02 September 2014, Tuesday

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, viagra side effects prostate cancerseparating 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.

Indian Point NPP

New York NPP shut down over water leak

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Leakage of radioactive water detected in pump

Indian Point NPP

In Brief

Entergy’s Indian Point 2 reactor in Buchanan, a New York City suburb, was shut down on 10 Jan to repair a cooling pump that was leaking radioactive water.

In Depth

Entergy Nuclear, owner of the nuclear power plant (NPP) and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said the water was contained within the pump and there was no release of radioactivity to the outside and no danger to human life.

Entergy says the cooling pump normally leaks about 2 gallons of water in a minute, but the quantity of flow increased over the past two weeks, spiking to 5.5 gallons per minute early 10 Jan, which called for a reactor shutdown. Operating procedures require a controlled shutdown when the level reaches 5 gallons per minute.

The defective pump is one of four that supply cooling water to the Indian Point 2 reactor. The water becomes slightly radioactive because it circulates through the nuclear fuel, NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said.

Indian Point 2 and 3, built in 1974 and 1976 respectively, together generate 2000 MWe of power and meet some 30% of the electricity used in New York City and Westchester County. Indian Point 3 continued operating at full power. Entergy has applied for 20-year license extensions for the NPP, for which the hearings are expected later this year. Its current licenses expire in 2013 and 2015.

River Bend NPP

NRC proposes fine against Entergy

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Operators found to be surfing the Net while on duty

River Bend NPP

In Brief

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has proposed a US$140,000 fine against Entergy Corp. at the River Bend Station, for allowing its control room operators to surf the Internet while on duty in 2010.

In Depth

According to a statement made 10 Jan by the NRC, nine control-room workers at the River Bend Station nuclear power plant (NPP), between Jan to Apr 2010, accessed the Internet while on duty and violated plant operating procedures. River Bend is a 978 MWe Boiling Water Reactor commissioned in Jun 1986 and is located about 40 km northwest of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Control room operators at the NPP are required to continuously monitor the parameters of the reactor and other important plant systems to ensure that the plant functions safely. The plant procedures require operators to remain attentive and focused on their work at all times, said the NRC.

Three of the nine operators who were surfing the web more frequently are being issued Severity Level III enforcement violations while the remaining six will receive Severity Level IV violations. The plant itself will receive a Severity Level III violation and a fine of US$140,000, double the base civil penalty of US$70,000, for not taking adequate action to remedy the problem.

Severity Level I signifies the highest level and Severity Level IV is the lowest level. Entergy Corp. has been penalised for failing to prevent its employees in a reactor control room from inappropriately accessing the Internet. Entergy could pay the fine or contest the penalty within 30 days.

Insight

The violation of procedure by Entergy’s staff in an operational NPP has much wider implications and needs to be analysed in its entirety. While inattentive operating staff indicates a behavioral issue, it is only part of the problem. The more serious matter concerns organisational aspects. Internet accessibility in a critical functional area such as the reactor control room itself should be a matter of concern.

In sensitive installations, Internet access is usually kept highly restricted and is meant to be allowed only through proper authorisation by senior staff for a specific purpose. A proper record of the user, the purpose and duration is typically maintained in a logbook for future reference.

In addition, sensitive computer networks are mostly standalone systems based on specialised machines with no outside connectivity, so as to protect them from unauthorised use or a virus attack. Computers having Internet connectivity should be kept in a secure place and permitted to be operated only by the designated senior staff following proper authentication procedures.

Bangladesh

Project to progress with Russian collaboration

Bangladesh

In Brief

Bangladesh is set to foray into the nuclear energy sector with the upcoming construction of two 1,000 MWe reactors at Rooppur with Russian technology, State Minister for Science and Technology Yeafesh Osman told a news channel in an exclusive interview.

In Depth

Each nuclear power plant (NPP) will have a life cycle of 60 years with a provision for a 20-year extension. The setting up of each 1000 MWe NPP will entail an expenditure of US$1.5 to 2 billion, depending on safety features and technology level. The work is expected to be completed in the next five years.

Bangladesh started negotiations with Russia on building the two NPPs at Rooppur in 2008 and a framework agreement with Rosatom was signed in May 2010. The final cooperation agreement with the government was signed on 2 Nov 2011, under which the Russians will provide all necessary support and infrastructure development. The commercial agreement is expected to be signed in May or Jun this year, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visits Russia.

In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in Mar 2011, the Bangladesh government wants to buy the latest Generation-III technology reactors, which will have a five-layer security measure to prevent radiation leakage. The reactors will be able to withstand the combined effect of a powerful tsunami and earthquake and withstand even a large aircraft crash. The plant will have a water-based cooling system with a back-up air ventilation system that will automatically start in case of a power failure, the minister claimed.

Under the agreement, Russia will provide the fuel required to run the NPP and take back the spent fuel. The Russians will also help Bangladesh in human resource development.

The financial agreement is likely to be signed in May or June this year. The cabinet has already passed the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Bill, 2012, which will be addressed in the winter session scheduled to commence on 25 Jan. The bill was formulated after consultations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Russian government.

Hydrated magnesium, uranium phosphate from Australia (Photo: Rob Lavinsky)

Critics skeptical about authority’s autonomy

hydrated magnesium, uranium phosphate

Hydrated magnesium, uranium phosphate from Australia (Photo: Rob Lavinsky)

In Brief

The Indian parliament is considering legislation to replace the long-standing Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), with the government-controlled Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA).

In Depth

The move comes as Australian officials prepare to begin negotiations for the sale of uranium to India’s nuclear power sector. This month, the Australian Labour Party (ALP) lifted a long-standing ban on selling uranium to India, even though India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

India continues to remain outside the NPT, but has signed other international nuclear cooperation agreements and is now subject to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It has also agreed to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC).

The Australian Greens have called the new authority a puppet body designed to back the Indian government. The NSRA would be subject to direction by some Indian government ministers.

The legislation dismantling the board and creating the new authority signals a dramatic downturn in accountability and independence when it comes to nuclear policy and practice in India.

Insight

The proposed NSRA will be answerable to a group of ministers who will exercise authority over the regulator, issue directions and even appoint or dismiss its members, giving rise to allegations that the new organisation will be controlled by the government.

Adinarayan Gopalakrishnan, a former Chairman of the AERB, said that the NSRA bill will not lead to an independent or transparent regulator in the nuclear sphere and that the new authority was being formed to allow vested interests to control and profit from India’s nuclear industry.

According to critics, the bill will allow top executives – the senior atomic scientists, bureaucrats and politicians – to co-opt the nuclear power sector to help Indian and foreign entities import reactors into India on their terms, irrespective of their relative safety or cost considerations. Safety will be compromised under the new domestic regulator, say some experts.

The AERB presently performs all the functions related to the regulatory and safety aspects of nuclear power in India, as a part of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), which is also responsible for the growth of nuclear power in the country. That structure was flawed, since the DAE had “conflicts of interest” affecting the independent functioning of the regulator, and hence there was a long-outstanding call for creating a fully autonomous organisation. The demand gathered momentum after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, which brought the aspect of safe NPPs to the centre stage and reinforced the necessity of an independent regulator.

A resolution passed at the ALP’s national conference in early December said uranium sales to India would be based on a new safeguards agreement and India’s commitment to global nuclear agreements other than the NPT, which it has not signed. Australia will not sell uranium to India unless the government is satisfied that those conditions are met, said Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan 23 Dec, adding it is too early to make judgments about the safety of India’s nuclear industry, since negotiations over Australian uranium sales to the East Asian giant are yet to begin.

Candu 6 Rector Schematic (Illustration: Inductiveload)

Indian government approves Kaiga units 5, 6

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Plants will be based on indigenous design

Candu 6 Rector Schematic (Illustration: Inductiveload)

In Brief

The Indian government has given approval in-principle for construction to begin this April on two more units, each of 700 MWe capacity, at the existing Kaiga nuclear power plant (NPP) complex, in the state of Karnataka.

In Depth

The announcement was made by Director (Operations) of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) G. Nageshwar Rao while addressing the media at the Kaiga NPP on 7 Jan. The construction of the indigenously designed 700 MWe Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) is likely to be completed by the end of 2017.

