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 14, 2009

White House names Gregory Jaczko US NRC chairman


Washington (Platts)--13May2009
President Barack Obama has named Commissioner Gregory Jaczko as chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the White House announced Wednesday.

Senate confirmation is not required because Jaczko is already a member of the commission.

Jaczko, a physicist who currently is the only Democrat on the presidentially appointed commission, will replace Dale Klein as chairman. Klein said early this year that he plans to serve out the remainder of his term -- ending in June 2011 -- as a commissioner if replaced as chairman.

Before joining the commission in 2005, Jaczko was science adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid, a fierce opponent of the DOE high-level nuclear waste repository project at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, pushed for Jaczko's appointment to the commission in 2005. Jaczko's second term ends in June 2013.

"The industry expected this to happen," the industry official said of Jaczko's appointment. He said the industry will continue to work with Jaczko. "He has always had an open door," the official said.

One of the biggest issues the new chairman will have to deal with is the licensing of new reactors. In a keynote address at the NRC's Regulatory Information Conference in February, Jaczko expressed frustration that NRC?s new streamlined licensing process for new reactors wasn't operating as smoothly as had been envisioned.

Klein and Commissioners Pete Lyons and Kristine Svinicki are Republicans. No more than three members of any one political party can be appointed to the commission. One seat on the five-member commission is vacant. Lyons' first five-year term expires at the end of next month. Svinicki's first term ends in June 2012.
--Elaine Hiruo, elaine_hiruo@platts.com
--Steven Dolley, steven_dolley@platts.com

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

High-Density Deuterium Could Become Nuclear Fusion Fuel


The material is immensely heavier than water
By Tudor Vieru, Science Editor

13th of May 2009, 09:34 GMT

A few years ago, if someone would have told a scientist that humans will end up producing materials that are more dense than the core of the Sun, they wouldn't have believed it. Still, this is true now. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg are working on creating ultra-dense deuterium (more commonly known as heavy hydrogen) that will be a hundred thousand times more heavier than water is. The scientists hope that the new material will set the basis for a new form of nuclear energy production, one that is not as damaging to the environment as existing ones, and also more sustainable.

“One important justification for our research is that ultra-dense deuterium may be a very efficient fuel in laser-driven nuclear fusion. It is possible to achieve nuclear fusion between deuterium nuclei using high-power lasers, releasing vast amounts of energy. If we can produce large quantities of ultra-dense deuterium, the fusion process may become the energy source of the future. And it may become available much earlier than we have thought possible,” UG Department of Chemistry Professor Leif Holmlid, who has been the leader of the new research, shares.

Thus far, only microscopic amounts of the new stuff have been created in the German laboratory. Experts say that a cube of the ultra-dense deuterium, with a side length of just ten centimeters, weighs approximately 130 tonnes. In addition, the hydrogen atoms inside the compound are connected to each other in a much tighter manner than they usually bond in. This artificially created type of connection is very difficult to master, and that is why German researchers are currently trying to create more of the new type of deuterium. Once an efficient production method is devised, the path to creating new power plants will be opened.

“Further, we believe that we can design the deuterium fusion such that it produces only helium and hydrogen as its products, both of which are completely non-hazardous. It will not be necessary to deal with the highly radioactive tritium that is planned for use in other types of future fusion reactors, and this means that laser-driven nuclear fusion as we envisage it will be both more sustainable and less damaging to the environment than other methods that are being developed,” the expert concludes, as quoted by ScienceDaily.

