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.

Monday, February 22, 2010



UAE. The UAE today announced the establishment of an International Advisory Board (IAB) to be headed by the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Hans Blix, reported the official news agency WAM, citing a statement from the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.

The IAB will oversee progress of the nation’s nuclear energy plan and issue reports on potential improvements to the scheme.

The board will provide the UAE nuclear program with the benefit of the expertise and knowledge of a highly select group of internationally recognized experts in the fields of peaceful nuclear energy, WAM said.

Hans Blix, who served as the Director General of the IAEA for four terms, from 1981 till 1997 will chair the panel of advisors. Blix, a former Swedish former diplomat and politician, will lead the nine-person board, which will meet twice a year.

Additional members of the board include Jacques Bouchard, special advisor to the Chairman of the French Commissariat L'Energie Atomique, and former Chairman of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF). Dr. KunMo Chung, who served twice as Minister of Science and Technology in South Korea, Ambassador Thomas Graham, who serving as a senior U.S. Diplomat was involved in negotiation of every major international arms control and non-proliferation agreement during the period 1970-1997. He is currently the Executive Chairman of the board of Lightbridge Corporation, a company which holds patents on a new type of nuclear power fuel based on thorium.

Other members include Takuya Hattori, President of Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Inc. (JAIF), Lady Barbara Judge, Chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. Lady Judge previously served as Commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Dr. Mujid Kazimi, Professor of Nuclear and Mechanical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Kazimi previously served as Head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT.

Jukka Laaksonen, Director General of Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland and Sir John Rose, Chief Executive of Rolls- Royce plc, a major nuclear component and service provider in UK are also members of the IAB

The IAB is expected to hold its first meeting in February, 2010.

Monday, February 15, 2010

F.D.A. to Increase Oversight of Medical Radiation

[A few numbers for perspective: 400 chest x-rays is approximately 2-4 rem. The US average amount of radiation dose effect per person is about 0.4 rem per year with some regions having higher average natural doses of about 3 rem per year (e.g., Kerala, India). Higher cancer rates are not statistically detectable in populations with average doses below 10 rem per year.]


Published: February 9, 2010
The federal Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that it would take steps to more stringently regulate three of the most potent forms of medical radiation, including increasingly popular CT scans, some of which deliver the radiation equivalent of 400 chest X-rays.

With the announcement, the F.D.A. puts its regulatory muscle behind a growing movement to make life-saving medical radiation — both diagnostic and therapeutic — safer.

Last week, the leading radiation oncology association called for enhanced safety measures. And a Congressional committee was set to hear testimony Wednesday on the weak oversight of medical radiation, but the hearing was canceled because of bad weather.

The F.D.A. has for weeks been investigating why more than 300 patients in four hospitals were overradiated by powerful CT scans used to detect strokes. The overdoses were first discovered last year at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where patients received up to eight times as much radiation as intended.

The errors occurred over 18 months and were detected only after patients lost their hair.

In making the announcement, the F.D.A. said it hoped to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure from three medical imaging procedures: CT scans, which provide three-dimensional images; nuclear medicine studies, in which patients are given a radioactive substance and doctors watch it move through the body; and fluoroscopies, in which a radiation-emitting device provides a continuous internal image on a monitor.

“These types of imaging exams expose patients to ionizing radiation, a type of radiation that can increase a person’s lifetime cancer risk,” the F.D.A. said. “Accidental exposure to very high amounts of radiation also can cause injuries, such as skin burns, hair loss and cataracts.”

Patients today receive far more radiation than ever before. The average lifetime dose of diagnostic radiation — excluding therapeutic radiation — has increased sevenfold since 1980, prompting widespread concerns that certain procedures are overused and that they needlessly expose patients to an increased risk of cancer. Children and women are particularly vulnerable.

Last month, The New York Times documented the harm that can result when complex machines that generate radiation are programmed incorrectly and when basic safety procedures are not followed. The Times also found that a patchwork of laws and regulations to protect patients are weak or unevenly applied.

The F.D.A. has long had jurisdiction over medical devices, but it has made limited use of its power. Consumer groups, for example, have repeatedly contended that the agency allows manufacturers to sell new devices without first having to prove their safety and efficacy.

