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New Nuclear
Key developments for three US projects

12 February 2009
US nuclear new build is drawing nearer with key developments in the preconstruction process for the new units at VC Summer, Vogtle and South Texas Project.
 

 

 

 

 

 

VC Summer NPP

VC Summer plant - two more soon? (Image: Scana)

The Public Service Commission of South Carolina (PSC) has unanimously approved South Carolina Electric & Gas Company's (SCE&G) plans to build two new Westinghouse AP1000s at its existing VC Summer site in the state. PSC approval must be secured before any construction can start. The South Carolina PSC ruling was made in the wake of a three week public hearing held in December 2008, and determines that the proposal to build the plant is "prudent", as well as allowing the company to recover some of the financing costs while the plant is under construction rather than having to wait until it is in operation.

Indeed, according to the PSC directive, the new units will be sorely needed. "The company's [SCE&G's] established reserve margin target is 12% to 18% of forecasted peak demand, and … forecast shows that the company's reserve margin will decline to 2% by 2016 and -3.9% by 2019, even in the face of the current economic downturn," it said.

SCE&G president and COO Kevin Marsh greeted the PSC ruling as a key milestone for the project, and noted that being able to pay financing costs while the plant is under construction should lower the overall cost of building the new units by about $1 billion, saving customers an estimated $4 billion in electricity rates over the plant's lifetime.

The new units will be jointly owned by Scana subsidiary SCE&G and Santee Cooper, and operated by SCE&G, and will join the existing 966 MWe unit at the site. Construction will not be able to begin until the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) grants a combined construction and operating licence (COL), which SCE&G estimates could be issued in 2011. The company plans to bring the first of the new units online in 2016, with the second in 2019.


2012 COL for South Texas?

NRG Energy says it expects to receive a COL for two new reactors at the South Texas Project in 2012, after receiving NRC's review schedule for its application. With the permitting schedule established, the company says, it can now move to complete the detailed design and construction schedules from pouring first concrete to fuel load and startup.

South Texas Project was the first COL application to be submitted to the NRC, in September 2007. Toshiba has been selected as the prime contractor to build the two ABWR units at the site, and Nuclear Innovation North America LLC (NINA) - the nuclear development company jointly owned by NRG Energy, Inc. and Toshiba Corporation - has submitted an application for a federal loan guarantee for the project. Steve Winn, NINA president and CEO, described the company as "very comfortable" with its prospects in the loan guarantee process. "With the best site for expansion, a top-notch nuclear operating company, a proven design and now, this schedule in hand, we are moving toward achieving firm, fixed pricing, set delivery dates and performance guarantees to bring these two units online on time and on budget," he said.


Vogtle ESP progress

Meanwhile, the NRC has issued the final safety evaluation and report for a request for an Early Site Permit (ESP) and limited work authorization for Southern Nuclear's Vogtle site in Georgia. An ESP provides in-principle approval of a site for nuclear plant construction on environmental, safety and nuclear grounds, enabling a would-be nuclear plant builder to address site-related issues and can allow some limited construction work to begin before a full COL is granted.

A final decision on the Vogtle ESP is expected by the end of 2009 after a hearing by the US Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is completed. Southern Nuclear submitted a COL application for two AP1000s at the site in March 2008.


Waste and Recycling

Europe steps towards shared repository concept

11 February 2009

Following several years of preliminary work, 14 European countries have set up a working group to consider establishing a European Repository Development Organisation (ERDO) to collaborate on nuclear waste disposal.
 
The proposal for a "staged, adaptive implementation strategy" for an ERDO results from the EC-sponsored SAPIERR Project (Strategic Action Plan for Implementation of European Regional Repositories), which held its final symposium on 27 January in Brussels. The results of studies on the viability of shared, regional European geological repositories were presented to 50 participants from 21 countries. The aspects considered included organisational and legal issues, economic impacts, safety and security considerations, and public and political attitudes to multinational repositories.
 
The 14 countries backing the proposal are: Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
 
The ERDO proposal will involve forming a consensus on what the ERDO should look like, using the SAPIERR findings as a starting point. This model will then be presented to potentially interested countries in about two years' time, so that they can decide whether and when to set up the ERDO and whether they wish to be part of it.
 
The secretariat will be provided by the Association for Regional and International Underground Storage (Arius), based in Switzerland, and the administration by the Netherlands waste agency, COVRA.
 
Arius was set up in 2002 as a non-commercial body to promote the concept of regional and international facilities for storage and disposal of all types of long-lived nuclear wastes. A key objective is to explore ways of providing shared storage and disposal facilities for smaller users. Membership is open and comprises countries with small nuclear programs as well as industrial organisations with relevant interests.
 
In 2002, a European Commission (EC) Directive said that geological disposal of radioactive wastes was preferred and that "A regional approach, involving two or more countries, could also offer advantages especially to countries that have no or limited nuclear programs, insofar as it would provide a safe and less costly solution for all parties."
 
