Sunday, July 23, 2006

Episode 23

Listen to the PodCast Here

Olkiluoto Schedule Slips Now at One Year

Construction delays at the Olkiluoto EPR being built in Finland by Areva have now stretched to one year. The primary cause of the delay is problems with sub-contractors getting components to the site on time, and in getting sub-contracted work done per the schedule. The 1600 MWe plant is now expected to begin commercial operation in mid 2010. Areva is bearing the cost of the delay which will add to the 3 Billion EURO price tag.

Areva downplayed the delays saying they are common for first-of-a-kind new plants, but that’s not acceptable in my book. First of all, the EPR is not all that different than the last PWRs built around the world in France and the UK, so that’s a lame excuse. But worst of all, the quickest way the industry can loose credibility with investors is if we have huge delays with the first round of new construction plants! Every month of delays cost missions of dollars in interest that drives up the total cost of the plant. In the 1980’s in the USA, the cost of interest more than doubled the eventual price of some plants! The bankers and the lawyers get rich while the investors, utilities, and customers all suffer! Areva making light of the delays puts the whole industry at risk by telling the investment community “we expect delays and you’re just going to have to live with it.” We’re going to get one chance to do this right, and if we screw this chance up we may not get second try. The first few new construction nuclear plant in the US and Canada have to be on schedule and on budget, or there may not be a second round of construction! The investment community will find somewhere else to put their money!

Every plant built in Asia in the last 10 years has been delivered on or ahead of schedule and on budget. Maybe the Fins should have hired Toshiba, Mitsubishi, or Hitachi to build their plant instead of Areva!

Texas Utilities Building 11 Polluting Coal Plants

A little closer to home in Texas, it seems that not every utility believes that nuclear energy is the way to go. This week the WSJ carried a story about Texas Utilities, the owners of Comanche Peak nuclear station in Texas. TXU is building 11 new cola-fired power plants that will more than double their CO2 emissions from 55 million tines per year to 133 million tones by 2011.

The Wall Street Journal theorized that TXU may be building the plants now so they can take advantage of future restrictions on CO2 emissions. If they get the plants built before the restrictions go into place TXU could earn "allowances" based on their new higher levels of CO2 - the higher the emissions, the larger the pollution allowances. This in effect would reward them for producing higher emissions before the carbon tax goes into effect.

What a contrast to this makes to the story we talked about last week where Entergy Corporation, another utility in the US South that has implemented voluntary CO2 reductions with some very impressive results. Entergy’s service territory includes part of Texas, and is along side the territory of TXU. Wayne Leonard, Entergy’s CEO was vocally critical of TXU’s plans and was quoted as saying “the science behind global warming is persuasive and carbon-dioxide regulation is inevitable and necessary.” Mr. Leonard called it "unacceptable" for power companies to build lots of new plants heedless of the environmental effect of carbon dioxide.”

Wayne Leonard Named Chairman of the Board at Entergy

Wayne Leonard is turning out to be a refreshing voice, a little bit of a maverick, and a heck of a visionary, and he’s being rewarded for it. This week Entergy’s board of directors named him as their new chairman of the board when the current chairman Robert Luft retires on August 1. Wall Street apparently liked the news because Entergy’s stock price was up more than 3% this past week.

NY Times “Atomic Balm” Story

On July 16th the NY Times published an amazing piece by Jon Gertner advocating the renaissance of nuclear energy. I almost fell out of my chair when I read it! It is one of the most technically accurate history of the fall and reemergence of the US nuclear industry that I have ever read, and it’s even more amazing when you consider the source is the NY Times. I’m putting a link to it in the show notes. You’ll have to register for a free account to access the story on the NY Times server, but it is worth it. I even printed out a copy and saved it for future reference.The NY Times Story

Nuclear Energy’s Role Emphasized at G8

The G8 leaders meeting in Russia singled out nuclear energy as an important component of Global Energy Security, with the acquiescence of Germany, which has continuing policy paralysis on the question. Here is part of the statement made by the G8 leaders about the peaceful use of nuclear energy:

"Those of us who have or are considering plans relating to the use and/or development of safe and secure nuclear energy believe that its development will contribute to global energy security, while simultaneously reducing harmful air pollution and addressing the climate change challenge. The development of innovative nuclear power systems is considered an important element for efficient and safe nuclear energy development. In this respect, we acknowledge the efforts made in the complementary frameworks of the INPRO project and the Generation IV International Forum (GIF).

That’s quite a mouthful, but it does say a lot about the world leaders’ belief that nuclear energy will play a pivotal role in creating a secure future for our children and generations to come.

Russia and China join advanced reactor project.

The 11-member Generation IV International Forum (GIF) unanimously voted to admit Russia and China to the group, which is developing 4th generation reactor technology for deployment after 2020. Russia has more experience than any other country with one of the six designs already short-listed; the lead-cooled fast reactor, and is well experienced with another; the sodium-cooled fast reactor. China is a leader in high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, another of the six GIF designs. Formal membership will be confirmed later this year, opening the way for significant international collaboration.

Nuclear performs in US heat wave.

All but one of the 103 US nuclear power reactors were on line coping with record demand across much of the country during a heat wave on July 17. The nuclear units contributed about 98,000 MWe net. Real-time power prices across the country topped $300/MWh (30c/kWh) and hit $399 in California.