Finnish regulators halt welding of piping at Olkiluoto-3


Stockholm (Platts)--12May2009
STUK has ordered a stop to welding of Olkiluoto-3 primary circuit piping due to discovery of small cracks next to some welds, Martti Vilpas, an official from the Finnish nuclear regulatory agency said in an interview May 12. STUK will not allow welding to resume until manufacturer Areva and its customer, utility TVO, submit a report outlining the root cause of the anomaly and its potential safety implications, he said. Indications of cracking were found earlier this spring during the manufacturer's inspection of welds on hot leg piping in Areva's facility in France. Vilpas said that a few weeks ago similar indications were found next to a weld on the third hot leg. The cracks are 1 to 2 millimeters in length and 1.8 millimeters deep. The piping is 76 millimeters thick. He said the defects can probably be ground out. Areva is building the 1,600-MW-class EPR at Olkiluoto-3 along with Siemens in a turnkey contract with TVO.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Asian nations take nuclear option


Tamsin Carlisle

Last Updated: May 09. 2009 4:39PM UAE / May 9. 2009 12:39PM GMT As the long-awaited nuclear renaissance shows signs of being still-born in the West, it is proceeding apace in the developing economies of Asia and the Middle East, shifting the centre of nuclear development eastwards.

While the UAE steadily lays the groundwork required for it to become the first atomic-powered state in the Arab world, China is embracing nuclear technology as it embarks on a full-scale makeover of its coal-dependent electricity sector.

In central Asia, Kazakhstan is planning to build on its unassailable position as the continent’s biggest uranium supplier to develop a civilian nuclear power industry. Elsewhere in the region, a number of states unblessed with large oil and gas resources are eyeing nuclear power as a practical means to reduce their energy imports.

Nuclear power development takes lots of time, money and political will, along with careful planning and technical know-how. In many jurisdictions, especially developed countries, it also requires a significant level of popular support. Money and support are proving to be the biggest stumbling blocks in Europe, while a lack of co-ordinated planning between governments and industry is emerging as an additional hurdle in the US.

“We are still the bad, and renewables are still the good,” Koen Beyaert, the director of communication at the Belgian Nuclear Forum, a pro-nuclear group, lamented at a nuclear energy conference earlier this year in Brussels.

Ralf Guldner, a director of the nuclear unit of E.On, the German utility, added: “So far, people have not really understood that nuclear energy can contribute significantly to solving the climate issue.”

On the money side, Xavier de Rollat, the director of corporate and investment banking at Societe Generale, has calculated that the roughly three dozen new reactors being planned for Europe outside Russia would require at least €100 billion (Dh500.04bn) of investment, which he doubts could be raised in the current financial climate. Many European countries that had announced plans to start nuclear programmes would have trouble financing them, he predicted.

Darius Montvila, the strategic projects director at the state-owned Lithuanian Electricity Organisation, told the Brussels conference: “We have chosen the technology, but financing will be difficult, given Lithuania’s size and the economic situation.” Lithuania’s economy has been hit so hard by the global recession that its government is considering seeking an emergency loan from the IMF.

Across the Atlantic, at a nuclear conference in Rockville, Maryland, organised by the energy information group Platts, delegates heard that the rules governing US federal loan guarantees for nuclear development were in conflict with state and municipal laws in parts of the country, which was hampering the federal programme’s effectiveness.

Gregory Jaczko, the commissioner of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who forecast long delays ahead for US nuclear energy development, said: “We now find ourselves making some of the same mistakes of the past.”

But China, still flush with foreign capital, does not face the financial constraints that are limiting energy investment in the West. Nor does its non-elected government have to worry about placating anti-nuclear activists. What it does face are large public health costs for respiratory illnesses related to pollution from coal-fired power plants, along with pressure from western trade partners to reduce carbon emissions. Both problems could be handily addressed by replacing ageing coal-fired generating stations with new nuclear facilities, which is apparently what China’s government intends to do.

The governments of most oil-rich Middle-Eastern countries also have money available for nuclear development, if they wish to pursue such a course. owever, only a handful of states, including the UAE, are making serious moves in this direction. Still, the region as a whole has only recently had to come to grips with growing electricity shortages caused by faster than expected population growth and industrial expansion, and public awareness that nuclear energy could help solve this problem is spreading.

In general, momentum towards the adoption of civilian nuclear power has been gathering in the region.

Despite international concerns about potential nuclear arms proliferation, it may now have reached critical mass.

