Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Nuclear plant safety urged

By James Minton

March 01, 2012

— The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman spoke to River Bend nuclear power plant employees Wednesday about the importance of instilling a culture of safety in their daily work.

Gregory Jaczko said he spoke to members of an industry group, the National Association of Employee Concerns Professionals, in New Orleans on Wednesday morning before visiting the West Feliciana Parish plant.

“Nuclear power plants have what are called employee concerns programs as a place where employees may go if they have (safety) issues that they want to address,’’ Jaczko said.

“This is one of the things we’re concerned about at River Bend. We’ve seen some things, that I wouldn’t say raise concerns, but that we’re watching to make sure that they’re doing the right kinds of things to address the safety culture,” he said.

The NRC wants to make sure that employees are being conservative in their decision-making, ask the right questions and are free to raise questions, Jaczko said.

Last year, Entergy Operations Inc. and Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc. agreed to take additional steps to ensure the effectiveness of the quality-control programs and safety-conscious work environment at 11 nuclear power plants.

The agreement with the NRC stemmed from a River Bend employee’s complaint that he suffered retaliation after questioning inspection activities that were thought to be part of the plant’s quality control program.

Entergy chose to resolve the matter through a mediation process and agreed to reinforce its commitment to a safety-conscious work environment and to reorganize the quality control chain of command, the NRC announced in August.

Entergy also agreed to conduct a safety culture survey at River Bend, the NRC said.

In January, the NRC levied a $140,000 fine against the plant after an investigation revealed that nine plant operators violated procedures by surfing the Internet while on duty in the control room.

Jaczko said distraction issues have arisen in nuclear plant control rooms across the nation down through the years, but “this may be the first one involving accessing the Internet.”

The decisions to visit Internet sites while on duty are not in the interest of safety or consistent with procedures, he said.

“Those are very important issues, and it was an opportunity for me to come here and really reinforce the importance of that with the employees,” Jaczko said. “I had a great opportunity to talk to a group of employees, and they asked some very good questions. We had a very candid dialogue about these issues.”

While touring the plant, Jaczko said, Entergy officials gave him an update on the steps the plant has taken since the 2011 Japanese nuclear disaster to cope with the extended loss of off-site power to safely shut down the plant in an emergency.

The NRC will soon begin implementing new requirements for U.S. plants based on the experience in Japan, he said.


Nuclear Regulatory Commission tells public Palisades nuclear power plant is safe

SOUTH HAVEN — Living between two nuclear power plants, Bette Pierman has some concerns about Palisades nuclear power plant.

"I guess I'm looking for reassurances that they (the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) are holding this company accountable," the Benton Harbor woman said Wednesday.

The NRC held a public meeting Wednesday to discuss recent events at Palisades, operated by Entergy Energy and located in Covert, south of South Haven.

Problems at the plant have resulted in its standing with the NRC being downgraded, requiring more inspections for the rest of the year.

The downgrade stems from two events: an August coupling failure in one of the plant's service water pumps, which the NRC said was of "low-to-moderate safety significance;" and a September electrical fault caused by plant workers, and incident that resulted in the plant shutting down for a week and that the NRC said was of "substantial significance to safety."

The downgrade put Palisades among the agency's four lowest-rated nuclear power plants in the country.

The hall at the Beach Haven Event Center in South Haven where Wednesday night's meeting was held was filled with more than 80 people, including concerned residents like Pierman, anti-nuclear activists and plant workers.

NRC officials provided dozens of handouts on nuclear safety. Resident inspectors stationed at Palisades were on hand, as well as others involved in special inspections of the plant.

The NRC started with a presentation about the individual events that led up to the plant's downgrade, explaining each in detail.

In none of those incidents was the public in danger, and the plant meets all federal guidelines, according to the NRC.

"So we have confidence that the plant can operate safely," a NRC official said.

Still, officials said there have been significant issues at the plant that have required extra attention from regulators.

The events have resulted in an additional 1,000 inspection hours at the plant in 2011, in addition to the routine 2,500 hours, they said.

After the presentation, many people in the audience had questions and comments for the NRC about the plant. They ranged from general concerns about its safety to the impacts it has on the health of residents and the environment.

Some opponents of nuclear energy said they worry a nuclear disaster could happen at Palisades.

Michael Martin, a 69-year-old Gobles resident, said it comes down to nuclear plant technology being too dangerous. He contends that Palisades should be shut down.

"I don't think this is going to change anything," Matin said of Wednesday's meeting. "We've been having the meetings since day one — it's getting old."

Mark Savage, spokesman for Entergy, said there is little fact in many of the accusations made by members of the audience who say the plant is dangerous.

"It's mostly opinion," Savage said. "The plant continues to operate safely."


Entergy nuclear plant in NYC suburbs disconnected from grid for repairs to transformer

BUCHANAN, N.Y. - Entergy Corp.'s Indian Point 3 nuclear power plant in the New York City suburbs has been disconnected from the electrical grid because of a problem with a transformer.

Plant owner Entergy says there was no release of radioactivity and no threat to workers or the public.

The company says operators saw signs of degradation in the transformer on Tuesday. It was disconnected Tuesday night for repairs.

Entergy says Indian Point 3 will go back online when alternate power is connected to pumps and motors.

Indian Point 2, the other reactor at the site in Buchanan, is still operating at full power.


Utah clears first hurdle for nuclear power plant


The Associated Press


State Engineer Kent Jones is setting the stage for Utah's first nuclear power plant to seek federal approvals.

Jones rejected an appeal Tuesday from environmental groups that questioned the developer's ability to raise money for a multibillion-dollar power plant near the Green River.

Jones acknowledged the first investors sought by Blue Castle Holdings have been dropped but that the developers can probably find other backers.

"We have reason to believe they could pull that money together and construct the works," he told The Associated Press.

Jones granted a water right for the plant last month but reconsidered his decision with the appeal on the financial question by the Sierra Club, Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah and Moab-based Uranium Watch.

He wasn't required to inspect Blue Castle's books or the project's likely success in the financial markets, but found it probable that the developers could find investors if the project moves ahead.

Jones said he can always reverse the water-right transfer if the project fails.

His final ruling clears the way for Blue Castle to seek approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — a review that can take years and millions of dollars for studies.

"They have asserted they are gathering funds from investors and they have done quite a bit of work to get to this point," Kent said Tuesday. "They just have to go out and get investors. There are some concerns with that, but based on what they've done in the past I believe they have the ability to obtain funds and construct the proposed works."

He added, "A project of this scope takes a lot of money."

In Tuesday's ruling, Jones acknowledged that his first decision in January incorrectly stated that Blue Castle had tentative agreements to sell electricity to 17 utilities. Jones, however, said his original decision didn't hinge on that mischaracterization and that it wasn't relevant.

"My opinion remains unaltered," he wrote.

Kane and San Juan counties have agreed to lease water rights for the nuclear plant. It amounts to 53,600 acre-feet of water a year from the Green River, a major tributary of the Colorado River. That's enough to serve about 100,000 households.

Opponents decried Jones' rulings by saying it would harm endangered fish, use a significant amount of scarce water on the arid Colorado Plateau and threaten recreational opportunities.

"The lack of scrutiny the Herbert administration has shown towards this nuclear reactor scheme is inexcusable," said Matt Pacenza of HEAL Utah. ""We're appalled that the State Engineer has so brazenly ignored law and precedent in his willingness to advance Governor Herbert's dirty and dangerous energy agenda."

The 3,000-megawatt power plant would sit near the intersection of Interstate 70 and State Road 6 about six miles west of the Green River.


Veteran scientist Baldev Raj vouches for safety of Kudankulam nuclear plant

NEW DELHI: Veteran scientist and director of India's Kalpakkam nuclear project, Dr. Baldev Raj, has vouched for the safety of the controversial Kudankulam plant in Tamil Nadu by calling it 'one of the world's safest reactors.'

"If you make a list, the Kudankulam nuclear plant will certainly be among one of the most advanced and safest reactors in the world today. We have implemented all provisions that we feel are required to prevent any accident or disaster in the plant. We have also revised and revisited the existing norms after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. All this has been done by specially-appointed committees and the regulatory body," Raj told media here after a seminar.

Over the last few months, Kudankulam has been at the epicentre of a wave of heated protests, with environmental activists and agitators voicing their ire at the Central Government's apathy towards the dangers posed by the plant.

Despite repeated assurances, irate locals have stepped up their protests in the past few weeks, aiming to ratchet up pressure on the government to shutdown the Kudankulam project, fearing a possible recurrence of the recent disaster witnessed in the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

Raj also appealed to activists to visit other projects such as Kalpakkam to see whether any harm had been caused to the people living there.