The NPCIL acquired 120 hectares of forest land for the construction of six units. Some 85 hectares have already been utilised for the construction of the first four units and the remaining land is adequate to house two more reactors. Kaiga NPP – known as Kaiga Power Generating Station (KPGS) – presently has four operating units of 220 MWe PHWR. The new Units 5 & 6 will incorporate special technology to enhance the safety of these NPPs that will include measures to deal with unexpected incidents inside the nuclear installations.

Meanwhile, the NPCIL, concerned over an ongoing disinformation campaign that cancer is spreading in and around the Kaiga NPP, on 7 Jan undertook a damage control exercise. Experts from Tata Memorial Center (TMC), the country’s premiere cancer treatment institution, and the NPCIL were brought to Kaiga to allay the fears of the villagers. The experts assured the people that there was no increase in cases of cancer in Kaiga or near any other NPP in India.

Aris S. Candris

Westinghouse CEO Candris intends to retire

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Jim Ferland tipped to succeed

Aris S. Candris

In Brief

Westinghouse Electric Company announced on 10 Jan that its President and CEO, Aris S. Candris, 60, intends to retire effective 31 Mar 2012, but will continue as a senior advisor to the company.

In Depth

Candris first joined Westinghouse in 1975 as a senior engineer in the former Advanced Reactor Division and rose to his current assignment in Jul 2008. Candris was credited with the recent US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) clearance of the final design of the AP1000 reactor, the approval for the first new nuclear power plant (NPP) in the US in three decades, and beginning the construction of the first phase of four AP 1000 NPPs in China. Westinghouse revenues and operating profit increased at an average rate in excess of 20% per year during Candris’ tenure.

Westinghouse announced the appointment of Jim Ferland as President and CEO and Ricardo Perez as President and COO, both currently serving with the company. Ferland is the President, Americas Region, and Perez serves as President, Operations.

Westinghouse Electric Company, a group company of Toshiba Corporation, is a leading supplier of nuclear plant products and technologies to utilities throughout the world. Westinghouse supplied the world’s first Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) in 1957. Today, almost one-half of the world’s operating NPPs are based on Westinghouse technology.

China universities to receive help from France (Photo: Peter17)

France trains Chinese nuclear engineers

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Will award post-graduate degrees to graduate nuclear engineers

China universities to receive help from France (Photo: Peter17)

In Brief

France will train some 100 Chinese nuclear engineering graduates to post-graduate level with masters’ degrees in nuclear engineering at their Institute for Nuclear Energy in southern China’s Guangdong province.

In Depth

France is financing about half the cost of the recently-opened university with a longterm objective to train future Chinese decision-makers who can facilitate partnerships with France in the nuclear energy sector.

“If China’s investment in nuclear (energy) fails either from an industrial or safety point of view, it will impact France’s strategic choices,” says Bernard Bigot, the head of the French Atomic Energy Commission, which strategises the country’s nuclear expansion. “You only have to look at the impact that Fukushima had on France to understand that if a country invests in nuclear it has to do it in an exemplary manner,” added Bigot.

Insight

The opening of the university highlights the importance France attaches to the growth of the nuclear power field in China. France also has an interest in ensuring that its +US$400 billion investment in nuclear energy in the last four decades continues to pay dividends. It also shows the potential stakes France’s nuclear industry has in the Chinese nuclear sector.

The academy’s US$38 million, six-year budget is provided by a consortium of businesses, including EDF, Areva and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co., while Chinese universities provide infrastructure to conduct the programme. China has selected France because it believes that the European nation, with 58 operating nuclear reactors, is the leader of nuclear-energy technologies, said Yang Peiqing, the institute co-director. The continuance of the joint French-Chinese programme beyond 2016 will be decided after a review.

China potentially offers the largest nuclear energy market in the world, with some 28 plants under construction out of a total 62 being built worldwide. French nuclear company Areva SA has contracts to supply China with two European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) and recently signed a partnership with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to optimize operations at the Chinese company’s existing NPPs.

China also has an interest in creating its intrinsic nuclear trained manpower, with a long-term perspective of exporting reactor technology. Engineers with fluency in French could help China make inroads in potential French-speaking regions in case it plans to export nuclear-power technology.

Flag of Turkey

To push ahead with its second nuclear plant

Flag of Turkey

In Brief

Turkey and Japan agreed on 6 Jan to continue with their bilateral nuclear cooperation talks on construction of a nuclear power plant (NPP), Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, speaking at a joint press conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, who is on a visit to Ankara.

In Depth

Turkey is determined to proceed with the nuclear cooperation and expects that Japan’s experiences after last year’s earthquake and tsunami will further enrich the collaboration, Davutoglu said. Both countries have identical energy requirements and therefore have huge potential to work on nuclear and renewable energy with similar projects, the minister added.

Gemba drew attention to the importance of Japan sharing experiences in building NPPs and lessons taken from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Davutoglu said Turkey and Japan were significant strategic partners in all regional issues and that he attached vital importance to developing a common Asia strategy with Japan.

Turkey is planning to build NPPs in three locations by 2023. The talks between Tokyo and Ankara on the construction of its second nuclear complex and on a civil nuclear pact were suspended following the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP, triggered by the 11 Mar 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Locals fear for nearby fishery

Plant could use GE-Hitachi reactor technology

Locals fear for nearby fishery

In Brief

The state government has accorded clearance for beginning the land acquisition process by the state authorities for the proposed 6000 MWe nuclear power plant at Kovvada village in the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.

In Depth

The Andhra Pradesh (AP) government on 27 Dec issued an order to acquire 1000 hectares of land from farmers in and around the project area. The land includes 775.5 hectares for the plant and 125 hectares for building a township and accommodation for security personnel. Officials say at least 1,200 to 1,400 hectares will be required for various purposes to meet the present needs and also for future expansion of the power plant.

The state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) will now move ahead with the Srikakulam nuclear power project, despite ongoing agitation over the Kudankulam NPP in neighbouring Tamil Nadu state. The cost of the land and salaries to the acquisition staff will be borne by the NPCIL, while the state-run AP Power Generation Corporation will be the nodal agency to oversee the entire project.

Insight

The Kovvada project site was approved by the Centre in principle as part of the first four sites identified in 2009 to set up nuclear energy parks following the signing of the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement. The other sites included Jaitapur in Maharashtra, Haripur in West Bengal, Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu and Mithi Virdi in Gujarat. The Haripur project, once proposed to be built by the Russian company Rosatom, has been suspended at the behest of the West Bengal state government.

The Kovvada project is expected to be constructed by the NPCIL using GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) technology. The NPP will comprise six Generation-III technology 1000 MWe Light Water Reactors (LWRs), planned to be constructed with American expertise at an estimated cost of about US$20 billion. The Mithi Virdi NPP is slated to be built by US company, Westinghouse.

Progress on the Kovvada project became sluggish in the wake of protests in Jaitapur and Kudankulam, especially after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The state finally ordered the land acquisition process when the union government conveyed its resolve to firmly push ahead with the commissioning of Kudankulam and construction of other nuclear projects.

In March, several villagers and environmentalists from the surrounding area protested against the project, fearing that the radioactivity and groundwater pollution would harm marine life and reduce their fishery products. Meanwhile, ruling party leaders from the state have started lobbying hard to convince people who would have to give up their land for the proposed NPP.

No breakthrough in Moscow nuclear talks with Iran

Iran accepts West’s offer to resume talks

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Need for a calibrated approach

In Brief

Iran has agreed to an offer to restart negotiations with the West over its nuclear programme, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said 5 Jan, expressing hope that talks stalled a year ago could soon be revived.

In Depth

Facing economic pressure from the new sanctions imposed by the US and the EU, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi confirmed that Iran was ready to return to talks with the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (P5+1) at a time and place agreed by both sides. The statement was made by Salehi during a joint press conference with Davutoglu carried live on Iran’s Press TV.

According to Davutoglu, the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who heads the P5+1 delegation, recommended to Turkey that it host the talks, a proposal to which Ankara has agreed. Salehi also said he personally considered Turkey as the best place for the talks to take place. Istanbul was the venue of the last talks, which ended in stalemate a year ago.

Insight

Iran has come under much tougher sanctions from the West and its Asian allies, which accuse it of developing nuclear weapons capability under the guise of a civilian nuclear programme. Tehran denies the allegation, saying its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and that it has a sovereign right to pursue atomic technology.

