulators. Trust in nuclear power is a key factor in public support.

Traditional values, such as assigning importance to family, patriotism and stability predicted support of nuclear power. People associated with altruistic values, such as concern with the welfare of other humans and species, were the least supportive of nuclear power. Less trust and lower education predicted greater perceived risk of nuclear power. Surprisingly, concern with global environmental problems, such as climate change, did not lead to increased support for nuclear power.

The findings are consistent with a long line of survey evidence and suggest that unless trust in the nuclear industry and its regulators can be increased, the hopes for a resurgence of nuclear power in the U.S. may be premature.

"The primary cause of attitudes toward nuclear power is a deficit in public trust of the industry and of the federal agencies that regulate it," the authors note. "Trust is a fundamental factor in public perceptions of risk and support for nuclear and other technologies."

Source: Wiley (news : web)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Palo Verde nuclear plant clears federal oversight



Regulators affirm station has improved safety performance

by Ryan Randazzo

More than two years of intensified federal oversight ended for the nation's largest power plant Tuesday, as regulators affirmed that operator Arizona Public Service Co. had improved safety performance at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.

The move will benefit APS, which has spent millions to pay for on-site regulators and additional inspections at the plant 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix.

The move also benefits utility customers and the seven utilities that own the plant. With more reliable performance predicted from the plant, Palo Verde is less likely to suffer unexpected shutdowns, which force the companies to buy replacement power at a higher price - costs often passed on to customers.

The plant's upgrade from the most-regulated "Column 4" category - one step away from a forced shutdown - in just longer than two years was among the fastest recoveries on record, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

APS replaced its management team at the plant, tried to improve communications within the facility and emphasized a culture of safety among the nearly 3,000 people who work at Palo Verde.

Tuesday's announcement by the NRC moved the plant back to "Column 1," the category for plants operating normally, although it will require some additional inspections to ensure the plant maintains the ranking.

"We have seen notable improvements," NRC branch chief Mike Hay told Palo Verde executives Tuesday night. "It appears those actions are sustainable. However, that is a prediction. The outcome is really in your hands."

Palo Verde officials said the plant must strive to keep things running well.

"This is a milestone," said Randy Edington, executive vice president and chief nuclear officer. "We should celebrate, then we need to immediately look at what is industry excellence . . . and strive to be the absolute best."

Palo Verde had enjoyed several years of smooth operation until troubles began in 2003, when the plant had to be shut down unexpectedly several times because of mechanical problems.

Nuclear plants emphasize preventative maintenance. This means mechanical problems are supposed to be identified before they require unplanned shutdowns and ideally be fixed during the planned refueling shutdowns each of Palo Verde's reactors requires every 18 months.

Special investigative teams were sent to the plant several times in 2004 as the troubles continued.

In 2005, Palo Verde was fined $50,000 and given more scrutiny from the NRC because it inappropriately maintained water pipes in the core-cooling system, which the regulatory commission deemed a "substantial safety issue."

Twice the next year investigators found a backup diesel generator inoperable. Coupled with previous employee reports of mistrusting management, the NRC became concerned that employees were not adequately addressing the plant's problems.

In early 2007, the NRC notified APS that the plant was in "Column 4," one level above being shut down, when the issues with the generator were deemed substantial, partly because employees didn't have a questioning attitude about the cause of the problem.

Palo Verde already had begun to make changes in the weeks before it was notified of its Column 4 listing, announcing the retirement of the executive overseeing the plant in late 2006 and hiring Edington as chief nuclear officer.

More than 160 people, nearly all APS employees, showed up Tuesday at the Tonopah Valley High School auditorium near the plant to hear the NRC's report and ask the regulators questions.

One 20-year employee told the regulators that "frontline" employees got the message and planned to be vigilant about safety.

"A lot of us might say that it was management that got us here in the first place," Jerry Kingston of Peoria, a mechanic at the plant, said to the NRC officials. "The front line will not let management get us back in this predicament."

