Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Episode 43

Hi y'all! It's been a long time - way too long! A very busy time is behind me and I hope to resume regular podcasts. Thank you to all of you who sent letters of support!

This is episode #43.

Listen Here

1. Great Barrier Reef in Trouble - Coal Plants to Blame?
2. Resource for Pebble Bed Reactor Info
3. Financing Looks Better for New Nuclear in USA
4. Two Early Site Permits Approved
5. China added 100 GW in 2006
6. Nuclear sets worldwide records in 2006.
7. Alternate Energy Holdings signs land deal.
8. There is no Uranium shortage
9. New Fermi Reactor?

1. This Week in Nuclear Home Page
2. Show Transcript and Blog
3. Center for Energy Workforce Development
4. Pebble Bed Reactor Blog

One of the things that makes podcasts such an incredible media form is the ability to reach out to people around the world. In the last few weeks I’d like to welcome new listeners from Singapore, Italy, and Venezuela. I also want to talk about some email from listeners; first there’s Bob Hargrave - he has a fantastic blog at http://pebblebedreactor.blogspot.com where you can learn everything you’d care to know about the pebble beds reactor. I remember years ago when I first heard about the PBR in the 1980’s I couldn’t help but admire the elegant simplicity of the design. The other thing that’s amazing about the PBMR is its inherent safety features that make it almost impossible to melt down. Anyway, please visit pebblebedreactor.blogspot.com and check it out, it’s a great source of information.

Also, there was a post on my show notes blog from a listener – Harry S. - who set me straight on something I discussed in my last show: You might recall is discussed Strontium samples in the Hudson river many miles upstream of the Indian Point Nuclear plant, and speculated on some of the possible sources which do NOT include that nuclear facility. Harry correctly pointed out that there is no evidence at all of strontium from Indian Point going into the Hudson River. After I got Harry’s note, I went back and listened to what I said, and I realize that I did in fact imply otherwise. Thanks Harry for giving me a peer check, and let me say it again - there is absolutely no data that suggests that Strontium from Indian Point has entered the Hudson.

In my last show I talked about a news story in Australia in which some uninformed elected officials expressed concern that nuclear plants might harm the coral reefs. Well, timing couldn’t have been better - last month the National Geographic Society released a report that states the Great Barrier Reef is, in fact, in trouble, and the source of the problem is climate change. It turns out the average temperature of the sea water in that part of the world has risen, and that is creating stress for the fragile coral ecosystem. There’s a lot of concern that if ocean temperatures continue to rise the Great Barrier Reef could become a dead reef. I’m a marine engineer and a recreational diver, and I find this is incredibly disturbing. I’ll share some personal experience – about 15 years ago I worked as a control room operator at the Turkey Point Nuclear plant on the edge of the Florida Keys. A few of my buddies and I used to scuba dive in the FL keys regularly and I became pretty familiar with the reefs off the northern keys. This past summer I retuned there with my daughter after being away for 15 years and I was shocked – the reefs are nothing like they were, and most are virtually dead. There are a lot of factors affecting the health of reefs – agricultural runoff, changes in ocean currents, recreational traffic, and pollution are a few. Marine biologists are beginning to realize that water temperature is playing a key role in stressing the reefs, and many believe greenhouse gases are a key contributor. Turkey Point, by the way, has a closed cooling system and does not discharge warm water to Biscayne Bay, so the plant is not contributing to the problem in any way.

So back to Australia, it’s ironic that politicians there would suggest that nuclear power plants could damage the coral reefs when the opposite is true. If you’re someone who believes that manmade CO2 emissions are contributing to climate change, then consider this: Australia’s reliance on coal as the primary source of electricity, and the resultant CO2 emissions is stressing the Great Barrier Reef. In contrast, operating nuclear plants emit zero CO2! Australia can choose to be a part of the problem, or a part of the solution because they have about 1/3 of the Earth’s known uranium reserves.

A great new resource for information about careers in Nuclear Energy: the Center for Workforce Development. They’ve developed a great web site called Get Into Energy at www.getintoenergy.com . The web site provides things like searchable listings of colleges and technical schools that offer programs of study related to various energy industry careers, etc.

