Saturday, December 22, 2007

TWiN 53 - European Union Supports Nuclear Energy Expansion

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News this Week:
  • Bruce Power Enters Deal with Energy Alberta
  • The European Union Endorses Nuclear Energy
  • Canada Joins GNEP
  • Russia and USA are Resolving Uranium Trade Dispute
  • Russia delivers fuel to Bushehr Plant in Iran
  • India / USA Nuclear Deal Struggles
  • USA New Nuclear Developments
  • Rock Legend & Humanitarian Bob Geldof Endorses Nuclear Energy

Bruce Power Enters Deal with Energy Alberta

Bruce Power has reached an agreement to purchase assets of Energy Alberta, including exclusive rights to deploy the Advanced Candu Reactor (ACR-1000) design in Alberta. This is significant because Energy Alberta has already begun the process to obtain a permit to build two new ACR-1000 units at the Peace River site. Now Bruce Energy will take over that project, and will have the rights for other future new nuclear plants in the province. The proposed two unit plant would provide energy to the tar sands oil extraction projects in the area. Alberta is expected to need about 5000 MWe of new electricity production by the year 2016.

Bruce Power owns and operates the Bruce nuclear plant in Ontario – that site consists of two “four-packs” as they’re referred to in Canada – two four-unit CANDU reactors. Six of the eight units are in operation, and the other two are undergoing an extensive upgrade and will restart in the future. I spent a few weeks at the Bruce B station several years ago and was impressed by the technology.

It’s hard for those of us who are accustomed to operating single unit or two-unit nuclear plants to envision a common control room for four reactor plants. The control room is huge – about ½ the size of a basketball court. If I recall correctly it’s a six sided room – one side for each reactor, and one side for the common systems, and the back side is the shift manager’s office. There’s also a center island for the refueling station. CANDU reactors have a unique ability to refuel on line, and the center island refuel station is where that process is controlled.

Bruce Power will now begin the process of conducting a full environmental assessment of the Peace River site for the potential new nuclear units. The company also intends to work with the Canadian Hydrogen Association to study the potential of converting electricity generated by nuclear reactors during off-peak hours into hydrogen. A similar study is being conducted at the Bruce nuclear power plant.

The European Union Endorses Nuclear Energy

The European Union has finally come to its senses and endorsed the expansion of nuclear energy as one of the strategies that will help them protect the environment, minimize greenhouse gas emissions, and improve energy security. There’s recognition that at present Europe is highly dependent on Russian gas for heat and electricity, something that gives Russia an unhealthy about of political leverage in the region, so anything they can do to reduce their reliance on gas is a good idea for political autonomy as well.

The report predicted that on current trends, the EU will import 65% of its energy by 2030. Yet, gas and oil supplies are plagued by uncertainty due to growing worldwide demand and geopolitical instability in supplier states.
European energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs said that "It will be difficult... to achieve our climate change goals without the use of nuclear energy." The endorsement was contained in a report titled, Conventional Energy Sources and Energy Technology, which was adopted with 509 votes in favor, 153 against and 30 abstentions.

The endorsement acknowledging that nuclear energy is a key component of the energy supply in most EU member states and provides one third of the EU's electricity. The report also states nuclear energy is "indispensable if basic energy needs are to be met in Europe in the medium term." Given that "nuclear energy is currently the largest low-carbon dioxide energy source in Europe," they added, "the renunciation of nuclear power will make it impossible to achieve the objectives set regarding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the combating of climate change".

I wonder what the green party has to say about that?

Canada Joins GNEP

Canada announced they intend to join the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, an important step in securing future uranium supplies for GNEP members.
The GNEP vision is to have a consortium of nuclear supplier countries providing standardized reactors to client states along with assured supplies of nuclear fuel. After use, GNEP reactor used fuel would be returned to a supplier state for reprocessing, recycling of recovered materials, the destruction of some wastes in advanced power reactors and final disposal.

Membership already includes Australia, Bulgaria, China, France, Ghana, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States. Canada’s buy-in was important because they are a leading supplier of the world’s uranium.

