19 December 2014, Friday

Archive for January 2012

One of the affected cooling towers (Photo: W. Jost)

Shift to renewable extremely slow

One of the affected cooling towers (Photo: W. Jost)

In Brief

Germany’s decision to abandon atomic energy could cost the country some US$2.15 trillion by 2030, according to Michael Suess, in charge of Siemens’ Energy Sector, which built all of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants (NPPs).

In Depth

The cost includes a major expansion of renewables capacity, with feed-in tariffs (the price that utilities have to pay to producers of renewable energy), investments into power transmission and distribution networks, operations and maintenance, as well as technologies to store renewable energy and carbon dioxide. The expenditure would be reduced if gas were one of the major energy alternatives, Suess said.

Siemens’ estimate is far higher than a US$350 billion estimate given earlier by Juergen Grossmann, chief executive of Germany’s No.2 utility, RWE. Grossmann, however, did not give a time frame for his estimates.

Following the Fukushima crisis, Siemens closed its nuclear business, deciding only to supply components such as steam turbines for non-nuclear islands of NPPs.

Insight

The German government announced its decision to totally phase out its 17 NPPs by 2022 after the massive 11 Mar earthquake and tsunami last year damaged Fukushima’s Dai-ichi NPP in Japan, causing a core meltdown and a radiation disaster. The decision, taken based primarily on political considerations, is likely to create a gap of some 20,000 MWe in Germany’s power generation capacity. Germany is planning to fill this void by shifting to alternate sources such as renewables, with gas-based plants as the focus area.

However, according to executives in the energy sector, the progress in Germany’s shift away from nuclear power is extremely slow, hindered by inadequate incentives and a lack of powerful investors, suggesting it will be an uphill task. Germany’s current renewable law and the incentives offered are reportedly insufficient for expanding renewable energy sources, especially solar, in a sustainable way.

According to government targets, renewable power is to account for at least 35% of Germany’s total electricity mix, up from the present 20%. However, renewables will still need to be heavily subsidised to compete with conventional energy sources.

Wind power accounted for 7.6% of Germany’s energy mix, representing the largest component of renewables, and, according to the industry body BDEW, capacity stood at 27,000 MW by mid-2011. Germany has a plan to install about 7,600 MW in offshore capacity by 2020 and 25,000 MW by 2030. Presently only 54 turbines with a total capacity of 210 MW are located off Germany’s coasts.

Solar power accounted for only 3.2% of Germany’s total energy generation in 2011, which the government wants to increase to 10% by 2020.  However, producers of solar energy receive a guaranteed price for their power for several decades, with no incentive to upgrade or modify their systems. Experts say the incentives should be linked to innovation, thereby forcing the owners of solar panels to modernise their systems.

Siemens’ Energy Sector, which is active in several areas, including power transmission, solar, wind and hydro power, expects to benefit from the global push into renewable energy by installing the power transmission networks required to transport electricity from solar and wind power plant sites. For example, energy from wind farms installed in the seas off northern Germany will need to be transported to the south.

The German energy agency DENA estimates that 3,700 km of high-voltage transmission networks will need to be constructed to by 2025. The global market for transmission of high-voltage direct current could triple in the next few years to US$11 billion, expects Siemens.

Siemens estimates that the cost of Germany’s energy shift will be mostly borne by taxpayers and power consumers. Germany’s roughly 900 municipal utilities aim to invest billions of dollars in new power plants and more than double their share in power production to 25% over the next 10-15 years. The top ten state utilities have said some US$12 billion in investments would be possible over the next 10 years.

Fast Breeder Test Reactor, Kalpakkam

Technology key to utilising India’s vast thorium reserves

Fast Breeder Test Reactor, Kalpakkam

In Brief

India’s first 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), being constructed at Kalpakkam near Chennai in the Tamil Nadu state of India, is expected to go critical early next year and commercial generation of electricity is expected to start in Mar 2015.

In Depth

Construction activities at the PFBR will come to a close by the end of this year. The unit is being developed by the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam, the main atomic research group in India working towards the development of fast breeder reactor (FBR) technology. Fuel loading is expected to commence during the first quarter of next year, said S.C. Chetal, Director at the institute.

Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (BHAVINI), a state-owned company under the Directorate of Atomic Energy (DAE) is responsible for building FBR-based nuclear power plants (NPPs) in India. The programme is being developed in Kalpakkam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Insight

Fast-reactor technology is central to India’s three-stage nuclear power programme, which comprises Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) at the first stage, FBRs at the second and thorium-based systems at the third stage. In 1985, India became the sixth country in the world to have acquired fast-reactor technology. The quest for indigenous FBR was driven by the country’s desire to utilise its vast resources of thorium as well as the lack of adequate domestic uranium reserves.

A fast reactor is conceptually one that breeds more material for a nuclear fission reaction than it consumes. The Indian FBR will be fuelled by a blend of plutonium (Pu) and uranium oxide (UO2). While the reactor will break up (fission) plutonium for power production, it will also breed more plutonium than it consumes. The original plutonium comes from natural uranium. The surplus plutonium from each fast reactor can be used to set up more FBRs, multiplying the nuclear capacity in tune with India’s growing energy needs.

The PFBR will be subjected to a number of core and fuel-related tests, before undergoing engineering tests to check the functioning of each and every system. This will be done by increasing the power generation in a gradual manner. The government has already sanctioned construction of two more 500 MWe FBRs at Kalpakkam.

GE-Hitachi Prism Reactor

UK favours MOX fuel reactor technology

GE-Hitachi Prism Reactor

In Brief

The UK’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), has rejected a proposal by GE-Hitachi to dispose of Britain’s radioactive waste in a new type of reactor. The NDA’s rejected the proposal on the grounds that the technology is unproven for the purposes of plutonium (Pu) disposal.

In Depth

The NDA, which advises the government on the management of the growing stockpile of nuclear waste in the UK, has turned down a plan to build a plutonium-burning reactor at Sellafield in Cumbria and is considering a number of other options including the fast-reactor design proposed by US-Japan joint venture (JV) GE-Hitachi in November.

The NDA has ruled that the 600 MWe plutonium reactor design is unsuited for the purpose, saying the technology is immature and unlikely to be commercially deployed for some decades. The authority wants to use commercially available reactors because the government was not prepared to take the technology risk on a new reactor. GE-Hitachi’s reactor would also create large amounts of plutonium-contaminated waste and increase the risk of proliferation, the NDA says.

The objections by the NDA cited safe management of recycling byproducts as well as the need to find a British utility willing to own and operate the reactor as factors in its decision. As conditions of approval it also demanded financial certainty that costs would be limited to US$3.9 billion and that the government would be insulated from technology deployment risks.

Insight

The plan to construct a reactor was announced by GE-Hitachi in November last year as a way of converting the UK’s 82 tonne stockpile of plutonium at Sellafield into power. The reactor, known as “Prism” (Power Reactor Innovative Small Modular) is based on a new design of a sodium-cooled fast reactor that is fuelled by plutonium.

On 29 Nov 2011 the NDA highlighted a major drawback with Prism, saying that the reactor would be fuelled by plutonium metal, rather than the oxide form in which UK plutonium is currently stored. Converting the oxide to metal would generate a large amount of by-products such as plutonium-contaminated salt, which itself would need further treatment.

