Nuclear Reactors 243 - Problems in the Russian Nuclear Export Industry - Part Two of Four Parts

Part Two of Four Parts (Please read Part One first)        

       Until the announced cut-off of financing from the Russian government, Rosatom had almost limitless financial support for their international nuclear sales deals. This gave Russia a distinct advantage in pursuing international markets for its reactors. There were no other nuclear reactors export countries whose taxpayers would fully finance almost the entire cost of a new nuclear reactor for another country. In recent years, this financial support has been instrumental in Russia signing nuclear construction contracts with Finland, Hungary, and Belarus.

        Rosatom has been seeking deals in Europe for the sale and construction of nuclear power reactors.  Russia is promoting the VVER-1200 reactor for an official price of about five and a half billion dollars. However, as is often the case in the nuclear industry, the actual price of a Russian reactors based on the Hanhikivi NPP deal in Finland suggests that the price per Russian reactor will be more likely be around eight billion dollars.

      The deal with Hungary had Russia providing a loan of about nine billion dollars to cover eighty percent of the cost of two new Russian VVER-1200 to replace a pair of old Russian VVER-440 reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant. However, the European Commission has been blocking the project from completion because the contract calls for Russia to have exclusive rights to refuel the reactors. European Union rules call for multiple suppliers to be able to bid on fuel supply contracts for EU members. There are no other VVER-1200 reactors operating anywhere in the world and Russia owns exclusive rights to the technology for manufacturing the fuel assemblies. Either Russia would have to abandon the project or share its proprietary fuel assembly technology with other nuclear fuel vendors. There is a proposal that Russia be granted exclusive fueling rights for ten years and that other fuel vendors be allowed to bid on refueling after that. However, there are legal challenges to the original contract because there was no open bidding process for fuel supply before the deal was signed.

       Russia's attempt to sell new reactors to Belarus was foiled after a deal had been struck by a change of government in 2011. A new team of independent investigators hired by the new government went over the details of the propose Russian reactor sale and concluded that the new nuclear power plant would cost a great deal more than the estimated cost in contract that had been signed.

       So far, the Russian attempt to penetrate the EU nuclear power reactor market has failed despite enormous Russian investment in that project. At this point, the only Russia reactors in the EU are old reactors left over from the era of the Soviet Union.

       Russia had also signed deals with the old government of Ukraine for new nuclear power reactors but, with the annexation of the Crimea and Western sanctions, contracts to complete the construction of Units 3 and 4 at the Khmelnitsky Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine were put on indefinite hold.

(Read Part Three)

Geiger Readings for May 22, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 96 nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 112  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 89 nanosieverts per hour
Yellow bell pepper from Central Market = 45  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 95 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 72 nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Reactors 242 - Problems in the Russian Nuclear Export Industry - Part One of Four Parts

Part One of Four Parts

        There has been a lot of talk lately about a nuclear renaissance in the past few years. There has been a surge in new construction lately. In the nuclear nations, China and Russia are strongly committed to major domestic nuclear projects while new construction is rare in other nuclear nations. Nuclear technology companies in nuclear nations are seeking to export nuclear technology to developing nations to help them expand their economies. The most aggressive exporters are Russia's Rosatom and France's Areva. One of the big problems for the global nuclear industry these days is that the energy market is much freer these days with a flood of cheap natural gas and the lost of locked in prices for electricity generated by nuclear reactors. Unless nuclear companies have access to state subsidies as in Russia and France, it is difficult to interest investors in new nuclear ventures.

        Rosatom is the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation, the state owned conglomerate of nuclear companies in Russia. Atomenergoprom is part of Rosatom. It was formed in 2007 when more than 80 of the civilian nuclear companies under the Rosatom umbrella were consolidated into a nuclear holding company operating in all segments of the nuclear energy cycle. Atomenergoprom  is dedicated to "large-scale development of nuclear energy in Russia and promotion of Russian nuclear technologies on the international markets."

         In January, Fitch, the international financial rating agency downgraded the ratings of thirteen of the largest Russian nuclear companies including Atomenergoprom to BBB-. This is the lowest category of investment-grade ratings. Having an investment grade rating means that a company has "adequate capacity for payment of financial commitments that may be impaired  by adverse business or economic conditions." The minus sign means that it is possible that a company will have it ratings lowered further in the future. If Atomenergoprom's rating drops below BBB, that would mean that it would be reclassified to a speculative grade rating. A speculative grade rating means that a company with “an elevated vulnerability to default risk, particularly in the event of adverse changes in business or economic conditions over time.”