In mid-2003, Arius initiated the SAPIERR Pilot Project for European Regional Repositories, which obtained EC approval. This was undertaken over two years to 2005 to help the EC grapple with the regional repository issue as flagged earlier in the EC Radioactive Waste Directive. It allowed potential options for regional collaboration and for regional repositories to be identified, though it did not extend to site identification. Slovakia provided the project coordination.
 
Following this pilot study, a new EC-funded SAPIERR project to assess the feasibility of European regional waste repositories was commenced in September 2006, indicating recognition in the EU that implementing 25 national repositories is not optimal economically or for safety and security.

The SAPIERR project is in line with proposals from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Russia and the USA (with GNEP) for multilateral cooperation in the fuel cycle in order to enhance global security. Shared repositories for high-level nuclear wastes are an important element of this.


NEI: Nuclear is good for jobs and economy

06 February 2009

The US industry body, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), has published a report into the role of new nuclear power plants in job creation and economic growth. According to the NEI, "nuclear energy is one of the few bright spots in the US economy - expanding rather than contracting." It says that the prospect of new nuclear power plant construction in the USA has already stimulated significant investment and job creation among companies that supply equipment and services to the nuclear industry. The NEI says that "over the last several years, the nuclear industry has invested over $4 billion in new nuclear plant development, and plans to invest approximately $8 billion in the next several years to be in a position to start construction in 2011-2012." In the course of this, NEI said, "private investment in new nuclear power plants has created an estimated 14,000-15,000 jobs". The number of new jobs "will expand dramatically after 2011 when the first wave of these new nuclear projects starts construction.


Waste and Recycling MOX gets ready to sail

29 January 2009

Companies have confirmed that a shipment of mixed oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel from Europe to Japan is being prepared, although the exact departure date has not yet been announced.

The shipment will comprise two vessels travelling in convoy from either France or the UK. The country of the departure port will be announced "some days" prior to departure, according to a statement simultaneously released by the French, British and Japanese companies involved in the shipment. The exact departure date, the route to be taken, the approximate arrival date in Japan, the name of the departure port and the names of the vessels and the cargo itself will be announced one day after the shipment sets sail.

PNTL ship cutaway (PNTL)

PNTL uses its own specialised fleet for plutonium and MOX transport
(Image: PNTL)


Companies from three countries are involved in the shipment. Areva of France manufactured the MOX. The UK's Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited (PNTL), a subsidiary of International Nuclear Services which is itself owned by the UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), will transport the fuel to Japanese utilities Chubu, Kyushu and Shikoku.

The plutonium content of MOX fuel means that its shipment requires extra levels of security, and past MOX shipments have attracted much media interest and sometimes protests because of the perceived proliferation risk attached to the material. Two of PNTL's purpose-built nuclear transport vessels - Pacific Pintail and the company's newest ship, Pacific Heron - are equipped with the security features including fixed naval guns and other additional physical protection systems necessary for the transport of MOX and plutonium dioxide.

Three routes are used for nuclear material transports between Japan and Europe: the Panama Canal, Cape Horn, and Cape of Good Hope. The voyage typically takes six to eight weeks to complete and the ships are capable of completing each voyage without having to stop at any port en route.

MOX fuel, as its name suggests, is a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxides, containing around 5% plutonium recovered from used reactor fuel by reprocessing. Recycling the plutonium produced during the irradiation of fresh fuel in a nuclear reactor in this way increases the amount of energy produced from the original uranium by 12%. If unfissioned uranium is also recovered and reused the figure increases to 22%. The process also allows the separation of the most highly radioactive fission products, meaning the volumes of the most dangerous wastes is reduced by over 60%.

Japan's energy policy calls for widespread use of plutonium recycling. Its own Rokkasho reprocessing plant is due to start operation soon, but up until 1998 used fuel was shipped to Europe for reprocessing and fabrication into MOX. So far Japan has received three shipments of reprocessed plutonium from Europe - one of plutonium oxide for use in its prototype fast breeder reactor and two of MOX. However, no MOX has yet been loaded into Japanese reactors, although it has been widely used in European reactors since the 1980s.


Buffet's MidAmerican Energy bid for
Constellation Energy outbid by French company

Constellation accepts EdF offer
17 December 2008

Electricité de France has reached a "definitive investment agreement" with US utility Constellation Energy to acquire half of its nuclear generation and operation business for $4.5 billion, rejecting an offer from MidAmerican of $4.7 billion for the entire company.

In a statement, the companies said that "upon careful consideration, and in consultation with its financial and legal advisors, Constellation Energy’s board has determined that the revised EdF Group proposal is in the best interests of Constellation Energy’s shareholders. In conjunction with the agreement, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company and Constellation Energy have jointly terminated the prior merger agreement, as separately announced today."

Under the terms of the agreement, in addition to acquiring 50% of Constellation's nuclear business for $4.5 billion, EdF will also provide for an immediate $1 billion cash investment in Constellation. The deal will also include an option for Constellation to sell up to $2 billion worth of non-nuclear generation assets to EdF.