"We urge people agitating against the Kudankulam plant and the Jaitapur project to come to the nuclear facilities operating in Kalpakkam, Tarapur and Kaiga, and tell us what safety provision have we not followed there. Are the people living and working in and around these nuclear plants not happy and satisfied? Have their lives not improved? Are they suffering? They have only gained," said Raj.

Raj further said that there is an urgent need for India to tap nuclear power to meet its growing energy requirements.

"See, it is not possible to generate much energy without nuclear power. The power generated by solar or wind energy projects, is one megawatt, two megawatt, five megawatt. However, in the case of nuclear energy, with even six reactors, nearly 6000 megawatt power can be generated. In Jaitapur, one reactor alone produces 1250 megawatt energy. Six reactors of Jaitapur can produce 7500 megawatt power. You see the difference? This country needs a lot of power, if it wishes to grow at 8 percent. In many places of India, there is still no electricity. We have to provide energy in those areas. However, all this must go hand in hand with safety," said Raj.

India has a total installed power generation capacity of 164 gigawatts (GW) and aims to raise it to 187 GW by the end of March 2012.

There are 20 reactors in operation at six power plants, generating over 4,000 megawatts of electricity, while five other plants are under construction.


Unusual Event Declared at Byron Nuclear Plant

BYRON (WIFR) -- The Byron Exelon Nuclear Plant declared another unusual event. The declaration came at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Exelon believe a failed insulator in the station's switch-yard was the cause of the power loss. They say that both units are now operating at 100%.

An unusual event event is the lowest of four emergency classifications established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


Nuclear safety report cites Duke Energy plant in S.C.


A watchdog group's report Tuesday on nuclear plant safety cites Duke Energy's Oconee plant, which regulators say relied for 28 years on a backup emergency cooling system that didn't work.

The Union of Concerned Scientists report reviews the 15 special inspections the Nuclear Regulatory Commission made last year in response to safety, security or other problems at nuclear plants. Among them was an inspection of Oconee, Duke's oldest nuclear plant, near Seneca, S.C.

Plant workers had discovered a problem with a backup system designed to cool the reactor after an accident. The Union of Concerned Scientists said Duke had installed the system in 1983, a few years after the partial meltdown at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island plant. The two plants share a similar design.

The problem was in electrical breakers that are part of the plant's Standby Shutdown Facility, a backup control room that could be used to stabilize the plant in an emergency. The breakers were designed to open if they sensed overheating but turned out to open at too-low temperatures inside the reactor building.

If an accident occurred, the open breakers could hurt the system's ability to cool the reactor core.

The breakers Duke used had not been tested to verify they would work at elevated temperatures, the NRC said. "As a result, the (standby facility) was inoperable from 1983 until June 1, 2011," the agency said in citing Duke for a violation in December.

The NRC rated the incident as being of "substantial safety significance." Duke corrected the problem, it said.

'Oconee is a safe plant'

The problem "posed no danger to the public," Oconee spokeswoman Sandra Magee said by email. "We have more than one method for cooling the reactor system. Oconee is a safe plant."

The problem would occur only if the breakers were operated from the standby facility, which has never been needed in Oconee's 38 years in operation, Magee said. They're normally operated from the plant's control room. Duke replaced the breakers with fuses, she said.

The Union of Concerned Scientists report said many such problems occur "because reactor owners either tolerated known safety problems or took inadequate measures to correct them."

While NRC inspectors uncovered some problems, it charged that the agency itself failed to enforce some regulations, including those covering fire safety.


Read more here:

Ohio nuclear plant owner: Weather caused cracks

TOLEDO, Ohio—The owner of an Ohio nuclear plant along Lake Erie says a lack of exterior weatherproofing coating caused concrete to crack in the outer shell protecting the plant.

FirstEnergy Corp. told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the exterior cracking at the Davis-Besse (BEHS'-ee) plant near Toledo traces back to a 1978 blizzard when wind, rain and a drastic temperature drop caused moisture to penetrate the concrete. The Blade newspaper ( reports the utility says the moisture caused the concrete to freeze and expand, prompting the cracks found in October.

FirstEnergy is proposing it could apply a weatherproofing coating and make sure the cracks haven't spread. It also proposes a long-term monitoring plan.

The NRC allowed the plant to begin producing electricity again in December after the first cracks were found.


World's oldest nuclear plant shuts in Britain

By Karolin Schaps

OLDBURY-ON-SEVERN, Britain, Feb 29 (Reuters) - The world's oldest running nuclear reactor is due to shut at 1100 GMT on Wednesday after 44 years of operation, starting the countdown to 2025, by when a new British nuclear station is expected to open on a site just a few hundred metres away.

Some local residents who have lived in this quaint village for decades say they had no choice when the plant was first built in the 1960s and have little prospect of preventing a new station now, given that the Oldbury site has already been shortlisted for new nuclear plants by the government.

Allan Knapp, 86, remembers when the local government started speaking in 1958 of the construction one of the world's first civil nuclear plants on a huge field, a site next to his childhood home, on the banks of the river Severn, 12 miles north of Bristol.

"Nobody wants a nuclear plant on their doorstep," he said. "But back then people accepted it in the end because radiation was little known about. If a power station is going to be, it's going to be."

A joint venture of two German utilities, E.ON and RWE, plans to build a new Oldbury nuclear plant more than six times the capacity of the current station by 2025, relying on a strong government drive in favour of nuclear power to help reduce carbon emissions.

The new plant will use so-called pressurised water reactors (PWR), which require the construction of huge cooling towers containing water, a part of the project residents fear will further spoil their landscape.

Horizon, the German joint venture, said its preferred choice of cooling towers was only around 15 metres higher than the plant's current reactor buildings, two blue and white striped cylinders that peak out between trees and fields from miles away.

The project is early in the planning stages, and Horizon is still far away from applying for necessary planning and environmental permits from UK agencies and the local government, which will give Olbury-on-Severn residents a say.

Japan's Fukushima nuclear crisis nearly one year ago has not swayed nuclear plant developers or the UK government's opinion about the necessity for new nuclear capacity, although developers such as EDF Energy admit the incident has pushed back timetables for other new stations.

"People here just want to get on with their lives. They don't want a new nuclear plant," said Reg Illingworth, who lives in a cottage decked with solar panels less than one mile from the Oldbury station and who also leads a local anti-nuclear movement.

"Fukushima has galvanized the idea that nuclear should and could be stopped."


On the site of the world's oldest nuclear plant, run by U.S.-owned Magnox, with its weather-worn paint and 1960s-style concrete architecture, employees say Fukushima has strengthened their will to run their nuclear plant even more safely and are sad to see it turned off.

"Control room staff requested not to press the shutdown button, saying 'I don't want it to be me'," Site Director Phil Sprague said.

"Some of the workers got quite emotional; they have worked here for 40 years."

Most plant staff will continue working on site for another 12 to 18 months to start dismantling the nuclear plant, but headcount will drop by around one quarter after that, with most workers going into retirement, Sprague said.

For Project Manager Matt Thames the new Oldbury nuclear plant is likely to be a future employer as the south-westerner wants to continue working in the nuclear industry in his home region.

"We join fairly young. I never intended to stay within the same industry for 22 years, it kind of happens," he said, wearing his wind-proof black Magnox jacket proudly.

"It's the availability of work in the industry that attracted me to it."


Vermont nuclear plant may not see smooth sailing

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WTW) — It looked a month ago like the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant was in the clear for continued operation after a federal judge ruled against the state's efforts to shut it down.

Judge J. Garvan Murtha of the U.S. District Court in Brattleboro had ruled Vermont laws pointing toward a shutdown for the state's lone reactor unconstitutional or pre-empted by federal law.

But now the Vernon reactor's owner, New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., is saying through its lawyers that it and the judge may have missed a legal trap, one that could force the plant to shut down on its 40th birthday, barely three weeks from now.

So the fight over Vermont Yankee's future rages on.

Entergy lawyers filed a series of court papers Monday night. One was a notice of appeal of Murtha's Jan. 19 order to the 2nd U.S. Circuit of Appeals in New York. The company is expected to flesh out its reasons for appealing a largely favorable order later. Lawyers following the case say the only issue on which it lost was on its argument that, because Vermont Yankee will be selling all of its electricity out of state for the foreseeable future, the state has little or no regulatory authority over it.

Another Entergy legal filing was of a more immediate nature. The company went back to the District Court, asking Murtha to reopen the case he heard during a three-day trial in September just enough to block the possibility that the state might try to close the plant by barring it from storing highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel produced by the reactor after its original shutdown date of March 21.

