Monday, May 12, 2008

News From the Week of May 5, 2008

The Resurrection of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor!?

Unexplained Vibration Will Keep SC Nuclear Reactor Shut Down

Electric Bills Will Rise to Pay for New Nukes

Uranium Mining Appears Ready to Surge

Areva Plans to Build $2 Billion Uranium Plant in Idaho

Wal-Mart Selects 20 Capitols for Energy Audits

Ohio Requires 25% Renewable or Advanced Energy by 2025

Company Offers to Drop Lawsuit as States Consider Waste Plan

Utility Eyes Ratepayers for Building Costs: Georgia Power May Ask to Bill Customers for Reactors' Construction

The Resurrection of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor!?
Knoxville News Sentinel

TVA has received $4 million from the Department of Energy to develop a conceptual design for a nuclear waste reprocessing plant, with an eye toward building a demonstration facility, possibly on the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor site.

TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore said Tuesday in an interview that TVA has long-term plans to develop a small-scale nuclear waste recycling facility to demonstrate technology that would allow useful material in nuclear waste sitting in storage on nuclear power plant sites to be reprocessed as fuel.

With power companies increasingly turning to nuclear as a source for the nation's future energy needs, how to handle the waste generated by these plants has become of increasing concern - and the focus of federal dollars.

"It's a long-term project," he said. "Something like this is going to take a decade, maybe two, to perfect. (This money represents) just a front-end, little sliver."

Such a project would ultimately cost "billions of dollars" if plans come to fruition, Kilgore said, and the demonstration facility TVA is envisioning would be a "10th or 20th" the size of a production-size reprocessing plant.

Kilgore said firm plans for locating the facility have not been made, and the Oak Ridge Reservation - home of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 Weapons Plant and East Tennessee Technology Park - could be a possible location as well.

"Our concept is that it would be close enough so that we would not have to have transport that would be at a very large distance," he said. "We've got Watts Bar and Sequoyah (nuclear plants) already here, so we've got the concept that it's not far from Watts Bar up to our Clinch River site."

The funding is part of a recent memorandum of understanding between TVA and the Department of Energy that DOE announced as a collaborative effort to deal with issues of nuclear waste as part of its Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP.

TVA could end up collaborating with Oak Ridge National Laboratory or other DOE labs on the effort, Kilgore said, but that involvement is still in the discussion phase.

The Clinch River property was the planned site of a breeder reactor under development by the Department of Energy but cancelled in 1983. Now known as the Clinch River Industrial site, the property in 2006 was restricted by TVA from general industrial development as part of a policy that reserved the agency's shoreline property for manufacturers needing water for transportation or supply.

The location for the Clinch River Breeder Reactor was a 1,364-acre parcel adjacent to the Clinch River in Roane County but inside the Oak Ridge city limits. When mothballed in 1983 before completion, federal estimates put the cost of completing the breeder reactor at $8 billion.

Business writer Larisa Brass may be reached at 865-342-6318.


Unexplained Vibration Will Keep SC Nuclear Reactor Shut Down
GREENVILLE, S.C. (The Associated Press) - May 4

Investigators say a reactor at the Oconee Nuclear Station will remain off-line until the cause of a vibration discovered as the plant was shutting down for refueling can be pinpointed.

The senior Nuclear Regulatory Commission resident inspector at the plant, George Hutto, says the investigation should be complete in the next couple of weeks.

The Greenville News reported Sunday that a special inspection last week failed to find the cause of high vibrations in three reactor coolant pumps for Unit 1 at the Duke Energy plant near Seneca.

The commission reported that one of the pumps also showed indications of a degraded condition.

The commission says there's is little safety concern because the reactor is shut down and will stay that way until the problem is solved.


Electric Bills Will Rise to Pay for New Nukes
May 05 - The Miami Herald

Your electric bill is likely to go up $2 a month or more next year to start paying for the new nuclear power plants that Florida Power & Light hopes to put in service in 10 or 12 years.

In a filing last week with the Public Service Commission, FPL started the process to recover the costs associated with expanding the capacity at its existing nuclear operations at Turkey Point and St. Lucie, as well as the new nuclear generators planned at Turkey Point in South Dade.

The increase, if approved by regulators, would be a little more than 2 percent, the utility said. The average homeowner using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month is now paying $102.49.

The nuclear surcharge would first appear on bills next January, recovering costs already incurred, plus costs for the rest of 2008 and estimates for 2009 expenses.

