Nuclear Reactors 275 - Russian Activist Says That South Africa Should Not Buy Russian Reactors

          I have blogged in the past about the aggressive Russia push to market Russian nuclear power reactors to other countries. South Africa has recently been considering the purchase of reactors from Russia. Earlier this week, Vladimir Slivyak with the Russian environmental group Ecodefense participated in a seminar at the University of Johannesburg about future deployment of nuclear power in South Africa. The title of his presentation was "Are Russian nuclear reactors a viable solution to the South African crisis?”

        In September of 2014, Russia and South Africa signed an intergovernmental agreement for the possible construction of about a gigawatt of new nuclear energy production. The agreement stipulates that the Russian nuclear utility Rosatom would build, own and operate the reactors. The agreement states that Rosatom would have a twenty year guarantee of a set price for the purchase of the electricity produced by the reactors. The project is estimated to cost between nine billion to seventeen billion dollars. The agreement is still under discussion between the two governments.

       The agreement also says that Rosatom is indemnified from any liability from nuclear accidents for the life of the reactor(s). It states that South Africa is “solely responsible for any damage both within and outside the territory of the Republic of South Africa”. Slivyak is very critical of this particular part of the agreement. He points out that there have been many nuclear accidents in the six decades that nuclear power has been utilized. Rostekhnadzor, the Russian state nuclear regulator, says that there were thirty nine "incidents" at Russian nuclear power plants in 2013 alone. The main causes were "mismanagement, defects in equipment and design errors".

        Russia currently operates thirty four power reactors. Many of these reactors have had their life extended from the original thirty years to forty five years. Russia only gets about five percent of its electricity from nuclear power and is not investing heavily in new nuclear power reactors. In 2008, the Russians announced plans to begin construction of thirteen gigawatts of new nuclear power. Now, in 2015, they are only planning on five and a half gigawatts of new nuclear power because the Russian economy is having serious problems with soft energy prices and international sanctions. In addition, Rosatom apparently is only able to build one reactor a year. Rosatom has been bragging about having orders for twenty seven reactors worth over a hundred billion dollars but is only actually building reactors in China and Belarus.

        Slivyak points out that if a country decides to construct new nuclear power reactors, that means that they are making a long term commitment of at least a century. One to three decades for construction, sixty years of operation and three decades for decommissioning. The decommissioning cost is currently estimated at around the cost of construction. With the cost estimate of up to seventeen billion dollars for construction, that would mean that Rosatom which would obligated to decommission the reactors would be committing to paying that cost, adjusted for inflation in a hundred years. Russia does not yet have a standard process for decommissioning so neither they nor the S.A.s can accurately gauge what will have to be done, exactly how long it will take and what the actual cost will be. There is also the problem of dealing with the spent nuclear fuel assemblies which is also the responsibility of Rosatom. This is a serious problem around the world and will not be cheap to solve. If Rosatom is unable to hold up its end of the contract for the required century, that would mean that S.A. would have to pay for the decommissioning or live with a deteriorating useless nuclear power plant.

       Slivyak concludes that from an economic point of view, it does not make sense for S.A. to risk a major investment in nuclear power.

Geiger Readings for Jul 31, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 109  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 79   nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 75  nanosieverts per hour
Mango from Central Market = 119  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 87 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 80  nanosieverts per hour

Radioactive Waste 138 - Holtec Applying HI-STORM UMAX To Temporary Storage Of Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage In The U.S.

        The U.S. has a serious spent nuclear fuel problem. The cooling pools at U.S. nuclear power plants are rapidly filling up with spent nuclear fuel. There are about seventy thousand tons of spent nuclear fuel located at seventy sites in thirty-five states. In 1992, the U.S. government chose Yucca Mountain in Nevada for a permanent spent nuclear fuel geological repository to be in operation by 1999. In 2009 after millions of dollars had been spent on preparing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository, the project was canceled over environmental concerns. The earliest we can expect to have a national permanent spent nuclear fuel disposal facility is 2050. In the meantime, spent nuclear fuel will have to be temporarily stored in concrete and steel dry casks either at the nuclear power plants or in one or more offsite national facilities.

        Holtec International is proposing a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) to be built in New Mexico. If their schedule is approved and successfully followed, they expect to start receiving shipments of spent nuclear fuel in 2020. In April, Holtec and Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA) signed a memorandum of agreement that detailed the design, licensing, construction and operation of the proposed CISF. ELEA will supply the land and also local logistical support including existing information on the environmental characteristics of the land. The CISF will be based on Holtec's (Holtec International STORage Module Universal MAXimum security) or HI-STORM UMAX dry storage system.