       Many segments of the Russia economy have been impacted Western trade sanctions triggered by the Russian annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine . Although the Russian energy sector has been hit by the sanctions, this has not included nuclear exports. Other than this down grading of credit ratings, the global nuclear industry is still pretty much a "level playing field."

      This is a critical year for Rosatom with regard to Russian state support. This will be the last year that Rosatom receives major government financing for the construction of new reactors. In 2016, the allowed expenses for Rosatom will be cut from around one billion seven hundred sixty million to seven hundred sixty million. That is a reduction of almost two thirds. This reduction in  government support was planned before the trade sanctions were put into place and started impacting the Russian economy. If the Western sanctions are not removed soon, Rosatom may see further reduction in state support.


Geiger Readings for May 21, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745

Ambient office = 90 nanosieverts per hour

Ambient outside = 62  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 53 nanosieverts per hour
Honey crisp apple from Central Market = 85  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 102 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 89 nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Reactors 241 - The U.S. Navy Considers Commercial Firms for Scrapping of Nuclear Carrier Enterprise - Part Two of Two Parts

Part Two of Two parts (Please read Part One first)

        Apparently NNS would like to do more of the work than requested by PSNS, even to the extent of doing the entire job of scrapping the Enterprise. There are over a thousand jobs at stake. And, as they point out, they did build the Enterprise in the first place. The parent company for NNS attended the May 2014 event and will probably submit a reply to the Naval RFI.

        In response to the buildup of a backlog of conventionally powered aircraft carriers and other Naval vessels in need of demolition, NAVSEA recently awarded contracts to three different "shipbreaking" companies for two aircraft carriers and three other ships. As a matter of fact, a ship is currently being towed from Puget Sound to Brownsville, Texas where the demolitions are taking place. Two of the three shipbreaking companies attended the May 2014 event and have recently said that they continued to be interested in the Enterprise job.

       A representative of one of the companies, All-Star Metals, says that the Navy needs to understand exactly what commercial firms can offer and have confidence in their ability to do the job needed on nuclear powered vessels. Of course, the ability to safely remove and transport nuclear fuel and radioactive components is a very import part of the Enterprise job and the Navy needs to know that commercial vendors are prepared for that task.

         Even if the decommissioning of the nuclear propulsion system of the Enterprise is carried out at Bremerton, the Navy wants to get input from commercial firms about how they would go about removing parts of the Enterprise (as NNS proposes) and leaving just enough for the remains to be sufficiently seaworthy to make the trip to PSNS. This would reduce both the cost of towing and the amount of work that had to be done in Bremerton.

       There has also been a discussion of how to take sufficient weight and width off the Enterprise so that it could be towed through the expanded Panama Canal which would seriously reduce the distance and cost of towing. The full width of the Enterprise is two hundred fifty feet and the old Canal locks could only handle one hundred and ten feet wide ships. If the carrier was cut down to the width of just the hull, it would be about one hundred thirty feet wide which would fit through the new expanded locks which will be one hundred eighty feet wide when completed.

        The Navy has still given no indication of what they intend to do with the Enterprise. If the recycling contract were given to NNS in Virginia, their parent company has said that they might consider a partnership with one of the three shipbreaking companies to have the work done in Brownsville, Texas. Given their backlog of nuclear decommissioning jobs, it does not appear that PSNS would miss the Enterprise contract all that much.

U.S.S. Enterprise:

Geiger Readings for May 20, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 66 nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 59  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 56 nanosieverts per hour
Honey crisp apple from Central Market = 153  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 82 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 76 nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Reactors 240 - The U.S. Navy Considers Commercial Firms for Scrapping of Nuclear Carrier Enterprise - Part One of Two Parts

Part One of Two parts.

    I cover global nuclear issues in my but sometimes a story hits close to my home city of Seattle, Washington. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) is located in Bremerton, near Seattle. In the early 1990s, a system was developed at PSNS to recycle old submarines and cruisers which were mothballed at Bremerton when they reached the end of their operational lives.

     At the Shipyard, the nuclear reactors that power some of the vessels are "defueled" and have the reactor vessels and their compartments removed. The reactor components are then "encased" and barged down to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in south central Washington State on the Columbia River. The remains of the ships are cut up for scrap and recycling.

    Over a hundred nuclear subs and eight nuclear cruisers have been disposed of in this way. Planning has been underway for some time for the Shipyard to dispose of the nuclear aircraft carrier Enterprise sometime in 2017. This would be the biggest job ever undertaken by the Shipyard. However, recently the U.S. Navy has been considering the possibility of opening the Enterprise job to commercial bidders which would inject an element of competition into what has been a monopoly for nuclear naval vessel disposal.