Many individual Asian and Middle-Eastern countries face difficulties in their pursuit of a nuclear powered future, and new atomic power stations will not pop up overnight. But they are undoubtedly on the way, as this round-up of nuclear development activity indicates.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lessons from TMI Accident: US Nuclear Industry Scores High


April 25, Apr 25, 2009 (Asia Pulse Data Source via COMTEX) --

March 28, 1979 is a day every one in nuclear power industry wants to forget. It was on that fateful day the most serious accident occurred at Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Middletown, Pennsylvania, USA. The accident did not kill or injure any plant worker or member of the public The unit 2 (900 MWe, Pressurized Water Reactor) was operating at 97% power; some equipment malfunctioned; this, together with certain design-related problems and worker errors led to partial melt down of its core. It shook the confidence of the public.

The clean up measures to mitigate the effects of the accident were very expensive. But the environmental impact of the accident was not high. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reported that the average radiation dose to 2 million people in the area was about one millirem, compared to the dose due to natural gamma background radiation of about 100-125 millirem for the area; the maximum dose to a person at the site boundary would have been less than 100 millirem.

Several independent groups of respected professionals investigated the accident comprehensively and concluded that in spite of serious damage to the reactor, most of the radionuclides were contained; the actual release had negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or environment. (NucNet release March 23).

According to NRC the accident ?brought about sweeping changes involving emergency response planning, reactor operator training, human factors engineering, radiation protection, and many other areas of nuclear power plant operations. It also caused the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to tighten and heighten its regulatory oversight ?(NRC Fact sheet, March 2009).

The Kemeny Commission set up by Jimmy Carter, the then US president, to investigate the accident made comprehensive recommendations. The US nuclear power industry learnt many lessons from the accident. These led to make US nuclear power plants enviably efficient and safe.

In 1980, the average capacity factor (the ratio of electricity produced compared with the maximum electric power a plant can produce, operating at full power all the year around) for US nuclear power reactors was 56.3%; it increased steadily and remained consistently above 90% for the past ten years. Sixteen of the 104 reactors had capacity factors of over 100% in 2008. According to the American Nuclear Society (ANS), the clean up after the accident offered unique technological and radiological challenges. It took 12 years. So far the utility spent nearly US$973 million. The decommissioning team shipped 342 fuel canisters safely for long-term storage at the Idaho National Laboratory.

More than 1000 skilled workers carried out safely and successfully the clean up plan developed by a team of specialists. It began in August 1979, with the first shipments of accident-generated lowlevel radiological waste to Richland, Washington.

In the cleanup?s closing phases, in 1991, approximately one percent of the fuel and debris remains in the vessel.

The team emptied the last remaining water from the TMI-2 reactor in 1991. The cleanup ended in December 1993. The Unit 2 received a license from the NRC to remain as a monitored storage facility, to be decommissioned in 2014.

TMI-2 cleanup operations produced over 10.6 million litres of accident-generated water that was processed, stored and ultimately evaporated safely.

Early in the cleanup, the team completely severed TMI-2 from any connection to TMI Unit 1. The owners do not anticipate any further use of TMI-2. Over a dozen major independent health studies of the accident showed no evidence of any abnormal increase of cancers around TMI years after the accident (ANS, 2005). Specialists do not expect any adverse health effect among the populations living in the area is as the radiation doses to the population were negligible.

In June 1996, Harrisburg US District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo dismissed a class action lawsuit alleging that the accident caused health effects.

The National Cancer Institute studied the cancer mortality rates around 52 nuclear power plants including TMI and nine US Department of Energy facilities at the request of US Senator Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Committee on Labour and Human Resources. The study concluded that the survey has produced no evidence that an excess occurrence of cancer has resulted from living near nuclear facilities.

During TMI-2 accident, TMI-1 was shut down for refuelling. It remained shut down till October 1985. TMI-1 received all the benefits from the lessons learnt from the accident at TMI-2.

According to the World Nuclear Association, When TMI-1 restarted, its owners, General Public Utilities pledged that they would operate the plant safely and efficiently; they desired that it would become a leader in the nuclear power industry (WNA, 2001). The plant lives up to their expectations.