Entergy bought the plant from a group of New England utilities that had owned it previously in 2002, with 10 years left on its initial operating license. The company had three goals: increase Vermont Yankee's power output by 20 percent, to 605 megawatts; get permission to build new storage capacity for highly-radioactive spent nuclear fuel, since the plant's existing capacity was running out; and win a 20-year license extension by 2012.

Entergy got the power boost and the waste expansion by mid-decade. But in 2005, the Vermont Legislature made Vermont the only state in the country saying that before a nuclear plant got a license extension, lawmakers had to approve before the question went to the Public Service Board, which regulates utilities.

The question came to a head in early 2010. In January, it was revealed that radioactive tritium was leaking from underground pipes in the plant into soil and groundwater, and that plant officials had misled state lawmakers and regulators by saying the plant didn't have the sort of underground piping that carried tritium. In February, with the plant at its political nadir in the state, the Vermont Senate voted 26-4 against letting the Public Service Board grant the permit for continued operation of Vermont Yankee. Because the Senate killed it, the measure was never taken up by the House.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the plant a 20-year extension of its federal license in March of 2011. Entergy filed suit against the state a month later for declining to follow the NRC's lead.

When Murtha ruled for Entergy last month, he essentially told the Legislature to butt out and let the Public Service Board decide whether to issue the new state permit. Part of the board's response came last week, when it asked a series of questions, some relating to the storage of nuclear waste after March 21.

The board noted that when it allowed Entergy to expand its waste storage, it gave the company permission to store only spent nuclear fuel that was generated from operations up to March 21, 2012.

"Does Entergy VY plan to operate past March 21, 2012, if the Board has not yet issued a (state permit)? If so, what does Entergy VY plan to do with spent fuel generated as a result of such operation?" a board memo says.

That and similar questions prompted Entergy's filing in Murtha's court Monday night, the company said.

The board memo containing the questions raises a "palpable risk" that the lack of permission for ongoing waste storage "requires Vermont Yankee to shut down on March 21, 2012," the company's lawyers said.

They asked Murtha for an amended order blocking this outcome.

"Based on the (board's) questions, we made a number of filings asking the Court to provide clarity for all parties regarding certain aspects of Judge Murtha's decision and its impact on the continued operation of Vermont Yankee while the (board) considers our pending application for a Certificate of Public Good," company spokesman Michael Burns said in a statement.

Sandra Levine, a lawyer with the environmental group Conservation Law Foundation, said the company's stance violated an earlier promise it had made to abide by the board's decisions on waste storage post-2012.

"Entergy continues its streak of broken promises," Levine wrote in an email. "Entergy now seeks to force Vermont to store additional spent fuel without approval and contrary to Entergy's own agreement with the State."


Monday, February 27, 2012

Progress NC Brunswick 1 reactor to refuel early

Feb 27 (Reuters) - Progress Energy Inc's  938-megawatt Unit 1
at the Brunswick nuclear power plant in North Carolina will
not restart from an unplanned outage and instead will begin
a refueling outage a few days early than scheduled, a
company spokesman said on Monday.

The unit shut Thursday after a problem with the power supply
for the plant's emergency core cooling system.

The spokesman said repairs needed following the unplanned
shutdown have been completed and Brunswick 1 is transitioning
to the refueling outage work schedule which had been scheduled
to begin later this week.

Meanwhile, Brunswick 2, rated at 920 MW, was operating at full
power Monday.


GCC aides meet today to weigh nuclear energy options

Today, senior officials and nuclear experts of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will hold a meeting in Riyadh to study a project on the use of nuclear energy and to review a plan to boost cooperation between member states and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The meeting has been convened by a GCC working panel, which has been entrusted with the task to prepare detailed studies for the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in member countries.

"The meeting will discuss a number of topics related to uses of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, including among others an action plan for addressing nuclear emergencies," Ahmed Al-Kabi, a spokesman for the GCC General Secretariat, said yesterday.

He pointed out that the meeting will also discuss several other topics related to nuclear energy, how to promote alternative sources of energy and energy saving methods besides other initiatives taken by member states in this field.

He said the meeting is significant keeping in view the keen desire of the Gulf states to pursue renewable energy and nuclear power projects with an aim to cut dependence on oil. "Then, there is a need to review our own preparedness to deal with nuclear emergencies," said Al-Kabi, while referring to the growing threat from Iran and Israel.

He said the GCC working panel will also discuss a proposal to hold training sessions and workshops to be organized and attended by officials and experts from the GCC as well as from other nations.

"In fact, more than 60 percent of all oil production in the GCC will go toward producing electricity by the year 2030, if current demand levels continue to grow at the same pace," said a report released by the GCC yesterday. Referring to the GCC panel’s meeting, which will eventually map out a plan to promote GCC nuclear energy projects, the statement said there would also be discussions on a paper submitted by the GCC on nuclear energy.

A plan to invite experts in various disciplines to present latest advances in the usage of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes will also be discussed in the meeting, said the statement. It said the meeting would also discuss in detail the scope and extent of the GCC’s cooperation with the IAEA. “We are looking ahead to contributing to the discussions ahead and sharing and hearing best practices from across the GCC,” said the statement released before the meeting.

According to the statement, a pilot study project on the use of nuclear energy, a plan to boost cooperation between the GCC and the IAEA, and how to promote alternative sources of energy and energy saving methods will top the agenda. On an individual level, some of the Gulf states including the Kingdom have signed several agreements with nuclear nations and international agencies to enable them to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.


Nuclear Energy Group Sues Over Uranium Mining Ban in Arizona

By Edvard Pettersson

eb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The Nuclear Energy Institute and the National Mining Association said they sued the U.S. to reverse a ban on new uranium mining on federal land around the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The two organizations, representing mining and nuclear power companies, today asked a federal court in Arizona to reverse a U.S. Interior Department ban, announced Jan. 9, on new hard-rock mining claims on about 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of land, according to an e-mailed statement. The lawsuit couldn’t be independently confirmed from court records.

Richard Myers, vice president for policy development with the nuclear power group, said in the statement that the proposed land withdrawal was designed to protect against circumstances that no longer exist. The land involved isn’t within the Grand Canyon or the buffer zone protecting the national park, according to the statement.

“Contrary to the assertions by the administration, today’s environmental laws ensure that ore extraction and production at uranium mines have minimal environmental impact on the surrounding land, water and wildlife,” Myers said.

Arizona Strip

The uranium resources in the so-called Arizona Strip represent about 40 percent of U.S. reserves and some of the highest grade uranium located in the U.S., according to the group’s statement.

Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for the Interior Department, declined to comment on the suit.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said when he signed the 20-year ban on Jan. 9 that it was part of an effort to safeguard the $3.5 billion spent by visitors to the national park each year.

“Tourism, leisure are very much a part of job creation of the United States,” Salazar said at the time. “The jobs associated to the Grand Canyon are not jobs that can be exported anywhere, those are truly American jobs.”

The ban will prevent new uranium and other hard-rock mining near Grand Canyon National Park, which was visited by 4.5 million people in 2010. Previously approved mining and new projects on claims and sites with existing rights will be allowed, potentially leading to development of as many as 11 uranium mines, the Interior Department said last month.

The 20-year ban on new mining claims was based on an environmental impact study prepared by the Bureau of Land Management, which estimated that as many as 30 uranium mines would be developed without the ban, according to the Interior Department.

Large stretches of very remote desert land, including an area tourists pass through on their way to the popular North Rim, were put off limits.

The case is National Mining Association v. Salazar, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona.


Russia Pitches Baltic Nuclear Plant to Europe

MOSCOW, February 27 (RIA Novosti)

Russia is holding talks with European energy companies on building the Baltic nuclear power plant in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, the press office of Russia’s civilian nuclear power corporation Rosatom said on Monday.

“Currently, talks are underway with some major west European energy companies that have displayed serious interest in joining the project to build the Baltic NPP,” the press office quoted Sergei Boyarkin, director of the Rosatom program for managing engineering projects, as saying at a roundtable in the Latvian capital on nuclear power development in the Baltic region.

Russia started the construction of the two-unit Baltic Power Plant in Kaliningrad in 2010 a bid to combat an increasing energy crisis in the region. The units will each have 1,194 MW of capacity.

The first unit is to go into service in 2017. The construction of the second unit is planned to begin in 2012 and be completed in 2018. Each unit will have a service life of 60 years.

Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant's future remains up in the air

MIDDLEBURY — Local lawmakers continue to be concerned about the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant owner’s ongoing legal fight to remain open and to remain part of the state’s long-term energy future.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell on Feb. 17 announced that he will appeal a federal district court judge’s ruling that gave new hope to Entergy Nuclear’s quest to keep its Vernon-based power plant open.