EdF has also provided Constellation with a $600 million interim finance facility, which will remain available until receipt of all regulatory approvals relating to the transfer of the non-nuclear generation assets or for six months, whichever is earlier. The transaction is expected to close in six to nine months.

Constellation's chairman, president and CEO, Mayo Shattuck, said "This agreement with EDF Development Inc provides an opportunity for Constellation Energy shareholders to achieve greater value for the company’s significant asset base." He added, "The investment also provides the liquidity support to stabilize and grow our business as an independent public company dedicated to serving our customers across the country. EdF Group has been a proven partner of ours in the development of new nuclear plants in the US, and we welcome their involvement in the ownership of our existing fleet."

Pierre Gadonneix, EdF's chairman and CEO, commented: "This agreement further illustrates the strong relationship between EdF Group and Constellation Energy with the shared objective of leading the nuclear renaissance in the US." He added, "EdF Group and Constellation Energy intend to develop four Evolutionary Power Reactors (EPR) through the UniStar joint venture with the immediate focus on breaking ground for Calvert Cliffs Unit 3 as soon as the regulatory process allows, perhaps as early as 2009."

In mid-September, MidAmerican Energy Holdings - over 80% owned by Berkshire Hathaway, which itself is chaired by billionaire Warren Buffet - offered to buy Constellation for some $4.7 billion. Additionally, under the transaction, Constellation would issue $1 billion of preferred equity yielding 8% to MidAmerican. That deal was approved by the boards of both companies.
 
Days later, EdF submitted a bid for Constellation, rivalling the surprise takeover move made by MidAmerican. However, the bid was rejected by Constellation's board, which said that it remained committed to MidAmerican's offer. EdF subsequently withdrew its offer and said it would not make an improved one.
 
However, on 2 December EdF made a surprise proposal to Constellation to acquire half of its nuclear generation and operation business for $4.5 billion, an offer it said was a "superior alternative" to MidAmerican Energy's offer. A week later, Constellation announced that its board of directors has authorized the company to begin discussions with EdF related to its proposal.

Constellation describes itself as a major generator of electricity in the USA, owning 83 electricity generating plants across the country, with a combined generating capacity of some 9000 MWe. More than 60% of Constellation's generating output is from nuclear power plants - its nuclear generation division operates five reactors at three sites (Nine Mile Point and R E Ginna in New York; and Calvert Cliffs in Maryland).


New Nuclear Exelon changes mind over design of new reactor
25 November 2008

Exelon Nuclear no longer thinks GE-Hitachi's Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) is the best choice for its proposed new plant at Victoria, Texas, and is in discussions with reactor vendors to decide on an alternative.

According to Exelon, it is dropping the ESBWR as its preferred design for the new two-unit plant after studies it carried out this summer showed that other technologies would offer "greater commercial and schedule certainty." Although it has evolved from GE-Hitachi's existing boiling water reactor designs, the design has not yet been built and has yet to receive certification from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). This leads the company to describe the ESBWR as still in the early design phase.

Exelon's change of mind has been driven by the need to secure federal loan guarantees, which the company says are essential for financing the project. "We are seeking improved eligibility for federal loan guarantees, which is critical to the advancement of the project," said Exelon vice president for new plant development Thomas O'Neill. While the company continues to believe the ESBWR is a design of "great promise", its development schedule "does not meet the needs of our Texas initiative", he added.

Exelon selected the ESBWR as its preferred design for the new site in November 2007. At the time, O'Neill praised the design for meeting the company's main priorities of safety and minimizing its carbon footprint, as well as GE-Hitachi's proven track record as a plant designer. Now, according to O'Neill, Exelon expects to decide on an alternative technology early in 2009.
 
The company submitted a combined Construction and Operating Licence (COL) application, which cost it some $23 million to prepare, to the NRC in September. It now says it will revise its application accordingly once it has decided on its new choice of reactor design. In common with other would-be reactor builders who have applied for COLs, Exelon takes pains to point out that the application for a licence does not imply a commitment to build, but says that decision is expected in 2010.

Loan guarantees made available by the US Department of Energy (DoE) to nuclear and other clean-energy technologies help would-be builders raise the necessary finance for their projects by acting as a catalyst and reducing financing cost. Should the project be delayed because of troubles with government-related consents, such as safety regulation or planning permission, the DoE would cover excess finance costs to the utility from the delay in repaying its loans. First-stage applications for guarantees to support 19 new reactors at 14 US sites were submitted by the DoE's September deadline, but the available guarantees are not sufficient to cover all of them, so it would make sense for applicants to try to climb DoE's rankings. The speed with which technologies can be commercialized is one of the DoE's selection criteria in deciding which advanced technology projects receive guarantees. Preliminary approvals are expected in 2009.

