Forum on Energy
Forum on Energy
December 18, 2014
The Forum on Energy weekly news roundup brings together a mix of global energy stories from around the web. It is published every Thursday morning on Forum on Energy and is available on Twitter via @forumonenergy.
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December 19, 2014
In a panel on the state of nuclear power in the United States, the U.S.-Japan Roundtable heard from representatives of the TVA and Southern Co.
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December 15, 2014
Robert Stone, director of Pandora's Promise, recently spoke about his transition from an anti-nuclear environmentalist to a pro-nuclear environmentalist.
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December 10, 2014
Jane Nakano, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, recently offered a comprehensive overview of Japan’s nuclear energy production.
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December 3, 2014
The Forum on Energy's thoughts after attending the ANS Winter Meeting 2014.
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November 7, 2014
Mark Flanagan, contributor to NEI notes, reports on an interesting project, which is currently in the theoretical stages, to make radiation glow. According to cable news, one in three Americans live close enough to nuclear power plants to potentially put them in harm’s way should radiation leak from the plant into the environment.
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December 19, 2014

For the next several weeks, the Forum on Energy will be featuring content from the recent 7th annual U.S.-Japan Roundtable conference.

800px-Watts_Bar_Nuclear_Generating_StationIn a panel on the state of nuclear power in the United States, the U.S.-Japan Roundtable heard from representatives of the Tennessee Valley Authority and Southern Company. The two companies are currently building three nuclear reactors: Watts Bar Two in Tennessee (TVA) and Vogtle Three and Four in Georgia (Southern).

The discussion emphasized the differences between the older style of construction and permitting of the pressurized water reactor at Watts Bar and the newer style construction and permitting of the AP1000 units at Vogtle. Watts Bar Two, which is being constructed on site, falls under the traditional iterative licensing process, while the AP1000 units at Vogtle utilize modular construction and are operating under the newly-created Combined Construction and Operating License process. Each of the companies expressed their belief that the construction processes will continue on schedule.

Southern began thinking about building a new nuclear facility 15 years ago when the company was very heavy into coal. It is trying to set up a portfolio and nuclear is one of the arrows in its quiver. That philosophy and a regulatory structure in the state of Georgia have both contributed to this process of building a nuclear reactor instead of natural gas or coal plants.

When completed, Vogtle will be operated as a four-unit site and will be the largest nuclear plant in the country. It first submitted its applications with the NRC in 2005, received limited work authorization in 2009 and foundational work began at that point. Near the end of 2011, the AP1000 received its license and in 2012 we received the first joint construction operation license granted by the NRC. The AP1000 is a modular design and many of the parts are delivered and assembled on site.

The construction faced and continues to face some hurdles. Fukushima took place during this seven-year period. But its effects on Vogtle are difficult to assess as the AP1000 already accounted for most of the NRCs requirements that resulted from the post-Fukushima safety assessment of the U.S. industry.

>>Watch a video on Vogtle construction timeline for the third quarter of 2014.

Vogtle, which has a combined operating license, has different regulations requirements than Watts Bar. These include 875 Inspections, Tests, Analyses, and Acceptance Criteria (ITAAC) per unit. Fifteen are completed, but this is right on schedule. It’s an ongoing process.

A concern is that human resources in the nuclear industry are tight. With the opening of both Watts Bar and Vogtle, the available staff with the appropriate experience and qualifications will be tight. Says David McKinney, VP of nuclear construction at Southern company generation: “We have had issues surrounding nuclear outages at other plants in the south. They need staff to work the issues and scheduling has been tough.”

>>View McKinney’s presentation on Vogtle 3 and 4.

December 18, 2014

foe_newsroundup_blueThe Forum on Energy weekly news roundup brings together a mix of global energy stories from around the web. It is published every Thursday morning on Forum on Energy and is available on Twitter via @forumonenergy.

