Russian hackers target US reactors; Middle East to install 14 GW of nuclear by 2028

Our pick of the latest nuclear power news you need to know.

The Russian government is behind multiple cyber attacks on U.S. nuclear power plants since 2016, U.S. security services said. (Image credit: Yulenochekk)

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FBI says Russia behind cyber attacks on US power plants

Russian government hackers have since March 2016 targeted multiple U.S. government and critical infrastructure facilities, including nuclear power systems, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced March 15.

The joint statement from DHS and FBI represents the first time the U.S. government has publicly blamed the Russian state for recent hacks on critical infrastructure. The announcement came the same day the U.S. sanctioned Russian technology firms and intelligent services indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In July 2017, consultancy group PwC reported “suspected state actors” had used fake emails to penetrate the administration systems of multiple U.S. nuclear plants. In September, cyber security firm Symantec said it believed a sophisticated cyber espionage group known as Dragonfly was behind a recent wave of cyber attacks on European and U.S. power generation companies.

"In a multi-stage campaign, Russian government cyber actors have targeted small commercial facilities’ networks where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks," DHS and FBI said March 15.

"After obtaining access, the Russian government cyber actors conducted network reconnaissance, moved laterally, and collected information pertaining to Industrial Control Systems (ICS)," the government agencies said.

In multiple instances, the hackers accessed workstations and servers and corporate networks that contained data from power generation facilities. The intruders accessed files on the ICS or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and copied profile and configuration information for accessing these systems, DHS and FBI said.

Corporate networks at some U.S. nuclear power plants were affected by the hacking campaign but no safety, security or emergency preparedness functions were impacted, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) told the Associated Press (AP).

Last month, U.S. energy secretary Rick Perry announced the creation of a new Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER), backed by $96 million in funding from President Trump’s FY19 budget.

The CESER office will focus on energy infrastructure protection and enable "more coordinated preparedness and response to natural and man-made threats," the Department of Energy (DOE) said in a statement.

As nuclear operators apply the latest digital technology to improve the profitability of generation assets, they face a widening array of cyber security challenges.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is preparing to release a new risk-informed cyber security methodology and an improved documentation process to improve supply chain transparency.

Through a suite of research projects, the EPRI is aiming to reduce plant sensitivity to escalating cyber security threats and help companies integrate cyber security methods into digital engineering in existing plants, Matt Gibson, EPRI's Principal Technical Leader Nuclear I&C and Cyber Security, said in November.

The industry-funded research will improve design and implementation efficiency and allow companies to assess facility level risks to ensure efficient resource allocation, he said.

Middle East nuclear power capacity forecast to hit 14 GW by 2028

Nuclear power capacity in the Middle East is forecast to rise from 3.6 GW in 2018 to 14.1 GW by 2028 according to construction timetables and recent agreements between Middle East countries and nuclear vendors, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said March 5.

"The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will lead near-term growth by installing 5.4 GW of nuclear capacity by 2020," EIA said.

Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are either building or plan to build new nuclear power plants in the coming years, it said.

                 Middle East nuclear capacity forecast

Growth in the Middle East is mainly due to countries seeking to enhance energy security and diversify their economies to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels accounted for 97% of power generation in the Middle East in 2017, of which natural gas accounted for 66% and oil 31%. The remaining 3% of electricity generation came from nuclear, hydroelectric and renewable energy sources.

Middle East countries also face increasing electricity demand due to growing populations and economies. Electricity demand in the region is forecast to rise by 30% by 2028, according to the EIA's latest International Energy Outlook. In comparison, the global average growth rate to 2028 is forecast at 18% while the average growth rate in non-OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries is forecast at 24%, EIA said.

                Middle East nuclear plants (March 2018)

New Areva company to jointly develop US interim storage facility

Orano USA, formerly known as Areva Nuclear Materials, has formed a joint venture with Waste Control Specialists (WCS) to develop a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) for spent nuclear fuel at WCS' site in Andrews County, Texas, Orano announced March 13.

The move reinvigorates WCS' quest to build a facility which could eventually host up to 40,000 metric tons of high level waste.

The project partners will request the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) resumes its review of the license application for an initial 5,000 metric-tonne CISF, submitted by WCS in April 2016, Orano said.

The U.S. currently hosts over 78,000 metric tons (MT) of used nuclear fuel at decommissioned and active reactor sites across 35 states. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed a pilot CISF be built by 2021, followed by a larger storage facility by 2025 and a permanent repository by 2048.

WCS' Andrews County site already hosts a waste disposal, storage and treatment facility for Class A, B, and C low-level nuclear waste.

The CISF project was delayed after a takeover bid for WCS by EnergySolutions was blocked in June 2017, following a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ argued the move would be anti-competitive as the combined company would be the only waste disposal option for operators in nearly 40 states. Following this, JF Lehman & Company (JFLCO) acquired WCS in January 2018. JFLCO already owns Northstar, the specialist decommissioning group.

Holtec is also looking to build a CISF between the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs in New Mexico.

Earlier this month, Holtec announced the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has accepted Holtec's license application for a facility that would house 8,680 metric tons of spent fuel.

Nuclear Energy Insider