Nuclear News Roundup for October 3, 2015

This is a series of news briefs from WNA, NucNet, and various wire services.

Swiss make a u-turn on limiting reactor operating lives

(WNA) Switzerland’s Council of States has agreed to avoid putting legal limits on the operating lives of the country’s nuclear power reactors. It rejected a proposal that was supported by the Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI),  requiring operators to submit a long-term operating concept every 10 years once a reactor reaches 40 years of service.

In 2011 following the Fukushima Daiichi accident that took place in March 2011the Swiss parliament and government decided to exit nuclear power production.

In 2014, the Energy Strategy 2050 was considered and the National Council energy committee called for the introduction of a system requiring operators to submit plans for improving the safety of reactors after 40 years of service. Subject to approval by ENSI, this would enable reactors to continue in operation for a further 10-year period, with no limit to the number of 10-year extensions. If a reactor was judged unfit to continue in operation, the operator would receive no compensation.

A Green Party initiative to limit the life of nuclear power stations to 45 years was rejected. The government instead put forward the new energy policy.

The Swiss Nuclear Forum welcomed the Council of State’s decision to “waive a politically motivated limitation” on the service life of the country’s operating nuclear power plants. In a statement issued on September 24, the organization said:

“Such a limitation would only lead to additional bureaucracy and would not further enhance safety.”

The forum added that plans to make the issuance of licenses for new nuclear power plants illegal are “unjustified” and that it is “still highly questionable” whether the country will be able to replace its nuclear power with renewable energy.

Toshia seeks a partner for Westinghouse

(Nuclear Street) In Tokyo the CEO Toshiba, which owns 87% of Westinghouse Electric said that the company was looking for a partner in the nuclear power business. CEO Masashi Muromachi told reporters the company’s loss of earning power was attributed to an accounting scandal that has also led to an overhaul of company management and flattened stock values.

“The environment for the nuclear business is tough in Japan, and we need to address various issues to meet revised U.S. regulatory rules.”

Toshiba bought its majority stake in Westinghouse in 2006, paying $5.4 billion. The company shortly thereafter sold a 10% stake in the firm to Kazakhstan in return for guaranteed access to uranium supplies from that country. 

Financial analysts have long been critical of Toshiba’s acquisition of Westinghouse saying the Japanese firm overpaid for it. However, the firm has prospered with four of its AP1000 reactors now under construction in China and another four being built in the US.

Westinghouse to push for nuclear energy in Australia

(Guardian UK) Nuclear advocates plan to capitalize on the recent change in prime ministers to attempt to overturn legal obstacles to nuclear energy generation in Australia. The Australian Nuclear Association (ANA) and Westinghouse CEO Danny Roderick plan to meet with government ministers and business leaders next week.

Australia has approximately one-third of the world’s known uranium reserves, but nuclear power is historically a politically charged issue for the country. Previous governments have rejected nuclear power proposals for the country.

France’s ASN Set To Make Decision On Areva’s Flamanville-3 RPV Proposals

(NucNet): French nuclear safety authority ASN said it will make a decision on Areva’s proposed methodology to validate the Flamanville-3 reactor pressure vessel. Last May Areva sent to ASN a proposed methodology, including suggested additional tests, to justify the acceptability of the mechanical properties of the RPV top and bottom heads at Flamanville-3, an EPR under construction in France.

Areva and EDF have reported that chemical tests show higher than average carbon content in the RPV, indicating a manufacturing flaw and potentially affecting the vessel’s ability to withstand the propagation of cracks.

Areva also said independent experts would carry out an external review of Areva’s Creusot Forge plant in France, which manufactured the RPV top and bottom heads for Flamanville-3. Areva said the review, by British-French company Lloyd’s Register Apave Limited, would focus on forging and inspections.

The outcome of the tests are crucial not only for the Flamanville project, but also for the four Areva EPRs planned for the UK.  In China Areva has two EPRs that are nearing completion.  The company also has an agreement to build up to six units for India at Jaitapor, but has not broken ground for the first two.

South Texas Project gets final safety evaluation report from NRC

(WNA) The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has completed a Final Safety Evaluation Report (SER) that concludes there are no safety aspects that would preclude issuing the combined construction and operation licenses (COL) of two proposed advanced boiling water reactors for the South Texas Project.

The NRC said that it had completed its Final Safety Report for the combined licenses for the South Texas Projects Units 3 and 4 and that there were no safety impediments that would preclude issuing licenses for construction and operation of the two proposed reactors.

STP Nuclear has submitted applications for two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR) at the site Nuclear Innovation North American became the lead applicant in January 2011. The 1,300-megawatt ABWR design was first approved in 1997.

It remains unclear whether the two STP two reactors will ever be built. The consortium that was originally put together in 2007 lost its key investors including the cities of San Antonio and Austin, TX. In San Antonio the mayor pulled back after elements of his political base objected to the rate increase that would be needed to pay for the plant.

In Austin the former director of the municipal utility, and later a member of the city council, led an anti-nuclear revolt against committing the city to the project. One of the reasons for his success is that the city is still paying off the bonds from cost overruns from the first two units at STP.

At the time STP the “first mover” in what was then called the nation’s “nuclear renaissance.” Within four years the price of natural gas had dropped to record lows and most of the COL applications submitted to the NRC between 2007 and 2011 subsequently were put on hold or cancelled.

For instance, Areva at one time has four EPRs planned with US utilities. However, GE-Hitachi remains bullish that it will eventually build an ESBWR at DTE’s FERMI III site in Michigan and another at Dominion’s North Anna site in Virginia.

In a separate action the NRC also approved a SER for an Early Site Permit (ESP) application for a site adjacent to existing plants at Salem and Hope Creek in New Jersey. PSEG’s ESP application for the New Jersey site was submitted in May 2010. The firm has not selected a reactor type nor made a commitment to build a new reactor at the site. The ESP is good for 20 years.

(WNA) The latest survey conducted for the Nuclear Energy Institute by Bisconti Research showed that 73% of respondents associated nuclear energy with clean air. However, 70% did not recognize nuclear as the USA’s largest source of low carbon electricity. After being given facts about the magnitude of nuclear’s contribution, 84% said that nuclear energy should be “important” in the future energy mix.

The telephone survey was carried between August 30 and September 16 with a national sample of 1000 adults, and the results published on September 21.

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