The applications submitted to DoE cover five reactor designs that are currently certified by the NRC or, like the ESBWR, are undergoing the design certification process. Of those five, only two reactor designs are currently certified by the NRC: GE-Hitachi's Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) and Westinghouse's AP-1000 pressurized water reactor (PWR). Also awaiting design certification, along with the ESBWR, are Areva's US Evolutionary Pressurized Water Reactor (US-EPR) and Mitsubishi's US Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor (US-APWR), plus an amended version of the AP-1000.

NRG rebuffs Exelon

Meanwhile, the board of generator NRG has unanimously rejected Exelon's latest unsolicited proposal offering to exchange 0.485 Exelon shares for each share of NRG stock and has recommended that NRG stockholders do not take up Exelon's offer. Exelon initially launched its $6.2 billion offer for NRG in October. This was rejected in early November, but Exelon immediately responded with plans to approach NRG's shareholders directly.


Contract awarded to manage Yucca Mountain project
03 November 2008

The US Department of Energy (DoE) has awarded a contract worth up to $2.5 billion to the USA Repository Services LLC (USA-RS) consortium to manage and operate the used nuclear fuel repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
 

Yucca Mountain - aerial 

Yucca Mountain (Image: DOE)

The USA-RS partnership - a subsidiary of URS Corp that includes its Washington Division, Areva and the Shaw Group - will provide mission support to the DOE's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) for the Yucca Mountain project. After "transition activities" are completed, USA-RS will assume responsibility for the performance of the Yucca Mountain project on 1 April 2009. The performance-based, cost-plus award-fee contract initially covers a five-year period, with a potential five-year extension until 31 March 2019.

USA-RS will have several key responsibilities under this contract: it will complete the detailed design of the repository; address questions on the licence application submitted to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) earlier at the beginning of June 2008; operate the existing Yucca mountain facilities before construction authorization; and, support management of construction and operation activities at the repository.

Secretary of energy, Sam Bodman, said: "If we are to meet growing energy demand and slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power must be a larger part of our energy mix ... In order to ensure that such an expansion can occur, the United States must have a permanent repository for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste." He added, "This contract will enable our national repository program to move forward by securing the necessary management and operations expertise needed as we begin the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing proceedings."

Tom Zarges, president of URS's Washington Division, said, "We are very pleased to have been selected for this project, which is vital to the future of nuclear power and energy independence for the United States. URS has a long history of supporting the DOE, and has managed many successful projects including the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, the nation's only operating deep geological nuclear waste repository."

"Shaw has provided oversight support on the preliminary design and licensing of the Yucca Mountain project for almost 11 years. We are pleased to increase our involvement and expand the professional services provided to this first-of-a-kind project," said J M Bernhard, Shaw's chairman, president and CEO.
 

Jacques Besnainou, president of Areva Inc, commented, "Areva is extremely pleased that our team has been selected by DoE for this critical project." He added, "We look forward to working with our team and DoE to assure the disposition of used fuel and radioactive waste is accomplished in a safe and secure manner." The principal Areva contribution to the project will be in the surface facility design and to lend its expertise in support of the NRC review of the license application.

Future contracts

The USA has been planning the Yucca Mountain repository for many years. Since 1977, when it ruled that used fuel was to be treated as waste and could not be reprocessed to recover uranium and reduce its volume, the government has had a responsibility to provide final disposal of the fuel in a deep geologic disposal facility. According to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the DoE was supposed to start accepting fuel from utilities early in 1998, but its failure to provide a repository on time has meant that the fuel has had to be stored at reactor sites. Since 1998 some 60 lawsuits have been launched by US utilities to try to recover the extra costs incurred. Payouts totalling over $600 million have already been awarded, and with other lawsuits outstanding the compensation costs to the government could run into billions.

The DoE has announced that it will extend the waste disposal contract under the 1982 legislation to also cover radioactive waste generated by new nuclear power reactors. Under the 1982 legislation, a company must have a contract with the DoE for disposal services in order to receive a construction and operating licence from the NRC for a new reactor.

"These contracts are essential to advancing the commercial nuclear renaissance which is needed in order to meet our nation's significant future demands for providing electricity in a safe, secure and environmentally friendly manner," commented Bodman.

Yucca Mountain was approved by Congress and President George Bush in 2002 as the site for the USA's first permanent used fuel and high-level waste geologic repository. The OCRWM's current projected completion date for the project is 2017, but the fate of the project would be with the next US President. The Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, "believes that Yucca Mountain is not an option" for long-term management of wastes, while Republican candidate John McCain would try to establish an international radioactive waste management scheme which could make Yucca Mountain unnecessary. The election to pick one of those men as leader, of course, occurs on 4 November.


07 September 2008

Yucca Mountain application docketed

Technical reviews of the Yucca Mountain repository application can begin in earnest following the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) announcement that it has been formally docketed.

A scientist uses ultraviolet light to study
the movement of water through Yucca
Mountain rocks. The NRC wants more
information on the effects Yucca
Mountain will have on groundwater.
(Image: DoE)

The US Department of Energy (DoE) submitted its application for what would be the country's first repository for high-level nuclear waste on 3 June. Now, the NRC has formally ruled that the application is sufficiently complete for it to begin its full technical review. The NRC is allowed a statutory three years, with a likely one-year extension, to complete its safety analysis and public hearings, but NRC has already warned that meeting the deadline is contingent on its receiving sufficient resources from Congress.

