01 September 2014, Monday

Archive for February 2012

Japan’s regulator approves stress tests

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Could clear the way for Ohi 3&4 restart

In Brief

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has approved the results of stress tests at units 3 and 4 of Kansai Electric Power Company’s Ohi nuclear power plant (NPP) in Fukui prefecture, paving the way for their possible restart.

In Depth

NISA, in its report to Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), concluded that the utility has instituted sufficient measures at the reactors to prevent a Fukushima-type accident, even if the NPP were to be hit by an earthquake and tsunami of similar magnitude. These measures include new used fuel pool refill systems, mobile backup generators and hardened shelters for emergency equipment.

According to the tests conducted by Kansai Electric Power Company, Ohi 3 and 4 would be able to withstand an earthquake with ground acceleration of up to 1260 gal and a tsunami 11.4 m high. In case of an external power supply failure, the reactors could be kept cool for up to 16 days through the use of fire engines pumping water, while the used fuel pools could be cooled for up to 10 days.

Two-phase stress tests ordered by the Japanese government following the Mar 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP accident require utilities to examine the safety margin of essential systems and equipment in accordance with guidelines set by NISA and NSC, post Fukushima. The decision to restart the reactors shut down for routine inspections will be taken based on the results of these tests. Phase 2 of the tests will involve a comprehensive safety review of all reactors on the lines of the stress tests carried out in the EU.

Earlier in January, a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reviewed the methodology of the stress tests carried out at Kansai’s Ohi NPP and concluded that the tests are generally consistent with IAEA safety standards.

Requires safety improvement before final nod

In Brief

Spain’s nuclear regulator the Consejo de Seguridad Nuclear (CSN) has ruled that the Santa Maria de Garona nuclear power plant is safe to operate beyond 2013, provided the operator carries out various nuclear safety and radiation protection improvements in the plant.

In Depth

In 2009 the Spanish government approved only a four-year license extension for the Nuclenor-owned 446 MWe Boiling Water Reactor, even though the CSN had already ruled that the plant could operate safely until at least 2019. However, the recently elected conservative government overruled the CSN and arbitrarily decided the plant should close in 2013.

The government later asked the CSN to review the safety of the NPP and consider any technical improvements that might be required to operate the plant beyond 2013. The CSN has now made its recommendations to the government, which is responsible for final decisions on nuclear plant operations in Spain.

In its 2009 report, the CSN ruled that Garona would be safe to operate until 2019, provided a number of improvements are incorporated at the plant over the next four years. In its new report, the CSN again reiterated that the safety of the plant and radiation protection needs to be strengthened for the plant to be allowed to operate until 2019. The plant’s operators are required to satisfy the regulator by July 2012 that inspection, maintenance and management activities carried out at the plant since July 2009 are consistent with rules for the renewal of the operating permit until 2019. The operator still has to apply for an extension of life for Garona.

Candu 6 Reactor Schematic (Illustration: Inductiveload)

Approval follows major refurbishment

Candu 6 Reactor Schematic (Illustration: Inductiveload)

In Brief

Canadian regulators have announced a decision to renew the operating license of Point Lepreau nuclear power plant (NPP) for five years, while also giving permission to restart the reactor, which has been closed since 2008 for major refurbishment.

In Depth

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) announced its decision to extend the license through 30 Jun 2017, following a two day public hearing. The regulator has also recommended that a site-specific seismic hazard assessment be completed for the NPP, and has required the plant-owner New Brunswick Power to share the results through its public information programme.

The Point Lepreau plant is a single-unit 680 MWe Candu 6 Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR), which began commercial operation in 1983. In Mar 2008, the plant was taken offline for major refurbishment work, including replacement of calandria tubes and fuel channels, to extend the plant’s operating life by another 25-30 years. The refurbishment, costing close to US$1.4 billion, is expected to complete by May 2012, with the plant expected to come online later in the year.

US-Japan consortia and French companies in fray

In Brief

Poland, the EU’s largest eastern economy, is looking to increase the number of entities partnering with its top state-owned utility, Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), to build the nation’s first nuclear power plant (NPP), Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on 18 Feb.

In Depth

The Polish government’s plan for engagement with a larger number of partners to join both the financial and organisational sides is aimed at reducing financial risks for any single company, particularly under the prevailing difficult economic conditions. Poland’s second biggest utility, Tauron, and copper producer KGHM have already said that they could join PGE in the project.

Three international groups so far have expressed interest in building the 3000 MWe NPP – French Electricite de France SA (EDF) with Areva SA, and two US-Japanese consortia, Toshiba-owned Westinghouse Electric Company and GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy. The first NPP is expected to go online in the 2020s and there are plans to double its capacity in the 2030s.

GE-Hitachi has offered two types of reactors to Poland with differing emergency cooling systems – one active and one passive; the latter could maintain safe cooling without power for more than seven days. The construction of the plant would be completed within 39 months from pouring concrete to first fuel load, claims GE-Hitachi.

PGE has announced the names of three potential NPP sites – Choczewo, Gaski and Zarnowiec. The  three short-listed sites will undergo simultaneous, detailed surveys and site characterisation work over the next two years. The results of the surveys and site characterisation work will allow for the selection of the final site for Poland’s first NPP.

PM Manmohan Singh reproached anti-nuclear NGOs for causing the delay

Kudankulam nuclear plant could start by August

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Foreign NGOs behind the protests, says Indian prime minister

PM Manmohan Singh reproached anti-nuclear NGOs for causing the delay

In Brief

India’s nuclear operator the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) on 22 Feb said it expected the situation to normalise at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant (KNPP) within the next four to six weeks, paving the way for its commissioning by August.

In Depth

A senior official, speaking to newspersons in New Delhi on the sidelines of an international symposium organised by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), said the NPCIL has launched a massive public outreach campaign in and around Kudankulam informing the people on the safety aspects of the plant.

Hopes for a resolution of the long-drawn-out KNPP impasse had brightened when the Tamil Nadu government set up a four-member panel to look into the safety concerns of locals over the project. The team had visited Kudankulam and reviewed safety measures at the KNPP and also interacted with the protesters. The panel is expected to submit its report to the state government shortly.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials, meanwhile, carried out an inspection of the fuel for the KNPP stored at the plant site on 21 Feb. India purchased the fuel from Russia under the IAEA safeguards agreement. IAEA officials carried out inventory inspections to ensure that the fuel was not diverted for purposes other than generation of power.

Two 1,000 MWe VVER reactors, built by the NPCIL with Russian collaboration, are in the advanced stages of completion and are awaiting the protests to be called off to start the work. Nuclear scientists will require another four months of work after that to commission the first 1,000 MWe unit of the KNPP.

Meanwhile, in an interview published on 18 Feb, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed some nongovernmental organisations (NGOs)  for whipping up the anti-nuclear demonstrations that have stalled two new atomic plants.  Singh told the American journal “Science” that “the atomic energy programme has got into difficulties because these NGOs, mostly I think based in the US, don’t appreciate the need for our country to increase the energy supply.”

Autunite, a rare uranium minueral (Photo: Rob Lavinsky)

Areva, EDF enter uranium supply partnership

Friday, 24 February 2012

Will help Areva consolidate uranium business

Autunite, a rare uranium minueral (Photo: Rob Lavinsky)

In Brief

French nuclear fuel giant Areva and nuclear utility EDF have entered into a long-term partnership agreement covering the supply of natural uranium for France’s nuclear power plants (NPPs) from 2014 to 2030.

In Depth

Under the contract, Areva could supply EDF a total volume of uranium in excess of 20,000 tonnes. The terms cover an in-principle agreement for the extension of the supply contract from Areva’s existing mines. They also explore the possibility of EDF’s investment in a new mining project in exchange for a share of future production. Some 40% of EDF’s annual uranium requirements are already supplied by Areva.

The agreement is in pursuance of a Jan 2011 directive issued by France’s Nuclear Policy Council asking the two entities to establish a strategic partnership, and will form the basis for future partnerships. The council also directed Areva to create a subsidiary out of its uranium mining interests as a condition for the company to receive government support in the future. On 8 Jan the council confirmed the extension of the operational lives of French NPPs beyond 40 years.

The agreement follows two earlier supply orders EDF placed with Areva that include a US$1.5 billion order for steam generators in Sep 2011 followed by a US$1.33 million order for monitoring and control systems for 20 of the utility’s reactors as part of upgrades. The top management of both companies hailed the agreement, saying it has further consolidated the cohesiveness of the French nuclear power sector.

In Dec 2011, Areva announced a long-term action plan to turn the company around from mounting losses due to time and cost overruns with reactor construction projects in Finland and France. The downgrade of Areva’s uranium assets in Namibia and the slow down of new nuclear builds in the wake of the Fukushima accident also had an adverse effect on the company’s revenues.

Mining in Tanzania (Photo: Hansueli Krapf)

Uranex attracts investors for Mkuju project

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Negotiations with China already in progress

Mining in Tanzania (Photo: Hansueli Krapf)

In Brief

Uranex said on 14 Feb it has attracted unsolicited investors from Asia and North America, mainly nuclear energy companies, to enter into a joint venture (JV) for the development of their project in Tanzania.

In Depth

Melbourne-based uranium explorer Uranex said the latest interest from Asian and North American companies had come in addition to ongoing talks with Chinese-based companies, announced earlier this month. The company was holding discussions with potential Chinese partners on a range of opportunities, including possible cooperation for mine and infrastructure development projects to help build up a key asset in Tanzania.

At least five parties have in recent weeks expressed serious interest in either jointly developing the Mkuju uranium project or buying it outright, said Deal Journal Australia. Uranex, with a market value of some US$65.7 million said it expects to complete mineral resource estimation activities at its Likuyu North prospect within the Mkuju project by March.

The company expects that both technical and commercial negotiations of the Mkuju uranium project with China will gain momentum, as will other projects in the pipeline across Africa and Australia.

Insight

Mkuju, located in southwest Tanzania near the borders of Mozambique and Malawi, includes 12 granted licenses plus applications covering an area of roughly 4000 square km. The Likuyu North prospect was drilled last year.

The temporary reduction in uranium demand due to the closure of NPPs in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami in March last year is set to reverse in 2013 when the “Megaton to Megawatts” programme to convert highly enriched uranium (HEU) extracted from Soviet-era nuclear warheads into reactor fuel for US nuclear plants comes to an end. Fuel from the decommissioned nuclear warheads accounts for as much as 15% of annual global uranium supplies.

The growing interest in uranium deposits signals resurgent demand to feed the large number of new nuclear reactors planned in several countries including China, India, Vietnam, the UAE and Russia.

China has embarked on a major expansion of nuclear power capacity to reduce its reliance on coal-based plants to generate electricity. The country has 13 civilian nuclear reactors in operation producing 11 GWe, and an additional 27 under construction. By 2020, China plans to increase nuclear power generation to 60-70 GWe and to 150 GWe by 2030.

India has 20 operating NPPs generating 4780 MWe and has six more plants under construction. By 2020, India plans to increase its nuclear power capacity to 20 GWe and to 63 GWe by 2032, thereby increasing its uranium demand manifold. With only very modest domestic uranium reserves, India is looking for overseas investment options in uranium mines in countries such as Namibia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

Extract Resources, which is developing the Husab uranium project in Namibia, is expecting a US$2.2 billion takeover bid from China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp. (CGNPC) and China-Africa Development Fund by Mar 1. The pending offer was triggered by Australian takeover rules, after the Chinese companies bought control of London-listed Kalahari Minerals, whose primary asset is a nearly 43% stake in Extract.

Russia's VVER-1000 PWR (Photo: Panther)

Says Gen III+ reactor absolutely safe

Russia's VVER-1000 PWR (Photo: Panther)

In Brief

The design of the reactor for the Ninh Thuan nuclear power plant (NPP) satisfies the highest safety standards, said Petr G. Shchedrovitsky, advisor to the General Director of Russia’s state-owned Rosatom atomic energy group.

In Depth

A team of Rosatom officials that visited Vietnam last week to discuss the implementation of Vietnam-Russia civil nuclear power cooperation assured Vietnam that Russian safety standards are always stricter than international standards. NPPs built by Russia are all absolutely safe and it is very difficult to have a Fukushima-type incident at Vietnam’s reactor.

According to the Russian team, the nuclear power technology used at Vietnam’s first NPP belongs to Generation III+, which is being used by approximately 80% of NPP projects in the world.

Insight

Vietnam’s first nuclear power project will be based in southeastern Ninh Thuan province, and include two NPPs totaling 4,000 MWe. Construction of the first 2000 MWe capacity NPP is scheduled to commence in 2014 and the plant will start operating in 2020. The construction of the first two-unit NPP to be built with Russian VVER Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) technology is estimated will cost over US$5.5 billion. Vietnam also signed an agreement with Japan for the construction of a two-reactor NPP in Ninh Thuan with a combined output of 2000 MWe. That NPP is scheduled to go online in 2021.

Presently, many Vietnamese students are undergoing training for nuclear power technology in Russia. Last year 19 Vietnamese students were trained in Russia and this year the number has increased to 70.

Russia is looking to secure lucrative contracts worldwide as demand for nuclear energy increases. Russia’s state-owned nuclear company Rosatom is in competition with major nuclear suppliers such as Toshiba-owned Westinghouse, GE-Hitachi and Areva. Russia has planned to increase its share of the global nuclear market to 25% from its current 16%.

The deal comes on the heels of a similar pact between Russia and Venezuela. Also in May, Russia signed an accord to build Turkey’s first NPP. It has built two 1000 MWe VVER reactors at Kudankulam in India and is negotiating for two more units on the same site.