Israel, which says a nuclear armed Iran would be a threat to its existence, has warned that it could launch pre-emptive strikes if diplomacy fails to halt Tehran’s nuclear programme. The US echoed Israel’s concerns, stating that a military option is “not off the table” as a last resort.

Iran last responded to these threats by conducting a 10-day naval exercise in the Strait of Hormuz to demonstrate its intent, saying it would close the Gulf to shipping if attacked, rendering a potentially major blow to the world oil market.

But in a positive development, the Kremlin said that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by phone on 5 Jan at Tehran’s initiative. According to the Kremlin’s website, Medvedev expressed satisfaction with Ahmadinejad’s “positive evaluation” of Russia’s “step-by-step” proposal to dispel concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme. The Russian proposal recommends incentives by way of easing restrictions on Iran for every positive action Tehran takes towards settling its nuclear dispute.

Meanwhile, Iran faced the prospect of cutbacks in its oil sales to China and Japan as new measures to block Tehran’s crude exports appeared to be hurting its economy. On 4 Jan, EU leaders agreed in principle to impose an oil embargo against Iranian crude purchases. China, Iran’s biggest trade partner, had already cut its imports of Iranian oil by more than half this month and would extend the cuts to February, according to the Beijing-based trader. Japan would consider cutbacks in its Iranian oil purchases to secure a waiver from new US sanctions.

Collectively, China, the EU and Japan buy about half of Iran’s exports of 2.6 million barrels of oil per day. Iran may be looking for more buyers for its crude, but it will have to offer steeper discounts that will hit the revenue it needs to import food, medicines and other basic supplies. China is already seeking higher discounts for continuing to import crude from Iran in spite of Western sanctions.

Experts’ opinions on the real impact of the measures translating into diplomatic leverage are divided, as some believe that these could even prove to be counterproductive and may further ensconce Iranian defiance. Some analysts even suggest there is growing evidence the impact of sanctions may obscure the diplomatic process that will ultimately be needed to resolve Tehran’s long-running nuclear standoff with the West.

The nuclear standoff led to four rounds of economic sanctions from the UN Security Council and a range of US and European measures, but none of these directly hurt Iran’s ability to sell oil in the past. However, the new US measures directed against oil exports, if implemented fully, would make it impossible for most countries to buy Iranian crude.

The Western stance appears to have toughened after a UN report last November that suggested Iran took significant steps to develop an atomic bomb. However, there is the belief that the gravity of the situation calls for a more calibrated approach to avoid Iran being driven to the brink, as this could result in hurting oil supplies, thereby impacting an already fragile world economy.

Better equipment means better decontamination

Will be used for Fukushima clean-up operation

Better equipment means better decontamination

In Brief

Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy, Ltd (Hitachi-GE) has developed a new simulation software system to evaluate radiation dose rates in a wide area. According to a news item on the company’s website, they have started employing it for an outsourcing service.

In Depth

The system developed by Hitachi-GE is based on a technology that evaluates radiation dose rates in a wide area. It was created using expertise that the company acquired through designing in-plant facilities at nuclear power plants (NPPs). These technologies work on radiation dose evaluation, radiation shielding evaluation, and radiation detection principles.

The system can generate radiation dose rate maps. It can also indicate the contaminated areas within selected locations as well as the levels of contamination. The new system allows operators to generate decontamination plans and assess their expected effects by generating a dose rate map after inputting decontamination factors in the radioactively contaminated area.

In decontamination work, the system can help speed up sanitization efforts. The process makes it possible to plan out actions to reduce the radiation exposure to both workers and inhabitants. Hitachi-GE can conduct both decontamination planning and radiation detection work using this new system.

Last week, the Japanese government announced that the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP has been brought to a “cold shut-down” condition, implying that the temperature of molten fuel in reactor cores has been brought to a manageable level. The government is now planning to start decontamination work for the radioactively contaminated area as part of the last phase of the post-Fukushima clean-up operation. It is expected that the Hitachi-GE measurement system will be used in the decontamination efforts.

India seeks collaboration to manufacture components for large reactors (Photo: RIA Novosti archive)

Seeks overseas market for reactor turbines

India seeks collaboration to manufacture components for large reactors (Photo: RIA Novosti archive)

In Brief

India’s state-owned power equipment company Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) is making efforts to collaborate with other international nuclear reactor vendors to manufacture the components of larger capacity reactors.

In Depth

In Feb 2011 BHEL signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the formation of a three-way joint venture (JV) with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and Alstom of France for the manufacturing of components of the conventional island (turbine side) of nuclear power plants (NPPs) of 700 MWe capacity and above. The company is now also seeking to expand its market overseas.

Based on the MoU, BHEL received orders for the manufacture and supply of steam turbine generator packages in cooperation with Alstom for 2×700 MWe NPPs being constructed by the NPCIL at Kakrapar. The balance equipment, including erection and commissioning will be undertaken by BHEL. Six to eight more 700 MWe reactors are proposed in different states in India.

Earlier, in Jan 2011, BHEL signed a MoU with GE-Hitachi for possible cooperation to manufacture components of 1000 MWe+ capacity reactors.

Insight

BHEL’s collaboration with GE-Hitachi and its search for more collaboration is significant given that the NPCIL will be constructing a large number of 1000 MWe and higher capacity NPPs based on Light Water Reactor (LWR) technology imported from the US, France and Russia.

India plans to increase its nuclear power generating capacity to 20,000 MWe by 2020 and 63,000 MWe by 2032 as projected by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). To achieve this, the NPCIL proposes to construct indigenously-developed 700 MWe reactors and imported LWRs to generate some 20,000 MWe by 2020. The remaining 43,000 MWe will come from some 40 reactors of 1000 MWe or higher capacity built with imported technology in 10 more years.

With the growing emphasis on cost-cutting and localisation, BHEL is seeking a greater role in supplying major components for the domestic nuclear power sector, especially for large-sized reactors. Additional international collaboration will also help BHEL tap global nuclear energy markets.

Nuclear economics shifted by Fukushima (Photo: Jorge Rodriguez)

Additional safety features to escalate the cost

Nuclear economics shifted by Fukushima (Photo: Jorge Rodriguez)

In Brief

A new report “Nuclear Safety and Nuclear Economics,” authored by Mark Cooper, a critic of the nuclear power industry, said that the regulatory repercussions from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan will short-circuit the US nuclear renaissance.

In Depth

The document, released 28 Dec by Mr. Cooper, a senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at the Vermont Law School, said that nuclear disasters in the past have tended to greatly raise regulatory barriers and resulted in multiplying the cost of reactor construction. After the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in 1979, the cost of nuclear power plant (NPP) construction doubled in most cases and trebled or quadrupled in some rare instances, the report claimed.

The report appears just days after an investigative panel appointed by the Japanese government gave a critical assessment of the response to the disaster, which was caused by a magnitude 9 earthquake followed by a 14m tsunami that crippled the Fukushima NPP. The panel blamed both the central government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) for not taking timely decisions to stem radiation leaks soon after the accident, resulting in a worsening of the situation at the Fukushima NPP in the following days.

A recent report by the World Nuclear Association (WNA) said that as few as four of the 26 new nuclear facilities that have been proposed or planned in the US will be completed by 2020. It attributed the slowdown primarily to the boom in domestic natural gas production, which has “put the economic viability of some of these projects in doubt.”

Insight

The Fukushima disaster has brought the safety of nuclear plants – both the existing NPPs and future reactor designs – to the centre of the ongoing nuclear debate over the future growth of nuclear power. Skeptics the world over have started questioning the viability of nuclear power as a safe and economic option to generate base-load power.

Several nuclear safety reviews and studies conducted in the wake of the nuclear accident in Japan have stressed the need for instituting additional measures to strengthen the safety of NPPs to withstand Fukushima-type disasters. The measures essentially focus on improved reactor designs to contain nuclear meltdowns, passive cooling systems, and ‘layer-over-layer’ of backup power supply – up to three diesel generating sets per plant – and ready availability of a sufficient water supply. All these measures will add to the cost of constructing new nuclear plants, resulting in a higher per-unit cost of generating nuclear power.