State lawmakers had opted to allow the aging plant’s license to expire this year, but Entergy has been seeking a 20-year renewal. Vermont Yankee supplies roughly a third of the state’s power, though state officials have been working to replace that source through new energy contracts with HydroQuebec, more imported electricity from out-of-state and development of more renewable energy sources, among other things.

Judge J. Garvin Murtha last month ruled that federal law in this case pre-empts state law when it comes to matters of nuclear power regulations and safety concerns.

Some lawmakers and local citizens assembled at last Monday’s legislative breakfast at the Middlebury American Legion voiced concerns about VY’s ongoing operation and the fact that Entergy had not yet amassed the funding necessary to decommission (close and make arrangements for irradiated equipment and fuel) the plant.

Rep. Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury, is a member of the House Natural Resources and Energy Commission. She placed the VY decommissioning fund’s balance at around $435 million to $485 million — far short of the $900 million officials believe is needed to safely close the plant.

Vergennes resident Jim Sullivan suggested the state look for a buyer for VY — “someone we trust” — to provide better oversight of the decommissioning fund and resolve safety concerns at the plant that might allow it to stay open for another 20 years.

But several local lawmakers said they would prefer to see the plant close and focus on efforts to make sure the site is safe and secured.

“In order to sell it, (VY) has to be an asset someone would want to acquire,” said Democratic Rep. David Sharpe of Bristol, noting the plant’s 40-year age and recent history of leaks.

Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, said Entergy has not “placed a dime” in the decommissioning fund since acquiring VY in 2002.

“Their plan to make up the half-billion or so dollars is to let Wall Street deliver, and it makes no sense,” Jewett said. “It can’t be done, as far as I can tell, if you study inflation and the expected rate of return on this thing.”

Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, said VY’s decommissioning fund “has shown the same stress as all of our retirement funds and investment funds have shown during the past few years.”

He noted a proposal to mothball the plant, let it sit for 20 to 40 years, and allow the decommissioning fund grow for the closure process.

Rep. Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, questioned whether the state really needs power from VY and urged the state to explore more opportunities to use natural gas. He noted that while the cost of other energy sources has been increasing dramatically, natural gas prices have declined to the tune of 37 percent during the past year.

“There are natural gas generating electric plants that are providing plenty of inexpensive energy that Vermont is tapping into because we are part of a New England-wide grid,” Ralston said, while acknowledging the need to ensure the state does not support the process of hydrofracking in the search for natural gas.

He added that maintaining the status quo with VY would likely require the construction of large electricity transmission towers and associated lines through Addison County to get to the growth centers of Chittenden County.

“If you didn’t like the (Vermont Electric Power Co.) project a few years ago, you’re not going to like the next expansion,” Ralston said.


Kenya: Nuclear Energy Is the Way to Go If We're Serious About Achieving Vision 2030

Location: Kenya, Africa


Three significant developments took place in the world of nuclear energy recently. In Nairobi, the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) released its 2012 Yearbook.

In London, the UK and France signed a deal to strengthen cooperation in the development of civil nuclear energy.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, safety regulators gave the go-ahead for the construction of two nuclear power reactors in Georgia, USA.

Let us first delve into the Unep Yearbook report, which has elicited lively debate. The piece focuses on decommissioning of nuclear power reactors at the end of their lifespans.

One of the experiences highlighted is that decommissioning the first generation of nuclear reactors would have been easier and less expensive if they had been designed with this stage in mind.

These findings are important and can enrich Kenya's pre-feasibility study. Recent debate has juxtaposed nuclear energy with renewable energy.

One school of thought leans on the premise that Kenya should concentrate on renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal.

Indeed, Kenya has a geothermal potential of about 7,000MW, although only a fraction of that has been harnessed.

The Least Cost Power Development Plan 2011-2031 indicates that Kenya requires an installed capacity of at least 16,000MW.

That means that even if all the geothermal potential is harnessed, we would still have a significant deficit.

For Kenya to industrialise under the Vision 2030 blueprint, it requires a huge base load. This can be obtained from coal, nuclear, oil, and geothermal.

Wind, solar, and hydro are good for peaking rather than base load -- the constant or permanent load on a power supply.

It is distinguished from peak load, which is the maximum demand for electrical power. No country in the world has ever industrialised on wind, solar et al.

These are good enough for peaking purposes, but woefully inadequate to provide the electricity required for Vision 2030 to become a reality.

The reason is simple: industry requires an assured base load to function.

Planned megacities such as Konza and Tatu and major industrial projects will not see the light of day if the position that renewable energy alone suffices to power them becomes the preponderant view.

Currently, the installed generation capacity of the whole of Africa -- 50-odd countries -- is about 110GW, less than Germany's capacity.

Over 500 million of the world's 1.6 billion people who currently do not have access to electricity live in Africa.

Only about one-fifth of the sub-Saharan population has access to electricity. Can renewable energy alone surmount this huge gap?

The arguments made in favour of renewable energy cannot pass muster if we are sincere in our desire to enter the league of newly industrialised countries.

Kenya's energy mix must of necessity include hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, coal, thermal, and nuclear.

For instance, China and South Korea, two of Asia's booming economies are making substantial investment in nuclear energy for electricity generation.

Kenya is currently at the pre-feasibility stage of the nuclear electricity project.

A political decision has been taken regarding nuclear electricity. That is what gave rise to the formation of the Nuclear Electricity Project Committee.

The pre-feasibility study, which centres around 19 infrastructure issues, will provide the ultimate technical opinion on whether or not the country should go ahead with plans for nuclear electricity.

Therefore, calls for Kenya to "abandon" nuclear electricity in favour of renewable energy are premature.

The issue of radioactive waste management is relevant during all phases of a nuclear power plant.

So Kenya has time and best practice that will be obtained and learnt from those countries with end-of-life nuclear plants.

The deal between France and the UK to enhance civil nuclear energy cooperation and the green light for the construction of two nuclear power plants in Georgia, USA demonstrates that nuclear electricity generation is growing, buoyed by the fact that it is a clean, affordable, and reliable source of energy, not susceptible to vagaries of weather or international fossil fuel prices.

OPPD’s nuclear problems: how far will they go?


February 27th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Omaha Public Power District has come under heavy criticism from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in recent days over its handling of the nuclear power plant just north of Omaha: Fort Calhoun. The plant has been offline for several months as crews work to repair damage from last year’s Missouri flood. And in the interim, more problems at the plant have surfaced.

RW: So even before the great flood of 2011 hit Fort Calhoun last summer, the plant has been on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s radar for quite some time as a utility with potential problems. (The plant was cited for inadequate preparations for a flooding emergency in 2010)

But much of that only came to light when the plant actually came under threat of the Missouri waters. The plant has been offline since then – for just about a year now – and in that time the problems have only deepened. Take us back in the story to last summer.

The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant was surrounded by a sea of muddy water last summer. This picture was taken approximately June 17, 2011 and provided by OPPD.

(A report from KVNO News for NPR on the flooding at both Fort Calhoun and Cooper Nuclear Power Plant last summer)

JJ: The plant’s been offline since April 9th of a year ago, 2011. At that point, it was a routine inspection situation. The plant was taken offline as intended by the utility. Then came the flooding. And because of the flooding and the concerns that the water was going to reach the plant, obviously the plant stayed shut down. Since that time though, in that interim, in June of 2011, there was a fire at Fort Calhoun, which didn’t get a lot of attention at the time. But several months later, the NRC realized the gravity of what took place at that fire, and it’s still not, I don’t think, completely clear to the public how significant that fire was because the plant was already shut down. So there was no health risk to the community as such, but the NRC made it very clear that among other things, OPPD failed to timely tell the rescue people in that area that there was a fire at the plant, and because of that the NRC pretty much gave them a slap on the back of the head and said don’t do that again.

OPPD was reprimanded by the NRC for taking too long to notify officials about an electrical fire at the plant on June 7, 2011. Regulations require notification within 15 minutes. OPPD took 16 minutes to respond. According to OPPD, the plant “temporarily lost power to a pump that cools the spent-fuel pool.”

Joe Jordan asked OPPD President Gary Gates about last year’s fire at a meeting with reporters:

And then just the other day we found out, the NRC said, even without the flooding, even if there hadn’t been a flood, the fire alone was going to be enough to keep the plant in a shutdown situation. Add the flood to the fire and other problems, and now other problems that the NRC has realized at Fort Calhoun, and we now we have a situation where we’re going on, as you said, almost a year and the plant remains shutdown.