Japan Approves Two New Reactors for Restart
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has approved the safety measures required for restart of two idled reactors owned by Kansai Electric Power Company (Kepco). The approval for Units 3 and 4 at the Takahama plant increases the outlook for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to get Japan’s nuclear fleet back online. “In terms of the technical aspects, we approve the compatibility” of the reactors with new safety rules, the regulator said on page 430 of a 433-page draft report, according to Bloomberg. The Takahama units are still subject to approval by the local government, although there remain questions as to which local authorities will have input on the decision.
Sources: The Wall Street Journal, Japan Times, Bloomberg

China Moves to Keep Jobs Local
China’s nuclear industry is increasingly looking within its own borders for crucial components of its growing nuclear reactor fleet. According to the Wall Street Journal, this inward shift is a result of “Chinese industrial nationalism and frustration over U.S. supplier problems.” For example, a part for early AP1000 reactor projects that is normally produced by SPX Corp. of Charlotte, NC will be replaced with a part supplied by a Chinese state-owned machinery company in the future. According to Li Ning, a nuclear-industry expert at Xiamen University, “Chinese companies are really growing and basically squeezing out the international suppliers.”
Sources: NASDAQ, The Wall Street Journal

British Government Committee Endorses SMRs
A British parliamentary committee has announced that it will endorse small modular nuclear reactors. The Energy and Climate Change Committee decision improves the odds that the government will consider investments in the fledgling industry. The committee has concluded that a “a sustained period of collaboration between government and industry,” will be required to put SMRs into operation in Britain.
Source: Nuclear Street

Advanced Nuclear Energy and the Battle Against Climate Change
Advanced sodium cooled reactor technology is hitting a renaissance. In a beautifully written essay by Third Way’s Josh Freed describes the birth of Transatomic Energy, a nuclear energy start-up by Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie. His essay argues for more federal attention and spending on advance nuclear reactor design because of the contributions that the technology can bring to abating Climate Change. This week Matthew Wald picked up the story, detailing on-going research at national labs in Idaho and Illinois.
Sources: Brookings Institution, The New York Times

While Considered Unfair by Some Industries, EPA Proposal Could Have Long Term Benefits for Nuclear
Quoting industry colleagues on criticism over new U.S. EPA guidelines, Kathleen Barrón, Exelon’s senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs, said “Americans must confront a choice between protecting the environment … and affordable and reliable electricity,” in public comments filed last week. “The industry data developed over the last six months demonstrates that their doomsday predictions are simply not correct.” While Excelon supports the legal authority of the EPA to push forward with the proposal to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, both the company and the nuclear industry as a whole are not satisfied. According to the current proposal, utilities receive 100 percent credit for renewable energies used, whereas it receives on 6 percent credit for nuclear. At a hearing this week, Peter Lyons, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary at the Office of Nuclear Energy, commented that the EPA’s proposed rule is to reduce carbon emissions. If it puts a price on carbon, it could potentially become a federal lever to keep small nuclear power plants in business, despite adverse economic conditions. He noted that a price on carbon would also come with many challenges.
Source: E&E News

December 17, 2014

Results for Japan’s snap election are in: The ruling coalition, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, won by a landslide, capturing 291 parliamentary seats. What happens now that the LDP has a new mandate is up for debate. While Abe justified the move as asking for a renewed public mandate for Abenomics and to delay his planned tax increase, observers speculate that Abe will use his new mandate to instead strengthen Japan’s use of military force in its constitution.  

Japan Observers Speculate On What the Election Results Mean for Japan
Financial Times reports that the election has bought the party four additional years before the next big election, which would make Abe one of the longest serving prime ministers in the post war period. The ruling coalition can use this time to push through tough structural reforms in agriculture and in industry.
Source: Financial Times

Brookings Provides its Take
Mireya Solis of the Brookings Institution discussed the election results in a new Bloomberg interview. She notes that half of the voters did not show up because it was not clear to voters why the election was necessary and that there were no alternatives to the LDP. The LDP message that there is no other alternative is true: No other party had any viable ideas, according to Solis. She said Abe must restart the economy, and beyond the three-pronged Abenomics approach there are many other projects, including womenomics. 