One of the key proposals for disposing of the UK stockpile of waste plutonium involves converting it into a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for reuse in a new generation of thermal Light Water Reactors (LWRs). MOX fuel is manufactured from plutonium recovered from used reactor fuel by mixing it with uranium for use in a commercial NPP. Traditionally, fuel for commercial NPPs is made of low enriched uranium (LEU). MOX fuel contains 5% plutonium.

In every nuclear reactor there is both fission of isotopes such as uranium (U)-235, and the formation of new, heavier isotopes due to neutron capture, primarily by U-238. Most of the fuel mass in a reactor comprises U-238. This is first converted to Pu-239 and by successive neutron capture to Pu-240, Pu-241 and Pu-242 as well as other transuranic isotopes. Pu-239 and Pu-241 are, like U-235, fissile.

Typically, with new fuel being loaded every three years, about half of the Pu-239 is consumed in the reactor, providing about one third of the total energy. It burns like U-235 and its fission releases a similar amount of energy. The higher the burn-up, the less fissile plutonium remains in the used fuel. Worldwide, some 70 tonnes of plutonium contained in used fuel is removed when refuelling reactors each year.

The plutonium and uranium in used fuel can be recovered through reprocessing. The plutonium could then be used in the manufacture of MOX nuclear fuel, to be used again as fuel for electricity generation. A single recycle of plutonium in the form of MOX fuel increases the energy derived from the original uranium by some 12%, and if the uranium is also recycled this increases to about 22%, based on LWR fuel.

Today MOX fuel is widely used in Europe and in Japan. Currently about 40 reactors in Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Japan and France are using MOX fuel. These reactors mostly use MOX as about one third of their fuel-load, but some can accept up to 50% MOX assemblies. France plans to convert all its 900 MWe series of running reactors to operate with at least one third MOX. Japan also plans to use MOX in one third of its reactors in the future. Other advanced LWRs such as Areva’s EPR or Westinghouse’s AP1000 will be able to accept complete fuel loadings of MOX, if required.

The use of up to 50% MOX does not change the operating characteristics of a reactor, though the plant must be designed to accommodate more control rods to suitably adapt to it. For using more than 50% MOX, major changes are necessary and a reactor needs to be designed accordingly. Some experts say that most atomic reactors were not originally designed to use MOX fuel and that MOX makes key reactor components age faster.

Because of its high “neutron flux” levels, the reactor pressure vessel can become embrittled and fail. A nuclear accident involving MOX fuel could cause a serious meltdown because the levels of radiation inside a reactor using MOX are even higher than in a normal atomic reactor, say experts.

IAEA HQ, Vienna

Government keen to avert power shortage

IAEA HQ, Vienna

In Brief

A team of experts from the IAEA has started the review of stress tests conducted by Japan to assess the safety of its nuclear power plants following the 2011 nuclear disaster.

In Depth

A ten-member IAEA International Complementary Safety Assessment Review Mission led by James Lyons, director of the IAEA’s Nuclear Installation Safety Division, is in Japan to review the approach adopted for the stress tests at Kansai’s Ohi NPP in Fukui Prefecture. The unit was the first Japanese plant to have completed the initial phase of the comprehensive stress tests.

The Japanese government had ordered a two-phase mandatory stress of all its NPPs following the Mar 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP accident. Utilities are required to check the safety parameters of important systems and equipment in accordance with guidelines set by Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC). The decision to resume operation of the reactors following their shutdown for inspections will be taken based on the results of these initial tests. No permission has yet been given for the plants to restart.

Japan’s request for the IAEA mission follows the approval of the Nuclear Safety Action Plan by all IAEA Member States in Sep 2011. The plan stipulates a programme of work to strengthen the global nuclear safety framework and calls for nations to promptly undertake a national assessment of the design of NPPs against extreme natural hazards and to implement corrective actions as required.

Insight

As of now, with most of Japan’s NPPs having been shut down for refuelling and mandatory periodic inspections, only five of Japan’s 54 reactors are left in operation. The number is set to drop even further as two more of TEPCO’s plants face shutdown in a few days as they reach their scheduled outage dates.

Japan has been facing public disquiet about nuclear safety since the Mar 2011 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems and triggered reactor meltdowns and radiation leaks at Fukushima NPP1. The disaster forced the evacuation of some 160,000 people and caused widespread contamination. This has, in turn, prevented the restart of reactors taken offline for periodic maintenance.

Regional governments hosting NPPs have so far denied permission to restart their NPPs due to safety concerns. However, the central government, to avert any power shortage, is pushing for the restart of the nuclear reactors by establishing their safety through stress tests and a review by the IAEA experts.

Japan’s nuclear safety watchdog, NISA, completed a review of the tests last week, saying that they showed the reactors to be capable of withstanding a severe shock similar to the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP. The mandatory tests carried out at Ohi unit 3 are common to all Japanese NPPs that have been shut down since the Fukushima nuclear accident.

The IAEA team is primarily examining how Japan is evaluating safety at its NPPs. This review should contribute to improved nuclear safety both in Japan and worldwide. The team plans to present the results of their review on 31 Jan. The Japanese government is likely to use the report to strengthen its case for restarting the idle reactors.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986, has triggered a major debate in Japan about its future energy policy, with the country now looking to reduce its reliance on nuclear power and shift to renewables. It had planned to set up more reactors prior to the disaster.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is concerned about the future of its nuclear industry, which is a major source of national revenue. Some of Japan’s major nuclear firms like Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi have international collaborations with industry leaders Westinghouse, General Electric and Areva. Tokyo has recently signed civil nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, Vietnam and Brazil and is negotiating a similar deal with India to help its domestic nuclear industry.

Public resistance grows against nuclear after Fukushima

Officials say they will meet the target

Public resistance grows against nuclear after Fukushima

In Brief

People in and around Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh are resisting a proposed nuclear energy park. The park is to comprise six reactors of 1,600 MWe capacity each and will generate 9,600 MWe with an investment of US$20 billion.

In Depth

Authorities have started the process of acquiring 1000 hectares of land in and around Kovvada in the under developed Srikakulam district. Despite offers of attractive compensation packages, land acquisition is facing stiff resistance from 3,000 families likely to be displaced and from civil society activists. About 55% of the land to be acquired already belongs to the government and the authorities say it is possible to negotiate for the remaining land.

Although Kovvada plant project director G.V. Ramesh claims that 90% of the people are in favour of the project and had given their consent, the former village head rejects any package on the ground that a majority of the people are opposed to the project. The government compensation package is four times existing land rates.

Insight

With the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement paving the way for India to import nuclear reactor technology from the global market, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) has planned to set up a series of nuclear power plants (NPPs) in different parts of the country. The Kovvada NPP is planned to be built by the NPCIL, using GE-Hitachi’s Light Water Reactor (LWR) technology. The plant requires 775 hectares of land, and another 125 hectares for an integrated township around the plant site.