RW: How much do we know now about the extent of the damage from the flood and how precarious the situation really was at the time?

JJ: Well, what we know now is that the plant suffered certain damage from the flood. Most recently, the NRC said its biggest concern is they’ve checked out the plant, and I think they’ve gone through what they can see above ground. Their biggest concern right now is below the ground, and how much damage was done underneath the earth where the Fort Calhoun plant sits on. And according to the NRC, they haven’t determined that yet, that’s still open for questions. There was a public hearing in Omaha in January. And some members of the public actually raised that issue, before I think we heard it from anybody else. Some people in the general public were wondering is the ground underneath Fort Calhoun secure? And now NRC is making it very clear they don’t know the answer to that yet, and they’re still trying to figure it out.

RW: So last week, OPPD came under fire at a meeting at NRC headquarters in Washington. As you reported, NRC Commissioner William Magwood said the issues at Fort Calhoun “sound like a safety culture problem.” And others wondered “what’s going on in that organization.” (Watch the briefing in full here)

To that, Gary Gates, president of OPPD responded: “We’re clearly not satisfied with our performance. We’d like to assure you we have the support of our entire company and our board per resources. Also, the majority of the workforce at Fort Calhoun are experienced, long-term employees. They have operated at a high level. We lost our edge.”

Video of Gary Gates’ remarks, edited by Nebraska Watchdog:

RW: “We lost our edge.” Quite a significant admission from the President of the company. What do you think the repercussions of this could be for the management at OPPD?

JJ: First of all, I don’t think you’ll ever hear Gary Gates or anyone from OPPD say “we lost our edge.” I think those words have probably been banned from OPPD. In terms of the impact, ultimately it’s up to the board of directors. It’s an eight-member board. Most people know that there’s an OPPD board of directors. But I venture to guess if you ask somebody to name one, they’d have a hard time doing it. So at the moment, the OPPD board seems to be okay with Mr. Gates and his management team. Could that change? Certainly it could. But for the moment, it looks like Gates’ job is safe.

(In this briefing on Fort Calhoun by Bill Borchardt, Executive Director of Operations at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, dated Feb. 22 at the “management changes” are listed as an element of a sustainability plan for Fort Calhoun)

But again, part of this will depend on further challenges by the NRC and possibly if the public steps up and says more and more, what’s going on at that plant? Then I think all bets would be off in terms of how secure some of those people’s jobs are.

Meeting about Palisades Nuclear Power Plant's safety is Wednesday

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will discuss the performance of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant at a public meeting from 6-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Beach Haven Event Center, 10420 M-140 in South Haven.

The meeting is in responses to two incidents at the plant near South Haven that led to the downgrading of the plant’s status.

The downgrade is the result of an NRC investigation of an electrical fault caused by personnel at the site in September. The incident resulted in a reactor trip and the loss of half of the control room indicators. Radioactive steam was released into the environment as a result of the fault, though the radiation levels were within acceptable levels.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission classifies plants in one of five grade levels. The lower the ranking, the more inspections it gets. Palisades was moved from the top category to the No. 2 category after faulty maintenance by plant employees caused a water pump shutdown in May.

On Feb. 14, the plant was lowered to the No. 3 category, joining the Perry 1 facility northeast of Cleveland and Susquehanna 1 site in eastern Pennsylvania.

The next lowest level has one facility.

There are no other plants in the fifth column.

The plant at 27780 Blue Star Highway in Covert Township provides about 18 percent of the power for Consumers Energy.

Parts of Allegan County are within a 10-mile-radius Emergency Planning Zone — the prime area where people could be effected by a radiation leak from the plant and evacuations would be mostly likely in an emergency.


Turkey keen to build Korean nuclear power plant: envoy

Turkey is stepping up efforts to build a Korean nuclear power plant on its soil as it strives to become one of the top 10 economies in the world by 2023, Seoul's top envoy to Ankara said Monday.

The Turkish government's vision for 2023, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of its modern republic, includes becoming a top 10 economy from its current position of 17th in the world, Ambassador Lee Sang-kyu said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

"(Such economic growth) is linked to large power consumption, which is why Turkey is planning to build nuclear power plants," he said. "At the moment, Turkey meets most of its energy needs through gas imports, but it has decided that it will need atomic power plants to provide cheaper supplies of energy in the long run."

During summit talks earlier this month, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to restart stalled talks on a project to build two power-generating nuclear reactors on Turkey's Black Sea coast.

The talks on the atomic power plant have been suspended since 2010 due to wide differences on the location of the reactors, electricity prices and government payment guarantees.

Amb. Lee said he expects Turkey to reach a decision on the project within this year as it may take up to 10 years to complete construction of the nuclear power plant.

On Turkey's relations with North Korea, the envoy said the two countries established diplomatic ties in 2001, although neither side has opened an embassy in each other's country.

Diplomats from the two nations hold policy consultations every two to three years, and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kung Sok-ung visited Turkey last September mainly to ask for food aid, the ambassador said.

"Turkey is willing to give humanitarian aid to the North, and is in contact with international organizations such as the United Nations Development Program and the World Food Program (WFP) to send nutritional aid targeting pregnant women and children," he said.

North Korea is known to suffer chronic food shortages due to economic mismanagement and natural disasters. The communist country has relied on international handouts since the late 1990s when it suffered a massive famine, which was estimated to have killed 2 million people.

Last year, the WFP said a third of all North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished and many more are at risk of slipping into acute stages of malnutrition unless targeted assistance is sustained. (Yonhap)


Sunday, February 26, 2012

NRC to give public report on Kansas nuclear plant

BURLINGTON -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has scheduled a public meeting to address a recent inspection report on Wolf Creek nuclear power plant near Burlington.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the meeting is scheduled for March 6 in New Strawn to discuss the report that was done after the plant experienced an off-site power loss Jan. 13.

The federal agency says the power loss resulted in the failure of a main generator electrical breaker and the loss of power to a startup transformer, temporarily cutting the plant's connection to the electrical power grid.

The NRC says emergency diesel generators were automatically activated and powered all safety systems normally. The event lasted about three hours.


Nuclear Regulatory Commission sea change?

Chairman Jaczko wants red tape removed for Fukushima contentions

While the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seems to be moving quickly now, dispensing with the objections and legal contentions standing in the way of relicensing the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, as those impediments are brushed aside something quite remarkable may be taking place.

Almost hidden in several recent decisions by the NRC – decisions which went against critics of relicensing – is the core of a sea change, a belief on the part of certain key individuals in this government bureaucracy that, at least in the case of recent concerns about the relevance of the Fukushima disaster to Pilgrim and other American nuclear power plants, business as usual is no longer acceptable.

That is not to say that there is even a hint that the NRC will not, perhaps within days, approve a 20-year license extension for Pilgrim. The signs all still point to that happening and happening imminently.

Just this week, the presidentially appointed commission that oversees the NRC rejected two more post-Fukushima contentions filed by the Pilgrim Watch organization regarding the license renewal application for Pilgrim.

That leaves one contention raised by the state Attorney General and two more filed by Pilgrim Watch, all three filed post-Fukushima.

Both of the contentions dismissed this week challenged the Severe Accident Mitigation Alternatives (SAMA) analysis performed by Entergy as part of its license renewal application.

One contention argued that, in light of new information about the possible re-criticality of nuclear fuel at Fukushima following the disaster, the old analysis was now deficient.

The other asked the NRC to review whether that same SAMA analysis effectively accounted for off-site releases of radioactivity, in light of apparent problems encountered with the vents that were supposed to release hydrogen and prevent explosions at Fukushima.

A majority of the commission upheld the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) panel that first reviewed, and rejected, these contentions.

But while brushing aside these two Fukushima-related contentions, the commissioners publicly declared their sensitivity to the underlying issues.

The fine print

The commission’s written decision directly referenced the NRC’s ongoing review of – and the concerns of citizens groups with – the Fukushima disaster.

“Although we have made, and continue to make, significant progress in identifying and implementing lessons learned and prioritizing regulatory actions,” the announcement of this latest ruling noted, “the NRC continues to analyze the Fukushima events, to engage stakeholders, and to develop further recommendations.”

The commissioners further assured concerned citizens that if they find changes are needed to maintain the safety of plants of a similar design to the GE boiling-water reactors in Japan, such as Pilgrim, they will order those changes made regardless of the status of the affected plants.

In short, even if the plant were relicensed tomorrow, changes in response to the Fukushima disaster could and would still be enacted.

“We have in place well-established regulatory processes by which to impose any new requirements or other enhancements that may be needed following completion of regulatory actions associated with the Fukushima events,” the decision announcement stated.