Japan has recently come out with a new formulation for calculating the cost of NPPs, which includes societal factors, such as the price of dealing with nuclear accidents, sharply escalating the cost. A recent governmental report has said that the cost of generating nuclear power in Japan is now some 50% more than in 2004 because of the added cost of dealing with nuclear accidents and policy changes.

The Japanese method of incorporating the risk of accidents in NPPs into power generation costs and factoring in the possibility of a core meltdown is likely to result in escalating the per-unit cost of nuclear power. With the new calculations, the cost of production of nuclear power will become comparable with solar and wind energy, justifying the call for replacing nuclear with renewables.

Meanwhile, Victor Gilinsky, a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has said that the environmental and economic consequences of land contamination from a large radioactive release from Indian Point should be carefully considered during the license renewal proceedings. The recommendation is particularly relevant given the lasting impact that contamination can have on New York City’s water supply and food products.

Xcel Energy Center (Photo: Alexius Horatius)

Areva, Xcel enter fuel services contract

Saturday, 7 January 2012

US$500 million deal includes plant upgrades

In Brief

Areva announced on 5 Jan it has entered into a US$500 million deal with Minnesota to provide a decade of front-end nuclear fuel services to the Monticello nuclear power plant.

Xcel Energy Center (Photo: Alexius Horatius)

In Depth

Under the agreement, the French nuclear company Areva will supply all the goods and services for Monticello’s single-unit NPP beginning in 2015, with refueling to be conducted six times over the 10-year contract.

The contract also covers certain technological upgrades to enable the 600 MWe GE-designed Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) to use Areva’s ATRIUM 10XM fuel. The modifications will increase Monticello reactor’s output from 600 MWe to 829 MWe.

Insight

Monticello’s NPP is located in the US state of Minnesota along the Mississippi River. The plant, built as a turn-key project, achieved its first criticality in 1970 and went into commercial operation in 1971. The NPP is owned and operated by Xcel Energy and was based on GE’s BWR-3 design. The reactor was originally licensed to operate until 2010. However, on 8 Nov 2006, it was extended to operate until 2030.

The plant has had a sound operating history and is one of only two NPPs in the US never to have received an Enforcement Action from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The Xcel-Areva agreement is considered extraordinary. It was the first such integrated fuel contract from a US utility in several decades. Xcel’s chief nuclear officer Dennis Koehl said it will “benefit customers by controlling fuel costs.”

Nuclear fuel production entails a highly complex front-end process of the nuclear fuel cycle (NFC), involving several stages such as mining, conversion to gas for enrichment, enrichment by centrifuges or other means, and the final manufacture of ceramic fuel pellets and finished fuel rod assemblies. Back-end activities include management of used fuel storage, reprocessing, recycling and waste disposal.

The refuelling cycle timelines of a NPP are predictable, giving the plant operator the option to plan the quantity and hold stocks of the various forms of uranium and also to utilise diverse fuel services from separate companies at each stage.

After refurbishment, the Monticello NPP will switch to Areva’s ATRIUM 10XM advanced BWR fuel, which the French supplier claims will improve both fuel efficiency and operating flexibility. European reactors since 2002 have used some 900 fuel assemblies of ATRIUM 10XM design, which are based on the operation of over 20,000 ATRIUM 10×10 fuel assemblies. The ATRIUM 10XM design follows stringent specifications with regards to precision and cleanliness, resulting in a significant fuel cycle cost advantage in 18 to 24-month cycles and EPU (extended power uprate) conditions, Areva claims.

To buy 50% stake in Mkuju south

In Brief

Australia-based East Africa Resources Ltd (EAF) has entered into a Heads of Agreement (HOA) with Korea Resources Corporation (Kores), which wants to buy a 50% stake in EAF’s Mkuju South uranium project in Tanzania.

In Depth

The HOA signed in Seoul on 3 Jan covers the terms of direct investment of US$3.5 million over a two-year period by Kores to secure 50% equity in one of EAF’s Southern Mkuju uranium projects. In addition to its shareholding in Mkuju South, Kores will earn the right to purchase up to 100% of the uranium produced from the area, subject to terms yet to be agreed between the parties.

Kores will first commit to invest US$2 million to satisfy work obligations and expenditures during an initial exploration programme for Mkuju South, to be undertaken within the next 12 months. In return, it will receive a 28% stake in the project. Kores will then invest a further US$1.5 million to fund a second exploration programme during the following 12 months, which will increase its holding to 50%.

Insight

State-owned Kores was formed in 1967 to pursue Korea’s interests in the strategically important mineral resources sector, including uranium, both domestically and globally. It has previously declared its intention to invest heavily in uranium and copper mines in Africa and South America.

EAF Chairman and CEO, Louis Coetzee, said that the agreement with Kores will allow the company to rapidly progress exploration activities as well as provide a ready buyer for uranium. EAF expects to benefit from the 40 years’ experience Kores has as a major investor in mineral exploration around the world, the CEO added.

Kores President Kim Shin-Jong, too, expressed satisfaction with the partnership with East Africa Resources in their exploration work in Tanzania, adding that the company recognises the potential of the region to develop into a mining centre of international significance.

The Mkuju South uranium project is located in southern Tanzania, 470 km southwest of Dar es Salaam, and comprises 20 contiguous tenements (12 granted licenses, some renewals and applications) covering a total area of over 4,000 sq km. EAF’s Mkuju project is adjacent to Uranium One’s Nyota project on its eastern boundary and also sits above Uranex Ltd’s Likuyu North project on its southern boundary. The area was discovered as prospective for uranium exploration in 1978.

The company is targeting sandstone-hosted roll-front deposits, such as are found at Uranium One’s Nyota prospect in southern Tanzania (101.4 million lbs @ 422ppm U3O8) and Paladin Energy Limited’s Kayelakera Mine in Malawi (46 million lbs @ 802ppm U3O8), both of which are hosted nearby in similar geological settings of Karoo sandstones.

But will North ever give up nuclear path?

In Brief

South Korea’s President, Lee Myung-bak, said in a televised address 1 Jan, he is willing to “open the door” to better relations with North Korea under its new leader, Kim Jong-un, provided Kim is sincere and eschews provocation.

In Depth

Lee’s comments came after Kim Jong-un was formally named “supreme commander” of the North’s ruling party, army and people. Last week the North’s national defence commission warned the world not to expect a change in policy under its new leadership, adding that it would never negotiate with the Lee administration. In its New Year address, North Korea said its 23 million citizens, including its army of 1.2 million, were ready to defend Kim Jong-un to the death.

According to Lee, the biggest goal for the country is to ensure the peace and stability of the Korean region. The situation on the Korean peninsula is now entering a new turning point, but there should be a new opportunity amid the change and uncertainty, said Lee, who ended unconditional aid to the North four years ago.

Lee suggested that stalled multi-party talks on North Korea’s atomic weapons programme could restart as soon as Pyongyang suspends its nuclear activities. The talks involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan have been stalled since 2008, when North Korea walked away, objecting to the proposed scrutiny of its nuclear facilities. A year later it conducted its second nuclear weapons test.

The North’s New Year message avoided any of the usual criticism of the US and made no reference of its nuclear weapons programme, signaling the regime may be willing to return to aid-for-disarmament talks with Washington. According to the UN, a quarter of the population – about 6 million people – are suffering from malnutrition.

Insight

Although the offer by the South Korean president to resume talks with the North signals Seoul’s sincere intent to mend relations with Pyongyang, it may be too early to predict what course the new regime will adopt in future with regards to its nuclear weaponisation programme. In the past, the North has leveraged its nuclear capability as a bargaining chip to seek concessions at the negotiating table.

Experts on North Korea say it is unlikely that it would adopt a radically different course under its new young ruler, who is believed to lack the experience or political support to initiate his own line of policy. The new leader is the third member of the Kim dynasty to rule the country and was being groomed for the role since 2009.

North Korea, too, has called for the resumption of dialogue, but the US and South Korea are wary of rushing back to the negotiation table, given the past experience of Pyongyang’s engaging in protracted negotiations only to walk away from its obligations.

Most analysts believe the North is most unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons programme, as it provides the authoritarian regime with ascendency during negotiations.

Baltic States

Guidelines for agreement finalised

In Brief

The Lithuanian government and Japan’s Hitachi Ltd finalised the guidelines of a preliminary agreement to finance and construct a nuclear power plant (NPP) in the Baltic country at an estimated cost of US$5.1 billion.