Following the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP disaster on 11 Mar in Japan last year, opposition to nuclear plants is growing in India. Kudankulam NPP in Tamil Nadu witnessed widespread protests where one of the two 1000 MWe VVER reactors built with the Russian technology is ready for commissioning. A 10,000 MWe capacity nuclear energy park comprising six 1650 MWe European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) to be set up in Jaitapur with French EPR technology, too, is facing hurdles in land acquisition.

The NPCIL says the six reactors to be built at Kovvada will be based on the latest Generation III+ technology, which is absolutely safe and is based on passive systems to ensure automatic shut down in case of an earthquake of over 7.2 magnitude. Once the reactor gets shut down, the cooling system would be able to continue to operate on its own for two weeks without any human intervention.

Anti-nuclear activists say that it is premature to start land acquisition even before the Ministry of Environment and Forests has completed an environmental impact assessment, held public consultations or had the project appraised as per the requirement in the Environment (Protection) Act.

Vietnam's PM Nguyen Tan Dung

PM stresses human resources development


Vietnam's PM Nguyen Tan Dung

In Brief

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, while addressing the recent year-end meeting of the Ministry of Science and Technology, announced that Vietnam is determined to build nuclear power plants to meet the nation’s growing need for power.

In Depth

The prime minister asked the ministry to quickly compile legal documents on training human resources for the first NPP in Vietnam and in Southeast Asia. “Without nuclear power, the country will not have sufficient power for development. It is estimated that by 2020, Vietnam will be in serious shortage of electricity.”

He went on to say that Vietnam will consult developed countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in developing nuclear power. He stressed the need for trained human resources for safe development of nuclear power.

Russia has agreed to loan Vietnam US$10.5 billion, including US$8 billion for building NPPs, US$500 million for the Nuclear Power Research Centre and US$2 billion for other commitments. In addition, Japan also agreed to provide capital to Vietnam to develop nuclear power.

Insight

In July 2011, the government issued a master plan specifying Ninh Thuan 1 & 2 NPPs to have a total of eight 1000 MWe capacity reactors, one coming on line each year from 2020-27, then two larger reactors by 2029 at a central location. The construction for the first NPP, with Russian VVER technology, will begin in 2014 at Phuoc Dinh in the southern Ninh Thuan province and the plant will begin operating in 2020. The Russians are also financing the 2000 MWe project

A further 2000 MWe NPP is planned at Vinh Hai in Ninh Thuan with Japanese collaboration, followed by a further 6000 MWe capacity addition by 2030.

In addition to Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia are also showing strong interest in nuclear power. Japanese companies are keen to promote nuclear technology in the region, in particular as growth prospects in their own country have declined in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.

Vermont Yankee NPP

Entergy wins Vermont case

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Setback to state legislature seeking plant closure

Vermont Yankee NPP

In Brief

A US District Court judge ruled on 19 Jan that Entergy Corp., the owner of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant (NPP) in Vernon, can continue to operate the plant after 21 Mar, when its original license runs out.

In Depth

Judge J. Garvan Murtha ruled that the Vermont legislature was seeking to close a plant on safety concerns, which is the sole province of the federal government.

Entergy had filed suit against the state of Vermont, saying it was usurping authority that belonged solely with the federal government. Act 160 was passed by the state legislature in May 2006 and concerned the creation of a high-level radioactive waste facility next to Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon. The act was created to give the Vermont legislature the authority to stop continued operation of the plant. Vermont is the only state to have a law giving it a say in the licensing of a NPP. The court said that Act 160 was grounded in radiological safety concerns and the concomitant desire to empower the legislature to act on those concerns in deciding the question of Vermont Yankee’s continued operation.

The Legislature was trying to prevent Entergy from obtaining a 20-year extension to operate the plant.  The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) earlier granted Entergy a 20-year extension to its original 1972 license.

Rotterdam

Nederland defers new nuclear build

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Government sanctions new research reactor

Rotterdam

In Brief

The Netherlands’ power utility, Delta, has deferred taking a decision to build a second reactor at the existing Borssele nuclear plant site. It remains committed to the growth of nuclear power and will reevaluate in 2 to 3 years.

In Depth

Delta said that it has postponed plans for the construction of a new nuclear power plant due to the high cost of construction, the current investment climate and over-capacity in the electricity market. Its decision was also influenced by low energy prices and uncertainty over Europe’s emissions trading system.

The company said it will continue investing in new generating capacity and remains convinced that nuclear energy is essential to achieve energy security because of its low long-term costs and the significant reduction in carbon emissions it offers.

In Sep 2008, Delta first announced its plans for starting the construction of a 1000-1600 MWe reactor in 2013, with operation to begin in 2018. Under its original plan, a reactor was proposed for construction at the existing Borssele NPP site.

Meanwhile, the Dutch government has sanctioned the construction of a replacement for the aging research reactor at Petten. The government and the province of Noord-Holland would each provide US$52 million for the design, procurement and licensing procedure of the Pallas reactor, expected to go online in 2022.

The 52 year old High Flux Reactor (HFR) at Petten has for a long time been used for fundamental research and has met about 60% of Europe’s and 30% of the world’s supply of medical radioisotopes.

Tokyo Electric Power Company head office (Photo: Pon)

Must pay back funds to de-nationalise

Tokyo Electric Power Company head office (Photo: Pon)

In Brief

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) will be nationalised for at least 10 years and is expected to become profitable in its 2013 business year, under a bail-out plan by a government body for funding nuclear disaster compensation, Kyodo news agency reported on 21 Jan.

In Depth

The government is planning to inject as much as US$12.97 billion into the operations of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant (NPP) in a de-facto nationalisation of the firm, the news service said. To end the nationalisation as early as Mar 2022, Tepco will be expected to pay back the financial assistance it has received from the fund, using half of its pretax profit earned every year, Kyodo said.

TEPCO and the state-backed entity are working together to finalise a business plan for the firm in March. The business plan is intended to prevent TEPCO from becoming insolvent from the heavy costs associated with the management of the nuclear crisis resulting from meltdowns and radiation leaks. The plan is intended to ensure that compensation is paid expeditiously to the victims affected by the accident at the plant.

The government’s financial assistance plan may also include a condition for TEPCO to allow outside directors to oversee the company’s management in a move aimed at improving its function, supervision and corporate governance.

Indian Point NPP

Reactor was shut to replace a defective seal

Indian Point NPP

In Brief

A press release from Entergy said control room operators returned unit 2 of Indian Point nuclear power plant (NPP) to service on 18 Jan, after completion of maintenance work on a leaking pump.

In Depth

Unit 2 was removed from service on 10 Jan to replace a seal inside a pump that supplies cooling water to the plant’s reactor when an abnormal quantity of discharge of slightly contaminated water was observed from the cooling pump. Unit 2 had been online generating electricity for 230 continuous days prior the shutdown.

The Indian Point Energy Center is located in Buchanan, along the banks of the Hudson River in Westchester County, some 60 km north of New York City. It has an operating NPP comprising units 2 and 3, which generate approximately 2000 MWe of power to meet 25% of the electricity requirement for New York City and Westchester County.

Pressure Vessel

Reactor vessel installed in Haiyang 1

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Component forged by South Korean company for Westinghouse

Pressure Vessel

In Brief

The reactor pressure vessel (RPV) for Haiyang Unit 1 has been successfully installed, China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) has announced.