The US and Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding in Mar 2011 for cooperation in the nuclear power sector, but Hanoi must first sign a formal 123 agreement before it can import nuclear technology from the US. Vietnam has previously signed bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, China, France, India, South Korea and Argentina.

Vietnam aims to generate as much as 20% of its energy from nuclear power by 2030 and to build 14 nuclear reactors in the next two decades. The country faces power shortages as its demand for electricity continues to grow at an estimated rate of 15% a year.

Iran Natanz Nuclear Facility guarded by anti-aircraft guns (Photo: Hamed Saber)

UN nuclear inspectors arrive in Iran for talks

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Possibility of breakthrough appears remote

Iran Natanz Nuclear Facility guarded by anti-aircraft guns (Photo: Hamed Saber)

In Brief

Senior UN inspectors arrived in Tehran on 20 Feb for talks with nuclear scientists on Iran’s disputed nuclear programme and to visit a key military facility to investigate allegations that the Islamic republic is moving toward developing an atomic weapon.

In Depth

The two-day visit by the IAEA team comes a day after Tehran announced it is stopping oil sales to French and British firms in retaliation for an embargo imposed by the EU against crude sales beginning from 1 Jul. France and the UK had already substantially reduced purchases of Iranian crude.

China, which buys around 20% of total Iranian oil exports, criticised Iran over its move and expressed disapproval of exerting pressure or using confrontation to resolve issues. China says it has consistently upheld dialogue and negotiation as the way to resolve disputes between countries.

The West had been accusing Iran of developing nuclear weapons covertly, an allegation which Tehran has denied, saying its nuclear programme is for the peaceful applications of power generation and medical treatment. Iran has also ramped up its rhetoric in recent weeks while extending an offer to resume negotiations over its nuclear programme.

Insight

The five-member IAEA team, led by Herman Nackaerts, a senior UN nuclear official, will seek answers on intelligence input pointing to military dimensions in Iran’s nuclear programme. Diplomats, however, are skeptical and have played down any chances of success. A team of senior IAEA experts that visited Tehran at the end of January failed to achieve any breakthrough.

The outcome of the visit by the IAEA team will have diplomatic ramifications and will set the direction for a future course of action. While cooperation by Iran could help to deescalate the tensions that have stoked fears of military confrontation, non-cooperation could further aggravate the situation.

This visit comes close to Iran’s announcement last week of advancements in its nuclear programme. It announced that technicians had inserted the first domestically produced fuel plates into the Tehran research reactor and installed a new generation of indigenously-developed centrifuges at the country’s main uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.

The West is concerned that Iran has the capability to enrich uranium to 20% purity, which they believe could then further be enriched to the 90% level needed for the production of nuclear weapons. The IAEA in its November report has said they have sufficient evidence to suggest Tehran’s nuclear programme has military dimensions and that it is getting perilously close to crossing a threshold.

The US and its allies are conscious that failure to take serious action might encourage Israel to launch a unilateral preemptive military strike. This prompted US President Barack Obama to say in February that Washington will continue to work in lockstep with Israel as it proceeds to solve the problem.

Plant Vogtle's Reactor 3 and 4 under construction (Photo: Charles C Watson Jr)

US groups oppose Vogtle 3 and 4 new builds

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

NRC says project meets safety concerns

Plant Vogtle's Reactor 3 and 4 under construction (Photo: Charles C Watson Jr)

In Brief

Nine public interest groups filed suit against Southern Company in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on 16 Feb to block the license issued by US regulators last week for the new nuclear reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant (NPP) in Georgia.

In Depth

The lawsuit, filed by anti-nuclear groups, alleges that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) violated federal law by issuing the Vogtle license without considering public safety and the environmental implications following the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan last March. The suit asked the court to order the NRC to prepare a new environmental impact assessment report on the two proposed reactors. The public interest groups also said that Georgia ratepayers and US taxpayers would have to bear the price of cost overruns if Toshiba-owned Westinghouse could not build the reactors on time.

Last week the NRC voted 4-1 to issue Southern a license to build and operate units 3 & 4 at the existing Vogtle NPP site, the first approval issued in the US in more than three decades. A partial meltdown in 1979 at the Three Mile Island NPP in Pennsylvania had resulted in the shelving of plans for the construction of dozens of new reactors. The NRC responded, saying that in its study it has already analysed the issues raised in the lawsuit.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko casted a dissenting vote, citing safety concerns of existing and new US reactors with regards to their ability to withstand Fukushima-type natural disasters.

Insight

The US is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30% of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity. The country’s 104 operational nuclear reactors operating in 31 states account for over 20% of the total electricity generated in the US. After a gap of 30 years in which few new reactors were built, it is expected that 4-6 units may come online by 2020, they are the first to be approved from 16 license applications made since 2007 to build 24 new nuclear reactors.

Government policy changes since the late 1990s have helped pave the way for significant growth in nuclear capacity. Government and industry are working closely to expedite approval for construction and new plant designs incorporating lessons from Fukushima’s nuclear accident last year. The Vogtle 3 & 4 project assumes significance as these are the first new units to be approved for construction in the US, post-Fukushima.

In response to the lawsuit, Southern is expressing confidence that the NRC has fully complied with federal regulatory requirements in issuing the license and says that the company is committed to incorporating lessons learned from Fukushima into the construction and operation of Vogtle 3 & 4. The NRC’s Fukushima Task Force confirmed the Westinghouse Generation III+ AP1000 design conformed to most of its recommendations. The two 1,100 MWe AP1000 reactors, to be built at an expected cost of some US$14 billion, are slated to be commissioned in 2016 and 2017.

In defense of the project, Westinghouse said the NRC has already rejected the petitioners’ contention relating to its analysis of Fukushima and there is no valid reason to delay or stay the license for the new reactors.

Nuclear fuel supply: not meeting demand predicted

Future uranium demand could create shortfall

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

China and India to propel demand

Nuclear fuel supply: not meeting demand predicted

In Brief

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) “Analysis of Uranium Supply to 2050” report says that, in the event of medium economic growth and ecologically driven energy policies, 5.4 megatonnes of uranium will be needed between 2000 and 2050.

In Depth

According to the IAEA, there will be a total shortfall of almost 1 megatonne because of such issues as the timing and cost of new developments, which can take 8-10 years from discovery to bringing a new mine into production. The scale of investment in major nuclear power projects by countries like China, India and Russia and the pressure to find an alternative to fossil fuels for power generation is expected to lead to increasing deficits of uranium in the next decades, unless new sources are developed now, says the IAEA.

According to IAEA statistics, in 2009 South Africa had the world’s fourth-largest reserves of uranium but was only the 10th largest producer, while Namibia, with the ninth-largest reserves was at fourth place for production. Several of Namibia’s known deposits have recently attracted interest from Chinese investors. Last year’s nuclear disaster in Japan at its Fukushima nuclear power plant (NPP) jolted nuclear power producers around the world and also the entire industry pipeline, including uranium miners, notes the IAEA.

According to Intierra executive director Glen Jones, there were only 117 uranium mines operating around the world with Australia, Canada, the US and Namibia having the largest number of exploration projects. There are 434 nuclear reactors operating worldwide, with another 560 proposed or under construction up to 2030. Current demand for uranium is about 180 million lbs annually, out of which only 141 million lbs is mined. The balance is sourced from nuclear stockpiles. By 2030, even the midrange demand forecast suggests a 100 million lb deficit, and at current uranium prices, projects are likely to be delayed, Jones says.

Investment bank, RBC Capital Markets also forecasts rising uranium deficits in coming years on account of the current low prices, difficulties in obtaining permits for new mines and the end of the Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) agreement between the US and Russia expiring next year. The agreement, also called “Megatons to Megawatts,” called on Russia to sell the US 500 tonnes per year of HEU extracted from weapon stockpiles for 20 years, accounting for about 18% of current uranium production.

Insight

China estimates that it can expand its current nuclear capacity of 10.8 GWe to between 70 and 80 GWe by 2020 and plans to have 40 reactors by 2020. New approvals are set to resume early this year for the construction of 27 nuclear plants in China.

India is also planning to expand its nuclear power capacity from its present total of 4.78 GWe to some 20 GWe by 2020 and 63 GWe by 2032. The country has built in a condition in all its future contracts with foreign suppliers for an assured supply of fuel for the life-cycle of its NPPs. In addition, India is seeking investment in the uranium sector in countries such as Kazakhstan, Namibia, Argentina and Mongolia.

Major economies such as Japan and Germany have announced their decision to phase out nuclear energy in favour of renewables, while other economies like the US and France are delaying any further building of new NPPs. However, the construction of new NPPs in the UK and Finland and demand for new plants in developing economies such as China and India could be a driving force to maintain the demand of uranium in future.

Nuclear reactor sites in France

New French law incorporates Fukushima lessons

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Operator to be directly responsible to monitor safety

Nuclear reactor sites in France

In Brief

Lessons learned from the accident at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant (NPP) last March have been incorporated into newly updated French legislation governing safety and security regulations for nuclear installations.

In Depth

According to France’s nuclear safety regulator, the ASN, the order on general rules relating to nuclear installations, formally published in the country’s official gazette on 8 Feb, integrates rules based on international best practices into French national law. The order, referred to as the INB order, incorporates a number of benchmarks established by the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association (WENRA).

The regulations are in consonance with the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards and the most demanding approaches practiced in the states concerned. They represent a common basis for the harmonisation of international practices, said the ASN.

The order covers responses to issues raised from the Fukushima nuclear accident and incorporates requirements for preparation and management of emergency situations into the regulations, as well as the monitoring of external events. According to the new law, operators will now be directly responsible for monitoring safety-critical activities at nuclear installations.

The new rules will officially come into effect on 1 July 2013, although some of its provisions will come into force earlier or may be delayed depending on the magnitude of the work needed to implement them.

Alexander M. Kadakin, Russian Ambassador to India

Russia wants early start of Kudankulam

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Experts sitting idle, says envoy

Alexander M. Kadakin, Russian Ambassador to India

In Brief

Russian Ambassador to India Alexander M. Kadakin on 14 Feb said Russia could not allow his country’s nuclear experts to idle away their time for long at the Kudankulam project site in view of the ongoing protests.

In Depth

Addressing a press conference in Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu, Kadakin said nuclear scientists from his country assigned for the execution of the Kudankulam NPP have been sitting idle since Oct 2011. They are scientists of the highest calibre and their services are very much needed in other countries, including Slovakia and Russia. However, his country would not set a deadline for the Indian government over the issue, the envoy added.

To allay safety concerns, Kadakin said the Fukushima NPP in Japan, which was damaged in an accident, was based on old technology. The Kudankulam reactors are the safest in the world and use the most advanced engineering. The expertise of Russia in setting up NPPs was recognised by the country’s competitors – the US and France, he claimed.

The diplomat, hinting on outside instigation, wondered how so suddenly people started protesting against the Kudankulam NPP though the agreement for the project was first signed in 1988 between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, followed by another agreement in 2008.

Kadakin asked the anti-Kudankulam protesters not to view it in terms of narrow political considerations, pointing out that in 20 years, India’s fuel requirements would be growing in geometrical progression. Describing the anti-KNPP protests as India’s “internal matter,” he hoped the government would be able to resolve it soon. Kadakin also expressed hope that the expert committee constituted by the state government would help break the impasse.

Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (Photo: Ji-Elle)

Atmea1 reactor meets French safety criteria

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

ASN safety approval marks beginning of licensing process

Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (Photo: Ji-Elle)

In Brief

The French nuclear safety regulator, the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire (ASN), has accorded its preliminary approval of the safety applications for the Atmea1 Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) design being built jointly by Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI).

In Depth

Atmea, a 50-50 joint venture (JV) formed in late 2007 between Areva and MHI to design and build 1100 MWe PWRs by combining their technologies, requested the French regulator ASN to conduct a review of the safety features of the Atmea1 design. The safety clearance by the ASN marks an important preliminary step towards the creation of an authorisation application by the licensee.

The ASN said that the review was carried out under the same conditions as those applicable for the construction of basic nuclear installations in France, but Atmea1 safety features will need to be again reviewed at the time of licensing to take into account the criteria in force at that time. However, the regulator considers that the safety features and design for the main equipment of the Atmea1 reactor are generally satisfactory with respect to current French requirements.

The ASN asked Areva-MHI to include detailed design features that minimise worker radiation doses and also to take into consideration the lessons learned from the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant (NPP) in Japan in Mar 2011.

According to the Areva-MHI JV, Atmea1 design features include long operation cycles, short refuelling outages and the load-following ability to adjust power output by 5% per minute. The safety features include both passive and active systems, including a core catcher. The reactor will be marketed in new entrant countries planning to start nuclear power programmes, as well as in established markets such as the US and Europe.

China's mostly coastal NPPs

China plans 80 GWe from nuclear power by 2020

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Experts say the target is ambitious due to site selection problems

China's mostly coastal NPPs

In Brief

Indicating unprecedented growth, China’s installed nuclear power capacity is expected to reach 80 GWe by 2020, the National Energy Administration said in a 14 Feb report, surpassing an earlier expected target of 60-70 GWe.

In Depth

The ambitious target may indicate the government’s attempt to restart the process of approving new nuclear projects. China had suspended the approval of new nuclear power plants in Mar 2011 as part of a nationwide safety review following the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

According to Lin Boqiang, Director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, it will be a difficult task for China to achieve the 80 MWe target by 2020, as the problems begin with site selection, reported the China Securities Journal. The NPP sites require thinly-populated areas close to water resources. However the coastal parts of China are its most thickly populated regions.