As part of the docketing process, the NRC was required to carry out a review of the DoE's Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed facility, which was initially submitted in 2002. The regulator has ruled that while it is "practicable" for it to adopt the EIS, neither the 2002 statement or a supplementary statement submitted earlier this year go far enough in addressing the impacts of the facility on groundwater, and has required the DoE to carry out some supplementary analyses.

US Energy Secretary Sam Bodman described the docketing as a significant step towards disposing of the used nuclear fuel and high-level waste currently in storage at 121 different temporary locations, many of them nuclear power plants. "I am confident that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's rigorous review process will validate that the Yucca Mountain repository will safely store this waste in a manner that is most protective of human health and the environment", he said.

Under US legislation, the DoE was supposed to have started accepting used nuclear fuel from the beginning of 1998, but the department's failure to provide a repository by that deadline has meant that utilities have been forced to store the waste themselves, despite having already paid a levy of 0.1¢ per kWh of nuclear electricity generated into a fund to pay for final disposal. Recent estimates put the ultimate cost of the repository, if built, at $96.2 billion. The waste fund will be sufficient to cover this.

Over 100 NRC staff and employees with expertise in disciplines including geochemistry, hydrology, climatology, structural geology, vulcanology, seismology and health physics, as well as chemical, civil, mechanical, nuclear, mining, materials and geological engineering, will carry out what NRC describes as a "detailed, thorough and comprehensive review" of the application. Additionally, a hearings process in front of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) panel can now get under way, with parties including interested states, counties, local governments, and native tribes, as well as those with "litigable contentions", able to participate in the formal, trial-type process.

 

The contentions could be many, with the state of Nevada itself having long opposed the project. Frank 'Skip' Bowman, president and chief executive officer of US nuclear industry organization the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), said: "This determination initiates the most rigorous phase of an unprecedented licensing process that will be transparent to the public, with the state of Nevada, several affected units of local government and Indian tribes among its active participants."


04 August 2008
 

Progress Energy has submitted an application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a combined construction and operating licence (COL) for a potential new nuclear power plant in Levy County, Florida.
 
Progress - Levy County 
How the Levy County plant could look
(Image: Progress)

The COL application filed by Progress for the Levy plant is based on two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors with a combined capacity of 2200 MWe. The NRC will review the application over the next three to four years.

Progress has already purchased about 2060 hectares of greenfield land in southern Levy County, about 13 kilometres from the Gulf of Mexico, and 16 kilometres north of the existing Crystal River nuclear power plant, for the potential construction of two nuclear reactors and associated transmission needs.

The company estimates the total cost of the project to be some $14 billion for the two reactors, plus an additional $3 billion for the necessary transmission equipment. This estimate includes land price, plant components, financing costs, construction, labour, regulatory fees and reactor fuel for two units and about 200 miles of transmission lines and associated equipment.

The submission of the COL application is the last in a series of three important filings in order to consider constructing a nuclear power plant at the Levy County site. The first filing was a "Determination of Need" petition submitted to the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) in March. On 15 July, the PSC unanimously approved the petition, agreeing with the need to meet future energy needs in Florida with nuclear power. The second filing, a Site Certification Application (SCA), was filed with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on 2 June. A decision on the SCA filing is expected in 2009.

A letter of intent was signed in April by Progress and AP1000 providers Shaw and Westinghouse to complete negotiations on an engineering procurement and construction contract for the plant.

None of these steps commit Progress to actually build the plant, but each represents a significant investment of time and money ahead of a final decision on building, to be taken "early next year." If the company moves forward with plans for a new nuclear plant at the site, the new plant's first reactor could be online in 2016, with the second reactor coming online in 2017.

Jeff Lyash, president and CEO of Progress Energy Florida, said: "At Progress Energy Florida, we are committed to ensuring safe, clean, reliable and affordable power today and in the future." He added, "Our communities are growing, and we are all using more electricity in our daily lives, so our energy needs are increasing. The addition of an advanced, state-of-the-art nuclear facility in Levy County will add to our already diverse generation portfolio and enable us to address the challenge of climate change with safe, carbon-free power."
 


 29 July 2008
 

Ameren has submitted an application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a combined construction and operating licence (COL) for a potential new nuclear power plant at its existing Callaway site in Missouri.
 

 

Callaway 
The existing Callaway plant (Image: NRC)

The COL application - submitted by AmerenUE, a subsidiary of Ameren Corp - is based on an Areva US Evolutionary Power Reactor (US EPR) with a capacity of 1600 MWe. It is the tenth COL application to be received by the NRC and the second to reference Areva's US EPR: UniStar referenced the design in its COL application for a potential new plant at Calvert Cliffs, Maryland.

