Sunday, November 05, 2006

Episode 35

Listen to the Podcast Here

This Week in Nuclear Episode 35 – November 5, 2006

Hi folks. This is not a normal episode of this week in nuclear. This is a special service announcement of sorts. Today is Sunday November 5th and by the time you hear this podcast it will probably be Nvember 6th or 7th. So what’s so special about November 7th? Well, in the United States it’s election day!

Besides all the local elections going on across the nation, all of the seats for the US House of Representatives are up for grabs, as are a good number of the US Senate seats. Don’t let your vote be wasted – get out and vote!

There are a lot of issues facing the nation and the world, and the legislation and policies of the next government will have a profound impact on the future – not just for the nuclear industry, but for so many other issues – the economy, national security, taxes…the list goes on and on.

I thought about doing a special pre-election show and discuss specific candidates and their position on issues related to nuclear energy. That turned out to be too much to tackle – there are just too many other issues out there that are on the table, and I would never advocate one candidate over another without having the opportunity to study their positions on many topics, not just those related to nuclear energy.

The bottom line is this: find out what elections are going on in your local, state and national districts, who the candidates are, and where they stand on things important to you – then go out and vote. Regardless of what you might think, or regardless of the specific situation in the races that affect you, your vote DOES matter! Think of all the times that races have been won or lost by just a handful of votes – by fractions of a percentage point. Inevitably there are people who didn’t vote who could have swung those races either way.

If I’m preaching to the choir, then that’s cool – ignore me. But if you’re on the fence, or if you’re inclined NOT to vote then get out and make your voice heard. Even if the candidate you vote for comes out on the bottom, you are making your voiced heard, and it DOES MATTER!

For all my listeners outside the USA, I can’t keep track of all your election days – but assuming you CAN vote in your country, when the time comes then replay this message and YOU get out and vote, too. The right to vote is a right that was fought for by the blood of our ancestors, and in many part of the world that fight is still being fought every day! Another way to look at it is this…if you don’t vote then you are giving away your piece of that power to those people who do!

OK – I’ll get down off my soap box... and I’ll see you at the polls!

John Wheeler

Episode 34

Listen to the Podcast Here

  1. Russia’s Nuclear Program is Building Steam
  2. Atomstroyexport Wins Belene Bid
  3. Russia to Consolidate Nuclear Businesses
  4. Six More Mideast Nations to Build Nuclear Plants
  5. Australia’s PM Howard Pro-Nuclear Remarks
  6. OPAL Reactor Reaches Full Power
  7. Japan Begins Reactor Fuel Reprocessing

Russia’s Nuclear Program is Building Steam

There’s a lot going on that demonstrates how serious Russia is about capturing a larger share of the world market for building nuclear plants. This past week they won the long-awaited bid to build two units at the Belene station in Bulgaria. Before we get into the details of the deal, I want to review the history of the project, and the energy supply situation in the region.

Bulgaria has four pressurized water reactors operating at the Kozloduy station that together provide more than 40% of their nation’s electricity, plus enough left over for export to neighboring states. Units 3 and 4 are VVER-230’s, and units 5 and 6 are VVER-1000 ver. 320 reactors. Bulgaria has been the largest exporter of electricity in the Balkans, but in a little over a month that will be a thing of the past. That’s because they’ll be shutting down units 3 and 4 as part of their agreement for entry into the European Union. This is a really bad idea and is really unnecessary because all four units under went extensive safety upgrades in the 1990’s. Units and 2 were previously taken out of service. That will leave Bulgaria with only two operating nuclear plants, AND a power shortage. Russia will make huge profits on this situation because not only will Bulgaria be buying electricity from them, but Russia’s energy sales to the other Balkan states will increase to fill the gap that will be created by the closure of Kozloduy 3 and 4. There is a group called the Initiative Committee defending NPP Kozloduy who is fighting to keep Units 3 and 4 open, and they’re plan a round-table meeting on December 13 with local government officials and perhaps the EU, but they really don’t have much of a shot at keeping it open.

Construction began on a coal fired plant earlier this year that will be on line in 2009. So much for the EU’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions! They’re mandating the shutdown of two nuclear plants and replacing the power they generate with coal! Where’s Greenpeace now?!

Now back to the Belene project – by the way, the new plants are worth about $5.1 billion USD to Atomstroyexport!

Construction was started on two nuclear plants at the Belene site in the 1980’s but was stopped in 1992 because of a shortage of funding, and because of strong opposition by Greenpeace and other anti-nuclear groups. In April of 2005 the Bulgarian government approved construction to startup again, and they began the process of deciding who would build the plant. I’ve covered different aspects of those deliberations in earlier episodes of this podcast. Well, it’s taken over a year and a half, but they finally made their decision and selected Atomstroyexport to lead the project. The deal will give Bulgaria two 1000 MW AES-92 version reactors, each with a design life of 60 years. Atomstroyexport apparently plans to use some of the equipment and components that are still on site from the earlier construction project, something that helped them offer the lowest bid. By the way, Gazprom, the Russian gas company owns more than 40% of Atomstroyexport – that little fact would keep me awake at night if I was trying to get a nuclear plant built on time. Every month that the project is delayed is one more month that Gazprom can sell energy, and Belene will steal huge profits from Russia the minute it connects to the grid – not just in Bulgaria, but in the entire region. That alone would have led me another reactor supplier! Areva and Siemens are in on the deal, too, as subcontractors and equipment suppliers.