        Holtec is licensing its UMAX technology to store other manufacturers canisters as well as its own canisters. Holtec says that it has certification with the NRC for transporting casks that are in use today so if the NRC provides the licenses, Holtec could begin moving waste immediately. Their CIFS is built so that the spent fuel in any particular cask can be retrieved within four to eight hours. Holtec points out that the UMAX system is already in use at the Missouri Callaway nuclear power plant and was chosen for the San Onofre plant decommissioning in California so they consider it a proven technology.

         The one thousand acre site being supplied by ELEA is about mid-way between Hobbs and Carlsbad. ELEA says that the site is remote, geologically stable, dry and is accessible by rail. The area that it is in already has a "robust scientific and nuclear operations workforce" with the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad and several other nuclear facilities nearby. The new CISF will only require about sixty acres of the one thousand acre site.      

         Holtec will submit a letter of intent for the CISF to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in August. Once the letter of intent from Holtec reaches the NRC, a pre-application meeting could be held in December followed by a formal application submittal in June of 2016. A safety evaluation report could be issued by the end of 2018 with a license to begin construction in 2019 and operations to begin in 2020. Holtec officials say that the main problem that they foresee with their proposal is political and they are working hard to gain local approval for their proposed facility. They are currently in discussion with the Department of Energy to see if the DoE is willing to be the official owner of the spent nuclear fuel to be stored at the CISF.

         One of the biggest problems for the expansion of nuclear power in the U.S. is concern over the disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Holtec is hopeful that the existence of a safe temporary storage facility in New Mexico will help relieve this concern and stimulate the growth of U.S. nuclear power.

Geiger Readings for Jul 30, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 83  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 123   nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 110  nanosieverts per hour
Crimini mushroom from Central Market = 134  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 117 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 97  nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Reactors 274 - Prefabrication of Nuclear Plant Components Not Solution to Cost Overruns and Scheduling Delays

           The global nuclear power industry is trying hard to convince everyone that nuclear power is a viable option and that safe and economical nuclear power plants can be built. Unfortunately, many nuclear power projects fall behind schedule and incur cost increases that can be multiples of original estimates. Major nuclear power plants are based on standard designs but are built onsite and customized to fit the requirements of each installation which often results in high costs and construction delays. One attempt to address problems with construction budgets schedules is the idea of prefabricating sections of the plants in factories and shipping them by rail to the construction sites to lower costs and speed up construction.

           The Georgia Power Company (GPC) , a unit of Southern Company, is employing the new prefabrication method in the construction of two new power reactors at the existing Vogtle nuclear power plant near Waynesboro, Georgia. The new construction is three years behind schedule. GPC has a forty six percent share in the Vogtle plant for which it expects to spend seven and a half billion dollars. This cost is about one and a half billion dollars more than the Georgia regulatory agency authorized in 2009. The Georgia ratepayers may see over three hundred dollars a year added to their electricity bills. GPC has express the hope that the ratepayers will not see their cost for electricity rise more than eight percent a year. An executive VP of GPC said, "The promise of nuclear construction has yet to be seen." A former member of the Georgia Public Service Commission said, "Modular construction has not worked out to be the solution that the utilities promised."

          South Carolina Electric & Gas Company (SCEGC) is constructing two additional nuclear power reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant near Jenkinsville, South Carolina. The current estimated expenditure for SCEGC's fifty five percent share of the plant is six billion eight hundred million dollars, over a billion dollars more than a 2012 estimate. SCEGC is offering to reduce its profit margin on the project if the state regulators are willing to approve a new cost estimate and revised construction schedule. The commission has not yet issued a decision on the SCEGC offer.

         Five years ago, U.S. utilities were promoting plans for the construction of over two dozen new nuclear power reactors in the U.S.  The U.S. nuclear industry was bragging about the arrival of a "nuclear renaissance" in the U.S. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission created a separate division to oversee the flood of applications for new construction.

          However, the fracking boom and the arrival of cheap natural gas dampened utilities enthusiasm for new power reactors. Currently there are five reactors under construction in the U.S. The two that we mentioned above are both behind schedule and over budget. The NRC has folded the new division that was created back into the main operations. The nuclear renaissance seems to be losing steam (pardon the pun.)   

Vogtle plant construction:



V.C. Summers plant construction:

Geiger Readings for Jul 29, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 109  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 93   nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 79  nanosieverts per hour
Fig from Central Market = 48  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 94  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 87  nanosieverts per hour

Radioactive Waste 137 - Spain Selects Villar de Canas As The Site For A Temporary Nuclear Waste Storage Facility

          One of the big unsolved problems of nuclear power generation is the disposal of the spent nuclear fuel assemblies. In the U.S., the federal government was supposed to have a permanent spent nuclear fuel repository in Nevada at a Yucca Mountain salt mine. That project was finally cancelled in 2009 because of geological problems and the best guess for a new site being developed and opened is around 2005. The spent nuclear fuel pools at U.S. reactors are filling up and temporary storage either onsite or offsite will have to be constructed soon. Other countries are working on their own temporary nuclear waste storage facilities.