In Depth

According to Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, the agreement marked an important intermediate point of the negotiations. The guidelines agreement specifies the content of the concession agreement and its components.

The final contract to begin construction of the NPP will be signed by Hitachi next year, company President Hiroaki Nakanishi said on 20 Dec. The plant, to be built by Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd, a joint venture (JV) company with General Electric Co, is scheduled to become operational in 2020.

In 2009, at Ignalina, Lithuania closed its last nuclear reactor, which had been producing 70% of its electricity. It was once one of Lithuania’s major exports.

Insight

In February 2007, the three Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – along with Poland, decided to build a 3200 MWe capacity NPP at Ignalina, comprising two 1600 MWe reactors. In May 2011, Hitachi-GE and Westinghouse submitted competitive bids as potential strategic investors. In July, Lithuania together with its project partners evaluated the two proposals and selected Hitachi as strategic investor. The engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract, will be executed by GE-Hitachi.  The energy companies of the three participating countries will be investors with Hitachi in the project. According to the proposal, GE-Hitachi expects to build a 1350 MWe Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), a model already operating in Japan and Taiwan.

In October this year, the Lithuanian government formally notified the ?European Commission about its proposal to build the new NPP at Visaginas in collaboration with Estonia, Latvia and Poland. However, in December    Poland withdrew from the JV, saying that the terms and conditions of the Lithuanian power utility were unacceptable to them.

Lithuania has been party to the Vienna Convention on civil liability for nuclear damage since 1994. It became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1993. It signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1992 and the Additional Protocol in 2000.

LEU powder from Russia with love

USEC-TENEX uranium agreement takes effect

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Will ensure supply for US until 2022

LEU powder from Russia with love

In Brief

An agreement signed in March this year between Techsnabexport (TENEX) of Russia and United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), a wholly owned subsidiary of USEC Inc., for the supply of low enriched uranium (LEU) took effect on 22 Dec.

In Depth

Under the multi-year contract, TENEX will begin the supply of LEU to USEC in 2013 and ramp up the quantity delivered until it reaches a level in 2015 that is approximately one-half the current amount supplied by TENEX to USEC under the Megatons to Megawatts programme. The terms will include an option to further increase the quantities up to the original level. The Megatons to Megawatts programme  is scheduled to expire at the end of 2013. Under this programme, TENEX was supplying LEU that is produced by down-blending excess Russian weapons material.

The LEU to be delivered under the new contract will be produced at Russia’s commercial enrichment facilities and the supplies are expected to continue until 2022. USEC will purchase the separative work units (SWU) containing the LEU and return natural uranium to TENEX.

The agreement will come into effect following completion of administrative arrangements that provide the framework for the return to Russia of natural uranium delivered by TENEX.

Insight

The agreement assures US continued access to Russian-supplied LEU to meet USEC’s customer needs while it continues to work towards the deployment of the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio. USEC, also as a part of structuring options, has agreed to conduct a feasibility study jointly with TENEX to explore the possibility for deployment of a uranium enrichment plant in the US employing Russian centrifuge technology.

In the unique Megatons to Megawatts programme, TENEX recycles bomb-grade uranium extracted from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads into LEU to produce fuel for American nuclear power plants (NPPs). Under the terms of the contract, USEC purchases the LEU from TENEX and sells it to its electric utility customers for use in fabricating fuel for their commercial NPPs, and transfers to TENEX a quantity of natural uranium equal to the natural uranium component of the LEU.

USEC, as executive agency for the US government, and TENEX, working for the Russian government, are implementing a 20-year, US$8 billion programme commercially financed by a government-industry partnership at no cost to taxpayers. Including the natural uranium delivered by USEC to TENEX, the programme’s total value is approximately US$12 billion.

When the programme ends in 2013, some 500 metric tonnes (MT) of Russian highly enriched uranium (HEU), the equivalent of 20,000 warheads will have been converted into LEU. So far, 433 MT of bomb-grade HEU have been recycled into 12,494 MT of LEU, equivalent to 17,335 nuclear warheads dismantled. Since 1994, this programme has significantly enhanced world security by steadily reducing stockpiles of nuclear bomb-grade materials, while providing uranium fuel for use in NPPs.

USEC Inc., a global energy company, is a leading supplier of enriched uranium fuel and nuclear industry related services for commercial NPPs. TENEX is the executive arm for the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom). Practically the entire US nuclear reactor fleet has used fuel fabricated with LEU supplied under the Megatons to Megawatts programme.

Includes locations of nuclear facilities

In Brief

India and Pakistan on 1 Jan exchanged a list of their nuclear installations under a two-decade-old agreement that prohibits attacks on each other’s nuclear facilities, a statement said.

In Depth

The “Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations between India and Pakistan,” was signed on 31 Dec 88 and came into force on 27 Jan 91. The first exchange of information took place on 1 Jan 92. Under the agreement, both countries are required to exchange lists of all their respective nuclear installations and facilities – both civilian and military – on 1 Jan every year.

The information shared through diplomatic channels simultaneously in New Delhi and Islamabad on nuclear installations came a week after the two sides held a two-day expert-level meeting on conventional and nuclear Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Both sides expressed satisfaction with the existing two nuclear-related CBMs covering advanced notification of ballistic missile launches and nuclear accidents.

India, at the CBM meet held in Islamabad 26-27 Dec last year, urged Pakistan to enunciate its nuclear doctrine and asked it to join global efforts to conclude the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has become a matter of global concern.

Insight

During the sixth round of bilateral talks on CBMs, India expressed hope that Pakistan would begin talks on joining the FMCT at the next Conference on Disarmament (CD) session expected to start in the third week of Jan 2012. Pakistan is the only country among 65 countries in substantial talks on the FMCT at the CD who opposes the treaty.

The FMCT proposes to ban the production of nuclear bomb making material. The treaty is considered by many to be a stepping stone towards effective nuclear disarmament. But even if Pakistan signs it, many differences remain to be resolved among the major nuclear weapons states on its scope, verification processes and permissible activities. India believes that the FMCT could give a significant global push towards disarmament.

India had conveyed to Pakistan its readiness to join the talks if Islamabad agreed, but differences emerged when both sides discussed expansion of CBMs to cover other areas. Pakistan spurned India’s request to publicly enunciate its nuclear doctrine, including the assurance on a “no-first-use” of nuclear weapons (a policy which India follows) and strict civilian control over nuclear weapons. Pakistan said it does have a minimum credible deterrent, though it is not in the public domain.

New Delhi, on its part, did not accept Pakistan’s proposal for including nuclear safety and civil nuclear cooperation in the talks, on the argument that the new measures were not covered in the 1999 Lahore memorandum of understanding (MoU). India wants to first settle all the outstanding issues of the Lahore MoU of which the main point is the exchange of nuclear doctrine. The main elements of India’s nuclear doctrine are in the public domain and New Delhi was prepared to discuss this aspect with Islamabad in order to add a sense of transparency and predictability to Pakistan’s nuclear policy, said an official.

The Indian delegation at the talks on conventional and nuclear CBMs by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was led by Joint Secretary (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran) Y.K. Sinha and Joint Secretary (Disarmament) D.B. Venkatesh Varma respectively. The Pakistani delegation was headed by Munawar Saeed Bhatti, additional secretary in Pakistan’s Foreign Office.

Indian Point NPP

Plant not vulnerable to Fukushima-type threats, says NRC

Indian Point NPP

In Brief

The environmental and economic consequences of land contamination from any potential large radioactive release from Indian Point need to be carefully assessed during the license renewal process, said Victor Gilinsky, a former member of America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

In Depth

The licenses for the two Entergy Nuclear-owned Indian Point nuclear reactors expire in 2013 and 2015, according to the NRC. The utility submitted an application in 2007 seeking a 20-year renewal of their operating license from the NRC, which issued a safety evaluation report for the renewal in 2009, followed by a final environmental impact assessment in 2010.

Gilinsky cautioned that a severe accident at Indian Point, whose two reactors started operating in 1974 and 1976, is a remote but real possibility, adding that the Chernobyl accident was dismissed in Western countries on the grounds that it was the product of Soviet negligence, but the Fukushima accident involved reactors built to US designs.