In Depth

The South Korean-made RPV, weighing 283 metric tonnes, (MT) was lifted and placed inside the reactor containment successfully in less than three hours on 17 Jan. Installation of the RPV is a major milestone in the construction process of the Westinghouse-designed AP1000 Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR), which is scheduled to enter service in 2014.

Haiyang 1 is the second AP1000 reactor under construction in China, following Sanmen 1. The SNPTC has a major role in the transfer of technology from the Toshiba-owned plant supplier, Westinghouse. Both the Haiyang and Sanmen sites presently have two AP1000 units under construction, with a third and fourth unit planned at both locations.

China is the first country to have started construction of the Westinghouse-designed Generation III AP1000 reactors, whose design was recently approved by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). China has concrete plans to build eight AP1000 reactors with over two dozen more to follow.

Insight

An RPV is a thick-walled cylindrical steel vessel enclosing the reactor core in a NPP. The vessel is made of special fine-grained low-alloy ferrite steel, well suited for welding and is strong while showing low porosity under neutron irradiation. The inside is lined with austenitic steel cladding to protect against corrosion. For a 1,300 MWe PWR, the RPV is about 12 m high, the inner diameter is 5 m, and the wall of the cylindrical shell is about 250 mm thick.

Production of the RPV for very large Generation III reactors requires forging presses of about 140-150 MN (14-15,000 MT) capacity which accept hot steel ingots of 500-600 MT. These presses are not common, and do not have high throughput – about four RPVs per year appears to be the typical rate of production at present. Westinghouse has been constrained since 2009 in that the AP1000 RPV closure head and three complex steam generator parts can only be made by Japan Steel works (JSW).

Reactor vendors prefer large forgings to be integral, as single products, but it is possible to use split forgings which are welded together.  Also, whereas Generation II reactors might require some 2000 tonnes of forgings, European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) and AP1000 units require about twice that amount. The largest component for Westinghouse’s AP1000 requires a minimum 15,000 tonne press, taking 350 tonne ingots.

In addition to Japan, very heavy forging capacity is available in China, Russia and South Korea. New capacity is being built in France, the Czech Republic, the UK and India.

Kudankulam NPP

NPCIL acknowledges failure to communicate with public

Kudankulam NPP

In Brief

Facing stiff resistance from people against atomic power, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) announced it will launch a major communications drive to reach out to people this year.

In Depth

The NPCIL has been facing public protests against the commissioning of Kudankulam nuclear power plant (NPP) in Tamil Nadu and setting up a new plant in Jaitapur in Maharashtra. These protests may be largely attributed to a failure to explain to the people the benefits of nuclear power before starting the projects.

“We did not realize that we keep talking about NPPs and other technical things but never tried to allay fears among people about impacts of radiation,” said S.A. Bhardwaj, Director (Technical), NPCIL in New Delhi on 9 Jan. “We have to tell them that nuclear power is the only solution to meet the growing power demands of the country. We recently realised that we have been projected as being very secretive at NPCIL,” he added.

The NPCIL is also planning to educate people by making public the radiation figures from NPPs and comparing them with radiation emanating from sources such as mobile phones, X-rays and other sources. It has also started a campaign in support of nuclear energy on FM radio, TV and through other means, Bhardwaj added.

Insight

The Indian atomic energy establishment, for the first time in its five decades-old history, has been faced with growing public resistance against nuclear power, which many admit is a manifestation of the organisation’s secretive mode of functioning. So far, “nuclear” in all its forms was considered the exclusive domain of the scientific community and concerned government departments. Also, there was no felt-need to seek prior public acceptance before launching new nuclear projects.

The government’s policy of keeping nuclear power out of the public discourse resulted in gradually eroding peoples’ faith in the official establishment and in locals getting swayed by a well-orchestrated campaign mounted by anti-nuclear activists. The Fukushima nuclear disaster, meanwhile, gave a much-needed fillip to the anti-nuclear lobby which had been worried about the prospects of the “nuclear renaissance” becoming a reality.

It is significant that the phenomenon of nuclear secrecy is universally pervasive albeit to varying degrees. Traditionally, the utilities and the nuclear establishment had been working in water-tight compartments and were not subjected to public scrutiny. The Three Mile Island radiation leak in 1979 and the Chernobyl NPP accident in 1986 generated a worldwide concern over the risks of nuclear power. But it was the Fukushima crisis that, for the first time, brought the safety of NPPs to the forefront of the global nuclear debate.

The Indian government in particular is facing major public protests that have stalled both the commissioning of Kudankulam’s 1 & 2 reactors, built by the NPCIL with Russian collaboration, and the land acquisition process in Jaitapur. The NPCIL has produced advertisements to be telecast on TV channels carrying messages on cancer and on some issues raised by fishermen. However, the leaders involved in the Kudankulam protests, who seem to be highly motivated people with good international connections, have so far managed to sustain the movement. They have successfully managed the media to ensure that their voices are heard.

Many believe that the organisers are receiving funds from abroad to finance the agitation as a large number of protesters are poor people, who cannot afford to survive without work even for a day. They are being fed every day and also are given transport for travelling to the protest site from their places located in far-flung areas.

Meanwhile, the NPCIL plans to raise overseas loans to partly fund its two proposed NPPs in India, as getting overseas loans may be less expensive than borrowing locally. The corporation plans to approach French banks to raise funds for the Jaitapur NPP in Maharashtra and Russian banks for funding the Kudankulam NPP in Tamil Nadu. The NPCIL plans to raise loans from Indian banks as well.

The company expects to restart commercial negotiations with French company Areva SA for two reactors of 1,650 MWe each for the Jaitapur NPP by the end of this month. The NPCIL was awaiting a report on the safety aspects of the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), which was reviewed by the French nuclear regulator ASN along with the 58 nuclear power reactors operating in France. The NPCIL also expects to start work on Kudankulam 3 & 4, six months after protests by local people at the site end.

Separates small reactor operations

In Brief

In response to changing market conditions, Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) has decided to restructure its commercial nuclear business, separating its small modular reactor (SMR) operations from its other nuclear energy businesses.

In Depth

The restructuring plan involves the creation of Babcock & Wilcox Modular Nuclear Energy Inc. (B&W MNE), which will comprise all operations related to the R&D and deployment of B&W’s mPower SMR technology. An existing subsidiary called Generation mPower will now report to B&W MNE. Christofer Mowry has been named as president of the new company.

B&W’s other commercial nuclear operations – including global services, equipment manufacturing and all related sales initiatives – will be grouped under the existing Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Energy Inc. (B&W NE) business unit. Michael Lees has been appointed as president of this organization.

Earlier, the company’s SMR programme was part of the B&W NE business unit, which also managed three other businesses – Power Generation, Technical Services and Nuclear Operations. The reorganisation intends to take advantage of the potential market opportunities in the company’s SMR business, which is now entering a crucial phase of strategic growth.

In Jun 2009, B&W announced plans to develop a scalable, modular nuclear power reactor. The 125 MWe mPower design is an integral Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) designed to be factory-assembled and transported to site by rail. Bechtel later formed an alliance with B&W to design, license and deploy the mPower design.