China presently has 13 operating reactors generating some 11 GWe. Including the 27 new plants under construction, the total installed capacity of China’s nuclear power stands at around 40 GWe. The new-build plan targets 80 NPPs of 1000 MWe capacity each by 2015. However, some reports have also indicated that with the current pace of construction, China may be able to build only enough plants to generate 30 GWe by that time.

Ranjan Mathai (Photo: MEDEF)

Negotiations continue on civil liability law

Ranjan Mathai (Photo: MEDEF)

In Brief

India will provide a level playing field to US companies on civilian nuclear deals, and is willing to address their specific concerns within the framework of the civil liability law passed by the Parliament, visiting Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said in Washington.

In Depth

Mathai made the remarks during his address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on “Building on Convergence: Deepening the India-US Strategic partnership” at the eminent US think tank.

The commencement of discussions between the Indian operator, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and US companies in regard to an Early Works Agreement is an encouraging development, said Mathai.

Insight

The Indo-US civil nuclear deal envisaged American nuclear companies getting a substantial part of India’s nuclear market. It is expected to offer opportunities worth some US$150 billion by 2032. However, the implementation of the nuclear agreement stalled due to the civil liability law enacted by the Indian Parliament in 2010. Section 17 of the law referred to as the “Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010” extends liability to the supplier of nuclear equipment and material in case of an accident.

US nuclear companies have objected to the provisions in the Indian law saying it is not in line with such international liability regimes as the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), which puts the entire liability on the plant operator.

Legal experts from both India and the US had several rounds of discussions on resolving the issues related to the suppliers liability clause. However, India has shown unwillingness to amend the law, which has already been passed by the parliament.

India has made some concessions with respect to the period and amount of liability in the rules of implementation for the liability law, but the American companies are still not satisfied. Negotiators continue to search for a solution within the framework of the liability law, which the government cannot afford to dilute any further.

Meanwhile, French and Russian nuclear firms as well as domestic companies are affected by the law and have sought relief from some stringent provisions in the suppliers’ liability clause.

Catherine Ashton (Photo: IleMaurice)

Iran loads home-grown fuel in reactor

Monday, 20 February 2012

Wants early resumption of nuclear talks

Catherine Ashton (Photo: IleMaurice)

In Brief

Iran said it has achieved a major milestone in its nuclear programme as it successfully loaded domestically developed atomic fuel in its nuclear power plant (NPP), a step the West says takes Tehran closer to developing a bomb.

In Depth

Simultaneously, Iran has proposed a resumption of long-stalled nuclear talks with world powers in which Tehran would propose “new initiatives,” according to a communication from Tehran to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. The brief letter, however, offered no specific proposals which could convince the West that Iran is ready to enter the kind of substantive negotiations able to resolve its longstanding nuclear dispute.

Tehran has conveyed its readiness for dialogue on a spectrum of issues that can provide grounds for constructive and forward-looking cooperation, said the letter dated Feb 14, from Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

The letter was in response to one from Ashton in October, in which she said the major powers could talk with Iran if it was ready to engage seriously in meaningful discussions of its nuclear activities. Ashton handles the Iran file on behalf of six world powers – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, also referred as P5+1.

The US and its allies suspect Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies the claim, saying its atomic programme is only for peaceful applications and it is enriching uranium only for generating power and isotopes for cancer treatment.

Insight

As Iran continues to show defiance over its nuclear programme, Washington on 15 Feb sent a second aircraft carrier – the nuclear-powered USS Abraham Lincoln – into the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran announced the key technology breakthrough, even as the US-Israel led sanctions sought to curtail Iran’s development of atomic weapons. Iran had earlier threatened to shut down the Straits of Hormuz – through which 20% of the world’s oil supply passes – if it was attacked.

Tehran is reported to have cut oil supplies to six European nations, including the PIGS countries – Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain – which are in an economic crisis, in an effort to preempt EU sanctions that are expected to come into effect soon.

A call by Iran for a quick resumption of nuclear negotiations with world powers drew a cautious response from the US and its Western allies. The Iranian offer for reviving the stalled talks could provide a potential opening for reducing the mounting tensions between Tehran and the West. But the West continues to fear that Tehran will use any new negotiations to buy time to advance its nuclear programme and stave off new sanctions. According to officials, the West needs to further test Iran’s readiness to hold direct talks after a hiatus of more than a year. Washington and Brussels are holding consultations over Tehran’s offer and will decide whether to set a date and venue for new talks. Both insist that new negotiations with Tehran should be conducted only after an assurance from Tehran that it will discuss the nuclear issues. European officials also say they believe Iran has been rattled by mounting sanctions and Israeli military threats, prompting signs of concession as well as aggression from Tehran.

The recent bomb attacks on Israeli nationals in Georgia, New Delhi and Bangkok have escalated the tensions and provoked Tel Aviv towards “upping the ante” against Iran’s nuclear work. Israel believes the attacks are the handiwork of Iranian agents. Earlier, there were mysterious assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists that Teheran suspects were at the behest of Israel.

India, meanwhile, is coming under tremendous pressure from the US-Israel combine to forsake Iranian oil. While the multi-faceted relations with the US are vital for India, Israel is its second largest arms supplier. But like China, India remains non-committal, since it imports US$12 billion worth of Iranian oil per year. Iran counts for 75% of the rice India exports. New Delhi wants the nuclear dispute to be resolved diplomatically and abides only by UN-mandated embargoes.

Moscow, too, has said that it is seriously concerned about Iran’s setting up new uranium enrichment facilities and developing nuclear fuel plates as announced by Tehran. Russia appears to be apprehensive of another country in its immediate neighbourhood acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan-India nuclear ties on track

Monday, 20 February 2012

Kazakh envoy calls for expansion of cooperation

Kazakhstan

In Brief

Kazakhstan is keen to expand civil nuclear ties with India, its Ambassador Doulat Kuanyshev said in New Delhi on 15 Feb, adding that the existing agreement for the supply of uranium to Indian reactors is progressing quite successfully.

In Depth

The Kazakh ambassador said the two strategic partners should look to the future and enhance ties in the nuclear sector. He recommended that Kazakhstan’s atomic power company Kazakhprom and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) expand cooperation.

Kazakhstan is among the leading exporters of natural uranium in the world and India has the potential to increase its nuclear power capacity, Kuanyshev said. The next delivery of fuel for India’s nuclear power plants (NPPs) is scheduled for next year and the process will continue until 2014.

Insight

India signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement 16 Apr 2011 in the Kazakh capital Astana during an official visit to Kazakhstan by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The accord called for expansion of mutually beneficial cooperation in this field while adhering to their existing obligations under multilateral nuclear regimes. This agreement could also cover future joint exploration of uranium in Kazakhstan and the construction of NPPs.

Earlier in 2009, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed during a visit by President Nursultan Nazarbayev that provided for Kazakhstan to supply uranium to India. The MoU also expressed Kazakh interest in possible construction of NPPs based on Indian Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor technology.

India has 20 operating nuclear units generating some 4780 MWe power, with five more, including a Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR), under construction. Another 40 are planned or firmly proposed. India plans to develop its nuclear power capacity to 20 GWe by 2020 and to 63 GWe by 2032. In terms of share of total energy, India plans to increase nuclear from the existing 3% to 25% by 2050. However, the country has very modest indigenous uranium reserves.

In 2010, the NPCIL reportedly imported some 868 tonnes of uranium, including 300 tonnes from Kazatomprom. Currently, the NPCIL has a yearly fuel demand of 450 tonnes of uranium to run its NPPs. The state-owned operator has long-term contracts to source uranium from Russia (2,000 tonnes), Kazakhstan (2,100 tonnes) and other mines operated by Areva (300 tonnes).

Kazakhstan has 15% of the world’s uranium resources and became the world`s leading uranium producing country in 2009. In 2011, Kazakhstan increased the output of its mines by 9% to reach 19,450 tonnes of uranium – about 35% of the global supply and more than double the quantity that the next biggest exporter, Canada, produced in 2010. From the total output of 17 mines, Kazatomprom laid claim to 11,079 tonnes of uranium.

India has been largely excluded from nuclear trade for over three decades because of its status outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, after India finalised a wide-ranging safeguards agreement with the IAEA, the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Sep 2008 decided to permit nuclear trade with India. Since then, India has signed civil nuclear cooperation agreements with several countries, including France, the US, Russia, Canada, South Korea, Mongolia, Argentina, Namibia and Vietnam.

Southeast Asia

Vietnam is only country pushing ahead with plans

In Brief

The overall growth of nuclear power in Southeast Asian countries is slow in spite of power shortages. Plans in some countries keen to introduce atomic energy have run up against political barriers and constraints.

In Depth

Vietnam is resolutely pushing ahead with its nuclear power plans and will be one of the first new entrants to the atomic club since the meltdown in Japan. “I think Vietnam is in a good position because it’s doing this right now after Fukushima. It’s not wavering,” said Lady Barbara Judge, chairman emeritus of the UK Atomic Energy Authority at the “World Nuclear Power Briefing 2012″ in Hanoi late last month.

At least five other members of the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are considering nuclear power as an option to meet demand for energy in the fast-growing region of 600 million people. Proponents say atomic energy is unavoidable for the region, and the prohibitive cost of alternatives will help to drive the sector, say experts.

Insight

Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore are among 35 countries considering nuclear energy. However, Vietnam was the only emerging nuclear-power country which was undeterred by last year’s Fukushima meltdown and is moving ahead with its atomic energy plans.

Vietnam plans to start construction of its first Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in 2014, expected to go online in 2020, followed by another 14 reactors to generate some 15-16 GWe of atomic power by 2030. The country has set a goal to have atomic sources account for 20-25% of all energy consumed by 2050. The government has already signed agreements with Japan and Russia to supply the Ninh Thuan 1 and 2 reactors for the first NPP.

Richard Clegg, Global Nuclear Director at Lloyd’s Register, said that one of the biggest global bottlenecks, and one that will likely slow things down in Vietnam, is getting qualified personnel who can operate reactors and regulate them. In order to operate a NPP those people in charge ideally require 15 to 20 years of experience, which naturally only comes with 15 or 20 years of work. As a working guideline in the industry, each reactor requires about 15 inspectors.

Indonesia’s National Atomic Energy Agency has been researching reactors for more than four decades and preparing their human resources, but the country lacks the political will to implement the programme. According to an agency spokesman, the groundwork is ready, but the public sees nuclear as too dangerous and too expensive, so the key challenge is in people’s minds.

The Thailand Energy Ministry is drafting a plan that could see a NPP entering into operation in 2026. The nuclear power project is still in the country’s power development plan, but its implementation is also subject to acceptance of the public.

In Malaysia, the government shelved an earlier proposal to build two 1,000 MWe NPPs. The decision came after environmentalists opposed a plan by an Australian company to commission a processing plant in central Malaysia that would dispose of radioactive waste. Presently, gas accounts for more than 60% of Malaysia’s electricity generation, with other fuels plus hydro power producing the rest.

After Fukushima, the Philippines gave a pause to its efforts to revive its Bataan NPP, which was built in the early 1980s but never entered into operation because it sits on a tectonic fault and volcano.

Singapore is in the initial stages of considering the possibility of using nuclear power as a part of its power mix, but seems unlikely to build a NPP on its own territory.

The development of nuclear energy in the ASEAN region has always been hindered public non-acceptance. Some countries have been working hard to gain public approval to introduce nuclear power, but it seems the idea is unlikely to soon find favour in the prevailing ant-nuclear sentiment in the region after Fukushima. The proximity of the region to Japan, the scene of the biggest nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, has acted as a dampener for development of nuclear energy in Southeast Asian countries.

There is need for countries planning to introduce nuclear power to utilise the interim period to develop people’s awareness of the benefits and safety of nuclear power, formulate legal and regulatory policy frameworks, and develop human resources to undertake project implementation as and when public perception turns in favour of atomic energy. Since the gestation period for the development of nuclear energy for a new entrant from the time of decision-making to the time of commissioning of a plant could be anything between 15-20 years, the countries need to remain focused and connected with the nuclear world to access technology and knowhow when needed.

Senator Rechard Lugar

Holds Indian civil liability regime responsible for the delay

Senator Rechard Lugar

In Brief

Critical of the Obama administration’s efforts to implement the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, top Republican Senator Richard Lugar has said the nuclear liability bill is “fundamentally inconsistent” with the liability regime that the international community is seeking to achieve.

In Depth

Lugar said that the agreement, which remains important to the broad strategic advancement of the US-Indian relationship, is yet to achieve anything significant in the context of nuclear trade with India. On 7 Feb, the senator, while speaking at the confirmation hearing of US Ambassador-designate to India Nancy Powell, said this situation stems from the Indian parliament’s adoption of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill.

The US senator contended that this liability legislation effectively rules out Indian accession to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC) and could frustrate the US nuclear industry’s efforts to play a role in India’s expanding nuclear power sector. The bill’s provisions are fundamentally inconsistent with the international liability regime contained in the CSC. To date, this administration has made very little progress on the CSC with India, he added.

In response, Powell said she will work towards full implementation of the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement, and to ensure equal opportunities for American nuclear companies. Earlier this week, the visiting Foreign Secretary, Ranjan Mathai, said that India will provide a level playing field for US companies in the country’s nuclear energy sector and continue with negotiations to address the concerns of US suppliers.

Lugar, who was instrumental in the congressional passage of the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement signed in 2008, said the legislation lifted a three-decade American moratorium on nuclear trade with India and paved the way for trade in a wide range of high-technology areas.

