Chinese Spent Fuel Project Faces Massive Protests

In a totalitarian state, the presence of thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators in the streets for several days is not only a surprise, it also represents the deep unease people there have about a nuclear energy facility that hasn’t even broken ground.

A massive $15 billion effort to build a facility to make MOX fuel was last week the subject of protests involving thousands of people in the city of Lianyungang in Jiangsu Province located about 300 miles (480km) north of Shanghai (YouTube Video). The city is one of six potential sites for the spent fuel reprocessing center to be built in a partnership between China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) and Areva. The plant would be built based on the same technology used by Areva at a MOX fuel plant in France.

The demonstrators disregarded warnings from the government and police to stop. Protest groups flooded Chinese social media with anti-nuclear slogans. The protests in the streets and online stem from a growing unease over industrial pollution and other environmental issues linked in a part to corrupt practices.

The plan for the nuclear reprocessing facility site at this stage involves site selection and no decision has been made yet. Lianyungang city officials short-circuited a response from CNNC by telling the demonstrators they would not allow the plant to be built there.

The apparent loss of the site in Lianyungang does not mean the project is on the ropes. There are five other sites in other parts of the country still under consideration.  The other sites include locations in the provinces of Shandong, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, and Gansu. All have existing nuclear facilities and are located at coastal sites.

There are two Russian built VVER commercial nuclear reactors at the Tainwan power station in Lianyungang. Two more units are under construction which will be commissioned in 2018 and there are plans on paper to add yet two more units to them. Their presence does not seem to have been a factor in the protests.

Legacy of the Tainjin Explosion

The protests in Lianyungang occurred on the anniversary of a massive chemical explosion that took place at the Ruihai International Chemical warehouse in the city of Tainjin on August 12, 2015. A reported 173 people were killed and over 800 injured by the blast caused by hundreds of tons of dangerous chemicals illegally stored in the warehouse.  The subsequent investigation revealed a complex web of corruption, negligence, lax regulatory oversight, and poor emergency responses services.

Cleanup of the site has stalled due to the complex and toxic nature of the residual chemicals and their combustion byproducts. An estimated 470,000 cubic meters of material needs to be removed from the site, but there are few places to put it.

This is not the first time protests in China have led to reconsideration of a proposal for a new nuclear facility.  In 2013 protests erupted involving over 1,000 people over plans to build a commercial nuclear fuel plant in Heshan in Guangdong province resulted in the government cancelling that particular site but with plans to relocate it. Coincidentally, the nuclear fuel plant that was the subject of these protests includes planned production of commercial fuel assemblies for the VVER units at Lianyungang.

Scope of the MOX Fuel Facility Operation

The initial plan for the reprocessing plant was first set in motion in 2007 as part of a deal that also resulted in Areva building two 1650 MW EPR reactors in Taishan, China, just west of Hong Kong. Once a site is selected for the reprocessing facility, construction of the 800 tonne per year plant is suppose to start in 2020 and be completed by 2030.

Technical details about the plant are more or less complete. During a visit to France in June 2015, China’s premier Li Keqiang called for financial and contractual details to be completed by the end of this year. The La Hague, France, MOX plant, on which the 800 tonne per year Chinese plant will be based, is much larger and is capable of handling 2,700 tonnes per year.

As a practical matter, the 800 tonne per year plant is not going to, in the short term, make a serious dent in the inventory of spent nuclear fuel in China.  By 2020 China is expected to have 12,300 tonnes of spent fuel in mostly wet storage though there is some ongoing transition to dry casks.

With a service life of about 60 years, the plant could handle at least 40,000-50,000 tonnes of spent fuel. However, China has ambitious plans to build more nuclear power plants which will significantly increase the amount of spent fuel it will have to manage as part of its policy of re-using the fuel.

Within the first ten years of operation, by 2040, a second reprocessing plant with at least the same capacity would have to be built to handle the load.  In the meantime, China may decide to move its spent fuel from wet storage at reactors to an interim site involving dry casks mostly likely located near the first MOX plant.

According to the World Nuclear Association, mainland China has 34 nuclear power reactors in operation, 20 under construction, and more about to start construction. Additional reactors are planned, including some of the world’s most advanced, to give a doubling of nuclear capacity to at least 58 GWe by 2020-21, then up to 150 GWe by 2030, and much more by 2050.

Technical Staff Shortages are a Growing Problem for China’s Ambitious Nuclear Energy Plans

An English language report published in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) last week indicates that China has an acute shortage of experienced nuclear plant technical staff and that the problem will get worse before it gets better.

The SCMP report cites a Chinese language report in China Business News which quotes Prof. Ai Deshang, Dean of Graduate Programs, in the Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology, at Tsinghua University, who says China will need 30,000 to 40,000 trained nuclear technicians by the end of the 2020s, but that currently the nation’s universities are only capable of graduating a few hundred individuals per year.

The China Business News report also quotes  He Yu, President of China General Nuclear (CGN) who said that China plans to build over 100 new reactors by 2030 to meet energy needs and to reduce pollution from coal fired power plants. Staffing of there new reactors will required 50,000 to 80,000 trained staff.

The extraordinary pressures on existing experienced reactor staffs are also cited in the report indicating that in at least one instance self-reporting of safety incidents were covered up.  A March 2015 pump failure at the Yangiiang Nuclear Power Station in Guangdong province was not made public until May 2016. The environmental ministry reportedly cited four plant operators over the incident.

A spokesman for CGN, which owns and operates the plant, said that it only found out about the failed pump during a inspection which took place this year.