Arizona Corporation Commission Chairwoman Kris Mayes said she is hopeful the plant will stay out of trouble and continue to operate with minimal unplanned shutdowns.

"This is a plant that Arizonans paid for, and they deserve to have it running," Mayes said.

The poor status of the plant also was one of the concerns that credit agencies cited as a threat to APS' credit rating, Mayes said.

Returning to Column 1 reduces the threat of the credit rating slipping, which would impact the utility and its customers with higher borrowing costs.

That threat led the commission to grant an emergency rate increase in December and one of the reasons company executives are asking for a permanent rate increase that would boost household bills 9.4 percent, or about $11 a month.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nuclear technology tracks Caribbean pollution

[Another example of nuclear technology outside the power sector]


by Staff Writers
Panama (AFP) March 16, 2009
A UN agency is using nuclear material and technologies to study coastal pollution in a dozen Caribbean countries caused mainly by oil refineries, its officials said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is focusing on marine pollution in this project because the sea is vital to the region, accounting for up to 60 percent of the gross domestic products of some countries.

"We are using nuclear techniques to study and improve the environment," said Joan Albert Sanchez-Cabeza, who is responsible for radiometry at the IAEA's marine laboratories in Monaco.

Sanchez-Cabeza said the IAEA is gauging the presence in Caribbean waters of heavy metals like lead, zinc and nickel, as well as pesticides and plaguicides, and studying how it has evolved over time.

Radioactive isotopes like lead 210, cesium 137, or carbon 14 are used to trace those changes in a given place "to see what measures have been taken and what has or has not worked," the Spanish scientist said.

He said they examine sediments because "they are like a book."

"Everything that humans do leaves an impression somewhere -- in lake beds, in the rings of trees, the ice sheets, among others," he said.

He said the project has already established levels of pollution in some areas for the first time, but it will be some months before there are overall results.

"These techniques are helpful to governments because they enable them to see where there have been improvements in terms of environmental pollution and where more needs to be done," said Misael Diaz, a Cuban researcher with the Center of Environmental Studies in Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Diaz is working on the IAEA's most advanced environmental study, in the Bay of Havana.

"To draw conclusions, we need to compare current data with the historic use of this ecosystem," he said.

Jane Gerardo-Abaya, who directs the IAEA program, said people sometimes worry when they hear radioactive materials are being used in the study, but she attributed that to a lack of public information.

"These techniques are valid, very useful and harmless because our mandate is to ensure the peaceful use of atomic energy," she said.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Taiwan Power Delays New Nuclear Plant Launch, Seeks More Funds


TAIPEI -(Dow Jones)- Government-owned monopoly utility Taiwan Power Co. has to delay the start of commercial operations at its No. 4 nuclear power plant by two years to 2011 and ask the government for more funds, company spokeswoman Tu Yueh-Yuan said Wednesday.

The plant has been plagued by construction delays, soaring raw material prices, and at one point, a decision by the previous administration to halt construction altogether because of its "nuclear-free homeland" policy.

The budget for the No. 4 plant's two units was originally NT$233.55 billion ( US$6.77 billion), but now Taiwan Power wants to ask the government for about NT$ 40 billion more, said Tu.

"We need more funds mainly because of rising construction costs and the depreciating Taiwan dollar," said Tu.

The figures are not final, as the final new budget must be approved by the government, she said.

Taiwan Power operates three nuclear reactors with a total of six power generating units and a capacity of 5,144 megawatts, or 13.1% of its total installed capacity.

The No. 4 nuclear power plant, built in Lungmen, Taipei County, will operate two units with a planned capacity of 2,700 MW.

Commercial operations at the no. 1 unit are now planned to start in December 2011 instead of July 2009, while trial operations may start in late 2010, said Tu.

"The control and information system will be installed much later than we expected, which is the cause of the delay," said Tu, adding the No. 2 unit will likely start commercial operations one year after the first one.