Kudankulam NPP (Photo: Petr Pavlicek/IAEA)

Will address people’s concerns besides safety review

Kudankulam NPP (Photo: Petr Pavlicek/IAEA)

In Brief

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa on 9 Feb appointed a four-member expert panel to examine the safety features of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) and address the apprehensions of the local people.

In Depth

The panel, headed by S. Iniyan, will include former Atomic Energy Commission chief M. R. Srinivasan and D. Arivoli along with former bureaucrat L. N. Vijayaraghavan. The creation of the panel follows Jayalalithaa’s announcement in the State Assembly that a panel would be set up to study the safety of the KNPP and to also look into the concerns of the people.

The commissioning of two VVER reactors, built by the Nuclear Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) with Russian technology, has been held up for several months due to protracted public protests at the plant site. The locals have virually laid seige to the plant and have prevented the operating staff from going inside to commission the reactors, which are 99% complete. An earlier attempt to break the deadlock by holding talks between protest leaders and a Centre-appointed expert group that includes state officials.

Insight

The villagers in the area have been on relay hunger strike, saying the nuclear plant will harm the environment in the area and destroy their fishery business, the primary source of livelihood in the region. The locals are also apprehensive of a Fukushima-type disaster at the plant, which is located in India’s southern coastal area of Tamil Nadu. The protesters have been insisting on scrapping the US$2.5 billion project altogether, a proposition unacceptable to the government.

The state government is in a dilemma over the commissioning of the plant as it does not want to antagonize the locals due to political considerations. On the other hand, the business lobby in the state is pressing the government to commission the 2000 MWe nuclear plant from which the state will get more than 500 MWe of electricity to run its industries.

The central government knows well that the ultimate solution will be possible only with the support of the state government. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has personally approached the state chief minister to intervene in the matter to break the impasse. In that context, the constitution of an expert panel appears to be a positive development.

Cameco's McArthur River Mine

Canada-China agreement on uranium exports

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Boon for Canadian uranium industry

Cameco's McArthur River Mine

In Brief

Canada’s nuclear industry is hailing the successful completion of negotiations  with China to formalise an agreement that will boost exports of Canadian uranium, said Denise Carpenter, President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association.

In Depth

Canada produces 18% of all global uranium and is ranked as the second largest producer in the world after Kazakhstan. The country’s uranium industry employs about 14,000 people and is the leading employer of native people in Saskatchewan. The agreement will bring benefit to Canada’s economy and provide access to global markets for Canada’s nuclear energy resources.

The Canada-China Nuclear Cooperation Agreement is expected to create hundreds of new jobs and billions in new investments in Canada. It also provides greater security for China’s nuclear fuel supply. The Canada-China Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Energy Cooperation strengthens bilateral ties between the two countries and provides a framework for Canada to engage China on nuclear energy policy, trade, investment, and research and development.

In addition to large uranium deposits, Canada also has the world’s largest commercial uranium refining facility at Blind River, Ontario, owned and operated by Cameco Corp. The company’s planned increase in annual uranium production meets China’s ambitious nuclear growth plan.

Insight

Canada was the world’s largest uranium producer for many years, accounting for about 22% of world output, but in 2009 was overtaken by Kazakhstan. Uranium production in Canada comes mainly from the McArthur River mine in northern Saskatchewan province, which is the largest in the world.

Production is expected to increase significantly from 2013 as the new Cigar Lake mine comes into operation. With known resources of 572,000 tonnes of U3O8 (485,000 tU), as well as continuing exploration, Canada will have a significant role in meeting the world’s growing uranium demand.

Canada’s nuclear industry generates approximately US$6.6 billion per year, contributing US$1.5 billion in tax revenue and US$1.2 billion in export revenues. The industry also supports over 70,000 direct and indirect jobs.

US nuclear waste locations

Calls for creating new organisation independent of DoE

US nuclear waste locations

In Brief

The Blue Ribbon Commission in its report has recommended creating a safe, long-term solution for dealing with used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in the U.S. It has also stressed that the effort to develop a waste repository and a central storage facility should start immediately.

In Depth

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future was set up in early 2010, following a decision by President Barack Obama to suspend work on a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The commission has submitted its final recommendations to the US Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, after having released an interim draft report in Jul 2011.

The report is critical of the nation’s failure to come to grips with the nuclear waste issue, which has already proved damaging and costly, adding that it will be even more harmful and expensive the longer it continues. It stressed the need for an urgent national strategy, saying that this generation has a fundamental, ethical obligation to avoid overburdening future generations with the task of finding a permanent solution for managing hazardous nuclear materials that they had no part in creating.

Insight

Yucca Mountain in Nevada was designated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) as the sole initial repository for the nation’s high-level nuclear waste in response to the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act. However, President Obama’s decision ruling out Yucca Mountain as an option derailed the country’s entire waste management programme.

The commission’s strategy is based on three key considerations. Firstly, it recommends a consent-based approach to siting future nuclear waste storage and disposal facilities. Secondly, responsibility for the radioactive waste management program me in the U.S. should be assigned to a new organisation, independent of the DoE. Thirdly, it recommends a method for management of the US$24 billion estimated to have been paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund to ensure it is used for its intended purpose.

The report also calls for immediate efforts to begin development of at least one geologic depository and at least one consolidated storage facility, as well as steps to prepare for the eventual large-scale transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste from current storage sites to those facilities. It also urges the DoE to promptly appoint a senior official to coordinate all of its efforts in the implementation of the commission’s recommendations.

The majority of these recommendations require action by the Administration and Congress. Congress has tasked the DoE to develop a strategy for managing used nuclear waste within six months of the completion of the commission’s report.

Meanwhile, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has coordinated a study to examine several proposals to examine the Yucca Mountain site’s geographical, structural, and geophysical characteristics in considering potential alternative uses. The existing structural infrastructure at Yucca Mountain includes two large tunnels, one about 8 km long and 7.6 m in diameter, and another 3.2 km long that branches off of the main tunnel.

Some of the alternative uses considered in the study include the setting up of different types of nuclear and defence research labs in addition to actual projects which range from an interim storage site for nuclear fuel to a test site for a non-lethal, high-energy weapon or for training of personnel to operate in emergency situations and high explosive hazards. However, the site’s remote location and lack of adequate infrastructure precludes many of the proposed uses.

The US currently has over 65,000 tonnes of used nuclear fuel stored at about 75 operating and shut reactor sites across the country, with an additional 2000 tonnes being produced annually. The DoE is also storing a further 2500 tonnes of used fuel and large volumes of high-level waste generated mostly from past weapons programmes at a few government-owned sites.

Vogtle NPP

NRC approves Georgia nuclear project

Thursday, 16 February 2012

First approval for new nuclear build in three decades

Vogtle NPP

In Brief

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission on 09 Feb approved a construction and operating license for a new nuclear power plant (NPP) for the first time since 1978, giving Southern Co. the sanction to build two new reactors at its existing site, Plant Vogtle, Georgia.

In Depth

Southern, which filed its license application in Mar 2008, said it expects the project to cost US$13.3 billion. Southern’s Georgia Power subsidiary, which owns 45.7% of the project, has already spent US$4 billion on groundwork and preliminary construction at the site, 40 km southeast of Augusta.

The NPP will use Westinghouse-Toshiba’s AP1000 Pressurised Water Reactors (PWR), which the NRC had certified in Dec. The two 1100 MWe reactors are expected to come online in 2016 and 2017. Earlier in 2010, the Energy Department approved US$8.3 billion in loan guarantees for the new reactors, aiding Southern and its partners in carrying the heavy costs of building the NPPs.

The NRC approval follows a regulatory process that took almost four years to confirm the safety of building reactors at the Georgia site. It is the first combined construction and operating license issued by the NRC. The site already has two operating reactors.

Insight

The NRC approval may not actually indicate a nuclear renaissance in the US, but its significance should not be understated considering the prevailing anti-nuclear sentiment following the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP disaster in Japan. All of the 31 NPPs that had been proposed until 2009 had been shelved due to high construction costs, weak electricity demand and the availability of  cheap natural gas.

The last nuclear reactor built in the US is the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) Watts Bar plant. Construction for it started in 1973, was suspended in 1988 and was then completed in 1996. Construction of new reactors dropped off in 1978 for financial reasons, and then the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident in 1979 caused a major setback to nuclear power expansion.

The US presently has 104 operating NPPs, providing some 20% of the nation’s electricity. Federal regulators have already extended licenses for 71 NPPs, but many plants will reach the end of their license extensions over the next two to three decades.

In most states, utilities can only start charging ratepayers for a plant once it starts operating, but in Georgia, they can pass along costs to ratepayers while construction is still in progress. Georgia ratepayers paid US$233 million in 2011 and this year will pay US$258 million to cover part of Southern’s costs. Critics of the project say Georgia Power will recover from the customers US$1.7 billion of the company’s US$6.1 billion in costs before the NPP comes online.

Plant owner Southern applied to the NRC to build Vogtle units 3 and 4 in Apr 2008, and signed an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract with Westinghouse and its partner Shaw the same month. In 2009, the company received approval to begin limited construction work. The companies have prepared the site for the concrete foundations of the reactor buildings, laid cooling water piping and put in place the foundations for the huge derrick crane for the simultaneous construction of the two reactors.

Since the AP1000 PWR is based on a modular design, the fabrication of containment vessel components and other major parts has already begun at the site. Orders for essential equipment such as steam generators and reactor vessels have been placed with Doosan of South Korea in Jun 2008 and work has started on the turbine island and cooling towers.

According to Marc de Croisset, an analyst for FBR Capital Markets, an NRC approval for Plant Vogtle could mean rapid approval for other new units, including two that the utility Scana has proposed to build in South Carolina, another state that allows costs to be passed along to ratepayers during construction.

The NRC approval has been welcomed by pro-nuclear groups and has brought great relief to the American nuclear industry, which has not seen the construction of a new NPP approved at home in the last three decades. Analysts say the power industry will be watching for any cost overruns and other mishaps during the construction of Vogtle NPP. Whether or not the construction progresses well could spur further nuclear builds or potentially bring the nuclear renaissance to a standstill, particularly when cheaper alternatives are now available.

Velosi's engineers to become more savvy in piping engineering

Online training course covers piping engineering

Velosi's engineers to become more savvy in piping engineering

In Brief

Velosi has announced it has entered into collaboration with India’s premier institution, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, to offer a four-month online certificate course in piping engineering.

In Depth

The piping engineering course is relevant to such diverse sectors as the petroleum industry, manufacturing of fertilisers and chemicals, nuclear and conventional power plants, shipbuilding, transport of petroleum products, drinking water, irrigation and sewage water, air conditioning, third-party inspection (TPI) companies, and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC).

According to Professor Moharir of IIT Bombay, the online training course in piping engineering covers aspects applied to process plant design, engineering and construction. The institute has already trained more than 7,000 engineers over the past 20 years.

The course will help organisations train their engineers online without distracting them from their duties. Trainees registering through Velosi will have the benefit of attending regular live sessions with course faculty and 2-3 days of contact with faculty on the Velosi premises.

In Depth

IIT Bombay was established in 1958, at Powai, a northern suburb of Mumbai in Maharashtra. The institute is recognised as one of the centres of academic excellence in the country. Over many years it has been involved in various academic and research activities, and a parallel improvement in facilities and infrastructure to keep it on par with the best institutions in the world.

The Velosi Group provides asset integrity; health, safety and environment (HSE); quality assurance; quality control and engineering services to national and multinational oil and gas companies. The group operates globally through five regional headquarters in the US, the UK, Malaysia, South Africa, and the UAE.  It has 63 offices in 36 countries.

New nuclear builds for Poland

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Includes two 3000 MWe capacity each nuclear plants

In Brief

The Polish utility Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE) has approved the construction of two nuclear power plants (NPPs) by 2029 as part of a strategic plan. The aim is to expand its installed power generating capacity.

In Depth

The plan, drawn up by state-owned PGE’s board of management, calls for investments of over US$103 billion between 2012 and 2035 in the energy sector to raise Poland’s installed capacity from the current 13.1 GWe to 15.8 GWe by 2020 and to 21.3 GWe by 2035, while diversifying its power generating technology.

According to the plan, PGE aims to generate about 36% of its electricity using nuclear power by 2035, with 11% coming from gas, 14% from renewables, 33% from lignite and 5% from coal. Currently, 75% of its power comes from lignite, with most of the rest coming from hard coal.

PGE plans the construction of two NPPs of some 3000 MWe capacity each, comprising two or three large reactors. The first reactor is scheduled to enter commercial operation by 2023, with subsequent units coming on line every two or three years. PGE said that it will hold a minimum 51% stake in the plants as part of a consortium with foreign partners, although it would prefer to hold a 75% stake.

Three potential locations for the first NPP that were selected in Nov 2011 include Zarnowiec and Gaski in north-west Poland and Choczewo in the north of the country – all on the Baltic coast. A final decision on the location will be made in 2013. A tender for the technology supplier of the plant is expected to be announced later this year. PGE said the estimated cost of generating electricity from nuclear sources is between and US$86 to $90 per MWh, which justifies the construction of NPPs.

A 2009 report to the Ministry of the Economy identified that of the major generating options, nuclear is the most cost effective method of reducing carbon emissions. A cabinet resolution then called for the construction of at least two NPPs in Poland.

Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics (Photo: ????? ?. ??????)

Fire at former Russian nuclear research centre

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Greenpeace says incident serious

Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics (Photo: ????? ?. ??????)

