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Japan ends plans for new reactors

Issue 2 and Volume 4.

Construction of the Tomari 3 reactor located in northern Japan. The 866 MWe Mitsubishi pressurized water reactor, which began operations in December 2009, is the latest reactor to come online in Japan. Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Nuclear Energy Systems.

Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on May 10 that Japan would abandon plans to build new nuclear reactors, saying his country needed to “start from scratch” in creating a new energy policy.

The decision reverses a plan that the Kan government released last year to build 14 more nuclear reactors by 2030 and increase the share of nuclear power in Japan’s electricity supply to 50 percent, the New York Times reported. Japan has 54 reactors that produced 30 percent of its electricity before the March 11 earthquake.

The week before, Kan asked Chubu Electric Co. to suspend operations at the Hamaoka nuclear plant, which sits atop an active earthquake fault line, about 120 miles southwest of Tokyo. Chubu Electric Power agreed May 9 to shut down the plant until a new wave wall was built and other measures could be taken to strengthen it against earthquakes and tsunamis.

Mr. Kan said Japan would retain nuclear and fossil fuels as energy sources, but vowed to add two new pillars to Japan’s energy policy: renewable energy and conservation.

“We need to start from scratch,” Mr. Kan told reporters. “We need to make nuclear energy safer and do more to promote renewable energy.” 

China to boost solar and cut its goals for nuclear power

China will cut its 2020 target for nuclear power capacity and build more solar farms following Japan’s nuclear crisis, according to a report from Bloomberg.

The country will reduce its nuclear capacity goal of 80 GW, Ren Dongming, director of the renewable energy development center under the economic planner’s energy research institute, was quoted as saying at a Beijing conference. He did not give a new target. The goal for solar-power capacity will increase from the current target of 20 GW.

The Chinese government approved on March 1 a proposal by China Huaneng Group to develop a 4,000 MW atomic plant in Shandong province.

China currently has at least 14 reactors in operation and is constructing at least 27 reactors. It also has 50 more planned. 

NRG Energy scraps new nuclear reactors at South Texas Project

NRG Energy Inc. said it will write down $481 million of its investment in the development of South Texas Project units 3 and 4. NRG also said while it will cooperate to develop STP 3 and 4, it will not invest additional capital in the development effort.

“The tragic nuclear incident in Japan has introduced multiple uncertainties around new nuclear development in the United States which have had the effect of dramatically reducing the probability that STP 3amp;4 can be successfully developed in a timely fashion,” said David Crane, president and CEO. “We continue to believe both in the absolute necessity of a U.S. nuclear renaissance and that STP 3amp;4 is the best new nuclear development project in the country bar none. However, the extraordinary challenges facing U.S. nuclear development in the present circumstance and the very considerable financial resources expended by NRG on the project over the past five years make it impossible for us to justify to our shareholders any further financial participation in the development of the STP project.”

NRG recorded a first-quarter 2011 pretax charge of around $481 million for the impairment of all of the net assets of Nuclear Innovation North America (NINA), the company’s nuclear development joint venture with Toshiba American Nuclear Energy Corp. The write down consists of $331 million of NINA net assets funded by NRG along with $150 million of net investment contributed by the Toshiba unit.

NINA suspended indefinitely all detailed engineering work and other pre-construction activities and reduced the project workforce. Going forward NINA will be focused solely on securing a combined operating license from the NRC and on obtaining a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. TANE will be responsible for funding ongoing costs to continue the licensing process. In concurrence with the substantial reduction in NINA’s project workforce and to support NINA’s reduced scope of work, NRG expects to incur one-time costs, related to a contribution to NINA, which are not expected to exceed $20 million. These costs will be incurred and expensed primarily in the second quarter 2011. 

Canadian nuclear powerplant receives one-yearlicense extension

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) on April 6 announced its decision to renew the Power Reactor Operating License issued to New Brunswick Power Nuclear for its Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station for one year. The license will be valid until June 30, 2012.

The Commission concluded that New Brunswick Power Nuclear is qualified to carry out the activities that will be permitted under the renewed license and that it will make adequate provision for the protection of the environment, the health and safety of persons and the maintenance of national security and measures required to implement international obligations to which Canada has agreed.

With this decision, New Brunswick Power Nuclear is required to obtain prior approval of the Commission before reloading fuel in the reactor and proceeding with the restart of the reactor at the conclusion of the refurbishment outage. The Commission will consider the request for this approval in the context of a public hearing.