Ameren's application seeks regulatory approvals to potentially construct a new reactor adjacent to its existing Callaway plant. Although Ameren has yet to decide whether to actually build the new plant, the company said that seeking NRC approval and a licence will "preserve the nuclear option for the future." It will also enable the company to seek federal loan guarantees and production tax credits under the 2005 Energy Policy Act, should it proceed. Heavy forgings for an EPR were ordered by Areva on behalf of Ameren in May 2007 for delivery in 2010-1, although the parts could easily be used for other EPR projects.

"Given projections for a nearly 30% increase in demand for power in Missouri in the next two decades, we believe we will need to build a large generating plant to be on line in the 2018-2020 timeframe," said Thomas Voss, president and CEO of AmerenUE.

He added, "We are committed to taking the most cost-effective and prudent approach to supplying this power. Part of acting strategically to secure our customers' future energy needs is engaging in the licensing process for a nuclear power plant - a process that takes several years to complete. In effect, applying for a licence now better positions AmerenUE to build - should that eventually make sense for our customers."

In early April 2007, AmerenUE signed an agreement with UniStar Nuclear to assist in preparing a COL application for a new nuclear power plant. UniStar Nuclear, the jointly developed nuclear business enterprise of Constellation Energy and Areva Inc., is working toward developing and deploying a proposed standardized fleet of US EPRs in the USA. The Callaway site is one of a number of sites UniStar is evaluating. UniStar has since notified the NRC that it has selected Constellation's Calvert Cliffs plant as the first site of a COL application.


21 July 2008
Support for nuclear energy rises in California

Support for the construction of more nuclear power plants in the US state of California has grown over the past two decades, with half of Californians now in favour of new reactors, according to a recent poll conducted by Field Research Corp.

Diablo Canyon 

California's Diablo Canyon plant (Image: PG&E)

The latest poll, conducted 8-14 July, questioned 809 registered voters in the state about their reactions to rising oil prices. When asked whether "the building of more nuclear power plants should be allowed in California," 50% of respondents agreed that new plants should be built, while 41% disagreed and 9% had no opinion.

The poll showed that support for new nuclear plants was greatest among Republican voters (64%), while 41% of Democrats were in favour.

A similar Field poll conducted in 1990 found that 38% of Californians were in favour of more plants and 56% were against them. An earlier poll, in 1984, showed that 33% approved the construction of new nuclear plants and 61% were opposed. The earliest Field poll on nuclear energy, taken in 1976, put support for new plants at 69% while just 19% of Californians opposed them.

Support for new nuclear plants in California dropped to 37% in 1979, with 55% of residents opposed, following the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the state of Pennsylvania, according to a Field poll conducted that year.

The Field poll has operated continuously since 1947 as an independent, non-partisan, media-sponsored public opinion news service. Each year the poll covers a wide range of political and social topics examining Californian public opinion.

California, the most populous state in the USA with over 36 million inhabitants, has set targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The state has a moratorium on nuclear power plant construction. A 1975 law prohibits the use of land in California for the construction of new nuclear power plants until the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission confirms the existence of "an approved and demonstrated technology or means for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste." At the current rate of progress, the USA national radioactive waste repository planned for Yucca Mountain would not be ready before 2017 at the earliest.

In 2007, a bill was introduced in California's state legislature by Republican assembly member Chuck DeVore calling for the moratorium to be lifted. However, the bill failed to receive the necessary support to make it into law. Meanwhile, state governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that he thinks nuclear power has a "great future" and that the state should seriously reconsider using the "beneficial" technology.

There are currently four nuclear power reactors in operation in California: Diablo Canyon 1 and 2 (owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Co) and San Onofre 2 and 3 (owned by Southern California Edison Co and San Diego Gas & Electric Co). The plants provide some 16% of California's electricity needs.


11 July 2008

US solicits bids for loan guarantees on nuclear construction
The US Department of Energy has invited applications for loan guarantees to support the construction of advanced nuclear power plants (up to $18.5 billion) and uranium enrichment plants (up to $2 billion). Loan guarantees are to encourage the commercial use of new or significantly improved energy technologies and "will enable project developers to bridge the financing gap between pilot and demonstration projects to full commercially viable projects that employ new or significantly improved energy technologies."

On the basis of the 2005 Energy Policy Act DOE announced that it would guarantee the full amount of loans covering up to 80% of the cost of new clean energy projects including advanced nuclear power plants. The loan guarantees are expected to act as a catalyst and reduce financing cost by demonstrating government support, without cost to the taxpayer. Any preliminary approvals issued next year will be conditional upon the applicant receiving a combined construction and operating licence (COL) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and these are not expected before 2010.


18 - 25 June 2008

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT:

CEOs make climate recommendations to G8

20 June 2008

Recommendations on a post-2012 framework for global climate policy, backed by international business leaders, have been submitted by the World Economic Forum (WEF) to the G8 leaders ahead of their meeting in Japan. The businessmen see advanced nuclear power as part of the solution.