The utility is allowed to recover the costs associated with the expensive nuclear construction well in advance of the completion of construction because of a bill passed by the Florida Legislature and a regulation approved by the PSC. The new plants are not expected to come on line until 2018 or 2020.

The PSC has approved the new nuclear plants -- the first time a state regulatory agency in the United States has approved new nuclear power in 30 years -- but federal regulators and the state Department of Environmental Protection still have to sign off on the project.

The units are expected to cost $12 billion to $24 billion, depending on the technology used.

In March, FPL spokesman Mayco Villafana told The Herald that the utility planned to file a request in May to recover nuclear costs. The costs could fluctuate from year to year but would probably never be more than $6 a month, Villafana said.


Uranium Mining Appears Ready to Surge
LOS ANGELES, May 4, 2008 -- UPI

Uranium mining in the United States may be about to surge, a spike in claims being filed indicates.

In five Western states where uranium is mined, 43,153 claims were filed last year, up from 4,333 in 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. The area of interest includes near the Grand Canyon, where U.S. Interior Department records show there are more than 1,100 claims within five miles of the national park, compared to only 10 in 2003, the Times said.

The closure of some mines in Canada and West Africa, combined with plans for more nuclear power plants around the world, has pushed up the price of uranium from $9.70 a pound in 2002 to $65 a pound last week, the newspaper noted.

The possibility of more U.S. mines has sent environmental groups to the federal courts and Congress to try to head off any mining near the Grand Canyon and other sensitive areas, the Times said. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., has introduced legislation to withdraw 1 million acres of federal land around the Grand Canyon park from consideration for mining.

However, the measure would not stop claims already staked.

"If you can't stop mining at the Grand Canyon, where can you stop it?" asked Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group.


Areva Plans to Build $2 Billion Uranium Plant in Idaho
BOISE, Idaho (The Associated Press) - May 6 - By JOHN MILLER Associated
Press Writer

French-owned energy services company Areva NC Inc. will build a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant near the eastern Idaho city of Idaho Falls, after winning tax concessions from the state Legislature.

The plant will be built near the Idaho National Laboratory, where scientists have done research into nuclear energy since the 1940s, the company said Tuesday.

A late-session push in the Legislature earlier this year extended a sales tax exemption for production equipment that handles nuclear fuel and capped property tax valuations at the proposed plant at $400 million.

Areva plans to build the plant by 2014. A program in which Russia has been converting weapons-grade uranium to uranium suitable for use in electricity-producing reactors and selling it to an Areva rival expires in 2013.

"The United States needs more clean energy to support its economic growth," Michael McMurphy, Areva NC's president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "To enable us to meet those needs we have to expand our domestic nuclear infrastructure, secure our supply of enrichment services, and reduce our reliance on foreign imports. This new enrichment plant is a critical part of this process."

Before the plant is built, Areva still must get approval from local, state and national agencies, including a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the facility.

Areva selected Idaho over sites in Washington state, Ohio, Texas and New Mexico.

"While we had several attractive sites to choose from, we opted for Idaho Falls, which has strong ties to nuclear energy, and which welcomed Areva and its proposed enrichment facility to become a new member of its community," McMurphy said.

Joe Heaton, a Democratic New Mexico state representative from Carlsbad, told the Carlsbad Current-Argus that Areva decided against the southeastern New Mexico site because of a workforce shortage and concerns about the high cost of electricity.

Areva NC, headquartered in Bethesda, Md., is a subsidiary of France's Areva Group. Areva also is building a similar, larger uranium enrichment plant in France.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission took applications to build seven new commercial U.S. nuclear reactors last year, with 25 more licensing requests expected through 2009. As interest in nuclear power grows, there are two other uranium enrichment plants being built in the United States, one in southeastern New Mexico and another in Piketon, Ohio.


Wal-Mart Selects 20 Capitols for Energy Audits
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (The Associated Press) - May 6 - By BRIAN CHARLTON
Associated Press Writer

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has announced partnerships with Missouri, 18 other states and Puerto Rico to help them save on energy and electricity costs at their capitols.

Wal-Mart will pay engineering experts to perform energy audits at the capitols and recommend ways to save energy, lower electricity costs and reduce greenhouse emissions, company officials told state leaders Tuesday at the National Governors Association's State Summit on Clean Power and Efficiency.

Over the past three years, Wal-Mart has worked to cut energy usage at its stores and suppliers. Through its Greening State Capitols partnership with the National Governors Association, Wal-Mart now will start working with the states.