Russia and USA are Resolving Uranium Trade Dispute

You may recall a story I covered some time ago about accusations by the US Depart of Commerce that Russia was “dumping” uranium onto the market in an effort to undercut US supplier USEC, drive prices down and acquire market share. It seems that the two nations are on the verge of reaching at least an interim agreement on how much enriched uranium may be imported from Russia into the USA.

At the center of the dispute is the desire by USEC to protect its investment in enrichment capability, and the USA’s need to develop nuclear fuel production capacity to meet future demands. Much of the fuel that USEC currently sells is under the terms of the 'Megatons to Megawatts' program. This uranium blended down Russian highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and not enriched in the USA. However, with the agreement due to end in 2013, and the possible relaxation of current stringent limits on imports of Russian-enriched uranium into the USA, USEC will inevitably face increased competition from overseas. USEC said last month that US utilities' use of very cheap Russian enrichment capacity would be a "significant threat to the ability of the US enrichment industry to deploy new production capacity." USEC itself is currently working hard to do just that, as it constructs the Lead Cascade of its American Centrifuge facility, while others build new US enrichment capacity based on proven Urenco centrifuge technology.

At the heart of the new agreement is an October ruling by the US Court of International Trade (CIT) that declared that uranium enrichment is a “service” and not a “product.” That decision forced the DOC to re-examine its case for import duties placed on uranium enrichment carried out in Russia. Any future trade barriers will not be allowed to rely on uranium enrichment. At present, import duties are imposed on low-enriched uranium imported from Russia and the former Soviet states of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The proposed amendment will allow Russia to recommence exporting uranium products to the USA. The amounts allowed will ramp up from16.5K kgU in 2011 to 41.3K kgU in 2013 when the 'Megatons to Megawatts' program is due to expire. Quantities will rise after 2013, increasing from 485K kgU in 2014 to 514.7K kgU in 2020. The amendment exempts Russian uranium imported for US initial cores (the first fuel loaded into a new reactor) from the annual export limits. Under the 'Megatons to Megawatts' program, ex-military enriched uranium from Russia is diluted to reactor grade, sold to USEC and used by US nuclear utilities.

Many people don't realize that for the last several years 1/2 of the fuel used in generating 20% of the USA's electricity has come from "burning" uranium from former nuclear warheads! That means 10% of the nation's electricity has come from getting rid of old weapons. That continues to amaze me!

Russia Begins Fuel Delivery to Bushehr Plant in Iran

This week Russia delivered the first shipment of fuel to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant. This is a commercial nuclear plant that has been under construction for more than a decade. I’ve talked about that project a few times in the show, going back to Episode 33. This is a nuclear power plant designed to produce electricity, not weapons. The most recent delay was due to a payment dispute between the two nations. Iran reports the plant should be ready to begin commercial operation in about one year.

India / USA Nuclear Deal Struggles

Political disagreements inside India continue to plague the treaty between India and the USA that will open the door to commercial nuclear cooperation between the two nations. The main opposition is coming from the communist party in India who claim they are trying to protect Indian’s poor from ruthless foreign influence from the United States.

The supporters of the deal have a different opinion; they claim the communist party is engaging in political obstructionism to prevent closer ties with the US at the expense of the same underclass they claim to represent. They also claim that the communist party is afraid the deal will strengthen economic ties with the US which, in turn, will weaken China’s influence in India.

The communist party in India has enough seats in the Parliament to block the deal, so unless a compromise can be reached the deal will die.

I really hope the politicians on both continents can work together to make this deal come to fruition. India badly needs energy to feed their billions, grow their economy, and raise the standard of living of their underclass. They will get the energy somewhere, and it is in everyone’s best interests to make that energy source clean, low cost, and safe. Russia, China and other nations are wasting no time establishing relationships to build nuclear plants in India, and to supply them with fuel. India already has an impressive home-grown nuclear industry, but it is not big enough to build the number of plants they need quickly enough.