 

NEW NUCLEAR:

First concrete for new reactor at Novovoronezh-II

25 June 2008

First concrete for a new reactor has been poured at the Novovoronezh phase II nuclear power plant, marking the official start of construction. This is the first unit in Russia's wave of new build, which could benefit in future from foreign investment, politicians and officials said in Moscow today.

Bruce Power to study use of nuclear in Saskatchewan

18 June 2008

Bruce Power launched a new energy initiative in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, which includes a feasibility study for the construction of province's first nuclear power plant. The company intends to begin its analysis this summer and issue a report by the end of the year.

 

REGULATION & SAFETY:

Safety authority asks for steam generator work

24 June 2008

Electricité de France has been given until 30 September to implement preventative safety measures in steam generators at its French nuclear reactors including plugging tubes affected by an anomaly in anti-vibration measures.

 

EdF allowed to continue concreting

20 June 2008

Concreting work is to recommence at Flamanville 3, after safety authorities accepted Electricité de France's plans to improve quality control. The company intends to train workers in the necessary safety culture and must report on progress for six months.

 

French transparency committee meets

19 June 2008

France's new national committee on nuclear information - the High Committee for Transparency and Information on Nuclear Safety - held its first meeting on 18 June. The committee's mandate is to act as a forum for the discussion of all issues related to public access to nuclear safety information.

 

NUCLEAR POLICIES:

UK opinion swinging towards nuclear
25 June 2008

Over half of the respondents to a new public opinion survey feel that the UK should increase its nuclear capacity - and those living closest to existing nuclear plants are most strongly in favour of new nuclear.

Brown calls oil producers to invest in nuclear

23 June 2008

UK prime minister Gordon Brown thinks oil producing countries could stabilise their market and secure long-term futures by investing in alternatives, including nuclear. He told OPEC leaders he will open up the UK's energy industry to such investments.

 

CORPORATE:

New turbines for Exelon plants

19 June 2008

US utility Exelon is upgrading steam turbines at six of its nuclear power units. The $420 million project should result in about 240 MWe more power. Exelon's Quad Cities, Dresden and Peach Bottom plants will benefit from the work, which would see two boiling water reactors at each receive steam turbine retrofits.

 

BE performance, earnings down

19 June 2008

Technical problems at some of its nuclear reactors resulted in lower output and earnings for British Energy during the 2007-2008 financial year, despite overall operational improvements. Speculation continues about the future of the UK nuclear generator, currently up for sale.

 

Global investors circle new nuclear markets

18 June 2008

Investors see the USA as the best place in the world to engage in nuclear build projects, followed by the UK and China, then South Africa. The banks, however, are yet to make serious moves. The list comes from Ernst & Young research commissioned by the UK government, a summary of which was presented in London

 

EXPLORATION & NUCLEAR FUEL:

Galvani to work on Brazil's largest uranium reserve

24 June 2008

Industriás Nucleares do Brasil (INB) has selected Galvani, a regional phosphates company, as the sole partner in the exploitation of the Santa Quitéria reserve ahead of international miners Bunge and Vale.

 

Cameco completes GLE's front-end loop

20 June 2008

Uranium producer Cameco has joined the Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) venture, promising tie-ins across the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle. The stakeholders in GLE have uranium mining, conversion enrichment and fuel fabrication business units.

 

Namibian mine gets the green light

19 June 2008

Namibian uranium miner UraMin, a 100%-owned subsidiary of French nuclear giant Areva, has gained approval for a mining licence and a positive record of decision on its desalination plant for the Trekkopje Uranium Project. The miner will use an innovative leaching system and put back displaced top soil.

 

WASTE & RECYCLING:

Radball ready to roll

24 June 2008

Nuclear decontamination and clean-up jobs could be simplified in future by a novel tennis-ball-sized device able to help map radiation sources. Using the device should be cheaper and easier than robotic or manual surveying.

 

Second of three Hanford contracts

23 June 2008

A $4.5 billion contract was announced on 19 June, the second huge deal in a program to clean-up the USA's legacy Hanford site. The site's central plateau is the focus of the work, which includes much remediation and environmental monitoring.

 

INDUSTRY TALK:

Belarus adopts nuclear energy law

25 June 2008

The House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus has passed the second reading of a bill on nuclear power. The bill covers "fundamental principles" for the introduction of nuclear power and declares that benefits to citizens and society must outweigh any negative impacts of nuclear energy.

 

Inspectors in Syria

23 June 2008

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flew to Syria on 22 June to examine the alleged nuclear site near Al Kibar. The team of inspectors would spend about three days in Syria inspecting the site and talking with Syrian officials, before reporting to IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, a spokesman told WNN.

 

French uranium employees kidnapped in Niger

23 June 2008

French nuclear company Areva is working with authorities in France and Niger to liberate four of its expatriate employees kidnapped by Tuareg rebels in Niger's Arlit region. Areva confirmed that the four kidnapped employees were in good health.