The power station is composed of four CPR-1000 reactors three of which have been commissioned and a fourth unit that will come online in 2017. Construction of units 5 & 6, which are slated to be the new Hualong One 1000 MW PWRs, is set to start in 2018.

The lack of skilled staff may also impact China’s plans to export its nuclear reactors. China has a pending deal with Argentina to build its new Hualong One reactor there and another deal, which is under review in the UK, to build up to three of them at the Bradwell site near London.

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Nuclear News Roundup for August 13, 2016

May Urged to Pull the Plug on Hinkley Point Due to US Espionage Case

(Guardian) UK Prime Minister Theresa May is being urged to pull the plug on the controversial Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor project after being made aware of allegations of spying in the US by a consultant working for the Chinese co-investor in the planned nuclear plant. The federal criminal case was filed against a US nuclear engineer in Tennessee last April.

Anti-nuclear groups are playing up the US case which names a Chinese state-owned nuclear firm as allegedly having paid for economic espionage in the US to acquire information on nuclear reactor technology especially advanced nuclear fuels. The Guardian newspaper has run a series of alarmist news articles about security concerns.

Angus MacNeil MP, the chair of the energy and climate change select committee, told the newspaper the spying allegations raised grave concerns about corporate integrity and must form a key part of the government’s current review of Hinkley.

“I am not sure the Chinese have anything to steal from Britain in the way of nuclear secrets. That is after all why they are being brought in, but it does raise questions about how honorable the company is and whether it could cut corners on construction methods and issues like that.”

The Hinkley Point project will consist of two Areva EPRs. Since the French nuclear giant is completing two EPRs in China, it means that country’s state-owned nuclear firms probably know everything they will ever want to learn about the huge 1650 MW reactors.

The security issue thus is not so much about the technology going into the Hinkley Project, but whether the significant financial positions and the procurement of major components for the Hinkley and Bradwell power stations from Chinese firms opens the door to other vulnerabilities. At Bradwell CGN will put up two-thirds of the funding needed to pay for the project. EDF will put up the other third. Both power stations involve commitments by the UK government to source some components for the reactors from Chinese firms.

Paul Dorfman, a senior research fellow at University College London, told the Guardian there had already been endless concern and discussion between strategic defense experts in London about the wisdom of allowing China to invest in UK nuclear projects, and not just Hinkley.

He said China “has and always will play economic hardball.” He called Hinkley “a loss-leader for Bradwell.”

“The deal was, if China invested in Hinkley, then it could build and run its own reactor at Bradwell.”

“Now the idea of China investing in Hinkley, then constructing and operating a reactor on British soil is really beginning to look like a Anglo-Sino bridge too far.”

Dorfman said the British prime minister could legitimately blame poor construction management of French reactor technology if she wanted to save face with the Chinese. Two EPRs under construction in Finland and France are significantly over budget and behind schedule.

  • US Espionage Case and the Hualong One

The work scope involved in the US espionage case was reported by the Bloomberg wire service to include information on fuel reliability for design of a new nuclear reactor which may have been the now completed design of CGN’s 1000 MW Hualong One PWR reactor.

The strategic importance of the reactor to CGN is that it is the core technology of China’s efforts to compete in global markets for new reactor deals going head-to-head with Westinghouse, Areva, and Rosatom. CGN and the China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) have recently set up a joint venture to export the Hualong One with plans to build at 30 of them in Asia and Europe.

Both firms are in negotiations with the UK for permission to build two of the reactors at the Bradwell site in the UK in return for their separate equity investments in the Hinkley Point reactor project. The agreement was signed by British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to the UK last October.

The Hualong One reactor would have to pass a review by the UK Generic Design Assessment and be approved for construction and operation in that country. The UK agreement with China includes support to “facilitate” the approval of the Hualong One through the demanding review.

The new UK government is currently in the middle of a review of the £18.5bn Hinkley project following a final investment decision by the developers, EDF of France, and its Beijing-based partner China General Nuclear Power (CGN). PM May delayed her decision on the reactor pending a six-to-eight week review of the project.

Chinese Nuclear Firm Wins Option to Bid on UK SMRs

(Guardian) China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is on government list of preferred bidders for development funding for next-generation small modular reactors.

CNNC is listed twice in a government list of 33 projects and companies awarded eligibility to compete for a share in up to £250m to develop small modular reactors (SMR). The funding level is seen as “starter funds” for the projects. A winning bidder would have to raise the rest of the money to complete the projects from investors as well as using its own resources.

CNNC was not involved in the original Hinkley deal, but the company has agreed in principle to buy half of China’s 33% stake in the £24bn project if it goes ahead.

The Guardian reported that the list of companies accepted for the competition was published briefly, apparently accidentally, on the website of the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy before being deleted.

CNNC is listed along with US companies such as NuScale; British ones including Rolls-Royce, Sheffield Forgemasters and Tokamak Energy; Japanese-owned Westinghouse; and the US-Japanese partnership GE-Hitachi, as participants the government considers eligible for phase one of its competition.

The 33 participants will be whittled down in several phases, with the announcement of the eventual winners scheduled for late 2017.

Exelon to buy FitzPatrick nuclear plant from Entergy for $110M

(Platts) Exelon and Entergy have reached a deal for Exelon to buy the 849 MW FitzPatrick nuclear plant from Entergy for $110 million. The purchase agreement will likely prevent the permanent shutdown of Fitzpatrick in January 2017.

The agreement contains provisions that could void the sale. A lot depends on the actions of the New York Public Service Commission to create what is called a “zero emissions credit” (ZEFC) for the plant. The ZEC is an agreement to buy power to ensure the continued operation of an electricity generator. The ZEC sets a price to buy power that may be above prevailing rates to provide financial support to a power generator and to give it credit for not emitting any CO2.