Insight

Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC) is a three-unit nuclear power plant (NPP) located in Buchanan on the east bank of the Hudson River, 60 km north of New York City. The plant generates some 2,100 MWe of electrical power, accounting for 30% of the electricity used in New York City and Westchester County.

The NPP, first licensed in the 1970s, is owned and operated by Entergy Nuclear Northeast, a subsidiary of Entergy Corporation, and includes two operating Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) designated Indian Point 2 and 3. The facility also houses the permanently shut-down Unit 1 reactor.

The NRC rejected Entergy’s appeal against an earlier decision that would require it to conduct an additional safety review before acquiring a license extension for the Indian Point NPP. In July, the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled that Entergy still needed to conduct analyses of the plant’s severe accident mitigation measures. The company is yet to decide on its next course of action.

Gilinsky, while raising concerns regarding the impact of a Fukushima-type nuclear accident at Indian Point, did not mention the protections that would prevent such an event from taking place in New York. Another expert also pointed out that he also did not acknowledge the major important geological differences between Fukushima and the Indian Point site that preclude such a scenario.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and the chairman and chief executive of Giuliani Partners Consultants, contested Gilinsky’s claim, saying that each plant has three sets of backup diesel generators while only one is needed to power the cooling system. The generators have been installed on an elevated platform and are protected from extreme flooding. In addition, there are three other separate independent systems that could be activated to assure the delivery of whatever cooling is needed to shut down the plants safely.

Indian Point NPP has undergone reviews of its severe weather and earthquake protections, and has in recent years strengthened its backup cooling and electric power capabilities, while the utility is cooperating with the NRC on further possible safety enhancements. The NPP is not susceptible to threat of tsunamis and is capable of withstanding twice the maximum possible estimated flooding in the area, a safety margin that Fukushima did not have. Its containment buildings and fuel pools are separate, unlike Fukushima’s, and can prevent the spread of contamination, said an expert.

Gregory B. Jaczko, the chairman of the NRC, said last week that there would be enough time for millions of people in the region to get away because nuclear accidents develop slowly and escalate over time, as was seen at Fukushima. However, critics contest this assessment, saying that many evacuees might never be able to return after the area has been contaminated, citing that some 160,000 Japanese are still displaced because of the radioactivity in an area that is far less densely populated than the New York region.

The NRC’s cost-benefit analyses for Indian Point and other NPPs in the US must consider the consequences of land contamination while deciding on the license extension for the reactors. Cesium 137, the most dangerous isotope released in a severe nuclear accident, has a half-life of 30 years. A contaminated area about four times above the maximum permissible post-accident radiation level for human habitation would remain above that level for nearly one entire human lifetime. After Fukushima, this should be the main safety concern, say experts.

Further, the PWR technology of Indian Point NPP has a characteristic in that the reactor’s uranium fuel – typically about 100 tons in a plant – melts quickly without cooling water, as happened in Fukushima. The containment structures around the PWRs were not designed to hold melted fuel because safety regulators 40 years ago considered a nuclear meltdown impossible. The radioactive material in the melted fuel from the core can thus escape to contaminate a very large area for many decades.

Meanwhile some environmental groups have approached the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, opposing the renewal of a 20-year license for Indian Point NPP. The groups are pointing to research which reportedly shows that the plant’s emergency evacuation plan would have “disproportionate effects on people of color, people with low incomes, disabilities and/or limited mobility.”

French Nuclear Reactor sites

Expenditure could raise energy costs, says EDF

In Brief

France’s nuclear safety authority (ASN) on 3 Jan ordered immediate upgrades to nuclear power plants (NPPs) to guard against natural disasters, which, according to French utility Electricité de France (EDF), could cost US$13 billion.

In Depth

ASN, in a 500-page safety review published on the stress tests carried out in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in Mar 2011, gave clearance for all the country’s NPPs to remain in operation. The authority concluded that no plants needed to be shut down immediately, but that steps should be taken as “soon as possible” to improve safety at France’s 58 reactors.

Andre-Claude Lacoste, ASN’s chief, wants EDF and nuclear group Areva SA by to outline measures to reinforce “core” safety at its reactors by 30 Jun. The ASN report also raised the issue of who will pay for the cost of the upgrades.

Insight

France has the second-largest nuclear power generation capacity in the world after the US, with 58 reactors providing 75% of the country’s electricity. EDF, 84% of which is owned by the government, is responsible for operating all the NPPs in France.

According to the ASN report, EDF must install diesel pumps in special bunkers to ensure that all its reactors can be cooled during a massive natural disaster. The agency also called for the creation of a rapid-response team that could be mobilised swiftly to any disaster site and for measures to reinforce the safety of the pools that store spent nuclear-fuel rods.

While the cost of the safety upgrade will affect the cost of generating nuclear power in France, it was not yet clear as to how the changes would impact retail prices. Energy prices in France are regulated, resulting in lower retail electricity costs. This new expenditure could raise the cost of nuclear electricity production in France from US$6o per MWe hour to US$65, said an EDF official.

EDF earlier estimated the cost of extending the lifespan of its French NPPs to 60 years at US$52 billion. This is now expected to rise to US$65 billion following the latest safety upgrades recommended in the report, said Jean-Marc Miraucourt, EDF’s head of nuclear engineering.

The agency’s report comes at a time when nuclear power has become an issue ahead of the French presidential election. France’s Green and Socialist parties recently promised to cut the country’s share of nuclear energy to 50% from 75% by 2025 through the gradual closure of 24 reactors. France’s ruling UMP party says nuclear energy is critical for the country’s economy and for independence from imported fossil fuels.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has continued to show his commitment to nuclear power, even as neighbors such as Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium are either calling to phase it out or are shelving plans for new builds. Sarkozy has pledged to boost France’s nuclear sector as a source of energy security, cheap power and export revenues.

Safety of NPPs came to the fore of the global nuclear energy debate after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Mar 2011, which led to a radiation leak and the subsequent evacuation of some 160,000 people from the surrounding areas. In the wake of Japan’s disaster, most nuclear-powered countries ordered a safety review of all their existing NPPs and future atomic power projects. The findings have recommended strengthening safety measures. This will increase the cost of new construction and add to the expense of upgrading existing NPPs.

Regulators and operators are concerned that the increased cost of nuclear electricity generation will become comparable to renewable sources like wind and solar energy. To cut the costs, safety upgrades need not be applied across the entire spectrum of NPPs based on a common yardstick, but should be based on area-specific threats. While a particular site may be prone to seismic threat, it may never face a tsunami due to its geographical location.

Also there is a need for governments, regulators and operators to educate the public about nuclear safety in a more transparent way to gain their acceptance of nuclear energy. The veil of secrecy shrouding the functioning of atomic power establishments has mystified the public about the dangers of nuclear plants in their areas. These fears have been successfully exploited by anti-nuclear activists who have managed to stall the decision-making process on new projects in many parts of the world.

Last December, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano pledged to play a central role in restoring public faith in nuclear power after the Fukushima accident.

Nuclear waste management decision in Spain

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Villar de Canas selected as storage site

In Brief

Spain has announced Villar de Canas, a small town in central Cuenca province, as the site to house a storage facility for used nuclear fuel, helping to fill an important gap in the country’s nuclear power infrastructure.

In Depth

The choice was officially finalised on 30 Dec 2011 among 14 localities that had evinced interest in housing the storage facility. The decision was made by an inter-ministerial commission that considered Villar de Canas to have ‘very good’ credentials in terms of geology, seismology, meteorology, hydrology, site geometry and risk in relation to local population centres.

The US$910 million facility will be managed by Enresa and will include the storage site and accompanying technology centre. The project will create of up to 500 jobs during its five-year construction period and thereafter employ highly skilled workers for some 60 years of the facility’s operational life.

Meanwhile, Spain’s new government, elected last November, is again debating the controversial shutdown of the Garona nuclear power plant (NPP). The regulators had declared the plant fit to operate until 2019 subject to certain upgrades, but the previous minister of industry, energy and tourism granted a license only to 2013.

The decision is likely to be again reviewed by the new People’s Party government, which does not want to underutilise any sources of energy, especially nuclear. According to the Nuclear Safety Council the existing eight operating reactors are still capable of operating for a viable amount of time.

