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, June 11, 2009

Nuclear fusion power project to start in slimmed-down version


By Laurence Chabert, AFPJune 9, 2009

People look at tractors working on the future International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) site in Cadarache, southern France, in 2008. A multi-billion-dollar project to prove whether nuclear fusion, the power that fuels the Sun, can be a practicable energy source is to be scaled down in its early stages, sources said on Monday.Photograph by: Anne-Christine Poujoulat, AFPMARSEILLE, France – A multi-billion-dollar project to prove whether nuclear fusion, the power that fuels the Sun, can be a practicable energy source is to be scaled down in its early stages, sources said on Monday.

The test reactor, to be built at a site in southern France, will start its experiments in 2018 as scheduled but will initially be built in a slimmed-down form, they said.

"Discussions are underway about the best timetable," Catherine Cesarsky of France's Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) told journalists on the sidelines of a science conference here.

"There is a new commissioning strategy, a detailed discussion about the machine's deployment."

A decision approving the change will be put next week to the partners in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), she said.

Launched in 2006 after years of debate, the scheme aims at building a testbed at Cadarache, near Marseille, to see whether fusion, so far achieved in a handful of labs at great cost, can be a feasible power source.

Its seven backers are the European Union (EU), China, India, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States. Kazakhstan is poised to become the eighth member.

Nuclear fusion entails forcing together the nuclei of light atomic elements in a super-heated plasma, held in a doughnut-shaped chamber called a tokamak, so that they make heavier elements and in so doing release energy.

The process, used by the Sun and other stars, would be safe and have negligible problems of waste, say its defenders.

In contrast, nuclear fission, which entails splitting the nucleus of an atom to release energy, remains dogged by concerns about safety and dangerously radioactive long-term waste.

Cesarsky said the first experiments would begin on schedule in 2018 "but with a machine that will be less complete than initially thought."

"Technically, it is far more valuable to do the first plasma with an ITER that is not completely finished, because if there is a simple problem it can be detected."

A spokesman for ITER told AFP that the scaled-down version would entail using hydrogen initially.

Key experiments using tritium and deuterium, designed to validate fusion as a producer of large amounts of power, would not take place until 2026, the spokesman said.

This would be around five years later than previously scheduled.

The planned changes will be submitted to the ITER council, meeting in Mito, Japan, on June 17 and 18, he said.

The council will meet again in November to make a new assessment of costs, the official said.

Four years ago, ITER was priced at around 10 billion euros (13.8 billion dollars today), spread among its stakeholders, led by the EU, which has a 45-percent share.

Five billion euros (6.9 billion dollars) would go to constructing the tokamak and other facilities, and five billion euros to the 20-year operations phase.

Last month, the British science journal Nature said construction costs "are likely to double" and the cost of operations "may also rise."

If ITER is a success, the next step would be to build a commercial reactor, a goal likely to be further decades away.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

Babcock & Wilcox planning mini nuclear reactor


By DUNCAN MANSFIELD - Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Babcock & Wilcox Co. announced plans Wednesday for a new class of mini nuclear reactors to be built in North American factories and shipped by rail to generating sites, and the Tennessee Valley Authority is evaluating what could become the first reactor location in Tennessee.

"This important project, we believe, will be a milestone in the nuclear renaissance," Brandon Bethards, CEO of Lynchburg, Va.-based B&W said during a teleconference from Washington.

The advanced light water reactor, named the "B&W mPower," represents "the harvesting of decades of nuclear manufacturing and design experience to provide a cutting-edge power generation source with emissions-free operation," he said.

The reactors will generate 125 megawatts - about one-tenth the size of a conventional commercial nuclear reactor - and offer several passive safety design features, including an underground containment that could accommodate storage for all of the spent fuel the reactor would use in a 60-year operating life.

A single reactor could power about 100,000 homes or a large factory. But more reactors can be added if needed.

The company plans to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for design certification by 2011 and have the first unit under construction by 2015 and powered up in 2018.

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said B&W's licensing timeline is "not unreasonable, but at this point it is completely hypothetical." Other companies, including Toshiba, have discussed small reactors with the NRC, though none has submitted an application yet.

Burnell said the B&W design should contain many systems and technologies the NRC is familiar with in a standard pressurized water reactor. But building a reactor underground may require additional seismic analysis.

Knoxville-based TVA has signed a memorandum of understanding to assist the project by evaluating environmental conditions for a possible site for the first reactor. TVA nuclear executive Jack Bailey said TVA will examine a 1,300-acre site in nearby Oak Ridge where the scrapped Clinch River Breeder Reactor was to be built in the 1980s.

