Nuclear Energy Insider Intelligence Brief March 19 – April 1, 2015

Majority of Americans favor nuclear energy. A slim majority of Americans (51%) now favor the use of nuclear energy for electricity in the United States, while 43% oppose it, stated a Gallup poll.

The high point in support for the use of nuclear power, in 2010, was recorded shortly after President Barack Obama announced that the federal government would provide loan guarantees for the construction of two nuclear reactors, the first to be built in t

By K. Steiner-Dicks

Nuclear Energy Insider Intelligence Brief March 19 – April 1, 2015

This level of support is similar to what Gallup found when it last measured these attitudes in 2013, but it is down from the peak of 62% five years ago.

Current support is on the low end of what Gallup has found in the past 20 years, with the 46% reading in 2001 being the only time that it sank lower.

The high point in support for the use of nuclear power, in 2010, was recorded shortly after President Barack Obama announced that the federal government would provide loan guarantees for the construction of two nuclear reactors, the first to be built in the US in three decades.

However, according to the Gallup poll report, support has generally dropped since then, but between 2011 and 2012, support was stable, with 57% favoring nuclear energy.

This is notable given that Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster took place shortly after polling in 2011, stated the report.

The latest result comes from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted March 5-8.

US citizens overall continueto want more emphasis on so-called green energy: wind and solar.

However, the percentage favoring nuclear energy, which provides about 20% of the nation's electricity, has seen several years of decline and is among the lowest Gallup has found.

While a majority continues to want greater emphasis on natural gas, this is down significantly from 2013. This could be indicative of the divisive nature of fracking.

While fewer Americans think the nation's energy situation is serious than Gallup found as recently as 2011, the country remains divided, often along party lines, on which energy sources the U.S. should emphasize.

Westinghouse step closer to SMR aspirations

Westinghouse Electric Company has reported that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved the company’s testing approach for the Westinghouse Small Modular Reactor (SMR) design. The NRC approval is a significant step toward design certification and will reduce the time ultimately needed to license the Westinghouse SMR.

The Westinghouse SMR design is based on the AP1000® plant development program. This Westinghouse program has involved many years of testing and analysis, which can be successfully applied to advance our SMR program as the market for the technology matures in the future, according to Eff Benjamin, Westinghouse Senior Vice President, New Plants and Major Projects.

In a letter dated February 27, 2015, the NRC told Westinghouse that it has granted a Safety Evaluation Report(SER) for the licensing topical report that the company submitted in April 2012 for agency review and approval. Westinghouse believes the NRC action confirms the technical maturity of the Westinghouse SMR concept design, Benjamin said.

The topical report, developed by a panel of experts inside and outside of Westinghouse, identified what would occur in the unlikely event of a small-break loss of coolant accident (LOCA) in the Westinghouse SMR. It also defined the test program that Westinghouse will conduct in the future to prove that its safety systems would safely shut down the reactor in response to a small-break LOCA.

As a major technical innovation, the potential for intermediate- and large-break LOCAs is eliminated in the Westinghouse SMR design because there are no large primary penetrations of the reactor vessel or large loop piping, stated Westinghouse.

Rosatom signs $10bn construction deal with Jordan

Jordan has signed a $10bn deal with Russia to construct the kingdom's first nuclear power plant.

The document was signed by Mr. Sergey Kirienko, the Director General of Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation and Mr. Khaled Toukan, the Chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission.

The document outlines the construction of new NPP VVER units, 1000MW each, meeting all up-to-date safety requirements. Importantly, the project has references abroad: Kudankulam NPP, a power plant as per this design has already been built in India and its first unit is under successful operation, stated Rosatom.

The deal includes setting up a project company that will be the customer, operator and owner of the NPP, as well as the owner of the electric power generated at the NPP.

During the pre-investment stage the company will have to complete such primary tasks as examination of the out-of-site structure for the NPP construction, study of the Jordan power system, selection of the customer-engineer and consultant for development of the draft bankable feasibility. The contractors for these works will be defined during international tenders.

Sergey Kirienko also added that ROSATOM is ready for cooperation to attract financing for the project and jointly provide the investment needed.

The site suitability evaluation activities are already in progress. Following the evaluation results the feasibility report will be made and the most convenient water supply plan will be selected for the future plant considering the given conditions.