“All affected nuclear plants ultimately will be required to comply with NRC direction resulting from lessons learned from the Fukushima accident, regardless of the timing of issuance of the affected licenses.”

Additionally, the vote to reject the contentions was not unanimous.

Gregory Jaczko, the commission’s chairman, offered a strong dissenting opinion.

“Fundamentally, I believe that the reopening standard is not appropriate for Fukushima-related contentions,” Jaczko argued. “Therefore, I believe the admissibility of these contentions should have been considered solely under the criteria applicable to non-timely filings.

“As the majority observes,” the chairman added, “the higher threshold for contention admissibility imposed for reopening a record places a heavy burden on a litigant seeking the admission of new contentions.

“In my view, this more stringent contention admissibility standard is not appropriate for contentions arising from the unprecedented and catastrophic accident at Fukushima.”

Put simply, Jaczko seems to think that, overall, the events at Fukushima are unprecedented, and so deserve special treatment. He suggested these kinds of contentions should receive expedited consideration: Rejecting them based on admissibility standards is a mistake.

“Given the significance of that accident and the potential implications for the safety of our nuclear reactors,” Jaczko argued, “we should allow members of the public to obtain hearings on new contentions on emerging information if they satisfy our ordinary contention standards.

“Applying more stringent admissibility standards to Fukushima contentions because a board has taken the administrative action of closing the record on an unrelated hearing will lead to inconsistent outcomes and, more importantly, unfairly limit public participation in these important safety matters.”

Though this may be a remarkable change in the tone of the discussion, it is not unprecedented.

Over the past several years, NRC Administrative Judge Ann Marshall Young has dissented with several majority decisions on contentions offered by Pilgrim Watch and others, even prior to March 11, when word of the earthquake and tsunami first reached America.

Young dissented again, in part, earlier this year, when the two contentions that were just dismissed first came before the Atomic Licensing and Safety Board. She concurred with regard to the Re-criticality Contention but would have admitted the Direct Torus Vent Contention.

In addition to her rulings on the admissibility of these contentions, Young also opined that Pilgrim Watch’s contentions raised significant issues and, therefore, using an argument similar to Jaczko’s, warranted sua sponte (without being prompted) review.

Young further recommended that the commission “consider having the staff look more closely – take a ‘hard look’ – into the issues raised in these contentions, as well as any other issues arising out of the Fukushima Daiichi accident that relate particularly to Mark I BWR reactors (the GE design used by Pilgrim and dozens of other American plans), prior to any decision on the license renewal application.

“I believe this would serve the interests of both public safety and public trust in the process the NRC utilizes for attending to such safety and environmental issues, which I find is particularly warranted given the seriousness of the Fukushima accident and the effect it has had on public perceptions of the safety of nuclear power. Whatever the outcome of such an inquiry, in my view, taking such a ‘hard look’ would provide an important public service.”

License to license

A few dissenting opinions, however, do not offset the majority.

The two contentions were dismissed and the expectation, again, is that the remaining three contentions will suffer the same fate.

Pilgrim Watch founder Mary Lampert characterized the NRC’s decision on these last two contentions in terms of its ethics.

“Germany and some other countries responded to the ongoing tragedy in Fukushima by stopping operations until they were 100 percent certain they understood what the problems were and were certain they could go forward without risking the public’s safety,” Lampert said.

“In contrast, this decision (like the recent decision to grant a license to build two new reactors) shows that NRC commissioners have decided to go forward with licensing until they are certain that it is not alright to do so.”

Lampert said this reflects a clear bias on the part of the NRC “in favor of the nuclear industry – not to take the conservative route and slow down until 100 percent convinced it is safe to do otherwise.”

At least in the case of Jaczko and Young, though, the bias appears to be in a different direction.

Battle against emissions gives nuclear a new chance

This time last year, Britain was in the midst of a global nuclear power renaissance. Then the earthquake hit. The Tohoku quake triggered a tsunami which caused a reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in east Japan and became the worst nuclear energy disaster for 25 years.

Within days, a large number of the 500 reactors planned or proposed in about 40 countries, were thrown into doubt. In the ensuing panic, Japan switched off all but three of its 54 reactors and Germany announced plans to exit nuclear power completely by 2022 (see box).

As the world's third and fourth-biggest economies, Japan and Germany consume a huge volume of electricity and have traditionally been fierce advocates of nuclear power. The sense that the world was staging a mass exodus from nuclear power was intensified by their strong reactions and industrial profiles.

Support for the technology in the UK tumbled by 11 percentage points to stand at a record low of 36 per cent last June, according to a survey by Ipsos MORI.

"Always, when you get a major disaster, people instantly stand back with a lot of antipathy," says Angelos Anastasiou, an analyst at Investec. "But it doesn't usually last."

He's right: in the UK and much of the rest of the world, it didn't. Almost as quickly as the opposition to nuclear power had increased, it evaporated, more or less in line with television coverage of the disaster. In fact, according to a poll taken in December and published last month, UK support for nuclear had not only rebounded, but actually hit a record of 50 per cent. It was as if the relationship had emerged stronger as a result of the doubt.

"After the body blow suffered by British public opinion following the Fukushima incident in Japan last year, support for nuclear newbuild has recovered robustly in just a few months," said Ipsos MORI's director, Robert Knight, as he unveiled the survey results. "It seems the public see Japan as a long way away and memories are short, but concerns about the future of the security of energy supply closer to home are ongoing and persistent."

Nuclear sentiment in the UK was turbo-charged by the results of the hugely influential Weightman report, commissioned by the Government to determine the future of Britain's fission-generated energy in the aftermath of Fukushima.

Reporting his findings in October, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations, Mike Weightman, concluded: "I remain confident that our UK nuclear facilities have no fundamental safety weaknesses."

Mr Weightman observed that the extreme natural events that preceded the accident at Fukushima – the nine-magnitude earthquake and massive resulting tsunami – were not credible threats to the UK.

"We are 1,000 miles from the nearest faultline and we have safeguards in place that protect against even very remote hazards," Mr Weightman said, while reassuring the public that the British nuclear power industry is "not complacent ... Our philosophy is one of continuous improvement."

Nor was Britain alone in being able to shake off the horrors of Japan's meltdown. Only five of the 40 countries with existing civil nuclear programmes changed their plans following the disaster.

And, although its switched-off reactors remain dormant for now, Japan isn't one of those countries which have turned away from nuclear power. Instead, it is conducting a review which could eventually result in safety changes.

Of the five who changed their ideas, by far the most significant is Germany with its plans for a full-scale retreat from an entrenched tradition of nuclear power. Italy and Venezuela are re-evaluating their nuclear policies, but only from tentative proposals to enter the industry for the first time. Switzerland has decided not to build any new reactors, while Bulgaria has cancelled plans to extend the lives of existing plants.

"The fact is that the fundamental drivers of the nuclear renaissance have not gone away, not just in Britain but across the world," says Rebecca Holyhead, a former project manager at the World Nuclear Association and now senior consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers .

"The demand for electricity is growing rapidly and will double by 2050, which is making energy security an even bigger concern. At the same time, governments are fighting to reduce carbon emissions," she added.

For its part, the British government has signed the country up for legally binding carbon emissions-reduction targets of 34 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050, against 1990 levels. Nuclear power presently generates 16.5 per cent of the UK's electricity and the Government wants to increase that to 30 per cent by 2030. With analysts believing the UK will struggle to replace existing nuclear capacity over the next decade, many are sceptical that its longer-term target will be met. Renewable sources such as solar and wind will go some way to producing a secure, low-emission energy supply, but are expensive and intermittent, making nuclear a vital component of the power mix.

The global nuclear power industry has been shaped by three key events, starting with the Three Mile Island meltdown in Pennsylvania, in 1979. The fear factor prompted by the world's first major civil nuclear disaster effectively closed down the industry. It was just starting to recover in 1986 when the Chernobyl disaster struck in the Ukraine, which is widely considered to be the greatest civil nuclear disaster. Again the industry battened down the hatches, but eventually recovered.

Fukushima was shorter-lived and less dramatic and it emerged that the main issues that caused the problems with the 40-year-old plant are no longer a threat, analysts have said.

Now that the battle for hearts and minds appears to have been won, the big challenge is the small matter of raising the estimated £50bn needed to satisfy Britain's lofty nuclear power ambitions and getting the new capacity in place not too many years and billions over budget. The UK got off to a good start last week, with an Anglo-French civil nuclear agreement that included a £500m investment at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

But the agreement only scratches the surface of what needs to be done, an enormous task made all the more pressing because a quarter of the UK's aging generating capacity is due to close by the end of this decade. Centrica is the only UK energy generator proposing to invest in the next generation of nuclear power but has yet to make a final decision. Its chief executive, Sam Laidlaw, says: "It is vital that the Government provides the clarity and assurance that will be needed if the [nuclear] industry is to step up and deliver the massive investment that the country requires."