"We want to offer our services and expertise and get them to a point where they can at least see the savings within five years," spokesman Nate Hurst said.

Wal-Mart officials said that since the company is the largest employer in many states, it is important for it to work with state governments.

The program also will help Wal-Mart market its audit services to other interested companies, Hurst said.

The other states included in Tuesday's announcement are Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Engineers will visit the capitols in 2008 and 2009 to examine lighting, heating, ventilation, air-conditioning systems, refrigeration equipment and building structures.

Wal-Mart will then provide recommendations based on technology it uses to reduce energy consumption at its stores, said Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart's senior vice president of sustainability.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, both Republicans, attended the announcement.

Both Sebelius and Hoeven said their states weren't part of the program because similar audits have already been conducted at their capitols.

Pawlenty said the public-private partnership was an example of how governors can lead an effort to become greener.

"The cleanest and cheapest energy is the energy we save," Pawlenty said.


Ohio Requires 25% Renewable or Advanced Energy by 2025
EERE Network News - 5/7/08

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland approved a bill last week that will require the state's utilities to draw on renewable or advanced energy for 25% of their electricity supply by 2025. Senate Bill 221 requires renewable energy to meet at least half of that requirement, which starts at 0.5% by the end of 2009 and gradually ratchets up to 25% by the end of 2024. So the actual renewable energy requirement starts at 0.25% at the end of 2009 and increases to 12.5% by the end of 2024. The bill defines renewable energy as electricity produced from solar electric systems, wind power, geothermal energy, biomass energy, low-impact hydropower, and fuel cells, regardless of their type and the fuel they use. A small fraction of the renewable energy must come from solar energy, starting at 0.004% of all electricity sales by the end of 2009 and increasing to 0.5% of electricity sales by the end of 2024. At least half of the renewable energy facilities must be located within the state, and renewable energy credits may be used to meet the requirement.

The bill deviates from most state renewable energy requirements by allowing half of the 25% requirement to be met through demand-side management, energy efficiency improvements for customers, and efficiency improvements at existing power plants that increase the plants' generating capacity. It also allows for power produced from customer-located cogeneration systems, which produce both heat and electricity, and from "clean coal" power plants, advanced nuclear power plants, and advanced waste-to-energy plants. Utilities that fail to meet the requirements will have to make payments to the state's advanced energy fund, unless the utility can show that the electricity from renewable or advanced energy sources would cost at least 3% more than electricity from traditional energy sources. The bill also lifts some restrictions on net metering of customer-located power generators and lifts all restrictions on net metering of generators located at hospitals. Net metering is a method of giving credit for power fed into the grid by customers.

While allowing energy efficiency and demand-side management programs to meet a portion of the advanced energy requirement, the bill also establishes separate requirements for energy efficiency and demand-side management. Starting in 2009, utilities will have to implement energy efficiency programs that achieve annual energy savings equal to at least 0.3% of their electricity sales, gradually increasing to 1% of sales for 2014-2018, then doubling to 2% of their sales for 2019-2025. By 2025, this will achieve a cumulative energy savings greater than 22% of today's electricity sales. Utilities will also have to implement demand reduction programs designed to achieve a 1% reduction in peak demand in 2009 and an additional 0.75% reduction each year through 2018. To further encourage such programs, the state's utility commission may approve measures to decouple utility revenues from actual electricity sales, that is, if sales go down because of energy-saving programs, the utility's profits won't suffer. Such "revenue decoupling" measures may also be established for natural gas utilities. Utilities must also report on their greenhouse gas emissions and establish plans to control those emissions.


Company Offers to Drop Lawsuit as States Consider Waste Plan
BOISE, Idaho (The Associated Press) - May 8 - By JOHN MILLER Associated Press Writer

Representatives from eight Western states met privately Thursday to discuss a lawsuit filed by a company that wants to bury a portion of 20,000 tons of Italian radioactive waste in Utah.

When they emerge, they could set a policy that governs foreign shipments of waste to Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The states are part of the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management, which was meeting in Boise.

Earlier this week, EnergySolutions Inc. filed a lawsuit to challenge the compact's ability to regulate shipments to its facility in Clive, Utah.

EnergySolutions wants to bring the Italian waste through New Orleans or Charleston, S.C., for processing and incineration in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

About 1,600 tons of waste - five or six rail cars a year - would then be shipped to the company's site in Utah, the largest and only privately owned low-level radioactive waste dump in the country.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has pledged to use the eight-state compact to keep his state from becoming a dumping ground for foreign waste, partly because the move would sap space needed for domestic waste. Environmental groups have also panned the company's plan.

