Sunday, December 09, 2007

TWiN 51 - Nuclear Revival Continues; Anti-Nuclear Forces Step Up Attacks

Listen to the Podcast Here

1. Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Form New Partnership
2. China Awards $20 Billion Contract to Areva for Two EPRs plus Fuel
3. EDF Begins Construction of new EPR at Flamanville, France
4. Dominion Resources Applies for COL for North Anna ESBWR
5. US Intelligence Reverses Position on Iran’s Nuclear Program
6. NY Politicians Continue Assault on Indian Point Nuclear Plant
7. Debunking Andrew Cuomo and Elliot Spitzer
8. An overview of Seismic Design Criteria for Nuclear Plants
9. The “Non-Threat” of Nuclear Plant Terrorism
10. A summary of Anti-Nuclear legislation proposed by Hillary Clinton

Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Form New Partnership

Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have formed a 50/50 joint venture called ATEMA to develop and market a unique Generation 3+ reactor design. The new reactor will be a pressurized water reactor with about an 1100 MWe rating, and will be marketed to customers who want a medium sized reactor that can handle a variety of load configurations. They expect the design to be complete by the end of 2009. The new design will be called the ATEMA-1 reactor, and the new company will be located in Paris with an initial staff of about 20 people.

China Awards $20 Billion Contract to Areva for Two EPRs plus Fuel

Areva has also been awarded a record $11 Billion contract to build two EPR reactors in China, and provide fuel for the new reactors though 2026. This is a huge deal, and may be part of the reason why we also see Areva investing heavily in uranium mining – they need to make sure they can supply that fuel at the assumed price.
Westinghouse got burned badly in the USA in the 1970’s when they made long term fuel contracts, but didn’t lock in their supplies and price. The price of uranium rose higher than they projected and they had to pay more than expected. I don’t recall the exact figure, but the losses were in the billions of dollars. To that point, Areva, a company that already has large stakes in uranium mining companies, is investing more than $20 million this coming year alone in exploration and development at Canada’s Shea Creek uranium mine.

EDF Begins Construction of new EPR at Flamanville, France

Electricidad de France began construction of their newest reactor at Flamanville, a 1650 MWe European Pressurized Reactor. The reactor will be France’s 59th commercial nuclear reactor. The construction schedule calls for about 52 months from ground breaking to commercial operation, which means the plant will go on line in 2012. Italy's Enel holds a 12.5 percent stake in the new reactor and will also have an option to be part-owner in the next five new EDF reactors.

Dominion Resources Applies for COL for North Anna ESBWR

Dominion Resources has joined a growing list of utilities that have applied for a license to build and operate new nuclear plants in the USA. Their recent filing with the NRC is to build a GE ESBWR at their North Anna, Virginia site where they already have two Westinghouse PWRs. The other companies that have filed for combined construction and operating licenses are NRG Energy for two GE ABWRs in Texas, and the Tennessee Valley Authority for two Westinghouse AP-1000 units at their Bellafont site in Alabama.

US Intelligence Reverses Position on Iran’s Nuclear Program

A recent US intelligence report on Iran’s nuclear program has created quite a turmoil, with both Israel and the European Union siding against the US. The report, released a week ago, states that Iran does not have an active military nuclear program, and estimates the program was stopped in 2003. Within the last two days German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have both reststed Iran continues to pose a threat, and Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official, called the report “flawed”. This recent report reverses earlier estimates that Iran was close to building nuclear weapons, and creates a situation that will make it very difficult for the EU and USA to convince other UN Security Council Members of the need for additional sanctions against Iran. If Iran can prove to the IAEA and the UN that their intentions are peaceful, then they have every right to develop nuclear technology for energy production. The remaining sticking point is uranium enrichment, which is highly controlled and restricted by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

NY Politicians Assault Indian Point Nuclear Plant

Last week I discussed two breaking stories in my home state of New York in which two elected officials, State Atty General Andrew Cuomo and Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, were engaging in political rhetoric against Indian Point Nuclear Plant as a strategy to boost their standing among the uninformed and anti-nuclear segments of their voter population. Well, the saga continues, and the dispute is escalating. This week Cuomo and NY Governor Elliot Spitzer filed a petition asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny Indian Point’s request for a 20 year license extension. The two units at Indian Point have licenses that expire in 2013 and 2015.