The Lungmen plant will be connected to the grid already during trial operations, but electricity supply won't be stable because of the testing done during the period, she said.

-By Alex Pevzner, Dow Jones Newswires; 8862-2502-2557; alex.pevzner@ dowjones.com

Chinese expert warns of nuclear talents vacuum

[Despite the large construction infrastructure, it appears China has nuclear workforce supply concerns.]


Last Updated(Beijing Time):2009-03-04 09:45

China is in great need of nuclear science talents from the young generation, a nuclear physicist said on Tuesday.
Zhu Zhiyuan, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Shanghai Branch, said China must step up efforts to attract and cultivate more young nuclear talents, in order to meet the demand of the country's future development.

China, realizing the huge potential of the nuclear power as a "clean energy", has already strengthened nuclear science education in recent years, said Zhu, who is here to attend the annual session of the National People's Congress, China's top legislative body.

However, these efforts could not at once make up for the lack of nuclear specialist education in the country caused by previous insufficient attention towards the field for more than a decade.

"Many young people at the time were simply afraid of nuclear technologies, while others assumed the prospect of nuclear power as unpromising," Zhu said.

Even now, few of the students enrolled in nuclear physics departments of Chinese universities or research institutes chose the field as their top choice, Zhu said, adding that he himself chose the subject inspired by Nobel Laureate Lee Tsung-Dao and Yang Chen-ning back in the 1970s along with many youths of his age.

He said the country's development of nuclear power and the civil or medical use of nuclear technologies are both indispensable from the cultivation of nuclear talents.

"China now needs a batch of young ambitious people to devote themselves to the nuclear science, to explore the world of physics," Zhu said.


Economy to slow US nuclear power growth: NRC head


LOS ANGELES, March 10 (Reuters) - An 'excessive exuberance' for expansion in the U.S. nuclear power industry has calmed because of the global credit and economic crisis, the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Tuesday.

Separately, a GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy official warned that the lack of credit will slow the pace of U.S. nuclear power development.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale Klein said in the past two years he worried whether there would be enough NRC staff to review an avalanche of licenses for new nuclear power plants, none of which have been ordered since the 1970s.

'Today, of course, the picture looks a little different ... it seems like the global economy has resolved the issue of what I referred to as an 'excessive exuberance' to be in line for the first new reactor builds,' Klein said in a speech to NRC staff in Washington.

Also on Tuesday, in response to question from Reuters, an official with reactor builder GE Hitachi said financing will slow U.S. nuclear power development.

'Recent market developments are influencing the pace of new power plant projects in the U.S. industry-wide,' said Danny Roderick, senior vice president for nuclear plant projects.

'The global financial climate is causing some U.S. customers, primarily ones that are relying on the capital markets to finance their projects, to reprioritize needs and consider options for the construction of new nuclear power plants,' he added.

While U.S. nuclear power development may be slowed, a rise is still on the way, Roderick said.

'The underlying need for power has not gone away,' Roderick said.

General Electric Co and Hitachi (Xetra: 853219 - news) separately had been building nuclear reactors since the 1950s. They created the alliance GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy in 2007 and have worked together on boiler water reactor technology since 1967.

'GE Hitachi is well-positioned to succeed in markets globally and lead the nuclear renaissance,' said Roderick.

Since 2007, the NRC has received applications for 17 new nuclear reactor operating licenses covering 28 new reactors. It expects to get a total of 22 applications for 33 new reactors by end-2010.

Last month, company sources said the field was narrowed to five U.S. companies for $18.5 billion in government-backed loans to build new nuclear power plants. One company official last month said two or three projects will get the loan help.

The cost of a new reactor ranges from $5 billion to $12 billion, depending on size, design and the site. Most new reactors are proposed to be alongside existing reactors which can hook up to existing or expanded transmission lines. This alleviates some of the resistance from local residents who are used to a nuclear power plant being nearby.

