Reactor News Rundown for May 3, 2015

Davis-Besse gets OK on EIS from NRC

greenlightThe US Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week issued its final supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed operating license renewal for Davis-Besse in Ohio. NRC said that there were no environmental impacts that would preclude the FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company plant’s license running for an additional 20 years beyond 2017.

FirstEnergy applied in 2010 for a license renewal for an additional 20 years. The NRC license renewal review process has two tracks – one for review of safety issues and another for environmental issues.

Green groups, which had ample opportunity to participate in the environmental review, continue their efforts to stop the license from being renewed by the NRC. However, this finding limits some of their future options.

Temelin may try a tender again

Czech finance minister Andrej Babiš said in late April that state-owned electric utility CEZ should launch a new tender for the construction of at least two and perhaps as many as five nuclear units in 2016. Wire services report that Babiš told Czech Radio that one new reactor would be needed at both the Dukovany and Temelin nuclear power plants.  Dukovank only has room for one more at its site. Temelin could take three.

A five unit tender might resurrect a cross border unit in Slovenia on the other side of Austria, the Czech Republic’s rabidly anti-nuclear neighbor.  If Germany continues in its free fall for power, CEZ is happy to sell electricity across its western border.

This may be the final hurrah for CEZ which has tried several times to bring a tender to award of a contract only to pull it for reasons of inadequate financing or due to turmoil among the political leadership in the Czech Republic over guarantees for rates for the plants. CEZ wants a rate guarantee while various political factions have been unable to agree to one.

Babiš said that 2016 would be the “ultimate deadline” for a tender launch. CEZ cancelled a tender process for two new units at Temelin in April 2014.  Disagreements about the tender are ongoing. According to the Prague Post, Czech industry minister Jan Mládek described Babiš’ statement as a personal view and said the government has made no such decision.

Rosatom and Westinghouse are prospective bidders for the plants. Areva was eliminated from a previous tender due to unspecified deficiencies in its bid.

Rosatom gets go-ahead for Finland’s sixth nuclear reactor

Finnish utility Fennovoima has signed on to a deal with Russia’s Rosatom to build a sixth nuclear reactor, a 1200 MW VVER. The deal is contingent on Finnish investors covering 60% of the costs.  That objective seems obtainable according to English language media reports from Helsinki. Rosatom will take an equity stake in the remainder of the plant.  It will build the nuclear reactor, all nuclear island components, and the main turbine.

Agreements with other suppliers are expected in the next few months. The plant is expected to be completed and enter revenue service by 2024.

Finland’s fifth nuclear reactor, an Areva EPR, is behind schedule and embroiled in disputes regarding huge cost overruns. The latest completion date is said to be 2018.

Japan to decommission five 40+ year old reactors

Four aging nuclear reactors in Japan have been slated for decommissioning under regulations introduced after the Fukushima nuclear accident. The decision is based on a law that limits the service life of a reactor to 40 years.

Two of them are at the Mihama plant in Fukui Prefecture, and one is at the Tsuruga plant, also in Fukui. The other one is at the Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture. A decision to close another reactor in Shimane Prefecture is expected soon. All of these units are smaller, and it would be too costly to upgrade them to Japan’s post-Fukushima safety standards.

The operators of the reactors will start drawing up decommissioning plans to be approved by the government’s Nuclear Regulation Authority. With 5 reactors slated for decommissioning, the number of reactors in Japan will fall to 43.

All of the utilities involved will apply to the government for financial support to pay for early decommissioning of the units. It isn’t clear how much support the government will provide either through direct cash payments or through deferral of future tax liabilities.

Separately, KANSAI Electric has committed to preserving Takahama Units 1 & 2, both more than 40 years old, because of their power ratings and relative good condition. Both are 826 MW PWRs completed in 1976. Takahama Unit 3 & 4, completed in 1985, are expected to restart later this year.

TEPCO targets Autumn restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors

Despite intense local opposition, TEPCO said it has committed to restarting the two newest, and, eventually, all of the seven nuclear reactors at the world’s largest power station. The two newest units are 1300 MW ABWRs built in 1996.

Restart dates for October 2015 were revealed in financial plans submitted by TEPCO to its major banks relative to the utility’s plans for managing cash flow from revenue. All seven reactors, representing about 8 Gwe of power, have been offline since 2011.  TEPCO wants the revenue from operating reactors to keep the company solvent and profitable.

Restart schedules depend on whether Japan Nuclear Regulatory Authority clears the plants in terms of new safety measures being put in place relative to tsunami, earthquake, and fires. The plants have been plagued by small fires and area residents have been rattled by damage from a previous earthquake to a low-level waste facility at the site.

Also, Niigata Provincial Governor Hirohiko Izumida has mounted a noisy campaign to keep the reactors closed, but TEPCO has brought a full court press public relations effort to the region, and in Tokyo, to convince the nation and the local population the plants are safe and of the economic benefits of putting the units back in revenue service.

French nuclear safety agency not impressed with GEN IV designs

Reuters reports that the sodium-cooled fast reactor system is the only one of six nuclear systems being considered by the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) that has reached a degree of maturity compatible with the construction of a prototype during the first half of the 21st century.