Platts described the check on the deal. It is that it “will automatically terminate on November 23, 2016, if certain conditions are not satisfied by November 17, 2016.” These include “the continued effectiveness of the order” the New York Public Service Commission issued August 1 creating a zero-emissions credit, according to Entergy’s 8-K filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The FitzPatrick sales and license transfer also is contingent “upon regulatory review and approval by state and federal agencies,” including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the US Department of Justice, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the New York State Public Service Commission. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2017. If nothing else the lawyers for all concerned will reap a windfall in fees.

Entergy earlier this year said it planned to permanently shut FitzPatrick in January, rather than refuel it, saying the unit could not be operated profitably in the upstate New York market.

In addition, Entergy’s SEC filing said that if prior to refueling of FitzPatrick any condition in the sale agreement “is overturned, reversed or enjoined, either buyer or [Entergy] can terminate the purchase.”

Glenrock Associates analyst Paul Patterson told Platts in an email that “the FitzPatrick sale announcement appears to provide tangible evidence that New York’s sizeable nuclear subsidy has substantially changed the economic prospects for some of the upstate nuclear plants.”

“It would also not surprise me, given the outcome in New York,” Patterson said, “if merchant nuclear operators in other states attempt to get similar treatment for their plants.”

CEO Of GEH Calls For Support For Advanced Reactor Designs

(NucNet): GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) CEO Jay Wileman has called for business leaders, elected officials and the federal government to work together to help support the commercialization of advanced nuclear reactor technology.

GEH is developing the PRISM advanced reactor which is based on the Integral Fast Reactor design developed at the Argonne National Laboratory site in Idaho. It has been proposed to be used by the UK nuclear cleanup program to dispose of surplus plutonium in that country.

Prism is a modular, sodium-cooled fast-reactor design with a maximum electrical output of 311 MW. It uses plutonium and uranium recycled from used nuclear fuel to generate electricity.

Wileman said, “We are seeing significant global opportunities for our Prism advanced reactor technology, but in order for us to move forward, we must gain the support of the federal government on specific developmental milestone projects.”

Mr Wileman’s comments reportedly came during an Aspen Institute panel on the future of nuclear energy. Their release by GEH is unusual since the proceedings of these think tank type sessions are not always published due to the sometimes frank nature of the discussions that take place there.

A draft report recently issued by the US Department of Energy said that by 2050 “advanced reactors will provide a significant and growing component of the nuclear energy mix both domestically and globally, due to their advantages in terms of improved safety, cost, performance, sustainability, and reduced proliferation risk”.

South Africa Wants 50% Local Content For New Nuclear Plants

(NucNet): The South African government is looking at securing a local content level of 50% in the country’s proposed new nuclear power plant program. South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) chairman Kelvin Kemm told a press briefing that for the existing Koeberg nuclear station there was no localization requirement, but 43% was achieved.

All of the firms planning to bid on the massive tender have developed ties with South African firms via agreements in principle in advance of the localization requirements expected to be in the procurement notice.

Regarding the cost of the new program, the utility still officially intends to construct 9.6 GW of new nuclear generating capacity. He said the most detailed analyses undertaken had indicated it would be around $47bn (€42bn), significantly lower than figures of around $80bn previously reported in local media.

This works out to just under $5K/MW which is a very competitive number given current global trends.

“We’re not going to buy these nuclear plants all at once,” said Necsa chief executive officer Phumzile Tshelane at the same briefing.

“By the end of the program you’ll find that the program is funding itself.”

The program should see the construction of three new plants with a total – depending on the design chosen – of six to nine reactors. By the time construction of the third plant began, the first would be operational and generating income. This income stream from the first NPP could be used as collateral to refinance the program reducing its costs, Mr Tshelane said.

Turkey’s Akkuyu NPP to be fast tracked

(Nuc Eng Intl) Turkey is ready to give a special status to the Akkuyu NPP construction project, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following his talks with President of Russia Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 9 August. The Intergovernmental agreement between Russia and Turkey on cooperation in the construction and operation the NPP was signed in 2010. The project is the first Turkish NPP and comprises four 1,200MWe VVER reactors. The cost of the project was reported to be approximately $20bn.

The project stalled after relations between Turkey and Russia soured due to Turkey shooting down a Russian jet fighter in actions over neighboring Syria. More recently Erdogan survived an aborted military coup attempt and has since then been working to mend diplomatic fences with his neighbors.

Companies move forward on nuclear waste storage in Carlsbad

(Santa Fe New Mexican) Efforts to build a temporary nuclear waste storage facility in New Mexico are moving forward after a Denver-based company relinquished its rights to the land. The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that Holtec International and Eddy Lea Energy Alliance are partnering to create storage for spent nuclear fuel rods from power plants across the country.

Intrepid Potash gave up its mineral rights lease to land near Carlsbad, saying it likely won’t be in a position to mine for potassium-containing salts there for several years.

Program Director Ed Mayer says the HI-STORE Consolidated Interim Storage project is expected to cost more than $1 billion and provide about 200 construction and operations jobs.

Holtec will propose the project to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March. The approval process takes two to three years.

A competing proposal for interim storage of spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors is moving forward supported by Areva and Waste Control Specialists. The firms are looking at a site in Andrews, TX, which is already the site of disposal facility for low level radioactive waste.

Both the site in New Mexico and the one in Texas are geologically stable and bone dry in terms of groundwater.

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Utah Utility Selects Idaho Site for NuScale SMR

The first customer for a small modular reactor (SMR) in the U.S. has selected a site located about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID, for construction of a 50 MW unit.