There are 104 working nuclear power reactors in the United States that provide about 20 percent of the electricity generation in the country, which is about the same as produced by natural gas power plants.

Coal-burning power plants make about half the electricity in the United States, but are also the single leading U.S. source of emissions of carbon dioxide, far and away the leading greenhouse gas.

Nuclear power emits no CO2, but its development has been thwarted in the United States since the late 1970s over safety concerns and nuclear waste storage issues.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall and Eileen O'Grady; Editing by Christian Wiessner)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Who are the Swedish antinukes?

Reflections after seeing a documentary at Roxy cinema, Örebro, Sweden
1 March, 2009

I had this event in my calender for 2 weeks ago already. The film "I have Cesium in my blood" ("Jag har cesium i blodet") by Swedish journalist and documentalist living in Brasil, Lars Westman. After the film, a discussion on nuclear waste permanent storage was announced, with my colleagues at Örebro university participating at the panel. Announcement below.

The film itself was impressive - just as the picture on the announcement. It was about a case that took place in Brasilian town Goiania in 1987 where a radioactive container from an old hospital was occasionally thrown away and found by local people who desided to dismantle it and sell as valuable metals. The case is described here.

For sure, there were a lot of personal stories, broken human lives and awful pictures of people damaged by radiation.
And after 1 hour of watching this, all the spectators were invited to the cellar of the cinema hall, where they arranged a discussion with the producer of the film Lars Westman and a few other people (among them my colleague Mats Eriksson who did a research on media images of nuclear power, and Andreas Oberstedt who teaches a course in nuclear physics at our university).

Just from the very beginning I noticed a few people in the hall who had a yellow mark on their coats... Like this (Says "Atomic power? No, thanks!):

By the time the discussion was about to start, I found myself in a room full of antinukes. It looked like they all knew each other, were very well organized, distributed leaflets and some environmental newspapers.
In some of my previous notes I was wandering why is this country so openly antinuclear when it comes to public opinion. There should be people around who write these poorly argumented articles against the development of nuclear technology, pointing back at Chernobyl and extreme cases like Brazilian one.
Now, here they are.

Not to offend anyone, but I felt like watching a POLITBURO session of Brezhnev times. Average age of the audience was around 50-60, some were much older. There were a couple of young faces (students, I suppose), and some middle age people who did not seem to be very active.

So, what did we discuss then? First, the panel spoke, and Anders Oberstedt said a key thing in the debate. He said: "All your fears come from your ignorance", meaning people who are openly against nuclear power, do not have enough information about it. An, inspite of him giving a reasonable explanation of his pro-nuclear position, showing factual information in form of graphs and figures on climate change... this audience started throwing questions and comments against him.
"Aren't you oversimplifying the reality with showing just this CO2 emission graph?" - cried an agressive guy who could well be my grandpas father. The rest applaused.
"How can I be informed and not ignorant if the papers do not publish much on this?" - said one lady. (When I commented back to her that there is enough info on the web, in case she is interested, she replied she was not a computer user).
The debate that was supposed to be about the film landed into a pro and antinuke antagonism. To the honour of Mr. Oberstedt, he could well defend his position, with reasonable argumentation. I am not sure if any of the people in the hall went away persuaded (such people as a rule are not that flexible), but status quo remained.
I agree that these people are not informed and educated well enough to see the scale of the energy challenge that their country faces. And I am not surprized that Swedish government does not have an open debate on issues like removing the ban for new reactor construction in Sweden. After years of antinuclear propaganda, it's not that easy to persuade the people who get all the information from TV and papers, and are not even willing to study and think themselves. They are too much used to the fact that someone thinks for them.
Anyway. There was no fighting this evening at the cinema cellar, the discussion was very fruitful from the point that various opinions met. As one young guy said correctly, this debate has to move from the small room to the place where many more can participate - to internet fora.