Utah's compact member, Bill Sinclair, could use his state's veto power to quash shipments to the state.

The decision of the compact members is expected to help set broader U.S. policy on shipments of foreign low-level radioactive waste. It could affect other countries as they scramble to find alternative locations if the United States restricts such cargo.

EnergySolutions offered to drop its lawsuit Thursday - if regulators agree to a plan that would restrict foreign shipments to 5 percent of overall storage capacity at the Utah site.

"We have confirmed from detailed analysis that 95 percent of the remaining capacity is more than enough capacity to handle all of the low-level radioactive waste" generated by all 104 existing U.S. power plants, hospitals and universities, said Val Christensen, EnergySolutions vice president and general counsel.

Congress created the compact in 1985 as a regional system for managing low-level radioactive waste. The compact's designated facility is in Richland, Wash. All radioactive waste from the eight states goes there, while EnergySolutions takes waste in Utah from other states.

In its lawsuit, the company concedes it has "coordinated some of its activities with the Northwest Compact" in the past, but insists the panel has no authority over what it handles because the Utah site is privately owned.

The Italian waste would come from four dismantled nuclear reactors. Opponents said the 5 percent storage limit still would mean too much radioactive waste destined for Utah.

"Shouldn't foreign countries be responsible for the waste they are generating?" said John Urgo of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah.

If Utah does use its veto, it will have an effect on EnergySolutions' import request at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency considering whether to allow the Italian waste into the United States.

NRC officials said there are a number of options, depending on the meeting's outcome.

"They could say we'd still like to bring the material for processing in Tennessee and dispose of it in some other way, presumably exporting the rest of it back to Italy," spokesman Dave McIntyre said in a phone interview.

The NRC public comment period on the import license ends June 10.

"If we get the letter from (the compact) saying 'No, this can't come to Utah,' I would doubt very much that we would just stamp a rejection on the application," McIntyre said.


Utility Eyes Ratepayers for Building Costs: Georgia Power May Ask to Bill
Customers for Reactors' Construction

ATLANTA -May 08 - Florida Times Union

Slim or not, there's a chance that Georgia Power customers may foot the bill for two new nuclear reactors proposed for the utility's Plant Vogtle nuclear facility near Waynesboro before the 1,100-megawatt units are built.

David Ratcliff, CEO and president of Georgia Power's parent firm, the Southern Co., broached the idea of asking the Georgia Public Service Commission's permission to bill customers for construction costs for the reactors ahead of their construction during the company's earnings conference call last week.

But a decision on whether to do so has yet to be made, said Jeff Wilson, spokesman for Georgia Power.

"We are reviewing what other states have done in terms of financing, but we have not made a decision on that issue at this time," Wilson said.

Critics of the proposal, which would nearly double the amount of power Plant Vogtle can generate by 2016, assert that the PSC could be clearing the way for cost overruns if it were to allow Georgia Power to collect money ahead of construction.

"If they are allowed to, there is no - or a very small - incentive to keep the costs down," said Neill Herring, a lobbyist for several environmental groups aligned against the expansion.

Without the ability to collect ahead of construction, the company might keep a more watchful eye toward construction costs because the money is essentially coming out of investors' pockets, Herring said.

"If you remove that safeguard that provides they will just start spending wildly," Herring said.

Wilson said Georgia Power had no comment on critics' claims.

State law does not appear to prohibit investor-owned companies from collecting construction costs beforehand, but the commission has not allowed the practice since the early 1990s, said Bill Edge, spokesman for the PSC.

Other states, Florida among them, have changed laws that previously barred the practice.

The Florida Legislature nixed such a provision in 2006, and the Florida Public Service Commission has scheduled hearings in September to hear cases in which Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy seek approval on plans to bill customers ahead of construction, said Cindy Muir, the Florida agency's director of public affairs.

Georgia Power expects the cost of the two nuclear reactors will be unveiled this week, Wilson said.

An independent evaluator is analyzing bids for multiple methods of generating additional power. The company would then select the bid it prefers, and submit it to the PSC in August.

Since 2006, Georgia Power has had PSC approval to collect up to $51 million in permitting and licensing costs for exploring nuclear generation as an option for generating additional power, Wilson said.

Georgia needs to add about 1,000 megawatts a year in additional generation to meet demand, Georgia Power estimates.

The proposal comes during an upswing of interest in nuclear power.

Commercial energy companies are evaluating options to build 22 reactors at 16 different sites nationwide, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.


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