New Nuclear Developments

This week there have been a number of developments in plans for new nuclear power plants in the United States:

MidAmerica Energy Holdings announced they are exploring the possibility of building a new nuclear plant in Idaho. MidAmerica is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the investment company led by investor Warren Buffet. The new plant would be located on the western Idaho border near Oregon. This is the second company actively considering a new nuclear plant in the region; I’ve spoken in the past about the Alternate Energy Holdings project to build a nuclear plant near Burneau, ID.

PPL, or Pennsylvania Power & Light notified the NRC they plan to file for a construction and operating license for a new nuclear unit that will be located at their Susquehanna site in Berwick, PA where they already have two reactors. PPL also announced they have signed a deal with Unistar to provide an EPR reactor for that project.

And Exelon announced they have selected a site near Victoria, TX for a new nuclear plant. That site is about 130 miles SW of Houston.

Rock Legend & Humanitarian Bob Geldof Endorses Nuclear Energy

The anti-nukes have Alex Baldwin and John Hall, but the tide may turning in the entertainment industry as actors, and musicians become more vocal in their support of nuclear energy. A few months ago I reported on positive remarks made by actor Paul Neumann after his tour of the Indian Point Nuclear Plant in New York. Now Rock Legend and Nobel Peace Honoree Sir Bob Geldof is speaking out in favor of expanding nuclear energy’s role in powering the United Kingdom.

Sir Bob wrote in a blog last week that “…to really help the planet we have to go nuclear, fast.” When referring to the potential of new nuclear plants being built in the UK to meet energy demand he added, “I don’t care what anyone says: we’re going to go with it, big time!”

Sir Bob Geldof, formerly of the rock group “The Boomtown Rats” became famous for his humanitarian efforts to bring aid to millions of famine victims in Ethiopia and the 1984 Live Aid concert. In 2005 he was voted a Nobel Man of Peace by all living Nobel Prize recipients.

I know I’m dating myself, but there was a time when I was a big fan of the “Boomtown Rats.” I have no idea where my old “Rats” CDs are, so this news inspired me to me go out and buy an albums on You can do the same: here's a link to the Best of the Boomtown Rats album!

Ways to listen to “This Week in Nuclear” - instruction on the web site:

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Be sure to stop by the web site at . I’ve had a few days off this week and took the opportunity to update the web site and fix a few broken links. At the site you can listen to any prior podcast episodes, read show transcripts, search old shows by key word, and do some last minute holiday shopping.

In just a few days I’ll be celebrating the beginning of my third year producing “This Week in Nuclear”. I know there are a few of you listeners out there who have been supporting the show since the beginning, and I owe you all immense appreciation and a huge “thanks” for your support, encouragement, and participation in the on-line dialog that makes the show fun and interesting.

To those of you celebrating this time of year, I wish you and your families a safe and HAPPY HOLIDAY!


John Wheeler

Monday, December 17, 2007

TWiN 52 - Anti-Nuclear Union of Concerned Scientists Releases Flawed Report

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In recent weeks as several companies and nations around the world have announced plans for new nuclear plants. This is causing a flurry of anti-nuclear propaganda as the opposition attempts to counter the positive momentum that's being created. I'm always reminded that there are an awful lot of people out there who make a living opposing nuclear plants, and these career anti-nukes must be having a fit right about now!

Then again, maybe they prefer it this way because it gives them another soapbox to stand on. And as long as the mainstream media gives them the opportunity, they'll keep taking it. One such group, the Union on Concerned Scientists is having a good week because they got loads of free publicity from a front page article on the USA Today news paper on Wednesday.

The headline was “A new era of nuclear power is beginning. How risky is it?” The article attempts to lead the leaders to the conclusion that nuclear plants are indeed too risky by including quote after quote from the UCS and other established anti-nuclear groups and politicians, while hardly mentioning the nuclear industry's impressive safety record, and low costs. There's also zero comparison to the safety and costs associated with other forms of base-load electricity.

The article was blantantly anti-nuclear, and one thing that struck me was the lack of homework the reporter did . There were so many factual errors in the report that it's obvious they got most of the material for the story straight from the UCS. Let me give you some examples:

The very first sentence of the story was outright incorrect. The story starts out with:

Nearly two years ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the operator of the Indian Point nuclear plant a year to add backup power supplies to the plant's emergency warning sirens . . . but still hasn't done the work at the plant 24 miles north of New York City.