In its announcement, the agency said it might require manufacturers of CT scanners and fluoroscopic devices to incorporate new safeguards into the design of their machines and to provide better training to medical personnel. The agency said it plans to hold a public meeting on March 30 and 31, “to solicit input on what requirements to establish.”

Among the proposals under consideration: that devices display, record and report equipment settings and radiation dose; that an alert be issued when the radiation dose exceeds an optimal dose for most patients; and that devices be required to capture and transmit radiation dose information to a patient’s electronic medical record and to national dose registries.

The F.D.A. said it would also work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to incorporate new safety practices into the accreditation process of imaging facilities and hospitals.

“I think it is very timely in light of concerns about radiation exposure and the possibility of overexposure,” said Dr. James Thrall, professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and chairman of the American College of Radiology. “I think it will nudge the industry.”

A major issue, Dr. Thrall said, is that “there is nothing on the machine that tells the technologist that they’ve dialed in a badly incorrect radiation exposure.”

Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the F.D.A.’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said manufacturers were generally supportive of the agency’s proposal. “We are using a variety of tools available to us — both regulatory in nature and collaborative in nature — to maximize benefits,” Dr. Shuren said.

The Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance, an association of manufacturers of radiological equipment, issued a statement supporting the F.D.A. initiative, while calling for mandatory accreditation of advanced imaging facilities and for establishing minimum standards for personnel who perform medical imaging exams and deliver radiation therapy treatments.

“There is a patchwork of licensure and registration across the country,” said David N. Fisher, managing director of the manufacturers alliance, “and we believe in setting standards for physicians, physicists, technologists — all sorts of operators, the whole shooting match.”

Just last week, the American Society for Radiation Oncology called for the nation’s first central database for the reporting of errors involving linear accelerators — machines that generate radiation — and CT scanners.

In some states, radiation accidents involving CT scans, fluoroscopy equipment and radiotherapy devices need not be reported to the authorities.

Kristina Rebelo contributed reporting.

Utilities' proposed strategy includes look at nuclear power

[Having lived in Connecticut for seven years, I found this an interesting article. Though I believe it is unlikely any new reactors will be built in the Northeast anytime soon.]


Patricia Daddona
Feb 15, 2010 (The Day - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --

Connecticut should focus on studying the pros and cons of nuclear power, developing a policy for renewable resources and targeting certain energy efficiency programs for funding, according to a report funded by the state's two major utilities.

The Connecticut Light & Power Co. and United Illuminating outline these recommendations as vital to the state's future energy strategy in a 341-page Integrated Resource Plan first released in January. The report was prepared by the Brattle Group, an economic consultant based in Cambridge, Mass.

This past Thursday, the Connecticut Energy Advisory Board held a public hearing on the plan in New Britain. That session will be followed by public input in a docket to come before the state Department of Public Utility Control over the next few months, said Jeffrey Gaudiosi, the advisory board's vice chairman. The DPUC regulates the two utilities.

Both utilities support the renewable policy and energy efficiency recommendations, but United Illuminating recommends completing a detailed study of the possible costs and benefits of nuclear power, based on the Brattle Group's analysis of the potential advantages of a "nuclear strategy."

"I very strongly suggest that the (advisory board) carry out that recommendation," said Stephen Goldschmidt of Guilford. "We need to provide facts that can address what are often irrational fears and biases about nuclear generation and be sure that Connecticut policymakers are not ignoring the overwhelming benefits of nuclear energy. It has to be studied now."

Goldschmidt, an independent electric power consultant, spoke as a private citizen, but acknowledged that he has consulted for United Illuminating on this and previous resource plans.

The Millstone nuclear complex in Waterford "has room for several more plants," Goldschmidt said, but emphasized that he was recommending a study first, not building a reactor.

The resource plan analyzes the pros and cons of a hypothetical new reactor at Millstone, where two reactors generate about 2,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 500,000 homes.

The plan also finds nuclear power could help reduce greenhouse gases, make the state less reliant on natural gas, and bring down the cost of electricity, though new plants are expensive and controversial to build, and produce radioactive waste for which there is no permanent national repository.

Susan Olsen, a board member of People's Action for Clean Energy, at first questioned how "saddling future generations" with radioactive waste can be justified, but later said she wouldn't oppose a study "as long as we study the whole cost."