Insight

Proponents of nuclear power are advocating the development of SMRs as alternatives to large reactors that suffer from high costs, safety issues, and volumes of radioactive waste. However, experts’ opinions differ and some claim that the small-sized reactors cannot solve these problems and may even exacerbate them.

There are three general types of SMRs being developed for certification and possible deployment in the US. The first category belongs to Light Water Reactor (LWR) designs, which are scaled-down variants of current large commercial Pressurised Water Reactors (PWRs), though they may include new technologies and components not used in existing reactors. The second type are Non-LWR designs such as high-temperature gas-cooled reactors. They use helium gas as the coolant and graphite to moderate it. The third type includes Liquid Metal Fast Reactor (LMFR) designs, which do not use a moderator to slow neutrons down. The coolant is liquid metal, such as sodium or potassium.

The mPower Reactor developed by B&W is a 125 MWe PWR using fuel rods in 17×17 bundles that are one-half the length of conventional rods. The core, coolant pumps and steam generators are contained in the reactor vessel. The modules would be refueled every five years.

The nuclear industry has been building larger and larger reactors in an effort to cut the cost of construction, thereby making nuclear power economically more competitive. In addition to the possible increase in the cost of constructing SMRs, spent fuel management would also be more problematic and expensive, raising proliferation concerns, because the waste would be located at many reactor sites. In addition, large-scale manufacturing raises associated problems of new safety, quality, and licensing concerns that the NRC has yet to address.

There has been a proliferation of proposed SMR designs, but no-one has yet applied for certification by the NRC. The NRC expects to receive its first SMR design certification application in 2012.

Hormuz turning into a hotspot

US-Israel joint wargame postponed

Friday, 20 January 2012

Wargames could have aggravated the situation

Hormuz turning into a hotspot

In Brief

The US and Israeli defence forces have postponed a major joint missile-defense exercise, Israeli military officials said 16 Jan.

In Depth

The military war game was meant to convey a strong signal to Iran that any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, or a missile attack on Israel in response to an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be futile. The US also wanted to demonstrate its commitment to help Israel, its closest strategic ally, protect itself against Iran.

According to Israeli sources, Washington postponed the exercise to avoid further infuriating Iran. The Iranians are already annoyed by the spate of sanctions imposed by the West and the recent oil embargo by the US. Tehran also believes that the recent killing of a young nuclear scientist was a planned assassination.

Insight

US defense planners are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing for a preemptive military action against Iran, in spite of US reservations. The US administration has been advising their Israeli counterparts to refrain from taking unilateral military action, while saying military action was “not off the table” as a last resort to prevent Iran from making an atomic bomb.

Any military strike by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities is bound to draw retaliation from Tehran, a move that would provoke US intervention and could further escalate the confrontation. Israeli leaders have long warned that should the Western powers fail to stop Iran’s nuclear advances, the Israelis might be compelled to take military action on their own, as if it was a matter of national survival.

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran began enriching uranium to 20% at its hardened underground facility at Fordo near Qom – a plant designed to put some of Iran’s capacity to manufacture nuclear fuel beyond the reach of air attack.

Yoshihiko Noda, Prime Minister of Japan

Plan could lead to power shortage

Yoshihiko Noda, Prime Minister of Japan

In Brief

Japan says it will soon introduce legislation that would require nuclear power reactors to shut down after 40 years of operation to improve safety, following the accident at Fukushima, triggered by the Mar 2011 tsunami.

In Depth

The Japanese government is concerned about the aging nuclear power plants (NPPs) after the reactors at the Fukushima plant went into meltdown following the tsunami, causing radiation leaks into the water, soil and air. The nuclear disaster – rated as the worst since Chernobyl in 1986 – forced 160,000 people to evacuate the affected area.

The Asahi newspaper reported on 7 Jan that Japan could face a power shortage if it implemented the 40-year rule, which would require 18 more reactors to shut down by 2020, and another 18 by 2030. The law may, however, leave some loopholes to allow some old nuclear reactors to keep running if their safety were confirmed with tests, said a media report.

Insight

Japan does not currently have a limit on years of operation of a nuclear reactor. However, after Fukushima, the government has ordered reactors undergoing routine inspections to undergo new safety tests and get public approval before they can be restarted.

Before the Fukushima crisis, Japan was producing 35% of its electricity through its 54 operating reactors and had planned to expand its nuclear power operations. These plans have now been shelved pending an energy policy review amid rising safety concerns and a public outcry. With the implementation of the 40-year rule, the number of working nuclear reactors will drop rapidly.

The central government has said that it might allow the continued operation of a plant if so requested by a local government, based on an evaluation of the plant’s state of aging and safety tests, but that getting such approval would be extremely difficult.

Japan has yet to firm up its post-Fukushima energy policy and decide on the alternative sources which it will require to make up for the loss of power that will result from shutting down NPPs. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power are yet not sufficiently developed to meet Japan’s baseload power requirement.

The decommissioning of reactors would also require enormous expenditure, based on a tentative estimate of about 50 billion yen needed for one reactor. The government has established a system whereby utilities put aside money for the eventual decommissioning of their plants. This system, though, is only a decade old and it would therefore be impossible for the utilities to cover the huge costs of decommissioning so many plants. This change will also entail the sudden increase in the generation of nuclear waste.

According to experts, the Japanese legislation could be similar to the law in the US that grants 40-year licenses and allows for 20-year extensions. In the past, 66 of 104 US nuclear reactors have been granted extensions, based on a process considered as routine. Several utilities are already planning for additional license extensions that could lengthen the operational life of NPPs to 80 or 100 years.

The radiation crisis has put a question mark on the future of Japan’s nuclear power, which the present Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda is keen to maintain until the time that the country can shift to alternate sources. Noda’s administration is seeking to increase global nuclear cooperation to boost export of its nuclear plants and technologies.

Japan is one of the largest manufacturers of major reactor assemblies for the international nuclear energy sector, engaging in collaborations with established global companies such as Westinghouse, GE and Areva. The new policy, stipulating that the life of reactors be 40 years, compared to the prevailing norms of 60 to 80 years, could impact the buyers’ confidence in Japanese technology and may even be disadvantageous to its nuclear industry.

US to enhance nuclear plant safety

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Industrial body recommends measures post Fukushima

In Brief

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said on 11 Jan that it has accepted the methodology recommended by the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a nuclear industry body, to reinforce safety at US nuclear power plants (NPPs) in the wake of the Fukushima meltdowns.

In Depth

The NEI has recommended placing portable pumps, generators, batteries and other emergency equipment at various locations around NPPs. The plan also includes a mobile system that could be brought into play in the event of a serious accident, providing extra resources to try to prevent a meltdown.

The NRC is currently reviewing the additional measures which are needed based on the lessons of Fukushima, and is expected to announce new safety regulations before 11 Mar, the first anniversary of the Japanese nuclear disaster.

Insight

The NRC is formulating regulations to improve safety at 104 operating reactors in the US after an earthquake and tsunami resulted in radiation leaks at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO’s) Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP in Japan on 11 Mar 2011. However, the NEI has cautioned that the NRC should implement new rules only after the lessons from Fukushima are fully known.

