Nuclear News Roundup for October 23, 2016

Note to readers: Twitter was unavailable several times this week due to a series of unprecedented denial of service cyber crime attacks. This weekly report on the blog is longer than usual to compensate for loss of Twitter for breaking news. Regular posts to Twitter will return as conditions permit.

Kudankulam Units 3 & 4 Launched

(WNN) India and Russia have officially launched the second phase of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant under construction in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu by Rosatom as part of an intergovernmental agreement signed between Moscow and New Delhi in 1998.

India has started construction of units 3 and 4 and a government spokesman at NPCIL said that all the necessary infrastructure and design documentation have been established. First concrete is to be poured at the site near the first two units in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The new reactors at the Kudankulam plant are based on Atomenergoproekt design with VVER-1000 MW power units.

Last August NPCIL inaugurated Unit 1 of the Kudankulam plant, which is already in service, having started commercial operation in December 2014. Output from Kudankulam 1 is being supplied to India’s southern grid and divided between five states: Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry. Unit 2 of the plant has also been connected to the electricity grid, becoming India’s 22nd operating power reactor.

Anti-nuclear Politician’s Win Hurts Japan’s Efforts to Restart Its Reactors

(AFP/South China Morning Post) Fears about the safety of nuclear power and radiation exposure linger in Japan, challenging a push by PM Abe and his government and utility companies to switch the country’s remaining reactors back on.  An anti-nuclear candidate pulled off a surprise victory in a local Japanese election at the weekend. His election is seen as hurting the government’s bid to restart shuttered reactors more than five years after Fukushima.

First-time politician Ryuichi Yoneyama, 49, had campaigned on a pledge to stop the restgart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station, the world’s biggest nuclear plant, located about 200 kilometres northwest of Tokyo. There are seven reactors across the enormous Kashiwazaki-Kariwa site.

His victory came after voters in southern Kagoshima prefecture voted in a new anti-nuclear governor in July. Yoneyama, a doctor and lawyer who ran as an independent but was supported by left-leaning opposition parties, beat a ruling bloc-supported candidate with 528,455 votes to his opponent’s 465,044.

His election should not have come as a surprise to anyone who has followed politics in Niigata Prefecture. It has consistently elected anti-nuclear governors who have been critical of TEPCO’s management of the reactors at the site. Fires and accidents with storage of low level waste have rattled area residents.

The latest election results put Abe in a tricky position. The central government can overrule a governor’s opposition to restarting nuclear reactors. But Abe has promised to win approval from local communities before approving restarts under stricter post-Fukushima safety rules.

Japan Atomic Energy Agency Will Seek to Restart the Joyo Fast Reactor

(Japan Times/Kyodo News) The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is considering applying for a government safety assessment of its aging Joyo experimental fast reactor in hopes of restarting it.

The government is looking to the Joyo reactor to continue development of fast reactors, given that the JAEA’s Monju prototype fast breeder reactor, which was intended to play a key role in the process, is expected to be scrapped after a trouble-plagued history stretching back two decades.

The Joyo reactor in Ibaraki Prefecture and Monju in Fukui Prefecture were created as the first and second stage of the fast breeder reactor research and development project that commenced in the 1960s. Joyo, which reached criticality in 1977, is no longer used for fast breeder research.

Monju was intended to play a key role in achieving a nuclear fuel cycle aimed at reprocessing uranium fuel used in conventional reactors and reusing the extracted plutonium and uranium.

The reactor uses extracted plutonium and uranium as fuel, but it has remained largely offline since first achieving criticality in 1994, due to a leakage of its sodium coolant and other safety and operational problems.

In plutonium-fueled fast reactors, fission chain reactions are sustained by fast neutrons. The government has been pursuing fast reactors to “breed” plutonium, meaning more plutonium is produced than consumed. Both reactors were developed as part of Japan’s plans for a “plutonium economy” designed to counter competition from China for fossil fuels.

NRC to Issue Licences For Two New AP1000 Reactors At Levy County, FL

(NucNet) The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has cleared the way to issue two combined licences (COLs) for Duke Energy to build and operate two Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors at its Levy County site in Florida.

Based on the mandatory hearing on Duke’s application, the Commission found the NRC staff’s review adequate to make “the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings.”

The staff will impose conditions on the COLs, including specific actions associated with post-Fukushima requirements for mitigation strategies and spent fuel pool instrumentation, and a pre-startup schedule for implementing post-Fukushima aspects of the new reactors’ emergency preparedness plans and procedures.

Progress Energy Florida (now Duke Energy Florida) submitted its COL application for Levy County in July 2008. The NRC completed its environmental review and issued the final environmental impact statement for the reactors in April 2012. The NRC certified the amended 1,100-MW AP1000 design in 2012.

It is doubtful that work to build the reactors will begin on the reactors anytime soon. Duke Energy inherited the project from Progress as part of the merger, but escalating costs, including grid improvements, along with a sputtering economy and record low natural gas prices, have made the project a non-starter.

Florida’s policy of having rate payers cover costs of new reactors as they are being build came under fire from legislators as the projected costs for the Levy plant became known. However, several efforts to overturn the policy were defeated in roll call votes. This bodes well for future plans by FP&L to build two new AP1000  reactors at Turkey Point near Miami. Even so, these plans are also on hold pending economic and environmental reviews.

Like other utilities, Duke’s effort to complete the licensing process banks the approval against an undetermined future date when it might make business sense to consider building the reactors. The utility is taking the same approach with its William States Lee III plant at the site in South Carolina.

Uranium Prices Tumble to Record Lows

(Bloomberg) Uranium producers should brace for a longer period of lower prices as the fuel extends its decline to an 11-year low amid a glut, according to Australian miner Paladin Energy Ltd.

