Nuclear News Roundup for September 13, 2015

Nuclear news highlights from wire services, World Nuclear News, NucNet and other sources

Challenges Ahead for Areva

(WNN) Areva faces three major challenges as it turns itself around from its record 2014 losses, company CEO Philippe Knoche said this week. Those challenges are making sure that the company manages to complete large projects; making sure that it adapts to post-Fukushima market conditions, and making sure that it addresses the level of debt resulting from past investments. Knoche gave examples of such challenges in an address to the World Nuclear Association’s 2015 Symposium in London.

Knoche cited the “large project” – Areva’s project to build an EPR at Olkiluoto in Finland – and “investments made on the basis of ‘soft’ customer commitments which turned out to be too soft” as two of the reasons behind the company’s record 2014 losses of nearly €5 billion ($5.6 billion). These include an ill-fated uranium mine in Africa and investments in renewable energy projects.

In the US Areva at one time had plans to support four new reactor projects. All of them have been cancelled and the company halted the design review of its EPR reactor at the NRC. In 2013 the company stopped work on a $3 billion uranium enrichment plant slated for a site in Idaho despite successfully competing for a $2 billion loan guarantee for it from the Department of Energy.

Russia To Deliver Main Equipment To Kudankulam 3 & 4

(NucNet): Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom has inked a contract for the delivery of equipment for India’s planned Kudankulam 3 and 4 reactor units. The manufacturing and delivery of the equipment will take place between 2016 and 2018. In December 2014, Russia and India signed an agreement for the construction of two new VVER-1000 reactor units at the Kudankulam site, which already has one unit of the same design in commercial operation and one for which construction is complete and is being commissioned to produce power.

The Hindu reports that site excavation for the two new VVER units will take place starting in December of this year.  First concrete will be poured in 2016.

Separately, commercial power generation will resume for Unit 2 by the end of the year. Hot tests with fuel loaded were completed in August.  Power generation is expected to resume at Unit 1 this month following a maintenance outage.

Funding in for Fennovoima nuclear plant, Russian contractor begins construction

(Wire services) Finnish power consortium Fennovoima says it has received nearly one billion euros in financing for its Pyhäjoki nuclear power plant. At the same time main Russian building contractor Titan-2 has begun preparatory building work – although an official construction permit for the nuclear plant isn’t likely until 2018.

The Fennovoima nuclear power plant is considered the largest industrial investment in northern Finland. Total costs for the project have been pegged at between 6.5 and 7 billion euros.

Primary funding for the project will come from credit organized by the Russian state-owned nuclear power plant contractor Rosatom. Owners will also contribute some of their own capital. Fennovoima said it has already received the first drawdown of financing from Russia’s state welfare fund, amounting to 920 million euros. Altogether the fund will contribute 2.4 billion euros to the nuclear project.

Fennovoima says the Hanhikivi plant will be a turnkey solution, which will ensure that the price tag will not vary from the total agreed in December 2013.

Nuclear Expansion To Continue, But At Slower Pace, Says IAEA

(NucNet): Nuclear power’s global expansion is projected to continue in the coming decades – albeit at a slowing pace – amid challenges including low fossil fuel prices, a sluggish world economy and the legacy of Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi accident, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency study.

In Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050, now in its 35th edition, the IAEA said several factors indicate that nuclear energy will play an important role in the world’s energy mix in the long run. These factors include the volatility of fossil fuel prices, nuclear power’s role in greenhouse gas reduction, energy supply security, population growth and demand for electricity in the developing world.

The study said the Far East will see the biggest expansion, especially in China and South Korea. By contrast, Western Europe is eyeing the biggest decline.

Study on cancer risks halted by NRC

(WNN) A National Academy of Sciences study on cancer risks near nuclear power plants has been canceled by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in part due to budget limitations.

“We’re balancing the desire to provide updated answers on cancer risk with our responsibility to use congressionally-provided funds as wisely as possible,” said Brian Sheron, the NRC’s regulatory research office director.

The agency also noted that the public’s exposure to radiation from nuclear plants is low and only a small fraction of what is mandated by federal standards

Preliminary results from the study show that US nuclear power plants comply with strict requirements and when radiation releases occur, they are too small to cause observable increases in the risk of developing cancer in people living near the facilities. Work on the study began in September 2013 upon NRC’s request.

Feds make another attempt to shut down Piketon uranium plant

(Wire services) DOE has decided to end a contract to test and demonstrate new uranium centrifuge technology that the Ohio lawmakers had hoped would be a boon for southern Ohio’s economy. The Energy Department decision would essentially stop the centrifuges from spinning while preserving them for possible future use.

The news came one day after Centrus, the company that operates the plant, announced that it was issuing notices to 235 workers at the plant warning them that they might be out of a job in 60 days.

The Department of Energy said while they are interested in “preserving and advancing” the Piketon technology “for possible future deployment for a national security mission,” it will focus its efforts on activities at another nuclear site in Oak Ridge, TN.

A spokeswoman for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said the 120 centrifuges in Piketon “have successfully provided useful reliability and operational data, as well as enabled the identification and development of solutions to certain technical complications.”

Shelley Laver, an NNSA spokesperson, said “We have concluded that continued support from the federal government for additional data from Piketon operations has limited remaining value.”

DOE has tried several times in the past to shut down the project, but Ohio lawmakers have added funding for it to appropriation bills.

DOE to Crank Out New Plutonium-238 in 2019

(Space News) The U.S. Department of Energy will start producing new plutonium-238 for deep space missions around 2019, but production will ramp up slowly.  NASA still has not committed to any missions that would require setting aside any of the isotope for small missions.

Planetary science at the agency has been hit hard by congressional budget cuts. For instance, while planning work is taking place for a scientific package to be sent to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, no date has been set for it.  NASA has selected nine instruments to “fly” on the mission which means it has a rough idea of the power requirements for the spacecraft that will include radio communications with earth.

Early next year, the refinery at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory will restart for the first time in 27 years to produce a test-batch of the isotope, which powers nuclear batteries needed for space missions that cannot rely on solar arrays. DOE labs in New Mexico and Idaho also support the project.

If the sample tests cleanly, Oak Ridge will start pumping out bigger batches in 2019,  NASA says it needs the PU-238 for future missions such as the one to Europa. The isotope cannot be used to make bombs. The heat from radioactive decay is converted to electricity inside the RTG which then powers scientific instruments and radio communications with earth.

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