Russia Restructuring Nuclear Businesses

Russia’s nuclear business was in the news for other reasons. The Russian government is planning a restructuring and takeover of all the nuclear plants in their country. Their parliament is negotiating the terms of a new law that will consolidate all their nuclear assets and businesses – operating power plants, their internal nuclear supply company, and their international business. I’ve said before that Russia is making a play for the world energy market any way they can. By taking over control of their nuclear businesses, and by putting then all under common operating authority they will be able to implement a more coordinated nuclear energy strategy. The new organization will be called “Atomprom” . Just when I finally got accustomed to saying Atomstroyexport they have to go and change the name!

Six Mideast Nations to Build Nuclear Plants

This week Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates notified the IAEA that they plan to build nuclear power plants. At least three of the nations are considering using nuclear reactors as a heat source to desalinate water – something I’ve thought was a good idea for years! The announcements signified a shift in policy for Saudi Arabia who has in the past opposed nuclear plants in the region.

Well, you might ask why would Saudi Arabia want or need nuclear plants? They have more oil than they will ever use! Well, that’s not the case. They know their oil wealth won’t last forever, and they need to develop other forms of energy so they will not be left without it 50 years from now. There’s a quotation by Saudi Arabian oil barons that goes something like this, “My grandfather rode a camel, my father drove a car, I fly and airplane, and my grandchildren will ride a camel.” They know the oil will run out, and they are predicting it will happen in their grandchildren’s lifetimes. I think they are wise to being the process of building a nuclear energy infrastructure now when they can use a small fraction of their wealth to invest for the future.

It’s also a great business move because the less oil they use at home the more they can export, and electricity and steam for desalination made from nuclear plants is far cheaper than if made from oil! This is a very simple and logical step for them to take!

This announcement has some non-proliferation strategists proclaiming they’re all out to match Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but I think that’s unfair. Every nation has the right to build nuclear plants as long as they follow guidelines set forth by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which this group all appears to be doing. Another observation…None of these nations have threatened their neighbors with annihilation, nor have they supported terrorists.

Australia’s Nuclear Posturing Continues

This week Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard spoke out again in favor of nuclear energy when he stated that “Australia would be 'foolish' not to consider nuclear energy he also said "Nuclear power is potentially the cleanest and greenest of them all" Well, Mr. Howard – you are absolutely right on both accounts.

The Prime Minister was speaking to the Queensland branch of his Liberal Party. His talk was full of pro-nuclear remarks. He also said that Australia would be foolish, from the national interest point of view, if, with their vast resources of uranium, they were to fail to consider nuclear power."

Howard said growing concern about global warming caused by the burning of greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels to make electricity was causing people to rethink their opposition to nuclear energy.

"I believe that the world attitude to nuclear power is changing and Australia's attitude to nuclear power is changing," Howard said.

OPAL Reactor At Full Power

My other news from Australia this week comes via one of my listeners - Michael Walsh, who is the operations manager of the Opal research reactor. His exact title is Acting General Manager, Reactor Operations of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization. His note was dated November 3, and he let me know that the new Opal research reactor had just achieved 100% power for the first time. The power ascension went smoothly and without any surprises – just they way we like them, right Michael!

Congratulations to Mr. Walsh and the rest of the staff at the Opal reactor for a job well done! I’ve covered the Opal reactor on a couple of occasions in earlier shows. You might recall that it’s a multipurpose research reactor that was supplied by ARPANSA, an Argentine company. It’s a 20 megawatt pool reactor that uses low enriched uranium fuel, and is cooled by water. The reactor is used for radioisotope production, irradiation services and neutron beam research.

Japan Makes Reprocessed Reactor Fuel

This week Japan Nuclear Fuel, Ltd announced they’ve begun commercial fabrication of reactor fuel that is reprocessed from used fuel, and will have the first batch ready by mid-November. The uranium-plutonium mixed-oxide fuel, or MOX is made at a facility in the town of Rokkasho (Ro-ka-sho) in northern Japan. The factory will reprocess 800 tones of used nuclear fuel per year. Japan Nuclear Fuels is owned by five Japanese nuclear utilities, and two of them have already gotten approvals to start using the reprocessed fuel.