In Brief

A fire was reported to have broken out early on 5 Feb in a part of the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics in southwestern Moscow, institute officials said in a statement on its website.

In Depth

Sergei Novikov, spokesman for Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom, said there were no open flames, only smoke that came from an area housing power cables and could not affect any nuclear materials at the institute.

The incident poses no threat to fissile materials, and firefighters were pumping foam into the affected area. The institute’s heavy-water research reactor was no longer operational. There were no radiation sources in the area of the collider, which had been closed on 25 Dec, and no danger of a radiation leak. All the personnel were evacuated and nobody was hurt, an official statement said.

Greenpeace Russia campaign director Ivan Blokov said that the incident was potentially very dangerous and that it showed a major failure in their operations.

Moscow’s 60-year-old atomic reactor research institute houses the Soviet Union’s first heavy-water reactor. It was designed in the late 1940s as part of Josef Stalin’s programme to develop nuclear bombs.

Vladimir Shkolnik

Kazakhstan’s uranium output up 9%

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Continues to be the largest producer with 19,450 T in 2011

Vladimir Shkolnik

In Brief

Kazakhstan increased uranium output by some 9% to 19,450 tonnes in 2011, maintaining its position as the world’s largest producer, with a 35% share of global output, announced state-owned Kazatomprom. The country produced 17,803 tU the previous year.

In Depth

Kazatomprom said its own uranium production totalled 11,079 tU and accounted for 20% of global production of the element, which is used to produce nuclear fuel. The world’s uranium output according to preliminary data totalled 55,400 tU.

Kazakhstan has plans to further boost its output to 25,000 tU in 2012-15, Kazatomprom head Vladimir Shkolnik said in the capital Astana on 3 Feb. Kazatomprom expected a net profit of US$521 million for 2011, and that could rise in the 2012-15 period. The company’s strategy will focus on maintaining its position as the world’s largest uranium producer, on diversifying to a maximum all chains of the company’s nuclear fuel production cycle, and on boosting its scientific and technological potential to cooperate in allied high technology areas, Shkolnik said.

Kazatomprom maintained its presence in all regions where nuclear power plants (NPPs) are in use – the US, Europe and Asia. The volume of supplies to consumers on contracts with Kazatomprom totalled 10,399 tU, which comprises about 17% of the world’s nuclear reactor needs.

Insight

Kazakhstan holds more than 15% of global uranium reserves, putting it second only to Australia. In 2009 it surpassed Canada as the world’s largest uranium producer. However, this is a nation that does not have any NPPs and does not use any uranium byproducts. Kazatomprom employs over 25,000 workers and mines uranium both independently and through a series of joint ventures (JVs) with international companies such as Areva, Cameco Corp. and Sumitomo Corp. From 17 mines, Kazatomprom laid claim to 11,079 tonnes of uranium. Of this, 10,399 tonnes was shipped to long-term customers.

In addition to consolidating its position as the leading uranium miner, Kazatomprom plans to concentrate in the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle (NFC), which spans from the basic sourcing of uranium to the fabricating and loading of manufactured nuclear fuel assemblies into a reactor.

In Sep 2011 Kazatomprom signed a strategic cooperation deal with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to supply ceramic uranium-oxide fuel pellets. A pilot lot was fabricated at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk and delivered to CNNC. In Dec another deal was signed with China’s other nuclear utility, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC) covering long-term supply of fuel pellets for its reactors.

In 2011, Kazatomprom entered into a number of macro contracts with existing and new consumers, notably with Electricite de France (EDF) and a number of energy companies in the US. The same year it  signed an agreement with French company Areva for the construction of a plant of 400 tonne capacity for production of fuel assemblies and on the basis of the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk.

Kazatomprom and Toshiba Corporation established a JV – KT Rare Metals Company – to conduct research and carry out the development, extraction, production and sale of rare metals and rare earth products and materials under an agreement signed in Sep 2011. Also, Japanese utilities, technology companies and fuel traders have long been in Kazakhstan negotiating on technical support, supplies of rare earth metals, uranium and nuclear fuel products.

Kazatomprom is also exploring the possibility of the joint establishment of a uranium enrichment plant with Tenex at Angarsk in Russia. Another deal with Cameco investigated setting up a uranium conversion plant, but this is on hold.

In Apr 2011, Kazatomprom signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the Nuclear Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) for the supply of fuel for its reactors and cooperation in other areas of the NFC.

National Emblem of Indonesia

Indonesia joins nuclear test ban regime

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Treaty still far from entering into force

National Emblem of Indonesia

In Brief

Indonesia has joined the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), becoming the 157th nation to adopt the global treaty, which bans the conduct of any type of nuclear tests by the member countries.

In Depth

Signing on to the treaty at the UN in New York, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa called on those holding out to take a calculated risk and have the courage to sign on.

Indonesia saw an opportunity to advance the disarmament agenda, and its parliament unanimously agreed to adopt the treaty in December. The government hoped its ratification of the CTBT would “propel others to do likewise,” Natalegawa said.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) completed its talks on the regional weapons-free zone last year and the 10 member states are now completing ratification of that treaty.

Insight

The CTBT can come into force only after a core group of nuclear-capable states ratifies it. The 44 countries that must ratify the treaty to bring it into force all have nuclear weapons or atomic programmes.

The CTBT bans all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 Sep 1996 but has yet not entered into force. As of Jan 2012, 156 states have ratified the CTBT and another 26 states have signed but not ratified it. Indonesia is the latest country to ratify the treaty.

The treaty will enter into force 180 days after the 44 states have ratified it. These are the states that participated in the CTBT’s negotiations between 1994 and 1996 and possessed nuclear power reactors or research reactors at that time. As of 7 Dec 2011, eight of the 44 states have not ratified the treaty – China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the US have signed but not ratified, while India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed it.

In 1998, India said it would only sign the treaty if the US presented a schedule for eliminating its nuclear stockpile, a condition the US rejected.

Local collaboration helps India prep for future energy demand (Photo: By Inductiveload )

NPCIL signs nuclear JV with NALCO

Monday, 13 February 2012

To collaborate in building two 700 MWe units in Kakarpar

Local collaboration helps India prep for future energy demand (Photo: By Inductiveload )

In Brief

India’s Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and National Aluminium Company Ltd (NALCO) have signed a joint venture (JV) agreement to collaborate in setting up nuclear power plants (NPPs) in the country.

In Depth

The agreement was signed in Mumbai 9 Nov between Chairman and Managing Directors  S.K. Jain, of  NPCIL and B.L. Bagra, of NALCO. NALCO will initially have a 29% stake in the JV company, a stake that will later increase to 49%.

NALCO will collaborate with NPCIL in the 700 MWe Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) units 3 and 4 at the Kakrapar NPP, presently under construction in Gujarat. NALCO on Nov 09 signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with NPCIL to invest in nuclear power generation as part of its strategy to diversify into the commercial power sector and to leverage its experience in electricity generation by constructing NPPs jointly with NPCIL.

Insight

NPCIL is a wholly government-owned enterprise under the Department of Atomic Energy for setting up and operating NPPs in India. Presently, NPCIL owns 20 nuclear reactors with a total installed capacity of 4780 MWe, while six reactors with a total 4800 MWe capacity are under construction.

NALCO is also a government-owned undertaking under the administrative control of the Ministry of Mines, which has experience of more than 25 years in mining, alumina refining, power generation and aluminum smelting. NALCO has a vision to become an integrated energy and metal company.

In addition to NALCO, some oil producing companies in India such as Oil & Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) and Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and the nation’s largest power sector company – National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) – have signed agreements with NPCIL to set up indigenously designed 700 MWe reactors in different states.

It is planned that the capacity addition will be achieved by constructing indigenously designed and developed 700 MWe output Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWRs) and using 1000 MWe or larger capacity Light Water Reactors (LWRs) imported from foreign suppliers. General Electric, Westinghouse, Areva and Rosatom are some of the main contenders ready to enter India’s nuclear energy market.

India needs to add 70,000 MW generation capacity for the 12th Plan ending 2017 and another 75,000-80,000 MW by 2022 to sustain a GDP growth rate of 8-9% per year. On a yearly basis, India needs to add about 15,000 MW every year in the next decade. This capacity expansion is only possible by building more and larger-capacity NPPs.

NPCIL has an ambitious nuclear power expansion programme, which has a goal of developing 63,000 MWe capacity by 2032. Considering US$2.5 million/MWe as the average cost of generating nuclear power, NPCIL needs to make substantial investments to achieve its target capacity. This calls for collaboration with cash-rich government-owned oil and power sector companies.

Kaliningrad from the International Space Station

Project open to foreign investment

Kaliningrad from the International Space Station

In Brief

Preparations are underway to pour first concrete at the twin VVER-1200 Baltic nuclear power plant (NPP) in Kaliningrad, the first Russian atomic project to be opened to foreign investment and to use Western components.

In Depth

Kaliningrad, an exclave of the Russian Federation, is located between Poland and Lithuania. The NPP will be the first Russian project to be opened to investment by European utilities and intends to export most of the power generated from the plant. It will also be the first to use foreign equipment such as an Alstom-Atomenergomash steam turbine.

Russia’s Rosenergoatom will be the major stakeholder of the plant with 51% equity, while 49% equity will be available to private investment. The Russian company is in talks with major European utilities that include Czech Republic’s CEZ, France’s EDF, Italy’s Enel and Spain’s Iberdrola for partnership. Russia is also exploring with Switzerland the possibilities for constructing a high voltage line for transmission of up to 800 MWe of power from Kaliningrad to Germany.

Commercial operation of the first Baltic reactor is scheduled for 2017, with the second unit slated to go online a year later. The cost of the two 1200 MWe Pressurised Water Reactors (PWRs) was estimated to be some US$6.8 billion as per 2009 figures.

Once construction begins, Baltic 1 will become the ninth new reactor under construction in Europe. The other reactors are Finland’s Olkiluoto 3, France’s Flamanville 3, Slovakia’s Mochovce 3 & 4, Russia’s Rostov 3 & 4 and Leningrad-II 1 & 2.

The European new-build plans that are in advanced stages include two reactors in the Czech Republic, one in Lithuania, one in Bulgaria, two in Belarus and another two in Finland. In addition, the groundwork for the first of four planned reactors has commenced in the UK.

Tehran continues to attract attention

EU asks India to help in talks with Iran

Monday, 13 February 2012

Iran says it will not cede to global pressure

Tehran continues to attract attention

In Brief

The EU wants India to leverage its relations with Iran to help bring Tehran back to the negotiating table, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said at the 12th India-EU summit in New Delhi on 10 Feb.

In Depth

The EU, which has again imposed sanctions against Iran, asked India to use its strong ties to draw Tehran into talks on its nuclear programme, while emphasizing the need for strong economic sanctions. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh insisted that diplomacy should be given “maximum scope” in resolving the issue. Even though India and the EU disagree on the issue of sanctions, both want talks to resume on the nuclear issue.

Both the US and Europe recently imposed sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear programme, severely impacting the Islamic republic’s US$352 billion economy. Iran has offered to barter gold bullion or oil in return for food as the new sanctions hit the country’s ability to import basic food items for its 75 million people.

India, Asia’s third largest economy, considers Iran to be an important source for its energy and defended buying Iran’s oil despite opposition from the EU and the US. India sees no reason why it should not take advantage of new business opportunities opening up as European companies reduce trade with Iran. It remains one of Iran’s main oil buyers, but has been affected lately because of the payments problems created by the new sanctions.

Insight

India and Iran have deep historical and cultural ties and have a shared perspective on regional security, which includes the stability of Afghanistan after the West reduces its forces. New Delhi has been urging world powers to exercise restraint and has been advocating the use of diplomacy to solve Iran’s nuclear issue. Tehran, too, trusts New Delhi due to its strong ties built over centuries of trade.

New Delhi had been a supporter of Tehran’s peaceful nuclear programme, saying it is any country’s legitimate right to conduct research on civilian applications of nuclear energy. However, India is well aware that another nuclear power in its neighbourhood could destabilise the strategic balance in the Middle East and trigger an arms race in the region, which is home to 54% of global oil reserves.

India so far has not reacted to Rompuy’s statement, but every possible effort to bring Iran to the negotiation table needs to be explored. New Delhi would do well to play a constructive role in getting Iran to talk to world powers to resolve an issue that has all the portents of turning into a confrontation.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the country will never cede to international pressure. This came on the same day that the state-run Press TV news channel reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised to announce major nuclear accomplishments. The upcoming announcement regarding Iran’s nuclear achievement may be about the production of 20% enriched nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes.

Iran’s underground Fordo nuclear facility has the capability for uranium enrichment to a 20% purity level, according to media reports. The process can generate fuel for a nuclear power reactor or enrich it to a concentration of 90% to be used to build atomic weapons.

Bernard Bigot

Work to start in two years, says France

Bernard Bigot

In Brief

India and France held a safety review for the proposed Jaitapur nuclear power plant (NPP) in Maharashtra, and cleared the way for construction to begin on the two 1650 MWe European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) in the next two years.

In Depth

Bernard Bigot, Chairman of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), and Srikumar Banerjee, Secretary of Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), on 8 Feb reviewed the Safety Assessment Report (SAR) on the Jaitapur project prepared by the French nuclear safety regulatory authority (ASN). The review of the EPR design was initiated because of the accident in Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP in Mar 2011.

India and France are expecting to complete commercial negotiations on the proposed Jaitapur NPP within a year, and the actual commencement of construction could begin in the next two years, said Bigot after meeting Banerjee.

