22 December 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.

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