Nuclear power plant uprate project approved

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved a request by Exelon Generation Co. to increase the power generating capacity of Limerick Generating Station, Units 1 and 2, by 1.65 percent each.

The NRC staff’s evaluation determined that Exelon could safely increase the reactors’ power output primarily through more accurate means of measuring feedwater flow. As part of its evaluation, NRC staff reviewed the company’s analysis showing the plant’s design can accommodate the increased power level.

The NRC’s safety evaluation of the plant’s proposed power uprate focused on several areas, including the nuclear steam supply systems, instrumentation and control systems, electrical systems, accident evaluations, radiological consequences, fire protection, operations and training, testing and technical specification changes.

The power uprate for Limerick’s GE boiling water reactors will increase each unit’s power generating capacity from approximately 1,189 to 1,205 MWe. Exelon intends to implement Unit 1’s uprate within 90 days and Unit 2’s uprate within 90 days of the completion of its 2011 spring refueling outage.

Taiwan haltsnuclear expansion

Taiwan Power (Taipower), which operates the Asian island’s three nuclear power plants and is building a fourth, has halted plans for additional reactors and will study its options after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

According to Bloomberg, Taipower has cancelled a tender to hire advisers on adding two more reactors to its No. 4 nuclear plant under construction, chief engineer Roger Lee said. The government also has frozen a review of the state-run utility’s application to extend the license of its No. 1 plant, which has been operating for 33 years.

“Taipower would rather take more time and spend more money so the public won’t worry,” Lee was quoted as saying. The company is studying how to strengthen the nuclear stations’ ability to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis, he said, and may take measures, including grouting, anchoraging and putting up higher water gates to strengthen safety in its plants.

Taipower’s three plants, like the stricken 40 year old Fukushima Daiichi station, are near the ocean. They provide about 20 percent of the island’s power and are as close as 5 km from an active quake fault line, according to Lee.

Pakistan reactor connects to grid

In mid-March, Pakistan’s 300 MWe Chashma 2 reactor was connected to the national power system, Pakistani media reported.

The Chashma 2 reactor took five years to construct and was completed earlier than originally anticipated. The reactor is based on the Chinese Qinshan Unit 1 reactor and a twin of Chashma 1, which started operations in 2005.

Work on two additional units at Chashma has begun with Chinese help and is expected to be finished within five to seven years.

Palo Verde nuclear power plantreceives 20-year license extension

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has renewed the operating licenses for Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station Units 1, 2, and 3 in Arizona for an additional 20 years. The renewed licenses for the nuclear power plants will now expire on June 1, 2045, for Unit 1; April 24, 2046, for Unit 2; and Nov. 25, 2047 for Unit 3. The three pressurized water reactors generate roughly 4,000 MW.

The decision to renew the licenses comes after safety and environmental reviews of the license renewal application submitted in December 2008 by the plant’s operator, Arizona Public Service Co. (APS). In January 2011, the NRC staff concluded there were no environmental impacts that would preclude renewal of the license for environmental reasons.

NRC staff staff concluded APS had effectively demonstrated the capability to manage the effects of plant aging and that there were no safety concerns that would preclude license renewal. In addition, NRC conducted inspections of the plant to verify information submitted by the applicant. On March 1, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, an independent body of technical experts that advises the Commission, issued its letter recommending that license renewal for Palo Verde should be approved.

The Palo Verde reactors represent the 64th, 65th, and 66th reactor licenses renewed by the NRC.

Storms shut down Browns Ferry nuclear power plant

Tennessee Valley Authority said it would take days or possibly weeks for all of the units at the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in Alabama to return to service following a series of violent thunderstorms and tornadoes that hit the area April 27.

Local news reports quoted TVA officials as saying the plant will return to service after workers repair enough of the transmission lines to allow the power system to operate correctly. The reactors shut down as designed after instability occurred on the transmission system.

Units 2 and 3 at Browns Ferry were in cold shutdown mode and Unit 1 was near cold shutdown. It was taking a little longer because circulating water pumps had tripped.

Bevilacqua named vice president of Westinghouse group

Westinghouse Electric Co. named Bruce Bevilacqua as vice president, Americas.

In this position he will be responsible for project delivery, customer relationships and business development for all product lines in support of AEP, Dominion, Exelon, PPL Susquehanna, PSEG and Xcel Energy.

Previously, Bevilacqua was vice president of New Plants Engineering where he led the design efforts in support of the AP1000 nuclear reactor technology. Prior to that, he served as president of WesDyne.