The NEI offered a safety enhancement plan last December that essentially focuses on the prevention of core damage and comprises back-up systems to ensure that cooling pumps in a NPP are able to function when power is lost. Plant owners would install portable back-up power equipment and pumps in staging areas to ensure a plant will have electricity and water during an emergency. With NRC approval, the implementation of the plan could begin by mid-year and may take at least two years to complete.

The NEI plan for installing equipment specifically for containing an accident follows a similar scheme announced by France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) in Paris last week which called for a sweeping safety upgrade to all the country’s reactors in the wake of Fukushima. But the French plan differs to an extent, since it requires the back-up systems to be installed in hardened bunkers capable of withstanding more extreme earthquakes, floods and other threats than the plants themselves are designed to survive.

According to Ed Lyman, a nuclear expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington DC, simply buying some additional emergency equipment will do little to enhance safety unless it is protected against more severe events and it is rugged and highly reliable. The French plan appears to address the issue of protecting the back-up systems to make sure they remain functional under extreme events. “In the US the standards for the reliability of the new equipment have yet to be determined, and industry is unlikely to support requirements that the equipment meets the highest standards for protection against extreme events,” said Lyman. The NEI has not worked out a cost estimate for the plan because requirements would vary between plants.

The nuclear disaster at Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP devastated the belief of modern nuclear safety that a series of back-up systems, combined with physical protection was enough to prevent a catastrophic meltdown and release of radioactive materials. The accident yet again brought the issue of nuclear safety to the centre stage of the global nuclear debate with the notion of a  “renaissance” taking a backseat. Fukushima prompted an immediate review of the safety of NPPs by nuclear-powered countries around the world, as happened after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents.

Fukushima happened at a time when the growth of nuclear power started looking up after more than two decades. But with vast and regular media coverage, the impact on the nuclear sector was profound. The nuclear industry, regulators and governments now need to take a critical look at the safety regulations of their NPPs and institute measures to strengthen plant safety by incorporating tangible improvements, as mere assurances are unlikely to work.

The recent initiatives should act as guidelines for other nations to formulate their own plans, specific to their conditions. Collectively, the nuclear world would do well to prevent another incident that could be disastrous for the growth of nuclear power.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Rio nearly completes Hathor acquisition

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Unlikely to upset Cameco’s expansion plans

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

In Brief

London-based Rio Tinto has announced it has acquired 93.76% of the common shares of Canadian uranium exploration company Hathor and will now buy all the remaining shares through a compulsory acquisition under Canadian law.

In Depth

The announcement by Rio Tinto brings the curtains down on an acquisition battle that saw Hathor shareholders rebuff an unsolicited bid of US$3.83 per share from Saskatchewan-based Cameco in Aug 2011 in favour of a subsequent US$4.08 per share offer made by Rio Tinto in October the same year.

Cameco first hiked its offer to US$4.41 per share in mid-Nov 2011, a move that was countered by Rio Tinto increasing its own offer to US$4.61. That resulted in Cameco announcing on 28 Nov 2011 that it could not justify further increasing the price beyond its current offer and would allow it to lapse.

Insight

With the acquisition, Rio Tinto will add Hathor’s Athabasca Basin exploration properties in northern Saskatchewan, including the Roughrider deposit, with an estimated 17.2 million lbs U3O8 (6600 tU) in indicated resources and 40.7 million lbs U3O8 (15,650 tU) in inferred resources, to its existing non-uranium mining and manufacturing interests.

The deposit could have potentially benefitted Cameco, as it is located within 25 km of the Canadian firm’s existing Rabbit Lake uranium mill. Any other developer of the deposit will likely need to either build their own mill or use Cameco’s facilities.

Global mining group Rio Tinto operates the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia, in which it owns a 69% stake, and the Ranger mine in Australia, through its 68% interest in Energy Resources of Australia (ERA). The London-headquartered group, with an annual uranium production of 6293 tU, is ranked fourth in the world’s top uranium producers in 2010. The company is also engaged in extensive non-uranium mining, manufacturing and exploration activities in Canada.

Cameco was ranked number one uranium-producing company in the world in 2010, with an output of 8758 tU from its operations in Canada, Kazakhstan and the US. The company’s failure to secure Hathor is unlikely to have any major affect on its plans to double annual uranium output by 2018, said company CEO Tim Gitzel. The company’s expansion strategy includes existing assets under development and plans remain on track to meet organisational objectives. “We will continue to explore other growth opportunities, but only where there is a clear benefit to our shareholders,” Gitzel added

Industrial body concerned with suppliers liability clauses

In Brief

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), a premiere industrial body in India, has sought clarifications on some clauses of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2011, while welcoming the notification of the implementation rules by the government.

In Depth

The act imposes strict liability on the operator, who could face damages of up to US$300 billion. Section 46 of the act states that nothing in the civil liability law will prevent the operation of other laws in force in the country and makes clear that criminal liability in case of an accident remains, as indeed do tort claims. However, the CII said a clarification is needed to ensure that this provision does not alter the exclusive channeling of any claims for nuclear damage on a strict liability basis only to the operator who owns the plant.

In Section 17, there are issues related to the application of  the “operator’s right of recourse.” Currently, the limit of liability is applicable only to 17(a), which states that operators have a right to recourse if the right is mentioned in the contract. There is no clarity on whether the limits could also be extended to claims by an operator under Clause 17 (b), according to which an operator will have a right to recourse if the nuclear incident has resulted due to an act of a supplier or its employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services, or 17 (c), which applies in case a nuclear incident has resulted from an act of commission or omission of an individual done with the intent to cause nuclear damage.

As a result, there could still be an overlap on claims arising out of supplied equipment or material with patent or latent defects or substandard services. This is especially so as it is open to interpretation whether the causes of action under all the three clauses of Section 17 are mutually exclusive. Therefore, according to the CII, it is critical that the rules or an amendment to the act expressly set out the legislative intent that the limit of a supplier’s liability will be as defined under clause 17(a).

The CII suggested that the law should also be consistent with the International Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), in order to conduct business with global companies. The confederation also said that there was a need to develop specific customised insurance solutions for suppliers. In India, insurers do not offer any policy under which suppliers to a nuclear power plant (NPP) can cover their risk.

Flag of Saudi Arabia

Move part of broader Saudi nuclear power plan

Flag of Saudi Arabia

In Brief

Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with China on 15 Jan for cooperation in the development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes to help the kingdom meet its rising demand for power and cut its growing dependence on depleting oil resources.

In Depth

The nuclear energy cooperation agreement was signed in Riyadh by officials in the presence of Saudi King Abdullah, Crown Prince Naif and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, together with a large number of high-ranking Saudi and Chinese officials.

The agreement seeks to establish a legal framework that strengthens scientific, technological and economic cooperation between Riyadh and Beijing, while the two sides reaffirm their desire to place the highest priority on nuclear safety and environmental protection, said an official source.

Insight

Saudi Arabia has announced plans to build up to 16 nuclear reactors with an investment of some US$80 billion over a period of 20 years to meet its growing requirement of power for electricity and seawater desalination. In Apr 2010, the kingdom announced plans to establish the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) in Riyadh – a centre that will play a key role in its plans to develop its nuclear power programme.