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) announced this week that the firm had chosen a preferred site within the boundaries of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Doug Hunter, CEO of UAMPS, made the announcement at the Intermountain Energy Summit being held in Idaho Falls.

The 35-acre site is located about six miles south of the Lost River Rest Stop west of the intersection of U.S. Highways 20 & 26 and due north of EBR-1 where atomic energy was first used to generate electricity in December 1951.

The site is geologically stable and far enough away from other facilities at the INL that it will not impact their operation.  The INL encompasses an area of 890 square miles.

The entire facility will eventually include up to 12 50 MW SMRs, turbines, storage for spent nuclear fuel, administrative offices, and transportation access. A rail line from Blackfoot, ID, to the INL may be developed further to support delivery of large reactor components. Officials in Idaho Falls said in a press statement the project could create over 1,000 jobs.

Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Energy issued a permit to UAMPS as part of the site selection process. The permit opened the door to the utility to evaluate the alternative locations and make a decision to eventually build on one of them.

At the same conference, Mike McGough, Chief Commercial Officer for NuScale, said that the firm is “nearly ready” to submit its SMR for design certification by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The company has said previously that it expects the application to be delivered to the agency by late 2016. That process will take three-to-four years after which, if successful, UAMPS will apply to the NRC for a COL to build and operate the reactors.

UAMPS sells electricity at the wholesale level to utilities in seven western states. It formed the partnership with NuScale in 2013.

Court Orders DOE to Provide Documents on Nuclear Waste Shipments

A federal judge has ordered the Department of Energy (DOE) to let the court examine documents sought by former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus that describe shipments of spent nuclear fuel to the INL.  U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Winmill said the court will review the documents to determine if they can be released for public review.

Andrus, a long time arch foe of nuclear spent fuel R&D at the INL, had sought the documents under a Freedom of Information Act request. However, DOE delivered papers with most of the information blacked out.

Andrus is seeking information on several proposed small shipments of spent nuclear fuel that DOE wants to send to the INL for R&D evaluation. The shipments would require a waiver of the 1995 Settlement Agreement which sets terms for progress on cleanup of nuclear waste at the INL.

Andrus has argued that no waiver can be granted until DOE can make progress with its Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTW) that is supposed to turn about 1 million gallons of liquid nuclear waste into dry powder which can then be shipped to a geologic repository in New Mexico.

Work began on the IWTU in 2005 at an estimated cost of about $160M. Since then costs have escalated to almost $600M and the technology is getting a review by a new site contractor, who took over this year, to find a way to make it work.

Andrus filed the lawsuit when he got a pile of paper from DOE with black magic marker streaks instead of the information he wanted from the agency. He claims that granting the waiver would allow DOE to use the INL as an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s commercial reactors which are storing 77,000 tons  of spent fuel.

In blunt language, Andrus told the Associated Press (AP) this past week that he is suspicious of the DOE’s intentions.

“We have to know what’s going on,” Andrus said. “Their stonewalling and reluctance lends credence to my suspicion. That’s all I have right now — a strong suspicion backed up by a history of an agency that has run roughshod over the public for way too many years.”

AP reported that the Energy Department argues that the information can’t be made public because it involves internal communications that fall under an exemption to the act. The agency also cited attorney work-product privilege, and attorney-client privilege.

Winmill in his 29-page ruling said the Energy Department’s explanation for blacking out pages of documents didn’t say whether the redactions “buried information relating to substantive policy about the transport and storage of large quantities of potentially dangerous nuclear waste, disclosure of which may very well be in the public’s interest.”

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has refused to sign a waiver for shipment of the spent fuel. Earlier this year DOE diverted the first shipment from INL to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and also sent the R&D money to evaluate it to that lab. A second shipment is pending. DOE says it wants an evaluation of “high-burnup” fuel by the INL which is why it scheduled the shipments.

INL GAIN Names Westinghouse Executive to Run the Program

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced this week that Rita Baranwal is the new director for the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program (press release). Baranwal was Director of Technology Development at Westinghouse. Baranwal brings deep private sector experience to GAIN’s mission of driving advanced nuclear toward commercialization in domestic and global markets.Baranwal takes over a program that is a bright star in the government’s efforts to promote advanced nuclear technologies. Recent accomplishments include.

  • Granted funding for two reactor design teams, X-energy and Southern Company/TerraPower, with a multi-year cost share of up to $40 million for each company.
  • Awarded eight Small Business Voucher awards that provide national laboratory support to advanced reactor developers. Some of these vouchers went to small companies who are part of the growing advanced nuclear supply chain.
  • Funded eight advanced nuclear companies as part of the 54 grants it made for the $16 Million “Projects to Help Commercialize Promising Energy Technologies.” The eight nuclear projects will collaborate with important GAIN partners at Idaho National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The GAIN initiative, announced at a White House Summit in November 2015, was created to provide support for the nearly 50 advanced nuclear startups that have been established across the U.S.

Joshua Freed, a Vice President of the Third Way, a Washington, DC, think tank, wrote in a blog post that GAIN is also supporting the inaugural Nuclear Innovation Bootcamp at University of California, Berkeley. He wrote that the competitive educational program is aimed at helping young innovators develop nuclear-specific entrepreneurial skills.

Additionally, the bootcamp includes opportunities for nontechnical students with backgrounds in the arts, communications, policy, and international affairs to participate as well, opening the doors to groups who traditionally have not been a part of the workforce pipeline, but are now understood as having valuable expertise for the future of nuclear.

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What to Read About Nuclear Waste

It’s a big subject and the place to start is with the long history of books about how to dispose of spent nuclear fuel

owl-readingFirst, there are some conceptual issues including what kind of radioactive waste you are interested in.  The world of radioactive waste is also divided into civilian v. defense wastes the latter including classified types to avoid giving away nuclear weapons secrets.

Second, the waste forms are divided into spent fuel v. radioactive trash of all kinds including low level waste, greater than class C waste, contact handled v. non-contract handed, remote handled transuranic waste, etc. Then you also have mixed waste which is a witches brew of hazardous chemicals and radioactive materials.

Third, spent fuel itself is divided into ordinary spent fuel from commercial reactors, high-burnup fuel, also from commercial reactors, but enriched to 5% U235 rather than 3%. Add to that MOX fuel, uranium metal fuels, etc., research reactor spent fuel, and then add the US Navy spent fuel from its ships and submarines.

Navy spent fuel is stored at a special depot in Idaho where most of it has been moved from wet to dry storage. A federal settlement agreement requires it to be moved to a permanent geologic repository by 2035, but so far it has nowhere to go.

Over the past four decades, according to NEI, the entire commercial nuclear industry has produced close to 77,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel. It is stored at the reactors where it was generated by utilities. The NRC said in its waste confidence decision that this is a safe practice for at least the next 100 years or so.

In the US two firms are developing interim storage sites for spent nuclear fuel in the geologically stable and bone dry desert southwest of west Texas and south eastern New Mexico.

Fourth, international conventions for sorting nuclear waste into various categories for disposition falls into two broad forms – low level and high level, but the boundary between them is not fixed and different countries will manage their waste forms according to national standards.

Recommendations

In an email exchange with Sam Brinton, Senior Policy Analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC, he suggests that good a starting point to understand spent nuclear fuel is the Blue Ribbon Commission report which remains a useful volume. It is an excellent report and is accessible, for the most part, for people who have no technical background in nuclear energy.

Here is a brief summary.

BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON AMERICA’S NUCLEAR FUTURE
REPORT TO THE SECRETARY OF ENERGY

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC) was formed by the Secretary of Energy at the request of the President to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle and recommend a new strategy. It was cochaired by Rep. Lee H. Hamilton and Gen. Brent Scowcroft.

The Commission and its subcommittees met more than two dozen times between March 2010 and January 2012 to hear testimony from experts and stakeholders, to visit nuclear waste management facilities in the United States and abroad, and to discuss the issues identified in its Charter.

Additionally, in 2011, the Commission held five public meetings, in different regions of the country, to hear feedback on its draft report. A wide variety of organizations, interest groups, and individuals provided input to the Commission at these meetings and through the submission of written materials.

This report highlights the Commission’s findings and conclusions and presents recommendations for consideration by the Administration and Congress, as well as interested state, tribal and local governments, other stakeholders, and the public.

In 2016 the Department of Energy is pursuing a “consent based” approach to locating a site for final disposition for spent nuclear fuel.

Sam Brinton’s Informal Bibliography

Sam Brinton has compiled an informal bibliography of books and reports on nuclear waste with an emphasis on spent nuclear fuel that he hopes will help his work. He’s agreed to share it with readers of this blog with the caveat that doing so is neither an endorsement nor a recommendation for any of the books or their content.

Because of the size of the file, it is compiled as a Google Doc which you can download here. Alternatively, if your firewall blocks sharing of Google Docs, here is a link to a PDF file to download.

The bibliography lists the title, the author ID, the ISBN numbers and summary information including brief reviews where available. Please note that some of the volumes are very technical, but there are also books for generalists.  Prices of books are not listed as some are out of print and available via second hand book sellers depending condition. All of these books can be bought from online booksellers.

Comments with suggestions for additional readings are welcome. I will add them to the Google Docs file.

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Nuclear News Roundup for August 6, 2016

Duke Gets SER for AP1000 Reactors at William States Lee

(NucNet): There are no safety aspects that would preclude issuing the licenses for construction and operation of two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at Duke Energy’s William States Lee site in Cherokee County, South Carolina, says a final safety evaluation report (SER) by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC),

The NRC said its staff will provide the report and final environmental impact statement on the application to the Commission for the mandatory hearing phase of the licensing process, expected to take place later this year.

In that hearing, the Commission will examine whether the staff’s review supports the findings necessary to issue the licenses. Following the hearing, the Commission will vote on whether to authorize the staff to issue the licenses.

Duke Energy submitted its application for the William States Lee site in December 2007. The new units would be built on the site of Duke Power’s planned Cherokee nuclear station that was not built.

According to WNA Duke said in July 2013, when a delay in the site safety evaluation was announced, that it would maintain a target completion date for the new WSL power plant for some time in the 2020s. Assuming the project breaks ground as early as 2018, that would suggest a start-up date of about 2025-2027 for the 1st and 2nd reactor units in that order.

Georgia Power to Proceed with Early Site Work for New Nuclear Plant

(WNA) State regulators have approved a proposal by Georgia Power to spend up to $99 million on site investigation and licensing costs for a nuclear power plant at a new site at Stewart County in the south-west of the state. The work will be completed by early 2019.

Scope will include site suitability studies and developing a combined operating license (COL) application for the plant. Georgia Power will be required to file a status report on the project in its 2019 integrated resources plan (IRP).

Earlier this year, Georgia Power announced that preliminary work including geological and water studies had begun on a 7,000 acre site next to the Chattahoochee River, south of Columbus, Georgia.

The company said it had begun evaluating the Stewart County site to help to keep its future options open, having learned from experience with its Vogtle construction project that the process to obtain a COL alone can take up to seven years. CEO Paul Bowers said at the time a new plant would not be built until “sometime after 2030” at the earliest.

Commissioner Stan Wise, who proposed the motion to approve Georgia Power’s request, said:

“We’ve seen what happens when regulators do not make the tough decisions […] We see what happens when decisions are deferred, infrastructure crumbles and power is curtailed. We can debate the wisdom of the coal exodus but it must be replaced with something that is cost effective,” he said. “Nuclear power remains among the lowest cost energy source, with a 92% reliability rating and it is carbon free.”

The PSC also approved a revision to Georgia Power’s IRP to include an additional 1,600 MWe of renewable energy by 2021. PSC chair Chuck Eaton said the revised IRP “strikes the right balance between ensuring Georgia Power customers have reliable service and the right mix of resources”.

Another member of the five-man PSC, Tim Echols, emphasized his commitment to ensure a diverse, secure and clean energy supply while keeping rates low. “Adding renewables and nuclear together makes sense,” he said.

China’s CNEC Signs HTGR Agreements With Indonesia, South Africa

(NucNet): China Nuclear Engineering Corporation (CNEC), the Chinese nuclear power plant construction services company, has signed an agreement with the Indonesian government to develop high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGR) in Indonesia.

The agreement calls for both parties to cooperate to develop an Indonesian HTGR, and in training of the facility’s personnel, CNEC said.

China’s first commercial HTGR demonstration project is comprised of two pebble-bed units, a design known as HTR-PM. A unit is under construction in China at Shidaowan in Shandong province.

CNEC also said that it had signed a similar HTGR cooperation agreement with the South Africa Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa). That agreement targets projects and initiatives in the “localization and development” of HTGRs in South Africa.

CNNC Plans Merger of Hualong One Reactor Designs

(Bloomberg) China National Nuclear Corp. said its plan to merge two versions of the country’s leading reactor designs has won favor among nuclear experts, beating out a competing proposal by its partner China General Nuclear Power Corp.

China last year asked its two primary nuclear power operators to merge their competing designs for a domestically designed third-generation reactor, called the Hualong One. The companies jointly formed Hualong International in March to develop and export the home-grown design overseas.

The panel’s ruling showed that “integration of Hualong One technology has achieved substantial progress and laid a good foundation for exporting the technology to overseas markets,” CNNC Chairman Sun Qin said in the statement after the vote.

China has approved construction of at least six Hualong One reactors within the country, according to China General Nuclear. In November 2014, China’s National Energy Board and the China National Nuclear Corporation said they had designated Fuqing-5 and -6 in Fujian for the first deployment of the Hualong One.

The company may build a Hualong One reactor at Bradwell in southern England as part of an agreement signed during President Xi Jinping’s visit in October.

Russia connects first large new reactor to the grid

(WNA) Rosenergoatom has connected its first VVER-1200 reactor to the grid. Novovoronezh 6 is a V-392M version of the reactor in AES-2006 plants, from Moscow Atomenergoproekt, with net capacity 1114 MWe. It is an evolutionary development of the VVER-1000/V-320 and V-392 types. Construction began in June 2008. The plant is on one of the main hubs of the Russian grid, and construction was slowed last year due to low power demand. A second new unit is about two years behind it. This takes Russia’s operating reactors to 36, total 27,167 MWe.

India’s Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor Delayed

(The Hindu) Work on India’s first fast reactor at Kalpakam will be delayed until March 2017, or later. Key issues are safety reviews related to fuel loading and the configuration of 1,750 tonnes of liquid sodium to be used as a coolant.  The fuel for the 500 MW reactor is reported to be a MOX design.

NucNet reported in 2011 that India’s main research and development priority is to concentrate on nuclear fuel cycle issues to support the country’s fast breeder reactor program, the director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) said.

Ratan Kumar Sinha said in an interview with India’s ‘Frontline’ magazine India has been working on a fast breeder reactor programme for almost 40 years.

By 2020, India plans to have four operational fast breeder units. Two are to be at Kalpakkam – the site of the twin-unit Madras nuclear plant – together with the installations needed for closing the fast-reactor fuel cycle.

He said the spent fuel from India’s imported LWRs, along with India’s existing first generation pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR), will be reprocessed to use in fast breeder reactors.

This plan may be a problem for both Rosatom and Areva which plan to retrograde spent fuel for their own reprocessing plants from the four VVER reactors (2 operational, two under construction) at Kudankulam and the six planned EPR reactors at Jaitapur. Westinghouse, which recently announced it will build six AP1000s for NPCIL, has not said how it plans to disposition of spent fuel once it moves to dry storage.

India has little in the way of natural uranium resources, but it does have abundant thorium. In order to use thorium for fuelling a nuclear power program, it needs be irradiated in a nuclear reactor to breed fissile uranium-233. Reprocessing then separates the fissile material and it can be used to manufacture nuclear fuel.

In January 2011 India opened a new nuclear fuel reprocessing facility at BARC. The plant is said to be capable of reprocessing 100 tonnes of used nuclear fuel a year.

India has two other reprocessing facilities: a similar one at the Kalpakkam nuclear site in southeast India, home to the two-unit Madras nuclear plant, and a smaller reprocessing unit at Tarapur.

Nonproliferation experts have questioned whether India’s operations and plans for reprocessing of spent fuel from LWRs is solely designed to support its three stage, long-term thorium fuel program. The country has an extensive nuclear weapons program used as a deterrent to its arch rival Pakistan, which is also a nuclear state.

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China blows a fuse over Hinkley Point delay

After saying it “respected” PM May’s decision to conduct a review of the Hinkley Point nuclear reactor project, the Xinhua Official News Agency made some very undiplomatic remarks about the prospects for future friendly relations with the UK, and said failure to move ahead with the project could harm trade deals between the UK and China.

China Says Postponement of a Decision for Hinkley Point is Bonkers

China’s official news agency sharply questioned the British government’s postponement of approval for the Hinkley Point nuclear power station, saying it cannot risk driving away Chinese investors.

A commentary published by Xinhua, which is a source of official government information, said initially last week that China understood and respected Britain’s requirement for more time to think about the deal.  This week it appears the government has radically changed its mind.

The Chinese statement said that it would not tolerate “unwanted accusations [over security] about its investments in Britain, a country that cannot risk driving away other Chinese investors.”

“However, what China cannot understand is the ‘suspicious approach’ that comes from nowhere to Chinese investment. The British government is actually running the risk of dampening the hard-won mutual trust with China. For the UK which is striving to pull itself out of the Brexit aftermath, openness is the key way out.”

The Xinhua commentary also accused the UK of “erecting a wall of protectionism.” It ran on with a number of negative comments suggesting that relations between the two countries might be harmed if May does not approve the project.

Theresa May, the prime minister, is understood to be concerned about the security implications of a planned Chinese investment in Hinkley and has delayed giving the $24B project the green light.

When the deal with China was first aired in 2015, it included a provision for CGN to provide some of the long lead time components for the plants. The design of the Areva EPR is no secret to China as two of the reactors are nearing completion in Taishan, China.

China’s other UK nuclear project at risk

China has staked an enormous amount of political capital on the UK deal. In addition to the Hinkley Point project, in a visit to the UK last October, Chinese President Xi Jinping and UK PM David Cameron agreed to two other nuclear reactor deals.

The Sizewell project will also include two Areva EPRs. CGN has agreed to take a 20% equity stake in the project which could cost between $15-20 billion. EDF would cover the rest.

More importantly, CGN has a commitment from the UK to build two new Chinese designed 1000 MW PWR type reactors, known as the Hualong One, at the Bradwell site. While no timeline is in place for this project, it represents a major accomplishment for China which developed the Hualong One for export.

CGN would take a 66% equity stake in the project essentially self-financing its export product. EDF would cover the rest.

China has the expectation that the prestige of  completing the Bradwell project would set the stage for export orders from other countries. It’s ambitions might be thwarted if the Hinkley project, and the two projects that follow it, are cancelled or if China is cut out of participating in them. This prospect is what has the country’s top leaders socks in a knot and most likely accounts for the remarkably intemperate and even hostile language in the Xinhua commentary.

UK not stirred by China’s upset

Reuters reports that PM May’s spokeswoman said nuclear power remained an important part of Britain’s energy supply plans, and it was natural for the incoming government to want to look at the plans in detail.

“This is a big infrastructure decision and it’s right that a new prime minister and a new government take the time to make sure that they are fully informed before they take that decision,” she said. “The government will make a decision in September.”

She said that Britain still wanted to attract foreign investment and valued its ties with China.

“With the role that China has to play on world affairs, on the global economy, on a whole range of international issues, we are going to continue to seek a strong relationship with China,” she said.

Treasury official kept in dark

In other developments, the Telegraph newspaper reported on 8/2/16 that Jim O’Neill, the Treasury Minister, was considering quitting the government over May’s decision not to approve the EDF contract. He said that he was given no warning about her decision.  O’Neill, a holdover from PM Cameron’s government, had spearheaded building relations with China which led to CGN’s commitment to take a 33% equity position in the Hinkley Point reactor project.

UK nuclear build may be stretched out

The delay in starting the Hinkley Point project may produce a traffic jam in terms of demand for concrete, steel, and especially skilled workers about 2019 when two other reactor projects, 2 ABWRs and 3 AP1000s are also slated to break ground. Exactly how much financing will be available for all of these reactors starting at the same time is also a question.

Given all of these factors, there is a possibility the schedule for the UK new build will be stretched out into the 2030s before all 19 GW are completed and in revenue service.

Poland revives nuclear power plant plan

Reuters reports that Poland plans to revitalize a plan to build its first nuclear power plant with capacity of 1000 MW in the next 10 years, its energy ministry said. However, that one plant won’t make much of a difference in terms of the country’s CO2 emissions.

Poland, which generates most of its electricity from highly polluting coal, launched the project in 2009 launched but it hit numerous delays due to falling power prices and Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, which drained public support.

In the coal-fuelled power plants” will remain Poland’s major source of energy, the ministry also said.  Poland has five projects to build coal-fuelled generation units totaling 5 GW. The energy ministry said Poland needs three more coal-based units for its energy security.

Poland’s installed power capacity amounts at around 40 GW, most of which is coal-fuelled power plants.

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New UK Prime Minister Delays Decision on Hinkley Point

Citing security concerns about the role of Chinese state-owned nuclear energy firms as investors, Britain’s new Prime Minister Theresa May has put off a decision until September to build the 3300 MW facility. She must also grapple with the track record of schedule delays and cost overruns at two EPRs under construction in Finland and France.

may hollande in paris

UK PM Theresa May (left) meets with French President Francois Hollande (right) in Paris

One day after surviving a month’s long and difficult battle over the investment decision to move forward with the Hinkley Point nuclear project, France’s EDF got a message that rocked them back on their heels.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who came to the post after heading the nation’s equivalent of the homeland security portfolio, said she is concerned about the security issues associated with having investors from China involved in building two Areva EPRs at the coastal site. She scheduled a review of the project which could take “until early autumn” to complete.

While EDF said it had no warning that the door to progress would be slammed shut, even temporarily, a spokesman for PM May said that she told French President Francois Hollande nine days earlier in a face-to-face meeting in Paris that she intended to review the project.

It is unclear why Hollande did not then inform EDF about the discussion, but it may be that he didn’t want to spook the EDF board which still had its investment decision in the future at the time of Hollande’s meeting with May. It approved the investment decision for the $24 billion project late last week by a vote of 10-7.

Security Concerns About China

At the heart of May’s concerns is a plan for China General Nuclear Power Corp (CGN) to take a 33% equity position in the $24 billion project which when complete by 2025 will provide about 7% of all electricity used in the UK.

Nick Timothy, May’s Chief of Staff, has been widely quoted in UK news media as saying that security concerns are that the Chinese firms will have access to computer systems that control critical UK energy infrastructure.

He pointed out that one of the aspects of the deal with CGN is that after the Hinkley Point site is complete, that firm will be in line to build two new Chinese Hualong One 1000 MW PWR type reactors at the Bradwell site.

Timothy went further telling the Telegraph (UK) that the Chinese could “build weaknesses into computer systems which would allow them to shut down Britain’s energy production at will.”

He added that the UK government’s intelligence service, MI5, had voiced concerns to PM May about China’s government’s efforts “to work against our interests at home and abroad.” He did not elaborate.

According to the Telegraph and other media reports, Timothy, and other government officials, have said that it would be “irresponsible” for the new prime minister not to review the massive project.

Government officials also expressed doubts about EDF’s ability to control costs.  An EPR under construction in Finland is nine years behind schedule and (euro) 5.2 billion over budget. It is mired in cross cutting claims between Areva, the Finnish utility that is the customer for the plant, and Areva’s partner German industrial giant Siemens. The claims are in arbitration and it may be years before there is a resolution that satisfies all parties. In France an EPR under construction is six years late and (euro) 7.2 billion over budget.

EDF Surprised by Review Decision

These remarks came after EDF officials expressed surprise by May’s decision not to sign off on the project one day after the French firm’s board approved the investment decision by a vote of 10 for and 7 against. One board member resigned in protest over the project.

EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Levy told the Irish Times his company, which is 85% owned by the French government, is ready to sign contracts “as soon as all parties involved are ready.”

For their part, CGN said that it “respects” the UK government decision to review the project, but it also said it is standing by its commitment to invest in the reactors assuming the project is approved for development.

Business and Labor Groups Alarmed by Delay

Business and labor groups were stunned by the sudden public announcement of a four-to-eight week government postponement of the award of the contracts to start construction.

Justin Bowden, a leader for one of the major unions who’s members will be involved in building the plants, told the news media the decision to delay and even consider cancelling the project “endangers 25,000 jobs” involved directly at the site or through suppliers.

He called it “a gross error of judgment,’ and added for good measure that the decision by May to study the project instead of approving following EDF’s investment decision “was bonkers.”

“What is required is decisive action not dithering and more delay.”

The Confederation of British Energy (CBI), which represents nearly 200,000 business in the UK, told the Bloomberg wire service that it understands how the government will want to understand the details of the project, but it urged the PM May “to finalize the deal as soon as possible.”

CBI Deputy Director General Josh Hardie told Bloomberg, “The UK is facing a major investment challenge to ensure a low carbon and affordable energy supply. It is crucial that we see clear and timely decisions, and send a definite message that the UK is open for business.”

World Nuclear News cited a statement by Tom Greatrex, CEO of the UK Nuclear Industry Association, who urged government ministers to “quickly endorse the decision to show they are serious about . . . creating low carbon energy supplies of the future.”

He added that with the investment decision by EDF finally being a done deal that the UK supply chain stands ready to ramp up its capacity and train people to build and operate the Hinkley Point reactors.

May Asserts Due Diligence is her Right

May will have her review despite all the media excitement about her decision not to sign off on it immediately after taking office. The Bloomberg wire service cites an interview with Joel Kenrick, a political consultant who works on energy matters. He told the wire service there are three somewhat interlocked issues associated with May’s concerns about the reactors.

One is skepticism about Chinese involvement in the project and security concerns that inevitably are raised by their role. Two is that the UK is facing a rapidly changing energy landscape with the decline of output of the North Sea oil and gas fields and the planned retirement of the nation’s existing nuclear reactor fleet. The third element is that May is now in charge and that since it is her decision she will put her stamp on it one way or another.

May’s point man for the review will most likely be Greg Clark newly appointed as the head of the new  Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. The ministry combines the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

PM May said the reorganization is focused on “a proper industrial strategy to get the whole economy firing.”

Yet, the demise of the Energy & Climate Change office has raised questions about May’s commitment to advancing low carbon energy sources like nuclear energy.

Complicating matters is the recent BREXIT vote which will plunge the UK into complex negotiations with European Union nations, including France, over decarbonization strategies.

For his part, Clark, age 48, has previously worked on energy and climate policy issues at the national level for the Conservative Party. He was elected to Parliament in 2005. He holds a degree in economics and worked previously for the BBC.

Stark Risks of Cancelling Hinkley Point

In conducting the review, May will have to take into account the risk of enraging the French government which has bet the ranch on the Hinkley Point project most recently increasing the capitalization of EDF by (euro) 4 billion.

If May cancels the project, she must come up with alternative energy sources for the 3300 MW that would not come online in about nine years. Given the UK’s commitment to responding to the challenges of climate change, finding equivalent sources of low carbon baseload power will be nearly impossible.

There is also the fact that a huge baseload power plant like Hinkley Point, and the other new reactors that the nation plans to build, are crucial to keeping the grid stable to support renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and tidal power.

Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute, told the Guardian newspaper, “Coal and gas plants – which also supply baseload power – will no longer be viable in the future because of CO2 emissions, which cause global warming. You are then left with nuclear.”

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