 

Nuclear power competes with pedal power

20 June 2008

On 24 June, a 700 km cycle race kicks off from the Volgodonsk nuclear power plant in southern Russia to the Zaporizhzhya plant in Ukraine. The cycling team is headed by Gennadiy Fomenko, human resources director of Volgodonsk.

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US finalizes "clean energy" loan guarantees

05 October 2007

The US nuclear industry has welcomed the announcement by the US Department of Energy (DOE) of final regulations for a loan guarantee programme that will pave the way for federal support of clean energy under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

"Loan guarantees aim to stimulate investment and commercialization of clean energy technologies", Secretary of Energy Samuel W Bodman said, adding that the regulations were bringing the US "one step closer to being able to use new and novel sources of energy on a mass scale to reduce emissions and allow for vigorous economic growth and increased energy security."

Under the new ruling, the DOE may issue guarantees for up to 100% of the amount of a loan, subject to the Energy Policy Act limitation that it may not guarantee a debt instrument for more than 80% of the total cost of an eligible project. DOE does not plan to use taxpayer funds to pay for the credit subsidy costs of loan guarantees. To be eligible for the loan guarantees, projects must employ new or significantly improved technologies that avoid, reduce or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases compared to commercial technologies currently in use in the USA.

Frank L (Skip) Bowman, president and CEO of US nuclear industry policy organization the Nuclear Energy Institute, welcomed the ruling. "We are pleased that the Department of Energy has taken this important step to implement the loan guarantee provisions of the Energy Policy Act. Electric generating companies have begun to file license applications for new nuclear plants with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and it is imperative that the Energy Department have in place a loan guarantee program that will support the financing for these large, capital-intensive power plant projects," he said.

His sentiments were echoed by Michael J Wallace, executive vice president of Constellation Energy, which recently filed a partial Combined Operating licence (COL) application for a new nuclear unit at its Calvert Cliffs site. The rulemaking "recognizes the need for federal loan guarantees that mitigate the inherent risk in bringing innovative technologies to the marketplace," he said, adding: "We have consistently maintained that a workable loan guarantee program is essential to ensure nuclear power delivers on its promise as the only safe, reliable, emission-free technology that can meet the nation's energy needs in the 21st century. Today's announcement appears to provide for such a workable framework."

Wallace described the regulations as a "substantial improvement" on earlier proposals, and said that Constellation would spend the next few weeks carefully reviewing the new rules to gain a full understanding of their impact on pursuing new nuclear development activities.

DOE has invited 16 project sponsors who have already submitted pre-applications now to submit full applications for loan guarantees. The list is made up of projects covering advanced fossil energy, industrial energy efficiency, solar energy, electricity delivery and energy reliability, hydrogen, alternative fuel vehicles and biomass.


US government agrees new build insurance

27 September 2007

Companies building new nuclear power plants in the USA can now qualify for a share of $2 billion in federal risk insurance, under a Conditional Agreement released by the Department of Energy (DOE).

The insurance covers costs associated with certain regulatory or litigation-related delays that, through no fault of the company, can delay plant start-up. According to the DOE, the risk insurance, authorized under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, "provides incentive and stability in spurring construction of new nuclear power plants and meeting our energy needs in a clean, safe, economical manner."

Energy Secretary Samuel W Bodman, announcing the agreement, noted: "Conditional Agreements pave the way for risk insurance contracts that will provide the first project sponsors constructing new nuclear power plants with assistance if they face delays in expanding the use of nuclear energy across the nation."

The coverage of the government-backed risk insurance would include delays associated with regulatory reviews of inspections, tests, analyses and acceptance criteria, as well as certain delays associated with pre-operational hearings or litigation in federal, state or tribal courts. Normal business risks, such as employment strikes and weather delays, would not be covered.

Under the Energy Policy Act, the DOE is authorized to enter contracts to provide risk insurance with the first six sponsors to begin construction of new nuclear facilities and that meet all other contractual conditions. Coverage of up to $500 million will be available to the first two plants which begin construction, with up to $250 million for the next four. Application for coverage is a two-step process, with sponsors required to enter a Conditional Agreement first and then, if eligible, a risk insurance contract. The Conditional Agreement is available to any sponsor of an advanced nuclear facility once its application for a Construction and Operating Licence (COL) is docketed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). However, only the first six that are issued a COL and begin construction will be eligible for the risk insurance contract with DOE.

The DOE is working with industry to promote the expansion of nuclear power in the country and work towards the submission of COL applications for new nuclear plants though its Nuclear Power 2010 program. The first two Early Site Permits for new plants - Entergy's Grand Gulf and Exelon's Clinton - were issued by the NRC earlier this year. NRG Energy has recently filed a COL application for two new units at its South Texas Project site, while UniStar has filed the first part of a COL application for a third unit at Calvert Cliffs earlier in the year.

Further information

US Department of Energy
The text of the Conditional Agreement
DOE's Nuclear Power 2010  program

WNA's US Nuclear Power Industry information paper

WNN: COL application filed for new South Texas plant
WNN: Second US site gains new build permit

 

 

 

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