Entergy files lawsuit to keep Vermont nuclear unit open

The Entergy-owned Vermont Yankee plant. Photo courtesy Entergy.

Two units of Entergy Corp., Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee LLC and Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc., filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont to prevent the state of Vermont from forcing the 540 MW Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to close on March 21, 2012.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March 2011 granted the plant’s 20-year license renewal.

“Despite the fact that Vermont Yankee is important to the reliability of the New England electric transmission grid, emits virtually no greenhouse gases, and provides more than $100 million in annual economic benefits to the state of Vermont, it has been made clear that state officials are singularly focused on shutting down the plant,” said Richard Smith, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities. “That has left us with no other choice but to seek relief in the court system.

In 2006, the state General Assembly passed a law that invalidated a key provision of a 2002 Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Entergy units and state officials when Entergy bought the power plant. Under the provision of the MOU, the two subsidiaries had agreed to seek a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board if it sought to operate the plant beyond March 21, 2012. This was in accordance with the process and standard for securing the state certificate in effect at that time. The complaint alleges that the state repudiated the MOU, breaching that agreement and excusing the two Entergy subsidiaries’ obligation to further comply with that specific provision.

“The 2006 state law took the decision about Vermont Yankee’s future away from the Public Service Board, a quasi-judicial expert decision-maker, independent of legislative control,” said Smith. “It instead placed Vermont Yankee’s fate in the hands of political decision-makers, namely the state General Assembly and governor who could deprive Entergy’s two subsidiaries of the opportunity to operate the Vermont Yankee plant beyond March 21, 2012, for unsupported or arbitrary reasons. This is not what we signed up for in 2002.”

Entergy says it has made efforts to gain state approval without resorting to litigation, including:

  • Filing a petition in 2008 with the public service board for a certificate of public good to operate the plant beyond March 21, 2012;
  • Offering Vermont utilities a 20-year power purchase agreement at a fixed price of $49 per megawatt hour for the first contract year, followed by a market-adjusted pricing structure that ensured the utilities and their customers would benefit from low power market prices. This proposal was well below comparable offers from other electricity providers. It also included an inflation-adjusted price cap starting at $61 per megawatt hour that would have ensured the utilities and their customers were protected from high power market prices;
  • Offering to negotiate with the Vermont Department of Public Service the establishment of a “date certain” for the commencement of decommissioning activities at Vermont Yankee earlier than the 60-year SAFSTOR period permitted by NRC regulations; and
  • Exploring the potential sale of Vermont Yankee. Despite interest from some potential buyers, based largely on the superior operational record of the plant, Entergy was unable to reach commercial terms with any party due to the political uncertainty in Vermont; more specifically, due to the stated intent of Vermont officials to shut down the plant.

In a meeting with Entergy representatives on March 30, 2011, the governor reiterated his opposition to the operation of Vermont Yankee after 2012. The lawsuit is based in part on the following legal principles:

  • Atomic Energy Act Preemption. Under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1983 in a case involving Pacific Gas amp; Electric that a state has no authority over (1) nuclear power plant licensing and operations or (2) the radiological safety of a nuclear power plant. In violation of these legal principles, Vermont has asserted that it can shut down a federally licensed and operating nuclear power plant, and that it can regulate the plant based upon Vermont’s safety concerns.
  • Federal Power Act Preemption and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Vermont is prohibited from conditioning post-March 2012 operation of the Vermont Yankee Station on the plant’s agreement to provide power to Vermont utilities at preferential wholesale rates. The Federal Power Act preempts any state interference with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s exclusive regulation of rates in the wholesale power market. The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution bars a state from discriminatory regulation of private markets that favors in-state over out-of-state residents.

“The task force will talk to agency technical experts and gather information to conduct a comprehensive review of the information from the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex and make recommendations for any improvements needed to our regulatory system,” Miller said in a statement from NRC.

According to the charter, the task force will conduct a near-term review and identify topics for assessment for a longer term review. A written report is expected to made public 90 days after the start of the review.

Initially, the task force will identify potential near-term actions that affect U.S. power reactors, including their spent fuel pools. Areas to be reviewed include station blackout (loss of all A/C power for a reactor), external events that could lead to a prolonged loss of cooling, plant capabilities for preventing or dealing with such circumstances, and emergency preparedness.

The task force will draw from ongoing NRC inspections to verify availability of plant equipment, procedures, and other resources currently required for dealing with such events. The task force will also gather information from domestic and international sources while remaining independent of any industry initiatives.