You might recall from my last show, Episode 50, Andrew Cuomo has a family history of opposing nuclear energy, has appointed an anti-nuclear activist to a high position within his office and has assigned her to lead the charge of his assault on Indian Point. Tax payers in the state of New York should find this troubling – an elected official appointing an extremist activist to a position of influence in government, and paying that person’s salary with tax dollars. This sort of thing probably happens all the time, but it seems to border on corruption, but that’s a topic for another episode.

Anyway, Spitzer and Cuomo, while both opposed to Indian Point, could not agree on when the plant should be shut down - Cuomo called for the “immediate” shutdown of the plant, while Spitzer said the plant should be shut down when replacement power is built. That last point is ironic: Spitzer’s dysfunctional administration has been unable to follow through on his campaign promise to resolve the legislative obstacles to permitting new power plants to be built in New York. As it stands now, it is virtually impossible to build a new power plant of any kind in the state of New York, and the end of this impasse is nowhere in sight. As a result, Spitzer’s call for a shutdown has no real meaning. He can claim to want to shutdown Indian Point to appease this radical fringe supporters, while in reality he knows the conditions he’s set for the shutdown won’t be met because replacement power can’t be built.

Debunking Andrew Cuomo and Elliot Spitzer

Cuomo on the other hand is ignoring all objective data to the contrary and is demanding an immediate shutdown. He claims the state does not need the more than 2000 MW of low cost, emissions-free base load electricity that Indian Point produces. Cuomo stated the plant’s output can be replaced by “wind energy, hydro power, and gas” Let’s examine his statement. By the way, so you don’t think I’m being overly pro-nuclear and exaggerating my facts, most of the statistics I’ll quote come from independent sources like the National Academy of Science, the Energy Information Administration, and the New York Independent System Operator. You can easily go out and verify the data for yourself if you’re so inclined.

Replacing Indian Point with a wind farm: It is virtually impossible to build new power plants of any kind, including wind farms. Also, wind mills run at a maximum of about 20% capacity factor – so to replace 2000 MW of electricity from Indian Point someone would have to build five times that much capacity in wind – 10,000 MW. That would be a MONSTER of a wind farm MORE THAN 12 TIMES LARGER THAN THE LARGEST WIND FARM IN THE WORLD! Since wind generators in any meaningful capacity can’t be built, Cuomo’s suggestion is, frankly, ridiculous. So Cuomo is wrong – even ignoring the simple fact that the wind doesn’t blow all the time and is not suitable for base load electricity production, wind power can not offset the loss of Indian Point.

Can Hydro Replace Indian Point? It is tougher to build a new hydro plant than a nuclear plant. In addition, there are no suitable hydro plant sites in the Northeast USA. The existing hydro power is already running as base load – it’s tapped out. So Cuomo is wrong again – additional hydro power does exist that could replace the power generated by Indian Point.

What about Gas? While it’s true that there is some reserve capacity of gas and oil power plants in the region, there are big reasons they don’t run all the time. These plants are either peaking generators built specifically to run during peak demand, or are very old power plants that are very polluting and inefficient. Many are designed to run on GAS or OIL so they can take advantage of the lowest cost commodity, and a more diverse supply system. But with oil between $80 and $100 per barrel, and gas also near record high prices, the cost of the electricity from these plants would be astronomical. One study estimated that NY electricity rates would increase by 25% if Indian Point was shutdown, but that analysis was done five years ago when both oil and gas cost a fraction of today’s prices. People in NY are already struggling with the costs of energy and have some of the highest per capita energy costs in the nation.

Also, in focusing on the cost, I’m completely ignoring the impact on air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. If Indian Point goes off line, the CO2 emissions for the entire state of NY will go up more than 20% - the equivalent of cutting down all the trees in an area 1.5 times larger than the Adirondack State Park. Look at a map of NY State and you’ll see what I’m talking about – ASP will be a large green area in north central NY that cover’s thousands of square miles. It takes two or three hours to drive across the park.