The owners of TMI-1 modified the plant and revamped the training and operating procedures in light of the lessons of TMI-2.

Since then, TMI-1 clocked many creditable records. In 1997, TMI-1 completed the longest operating run of any light water reactor in the history of nuclear power worldwide - 616 days and 23 hours of uninterrupted operation. (That run was also the longest at any steam-driven plant in the U.S., including plants powered by fossil fuels.) In October 1998, TMI employees completed three million hours of work without a lost-work day accident. In 2008, it clocked a capacity factor of 106.7%.

The licence to operate TMI-1 expires on April 19, 2014. On January 8, 2008, the utility owners have applied to operate the reactor for an additional 20 years. The NRC has issued the safety evaluation report (NRC release, March 13). Three Mile Island Alert, a nuclear watchdog founded in 1977 has opted not to oppose the plant owner?s (Exelon) application to re-license the plant through 2034.

The record performance of all US nuclear power plants post TMI may gradually remove the stigma attached to them because of the TMI accident.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Nuclear bomb tests help to identify fake whisky

[A good example of the PRACTICAL uses of nuclear science and technology. :-)]


Radioactive material flung into the atmosphere by nuclear bomb tests is helping scientists to fight the multi-million pound trade in counterfeit antique malt whisky.

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent
Last Updated: 11:55PM BST 02 May 2009

Bottles of vintage whisky can sell for thousands of pounds each, but industry experts claim the market has been flooded with fakes that purport to be several hundred years old but instead contain worthless spirit that was made just a few years ago.

Scientists have found, however, that minute levels of radioactive carbon absorbed by the barley as it grew before it was harvested to make the whisky can betray how old it is.

Researchers at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, which is funded by the National Environmental Research Council, discovered that they could pinpoint the date a whisky was made by detecting traces of radioactive particles created by nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s.

They can also use natural background levels of radioactivity to identify whiskies that were made in earlier centuries.

Dr Tom Higham, deputy director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, said: "It is easy to tell if whisky is fake as if it has been produced since the middle of the twentieth century, it has a very distinctive signature.

"With whiskies that are older, we can get a range of dates but we can usually tell which century it came from. The earliest whisky we have dated came from the 1700s and most have been from 19th century.

"So far there have probably been more fakes among the samples we've tested than real examples of old whisky."

The technique the scientists use is known as radiocarbon dating and is more commonly used by archaeologists to date ancient fragments of bone and wood.

It relies upon the fact that all living organisms absorb low levels of a radioactive isotope known as carbon 14, a heavy form of carbon which is present in low levels in the atmosphere.

After death, levels of this isotope in animal and plant remains will slowly decay away, meaning scientists can estimate their age from the amount of carbon 14 that remains in the sample.

Nuclear bomb testing in the 1950s saw levels of carbon 14 in the atmosphere rise around the world and so the amount of isotope absorbed by living organisms since this time has been artificially elevated.

Most of the tests on whiskies have been conducted for the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, which is responsible for analysing the authenticity of Scotch malt whisky.

Phials of whisky extracted from the antique bottles are sent to the laboratory in Oxford, where the scientists burn the liquid and bombard the resulting gas with electrically charged particles so they can measure the quantities of carbon 14 in the sample.

In one recent case, a bottle of 1856 Macallan Rare Reserve, which was expected to sell for up to £20,000, was withdrawn from auction at Christies after the scientists found it had actually been produced in 1950.

David Williamson, from the Scotch Whisky Association, said: "The collectors' market has been growing and the SWA would strongly recommend any prospective buyer takes steps to satisfy themselves as to the product's provenance.

"A range of authenticity tests can be carried out on the liquid and packaging and occasionally, radio carbon dating techniques have been used to assist assessments of the liquid's age."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Progress delays Florida nuclear project 20 months


Fri May 1, 2009 6:18pm EDT
HOUSTON, May 1 (Reuters) - Progress Energy's (PGN.N) Florida utility will delay the construction timeline for its $14 billion nuclear plant in Levy County and scale back early charges to pay for the plant, the company said on Friday.