Demographics is a main economic concern in Japan. The population is going to decrease and is aging fast. But Japan’s strength is its human capital and much of the labor force is very talented and underutilized women, according to Solis. In a strategy called “womenomics,” the government is encouraging women to enter the workforce by making it easier to also raise families as a working mother. Recent studies, which the Abe administration has noted, show that increased female employment also increases fertility rates as income increases. But it only works if men help out with house chores, so a change in culture will be necessary. 

Another economic opportunity under consideration is increasing flexibility in labor markets to avoid the dual system of part timers without training opportunities and the full timers who have strong job security. Japanese domestic demand is also fragile. A generation of Japanese has grown up during deflation, and the expectation was that prices would go down. As prices go up without an increase in pay — which has been the story recently — people will not consume. Also, the energy bill has gone up significantly. In their pocketbook, so most people are not feeling the benefit of Abenomics.
Source: Bloomberg

The Guardian reports that a day after the election Abe signaled his intent to change the U.S.-authored constitution. He seeks to remove what he sees as unfair restraints on Japan’s military nearly 70 years after the war. Abe promised that he would seek public understanding as he pushes forward. His move has angered China, which promises to closely watch Abe’s security policy. Japan’s relations with China have deteriorated amid a dispute over sovereignty of the Senkaku islands and attempts by Abe to sanitize the record of Japanese troops in China and other parts of the Asian mainland before and during the war.
Source: The Guardian 

What Does it Mean for the United States?
The White House congratulated Abe for his win, calling the U.S.-Japan alliance a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, and citing examples in which Japan has stood side by side on international issues ranging from the Ebola crisis to counter terror operations against ISIS. According to the Associated Press, the United States would welcome a stronger Japanese military to allow the country to share more of the military burden of their alliance. 

The Washington Post reports that Abe’s victory is mostly good news from the U.S. perspective — the LDP lost in Okinawa, where the hosts of the U.S. largest military base want the base closed. Located in a populous area, there has been a movement to move the base to a less populous area farther north. But political resistance to opening a new air force base may have been strengthened by LDP’s loss on the islands.
Source: Washington Post (1,2)

December 15, 2014

For the next several weeks, the Forum on Energy will be featuring content from the recent 7th annual U.S.-Japan Roundtable conference.

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Robert Stone speaking at the recent 7th annual U.S.-Japan Roundtable conference.

Robert Stone, director of Pandora’s Promise, spoke to guests at the 7th annual U.S.-Japan Roundtable conference about the making of the film in which he profiled his transition from an anti-nuclear environmentalist to a pro-nuclear environmentalist. In his comments he described how learning more about the nuclear industry and gradually seeing his own perspective change as he became educated is the best way to appeal to other environmentalists.

For Stone and the environmental movement, the overriding challenge of our time is catastrophic global climate change. Nuclear power, Stone portends, is the only existent technology that can lessen global reliance on fossil fuels for base load power production, while providing a significant amount of comparatively inexpensive energy.

You can rent the movie here.

Read a previous Forum on Energy post, The Changing Opinions on Nuclear: Q&A with Robert Stone, ‘Pandora’s Promise’

December 11, 2014

foe_newsroundup_blueThe Forum on Energy weekly news roundup brings together a mix of global energy stories from around the web. It is published every Thursday morning on Forum on Energy and is available on Twitter via @forumonenergy.

Republican Congress May Move Nuclear Industry Initiatives
With the Republican takeover of the Senate, the nuclear industry hopes that the political landscape will become more favorable. According to The Hill, an aide to new chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) says the administration and the NRC have hindered the industry’s progress in construction. “The NRC has been very aggressive in their regulatory agenda, proposing a number of regulations that aren’t justified from a cost-benefit standpoint and are duplicative of other regulations that are already in place,” said the aide. The industry will look for the Republican Congress to not only mitigate the regulatory reach of the NRC, but to pass a comprehensive energy bill for the first time in seven years.
Source: The Hill