KA-CARE has been tasked with promoting research, making deals, and overseeing activities related to the use of atomic energy, according to an announcement by the Saudi Arabian government. It will also be the competent agency in charge of fulfilling national requirements in reference to existing and future treaties on nuclear and renewable energy signed by the kingdom, as well as being responsible for supervising works related to nuclear energy and radioactive waste projects. The initiative will be primarily funded through allocations from the state budget.

KA-CARE recently appointed the Finland and Switzerland-based Pöyry consultancy firm to help the Saudis in preparing a draft of the national perspective plan and high-level strategy in the area of nuclear and renewable energy applications.

Shaw Group, in partnership with Toshiba/Westinghouse and Exelon, is bidding for EPC contracts, expecting Saudi Arabia to build up to 32 nuclear reactors. France in early 2011 signed a nuclear cooperation agreement to pursue its interest in Saudi nuclear plans. In mid 2011, the kingdom inked a nuclear cooperation agreement with Argentina, related to smaller plants for desalination. An agreement signed with South Korea in Nov 2011 calls for cooperation in nuclear R&D, including building NPPs and research reactors, as well as training, safety and waste management.

KA-CARE was also negotiating with Russia, Czech Republic, the UK and the USA regarding further cooperation in the civil nuclear sector.

Areva's EPR, one of two reactors granted interim approval by the ONR (Illustration: Framatome ANP)

Plants can withstand Fukushima-type disaster

Areva's EPR, one of two reactors granted interim approval by the ONR (Illustration: Framatome ANP)

In Brief

French and Russian regulators in their recent report have confirmed that there was no need to change designs of nuclear power projects proposed to be built with their reactors at Jaitapur and Kudankulam in India.

In Depth

India’s nuclear expansion programme, which has seen opposition from local villagers and experts countrywide, has received a boost following safety assurances from French and Russian nuclear safety regulators associated with pertinent projects in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) has observed that the European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) proposed for the 10,000 MWe nuclear power plant (NPP) in Jaitapur, Maharashtra along the Konkan coastal area have safety features sufficient to withstand the kind of event that wreaked havoc in Fukushima last March.

The Russian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (Rostekhnadzor) gave a similar clearance to the two VVER-1000 units installed at Kudankulam NPP in Tamil Nadu. Rostekhnadzor, too, said the reactor could withstand Fukushima-type accidents or even attacks from aircraft.

Insight

India currently has 20 operating reactors, generating 4780 MWe power, which is just 3% of the country’s total energy consumption. It had planned to increase the share of nuclear power to 25% by 2032 by increasing the installed capacity 14-fold to 63,000 MWe by 2032. But after Fukushima, the nation’s nuclear capacity expansion programme is facing turbulence following opposition from villagers and anti-nuclear activists.

The Jaitapur nuclear power project had long been facing protests over marine and environmental safety concerns. In Kudankulam, villagers have opposed the commissioning of two newly-constructed reactors built by NPCIL with Russian collaboration, due to safety fears.

Both the French and Russian regulators noted the safety of the reactor designs in the final report they submitted last week after an extensive review of EPR and VVER-1000 reactors. These reports, which are available on the regulators’ websites, have been forwarded to Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL).

Referring to the reports, the state-owned NPCIL said a preliminary study suggested there was no need to renegotiate with Areva and AtomStroyExport for the supply of the EPR and VVER-1000, respectively. The corporation is in talks to sign a final works contract with Areva for the supply of the first two EPR units of 1650 MWe each for the Jaitapur project. At Kudankulam, Unit-1 is 99% ready, but its commissioning has been delayed due to protests from villagers. Kudankulam Unit- 2 is more than 95% ready and was to be commissioned in June this year.

NPCIL Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) S. K. Jain said stress tests carried out of the plants using EPR and VVER-1000 reactors in France and Russia revealed that the mitigation management system could effectively handle Fukushima-type accidents. The regulators have stated that there was no need for a change in design, so there is no need for renegotiation. The total cost for the six-unit 10,000 MWe Jaitapur NPP is estimated to be about US$20 billion, while the two Kudankulam units have so far incurred an expenditure of some US$2.5 billion.

The regulatory safety clearance for the EPR design is likely to give impetus to conclude ongoing talks between NPCIL and Areva to sign a final contract agreement. The Russians, too, are keen on finalising the commercial contract for Kudankulam 3&4 reactors, which have been held-up on the issue of suppliers’ liability.

Westinghouse AP1000 Reactor

China and new generation reactors

Monday, 16 January 2012

First plant based on Westinghouse AP1000 design in the world

Westinghouse AP1000 Reactor

In Brief

The construction of China’s first Generation III technology AP1000 nuclear power plant (NPP) is generally on schedule and the plant is expected to enter into operation by 2013, said Wang Binghua, board chairman of the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC), on 14 Jan.

In Depth

In 2009, China became the first country to start construction of a NPP implementing the new AP1000 Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) technology developed by the US nuclear company Westinghouse. The construction of the two AP1000 reactors in Sanmen, in the coastal region of Zhejiang Province, slowed following the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima NPP1 on 11 Mar 2011, resulting in delays of six to twelve months.

Wang attributed the slippage to the minor design adjustments made by Westinghouse during the execution stage and for addressing more stringent safety concerns. In addition, extra time was also taken by the construction and management staff to absorb the new generation reactor technology.

Both the SNPTC and Westinghouse have evaluated the safety parameters of the AP1000 in the wake of Fukushima and agree that the new reactors will be able to survive any Fukushima-level impact. The two companies are still working on measures to further augment nuclear safety.

Insight

China currently has 14 operational NPPs with varied capacity, generating some 12 GWe of power. They are constructing 27 more, mostly with 1000 MWe capacity reactors imported from the US, France and Japan. Some 52 more reactors are in different stages of planning, making China potentially the world’s biggest nuclear power destination, with its ambitious nuclear programme targeting 60 GWe by 2020 and 200 GWe by 2030.

The AP1000 design has been recognised by China as the mainstay for its nuclear power capacity expansion as well as the basis for the nation’s transition to Generation III technologies. The first four AP1000 reactors are being built at Sanmen and Haiyang, while at least eight more at four sites are firmly planned, with about 30 more proposed to follow.

Westinghouse transferred technology for its most advanced AP1000 reactor to China as part of a 2007 deal to sell four reactors. Since then, China has been working to increase the indigenisation of component production for the AP1000 and has already achieved 55% localisation of equipment for the four units under construction. The fifth AP1000 unit may be fully built using domestic components.

Meanwhile, China has rolled out its advanced 1,000 MWe PWR, ACPR-1000 which could allow it to export technology to other countries, including Pakistan, without the constraints of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues. The reactor was indigenously developed by China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC) with full IPR. In addition, China is developing an uprated version of the AP1000 reactor, known as the CAP1400. Initial designs of the CAP1400 were completed last year, and will be examined by government experts in May this year.

In Mar 2011, China suspended the construction and approval process for new NPPs in order to undertake a safety review, following the Fukushima nuclear plant accident. Chinese nuclear safety authorities has submitted reports on nuclear safety and atomic power development, and the State Council is soon to review these reports and issue guidelines for the country’s future nuclear power development.