Here’s another example of where the USA has allowed politics to get in the way of sound science and economics. Reprocessing is the right thing to do. When used fuel is taken out of a reactor it still has more than 90% of the original energy in it. Reprocessing removes impurities that build up during the fission process. The impurities stop the nuclear chain reaction or cause other undesirable chemical or metallurgical things to happen in the fuel. Then you put the fuel back in the reactor and run it though again over and over. In the end, the amount of actual waste that needs to be stored is a small fraction of the original amount. That’s one reason that anti-nuclear groups oppose reprocessing – it removes one of their main arguments against nuclear energy – the argument that it produces huge amounts of waste.

In reality, even without reprocessing the volume of waste is very small – if you stacked all the used fuel from all the nuclear reactors in the USA – 40 years worth – it would take up less space than the toxic ash pile from one large coal fired power plant. And by the way – that toxic ash pile contains heavy metals like mercury and other really nasty poisons, and the pile has to be encapsulated and buried in a special landfill where no one will ever be able to live because those toxins don’t decay – ever!

I’ve mentioned before that the USA does not recycle nuclear fuel because of an ill-informed policy imposed by then President Jimmy Carter that prohibited it. Once the infrastructure was dismantled it never came back, even though President Regan overturned the rule. The US department of energy is in the process of sponsoring projects to get reprocessing going again, and several companies are actively pursuing it like General Electric and Areva. Some day soon we’ll be viewing used nuclear fuel as a vital resource, not as something we wan to buy out of sight.

New Web Site for “This Week in Nuclear”

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was working on a new web site for the show – we’ll it’s finally ready, and I launched it this morning. I want to walk though a few features that I think you’ll enjoy.

First of all, you don’t have to change anything to keep getting the show. If you use iTunes or another podcast aggregator it will still work just fine because the RSS feed has not changed. If you get the show via my email list, that’s still working, too. And if you download the show directly from my web site, well that’s not problem either.

The new site pulls together my podcast web page from podomatic and my blog from These two sites still exist, but using the marvels of modern technology they’re both pulled into the new site. The nice thing is that all of your old links will still work.

My domain name points to the new home page. All the pages have a common look and feel, and there’s a common menu bar across the top of every page.

You’ll notice that I’ve put some advertising on the site. I have tried to make it work without advertising, but the donations just don’t cover the expenses, so it you want to help support the show then visit some of the advertisers from my web site. I’ll point out some other ways you can help, too, in a minute.

The podcast page has an audio player imbedded in it that will allow you to select and play any episode – pretty cool! There are also links to the last several shows, and a link to the archive where you can get any previous episode. You can also click on any of the badges on the left side of the page to subscribe using your favorite podcast provider like iTunes, Yahoo Music, Podcast Pickle, and others. You can also click on a link to sign up to receive an email message whenever a new episode comes out.

The blog and transcripts page is old blogspot page that loads in a frame. This is where I post the show notes, and you can go here to post comments, too. I plan to post show transcripts regularly from now on, and you can go here to read the transcripts. If you have a blog out there and you link to my blog, then do me a favor and make sure your link to my home page at .

The next page on the list is a search page. This is really cool! I’ve got a google search tool now that lets you search my show notes. You can also search the internet by clicking on a radio button below the search bar. If you take a look at it you’ll see what I mean. I’ll earn Google Adsense points if you use this search page and click through to other supported links, so that’s another way you can support the show.

The next page is an Amazon book store that provides several nuclear energy related titles, and a couple of mp3 players that are good for listening to the show. There’s also an Amazon search bar on this page so you can find other books, music, movies, or electronics that don’t appear on the page.

I get asked about podcasting all the time, and I decided to share what I’ve learned on another page – I call it Podcasting Tips. Right now I’m covering podcasting hardware for recording to computers, and for recording on portable equipment. In the future I’ll add more information on audio software and editing techniques, podcast hosting, etc.

There’s a charity challenge page that I’m still developing, so I’ll tell you more on that in a couple of weeks. I plan to use it in the future to promote some charity work that I do.

Finally, my favorite part of the site - now you can listen to “This Week in Nuclear” on your cell phone or PDA! I’ve got specially formatted pages that you can read on those small screens, and if your service provider allows you to download audio files then you’ll be able to get the show on your cell phone! I’ve tested it on my cell phone and it’s awesome.

So think about the possibilities! You can sign up for my email list using your text message address or mobile email address, and when a new show is uploaded you’ll get a message on you phone. Then you can browse right to the show on your phone, and “This Week in Nuclear” will come blasting through the airwaves to where ever you are! You’ll also be able to access a few past episodes via the phone, so if you missed one you can get it on your phone. The web address for the mobile site is Try it out and let me know what you think!

So that’s an introduction to my new web site at this week in! Please check it out and send me some feedback. It really won’t be done until I’ve heard from some you out there and have had a chance to incorporate your ideas and feedback.

Next week I’ll be at the ANS Winter Meeting in Albuquerque, NM and will be appearing LIVE with Rob Adams of the Atomic Show, Eric McErlain of the neinuclearnotesblog, and Randall Parker of the FuturePundit blog. We’ll be talking about this wonderful new form of communications – internet-based media. I hope to see you there!


John Wheeler