Incident at Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant Sparks Media and Financial Frenzy
Ukrainian Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn announced this week that an “accident” at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on November 28. A short circuit in its power outlet system caused the plant to safely shutdown, but also resulted in power outages in South-East Ukraine and Crimea. Despite assurances from nuclear watchdogs including the IAEA that no radiation had been leaked, news media ran inflammatory headlines and prompting yields on government debt due 2017 to jump 147 basis points to a record 23.78 percent. Writing for ANS Nuclear Cafe, Will Davis the trouble and confusion that resulted from calling what should have been described as an “incident” instead an “accident.” “Clearly there is a desire for news outlets to get views and clicks, and the use of the word ‘accident’ will encourage that. What matters is that a routine event—an equipment failure that causes a power plant of any sort whatsoever to take automatic protective action—got mislabeled by a public official, and then vast media sources parroted that report without any further facts.”
Sources: Japan Times, NBC, TIME, Bloomberg, ANS

Mergers in China Create Powerful Nuclear SOE
China plans to merge the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) with the China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN). The resulting company is expected to benefit from the pooled resources of both, making it more competitive in the nuclear export market. Reuters reports that CNNC has strong connections to China’s military and government. The two companies have already been cooperating on the development of a Chinese nuclear reactor, the Hualong I. State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) is also reviewing another merger involving SNPTC and one of the country’s big five state electricity generators, China Power Investment (CPI). However, The Economist recently reported on the potential dangers behind China’s nuclear push, noting that “One of the main lessons of Fukushima was that politicised, opaque regulation is dangerous” and that “China’s rule-setting apparatus is also unaccountable and murky, and ambitious targets for a risky technology should ring warning bells.” Another piece from The Economist also cautions against trusting China’s lofty nuclear projections, saying that “It is true that China is the brightest spot in the global nuclear industry, but that is mostly because prospects in other places are bleak. It is also true that China’s need to tackle pollution and desire to curb carbon emissions will give nuclear power a boost, but these factors also favour rival clean-energy technologies. In short, today’s nuclear revival may well not live up to investors’ lofty expectations.”
Sources: Reuters, The Economist (1,2)

Outgoing McFarlane Proud of NRC Record
In her final appearance before Congress, NRC Chairman Allison McFarlane pointed to improvements made to American nuclear power plants as a significant achievement of her tenure. Over the past two years, McFarlane has faced harsh criticism, notably from Senator Boxer over NRC’s handling of nuclear power plants in California over earthquake safety issues and from Senator Inhofe over passing too many regulations with marginal safety value. The senator argued that abundance of regulations was an attempt by the NRC to spend an overly large budget. At the hearing, Nuclear Energy Institute Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Tony Pietrangelo confirmed MacFarlane’s assessment that nuclear reactors are safer, that Diablo Canyon Power Plant has accounted for earthquake risk and that industry has developed national response centers in Memphis, Tenn., and Phoenix that store emergency equipment to be delivered to any nuclear plant in the country within 24 hours.
Source: NEI 

December 10, 2014

iStock_000003470513SmallJane Nakano, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), recently offered a comprehensive overview of Japan’s nuclear energy production. In a CSIS post, she reviews the domestic costs of taking all of Japan’s nuclear reactors offline, vis a vis replacement cost of LNG imports, rising levels of CO2 emissions and backtracking on previous international greenhouse gas reduction commitments. The approval of the Sendai reactors first by regulators and second by the provincial governor is an important step to reducing costs of energy imports.

Nakano writes, “Despite the rising momentum towards restart, there remain several uncertainties as to the pace and scope of the nuclear restarts as well as the future of nuclear power in Japan…. Notwithstanding the remaining uncertainties, nothing should diminish the fact that the prospect of restarting reactors is a significant milestone in Japan’s journey after the Fukushima nuclear accident.”

Read the full post here.  

December 4, 2014

foe_newsroundup_blueThe Forum on Energy weekly news roundup brings together a mix of global energy stories from around the web. It is published every Thursday morning on Forum on Energy and is available on Twitter via @forumonenergy.