Insight

Safe and permanent storage of used nuclear fuel, which remains highly radioactive even after use, is a serious management issue for NPP operators and a political challenge to governments of countries using nuclear energy production. The hot used fuel rods are temporarily stored in pools of water constructed next to the reactor site. Subsequently, the waste is packed in steel casks for permanent storage in repositories built in seismically safe areas.

Villar de Canas storage facility will accommodate casks of used nuclear fuel assemblies or vitrified wastes that are currently stored at Spain’s NPPs. These items will be packed in smaller containers for placement in a dry store cooled by passive air circulation.

Spain presently has eight operating plants producing about 20% of its power from nuclear reactors built prior to 1984 as part of a special long-term drive. At that time, four large reactors were scrapped mid-construction, while Trillo was commissioned as Spain’s last unit in 1988. The People’s Party, which came to power last November, is firmly committed to nuclear energy, in contrast to the Socialist Workers’ Party, who maintained an anti-nuclear stance.

The existing nuclear regime in Spain requires nuclear operators to seek ministerial approval each time a ten-year extension is granted to a reactor’s operating license. Until February this year, these decisions took place against an assumption of 40 years as a typical lifespan, the rule applied by ministers to refuse a ten-year extension to the Garona plant in 2009, giving just four years instead.

Spain has developed the ability to upgrade its existing NPPs and has had success in exporting nuclear goods and services over the years. The pro-nuclear lobby claims that Spain can accrue huge economic benefits from a positive return to nuclear, owing to both the creation of highly qualified technical jobs and the growth of the nuclear sector as a driver of the country’s economy.

US to minimise impact of oil price hike on its allies

In Brief

Iran’s currency crashed late on 2 Jan to around 17,800 riyals to the US dollar, amounting to a roughly 12% slide in one day, said the country’s semiofficial Mehr news agency.

In Depth

Iran’s currency, which was trading at around 10,500 riyals to the US dollar in late Dec 2010, has suffered a massive downslide over the past year. The new low in the value of the riyal comes two days after US President Barack Obama signed into law a bill targeting Iran’s central bank as part of the West’s efforts to pressure Tehran over its nuclear programme. The news report said that Iran’s central bank called a meeting of Iranian experts on 4 Jan to discuss the turbulence in the currency market.

Iran last week threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in case fresh sanctions are imposed on its oil trade. The country relies on oil exports for the bulk of its foreign revenues and blocking the waterway would not only affect its own oil, but would also raise the possibility of a military confrontation.

Insight

The bill President Obama signed on 31 Dec includes an amendment barring foreign firms and financial institutions that deal with Iran’s central bank from having access to the financial system in the US. The Obama administration, however, is seeking to minimise the consequential impact of the spike in global crude oil prices on its key Asian allies such as Japan, South Korea and India, which import Iranian oil. China and Russia are the two other major powers with significant economic stakes in Iran, a fact that cannot be ignored.

The heavy slide in the value of the riyal is seen as a gauge of the impact of the economic strain the country is facing as the US and its allies seek to step up pressure over its controversial nuclear programme. Iran says its programme is purely for peaceful applications in the areas of nuclear medicine and power generation.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced last week that his government will do everything possible to arrest any further sharp depreciation in the currency, indicating that the government could support the riyal by dipping into its foreign cash reserves. Iran has been able to create a reserve of tens of billions of dollars on account of oil exports. The country earns more than US$70 billion yearly from exporting crude, representing some 80% of its annual foreign revenue.

To ward off any long-term impact from a series of embargos, Iran has gradually shifted away from its traditional European trade-partners like France, Germany and Italy towards the economically stable and fast-growing Asian countries. In 2010, China became Iran’s largest trading partner, with a trade volume of US$30 billion. China buys 11% of its oil from Iran, and has made huge investments in Iran’s infrastructure, oil and gas sectors.

Analysts say the new measures by the US may see companies and institutions become more wary of dealing with Iran. However, none of the countries dependent on Iranian oil or that have economic stakes in Iran will be willing to support any actions which could result in a shortage of oil and and corresponding global price spikes.

It would appear that no military option, including surgical air strikes, can force Iran to abandon its nuclear quest forever. Both the US and Israel are aware that neither sanctions nor military operations can really work to prevent Iran from pursuing its nuclear programme.

Under the circumstances, the best course of action may be to promote an inclusive regional arms control regime, including nuclear-armed Israel, which Iran views as the root cause of the problem. Some experts advise policy-makers in the US and Israel to exercise restraint and not to take the Gulf to the brink of another confrontation, potentially laden with serious consequences, merely based on conjecture.

Meanwhile, Tehran last week said it was ready to resume talks on its nuclear programme with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. World powers, too, have shown their willingness for a dialogue with Tehran, provided it is ready to discuss the core concerns over its nuclear programme, an issue that Tehran has been skirting so far.

Barack Obama (Photo: Pete Sousa)

US imposes new sanctions on Iran

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Tehran proposes talks, but test-fires missile

Barack Obama (Photo: Pete Sousa)

In Brief

On 31 Dec, US President Barack Obama signed a law imposing tougher financial sanctions to penalise Iran for a nuclear research programme that the West suspects has a military dimension.

In Depth

This latest ramping up of pressure on Iran is aimed at curtailing dealings with Iran’s central bank and could for the first time harm Tehran’s oil exports. The EU is due to consider similar steps soon.

Negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France plus Germany (P5+1) – last January in Istanbul, Turkey, ended in stalemate. Recently, however, Iran has proposed a new round of talks over its controversial nuclear programme with the six world powers, the country’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said on 31 Dec 2011.

The US and some of its allies accuse Iran of developing atomic weapons under the cover of its civilian nuclear programme. Iran has denied the allegation, saying the nuclear work is for peaceful purposes only and is aimed toward power generation and medical research to treat cancer.

Iran’s ambassador to Germany, Ali Reza Sheikh Attar, said  on 31 Dec that Jalili was to send a letter soon to EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to arrange a new round of talks. Brussels was yet to comment upon Iran’s offer.

Insight

The UN Security Council imposed four rounds of sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear enrichment programme. In addition, the US, the EU and some of its Asian allies have imposed their own tough economic sanctions. Washington’s measures target exports of gas and refined petroleum products to Iran and have banned US banks from transacting business with foreign banks dealing with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Last month, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acknowledged that the current restrictions were preventing Iran’s financial institutions from conducting international transactions. Tehran’s latest offer to resume dialogue is seen by experts as a move to play for time and that Iran’s increasingly strident assertions show its leadership is worried about the possibility of even harsher penalties.

In the absence of fresh sanctions forthcoming from the UN Security Council in the wake of the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, which virtually indicted Iran of pursuing an atomic weapons programme, the US has imposed sanctions on financial institutions that deal with Iran’s central bank.

The defence funding bill, cleared by the US Congress last week, aims to reduce oil revenues, which constitute the bulk of Iran’s export earnings. If enforced strictly, the sanctions could make it nearly impossible for most refiners to buy crude from Iran. However, Obama asked for the use of discretion in enforcing the measures. Washington was also consulting foreign partners to ensure the new measures did not harm global energy markets, said senior US officials.

Meanwhile, Iran responded to the growing pressure by warning last week that it could shut the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions were imposed on its oil exports. It launched 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf to practice maneuvers that could block the narrow waterway through which 40% of global oil supplies pass. The US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, responded, saying it would not allow shipping to be disrupted in Hormuz.

Regarding the start of talks, Iran will have to put some concrete proposals on the table for the West to accept its offer, which some believe are aimed at delaying fresh sanctions and gaining time. The US and its allies, having gone through a similar situation in the past, will be wary of coming to the negotiation table in the absence of some constructive and meaningful proposals from Tehran.

It is significant that the Iranian offer to hold talks comes in the backdrop of the US and its allies stepping up pressure in the wake of the IAEA report, Iran’s naval muscle-flexing in the Strait of Hormuz and the New Year claim by Tehran of successfully developing nuclear fuel rods. Analysts say Iran sometimes exaggerates its nuclear achievements to try to gain leverage in its standoff with the West, especially before talks.

According to Western diplomats, the Iranians are concerned about losing petrodollars, on which more than 60% of the economy depends. The Iranians are seriously concerned by the prospect of an EU oil embargo, especially if it is followed by similar action by the US’s close Asian allies. Also, China and India, the two major importers of Iranian oil could demand heavy discounts in order to shift purchases from Arab countries, following the export embargo.