According to the wire service, every uranium mine is running at a loss with prices at $21 a pound, said Alexander Molyneux, the chief executive officer of Paladin Energy. Spot prices for yellowcake (U3O8) fell to $20.50, capping a 40% decline for the year, according to data from Ux Consulting Co. Prices were last below $21 in January 2005, according to Ux.

Uranium is heading for a second annual drop amid a global surplus prolonged by the slower-than-anticipated restart of Japan’s nuclear reactors. The glut is forecast to extend until a rebalancing occurs in 2024.

RBC Capital Markets reduced its 2017 uranium price estimate by 21% to $27.50 a pound and its 2018 forecast to $35, according to an Oct. 16 note. Prices are unlikely to rebound until at least 2019.

Saudi Arabia to Select Nuclear Power-Plant Site
— UAE Signs on with KEPCO to Operate its Reactors

(Bloomberg) Saudi Arabia will soon choose a site for its first nuclear power plant as the world’s biggest crude exporter seeks to diversify its sources of energy.

“We will be selecting sites very soon (within the next year) that we will reserve for our first nuclear energy power plant,” Khalid Al-Falih, the country’s energy minister, said at the Oil and Money conference in London. “

The kingdom has a target of generating 6 to 7 GWe of electricity from nuclear power by 2032, rising to 17 gigawatts by 2040, Maher al-Odan, an adviser to the government on renewables planning, said in April of last year.

Saudi Arabia has selected three potential sites for its nuclear plants. Also, it has said it will diversify its procurement of reactors and not rely on a single vendor.

UAE Sets Operational Relationship for its Four Reactors

Abu Dhabi in the neighboring United Arab Emirates is building the Gulf Arab region’s first nuclear power plant. The reactor, one of four that the emirate is planning, is scheduled for completion in 2017.

Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. and Korea Electric Power Corp. signed a joint-venture agreement this week for a long-term partnership in the UAE’s nuclear program, ENEC said in a statement. The South Korean firm will operate the UAE nuclear facilities as an equity partner and contractor.

Korea Electric is taking an 18% in a venture representing the commercial interests of the UAE’s Barakah nuclear-plant project, with ENEC holding the rest.

Construction of the UAE’s four reactors is more than 71%, and all the plants are to be finished in 2020, ENEC said it expects to produce nearly a quarter of its electricity from nuclear energy by 2020.

Akkuyu Nuclear Plant Seeks Turkish Partners

(Wire Services) Turkey’s Cengiz Holding is seeking local partners to undertake an equity share in Turkey’s Akkuyu nuclear power plant, which is being built by Russian company Rosatom.

Cengiz Holding recently won a bid for construction of water-intake infrastructure for the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant. Russia is holding talks with the firm in hopes to capitalize on the holding’s experience in energy installation and power plant construction.

Cengiz highlighted that the company needs to be a shareholder of the nuclear power plant in order to take part in its management and the Turkish partnership is expected to be completed by the beginning of the new year.

The hunt for investors in the four reactor complex has been ongoing for several years, but there have been no takers so far. In April 2016, Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation decided to sell up to 49% of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, Inc. to local companies in an attempt to form new partnerships.

The initial agreement on the nuclear power plant was signed between Turkey and Russia in 2010. The power plant consists of four nuclear reactors and a capacity of 4,800 megawatts (MW). It bis projected to be operational by 2023.

The nuclear plant in the southern province of Mersin is the first of three nuclear power plants Turkey currently plans to build to reduce its dependence on imported natural gas from Russia.

A second plant will be built by a French-Japanese consortium in the northern city of Sinop near the Black Sea. The Turkish energy ministry announced in October of last year that the country’s third nuclear power plant will be built in the Igneada district in the northwestern province of Kirklareli located on the western coast of the Black Sea.

Korsnick: Nuclear Must Be Seen as Essential National Infrastructure

(NEI) Maria Korsnick, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s newly selected president and chief executive officer, said last week that her most pressing priority is to get nuclear energy “the credit it deserves” as an essential part of the nation’s industrial and electrical infrastructure.

Speaking at her first press conference since NEI’s Oct. 4 announcement that she will succeed current CEO Marvin Fertel on Jan. 1, 2017, Korsnick called nuclear energy the unsung hero of our energy mix. She said she would seek recognition for the role nuclear energy must play as the nation and the world seek to meet increasing electricity demand using low-carbon energy sources.

“If we hope to maximize nuclear energy’s immense potential globally, the United States must take a leadership role, and NEI must carry out its mission effectively on behalf of the utilities, vendors and suppliers we represent,” she said.

Korsnick pointed out that despite the exemplary performance of the nation’s nuclear power plants, a confluence of factors—including low natural gas prices, federal and state support for renewables, and market flaws that do not value nuclear’s reliability and carbon-free attributes—have resulted in numbers of nuclear plants closing prematurely. When nuclear power plants retire prematurely, their generation is largely replaced by more natural gas.

“When you’re trying to stop carbon emissions, the math doesn’t add up. That’s a net loss in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, above and beyond the devastating economic impact to the communities where the plants operated,” she said.

She said much of the impetus to keeping current plants operating will come from working with state-level governmental agencies and policymakers to recognize and value their reliability and zero-emission attributes. New York state’s recently approved Clean Energy Standard is one model that can be emulated by other states and regions.

On the other hand, getting pricing mechanisms right to value nuclear in energy and capacity markets will come from policy changes at the level of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as well as at the regional transmission organizations that regulate and operate electricity grids, she said.

SMRs and Advanced Reactors are a Priority

Another of NEI’s priorities is to assist in accelerating the design and commercialization of small modular light water reactors, next generation light water reactors and non-light water, advanced reactors for deployment in the coming decades.

“It is important that young people entering our field—and others thinking about it—see a bright future for our industry,” she said.

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