France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) said the others are still too immature in terms of the specifics of their design to matter. Critics of the GEN IV program have called it a sandbox for academic researchers in the US and Europe.

In a review of all six proposed Generation IV systems IRSN said even the construction of an sodium cooled prototype will entail the completion of “key studies and technological developments”.

IRSN said it did not see evidence that led it to conclude that the six systems being considered are likely to offer a significantly improved level of safety compared with Generation III reactors.

French GEN IV safety report report may be a premature evaluation

The French nuclear regulatory agency assessment seems premature since no utility has submitted a GEN IV design for a formal safety / design review as an application to build one. What the French agency said was that only the sodium cooled design was far enough along to make any assessment at all.

Also, the sodium cooled design is based on US work on the Integral Fast Reactor which was built and operated at the Argonne National Laboratory – West in Idaho in the 1980s and 1990s.

Finally, work was done in 2011 to review whether the Integral Fast Reactor could be licensed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the finding was that there was no technical barrier to doing so. (ANS Nuclear Café Nov 2011)

China pursues HTGRs

NucNet and WNN reports that China Nuclear Engineering & Construction Group (CNEC) is promoting commercial high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTRs) domestically and for export abroad. Its proposal for two 600 MWe HTR units at Ruijin city in Jiangxi province has passed an initial feasibility review.

The design is based on the HTR-PM or HTR-200 being built at Shidaowan, backed by Tsinghua University, with CNEC and China Huaneng utility. That is a pebble-bed unit with twin 105 MWe reactors driving a common 210 MWe turbine, and this will be the module for Ruijin.

CNEC and the provincial government will apply to National Development & Reform Commission for approval, with plans to start construction in 2017 and with revenue service in 2021. No major utility has yet been named in connection with this project.  CNEC is emerging as the main proponent and investor in HTR commercial development. It seems reasonable to assume the firm has an expectation of naming its customer soon.

US Market for interim storage of spent nuclear fuel heats up

It looks like a case of “ding dong the witch is dead.” With the political demise of Sen. Harry Reid (D_NV) from his role as Senate Majority leader, all sorts of ideas are popping up for dealing with the nation’s inventory of spent nuclear fuel. Reid wasn’t just opposed to Yucca Mountain. He’s anti-nuclear to the core in part because his home state of Nevada was used for atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

World Nuclear News, and NucNet report that the New Mexico governor has proposed to the US Department of Energy that a site Carlsbad and Hobbs, NM, in the far southeast corner of the state should be used for an interim national used fuel storage facility. The Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance, a consortium of Eddy and Lea counties and Carlsbad and Hobbs cities, said they support the proposal.

Holtec, a manufacturer of nuclear reactor and spent fuel storage equipment, issued a press statement that it has signed an agreement with the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance to establish an interim storage facility there. This means that. if built, years or decades from now, the fuel could be retrieved and either sent to a permanent geologic repository, such as Yucca Mountain, or reprocessed to make MOX fuel.

The project includes the design, licensing, construction and operation of an interim storage facility.  Holtec said it expects to apply for an NRC license in 2016 and then have the facility operational in five years.

But wait, there’s more. Another proposal is being promoted for a site in West Texas. In January, local government unanimously approved a plan by Waste Control Specialists to develop an interim storage facility for used nuclear fuel at the low-level radioactive waste disposal facility the company has operated in Andrews county since 2012.

The company said it plans to apply to the NRC to build and operate an above-ground used fuel dry storage container facility at its site, on the Texas side of the New Mexico border.

Neither group of small towns on either side of the Texas/New Mexico border listed the cost of their respective planned facilities nor identified any active investors who have signed on to pay for the enormous costs of licensing their sites much less building one. This seems to be a major gap in the otherwise overheated media coverage of the two announcements.

The area is sparsely populated, bone dry, and seismically stable. These factors contribute to a plausible environmental case for an interim storage facility in the region.

Both US Senators from New Mexico issued press statements opposing the Eddy-Lea-Holtec plan. They called the plan a “cart-before-the horse” idea because there is no permanent plan for disposal of the fuel. They said their fear is that the interim storage site would become, de-facto, a permanent site. This is, of course, exactly what some of the economic boosters of the project have in mind as a marketing point to potential investors. In any case, the profile for the proposed interim storage facility estimates it would be in operation for at least 100 years.

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1 Response to Reactor News Rundown for May 3, 2015

  1. eknuckle says:

    Thanks for the update which prompted me to find out more about the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance. A timely recap of events is covered in an article in the New Mexican and reveals that an alliance, ongoing for two years, with Areva has fallen through. Consequently Areva has moved across the border to TX and Holtec has stepped in to replace Areva in the partnership as the construction contractor.

    Campaign contributions to NM lawmakers, lobbying by interested parties, and local opposition have been ongoing. NM governor’s letter to the DOE seems more like a weather balloon to test the political environment than an indication that there is significant backing by the state. You have to wonder if the politicians are playing the contractors or if there is a solid business case that would benefit each state’s local job market.


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