Several environmental groups and members of the public spoke out against the utilities' preference for "targeting" certain types of energy-efficiency programs for funding, saying state law and common sense call for funding all available options to benefit the most people.

Obama to announce financing for two nuclear reactors

[The article below is discussing the Vogtle 3/4 reactors.]


WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama will announce on Tuesday plans for the government to help finance the construction of two nuclear reactors -- the first in nearly 30 years, a top US official said.

Obama, who has advocated reducing foreign energy dependency and cutting back on greenhouse gases, will use a 2005 law that authorizes the Energy Department to guarantee loans to projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama "has long believed that nuclear power should be part of our energy mix," a senior administration told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The 18.5 billion dollars in existing loan guarantee authority will be used to help finance the construction and operation of two new nuclear reactors at a Southern Company plant in Burke, Georgia.

There have been no new nuclear power plants built in the United States since the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the eastern state of Pennsylvania.

Currently only 20 percent of the country's energy needs are met by nuclear power.

The operation will result in some 3,000 construction jobs, and eventually some 850 permanent jobs, the official said, citing company figures.

According to the official, Obama's 2011 budget "triples loan guarantees for nuclear-power plants to more than 54 billion dollars."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Expert: Middle East needs nuclear energy


Gerhard Hope , February 10th, 2010

Growth in renewable energy production is insufficient to meet the Middle East’s growing electricity demand, with nuclear energy the only realistic long-term option, according to Lister Petter group chairman Dr Robert Hawley.

Lister Petter is a supplier of diesel and gas engines, generating sets and pumps.

Renewable energy accounts for 4% of total power generation in the region at present, which is expected to increase marginally to 5% by 2030.

“Compared to the region’s growing electricity needs, this is a small amount. Only nuclear energy can provide the quantity of power that is required,” said Dr Hawley, speaking yesterday at the Middle East Electricity exhibition.

“Electricity is a vital ingredient of a sustainable society in terms of transportation and heating and cooling, for example. Global electricity demand is expected to double by 2030 to over 33 000 Terawatt hours, with the global population expected to reach nine billion by 2015.

“The most dramatic growth will be in the developing regions of China, India, Russia and the Middle East, where there will be a subsequent struggle to meet the demand for installed capacity, due to rapid urbanisation and the rising aspirations and increasing consumerism of its relatively young populations.”

Dr Hawley said the only realistic options to meet this demand were to expand renewable energy sources, increase the efficiency of the existing generation and transmission network, carbon capture and storage, carbon offset permits, electricity rationing or nuclear power.

Nuclear power stands to play a major role as part of a sustainable future energy mix. “Ideally there has got be a mix of major power stations and smaller generation capacity, which is ideal for water heating, for example. But solar power cannot meet the electricity needs of major industries, and hence the need for a mix of sources,” Dr Hawley said.

There is likely to be a global increase in nuclear power generation as security of energy supplies remains high on the political agenda. “Uranium can be sourced from stable countries like Canada and Australia. It is also one of the most plentiful natural resources available, with the only major issue being its extraction.”

Dr Hawley said that the Middle East could also turn to large-scale nuclear energy so it could conserve its oil reserves as a valuable export commodity, instead of consuming these locally. “The Middle East’s recent decision to implement a nuclear programme, with a South Korean consortium awarded the contract to build four reactors, is therefore the most pragmatic and ultimately sustainable approach,” he concluded.

Monday, February 8, 2010

North African country attracted by SA nuclear reactor technology


By: Keith Campbell
8th February 2010

Updated 1 hour 28 minutes ago The Algerian Atomic Energy Commission (Comena is its acronym in French) has expressed interest in South Africa’s pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR) technology.

The PBMR is a fourth-generation high-temperature gas-cooled reactor technology, named after the spherical shape of its fuel elements, that is being developed by South Africa’s PBMR Company.

“We plan to build 1 000 MW(electrical) of nuclear capacity by 2022 and 2 400 MW(e) by 2027,” said Comena chairperson Dr Mohammed Derdour on a visit to the PBMR Company. “Since this power is needed for both electricity generation and desalination, the pebble-bed technology seems to be an extremely attractive option.”

