Policy Brief – 24 September 2012

Companies mentioned: Nuclear Regulation Authority of Japan, Kansai Electric Power Company, US Department of Energy, AREVA, Fluor Corporation, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, EDF, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation, Shaw Group, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and many more.

By skaur

New nuclear regulatory body to inspect fault under Japan’s Oi plant
Japan's new Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) will conduct an on-site inspection in late October to find out whether there is an active fault underneath Oi power plant – the only nuclear power plant operating in the quake-prone country, the Press Trust of India has reported. Reactors 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power Company's Oi nuclear power plant have been allowed to remain online despite the existence of a suspicious fault, with the former nuclear regulatory authority saying it was unlikely that the fault would undermine the safety of the reactors.

But if the newly appointed regulatory commission judges differently, the two 1.18GW-reactors in western Japan would be forced to cease operation. NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka prior to assuming his post said that the two reactors would be halted if an active fault was found. Out of Japan’s 50 commercial reactors, only the two reactors at the Oi plant were put back online to address power shortages in the summer.

DOE extends Savannah River’s M&O contract

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has extended Fluor Corporation’s Management & Operating (M&O) contract at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina for an additional 38 months, covering the time period between August 1, 2013 and September 2016, Herald Online reported. The M&O contract is being executed by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), a Fluor-led partnership consisting of Fluor, Newport News Nuclear and Honeywell.

“As the lead partner of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, Fluor is extremely proud that the DOE recognized the value that our company and our partners have been able to bring to the project,” said Bruce Stanski, president of Fluor’s Government Group. SRNS was originally awarded the Savannah River M&O contract in January 2008 after an open and competitive bid process. By extending the contract’s term, the DOE and SRNS will continue uninterrupted management and operation activities as outlined in the contract.

In addition to its current role as the managing partner on the M&O contract at Savannah River, Fluor serves as the prime contractor for the decontamination and decommissioning of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Ohio, and has worked at the Hanford Site in Washington State since 1996. From 1992 to 2006, the company executed nuclear cleanup work at the DOE’s Fernald Site near Cincinnati, Ohio. Headquartered in Texas, Fluor is a Fortune 200 company and had revenue of $23.4 billion in 2011.

Security concerns over Hinkley Point China talks

EDF is trying to partner with a Chinese company to build Hinkley Point’s new reactors in the UK, but the possibility of Chinese involvement has raised security concerns. The French energy utility has been reportedly speaking to several state-controlled Chinese companies about sharing the huge cost of its project to build up to four new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset, including China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation. According to the Sunday Times, EDF recently appointed Credit Suisse as an adviser to help it negotiate the sale of a nearly 30% stake in the £14bn project to build the UK’s first nuclear reactors over two decades.

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, member of the parliamentary joint national security committee, was quoted by the Financial Times (FT) as saying that any Chinese involvement in EDF's nuclear plans would raise concerns on a number of fronts and could require the British Government to retain a controlling stake. Pritchard added that restrictions should also apply as to the number of Chinese workers who could work on UK-based nuclear projects.

Nick Butler, a former energy adviser to Number 10, warned in a recent FT blog: "They will be inside the system, with access to the intricate architecture of the UK's National Grid and the processes through which electricity supply is controlled, as well as to the UK's nuclear technology." EDF declined to comment on the Chinese talks but an energy spokesman from the company stated: "We have always said that we were open to the idea of other partners investing in the project. As we approach our final investment decision, it is right to consider funding options including seeking additional partners”.

EDF has been looking to cut its 80% stake in the consortium building Hinkley Point and attract new partners, having suffered delays and cost overruns at its Flamanville nuclear plant in France. The company’s debt rose by a fifth in the first half of this year, following government-enforced spending on reactors in France after the Fukushima atomic disaster last year. EDF Energy owns and operates eight of the UK's ten nuclear power stations and aims to expand Hinkley Point and Sizewell in Suffolk. The French group plans to make a final investment decision on Hinkley Point C by the end of this year and has already spent £1 billion on the project.

Steel plates sent to Plant Vogtle fail NRC inspections

At least 211 steel plates built for use in Plant Vogtle’s new reactors failed inspections by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, The Augusta Chronicle reported. The plates, known as “embedments,” are structural strengthening components that can be encased in concrete and have protruding steel rebar to which other materials can be attached. According to an NRC event notification, inspectors found “non-compliances and deviations” in the material, which had been received from Georgia-based Cives Steel Company, but had not yet been used in reactor construction.

“Examples of the types of deviations identified include unacceptable welds and weld repairs, missing Nelson studs, damaged Nelson studs, improper painting, incorrect dimensions, and illegible markings for identification,” the document said. The embedments, which can be used in walls and floors, were part of a shipment that included 892 plates, with an average size of 18 by 18 inches.

A more detailed investigation determining the extent of the problem and any potential impact on the project will be completed by 6 November, the report said. Inspectors from Shaw Group, the company contracted to build the $14 billion project, identified the issues before any plates had been installed, an NRC spokesman said. Other quality control issues involved rebar that differed from the approved design.

Buzz Miller, the executive vice president of nuclear development for Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear, told The Augusta Chronicle in an August interview that as many as 150 additional workers could be needed to support oversight programs that ensure materials adhere to nuclear standards. Miller added that quality assurance workers have already been deployed in many US sites where materials for the Vogtle project are being manufactured, and to supplier venues in Japan, Korea and Italy.

In its latest report to the Georgia Public Service Commission, the company said final projected costs for quality assurance, oversight, operational readiness and regulatory compliance rose from a projected $621 million in 2009 to $755 million in 2012.

NRC and FirstEnergy to discuss company’s nuclear plants

Officials from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials will be meeting with FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company’s (FENOC) senior management on 26 September to discuss topics related to the performance of the company’s three nuclear plants located in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The plants to be discussed are Beaver Valley, in Shippingport, Pennsylvania; Davis-Besse in Oak Harbor, Ohio; and Perry, in Perry, Ohio. The purpose of the meeting, which will be open to the public, is for FENOC to brief the NRC on the activities and performance of its plants. Meetings of this kind are held by the NRC periodically to enhance the agency’s awareness of current and long-term programs, issues and changes across a particular company’s plants.

AREVA and EDF sign two major uranium supply deals

AREVA and EDF have signed two contracts to secure long-term supply of natural uranium to EDF nuclear facilities. Under the agreements’ terms, AREVA will supply more than 30,000 tonnes of natural uranium to EDF from 2014 to 2035, in one of the largest deliveries of uranium ever carried out by AREVA. The contracts reinforce AREVA's position as a key partner to EDF, the world's leading supplier of nuclear power, and secure EDF's natural uranium supply over the very long-term. "These contracts are further proof of the trust which EDF, our leading customer and partner, places in our range of competitive and long-term solutions, enabling them to ensure its supplies are secure”, Luc Oursel, CEO of AREVA, stated.