US Senator demands details of nuclear plant cyber attacks; UK Hinkley build cost rises 8%

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The cyber attacks appear to be limited to administrative and business networks, government investigators reportedly said. (Image credit: 400tmax).

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US Senator demands details of cyber attacks on nuclear reactors

Senator Edward Markey has called for U.S. federal government departments to reveal how many nuclear power plants have been impacted by cyber attacks and demonstrate sufficient cyber security measures are in place, following media reports of security breaches.

Last week the New York Times reported a persistent cyber security threat targeted personnel working for nuclear plant operators and manufacturers of plant control systems, citing a classified report by the Department of Homeland Security. Bloomberg reported that the chief suspect in these attacks was Russia, which is also suspected of disrupting energy infrastructure in Ukraine.

Senator Markey demanded further details in a letter sent to federal government departments on July 10. Markey is a member of a U.S. subcommittee for international cyber security and sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"The Department of Homeland Security has stated that the impact of these attacks 'appears to be limited to administrative and business networks.' However, there is no guarantee that malicious code could not migrate to physical control systems through the errant or unauthorized use of removable storage devices," Senator Markey said in the letter.

"Furthermore, administrative and business networks could contain information relevant to the safety and security of nuclear plants, as well as personal information about the plant personnel. Malicious actors could use sensitive data to undermine plant security," he said.

On May 11, President Trump signed an executive order to strengthen the cyber security defences of federal networks and critical infrastructure.

Rising global connectivity means that all business sectors are facing a growing array of cyber security threats. The growth in digital communications to improve collaboration and productivity in the workplace has seen a rising number of unauthorized incursions linked to employees, according to the U.K. Government’s 2015 Information Security Breaches Survey, conducted by PWC.

In October 2015, U.K. think tank Chatham House said executive management and on-the-ground nuclear personnel may not realize plant vulnerability to cyber threats and are inadequately prepared to deal with cyber attacks.

Conventional industry thinking that all nuclear facilities are ‘air-gapped’ (isolated from the public internet) is misinformed, Chatham House said in a report. The think tank conducted 18 months of research including 30 interviews with nuclear industry staff in U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Japan, Ukraine and Russia.

At a global nuclear security summit held in Washington in March 2016, operators agreed to “move beyond traditional security solutions and develop more effective technological approaches to cyber security,” according to a group statement, published by U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).

The use of social engineering to mount attacks on business data and information networks is emerging as a major risk to cyber security at nuclear power plants, experts told Nuclear Energy Insider.

Going forward, operators also need to protect assets from the additional risks posed by real-time performance monitoring and data analytics systems.

The rising use of cloud computing and common platforms for power plant analytics will require in-depth review of technology options and regular security audits to minimize cyber security threats, experts at real-time software infrastructure firm OSIsoft, said.

EDF raises Hinkley point C cost estimate to 19.6 billion pounds

EDF has increased the estimated cost of its 3.2 GW Hinkley Point C nuclear plant project in the UK by 8.3% to 19.6 billion pounds (22.2 bn euros, $25.3 bn), the French state-owned company said July 3.

The Hinkley point C EPR project would be the UK's first nuclear power plant in almost 20 years.

EDF launched a review of the costs and timetable of the plant in September 2016, when UK Prime Minister Theresa May reaffirmed the government's commitment to the project. Chinese state firms own a third of the project and EDF has pledged to deliver the first 1.65 GW reactor by the end of 2025.

EDF's latest cost estimates factor in a "better understanding of the design adapted to the requirements of the British regulators, the volume and sequencing of work on site and the gradual implementation of supplier contracts," the company said.

EDF has lowered its expected rate of return for the project from 9% to 8.5% and the “risk” of deferred commissioning dates is estimated at 15 months for the first 1.65 GW reactor and nine months for the second unit, it said.

"This risk would entail an additional potential cost of around 0.7 billion [pounds] in 2015 sterling," EDF said.

First concrete is scheduled to be poured in mid-2019 assuming the final design is completed by the end of 2018. The final design is "on a tight schedule," EDF noted.

The completion of the Hinkley Point C plant is scheduled to coincide with the closure of the UK's unabated coal-fired power stations.

In October 2013, the UK government agreed a highly controversial 35-year guaranteed "strike" price for the plant at 92.50 pounds per MWh. This is far above current average wholesale power prices (see chart).

                       UK, Ireland monthly power prices (in euros)
                                                 (Click image to enlarge)

Source: European Commission's 'Quarterly Report on Electricity Markets' (Q1 2017).

EDF has also received government approval to develop another nuclear plant at the Sizewell C nuclear site and the company has also been approved to develop a joint nuclear plant project at Bradwell with its Chinese partners.

In January, the UK government ordered the UK’s independent nuclear regulators to start a Generic Design Assessment (GDA) of China's UK HPR1000 reactor design.

The UK HPR1000 design was developed by China General Nuclear (CGN). General Nuclear Services (GNS), a subsidiary of EDF and CGN, proposes to install this design at the Bradwell nuclear site in Essex.

EDF's EPR design is the only large-scale reactor design to have completed the GDA process. The process took over five years and was completed in 2012.

Hitachi-GE's UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactor design (UK ABWR) has progressed to the detailed assessment stage of the GDA and design acceptance is expected to be granted in December 2017.

UK opens nuclear modular manufacturing research center

The UK's Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) opened July 4 a new modular manufacturing research and development (R&D) facility, at Birkenhead in North West England.

The new center, situated on a site owned by Nuclear AMRC member Cammell Laird, has over 1,000 square metres of workshop space and will host specialized machining, joining and assembly equipment to develop and test modular manufacturing techniques. The facility will be used to research modular techniques for new reactors of all sizes and develop modular techniques to improve decommissioning and waste management efficiency.

"Our Birkenhead facility is the first of a new network of regional supply chain hubs, which will help us provide on-the-ground support to companies of all sizes across the UK," Andrew Storer, Nuclear AMRC's Managing Director, said in a statement.

Cammell Laird is leading the UK’s new 'Fit for Modules' research project which aims to develop the national supply chain into a world leader in modular manufacturing techniques.

The research consortium includes Nuclear AMRC, Laing O’Rourke, Arup and Frazer-Nash Consultancy and has received funding from the UK government's Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Following 12 months of research, the consortium plans to publish a technology roadmap detailing how modular manufacturing capabilities and technologies should be developed over the next five years.

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