The financial community is staring to talk up building new nuclear plants in the USA. In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen multiple of articles in the mainstream media predicting new construction will begin soon. One such article – linked in the show notes – states nuclear energy produces electricity at an average of 1.7 cents/KW-HR in the USA, compared to 2.21 cents for coal, 7.5 cents for gas, and 8.09 cents for oil. Because of this price advantage, and because of price stability compared to other sources, nuclear energy is gaining popularity in the investment community. This analyst predicted that owners of large nuclear fleets will see their stock prices continue to rise, and their earning will outpace generators who rely on coal, oil and gas for electricity generation. The article pointed out that energy demand in the USA is expected to rise by 50% in the next 25 years, and even more quickly in the rest of the world.

In another report, the world’s nuclear plants set an all-time production record in 2006 by generating 2.8 billion megawatt hours of electricity! This beat the old record of 2.7 billion megawatt hours set in 2005. The most notable production gains were in Canada and Russia, while the USA, South Korea and France maintained good capacity factors. US plants had the highest average capacity factors at 90% and St Lucie Unit 1 and Vermont Yankee led the pack were the highest, both coming in at slightly over 102%. Overall, nuclear plants generated 16% of the world’s electricity.

That brings me to another story – this week China announced they had added about 100 Gigawatts of new electricity generation in 2006. How much of that do you think was nuclear? I’ll give you a few seconds to consider your answer because I’ve talked so much about the expansion of nuclear energy in China……… the answer is a disappointing 1%! Only 1% of the new electricity capacity that entered service last in China was nuclear! The vast majority of the remainder was coal-fired. To put that in perspective, that’s about 100 new large base load coal plants, and one large nuclear plant. There are also stories floating around that Areva is wheeling and dealing with China to get the contract for two of the four plants Westinghouse is supposed to build. That’s an interesting thought because earlier reports suggested that Areva was unwilling to share their nuclear technology with China, and that was a deal breaker for the Chinese.

The new development, if its true, would suggest that Areva has changed their tune in order to get into that lucrative market.

Speaking of Areva, last week they announced further construction delays at the Okoluto 3 site in Finland. While I accept that any “first of a kind” plant could be expected to encounter such delays, I’m taking a different position here. I’ve spoken to people in the US industry who are talking about building new plants, and the ability to meet the construction schedule is extremely important. Delays mean increases in costs from both labor, and from finance charges. These increases in construction costs can have a significant impact on the price of electricity produced over the life of the plant.

Alternate Energy Holdings has been in the news again. You’ll recall from my interview with their president, Don Gillespie, that they were considering some different properties in the Bruneau, ID area for a new nuclear plant. In the last couple of weeks they entered into a contract with a rancher to purchase 4,000 acres of land for $20 million. They are also in talks with Areva in an effort to firm up their selection of reactor design. These guys appear to be making steady progress towards getting a new reactor built, and they just might be the first new next-generation reactor built on a virgin site in the USA.

You’d never guess there are some nay-sayers in the Pacific Northwest – at a recent meeting in Portland, Oregon of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council a consultant, Jim Harding, spoke of challenges to building a new nuclear plant. As you can imagine the group had some pretty negative opinions about the role that nuclear energy might play in the region’s future electricity supply. The consultant made one point that I have to correct – he said that the supply of uranium could prevent plants from being built and stated “It will take heroic efforts to find the uranium needed for a major expansion.” A long term shortage of uranium is one of those myths that the anti-nuclear groups would like the public to believe. Uranium is very abundant, and with reprocessing of our existing supply of slightly used reactor fuel we have more than enough for the short term, and as the price rises then economic incentive increases to invest in the capitol required to get mines up and running and reprocessing plants running. There have even been studies that show uranium can be extracted from seawater for about $200 per pound, about three times today’s price.

Speaking of the uranium market, the spot market price stands at $70 per pound, up sharply from $40 per pound a year ago. Even at this higher market price, the impact of the cost of raw uranium on the price of electricity is miniscule.

It seems the National Association of Manufacturers does not share the same opinion as the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Last week the National Association of Manufactures issued a statement in support of building more nuclear plants in the USA as a way to provide low cost energy, and long term price stability. The next day DTE Energy, the parent company of Detroit Edison and the owner of the Fermi nuclear plant announced they are considering building a new nuclear plant in Michigan and will invest $30 million to prepare a license application for the new unit.

Go Green, Go Nuclear, and have a great day!

John Wheeler

No comments: