Nuclear energy projects come and go in Idaho

A group of local businessmen in rural Butte County, Idaho, wants to build a 1500 MW commercial nuclear reactor at a site on private land near Howe, ID, located 10 miles west of the Idaho National Laboratory, and some 60 miles west of Idaho, Falls, ID.

The organization, calling itself Going nuclear Twin Buttes Enterprises LLC’ went public with its plans earlier this month in a presentation to the Butte County Commission.

Bob Skinner, a former INL manager, who now is one of the principals of Twin Buttes, said the group has big plans. In an email exchange with this blog, Skinner said,

“We are doing this off site (from the INL) – just north with two sides of the property adjacent to the INL.  We are not representing NuScale, they may want to talk to us in the future but we do not know yet. 

We were looking larger into about a 1500 mw plant because we have enough water to run about 2000mw so we think this would be ideal.  Hope we can garner some interest from the outside – time will tell.

In an email to this blog last week, Mike McGrough, an executive with NuScale, confirmed that his company has no ties to the Butte group.

Other members of ‘Twin Buttes’ are Reed Nord, a real estate broker, Ted Sorensen, who has experience on small hydroelectric power projects, and Christopher Hope, who’s expertise is listed as being in the areas of commercial nuclear power plants. Mr. Hope, of Rire, ID, has identified himself to the news media in previous reports as a software developer who worked for TEPCO in Japan prior to the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.

According to Skinner, the project involves 1,840 acres owned by the Pancheri family east of Howe, ID. Skinner said the group has an option on the land to build a nuclear power plant. He said  water access, environmental, seismic and economic effects have been studied.

Howe, ID is as remote a spot in the US as one can find and still be near a paved road. The town’s population is less than 500 people. A rail line operated by the Union Pacific was taken out more than 20 years ago. Agriculture and ranching are the two primary economic activities there.

Asked by this blog if Skinner is aware of the very limited ability of the Idaho grid to take power from a large source such as a 1500 MW reactor, he said.

“There are some scheduled new transmission lines slated for the area – if we can get far enough along we think we can have them do some moving to get the new lines in the area.  We have been talking with Mountain States Transmission Institute.”

As for the Butte County Commission, Chairman Seth Beal told the Idaho Falls Post Register, “It’s difficult to really evaluate anything yet. We can’t support any project, because right now, there isn’t one.”

Tough Sell?

And that’s a problem because a penny stock firm that allegedly took $14 million from investors based on claims it would build a nuclear power plant in Idaho is now in hot water with the SEC and the IRS.  (see below)

Anyone who comes after them who claims to be in the business of building a nuclear power plant in that state is going to have to explain double time why they are not scam artists.

Additionally, eastern Idaho was also stung by the withdrawal by French nuclear giant Areva which had selected a site 18 miles west of Idaho Falls to build a $3 billion uranium enrichment plant. Despite getting an NRC license, and a $2 billion federal loan guarantee, the financially overextended firm pulled out and indefinitely postponed breaking ground to build the plant.

AEHI gets summary judgments from Federal District Court

The principals of a penny stock firm that promised investors it would build a 1600 MW power plant in Idaho are now facing a raft of federal civil and criminal fraud and tax evasion charges from the SEC and the IRS.

On Nov 13, a Boise federal grand jury indicted AEHI Don Gillispie and his romantic partner Jennifer Ransom on 14 criminal counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud, filing false tax returns and making false statements to federal agents. Both have pleaded not guilty; a trial is set for Jan. 13.

On Dec 10 a federal court issued a permanent injunction sought by the SEC against Gillispie and his firm Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. (AEHI) because the defendants “are likely to commit future securities law violations.”

The injunction prohibits Gillispie and AEHI from any penny stock activity.

The court ordered Gillispie and AEHI to repay the $14.6 million in “ill-gotten gains” raised from 850 investors in a pump-and-dump stock scheme. The court also fined Gillispie $75,000 and AEHI $300,000.

Idaho lab dodges a budget bullet

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, was able to insure that the omnibus appropriations bill that passed the House this week
rejects cuts to the Idaho National Laboratory, and increases money for nuclear energy research and the Idaho Department of Energy operations.

In a press release Simpson’s office listed some of the line items covered by the appropriations bill.

DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy is funded at $914 million, an increase of $24.3 million over the FY14 funding level. Nuclear energy research and development programs that receive funding within the $914 million allocation include several of the following:

The Idaho Operations and Infrastructure account, which covers infrastructure maintenance and improvements at Idaho National Laboratory, is funded at $200.6 million – a $20 million increase over last year.

The National Science User Facility program is funded at $36.5 million – an increase of $18 million above the President’s request.  Increases under this program are directed to fully complete the installation of post-irradiation examination equipment at INL’s Irradiated Materials Characterization Laboratory (IMCL).

Small Modular Reactor Licensing Support Programs are funded at $55 million.   This funding is slated for NuScale Power’s Small Modular Reactor which is proposed for construction in Idaho.

The Light Water Reactor Sustainability program, which is managed by INL and promotes the continued safe operation of America’s existing nuclear reactors, is funded at $35 million, an increase of $5 million over FY14 and the budget request.

The Reactor Concepts Research, Development, and Demonstration account is funded at $133 million – an increase of $20 million above fiscal year 2014 and $32.5 million above the President’s request. Within the overall $133 million level for this account, $33 million is allocated to fuel qualification for the High Temperature Gas Reactor, $11 million above the budget request.

The Advanced Fuels program within Fuel Cycle Research and Development is funded at $60.1 million, the same as last year and $17 million above the President’s budget request, and Used Nuclear Fuel Disposition research and development is funded at $49 million, $19 million above FY14.

Within the Office of Naval Reactors, the bill includes $68 million for the operation of the Advanced Test Reactor, an increase of $1.5 million above FY14.

Within the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, the bill includes $5 million to continue development of an Electric Grid Test Bed program to enhance existing full-scale electric grid testing capabilities like those at Idaho National Laboratory.

The bill also provides $380 million for cleanup activities associated with the Idaho Cleanup Project and the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project co-located on the Idaho desert with Idaho National Laboratory. This represents an increase of $13 million above the President’s request to fully support work plan alignments needed for Idaho’s transuranic waste program as a result of the closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Includes an additional $2 million for the National Spent Fuel Program, putting the unique expertise of INL to work in order to provide solutions for managing the Department of Energy’s inventories of spent nuclear fuel.

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1 Response to Nuclear energy projects come and go in Idaho

  1. eknuckle says:

    I suspect that the business model for energy startups is significantly different than that of software and web based entities. It seems relatively easy to throw an idea onto the table but the technical knowhow and complexity of bringing an energy project to fruition by a small group of investors, even if they are well intentioned, makes their odds of succeeding slim; wish it weren’t so.


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