Seeking to allay fears surrounding EPR technology, Bigot said the SAR submitted to the French government last month has cleared the EPR technology of any misgivings after severe stress tests assured that the plants can withstand a Fukushima-type disaster. Following his meeting with the DAE, he said that public opinion has to be fully respected, and the two sides discussed how to build public confidence.

Insight

The US$9.3 billion project was signed between French nuclear engineering firm Areva SA and Indian state-owned nuclear operator the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) in 2009. The plant eventually will consist of six 1650 MWe EPRs once completed and would be the largest single NPP in the world, generating some 10,000 MWe of power.

Negotiations on the commercial agreement between Areva and the NPCIL were stalled following public protests that gained momentum after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The Indian government then asked the French nuclear authorities to undertake a fresh safety review of the plant. The safety applications of EPR design were subjected to stress tests to check their ability to withstand severe natural calamities.

According to the ASN, the EPR plants are extremely safe and have a unique “core catcher” which completely seals the nuclear material against a leak even in the unlikely scenario of a meltdown. In addition, the EPRs have inbuilt mechanisms that will ensure uninhibited power supply, even in the case of a power blackout. Extended power failure was the key cause of the meltdown in reactors at the Fukushima NPP.

Notwithstanding the safety review of the EPR, the French, joining others, have raised concerns over India’s civil liability law, which extends liability to the suppliers in case of an accident. How the French company Areva expects to address the liability issue is yet not clear and will likely come up during commercial negotiations.

From the Indian perspective, the public protests in Jaitapur continue to be a major cause for concern. The Maharashtra government and the NPCIL have launched public awareness programmes to win back local support. The authorities have offered to pay people affected by the project up to four times the normal compensation.

South Korea President Lee Myung-Bak (Photo: Gobierno de Chile)

Considers reactor export key to economic growth

South Korea President Lee Myung-Bak (Photo: Gobierno de Chile)

In Brief

South Korea is keen to forge a partnership with India’s defence and nuclear energy sector. Its ambassador to India, Kim Joong-Keun said in Kolkata on 6 Feb that South Korea that it can offer advanced technology and expertise.

In Depth

Kim went on to say that civil nuclear energy cooperation between the two countries “has opened up new avenues for enhancing our economic relationship.” The country is already in discussions to set up NPPs in India, Kim said.

South Korea and India signed an agreement on 25 Jul 2011 to cooperate in nuclear power, providing a legal basis for Korea’s future participation in atomic plant projects in India. South Korea is eager to export its nuclear expertise as a new growth engine for the economy.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, during his visit to New Delhi in Jan 2010, called for a civil nuclear agreement to lay a framework for South Korea’s efforts to export nuclear power plants (NPPs) to India. The president said that Korean nuclear technology was both safe and cost-effective.

Insight

Korea has been engaged in building NPPs for the last four decades and has 21 NPPs, which account for 23.9% of its total energy capacity and 31% of total electricity consumption. The South Korean government expects this number to increase to 60% by 2035, with additional nuclear reactors currently under construction and 10 more in the pipeline.

India, with 20 operating NPPs, is currently building six reactors, and plans to construct some 40 more by 2032, while South Korea seeks to become a major exporter of its home-built nuclear power reactors. A US$20 billion contract won by a Korean company in Dec 2009 to build four reactors in the UAE after beating its US, Japanese and French rivals has given a fillip to the Korean nuclear power industry. Since then, South Korea has been stepping up its efforts to export NPPs as part of its future export strategy.

State-run Korea Electric Power Corp. (Kepco) signed a memorandum of understanding in 2009 with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), and has been seeking to tap into the Indian nuclear energy market, which is presently dominated by Russian, French and American companies.

The South Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy declared in Jan 2010 that it aimed to achieve exports of 80 nuclear power reactors worth US$400 billion by 2030. It is looking to become the world’s third largest supplier of such technology, with a 20% share of the world market, behind the US and France or Russia. Seoul considers nuclear power as one of the most profitable markets and is committed to promote the industry as a major export business.

The Korean industry aims to be 100% self-sufficient by 2012, with no residual intellectual property constraints. Following the UAE contract, it is seeking to market reactors to Turkey, Jordan, Romania and Ukraine, as well as South East Asian countries. In addition to exporting reactors, it also plans to enter the US$78 billion market for the operation, maintenance and repair of reactors.

South Korea’s indigenously developed Generation III APR1400 reactor forms the basis for its export market. The APR1400 currently being marketed overseas by Kepco has significant design improvements in safety in addition to offering more in terms of operational performance, reduced construction time, and improved economics, claims Kepco.

Is Israeli military action imminent? (Photo: Israel Defense Forces)

Will prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons

Is Israeli military action imminent? (Photo: Israel Defense Forces)

In Brief

President Barack Obama said on 5 Feb he does not think Israel has decided whether to attack Iran over its disputed nuclear programme and said that the US was working in lockstep with Israel to solve the crisis, “hopefully diplomatically.”

In Depth

Obama’s comments came amid growing concerns of a unilateral military strike by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities. It is feared that the Islamic republic is fast reaching a stage after which even a limited military strike would no longer be adequate to stop Tehran from making a bomb. Israel’s major allies in the West argue that an attack eventually would only strengthen the regime in Tehran.

President Obama reiterated that the US has not removed any option from consideration in dealing with Iran – including military intervention – but emphasised that Washington wants a diplomatic solution built around a world coalition.

The West has long accused Iran of developing atomic weapons, while Tehran insists its nuclear activities have no military connotation and are meant only for peaceful purposes.

Insight

The nuclear dispute gathered momentum after the IAEA released its Nov 2011 report that said there was enough evidence to suggest that some of Iran’s nuclear activities are related to a weaponisation programme. The agency’s findings escalated the tensions with Iran and the West. This brought speculation that Israel could attack the Islamic republic imminently, a move that might trigger a broader confrontation and disrupt the international economy.

Iran is concerned that Israel possesses nuclear weapons and expects world powers to rein in the Jewish state, with which it never had the best of the relations. Israel, too, is concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which Israel says pose a threat to its very existence, thereby justifying its talk of military action. Recently, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta would not dispute a report that he believes Israel may attack Iran within a few months in an attempt to stall Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Washington is trying to dissuade Israel from taking any preemptive military action against Iran, while acknowledging that outside influence will have little effect on Israeli decision-making. Obama refused to say whether the US would get notice from Israel before any potential strike on Iran, but noted that both countries now have much closer military and intelligence consultation.

The US is concerned about any possibility of a military confrontation inside the Gulf as it could have a major impact on oil prices with potentially serious ramifications for the weak global economy. The presence of US military troops in Afghanistan, which borders Iran, is also disquieting.

The US President’s direct warning about the use of military force if necessary, was mostly intended to reassure its allies, including Israel. Washington wants to discourage any nation from “going it alone.” The statement could lessen escalating tensions that may soon come to a head.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said disagreements between Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have narrowed and noted that the UN inspectors could revisit Iran by March.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

Eight reactors were powered down after Fukushima

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

In Brief

The surge in electricity demand resulting from extreme cold gripping the European continent has forced Germany to restart several reactors taken off line after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan last year, said the daily Handelsblatt on 9 Feb.

In Depth

Germany decided to phase out nuclear power in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which resulted in a reactor core meltdown and radiation leaks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant (NPP).

Following the government’s decision, eight of Germany’s 17 reactors have already been taken offline and the nine reactors currently operational are due to be closed between 2015 and 2022. Five of the eight shut reactors have been earmarked as reserve to meet any surge in electricity demand.

In December Germany resorted to importing electricity from neighbouring Austria to stabilise its power grid.

London's Houses of Parliament (Photo: David Iliff)

Poll says nuclear power best for UK

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Wind energy is second most popular choice

London's Houses of Parliament (Photo: David Iliff)

In Brief

The results of a nationwide poll conducted in the UK show that Britons believe new nuclear power plants would be the best energy infrastructure investment the country could make. Wind energy was voted as the second best option.

In Depth

According to a poll conducted on 19 and 20 Jan by YouGov, 19% considered the option of investment in new nuclear power plants as the best for Britain from a list of projects either being executed or being planned. The second most popular choice of the 1711 respondents was offshore wind at 16%.

Another survey conducted by Ipsos-Mori 10 days previously indicated that Britain’s’ acceptability for nuclear power may have improved after suffering a fall after the Fukushima accident. The survey found a record 50% of people now support the plan of building new nuclear power plants to replace old ones being phased out. This compares to 36% in Jun 2011, three months after the Fukushima disaster. A poll in Nov 2010 showed 47% preferred nuclear energy.

The study results indicate a clear trend in the UK energy debate, underlining that many people made their choices for the two leading energy sources without social grade or geographic location having any major impact on levels of support. While a peak of 23% favoured offshore wind energy in Scotland, some 24% supported nuclear power in the north of England. British energy policy supports the development of both offshore wind and nuclear power, irrespective of the political party in power.

Indian Point NPP (Photo: Tony)

Entergy has 30 days to come-up with fresh plan

Indian Point NPP (Photo: Tony)

In Brief

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rejected the majority of fire safety exemptions requested by the nuclear power plant (NPP) owner Entergy Nuclear Operations, Inc. at the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, New York.

In Depth

The NRC’s decision was welcomed by Jerome M. Hauer, Commissioner of the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES), which on 4 Feb acknowledged New York State’s concerns about fire safety at the Indian Point NPP. Entergy has 30 days to provide plans and schedules for federal fire safety compliance.

The State’s Office of Fire Prevention and Control raised a large number of observations on 11 May 2011 opposing Entergy’s request for numerous exemptions from fire protection requirements at Units 2 and 3 at the Indian Point NPP. The ruling is consistent with New York’s long-held position that deviation from compliance with prevailing fire safety requirements at Indian Point creates an undue risk to the public’s health and safety in the area, said Hauer.

Insight

According to experts, one of the leading risk factors for a NPP meltdown in the US is due to fire since it can increase the risk of core damage by impeding or crippling the operation of safety systems. Between Jan 1995 and Dec 2007, 125 fires at 54 sites were reported to the NRC.

The NRC grants safety exemptions based on the plant-owner’s ability to demonstrate that they can achieve and maintain the NPP in a “safe shutdown condition” following a fire. Reducing the number of protective measures for a potential fire will result in a lower level of safety and an increased risk of a meltdown.

The NPP fire safety requirements include specific measures such as fire detection, fire suppression, fire barriers, and physical separations as a means to provide for the protection of various control cables. In its exemption request to the NRC, Entergy recommended employing substitute measures that would have relied on personnel to manually operate vital equipment.

According to experts, manual actions could not be considered as reliable substitutes to provide for critical operational control in a post-fire shutdown scenario.

The Indian Point 2 and 3 reactors were built in 1974 and 1976 respectively using Westinghouse Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) technology. Unit 2 generates up to 1,025 MWe while Unit 3 generates up to 1,040 MWe and together they generate up to 30% of the electricity used in New York City. Entergy has applied for the renewal of licenses for the two units for a period of twenty years, but the NRC has turned down the request on account of fire safety protection of the plants to prevent a Fukushima-type meltdown.

Nuclear dry cask storage

Dry fuel storage facility for Russia

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Will store RBMK and VVER spent fuel rods

Nuclear dry cask storage

In Brief

Russia is set to start storing used fuel from its RBMK-1000 and VVER-1000 reactors at a a new centralised dry interim storage facility (ISF) at Zheleznogorsk. The first RBMK fuel is expected to be delivered by March this year.

In Depth

The construction on the first stage of a centralised ISF was completed in Dec 2011 at the Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC) at Zheleznogorsk near Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. The initial facility will have the capacity to store 8130 tonnes of fuel, sufficient to meet the nation’s requirement for eight to ten years.

The ISF will first store used fuel from the three nuclear power plants (NPPs) in the country using RBMK reactors – Leningrad, Kursk and Smolensk. The used fuel from these plants is currently stored in onsite water pools that are now reaching full capacity.

Later, used VVER-1000 fuel from reactors at the Balakovo, Kalinin, Novovoronezh and Rostov NPPs will also be stored at the new facility. The used fuel from these plants has already been sent for storage at the Zheleznogorsk water pools.

The ISF, measuring 270 m long, 35 m wide and 40 m high when fully completed, will have the storage capacity for 38,000 tonnes of used RBMK and VVER fuel. The fuel will be stored in the facility for up to 50 years, during which time substantial reprocessing capacity should be brought online. In the long-term, a geological repository for high-level radioactive waste is planned.

Russia currently reprocesses about 16% of the used fuel it produces annually and has set a target to reprocess all of the used fuel it generates each year by 2020, Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov told the Moscow Times.

Insight

Dry nuclear fuel storage is considered one of the most practical options for temporary storage of high-level radioactive waste, such as spent nuclear fuel that has already been cooled in water pools for at least one year. Dry storage technology is said to have advantages over ‘wet’ storage technology as it does not require storage pools and the casks in which the fuel is stored can withstand extreme impacts and temperature changes.

In dry storage technology, the used fuel is packed in casks made typically from steel cylinders that are either welded or bolted closed to provide leak-tight containment of the spent fuel. The fuel rods inside the casks are surrounded by inert gas. Each cask is surrounded by additional steel, concrete, or other material to provide radiation shielding to workers and members of the public. Some of the cask designs can be used for both storage and transportation of spent fuel. The cask designs come in both vertical and horizontal configurations.