Centrica is deciding whether to help EDF build four nuclear power stations at an estimated cost of £20bn. Mr Laidlaw praises the performance of the recently departed energy secretary Chris Huhne for "setting the nuclear power industry off on the right path". The challenge for Mr Huhne's successor, Ed Davey, is to "get the investment framework for the next generation of power stations sorted out", he says.

Three consortiums of companies, including Centrica, Germany's EON and RWE and France's EDF, currently have options to build on five sites, but no final decisions have been made on any of the projects.

Two government decisions will be crucial. The first relates to the level of "price support" that nuclear power generators can expect to get.

The other is the "carbon floor price", to be introduced in April next year. This will determine the minimum amount that the big coal and gas power plants must pay for their carbon emissions, which, in turn, will influence the price of electricity – and which will dictate the profits made by low-emissions nuclear power plants and, in turn, their viability.

With both decisions expected in the first half of the year, it's "make your mind up time" for the Government.

How leading nations are responding post-Fukushima: Japan on hold while Germany changes course

Japan: The one most likely to reassess its nuclear future post-Fukushima, Japan is doing just that. Some 51 of its 54 reactors remain shut, while the country has put three reactors that should have started construction – and plans for a further nine – on hold. However, construction continues on the two reactors already being built when the earthquake struck and Japan's nuclear future is still very much up for grabs.

France: France has always been one of the most gung-ho nuclear power advocates and excels on the engineering side. However, there is a sense that the country may lose some of its enthusiasm for nuclear if, as seems increasingly likely, President Nicolas Sarkozy is ousted by the Socialist challenger, Fran├žois Hollande, at the elections this year.

Germany: Germany's reaction has clearly been the most extreme, not least because its decision to exit nuclear power entirely came less than a year after the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, had decided to extend the life of existing nuclear plants into the 2030s. The closure of 17 nuclear stations will turn Germany from a net exporter of energy to a net importer.

UK: The UK's nuclear power programme is entirely unchanged by Fukushima. It still has the hugely ambitious target of almost doubling nuclear power's contribution to Britain's energy by 2030, when the Government hopes it will be supplying about 30 per cent of our needs. With an estimated price tag of £50bn – and in an industry that notoriously overruns on time and money – this is indeed a lofty ambition.

Sweden: Although Sweden has been generating nuclear power since the 1970s, a large part of the population has traditionally been opposed to it. In a 1980 referendum, Swedes voted to phase out nuclear power by 2010, although the decision was overturned in February 2009, amid mounting fears about energy security and carbon emissions.

Kudankulam nuclear power plant set to roll in six weeks

NEW DELHI: The controversy-hit Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu is set to be operationalized, with its first 1,000mw unit to be opened soon as the project's safety audits have been completed and local resistance now reduced to a few hundred protesters.

While the report of the expert group set up by the Tamil Nadu government is awaited, the state government is more supportive of the project being commissioned and the Centre's action against NGOs alleged to have diverted foreign funds to fuel the stir is seen a precursor to the plant being activated.

"I am hopeful of moving forward. The expert committees have done their job. Safety issues have been addressed. The plant's first unit can be in working order once we are able to move in the required staff," Srikumar Banerjee, secretary at the department of atomic energy, told ToI.

The head of India's nuclear establishment said it will not be easy to outline a timeframe, but the process of loading fuel can get underway once the atomic energy regulatory board is consulted. "The plant has been idle and so the AERB will lay down guidelines. Once these are followed, the plant will generate power," Banerjee said.

The two units are "99% and 94%" ready, according to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India and it is estimated that the first unit can be up and running within six to eight weeks.

MoS in PMO V Narayanasamy has said that the NGOs that have been banned were channeling funds meant for sectors like health and education for sustaining the anti-nuclear protests.

The prolonged standoff at the plant site had led to a 100 staff being allowed to access the project site in two batches daily. This has made keeping the plant in running order difficult as a nuclear installation cannot be switched off in the manner of a conventional factory. The plant needs to be tended to by 3,000 workers, scientists and technicians to get it going.

But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decisive intervention in stating that foreign NGOs insensitive to India's developmental needs were backing the stir and the government's action in banning three groups indicates a resolve to end the stalemate.

The decision follows some quiet exchanges between the centre and state government and spadework in the project area where fishing communities have been leading the agitation. The role of church organizations, perhaps worried that the project might reduce their influence, were active in opposing the plant.

The government has reached out to the church groups and sought to convince them that the plant has some of the best safety equipment available globally. Talks with anti-nuclear groups did not, however, make much headway with officials claiming that the protestors were fundamentally opposed to nuclear power and did not set much store by the government's assurances.

The move against NGOs is seen as a last resort as the UPA has been sensitive about not getting into a confrontation with such groups although it has had a showdown with sections of civil society like the Anna Hazare movement.

It is significant that the Tamil Nadu government, which has been concerned about local reactions, has not contradicted the PM's remarks on the role of foreign funds being diverted from the purposes that they were received. A home ministry probe is understood to have established the diversion of funds.

Nuclear plants are safe: AEC chief

Location: India

MANGALORE: Fatalities from nuclear power plant related mishaps across the world are far less when compared to other power generation sources, according to Srikumar Banerjee, chairman, Atomic Energy Commission on Saturday.

Delivering the convocation address at the ninth annual convocation of National Institute of Technology - Karnataka at Surathkal near here he said, "Out of the three known such incidents- Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima - the casualty due to nuclear plant malfunction is 50-60 in Chernobyl and zero in the other two incidents. While Fukushima incident is no doubt disturbing, the mishaps at nuclear power plants worldwide are few and far between. Globally, we have clocked 14,000 reactor years for nuclear plants and 350 reactor years in India, and we have just above three incidents to show far."

Admitting that fears of people on long shelf life of radioactive isotopes, some of which are active for as long as 10,000 years, Srikumar said the challenge for the future engineers was to reduce it to manageable period. "It is up to budding engineers to find methods to handle nuclear waste," he said adding reactors now are far safer than they were in the early and mid 1960s.

Exhorting the students to strive for inclusive growth of the nation, he said the challenge for future generation was to influence more lives around them rather their own. "Careers no doubt are important. But the aim should be to shun careers that are driven by fashion and peer pressure and be more influenced by individual passion to achieve more in life. Such thinking can change the future course of individual actions and result in greater good," he added.

Rohit Sarkar, a BTech student of metallurgical and materials engineering, who bagged three gold medals told STOI that he was vastly influenced by Srikumar's extempore speech. Now a corrosion and inspection engineer with Reliance Industries Ltd in Gujarat, Rohit said he saw himself as a materials researcher in future pursuing a doctoral degree in an American or European varsity, where cutting edge research in being carried out in the field.

Rashma RSV, who scored a perfect 10 in her cumulative grade point average (CGPA) in the MTech programme was elated and attributed her success to her parents and teachers at NITK. An alumnus of TKM College of Engineering, Rashma had a CGPA of 8.35 in her BTech programme there. While Sandeep Sancheti, in-charge director, NITK presented degree certificates to over 700 UG and PG students, Srikumar Banerjee gave away the gold medals and cash prizes to students.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Nuclear industry will thrive despite Fukushima: energy czar

By Ian MacLeod, Postmedia
February 23, 2012

Tom Mitchell, president and CEO of Ontario Power Generation, urged Canada’s nuclear industry not to retreat in the face of renewed public skepticism in an address Thursday to several hundred Ottawa delegates at the Canadian Nuclear Association’s annual conference.
Tom Mitchell, president and CEO of Ontario Power Generation

OTTAWA — With the approaching anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster as a backdrop, Ontario's top energy executive is urging Canada's nuclear industry not to retreat in the face of renewed public skepticism.

"While other jurisdictions may be scaling back their nuclear energy commitment because of Fukushima, we are not," Tom Mitchell, president and CEO of Ontario Power Generation (OPG), declared in an address Thursday to several hundred Ottawa delegates at the Canadian Nuclear Association's annual conference.

Nations around the world are reconsidering plans for increased reliance on nuclear power, while others, such as Germany, have vowed to pull the plug on nuclear power altogether as a result of Fukushima.

But instead of retrenching, Mitchell told the crowd that the worst nuclear accident in 25 years has given the industry "a great opportunity."

"It's once again made people aware of nuclear energy. It may have put some aspects of the industry on the spot. But it's also put us in the spotlight."