I’ve yet to mention the impact on grid reliability. The NYISO, the company that controls the grid and the flow of electricity around the state has set minimum reserve capacities below which the grid will become unstable. That minimum number is 18% in reserve, meaning they need 18% capacity idling in standby ready to pick up load if another unit trips off-line or if demand rises quickly. If Indian Point closes, the NYISO says the reserve margin will drop dangerously low to 11%. This would mean more frequent brown-outs and black-outs. So Cuomo is wrong again – GAS and OIL can not replace the power provided by Indian Point.

So either Cuomo is misinformed, or he’s bending the truth. I’m not sure which is more dangerous in an elected official who should know better. Spitzer and Cuomo both say Indian Point is unsafe, and they cite threats of terrorism and earthquakes as key concerns. In fact, Cuomo calls the terrorist threat “insurmountable”. Let’s examine their claims in some detail.

An overview of Seismic Design Criteria for Nuclear Plants

First the concern over earthquakes – nuclear plants are designed and built using seismic design criteria that is specific to the geology of the location where the plant is built. Scientists study the geology and the history of seismic activity of the location, and using that information they determine a maximum hypothetical earthquake that could happen. Then they look at the forces that the hypothetical earthquake would impart on the plant structures and components. Finally, they design the plant so that if the maximum hypothetical earthquake happens at the worst possible time in plant life, with other factors also being at their worst, any radioactivity that escapes will be within strict guidelines so that if a person is standing at the site boundary they will not have any health effects from the radiation.

Some additional conservatisms built into the design include assumptions that the earthquake happens when there are already the maximum number of fuel defects in the reactor, and the radioactivity in the reactor coolant is at its highest allowable. In reality, fuel defects are pretty rare, and typically the reactor coolant is thousands of times less radioactive than the maximum allowable. The design also assumes the containment is leaking at the maximum allowable rate – again, normally containment leakage is virtually zero – an amazing fact in itself when you consider the size of containment buildings!

So, when you consider all this conservatism and rigor that’s put into the seismic design of nuclear plants, it is not surprising that the Kashiwazaki nuclear plant in Japan faired so well even in the face of a devastating earthquake. Indian Point is no different. In fact, Indian Point has some additional systems that provide the operators with an enhanced ability to monitor containment leakage and ensure it remains leak tight if there’s an event.

Cuomo cites the Japanese event and said the plant’s shutdown plant during the earthquake was evidence that nuclear plants are unsafe. He’s so far off the truth it isn’t funny – exactly the opposite is true! Nuclear plants are designed to shut down either automatically or through operator action if there is a severe earthquake. The plant reacted exactly as designed. If that plant HAD NOT shut down, THEN there would be some real concern!

The Nuclear Plant Terrorism Non-Threat

Now let’s examine the terrorist threat. A nuclear plant is a hardened industrial complex protected by elaborate redundant security systems and a highly skilled and trained security force. I am not going to talk details of what those systems are, because that kind of information is considered confidential. I will tell you this – Indian Point has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in security system enhancements since the Sept 11 terrorist attacks. When you spend the kind of many they have, you can get some pretty effective protection! Indian Point also has a security force full of very tough, dedicated, hard working people. They are highly trained and motivated. I have seen them in action in what we call “force-on-force” exercises – mock invasions by independent teams of former green berets and Special Forces soldiers. The Indian Point security force is impressive! And don’t you think terrorists know that? Do you think they’d pick a target like a nuclear plant when there are so many soft targets that are unprotected and can cause so much more loss of life? And if there were stupid enough to try, they’d be dead long before they could cause reactor damage!

The same applies to air attacks – nuclear fuel is protected by three barriers – the cladding, the reactor system, and the containment system. All three barriers are incredibly robust and structurally fortified. After all, they have to be able to withstand the maximum hypothetical earthquake, right? In order for anyone to be injured by a radioactive release from a terrorist event, all three barriers have to be penetrated, PLUS all three redundant reactor cooling systems would have to be destroyed. A Sept 11 style attack on a nuclear plant by a large commercial aircraft simply would not cause that to happen. In fact, it’s most likely that not even one of the three barriers would be penetrated.

So Spitzer and Cuomo are wrong again. Indian Point is safe. Earthquakes and hypothetical terrorist acts do not represent risks to the public.