The first dry storage installation in the US was licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 1986 at the Surry NPP in Virginia. Spent fuel is currently stored in dry cask systems at a large number of American NPPs and at an interim facility located at the Idaho National Laboratory. The NRC estimates that many of the NPPs in the US will run out of capacity in their spent fuel pools by 2015, consequently requiring the use of temporary storage of some kind. The NRC guideline calls for fuels to have spent at least five years in a storage pool before being shifted to dry casks.

Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada was expected to be ready in 2017, but now the site is no longer considered an option. With the zeroing of the budget for Yucca Mountain, more nuclear waste is being packed into sealed metal casks that will be mostly stored in coastal or lakeside regions.

Currently, with no long-term permanent geologic storage facility, dry storage is considered a safer interim solution than spent pool storage. Though some expect that the casks can be used for 100 years, cracking related to corrosion could occur in 30 years or less, especially at sites located close to salty environments.

Dry cask storage is presently being used in the US, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, UK, Japan, and Lithuania.

Anand Sharma

India expects French FDI in nuclear power

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Sector to offer US$100 billion worth of investment opportunities

Anand Sharma

In Brief

India hopes to receive over US$100 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the nuclear power sector in the next twenty years, of which a quarter would come from France, according to Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma.

In Depth

The Indian minister made the statement while addressing the fourth India-France CEOs Forum on 30 Jan in Paris. The forum, comprising heads of leading businesses in France and India, was initiated by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2008, following Sarkozy’s state visit to India.

Sharma said that in the energy sector India greatly values its partnership with France, especially in the nuclear power sector, where France is a global leader. France will play an important role in developing nuclear power facilities in India, Sharma added.

According to the minister, given the strong position of French companies, the level of French investment in India is way below its potential. There are 800 French companies in India, which engage over 80,000 people and India would like to see this grow in the coming years. Presently, over US$14 billion worth of French investments in India are in the pipeline.

Insight

French energy majors Areva and Alstom are actively pursuing nuclear business interests in India. Areva has been awarded the 10,000 MWe Jaitapur nuclear power project, to be build at a cost of some US$20 billion. The plant is to comprise six units of 1650 MWe-capacity European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) to be built in three phases. The commercial negotiations for the first two reactors are in progress. However, the proposed nuclear plant in Jaitapur in Maharashtra is being delayed because of protests from the locals on account of safety and environmental concerns.

Alstom, which already has its presence in the Indian power sector, on 24 Jun 2010 signed a tripartite agreement to set up a joint venture (JV) company with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and Bharat Heavy Electrical Ltd (BHEL) – both state-owned companies – to consolidate its India presence. The JV has been set up to manufacture large-sized turbines for upcoming nuclear projects. According to Alstom SA, the company was looking forward to increased demand for nuclear business from India and China, in spite of reduced nuclear demand after Fukushima.

French firm Dassault on 31 Jan bagged India’s biggest ever military contract estimated to be worth some US$18 billion for the supply of 126 Rafale fighter jets. The deal, touted as “the mother of all defense deals,” is bound to give further impetus to Indo-French cooperation in other sectors, including nuclear energy.

Indian Point NPP

Entergy has 30 days to respond

Indian Point NPP

In Brief

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said on 1 Feb that it had rejected some of procedures for assuring fire safety at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. It observed that its two reactors were deficient in that they lacked some of the equipment essential to meet the commission’s regulations.

In Depth

The commission noted that the plant relies on substitute measures such as manually operating vital equipment if the cables connecting them to the control room are burnt. The NRC went on to say that it was not safe to assume that such methods would work. Indian Point is the only nuclear plant in the country that is still using substitute procedures that have not been approved by the commission.

Entergy-owned India Point NPP, located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, is due for renewal of its reactors’ original 40-year operating licenses, which are due to expire next year and in 2015. However, the latest findings by the commission are likely to make it difficult for Entergy to get its licenses renewed for another 20 years.

Of 30 fire zones in the plant that the agency examined, only six were in compliance with its regulations. The plant has a total of 356 fire zones overall. The company was given 30 days to demonstrate that its procedures were adequate or to take steps toward compliance. However, the agency said it did not “have an immediate safety concern” for the power plant.

Many NPPs have been relying on manual operation as a substitute for automatically-actuated fire detection or sprinkler systems. Their procedures were either accepted by the commission or replaced by installing more advanced safeguards.

Olkiluoto NPP

New unit at Olkiluoto will be of 1600-1700 MWe output

Olkiluoto NPP

In Brief

Fennovoima has received commercial bids from Areva and Toshiba for the construction of a 1600-1700 MWe capacity nuclear power plant (NPP) in Pyhajoki on the western coast of Finland. A final decision on the contract will be taken by the end of next year.

In Depth

Fennovoima had signed technical development agreements with both Areva and Toshiba in Dec 2010 indicating that Areva’s 1700 European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) – an advanced Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) – and Toshiba’s 1600 MWe Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) would meet Finnish safety requirements and the company’s own technical requirements.

In July 2011, Fennovoima invited technical and commercial bids from Areva and Toshiba for the engineering, supply and construction of reactor and turbine islands for the planned NPP. Both companies submitted technical bids in early January and have now submitted their commercial bids for the project. In its bid, Toshiba has offered to supply both the reactor and turbine islands, while Areva has bid only for the reactor and has recommended that the turbine island be supplied by either Alstom or Siemens.

Insight

Finland presently has two operational NPPs with two reactors each, providing some 30% of Finland’s electricity. The Olkiluoto NPP located on Olkiluoto Island on the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia in western Finland, has two Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) with 860 MWe-capacity each. The third reactor at Olkiluoto comprises the first EPR under construction anywhere in the world. Olkiuoto-3, which was expected to enter commercial operation in 2009, has been delayed by more than three years and is not expected to be operational until 2014, resulting in a loss of US$3.5 billion. The other NPP is a two-unit VVER, located in Loviisa.

The Finnish government had taken the decision to build the Pyhajoki NPP in Jul 2010. The Fennovoima NPP will be built on the Hanhikivi peninsula on the coast of Bothnian Bay, becoming one of the world’s most northern most plants. Preparatory site work could begin in late 2012 and the plant is expected to start operation in 2020.

In addition, TVO was granted an in-principle approval in May 2010 to build a fourth reactor at the Olkiluoto site. The government rejected an application from Fortum to build a third unit at Loviisa.

Rosatom to get competitive for global markets

Russia mulls restructuring Rosatom

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Civil part of company to be privatised

Rosatom to get competitive for global markets

In Brief

The Russian government is considering privatisation of the state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom as part of a plan for industrial modernisation, wrote Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the Vedomosti newspaper on 30 Jan.

In Depth

Rosatom is one of the largest vertically-integrated state-owned companies that Russia established to combine its nuclear power, engineering and research enterprises into a single entity. The five-year effort was aimed at discouraging “the decline of the more intellectual sectors of national industry” in the post-Soviet era, wrote Putin in the lengthy article. The article set out a range of government targets for Russia to develop its infrastructure, innovation and private enterprise while curbing corruption and improving the legal and investment environment for business.

Putin sees the need to consolidate niche sectors like aerospace, shipbuilding and nuclear energy, which were officially government-owned but managed disjointedly, and which had lost all links with their respective research and design centres. Government efforts were focused on restoring Russia’s competence in those sectors, which had only a few players in the global market.

Insight

Russia has compiled a plan for the reorganisation of each of these state-holding companies and their subsequent entry into the market. The government plans to build up a diversified economy where many competitive sectors will be developed alongside a modern fuel and energy industry, added Putin.

The plan for Rosatom envisions retaining divisions managing Russia’s military nuclear programme under full control of the state. However, its civil nuclear assets such as nuclear fuel, reactor technology, supply chain, nuclear power plant (NPP) operation, services and waste-management will be restructured into a public liability company with its equity subsequently sold off.

According to Rosatom Director General Sergei Kiriyenko, the civil part of the nuclear industry is already under development with private partnerships in mind. For future projects, they will be developed using state funds, but with an increasing share of private investment.

In 2011, Rosatom made an agreement with Rolls-Royce to explore mutual cooperation in a series of nuclear power-related activities in Russia, the UK and third world countries. Its Rosatom subsidiary Atomenergomash forged a joint venture (JV) with France’s Alstom for NPP steam turbines.

The restructuring of one of the largest state-owned companies in Russia and its bifurcation into military and civil wings is likely to make the organisation less unwieldy and more focused. At present the organisation is under full control of the state and has to be fully dependent on financial support from the government. Putin’s plan to convert Rosatom into a private enterprise with public participation augurs well for the growth and functioning of the company. The move will likely make Rosatom more competitive in future global market environments that will see customers asking for the best and cheapest nuclear product.

Iran Nuclear

UN inspectors finish Iran nuclear visit

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Tehran calls talks “constructive”

Iran Nuclear

In Brief

Inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog have completed a three-day visit to Iran with no visible breakthrough on Tehran’s controversial atomic energy programme after the US and EU imposed an embargo against Iran’s oil exports.

In Depth

The semi-official Fars news agency on 31 Jan called the talks between Iranian officials and the visiting team “constructive,” saying the two sides had agreed to continue their dialogue. The media reported the six-person IAEA team did not visit any nuclear sites, saying only “technical and legal issues were discussed.” The report also said the date of future talks had been set, but did not give details.

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) traveled to Tehran 28 Jan for discussions with Iranian officials about the country’s controversial uranium enrichment programme which the West suspects is designed to produce weapon-grade material. Iran had consistently been denying the allegation, saying the effort is solely for power generation and medical research.

Insight

Tensions between the West and Iran heightened after the US and EU recently imposed fresh sanctions aimed at pressuring Tehran to provide more information on its nuclear programme. The tough and unprecedented new measures aim to put an embargo on crude oil sales by Iran. An Iranian threat to close the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping route if sanctions were imposed to block its oil exports further escalated the tensions.

In a move indicative of a conciliatory approach, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi even offered to extend the IAEA visit. Iran has frequently in recent weeks said that it is prepared to resume talks with world powers that were suspended more than a year ago. Turkey has offered to host the talks, but there is yet no decision taken on a date and venue. The West has said it is prepared to open a dialogue with Tehran, provided it has something constructive on the agenda to take the diplomatic process forward.

There had been some expectation prior to the IAEA team’s visit that Iran would take some tangible steps to address the concerns raised by the agency in its November report which would create a positive environment for the talks to take place between the world powers and Tehran. But the visit apparently remained peripheral and could not succeed in addressing the core issues. The team had hoped to visit Iran’s new enrichment facility at Qom, which is said to be installed with the latest-technology centrifuges suspected to be producing weapons-grade uranium.

The West would call the visit yet another attempt by Iran to extend the discussions as part of a well-planned strategy to buy more time while its enrichment programme moves along to acquire the capability to build nuclear weapons. The offer for the visit by Iran came under mounting pressure from a series of sanctions which have strained Iran’s economy and resulted in its currency plummeting by half in the last two months.

The world powers have expressed hope that four rounds of UN-mandated sanctions, coupled with tough measures by the US and EU to restrict Iran’s central financial system and oil exports, will persuade the Iranian leadership to suspend its uranium enrichment programme. Also not to rush into seeking a military solution, Washington is contemplating isolating Iran from the global financial telecommunication network that nearly every financial institution requires to conduct business.

On 30 Jan, a New York-based advocacy group, United Against Nuclear Iran, asked the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) – the Belgium-based global financial telecommunication network – to end all relations with Iran’s central bank and deny access to all Iranian banks. Iran’s SWIFT membership is considered crucial to Iran’s economic survival.

Iran, coming under mounting pressure from world powers, would do well to enter negotiations to end a nuclear impasse that has all the portents of spiraling into a military confrontation. The struggling global economy can ill afford the consequences of spiking oil prices arising out of a cut in crude supplies by Iran and other OPEC countries.

India will benefit from American nuclear technology once legal and regulatory hurdles are cleared (Photo: RIA Novosti archive)

Clinton and Rao meet in Washington

India will benefit from American nuclear technology once legal and regulatory hurdles are cleared (Photo: RIA Novosti archive)

In Brief

India and the US have agreed to continue efforts to consolidate their global strategic partnership and work towards implementing their civil nuclear agreement.

In Depth

According to a statement from the Indian embassy following a meeting in Washington between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao on 25 Jan, the two officials agreed to work on making greater progress.

Rao and Clinton discussed the civil nuclear agreement and the continued efforts to chart a way forward that will bring India the benefits of American nuclear technology. Asked about the status of nuclear cooperation, Clinton said the two sides were “still trying to work through the legal and regulatory issues that we have in India.”

Insight

The implementation of the India-US civil nuclear deal has been held up on the issue of certain contentious clauses in India’s civil liability law that give the operator of a nuclear power plant (NPP) right to recourse that extends liability to the suppliers of reactor equipment and material in case of an accident. The American nuclear companies Westinghouse and GE have been apprehensive of the nuclear liability law, saying the compensation rules should be in line with international law, where the entire liability rests with the operator.

India is also unhappy over the Nuclear Supplier Group’s (NSG’s) move to harden its stand on the transfer of reprocessing technologies to countries which are non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a decision New Delhi believes has been taken at the behest of some anti-nuclear lobbyists in the US.

TVEL to diversify beyond nuclear fuel assemblies (Photo: Ruslan Krivobok)

Russia’s TVEL plans to diversify

Friday, 3 February 2012

To enter non-nuclear business

TVEL to diversify beyond nuclear fuel assemblies (Photo: Ruslan Krivobok)

In Brief

Russian nuclear fuel manufacturer TVEL announced its plan on 26 Jan to increase its revenues from US$6 billion last year to US$16 billion in 2030, while adding a new energy storage business. Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom has approved the subsidiary’s plans.