Water supply is the paramount issue, as the peculiarities of the Jordan project are weather conditions and limited water resources, the state Russian nuclear power specialist said.

Within the framework of the Agreement, ROSATOM also undertakes the nuclear fuel supplies for the reactors and spent fuel take-back to Russia.

The construction agreement is planned to be concluded in 2016.

Illinois low carbon legislation gives Exelon nuclear fleet a boost

The Illinois Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee have passed Senate Bill 1585, legislation to establish a Low Carbon Portfolio Standard (LCPS) that would support the state’s nuclear energy facilities and protect jobs.

The LCPS would require ComEd and Ameren to purchase low carbon energy credits to match 70% of the electricity used on the distribution system.

It is a technology-neutral solution, which means it would allow all low carbon energy sources – including wind, solar, hydro, clean coal and nuclear – to compete on equal footing.

Senator Donne Trotter, D-Chicago stated, “In addition to supporting our nuclear plants and the many benefits they provide, the Low Carbon Portfolio Standard will create opportunities to continue to grow other low-carbon energy resources in the state, such as wind, solar, hydro and clean coal.”

The LCPS was a potential solution presented in a January 2015 report by four Illinois state agencies that considered the economic and environmental benefits of the state’s nuclear energy facilities.

These six plants generate nearly half of the state’s electricity and 90% of its carbon-free power, according to Exelon.

Nearly $9bn in jobs and benefits are injected into the Illinois economy through the nuclear power sector.

Illinois’ 11 nuclear reactors generate 48% of the state’s electricity supply and account for more than 12% of the nation's nuclear power.

The State of Illinois reported in a recent study that Illinois’ electricity system would be “unreliable” under all premature plant closure scenarios. That finding is from the regional transmission grid operator, who came very close to experiencing rolling blackouts during the 2014 polar vortex.

The study also reported that costs to construct transmission lines to address reliability issues would be significant – in the hundreds of millions of dollars more – and paid for by consumers in the form of higher rates.

Source: Nuclear Powers Illinois

“Nuclear plants in Illinois support thousands of good-paying, full-time, permanent jobs, but possible nuclear plant closures put many of those jobs at risk,” said Michael T. Carrigan, President, Illinois AFL-CIO.

“We support the Low Carbon Portfolio Standard because it would support these existing low carbon energy resources and support the development of new ones, leading to additional new jobs.”

“The LCPS proposal includes strong consumer protections, including a consumer price cap that would limit the impact to a 2.015% increase, or about $2 per month for the average Illinois residential electricity customer – less than the costs customers would face if the nuclear plants close early. A separate customer rebate provision would provide a direct bill credit to customers if wholesale electricity prices exceed a specified level,” stated Exelon.

Westinghouse signs decommissioning deal in Germany

Westinghouse Electric Company has signed a Teaming Agreement with HOCHTIEF Infrastructure and HOCHTIEF Engineering to offer integrated decommissioning, decontamination and remediation (DD&R) services for nuclear power plants.

Together, the two will provide a broad range of integrated services to meet the needs of nuclear plants that are coming off-line.

A number of nuclear power plants across Germany will need to be decommissioned and dismantled in the next 15 to 20 years due to national policy decisions that have shortened their expected operation. Eight nuclear reactors were permanently shut down in March 2011, and 17 are planned to be phased out by 2022.

Sludge removal marks significant step in Sellafield clean-up

The very first radioactive sludge has been removed from one of the most hazardous nuclear plants in Europe, Sellafield, a huge step forward in the UK’s nuclear decommissioning programme.

The First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP) — which dates back to the 1950s and was constructed to store, cool and prepare used Magnox nuclear fuel for recycling into new fuel — urgently needs to be emptied of 1,500 cubic metres of radioactive sludge lying at the bottom of the pond which is equivalent to more than half an Olympic sized swimming pool.

“We’re making history at Sellafield by transferring the first sludge using a tried and tested pump to a new £240m state-of-the-art sludge storage plant containing three enormous stainless steel buffer storage vessels, each of which is the same volume as seven double decker buses,” stated Head of the FGMSP Martin Leafe.

The vessels were brought to the Sellafield site in separate sections and then welded together before being carefully slid into the reinforced concrete building. The welding of each vessel involved over 2,000 metres of weld run, which was done 99% right first time. All welds were then radiographed to ensure the required integrity and that there will be no leaks.