Westinghouse Electric Company, a pioneer and global leader in nuclear plant design and construction, claims that the AP1000 PWR is the only Generation III+ reactor to receive design certification from the US NRC. The AP1000, based on the proven performance of Westinghouse-designed PWRs, is an advanced 1154 MWe NPP that uses the forces of nature and a simple design to enhance plant safety and reduce construction costs.

Defence R&D project is at final trial stage

In Brief

India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing a Tulsi-based herbal medicine for treating people exposed to nuclear radiation, a first-of-its-kind remedy in the world, the premiere defence research establishment has claimed.

In Depth

Tulsi, Sea-buckthorn and Podophyllum Hexandrum are three herbs that were selected to develop medicines to treat radiation-related sicknesses and to also act as a protection for those performing rescue work in radiation-affected areas, according to DRDO’s Chief Controller (R&D) W Selvamurthy.

Tulsi-based medicine is already undergoing clinical trials and will undergo more tests before the technology is finalised and it goes into commercial production. Animal trials have also been conducted with quite encouraging results, said Selvamurthy.

According to the DRDO official, while nuclear radiation damages DNA, Tulsi facilitates DNA repair, making it an effective treatment. At present, medicine used for treating radiation-related ailments is very toxic in nature. If the new herbal medicines are safe they could change the way radiation treatment is administered.

Fukushima Dai-ni NPP

Facilities damaged by Mar 2011 disaster

Fukushima Dai-ni NPP

In Brief

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) asked Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) on 11 Jan to prepare a report by the end of the month detailing its plan to repair equipment at its Fukushima Dai-ni (No. 2) nuclear power plant (NPP), damaged by the Mar 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

In Depth

The report is required to further ensure that the plant will remain in a stable state of cold shutdown, Kenji Matsuoka, chief of the disaster prevention section at the agency, said at a press conference. He denied it is aimed at requiring the utility to prepare for restarting the plant. Some facilities at the plant, including the emergency power generator and the cooling system for spent nuclear fuel pools, have been damaged, according to the agency.

A cold shutdown is defined as a condition in which the temperature at the bottom portion of a reactor pressure vessel is kept below 100ºC and exposure from the release of radioactive substances is being significantly contained.

The Fukushima Dai-ni NPP suffered lesser damage compared to the nearby Fukushima Dai-ichi plant that was crippled by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent 14m tsunami. In December, the government lifted a state of emergency proclaimed at the Fukushima Dai-ni NPP following the 11 Mar disaster.

French Nuclear Reactor sites

Calls for major safety upgrades post Fukushima

French Nuclear Reactor sites

In Brief

A forthright and futuristic report on the safety of French nuclear power plants (NPPs) released last week by France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) in Paris called for a sweeping safety upgrade of all the country’s reactors in the wake of Fukushima.

In Depth

Andre-Claude Lacoste, head of ASN in Paris, suggested at a press conference last week that the breach in the safety of Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP shattered the fundamental beliefs of modern nuclear safety that a series of back-up and redundant systems, combined with physical defenses was enough to prevent a catastrophic meltdown and release of radioactivity into the environment.

Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 each prompted profound rethinks of nuclear accidents and safety requirements. But the lessons were soon forgotten and the nuclear industry, regulators and governments tended to revert to reassuring people that atomic energy was once again safe, Lacoste added.

The ASN’s report is frank, stating clearly that a loss of coolant or electricity could, in the worst cases, see meltdowns at reactors in hours. It also lists many shortcomings found during recent ‘stress tests’, in which some safety aspects of plants were found not to conform to existing standards.

Elsewhere, the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), has highlighted the need for its members to respond properly to Fukushima, and has beefed up its own inspections and oversight of plants. The Fukushima lessons should encourage other countries to take a critical look at regulation of their own NPPs.

Insight

The ASN report makes a candid assessment of French nuclear safety in a post-Fukushima climate where worldwide public reassurance has too often taken priority over transparent debate. The ASN has come out with well-thought-out technical solutions to resolve the problem of how to protect a nuclear plant from external threats, such as natural disasters. The report recommends that all reactors, irrespective of their perceived vulnerability, should add a ‘hard core’ layer of safety systems, with control rooms, generators and pumps housed in bunkers able to withstand physical threats far in excess of design bases.

Notwithstanding some skepticism about whether France will ultimately implement all the new measures, the ASN plan has an immediate advantage in that it has raised the post-Fukushima nuclear safety bar for other countries. Those governments, regulators and operators have yet to propose anything close to such far-reaching measures.

France, the world’s leading user of nuclear power, will be the nation to lose most from a global rejection of new safety measures. Some critics would find contradiction in the ASN’s statement that France’s reactors are fundamentally safe with its claim that they must be upgraded on safety grounds. But France needs to be given credit for identifying its nuclear shortcomings, especially when other nations are shying away from publicly discussing problems concerning their own reactors and regulations.

In the US, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the industry’s policy group, plans to meet with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on 13 Jan to propose improvements in the industry’s “flexible mitigation capability” for a variety of hazards. These would build on the ones instituted after the aircraft attacks of 11 Sep 2001, when the industry brought in portable generators, water pumps, hoses and batteries to ensure water supply to a reactor or a spent fuel pool in an emergency.

Experts say the industry will always oppose the costs of tougher regulations; and shortsighted leaders, nuclear establishments and companies will continue to insist that a repeat of Fukushima is impossible in their own countries. But all the world’s leading nuclear operators should recognize their vested interest in establishing the causes of the Fukushima disaster and learning the lessons there, since they know too well that another major accident anywhere in the world could imperil the already-struggling nuclear industry.

Reactor core at Gösden NPP (Photo: Kernkrawtwerk Gosdgen-Daniken AG)

New norms more stringent than EU stress-tests

Reactor core at Gösden NPP (Photo: Kernkrawtwerk Gosdgen-Daniken AG)

In Brief

Switzerland’s nuclear reactors need further review for safety applications and also require more confirmation of their capability to withstand major earthquakes, the Swiss nuclear safety authority said on 10 Jan.

In Depth

The Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ESNI) made the assessment in the context of stress tests which the country ordered last June, keeping in line with the EU decision following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Switzerland was among seven EU countries that agreed to follow the bloc’s decision by imposing new safety checks on its nuclear power plants (NPPs).

The new safety measures will be based on tougher risk assumptions than those in the EU stress tests. The ENSI will assess the plants’ assurances and the findings will be made available by the end of June. In case the safety measures are considered insufficient to offer protection against severe natural disasters – in particular the combination of earthquakes and failure of dams near NPPs – the ENSI could, in theory, require plants to stop production, the authority said in a statement on its website.

Overall, the ENSI findings submitted to the EU Commission on 31 Dec 2011, were favourable. The report said that Switzerland’s five reactor blocks were capable of withstanding flooding, loss of cooling systems and internal power, extreme weather and emergency operations. The final results will be addressed in June 2012 after the report is subjected to a peer review. In 2010, Switzerland produced 38.1% of its electric power from its five NPPs.

IN THE ARCHIVE