Although the country, which is the second-largest in Africa, is a major oil and gas producer, it wants to diversify its energy base and economy away from hydrocarbons. Currently, oil and gas contribute 30% of Algeria’s gross domestic product and account for 98% of its export earnings.

Algeria is a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty but does not yet operate any nuclear power plants. “Algeria has atomic energy agreements with Argentina, China, France and the US,” he reported. “We also have two research reactors, which were built by Argentina and China respectively.”

Comena is interested in constructing nuclear plants, about the size of a PBMR, near villages in more remote areas, which would be used for both power generation and desalination. Desalination would be relevant for both coastal villages and inland villages where the ground water resources are saline.

South Africa and Algeria signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2003 on cooperation in nuclear and radiation sciences.

“We believe the PBMR technology is ideal for a country such as Algeria with its need for clean water,” affirmed PBMR Company CEO Jaco Kriek. “We would very much welcome Comena’s involvement in the PBMR Company.”

The future of the predominantly State-owned PBMR Company has lately been in doubt, with the Solidarity trade union recently claiming that the South African government would not be providing any further funding for the project and that the company would run out of money in April.

The PBMR Company denied that the government had yet taken any decision, saying that its future and that of high-temperature reactor technology development in South Africa was being reviewed by government, in cooperation with national State-owned electricity utility Eskom and the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (better known as Necsa and also State-owned).

Last Thursday, the PBMR Company announced that it had signed an MoU with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan concerning the exploration of cooperation regarding the construction of the first PBMR for a customer, whether in South Africa or abroad.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter

Thursday, February 4, 2010

SAfrica's PBMR signs nuclear deal with Mitsubishi


Thu Feb 4, 2010 11:32am GMT
* PBMR nuclear tech firm signs Japanese agreement * Mitsubishi to help with research, development

CAPE TOWN, Feb 4 (Reuters) - South African nuclear technology firm PBMR has signed an agreement with Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd to advance the construction of the country's first pebble bed nuclear reactor.

Considered by scientists to be at the forefront of pebble-based nuclear technology, South Africa plans to build its first plant by 2018 as Africa's biggest economy cuts its reliance on coal and tries to end a chronic power shortage.

"The main objective of the memorandum of understanding is to explore cooperation to enable the construction of the first PBMR reactor for a customer in either South Africa or abroad," the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) company said in a statement.

Mitsubishi Heavy (7011.T: Quote) did the basic design and research and development of a helium-driven turbo generator system and core barrel assembly, the major components of PBMR's original 400 MW thermal, direct-cycle design.

This concept was changed last year to a 200 MW design that delivers super-heated steam through a generator, said PBMR, which hopes to attract business from firms active in Canada's oil sands and petrochemicals group Sasol (SOLJ.J: Quote).

"We firmly believe that high temperature reactors will be one of the viable future reactors," Akira Sawa, executive vice-president and general manager of nuclear energy systems at Mitsubishi Heavy, said in the statement.

Sawa said his firm would undertake research and development work to help ensure the success of the project, which deals with the next generation of nuclear reactors. For a factbox on PBMR technology, click on [ID:nLN504919]

"There are... important additional technological development opportunities that can be exploited (and) the possibility that PBMR may in future still want to pursue the direct cycle, gas-turbine design, should also not be ruled out," he said.

U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric, majority owned by Japan's Toshiba Corp (6502.T: Quote), South African power utility Eskom [ESCJ.UL] and South Africa's Industrial Development Corporation have invested 7 billion rand since 1999 proving the PBMR technology. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; editing by James Jukwey)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Israeli minister proposes cooperation with France, Jordan on nuclear power plant


Feb 01, 2010 (BBC Monitoring via COMTEX) --

[Report by Ehud Zion Waldoks: "Israel, France Discuss Joint Nuclear Power Project With Jordan"]

National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau said Sunday he had recently raised the idea of cooperating with Jordan on a nuclear power plant in a recent meeting with French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo.

For his part, Borloo said he would bring up the notion with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Landau said during a press conference on renewable energy at the ministry on Sunday [31 January].

Jordan has announced that it has begun environmental impact assessments ahead of building a plant near Aqaba in the South.