The impact of sanctions and mounting tensions have resulted in Iran’s currency losing half its value in just a few weeks and the price of food items increasing by up to 40% in recent months. Iran’s massive media blitz to showcase the recent naval maneuvers in the Gulf appeared an attempt by the authorities to raise patriotic fervor among Iranians concerned about a military strike by the US and Israel.

Iran on 1 Jan test-fired a new radar-evading medium-range missile. According to Tehran’s state television, Iran also produced its first nuclear fuel rods, which were inserted into the core of Iran’s research nuclear reactor. Iranian media described it as an engineering breakthrough, saying the country had successfully produced its own uranium fuel rods for use in NPPs.

Western countries are sceptical of some of Tehran’s nuclear engineering claims, but say they fear that Iran’s enrichment of uranium could eventually lead to its producing a weapon.

Experts say passive systems prone to uncertainties

In Brief

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) unanimously approved the design for the AP1000 reactor developed by Westinghouse Electric Co. It was taken more than 20 years to get this key certification that will be valid for 15 years.

In Depth

According to the CEO of Westinghouse, Aris Candris, the Fukushima accident would not have happened had an AP1000 been on that site.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant (NPP) suffered major damage after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent 14m tsunami hit Japan on 11 Mar 2011. The tsunami submerged emergency power generators that were critical to cooling the reactor. The total power blackout led to multiple partial meltdowns, radiation leaks and, consequently, a massive evacuation of surrounding areas.

Unlike the GE-manufactured reactors at Fukushima, the new AP1000 does not rely on AC power for its systems. The AP1000 design relies exclusively on natural forces such as gravity and convection, and that aspect of the AP1000?s design makes it safer, Candris says.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the nuclear watchdog group, Union of Concerned Citizens, contests the claim and does not think the AP1000 is clearly safer than currently operating reactors. He says that the reliance on passive systems has larger uncertainties in the way they function. In the event of an accident, the AP1000 could only continue to cool the reactor without AC power for a few days, after which it would need powered pumps to continue to operate, just like existing reactors. Lyman’s group argues that it would have been better if the NRC evaluated the AP1000?s design in light of the flaws that emerged after Fukushima.

Westinghouse already has orders for six reactors, with four of them already under the pre-nuclear stage of construction. The reactors are to be added to existing NPPs in Georgia and South Carolina. Fourteen other utility companies in the US have also expressed interest in the AP1000 design. China has four AP1000s already under construction, with more to follow. The construction on the reactors can start after the combined operating license from the NRC is issued, which Westinghouse expects to obtain in January 2012.

RIL Chaiman Mukesh Ambani

RIL buys stake in Terra Power

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Eyes nuclear energy sector in long term

RIL Chaiman Mukesh Ambani

In Brief

Reliance Industries, India’s most valuable privately-owned company, said 22 Dec it has bought a minority stake in Terra Power LLC, a US-based nuclear technology design and engineering company, through one of its subsidiaries.

In Depth

Washington-based Terra Power was founded by Intellectual Ventures, which is owned by the former Microsoft technical executive, Nathan Myrvhold. It is involved in the development of nuclear reactor technology which has the potential to revolutionise power generation. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is the primary investor and chairman in the company, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and Charles River Ventures are investors.  Reliance Chairman Mukesh Ambani has been personally invited by Bill Gates to join the company and will be on the board of directors.

Terra Power is a nuclear design and engineering firm developing a futuristic reactor based on ‘traveling wave’ technology which employs depleted uranium and does not require refuelling for at least 40-60 years. Traditional reactors require enriched uranium, need to be refueled every few years and generate a large quantity of waste.

Insight

The search for new and safer reactor technologies has gained momentum since the 11 Mar Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan that triggered worldwide concerns over the safety of nuclear power plants (NPPs), many of which were developed more than 20 years ago and were based on Generation-I and II technology.

In the aftermath of the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, Germany announced the phasing out its NPPs by 2022, followed by Italy and Switzerland, which also scrapped plans for new nuclear plants. China and India ordered a comprehensive safety review of all their existing NPPs and future nuclear projects. The EU ordered “stress tests” on all the NPPs in its member countries to evaluate their capability to withstand Fukushima-type earthquakes and tsunami.

In India, the newly constructed Kudankulam NPP in Tamil Nadu has been facing strident protests from local villagers supported by NGOs, who have been agitating for months, demanding the scrapping of the project, which is 99% complete. The NPP has two Russian-built 1000 MWe VVER reactors, the first one waiting to go online this month and the second one in June next year. A second NPP, which was due to be built with Russian reactors in Haripur, has been scrapped at the behest of the West Bengal government. The Jaitapur nuclear project, too, is facing resistance from locals on account of worries over safety.

With global pressure building to cut down CO2 emissions, nuclear power is one of the most viable alternatives that could ensure a steady base-load electricity supply. However, the safety of NPPs has raised worldwide concerns, forcing many existing nuclear-power nations as well as potential new entrants to exercise caution before embarking on new projects.

Reliance, as one of the largest energy sector players in India, is keen to have a global footprint through its foray into futuristic energy technologies being developed around the world. Last year, it outlined plans to invest US$4-4.5 billion by 2014 on three US shale gas JVs it entered into last year. The new technologies of horizontal drilling have the potential to turn the US into the world’s biggest producer of natural gas.

Terra Power, if successful, will enable Reliance to gain an insight into Generation-IV nuclear reactor technology, although the full fructification of Terra Power reactor technology at a commercial scale could take some time. The first prototype is expected to be built only after 2015, while commercial generation may begin by 2020.

Reliance Industry already has expertise in oil, natural gas and shale gas, and operates the country’s largest petroleum refining plant. With its entry into the nuclear energy sector, Reliance will become a complete energy-provider company with the potential of being an important player in the future as coal-based power production declines.

In 2007, Reliance acquired a 49% stake in Australian mining company UXA Resources, which just announced discoveries of new high-grade uranium targets. Australia’s decision to lift its ban on uranium sales to India is also expected to help UXA Resources find a ready market in India. Reliance’s stakes in uranium mining as well as nuclear design and engineering signal the company’s ambition to play a major role as an integrated player in nuclear power generation.

As a long term perspective, the company will have the first mover advantage and will be well equipped to make its full entry into the Indian nuclear energy sector if and when the government rules are changed to allow participation by private players.  According to India’s Atomic Energy Act of 1962, all NPPs must be owned and operated by public sector companies such as the NPCIL.

The Reliance Group, founded by Dhirubhai H. Ambani (1932-2002), is India’s largest private sector enterprise, with businesses in the energy and materials value chain. The group’s annual revenues are in excess of US$58 billion. The flagship company, Reliance Industries Ltd, is a Fortune Global 500 company.

Steam turbine

Russia builds 1200 MW steam turbine

Monday, 2 January 2012

Installation starts at Novovoronezh nuclear plant

Steam turbine

In Brief

Installation of a 1200 MW steam turbine manufactured at Leningrad Metal Works has begun in the turbine hall of the first reactor of Novovoronezh nuclear power plant (NPP) 2, Atomenergoproekt, the principal contractor said on 27 Dec.

In Depth

Turbine K-1200-7-3000 was manufactured at Leningrad Metal Works, an arm of Power Machines. This is Russia’s first 1200 MW capacity, high-speed 3000 revolutions per minute (rpm) steam turbine. The product has been developed especially for new generation nuclear power plants (NPPs) that are being built under the AES-2006 project. The Novovoronezh NPP-2 is the prototype NPP being built for the AES-2006 project with the VVER-1200.

The turbine weighs more than 2,600 tones, is about 75 m long and consists of more than 500 components. It will be installed in the turbine hall at an elevation of 16.00 m.  The steam turbine converts thermal power produced in a reactor into mechanical energy and then into electricity by a generator.

Atomenergoproekt is a subsidiary of the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom), involved in designing projects and major components constructed in Russia and other European and CIS countries. In addition, Atomenergoproekt has designed the NPPs for Bushehr in Iran, Kudankulam in India, and Belene in Bulgaria.

The AES-2006 design is the standardised Generation-III NPP that incorporates the latest Russian nuclear reactor technology based on technical solutions of the AES-92 design. The construction of Novovoronezh NPP-2 started in Jun 2007.

IN THE ARCHIVE