         In 2006, Spain approved the Sixth General Radioactive Waste Plan (SGRWP). This plan lays out Spain's national policy and strategy for managing spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive wastes. The plan states that construction of a temporary storage facility for intermediate and high-level radioactive waste must be a priority. In 2009, fourteen localities including the small town of Villar de Cañas in the Cuenca province expressed an interest in hosting the disposal site. Villar de Cañas was selected as the official site in 2011.

         The Nuclear Safety Council in Spain has just voted to approve of a report that officially states Villar de Cañas would be a suitable site for the construction of a temporary nuclear waste storage facility. The report states that the Villar de Cañas location is suitable from a safety point of view because of the features of the terrain and the fact that the engineering design features of the barriers to be constructed are standard in the world of nuclear facilities. The report said that the site had "The technical evaluation noted that the proposed site has no exclusive phenomena."

       The CSN report states that with respect to the regulations on nuclear and radioactive facilities, "prior authorization or official recognition that a chosen site is considered suitable" provides authorization for the licensee to start preliminary work on the facility concurrent with the regulatory approval process. This allows the licensee for the Villar de Cañas site, a decommissioning firm named Enresa, to build external infrastructure such as access roads to the site during the approval process.

        The CSN will submit the report to the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism which has final authority to approve a license for the facility. CSN has requested that more techincal studies and analyses be carried out before it makes a final decision on Villar de Cañas.

        If the facility is approve and constructed, it will accept transport casks of spent nuclear fuel or vitrified radioactive wastes that are currently in temporary storage at Spain's nuclear power plants. The wastes will be removed from their transport casks and put in smaller containers. The new containers will be placed in a dry store which will be cooled by the passive circulation of air. Almost seventeen thousand cubic yards of radioactive waste can be stored at the facility for sixty years. It is hoped that by the end of that period, there will be a permanent geological repository available.

Artist's concept of Villar de Cañas nuclear waste disposal facility:

Geiger Readings for Jul 28, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 65  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 66   nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 85  nanosieverts per hour
Fig from Central Market = 100  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 94  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 77  nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Reactors 273 - Washington City in Utah Considering Participating in Small Modular Reactor Project

         One of the big selling points of nuclear power is that it produces huge amounts of electricity. Reactors that generate over a billion watts of power are common. The smallest commercial power reactor in the U.S. is located at Fort Calhoun in Nebraska and it generates over five hundred megawatts. There is a movement now towards smaller reactors called "small modular reactors" (SMRs) that produce three hundred million watts or less. The supporters of this trend say that these reactors can be constructed on a production line and shipped to where they will be installed and operated. This is supposed to benefit from standardization of components and less costly onsite work. Critics say that it is unlikely that three of these reactors could be built and installed for less money than a single big reactor that would produce more electricity.

         Washington City is located in Utah. Its population is about eighteen thousand people which makes it the thirty fifth largest city in Utah. This week the City Council agreed to consider the possibility of nuclear power generation as an alternative to a coal power plant. They are going to research sites for a local nuclear power plant. Washington City only needs eleven megawatts of electricity from a new plant. One of the reasons for the interest in the nuclear option is the fact that the city has developed a "Carbon Free Power Project" in order to reduce the amount of carbon emitted by the production of electricity.

         Washington City is teaming with NuScale Power which is an Oregon-based company. NuScale is one of the companies working on the SMRs. They have publicized plans to work on reactors for municipalities who may need as little as fifty megawatts of electricity from a nuclear power plant. They say that twelve of these SMRs could be linked together to produce six hundred megawatts of electricity which is comparable to the low end of the existing big nuclear power reactors. NuScale is working on such a system to be constructed near Idaho Falls. They hope to have the system in operation by 2024.

          Washington City has agreed to provide an initial twenty thousand dollars in conjunction with contributions from other nearby municipalities for Phase I of the exploratory process. Phase II calls for spending between one million three hundred thousand dollars and two million six hundred thousand dollars. The higher number would be required if the Utah Associated Municipal Power System partners with NuScale. NuScale will provide half the funding if the UAMPS comes in on the project. The federal Department of Energy is ready to provide a two hundred and fifty million dollar grant for Phase III to help with the development of SMRs.

         The DoE has been working with several different companies to stimulate the development of SMRs. Unfortunately, there has been a lack of interest from potential customers and potential investors in SMRs which has slowed down the development work. Time will tell if this alternative to the gigawatt plus big power reactors is viable.

Washington City Community Center:

Geiger Readings for Jul 27, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745

Ambient office = 117  nanosieverts per hour

Ambient outside = 130   nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 114  nanosieverts per hour
Carrot from Central Market = 102  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 59  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 51  nanosieverts per hour