France is a world leader in nuclear power and has garnered a vast wealth of technical know-how. Eighty per cent of French electricity is produced by nuclear power plants.

Israel has ruled out nuclear power plants until now because of its undeclared nuclear weapons state status. Building a plant would mean that Israel would have to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and throw open its Dimona reactor to international inspections, something it has been reluctant to do.

During the press conference ahead of the Eilat-Eilot International Renewable Energy Conference to be held in mid-February, Landau also floated an idea for a collaborative regional power generation project.

"Egypt could provide land in Sinai, Israel could provide the technology and a US or European entrepreneur could build a solar power plant. We are certainly not lacking in ideas," Landau said.

Landau seemed to indicate that this was a potential initiative rather than one that his ministry was actively pursuing.

Both Landau and ministry chief scientist Shlomo Wald called the goal of 10 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020 "ambitious, but doable."

Wald said they would rely on proven technologies such as solar-thermal in the initial phase to create installed megawatts at the Ashelim and Timna sites in the Negev. However, he said the ministry was also actively supporting next generation technologies, like concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) and new solar-thermal applications.

Regarding the necessity for another coal-fired power plant in Ashkelon, Landau said it was "irresponsible" to base 70 per cent of the country's energy needs on natural gas. Coal was still the baseline fuel because it was the most reliable in comparison to natural gas and renewables.

Furthermore, he argued, building the new plant would enable the Israel Electric Corporation to take the eight older coal-fired power plants offline for six to seven months to retrofit them with new filters to reduce pollution. He cited a cost of $2b. for this project.

"At the end of the process, the situation will be dramatically better for Ashkelon residents and all of the citizens of Israel," Landau declared.

Source: The Jerusalem Post website, Jerusalem, in English 1 Feb 10

SAfrica: Expert urges state to proceed with nuclear project


Feb 01, 2010 (BBC Monitoring via COMTEX) --

[Report by Siseko Njobeni: "State is Urged to Go On with Nuclear Project"]

THE government should have the courage to proceed with the development of the pebble bed modular reactor technology, nuclear expert Kelvin Kemm said yesterday.

He warned the country could ill-afford to lose intellectual skills invested in developing pebble bed modular reactor technology, and the project would be vital in cutting SA's carbon emissions as international pressure mounted.

Kemm's comments follow speculation that the government could pull the plug on the experimental project after the Department of Public Enterprises said yesterday it was reviewing the project due to a lack of funds. Spokeswoman Ayanda Shezi said the department would communicate the decision of the review "in due course".

Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), the company set up to develop and supply the reactors, has spent about R8bn since 1999. PBMR said recently said that it had less than R1bn left, enough until the end of next month.

Advocates of the project have punted it as a solution to SA cutting its carbon footprint, promising less gas emission than from existing and future coal-fired power stations. PBMR was established to develop and market small-scale, high-temperature reactors locally and internationally.

Commenting on the possibility of the government abandoning the technology, Kemm said yesterday such a move would be a mistake given the pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "Nuclear is the only way to go for SA and the rest of Africa. There is a huge export potential for (the pebble bed modular reactor). It is an investment with a huge return. We have invested a lot in human capital in the project. We will lose all of that. I do not believe the project should be stopped.

"Even the biggest of projects must start somewhere. SA should have the courage to proceed with this project. There is too much caution. With fear, we would not have built Sasol, Richards Bay and Coega. We need courage," he said.

Earthlife Africa is among the critics of the project. Yesterday, Tristen Taylor, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg project coordinator, said: "PBMR is a waste of money and should be cancelled".

It remains unclear how canning the project would affect state plans to create a nuclear industry. The government is expected to spell out its nuclear plans soon. "The matter is before a committee of ministers and decisions, and communication thereof will be made in due course," the Department of Minerals and Energy said last week.

Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said SA could have a new nuclear power station by 2020. Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan said last year the initiative could be instrumental in creating a strong nuclear industry. In 2008, Eskom [Electricity Supply Commission] abandoned plans to build a nuclear power station, citing financial constraints.

The government, power utility Eskom, the Industrial Development Corporation and US nuclear company Westinghouse are shareholders in PBMR.

Source: Business Day website, Johannesburg, in English 1 Feb 10