Comment Period for EPA Climate Rule Closes
This week the EPA closed the comment period on its new regulation, which calls on American power plants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. The unprecedented number of comments includes complaints by Republicans that the rule compromises economic growth. The EPA points out that the reductions will improve not only air quality but also public health.
Source: The Hill

Australia PM Floats Idea to Build Nuclear
Having recently unraveled the nation’s carbon price mechanism, Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott is examining options to reduce carbon emissions. According to World Nuclear News, the only reason for the coal- and natural gas-rich country is concerns over carbon emissions. At present Australia produces 64 percent of its energy from coal and 20 percent from natural gas. “If we are to dramatically reduce emissions, we have to remember that the one, absolutely proven way of generating emissions-free baseload power is through nuclear,” Abbott said. “If someone wants to put a proposal for nuclear energy generation here in Australia, fine.”
Source: Bloomberg

France Considers Reducing Nuclear Power
Powermag examined the implications of France’s proposed reduction of nuclear power, which passed the lower house in mid-October. The proposed plan aims to reduce nuclear energy production in France by 50 percent, while lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, reducing energy consumption by 30 percent and increasing the share of renewables by 32 percent. Industry groups question the move citing France’s nuclear energy as the cheapest, most decarbonized in Europe. Others welcome the considerations, citing the replacement cost of the 40-year-old fleet. After parliamentary consideration, the bill could be ratified next year, ahead of the next council of parties meeting (COP21) to be held in Paris.
Source: POWER Magazine

Campaigning for Seats in Japan’s Government Begins
Campaigning for Japan’s lower house of parliament began this week after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a member of the LDP, called for snap elections 1.5 years ahead of schedule. Abe seeks renewed public mandate for his Abenomics policy, a bid to improve the countries long-recessed economy. The question is not whether the ruling coalition of LDP and Komeito will win, but how many seats it can keep. It currently holds 384 seats. A majority requires at least 238 seats, and an absolute majority is 266 seats.
Source: The Japan News

Britain Signs MOU for Franco-Japanese Power Plant
Britain and NuGeneration LTD, a Suez and Toshiba joint venture, have signed an agreement to cooperate on financing for a new nuclear power plant project located in West Cumbria. Under the Moorside project, NuGen will build three Westinghouse AP1000 reactors on land to the north and west of the existing Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant. Unlike its neighbors in the EU, Britain is seeking to expand the amount of nuclear energy produced in the country.
Source: Japan Times

December 3, 2014
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Conference attendees walk the floor at the ANS Winter Meeting 2014.

Every year the American Nuclear Society hosts a winter conference that gathers together its membership of nuclear energy professionals. Within that umbrella, the membership is diverse — physicists, engineers, students, vendors, utilities and the occasional communications group, such as Forum on Energy. During the week-long conference, members check in with the latest happenings in nuclear technology, find jobs, present updates on technological innovations and get to understand other players in the field.

>> Read: ‘ANS Winter Meeting 2014 Opening Plenary – Great New Concept; Hints on Yucca’

At first, Disneyland seems an odd place to hold a nuclear energy conference. The Magic Kingdom in many ways stands contrary to the intense technical complexity of the energy source too small to see. For me, a first time attendee at both a nuclear conference and Disneyland, talking about the latest in nuclear technology amid the whiz-bang lights and peppy adventure music felt surreal.

But Disneyland and nuclear energy are in many ways not so different. Nearly sixty years ago, Mr. Walt Disney told a story he believed to be one of the most important to our future. Called “Our Friend the Atom”, this animated lesson examines the history of nuclear energy and the promise it holds for the future. As mentioned in the Opening Plenary, Walt Disney believed that his role as a storyteller was to educate the public about this energy form that is difficult to understand. Even today, with public mistrust of nuclear energy widespread and misinformation rampant online, the nuclear energy society needs to learn to tell its story.

Disney Land – Our Friend, the Atom (1957) from CaptanFunkyFresh on Vimeo.

“So what’s your story?”

The opening plenary took a page from Disney’s book, encouraging the audience to tell their nuclear story.

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Explore an interactive map on nuclear energy opportunities and challenges across the globe.