    This possibility appeared in May of 2014 when the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) sent out a request for information to commercial firms about how they would dismantle the Enterprise aside from the nuclear reactor and propulsion system. Despite repeated requests for more information, the Navy has refused to explain its intentions further than issuing a short statement in early May of 2015. "To ensure the best use of resources, the Navy is currently looking at options for recycling of USS Enterprise (CVN 65), including the possibility of commercial recycling," NAVSEA said May 4 in the statement. "All reactor compartments and radioactive systems will be disposed of by [Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the Intermediate Maintenance Facility]. No final decisions have been made."

    Non-Navy sources have speculated that there are probably two major reasons that the Navy is considering commercial firms for the Enterprise project. Apparently, the Navy is concerned about the estimate for the Shipyard to do the job. In order to carry out the entire recycling task at Bremerton, the Enterprise would have to be towed from Virginia, around South American and up to Washington State. This alone would cost more than the Navy had budgeted for the whole project.

    A second big concern is the fact that the Shipyard is used to maintain active Naval vessels in the North Pacific and it is quite busy. In addition, there is already a backlog of nuclear submarines lined up for demolition at the Shipyard. Adding the Enterprise to the workload might well overtax the already busy Shipyard's capacity.

   The Enterprise is currently at the Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) yard in Virginia where it was built. In 2013, the Enterprise was moved from the Norfolk Naval Base to NNS to have the nuclear fuel removed and some of the equipment and components stripped. This job was planned in conjunction with PSNS but there has been a conflict over just how much of the Enterprise will be removed before it would be sent to Puget Sound. PSNA wanted it to arrive basically intact while NNS wanted to remove major sections before it left Virginia.

(See Part Two)

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard:

Geiger Readings for May 19, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 69 nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 79  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 80 nanosieverts per hour
Avacado from Central Market = 77  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 112 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 92 nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Weapons 143 - Czech Republic Stops Attempt by Iran to Purchase Banned Compressors

        The U.S. and other members of the U.N. Security Council have been involved in intense negotiations this winter and spring to hammer out an international agreement to insure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. One of the biggest concerns is the control of nuclear related technology imports by Iran that might possibly be used in a nuclear weapons program. It has been reported that Iran has been attempting to evade international sanctions on its purchase of technology that might be used to create such weapons.
       The Czech Republic recently blocked an attempt by Iran to purchase sanctioned equipment from a U.S. company with a branch in the Czech Republic. The incident was reported by the sanctions committee of the U.N. Security Council. Iran attempted to purchase a type of compressor that has both nuclear and non-nuclear applications from a U.S. company named Howden CKD Compressory. There is no evidence that Howden CKD Compressory knew that the order for the compressors violated the sanctions. 
       The sanctions committed said that a "false end user" had been provided with the compressor order. "The procurer and transport company involved in the deal had provided false documentation in order to hide the origins, movement and destination of the consignment with the intention of bypassing export controls and sanctions." The report did not provide any additional details and the Iran U.N. mission did not respond to a request for any information about the incident. 
       The Czech government reported that the business that placed the order for the compressors claimed that they were intended for a compressor station that could be used to transport natural gas. The Czechs did not provide any additional detail on exactly how they became aware of and stopped the transaction, the specifications for the particular compressors that were ordered or name the business that placed the fraudulent order. They did say that the value of the order was about sixty million U.S. dollars which would have been a huge order for Howden CKD Compressory which provides multi-stage centrifugal compressors for use in the oil and gas, petrochemical and other industries.
        These type of compressor, in addition to the uses mentioned above, can also be utilized in centrifuge cascades that are used to purify uranium gas. Enriched uranium can be drawn directly from these compressors to be used as nuclear fuel or as material for the creation of nuclear weapons. Such compressors are especially useful when working with twenty percent enriched uranium. Most nuclear fuel for common nuclear power reactors is only enriched to about five percent so these compressors were probably intended for nuclear weapons production. 
         Iran had frozen twenty percent enrichment as part of the international negotiations in 2013. The attempted purchase of these compressors under false documentation in 2014 is certainly suspicious. Such behavior on the part of the Iranians supports claims by critics of the international nuclear program negotiations that Iran cannot be trusted to honor the terms of any deal aimed at curbing Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Geiger Readings for May 18, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 63 nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 94  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 110 nanosieverts per hour
Mango from Central Market = 85  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 95 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 89 nanosieverts per hour