“Working with both Westinghouse and Energy Solutions, the technology already in use at European reactor stations has been adapted for our needs at Sellafield and rigorously tested in a full scale test facility at Forth Engineering here in West Cumbria,” Leafe added.

“The pond is six metres deep and we’ve spent years devising an engineering solution to literally suck up the radioactive sludge from the bottom of the pond, which in places is over one metre deep. What makes the job more difficult is that the pond is very congested and full of large metal boxes containing nuclear fuel, so we need to work around these and ensure these remain fully submerged at all times. Just to make matters more difficult we have to drive the platform remotely from a control cabin to minimize the radiation dose to the workforce,” Leafe added.

“We transfer the sludge in batches to the new plant where it settles in one of the enormous buffer storage tanks and then the top layer of water is sent back to the pond. It will take several months of work to transfer enough sludge to fully test and commission the sludge plant and in parallel we’ll install the bulk sludge removal equipment.”

GE Hitachi tool reduces radiation dose by 60%

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and Exelon Generation have launched a remotely-operated tool that has successfully enabled nuclear technicians to complete tasks at the bottom of nuclear reactors more quickly and safely.

This new tool remotely disconnects – uncouples - control rods (one of the pieces of equipment that allows operators to control power production) from their associated blades at the bottom of the reactor during preventative maintenance.

The tool has been shown to reduce radiation dose associated with uncoupling by as much as 60%.

The companies stated that the battery-powered, wireless device minimizes the amount of radiation that workers are exposed to and allows parallel work activities to take place under the reactor pressure vessel during service outages.

Kevin Walsh, GEH Senior Vice President, Nuclear Services and Fuels, said, It is also an important illustration of our use of 3-D printing technologies, speeding our time to market by months and eliminating the significant expense of fabricating metallic mock ups.”

The tool, based on 3-D printed prototypes created on-site at GEH’s headquarters in North Carolina, has been successfully deployed during recent maintenance work at the Dresden Generating Station in Morris, Illinois and the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Delta, Pennsylvania.

A total of 19 drives were uncoupled with the tool at Peach Bottom and 25 were uncoupled at Dresden.

The plants are operated by Exelon Generation which operates the largest nuclear fleet in the United States.

Areva bags US contract

Areva has been awarded a multi-million dollar contract to fabricate and deliver a replacement reactor vessel head to a US utility. As part of this contract, Areva will also supply control rod drive mechanisms.

The identity of the US utility was not made public.

The equipment, which has been designed and manufactured by the Areva teams in Lynchburg, Virginia, and the facilities in Saint-Marcel, Le Creusot, and Jeumont France, will be delivered to the United States in the Spring of 2018.

“This contract testifies to the confidence of our customers and to AREVA’s expertise in equipment design and manufacturing. This consolidates our position as a leader in the component replacement market,” said Michael Cerruti, Sales Executive Vice-President of AREVA’s Reactors & Services Business Group.

Switzerland revises civil nuclear liability coverage

Switzerland's government has adopted a total revision of the federal ordinance on civil nuclear liability.

The Federal Council adopted a revision of the ordinance on March 25, the Swiss Federal Energy Office (SFOE) has announced, according to World Nuclear News.

Under the revision, the minimum coverage to be provided at the national level increased from CHF 1 billion ($1bn) to €1.2bn ($1.3bn), which corresponds to provisions of international civil liability.

The revised ordinance also contains the method of calculating the premiums that nuclear operators must pay for federal insurance.

WNN reported that it sets the insurance coverage for nuclear research facilities and federal interim storage facilities at €70m ($76m) and for certain shipments of nuclear materials at €80m ($87m). It also provides coverage for the transport of nuclear materials separate from coverage for facilities.

SFOE said the revision also simplifies the compensation procedure, improving the protection of Swiss victims in the event of a nuclear incident occurring abroad. It said that in such cases, the conditions for compensation and procedural provisions that would apply to Switzerland would be the same as for all other signatory states to the Paris Convention on Third Party Liability and the Brussels Supplementary Convention.

However, said WNN, Switzerland's revised nuclear liability law and the revised ordinance cannot come into effect until the Paris Convention has been ratified by at least two-thirds of the 16 parties to it. SFOE said ratification "will take place in early 2016 at the earliest."