In Depth

TVEL’s plan is to more than double its revenues by increasing its share of the overall uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel markets to 30-32%, compared with its current 25%, despite increased competition in the global market. The company already benefits from a dominant position in the manufacturing of fuel for Russian-designed VVER Pressurised Water Reactors (PWRs) worldwide.

The company’s growth strategy relies on “leadership on the cost of uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel technology development” and on providing innovative marketing proposals. The plan also aims at further globalisation of TVEL operations and could include a global network of research centres, a transport and logistics system, and the modernisation and centralisation of production.

TVEL also plans to simultaneously diversify into more non-nuclear business areas, including the market of energy storage. The company plans to earn US$3 billion in annual revenue from non-nuclear businesses by 2030.

Insight

Russia-based TVEL is one of the key manufacturers of nuclear fuel assemblies in the world, accounting for a 17% share of the global market. The corporation integrates large Russian enterprises specialising in uranium mining, nuclear fuel fabrication, supplies, and scientific and engineering support to nuclear power plants (NPPs) in Russia, the CIS and foreign countries.

TVEL produces nuclear fuel for Light Water Reactors (LWRs) of both Russian and western design, including fast-neutron and research reactors. The company supplies fuel to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, Armenia, Lithuania, Finland, China and India. Worldwide, 76 nuclear power reactors and 30 research reactors are currently running with TVEL-manufactured fuel. TVEL is also the exclusive supplier of nuclear fuel to all Russian NPPs, as well as for other categories of reactors in the country.

The company also supplies fuel to all European countries with NPPs of Russian design. At present, TVEL is offering new fuel assemblies on the global market, tailored to reactors designed by western companies. The company’s immediate plans are to enter the world market of fuel for NPPs of western design. The current annual export of TVEL products exceeds US$1 billon.

In addition to finished fuel assemblies, TVEL exports nuclear fuel components, such as fuel pellets. It is also working on developing an essentially new type of mixed oxide uranium-plutonium fuel (MOX-fuel) which would alleviate the problem of the shortage of nuclear fuel and significantly reduce nuclear waste generation.

Zwentendorf NPP to cease prematurely (Photo: Beroesz)

Vienna opposes Prague’s expansion plans

Zwentendorf NPP to cease prematurely (Photo: Beroesz)

In Brief

Austria, which voted against nuclear power in a 1979 referendum, has called for Europe to abandon nuclear power altogether, while its neighbour, the Czech Republic, is pushing ahead with plans to significantly boost its atomic energy.

In Depth

The Mar 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant (NPP) in Japan has initiated a worldwide debate on the future of atomic power. Germany was the first European country to announce plans to scrub nuclear power, followed by Switzerland and Italy.

Austria, in the late 1970s, did a U-turn on its Zwentendorf NPP near Vienna, just as it was ready to go into operation. At the time, it only needed installation of the fuel rods. The nuclear plant, built at a cost about US$1.3 billion, is now being used for training courses nuclear engineers in safety.

Insight

In the aftermath of Fukushima, Austria is seeking to play a leading role in opposing the use of nuclear energy throughout Europe, claiming that NPPs are not safe. A seven-nation anti-nuclear alliance was formed on the Austrian initiative to find a future route for Europe to manage without nuclear energy. The alliance includes Ireland, Portugal and Greece.

Austria’s immediate neighbour, the Czech Republic, disagrees with the idea and is pushing ahead with plans to build two new reactors at Temelin close to the Austrian border, where one NPP is already operating. Temelin, which was built using a Soviet design and upgraded with US technology, has long been an irritant between Vienna and Prague. Austria has strongly opposed Czech’s nuclear expansion plans at Temelin.

The Czech government says it is committed to safe nuclear power because it does not have enough coal to build coal power plants and also not enough space to build hydro. Nuclear power is the only option for the Czech Republic to achieve its energy security and reduce CO2 emissions. Some Czechs feel that the Austrian attitude towards their nuclear programme is unrealistic and is motivated by old, anti-Soviet prejudices.

Austria is surrounded by countries such as Germany, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which are all operating NPPs. Excluding Germany, all these countries have plans to build two more plants which leaves Austria with very limited options to execute its anti-nuclear drive, even in its own neighbourhood.

IAEA

May bolster government campaign to start closed plants

IAEA

In Brief

UN nuclear experts on 31 Jan approved the stress tests conducted by Japan’s nuclear safety agencies, establishing that the country’s nuclear power plants can withstand the type of disasters that devastated the Fukushima Dai-ichi facility last year.

In Depth

A 10-member team from the IAEA was in Japan at the request of the government to review the process of stress tests conducted by its own watchdog, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), on the nation’s nuclear power plants. NISA completed a review of the stress tests earlier in January and confirmed that reactors at Fukui prefecture’s Ohi plant were capable of withstanding a severe shock similar to the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima plant.

The team concluded that NISA’s instructions to power plants and its review process for the comprehensive safety assessments are generally consistent with IAEA safety standards, said James Lyons, the leader of the IAEA team, in a statement. The experts, however, left Japanese authorities themselves to decide whether the plants are safe.

The IAEA support comes at a time when the Japanese government is bolstering a campaign to restart some 51 closed reactors amid prospects of an approaching summer power crunch. But the government still faces an uphill task to restore public trust in nuclear power, which is at its all-time low as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Insight

Stress tests are computer simulations that evaluate a nuclear reactor’s capacity to withstand severe events, such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Some experts, however, have questioned the validity of the stress tests, saying that the procedures were insufficient as they only simulate one natural disaster at a time and do not take into account the possibility of the type of equipment failure and human error seen at Fukushima. Skeptics also say that a visit by an international organisation advocating nuclear power is just part of a larger political agenda.

The Japanese government, in another effort to restore public confidence in nuclear power, on 31 Jan approved bills that would set up a new nuclear safety agency, separating regulation of the industry from the trade and industry ministry, which has promoted nuclear power. Both the ministry and utility, TEPCO, had come under severe criticism for their inadequate response to the nuclear crisis in the initial stages.

Meanwhile, local authorities have said the stress tests were not sufficient to allow them to give their approval, with some requesting that findings from the Fukushima disaster be considered in drafting new safety standards as well. Although it is only a customary practice to seek the approval of local governments hosting NPPs, the new government  is cautious not to ride roughshod over the locals, fearing the creation of further negative public sentiment. In fact, a utility would be within its legal rights if it went ahead and restarted a reactor after properly completing scheduled maintenance. However, a trade ministry official said that the Fukushima accident has resulted in making local consent an important part of the restarting process.

The Fukushima disaster has prompted a paradigm shift in Japan’s energy policy. The nation, which was producing 30% of its total energy through nuclear sources before the disaster and had aimed to increase this share to more than 50% by 2030, now looks to reduce its reliance on nuclear power and shift to renewable sources.

Constellation's Maryland Calvert Cliffs NPP (Photo: Jbs666)

EDF not to oppose Exelon-Constellation merger

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Settlement calls for EDF to appoint CFO for the venture

Constellation's Maryland Calvert Cliffs NPP (Photo: Jbs666)

In Brief

French state-controlled Electricité de France (EDF) dropped its objections to Exelon Corp.’s US$7.42 billion takeover bid of Constellation Energy Group Inc, after reaching a settlement with the US utilities on a nuclear power venture.

In Depth

Under the agreement, Paris-based EDF, Constellation’s junior partner in five US nuclear power reactors, will have the right to appoint a chief financial officer (CFO) to the venture after the merger closes, the US Securities and Exchange Commission stated 17 Jan.

Chicago-based Exelon, which owns the largest fleet of nuclear power plants (NPPs) in the US, agreed to an anti-poaching clause for two years or give preferential treatment to its plants over those partially owned by EDF. The deal gives EDF the right to audit Exelon’s arrangements with its affiliates and ensures operational autonomy of Constellation Energy Group.

EDF is the world’s largest nuclear operator, with 58 operational reactors and one under construction, all in France. It used its position as Constellation’s second-largest shareholder, holding 49.9% equity, to push regulators to stall the transaction amid fears that the merger might threaten the integrity of its investment. However, the safeguards built into the agreement reassured EDF that its interests will be protected.

EDF warned in a 5 Dec filing that Exelon’s merger would cost Constellation, the nuclear venture, autonomy and control over its two nuclear reactors in Maryland. However, the settlement clears a potential hurdle for the merging companies in Maryland.

The Maryland Public Service Commission is scheduled to consider the merger by 17 Feb. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have yet to approve the transaction, which stands cleared by the Justice Department and regulators in New York and Texas.

Research in Progress

Developed material to absorb radioactive gases

Research in Progress

In Brief

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed new materials known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) to capture and remove volatile radioactive gases such as iodine from spent nuclear fuel, said chemist Tina Nenoff of the institute’s Surface and Interface Sciences Department.

In Depth

The breakthrough by the Sandia researchers could support worldwide efforts to produce clean, safe nuclear energy and reduce the volume of radioactive and high-level wastes. The study could be applied in nuclear fuel reprocessing to recover fissile materials and provide fresh fuel for nuclear power plants (NPPs).  This could also be used for cleanup operations in the event of a nuclear reactor accident.

The main problem associated with reprocessing is to separate and isolate radioactive elements with extremely long half-lives from spent fuel. The Sandia team focused on removing iodine, whose isotopes have a half-life of 16 million years. The researchers used silver-loaded zeolite frameworks to trap and remove iodine from a stream of spent nuclear fuel. The zeolite holds the silver in its pores and then reacts with iodine to form silver iodide.

The Sandia team later extended the zeolite characteristics of trapping iodine to investigate other materials which have a higher capacity to absorb gas molecules and used the critical components discovered to find the best MOF, named ZIF-8.

The Sandia researchers are part of the Off-Gas Sigma Team, which is led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, known for its studies on nuclear fuel reprocessing. The project began six years ago and the Sigma Team was formed in 2009. It is funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogramme laboratory under Sandia Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. for the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Canada to hold Fukushima disaster conference

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Experts to discuss radiation effects

In Brief

On the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, on 11 Mar 2012, Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre in Vancouver will host a conference named “The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster — One Year Later”.

In Depth

The conference will be attended by a group of Canadian and US nuclear physicians and experts, who will share information on the effects of radiation exposure from the Fukushima nuclear disaster on local and global health, environmental, and economic impacts seen over the past year. The topics for discussion will also include the need for improved monitoring and disclosure, and the role of nuclear power in the world’s future energy needs.

The event is being organised by Physicians for Global Survival (Canada) and is cosponsored by Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia’s Department of Pediatrics and School of Population and Public Health, and Next Gen University in consultation with the Fukushima Medical University.

Yellowcake (U308) (Photo: Uranium Energy Corporation)

Uranium sector shows strength

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Uranium One production beats guidance

Yellowcake (U308) (Photo: Uranium Energy Corporation)

In Brief

The uranium sector is showing signs of recovery after suffering a slowdown in the aftermath of last year’s nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant (NPP).

In Depth

Analysts attribute the positive outlook to the fact that Uranium One reported on 16 Jan that its 2011 production surpassed market expectations. It also announced the purchase of a 13.9% stake in Mantra Resources. Some also ascribe the change in sentiment to comments made by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao this week at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, backing nuclear power as a means to limit the use of coal in China.

For Uranium One, the year’s attributable production was a record 10.7 million lbs. of U3O8 (4116 tU), up 45% on 2010 figures, with record full-year sales of 9.9 million lbs. of U3O8 (3808 tU), up 43% on the previous year, with the majority of production coming from its Kazakh mines. In 2011, the Honeymoon in-situ leach (ISL) operation in Australia, for the first time contributed 210,000 lbs. of U3O8 (81 tU) to the total. The company’s year-end figures also include output from the Willow Creek project in Wyoming for the first time, with an output of 50,000 pounds U3O8 (19 tU) reported for the year.

Paladin’s Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia achieved quarterly production of 1.193 million lbs. of U3O8 (459 tU). Two months of record production at 93% of nameplate capacity at the Kayelekera mine in Malawi resulted in record quarterly production of 632,000 pounds U3O8 (243 tU).

Toronto-based Denison’s final 2011 production figures of 1 million lb U3O8 (385 tU) from its White  Mesa mill in Utah were lower than the company had expected because of difficult operating conditions with ore from the Daneros mine. The company said it plans to produce 1.4 million lbs. of uranium this year, up 40% from 2011, at its Blanding, Utah mill.

Rio Tinto’s uranium production for the year, with total attributable production at Energy Resources of Australia’s Ranger mine, was down 35% on the previous year at 3.81 million lbs. U3O8 (1466 tU). The end of the year saw Rio Tinto’s production figures falling at Rossing in the the final quarter, bringing the Namibian mine’s output to 3.25 million lbs. U3O8 (1250 tU) for the year, 41% down on 2010.

Insight

Many experts consider that the full recovery of the uranium market could still take a long time after the Fukushima incident last March ignited worries over the possible demise of nuclear power. Some uranium projects were postponed or cancelled because of difficulties in getting financing after the nuclear crisis at Fukushima, affecting future supplies.

In the near term, the uranium market is likely to face some uncertainty, given the potential for excess inventories finding their way onto the market from Germany and Japan as well as the extent to which existing orders are modified due to delays in new-build plans. In the long term, future growth prospects for uranium appear positive because of the commitments shown by China, India, South Korea, Russia, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia to their nuclear plans. The shift to nuclear alternatives by many new countries concerned about carbon emissions and the drive to make up for the energy shortfall will also support the uranium sector in the future.

IN THE ARCHIVE