The task force expects to develop recommendations for Commission consideration on whether it should require immediate enhancements at U.S. reactors and any changes to NRC regulations, inspection procedures, and licensing processes.

The task force briefed the Commission in a public meeting on the status of the review on May 12.

South Korea PM says country cannot abandon nuclear policy

New construction continues in South Korea. This is a look at Shin Kori Units 3 and 4 as of December 31, 2010. Photo courtesy Westinghouse.

In April, South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said the country cannot scrap its nuclear power generation policy as it is an important source of energy for the nation.

“We cannot abolish the nuclear power policy that we have pursued so far because we need to continue economic growth in a situation where we have no particular source of energy,” Kim Hwang-sik said at a parliamentary meeting, according to the Yonhap News Agency in South Korea.

Kim made the remark after a lawmaker called for the government to reconsider its energy policy depending on nuclear power and make a transition toward stable, renewable energy.

Nuclear power currently provides about one-third of South Korea’s electricity needs.

Following the ongoing crisis in Japan, a 40-member state nuclear inspection team has been testing the nation’s 21 nuclear reactors to check their emergency response systems and facilities, particularly those built more than 20 years ago, according to the prime minister’s office.

Unistar ineligible to build third nuclear power reactor

Constellation Energy-owned Calvert Cliffs NPP. Photo courtesy of Constellation.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said April 8 that UniStar Nuclear Energy is not eligible to build a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs because it is not a U.S.-owned company. The NRC said, however, it would continue to process the application. UniStar said it believes it will have a U.S. partner for the proposed project.

In October 2010 Constellation Energy pulled out of negotiations for a $7.5 billion federal loan guarantee to build a nuclear reactor at the site with its French partner Electricite de France (EDF).

Federal law prohibits complete ownership or control of a U.S. nuclear plant by a foreign entity. UniStar is owned by French energy group EDF.The NRC said a license would not be issued until ownership requirements were met.

“While EDF and UniStar disagree with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s conclusion regarding UniStar’s present governance structure, we are pleased that the NRC will continue to review all other aspects of our pending application,” an EDF spokesperson said. “This allows the project to continue moving forward as anticipated.”

UniStar said it will continue to work with the NRC to resolve the governance issue. The company has not said when it might find a U.S. partner.

568 MW nuclear power plant up for sale

The Kewaunee nuclear power station is located in Carlton, Wis., on Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy of Dominion.

Dominion Resources Inc. plans to sell the 568 MW Kewaunee nuclear plant.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dominion purchased Kewaunee for $192 million in 2005 from Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Alliant Energy. At the time the purchase was expected to be one of several in the Midwest, but Dominion was unsuccessful in buying other nuclear plants in the region. The Kewaunee plant no longer fit in the company’s plans, the article stated. Dominion also owns nuclear plants in Virginia and New England.

Kewaunee recently received a 20-year license renewal from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to run through 2033. Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Alliant Energy are currently under a power purchase agreement for power generated from the plant until December 2013. Discussions are under way for new PPAs.

The article said Wisconsin Public Service and Alliant have rights of first refusal on any sale, up to their previous share of ownership.

B&W small modular nuclear reactor testing facility wins $5 million grant

Conceptual drawing of Bamp;W mPower nuclear reactor design. Photo courtesy Babcock and Wilcox.

The Babcock amp; Wilcox Co. (Bamp;W) received a $5 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission for its Integrated System Test (IST) facility in Bedford County, Va.

The grant supports further development of the Bamp;W mPower reactor that represents a new generation of smaller, scalable nuclear power plants on track to be deployed by 2020.

The test program will collect data to verify the reactor design and safety performance in support of Bamp;W’s licensing activities with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Bamp;W anticipates the facility will begin testing activities later this summer.

Babcock amp; Wilcox Nuclear Energy Inc. and Bechtel Power Corp. formed a joint company, Generation mPower LLC, to design, license and build the next generation of nuclear power plants based on Bamp;W mPower reactor technology.

This is the second grant the Virginia tobacco commission awarded for design and construction of Bamp;W’s facility. In July 2010, Bamp;W announced a $2.4 million grant from the commission to support construction.

The additional $5 million is designated for process equipment to support operation of a scaled prototype of the Bamp;W mPower reactor. All of the technical features of Bamp;W’s mPower reactor are included in the IST, although the source of energy is electricity rather than nuclear.

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