"I think you are coming into the market at the right time," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, a longtime nuclear power advocate who hopes to see hundreds of manufacturing jobs created at B&W plants near Cleveland and Akron, as well as in Indiana, to build the reactor.

B&W expects to add up to 500 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the next few years in Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, Tennessee and possibly Canada just to get the reactor through design and licensing, said John Fees, CEO of B&W's Houston-based parent company, McDermott International.

Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, and Tennessee Reps. Lincoln Davis and Zach Wamp also gave their support during the teleconference.

Alexander, the Senate's third-ranking Republican, has proposed the United States build 100 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years - doubling the 104 now in operation - in response to global climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"My fellow Tennessean Al Gore, who has won the Nobel Prize for his campaign on the dangers of global warming, has a line he often uses about nuclear power - 'Nuclear may have a role to play, but unfortunately reactors only come in one size - extra large,'" Alexander said.

"Well, until today, Al Gore has been right," Alexander said, calling the mini reactor a new alternative. "Global warming may be the inconvenient problem, but especially after today, nuclear power is the inconvenient answer," he said.

TVA and Chicago-based Exelon Corp. will participate in an industry council advising B&W on the mini reactor. Exelon operates 17 reactors at 10 plants, while TVA has six reactors at three sites, is finishing a seventh reactor and planning up to four more.

"We believe the (mini reactor) has the potential to be game changing, yet is also practical and lower risk for the energy industry at a time when it is clearly in need of new solutions for a cleaner, more efficient future," said Craig Lambert, Exelon's vice president for nuclear engineering.

Friday, June 5, 2009

First wave or second wave for US nuclear projects?

I wrote an article for the June 2009 Nuclear Power International on the strategy being followed by US nuclear projects. Most projects are proceeding toward a potential first wave construction start, even though only a few (perhaps only those that get acceptable DOE loan guarantees) will actually start construction in the first wave.

Waiting until 2012 (when COL approvals should come) to decide to postpone a nuclear project may be much more expensive than moving to a thoughtful second-wave strategy now. Some companies, including Entergy and Ameren, seem to have decided to shift to the second wave already.

The article is at

Thursday, June 4, 2009

China eyes Sanmen nuclear plant expansion end-2011


Thu Jun 4, 2009 2:34am EDT

SANMEN, China, June 4 (Reuters) - China hopes to start building the next phase of its Sanmen nuclear plant by the end of 2011, the head of the project company said on Thursday. Sanmen in Zhejiang province, near Shanghai, is one of two sites in China where Westinghouse, a unit of Toshiba Corp (6502.T), and the Shaw Group (SGR.N) are building the first of their AP1000 reactors, so-called "third generation" nuclear plants.

The firms have started building the first phase -- two of a total planned six AP1000 reactors -- and expect it to start operating in 2013.

"There's some preparations and contracts to sign, but we hope to be launching construction of the second phase by the end of 2011," Gu Jun, general manager of China National Nuclear Corp Sanmen Nuclear Power Plant, told reporters at the site.

The consortium is building the plant under a technology transfer programme. China -- which wants to be in a position to build AP1000 reactors on its own by 2020 -- expects to complete the final phase without foreign help.

"We hope that units 5 and 6 will be built by ourselves," Gu said.

Westinghouse's AP1000 technology rivals the "third generation" design of Areva SA (CEPFi.PA), the European Pressurised Reactor, which is also being built in China.

Both firms are hoping their technology will become the favourite as countries across the world turn to nuclear as a reliable source of energy with low emissions.

China is leading the charge into nuclear power as it tries to wean itself off cheap but dirty coal. It has 11 working reactors capable of producing 9.07 gigawatts but wants to have 60-70 GW by 2020, about 5 percent of the total anticipated capacity.

As well as its two sites in China, Westinghouse says it has been picked to provide technology for 14 planned U.S. plants and last week said it would start talks with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India to deploy AP1000 technology there.

Areva's deputy president in China, Eric Neisse, told Reuters in an interview last month that Westinghouse's plants posed more risks than its own EPR. Its plant at Taishan in Guangdong province will be the third it has built, following projects in France and Finland. [ID:nPEK184789]

But Sanmen project manager Gu was confident about the AP1000.

"It's true that Areva's EPR is more mature than AP1000, but AP1000 has gone through a lot of R&D," he said.

"We have considered all factors: safety, cost, technology. And while there is some risk (in using untested technology), we believe the problems can be solved quickly during the construction process."