Long-Awaited UK Energy Review

The government published its much-anticipated Energy Review in which they stated nuclear power is a source of low carbon generation which contributes to the diversity of our energy supplies. Under likely scenarios for gas and carbon prices, new nuclear power stations would yield economic benefits in terms of carbon reduction and security of supply’.

In a House of Commons statement on the Energy Review, Trade & Industry Secretary Alistair Darling said that the government ‘has concluded that new nuclear power stations could make a significant contribution to meeting our energy policy goals’.

There’s much more than I can cover here, but I’ll put a link to the full report in my show notes for you to review for yourself. UK Energy Review Full Text

Washington Group International to Build National Enrichment Facility

In our last show we covered the granting of a construction and operating license to Louisiana Energy Services to build a new enrichment facility in New Mexico. Well it seems that Washington Group International has been awarded a contract by LES to provide construction management services for the new facility. I also mentioned that the Washington Group was one of several companies advertising for new talent in the latest edition of Nuclear News Magazine. See how it all fits together?!

Energy and War

I try to stay out of international politics unless it’s directly related to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but this is a case when I just can’t stay quiet. And the facts are – so much of what is happening in the Middle East today is a direct result of Iran’s fa├žade – their claims of their peaceful intent for nuclear enrichment when every one of their actions demonstrates aggression and their desire to develop and use military might.

Iran has hijacked the Palestinian cause as a tool to strengthen their influence in the region.

In the year 2000, Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon as a peaceful gesture. Again, in August of 2005, Israel left Gaza as a peaceful act – an offer of good will. But less than one year later its clear Israel’s peaceful offerings were viewed by the terrorists as signs of weakness.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad has publicly threatened that Israel would be wiped off the map. He’s not just spouting rhetoric – he clearly means to do it, and Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon have begun the first wave of the assault - joint attacks on Israel.

On June 25 Hamas terrorists tunneled into Israel and killed two Israeli soldiers and captured one, then two week later Hezbollah terrorists crossed into Israel from Lebanon and killed eight more Israeli soldiers and captured another two. Don’t think for a moment that the terrorist leaders in both camps underestimated what Israel’s response would be – they were intentionally provoking Israel into what some political leaders are calling the beginning of world war three!

What a surprise that we find Hezbollah has several thousand missiles now being launched at Israel’s cities, every one stamped “made in Iran” And they made their way to Lebanon through Syria. Do you Dictator Asad in Syria is so weak that such a transit of armaments would go un-noticed? Heck no! He’s in on it too!

Syria and Iran are fighting a war with Israel and they’re laughing all the way to the bank because they don’t even have to do it with their own troops or on their own soil! Hezbollah and Hamas are doing it for them in Lebanon and Gaza.

And what great timing for Iran! They’ve continued to drag their heels with the international community and refuse any meaningful negotiations over their illegal uranium enrichment, and are about to be brought before the UN Security Council for the second time this year. The first time they were told to stop enriching uranium because it violated international law and there is evidence they’re making weapons-grade material. Since then they’ve not only ignored the UN order but they increased their output. Even their old pals China and Russia are losing patience with Ahmadinejad and we may actually even get some sanctions this time.

This little war they’ve started is a great distraction, don’t you think?

But I’m a bit of a pessimist here – it won’t really matter because they’re going to get nuclear weapons whether we like it or not. If they can’t make nukes for themselves, then they’ll buy them from their new best friends in North Korea.

This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Thousands of innocent people are going to die, maybe even millions, and I doubt I’ll see the dust settle on this in my lifetime.

This is all the more reason for is to move ahead at full speed in any direction that can rid us the plague of reliance on that part of the world for anything, particularly something as important as energy.

It is becoming not only an economic issue, but a moral one as well. We each have a responsibility to reduce our energy consumption through every way possible:

Telecommute when you can

Use mass transit, car pool, walk or ride a bike to work

When your current vehicle is worn out replace it with a more efficient hybrid or E85 compatible vehicle. Plug in hybrids will be available soon, too

Recycle

Turn off your computer, modem, and router when they are not in use

Turn your thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter, and

Use energy efficient florescent light bulbs

You can think of 100’s of little ways to reduce gasoline and electricity consumption. Believe me; it is going to be forced on us by economics, politics, and war. The time to change is when times are good and you can do it by choice, in a thoughtful and planned out way. The time to change is not when there’s an emergency and change is forced upon you. So my challenge to you is reduce to figure out how you can reduce both your gasoline consumption and electricity use by 10% within the next two months. I’ll bet you can even do more than that, but 10% is a good starting point.

Let me know how you do it – what energy saving techniques you use. Send me an note via email, record an audio file and email it to me, or post a message in the show notes and I’ll share what you send with the rest of the audience on a future show.

If you’re a regular listener a donation via pay pal would be greatly appreciated. You’ll notice I don’t have any adds on my web site to generate income. The cost for web space, bandwidth, occasional hardware and software etc. all come out of my pocket. There’s no real income from the show, only a few dollars here and there from some generous listeners. I’m doing the show because I believe in the benefits of nuclear energy and feel the message needs to get out. So if you like the show and want to contribute you can do so via PayPal. The PayPal button on the web site will allow you to use a credit card, too in case you don’t have a PayPal account.

John Wheeler
"This Week in Nuclear"

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