OPG owns and operates 10 CANDU reactors at Ontario's Darlington and Pickering nuclear stations, and Mitchell said the public utility is pressing ahead with plans to refurbish and to expand Darlington.

Combined with eight other OPG-owned reactors leased to the private operator, Bruce Power at Kincardine, Ont., nuclear generation now supplies close to 60 per cent of Ontario's energy needs.

Following Fukushima, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission ordered OPG and other nuclear operators to thoroughly assess the safety of their operations.

"What we will do — and are doing — is incorporating the lessons of Fukushima into our refurbishment and new build planning and design. That is a definite commitment on our part," Mitchell said.

One key lesson is "the absolute necessity to guard against external events, specifically those that threaten to overwhelm the design basis of the plant's systems and equipment," as the tsunami did at Fukushima. (When the Tohoku earthquake hit that day, all three of the plant's operating reactors shut down automatically as designed and emergency generators operated until sea water disabled them.)

Mitchell said OPG has almost a dozen Fukushima-related projects underway or planned by the end of 2016.

Already, equipment that operates independently of any electrical source has been installed at one Pickering reactor to help mitigate potential and dangerous hydrogen gas buildups, as happened at Fukushima. Three other Pickering reactors are to be similarly upgraded this year.

Mitchell said "significant progress" also has been made securing emergency, portable diesel generators and pumps that can supply critical electrical power for essential fuel cooling. Four new diesel-driven pumps and a diesel generator are now stationed at Darlington.

The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant began unfolding last March 11 when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a wild series of tsunamis along Japan's northeast coast. More than 25,000 people were killed, injured or went missing.

A 15-metre-high wall of sea water flooded the plant and knocked out the emergency cooling systems for three reactor cores, causing the uranium fuel to overheat. Over the following three days, the cores largely melted down. Additional systems used to cool thousands of deadly spent fuel rods also failed.

The resulting buildup of hydrogen gas soon detonated, destroyed one of the reactor buildings and spewed radioactive contamination over a wide swath of the countryside. Contaminated sea water also escaped. Cleanup costs are estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars.

This week, scientists reported the contamination has been detected as far as 640 kilometres off Japan in the Pacific Ocean, with water showing readings of up to 1,000 times more than prior levels.

But those results for the radioactive isotope cesium-137 are far below the levels generally considered harmful, either to marine animals or people who eat seafood, said Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Mitchell said the renewed attention on nuclear power is an opportunity to address some "misconceptions" about the industry and nuclear science.

"Like the fact that the management of nuclear waste is somehow this big vulnerability in our industry — and not one of our greatest strengths. Which it is."

Investing for the future management of that nuclear waste has been less successful. For the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2011, OPG's net income decreased by $278 million compared to the same period in 2010, primarily as a result of lower investment earnings from $11 billion in funds set aside for future nuclear plant decommissioning and for nuclear waste disposal.

Mitchell said there is also considerable misinformation on the issue of radiation.

"Yes, we need to respect even small quantities of radiation. Our industry always has. But we also need to convey to people that it's been proven that radiation can be measured, controlled and handled very safely in ways that deliver huge benefits to society, in science, in medicine and in energy," he said.

"Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. These words are perpetual reminders that we can never be complacent, and that safety, despite our industry's excellent record, can never be taken for granted.

"As an industry, we have not been complacent. We are a better and safer industry after (Three Mile Island in 1979), than before. We are a better and safer industry after Chernobyl (in 1986), than before. And we are — and will be — a better and safer industry after Fukushima, than before.

"Which is why I believe our industry will not fade. It will not grow obsolete. It will thrive."


Limerick Nuclear power plant enters refueling outage

Feb 24, 2012

Exelon Corp. (NYSE: EXC) said more than 2,000 supplemental workers are at the 2,345 MW Limerick Generating Station near Pottstown, Pa., to support the plant’s 2012 refueling outage. Exelon Nuclear employees and supplemental workers will perform over 13,000 outage-related activities, including equipment upgrades, safety inspections and plant improvements.

Major work to be performed includes the replacement of service water piping systems, an integral part of the plant’s cooling systems; installation of new automatic speed drives that supply power to vital systems; and a number of electrical upgrades. Exelon said these activities cannot be performed while Unit 1 is online.

Limerick Unit 2 will continue to generate electricity during the Unit 1 outage.

Units 1 and 2 received their operating licenses from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 1984 and 1989.


Over 10 United States nuclear reactor licenses could be modified, suspended, or revoked pending NRC findings

On Thursday, February 16, 2012, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff issued 10 CFR 50.54(f) letters to plants that use Westinghouse realistic emergency core cooling system (ECCS) methods (ASTRUM or CQD) and have a peak cladding temperature (PCT) greater than 2000 degrees F. The NRC is concerned that aging nuclear fuel used in Westinghouse reactors in Beaver County and elsewhere could have reduced ability to transfer heat and therefore exceed the 2,200-degree Fahrenheit limit in loss-of-coolant accidents.

Westinghouse informed the NRC in early December that a worst-case loss-of-coolant accident at a Westinghouse pressurized water reactor could raise the peak cladding temperature by more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit “

The NRC said there was a fundamental flaw in a computer program Westinghouse used in determining how reactor fuel loses the ability to conduct heat, a phenomenon known as “thermal conductivity degradation.” Because of that error there is a possibility that plants could underestimate how hot their fuel could get in an accident.

The NRC’s review could result in some nuclear plants being ordered to “dial back” their power-generating capacity to meet safety standards, NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said.

“The NRC alerted the industry to this problem in 2009, and Westinghouse needs to do more to account for thermal conductivity degradation in its fuel performance codes,” said Eric Leeds, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “We need information from a few nuclear power plant licensees to maintain assurance that they can continue to operate safely with sufficient margin.”

The letters required that the plants listed below provide information regarding the effect of a potentially significant error, as defined in 10 CFR 50.46(a)(3)(i), associated with thermal conductivity degradation (TCD), on peak cladding temperature in the Westinghouse Electric Company-furnished realistic ECCS evaluation models, to enable the NRC staff to determine whether the affected plant licenses should be modified, suspended, or revoked.

The 11 reactors are located at FirstEnergy’s Beaver Valley in Pennsylvania, Exelon’s Byron in Illinois, Duke Energy’s Catawba in South Carolina and McGuire in North Carolina, American Electric Power’s Cook in Michigan, and Dominion’s Kewaunee in Wisconsin.

The plants have until March 19th to provide the requested information to the NRC staff. If the information received does not demonstrate that NRC regulations are met, the staff will recommend imposing restrictions on reactor operating limits until acceptable action has been taken.

The press release states that:

“NRC regulations set a fuel thermal limit of 2200 degrees Fahrenheit for ‘peak cladding temperature’ under predicted loss-of-coolant accident conditions. Above that limit, the fuel rod is considered susceptible to damage. Thermal conductivity must be accounted for in realistic computer models used to evaluate a reactor’s emergency core cooling system. An error in the models may underestimate the fuel’s calculated peak cladding temperature. An error is considered significant if it would result in a difference of 50 degrees F or more in the predicted peak cladding temperature during the worst postulated loss-of-coolant accident scenario.”

Licensees operating nuclear power stations employ a series of computer codes to analyze plant behavior in the safety analyses they perform to demonstrate compliance with the Commission’s regulations. The computational approach models various physical processes to predict transient and accident events. These models simulate reactor conditions for postulated events and compare predicted plant performance to applicable regulatory criteria.

The simulation of the fuel element is an integral part of the safety analysis. Within the analysis, the fuel pellet thermal conductivity model determines the rate at which heat is transferred from the fuel pellet, first to the gas gap, then to the fuel cladding, and subsequently to the coolant.

A lower fuel pellet conductivity results in higher fuel temperatures at a given linear heat-generation rate. Therefore, the analytical prediction of the fuel thermal conductivity will affect the results of several types of safety analyses.

Any codes used for safety analyses that incorporate data starting at the fuel rod level and generated by the pre-1999 models may mischaracterize the expected plant performance.

A list of plants that received the 10 CFR 50.54(f) letters and ADAMS Accession number is below:

Beaver Valley, Units 1 and 2 – ML120400672
DC Cook, Units 1 and 2 – ML12041A384
Kewaunee – ML120410195
Byron, Unit 2 / Braidwood, Unit 2 – ML120410134
Catawba, Units 1 and 2 – ML12044A018
McGuire, Units 1 and 2 – ML12044A019

The NRC said it also sent copies of the request for information to an additional 23 plants that use the Westinghouse performance models to ensure that they too are aware of their obligations to address this error.