This is completely false. The work is done and has been for months. In fact, the plant was ready to close the book on the modification when the federal government (FEMA) decided they needed more time to review the work. Although the government is still doing their review, the system is in place and is functioning as designed.

And the second sentence is misleading and inflammatory:

“At the Peach Bottom nuclear plant south of Harrisburg, Pa., security guards often took 15-minute "power naps," ...

The reporter wants you to believe that guards were sleeping while on patrol at a nuclear plant, but that's not he case. The guards in question were napping, and that was against company policy, but were doing so while on breaks in their break room. There was no safety concern.

And just a few lines down, yet another myth is perpetuated:

“Power companies are beginning to file applications to build up to 32 nuclear plants over the next 20 years, the first since the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania halted plans for new reactors...”

Economics caused the slowdown in new nuclear plant construction, not the TMI accident. In fact, more COAL plants were canceled than nuclear plants during the same period.

The report also says that even though security at nuclear plants was increased after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, reactors still aren't sufficiently protected against terrorist threats such as hijacked jets, and new reactors aren't being designed to be significantly safer than existing ones.

Both statements are false. While not specifically designed with a 9/11 style attack in mind, the robustness and reinforced structure and components in a nuclear plant can easily withstand the crash of a commercial jetliner into the containment without danger to the public of a reactor accident. Also, new designs that rely on passive safety systems instead of “active” systems are more than 10 times safer than current designs.

Here's another factual error...the article states that AT LEAST 4000 deaths will occur among Chernobyl survivors due to their exposure to radiation.

Paul Davidson got that wrong again. According to the World Health Organization, the number is “UP TO 4000” people. Again, the anti-nuclear bias shows through here.

In fact, although the WHO says that studies indicate those deaths are POSSIBLE, they also acknowledge that in the more than 20 years since the accident there have been:

  • No evidence or likelihood of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found.
  • No evidence of increases in congenital malformations that can be attributed to radiation exposure.
  • Most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas received relatively low whole body radiation doses, comparable to natural background levels.
  • No negative health impacts to the rest of the population in surrounding areas.
  • No widespread contamination that would continue to pose a substantial threat to human health.
  • No increase in radiation-induced cancer and leukemia deaths among emergency workers.
The WHO says fewer than 50 people died as a direct result of the accident – mostly plants workers and fire fighters. In addition there were nine people who died from untreated thyroid cancer they acquired from being exposed to the radioactive iodine gas that was released during the event. These deaths are tragic and regrettable, and are the result of an irresponsible social and political system that built a nuclear reactor without a containment, operated the reactor outside it's design envelope, caused it to catch on fire, then failed to notify people who were in the path of the smoke for several days. This can not and would not happen anywhere in the world today, and certainly could not happen in the USA. Let's get real! The deaths from the single worst nuclear disaster pale in comparison to the people who die EVERY YEAR from activity that supports other forms of electricity generation!

Every human endeavor imparts some amount of risk, including the generation of electricity and other forms of energy. The deaths from the coal fuel cycle, the source of 50% of our electricity, are staggering – more than 5000 coal miners die around the world each year, and more than 24,000 premature deaths from air pollution in the USA alone each year. If the climate change people are right, the cost in human life could be an order of magnitude higher.
Articles like the one in the USA Today newspaper do us a great disservice. The news media has a responsibility to INFORM the public, but when the information presented is wrong, biased, or leaves out important facts they are violating the trust placed in them.

Here are some facts ignored by USA TODAY:

Electricity from Nuclear Energy ...
  • is much safer than coal (just look at the coal cycle death toll)
  • has carbon footprint about equal to wind energy
  • is far less costly than gas, oil, wind, or solar
  • helps reduce reliance on imported oil

Nuclear Power Plants . . .

  • do not cause particulate or chemical air pollution
  • do not contribute to acid rain
  • do not cause mercury in drinking water

Don't take my word for it, do some reading yourself. I recommend a great new book called “Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens. She's a former nuclear plant protester who shares her experience learning about nuclear energy.


John Wheeler