Florida's second-largest utility said a 20-month delay in the construction schedule for two 1,105-megawatt, AP1000 reactors will push commercial operation of the first unit to 2018, rather than 2016 as currently envisioned. A second reactor at the site could begin operation about 2020.

The schedule change follows a ruling by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that prevents certain excavation and foundation work until Progress receives a license to construct and operate the plant, the utility said in a statement.

Progress had hoped to proceed with the foundation work ahead of the issuance of a license, expected by early 2012.

An NRC spokesman said the determination was based on geologic characteristics of the Levy site.

While the Levy County nuclear station remains a "top priority," the delay may be best for customers' wallets, given the severity of the economic slowdown in Florida, said Jeff Lyash, Progress Energy Florida president.

"Shifting this portion of the work until we have the combined operating license in hand enables us to spread some of the costs over a longer period," Lyash said.

The delay may also improve the project's chances of being built.

The shift "provides time for the economy to recover, which should allow for financing in a more stable market," said Progress Energy Chief Executive Bill Johnson.

For a second time, Progress asked state regulators to reduce the amount it will charge customers to help pay for the new nuclear station and work to boost output at Progress Florida's Crystal River nuclear station by 180 megawatts.

The utility seeks approval to spread Levy's early cost recovery over five years to lessen the impact on monthly customer bills.

If approved, the deferral would result in a 2010 nuclear charge of $6.69 per month for a customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours, down from $12.63 allowed under Florida law.

In March, Florida regulators approved a Progress request to reduce the 2009 monthly nuclear charge by nearly $8, to $3.62.

Florida lawmakers were among the first in the nation to allow utilities to collect nuclear costs ahead of construction as a way to advance Gov. Charlie Crist's effort to address global warming concerns by reducing Florida's carbon dioxide emissions.

A new timeline for the Levy County project depends on negotiations under way with contractors Westinghouse Electric Co (6502.T) and The Shaw Group (SGR.N), Progress said. (Reporting by Eileen O'Grady ; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Bellefonte not picked for nuclear pilot project


Friday, May 01, 2009 By DAVID BREWERTimes Staff Writer david.brewer@htimes.com
Group chose sitein Georgia; TVAsays plans on track

SCOTTSBORO - NuStart Energy Development has picked a Georgia nuclear plant over the Bellefonte site near Scottsboro as its pilot project for a new generation of reactors.

But the Tennessee Valley Authority said it will continue pursuing federal approval to build and operate Units 3 and 4 at the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant.

TVA said Thursday that NuStart "is transferring the reference designation" to build two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors from Bellefonte to Southern Co.'s Plant Vogtle site near Waynesboro, Ga.

"The change," it said, "is designed to align industry and regulatory resources with a license application that has specific, near-term construction plans."

Atlanta-based Southern, parent of Alabama Power, anticipates getting a license to build and run the two new reactors in 2011 and having them online by 2016. TVA is looking at getting a license for Bellefonte in 2012 and having its two units ready by 2018. The Nuclear Regulatory Association must approve all new reactors.

The switch in designation "doesn't change our plan," TVA spokesman Terry Johnson said Thursday. Building and operating two AP1000 reactors "is still an option for the Bellefonte site," he said.

The transfer, he said, means only that the selected plant will have a standard reactor design that other plants will follow.

In 2006, TVA opted to partner with NuStart, a Pennsylvania-based consortium of nuclear utilities, to build a new plant rather than finish Bellefonte. That decision was based in part on the AP1000's simpler design, which some experts say will be less costly to build and run.

TVA decided later that it also would consider finishing Bellefonte units 1 and 2.

Unit 1 was about 85 percent complete and Unit 2 about 55 percent finished when TVA halted construction in the late 1980s after spending about $4.2 billion. At the time, TVA cited its rising debt and reduced demand for electricity.