Cuomo predicts a long and protracted legal battle, and that’s exactly what he wants. What better way to keep his name in the press for months and maybe years on end! Remember, he wants to be Governor and he needs to build his reputation as the ultimate protector of his voting public. He knows he’ll lose the battle, but for him it’s a win-win scenario regardless of the outcome!

Spitzer is in the same boat. His first year in office has been a disaster – he’s managed to alienate both political parties in power. As a result he has been unable to deliver on any meaningful campaign promise, and is thus losing the support of the special interests that helped him get elected him to office. He is also under investigation for misuse of state resources. He badly needs a media distraction. What better way to get the media heat off of him than to shift it to Indian Point.

A summary of Anti-IPEC legislations proposed by Hillary

You would not expect Hillary Clinton to pass up this opportunity to get her name in the news, either. On Friday she released a statement that added zero value – it was simply a regurgitation of her repetitive calls for an Independent Safety Assessment at Indian Point. She claims that Indian Point’s safety issues are unique and fall outside the bounds of the on-going regulatory process. That could not be farther from the truth; on both technical and legal grounds there is no basis for an ISA at Indian Point. She cites areas of concern in emergency preparedness and the NRC’s oversight of the plant, both of which are the subject of continued regulation and congressional oversight. The fact is, Clinton recognizes that Indian Point has the law on their side and the anti-nuclear arguments posed by the state and Clinton’s office do not have a chance of succeeding under the current regulations and legal framework. That’s why she is working to change the laws in order to shut down Indian Point. Here are some examples:

Hillary forced provisions into the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that required Indian Point to install emergency warning sirens with redundant backup power sources and redundant and diverse actuation systems – something no other plant is required to do. In fact, the technology for that system was not yet mature nor ready for deployment in such a large geologically diverse area. That caused multiple delays in getting the system up and running as the plant had to do what was essentially research and development and many resultant modifications on the system until it would function as intended.

Hillary sponsored a bill in the US Senate that would take funds that result from fines levied on Indian Point and distribute those funds to the surrounding counties. That would, in essence, give the counties on-going economic incentive to oppose Indian Point in the hopes that the NRC would levy fines be income for the counties. Forget the fact that Indian Point already spends millions of dollars in taxes and in direct payments to support the emergency response infrastructure in the region.

Hillary also sponsored legislation to mandate an Independent Safety Assessment at the plant, something the NRC has repeatedly said in unnecessary because Indian Point’s performance is good and the plant is being operated safely.

I am all for changing nuclear regulations and energy policy as new information and knowledge is gained through sound research or operating experience. That’s not the case here. In fact, there’s a lot of research and experience that indicate the existing laws that govern nuclear plant design criteria may be unnecessarily strict. For example, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests the linear approximations used in estimating the health effects of low level radiation actually grossly over-state the risks. The radiation exposure guidelines and plant design criteria that follow as a result of those inflated health risks add billions of dollars in the cost of building and operating nuclear plants around the world.

If Hillary’s proposals were to be passed, the new laws would impose costs and restrictions without ANY added benefit to the public. If that were to happen, in the end who do you think will bear the cost? You got it! The tax payers in New York and the electricity rate payers all around the northeast USA.

Cuomo’s claim that Indian Point’s critics finally have a “critical mass” is further evidence that he misunderstands even the most basic scientific facts underlying nuclear energy. A critical mass implies a self-sustaining chain reaction which will continue to produce energy without continuous nudging from a catalyst. That’s certainly not the case here! What’s going on around Indian Point is more of a political spontaneous fission – a random bust of energy that quickly dissipates, but is predictable enough to know another will happen again soon when the instigators have an audience and a soap box to stand on.

I want to remind you that you can help support my podcast by doing some of your holiday shopping through my Amazon shopping page. Go to my web site at and click on the STORE tab– you’ll be taken to my Amazon store. From there you can click through to various Amazon categories or use the search box to find what you’re looking for. The prices are the same as when you go directly to and I get a small percentage of the total cost. Amazon referrals and Google advertisements on the web site help off-set some of the costs of producing and hosting the show, so thanks in advance for doing what you can to keep the show going.

Have a safe and happy week!

John Wheeler