Forum on Energy
Forum on Energy
September 30, 2014
This week’s tragic eruption of Mount Ontake, which killed up to 36 people, has reignited protests against the nuclear restart in communities near potentially volcanic mountains.
Past volcanic activity at Mount Ontake
September 26, 2014
While Japan has been an early and staunch supporter of civil nuclear energy, there is now much debate among officials and the public as to whether nuclear energy should have a role in its future.
September 15, 2014
Forum on Energy spoke with USEC's VP of Communications to discuss their flagship program, the American Centrifuge Project.
RD&D machine installation at the American Centrifuge Project (Photo courtesy: USEC)
September 23, 2014
Dr. James Hansen discusses the need to include nuclear energy as part of any plan to slow Global Climate Change.
September 25, 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.
September 30, 2014
Past volcanic activity at Mount Ontake

Past volcanic activity at Mount Ontake

This week’s tragic eruption of Mount Ontake, which killed up to 36 people, has reignited protests against the nuclear restart in communities near potentially volcanic mountains.

After the eruption, approximately 7,500 people in Kagoshima Prefecture took to the streets to protest the Sept. 10 Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) safety approval of Kyushu Electric’s Satsume-Sendai nuclear power plant. The protesters — among them former Prime Minister Naoto Kan — said that the failure to predict the eruption at Mount Ontake shows that the NRA did not sufficiently consider the presence of the nearby Sakurajima volcano, which is located 50 kilometers away from Satsume-Sendai.

“No one knows when natural disasters, including earthquakes and tsunamis will strike,” said Yoshitaka Mukohara, a candidate in the 2012 Kagoshima Prefecture governor election who helped organize the protest. “The fact that they could not predict the Mount Ontake eruption highlights that… There were plumes above Sakurajima yesterday and today. We have no idea when something might happen.”

After the rally, the protesters marched through the heart of Kagoshima city, voicing their opposition to the reactor restarts and demanding an end to nuclear power generation.

September 26, 2014

Japan_mapThe Japanese government has been an early and staunch supporter of civil nuclear energy, despite some highly public nuclear weapons incidents and radiation leaks that have left some members of the public with an aversion often described as a “nuclear allergy.” Most recently, the country suffered an unprecedented natural disaster which contributed to a meltdown at a nuclear power plant, which left thousands displaced and temporarily shut down all other power plants in the country. The nuclear accident resulted in no deaths, but fears over the safety of the country’s nuclear program temporarily closed all Japanese nuclear power plants.

For Japan — a resource-poor island nation — nuclear energy is one of the few domestic energy options that can provide sufficient energy and electricity for its industrial and household needs. Today, the government is taking steps to reactivate its nuclear program, although there remains much debate among officials and the public as to whether nuclear energy should have a role in Japan’s future.

The History of Nuclear Energy in Japan

Japan was at the forefront of research into the potential of nuclear energy as early as the 1930s, but it was in 1952 that the nation took its first steps toward a policy that included nuclear energy as key to Japan’s energy security and economic development. This position grew out of the United States’ recognition of Japan’s sovereignty under the Treaty of San Francisco. This Treaty, along with the Security Treaty between the United States and Japan, secured the U.S.-Japan Alliance and its objective to maintain peace and prosperity in the Pacific region.

Japan was among the early adopters of nuclear power. In 1955 Japan passed the Atomic Energy Basic Law, which declared that Japan’s nuclear energy would be restricted to peaceful purposes. One year later, Japan launched the Atomic Energy Commission to promote the development of nuclear power. Japan’s nuclear energy industry was developed with the consent and supervision of bilateral agreements, and later multilateral agencies, charged with safeguarding nuclear technology. The United States shepherded Japan’s emergence as a leader in the nuclear energy industry, first by sharing its reactor technology, by supplying and regulating transportation of nuclear fuel, and later as peer in building global nuclear technology safeguards.

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September 25, 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.

Nuclear Power Emerges in the Developing World Emerges from Post-Fukushima Downturn
Though the accident at Fukushima shook much of the developing world’s confidence with nuclear power, around 25 countries are considering developing nuclear power reactors in the coming years. This is in addition to the 67 reactors that are currently under construction globally, 56 of which are in Asia and Eastern Europe. “There certainly is some interest by some of the emerging markets compared to where we were 10 years ago,” said Preston Swafford, chief executive of Canadian reactor maker Candu Energy. However, many countries are scaling back more ambitions development plans. ”Construction costs are a key determinant of the final nuclear electricity generating costs and many projects are significantly over budget,” according to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2014.
Source: Reuters

NRC Certifies GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s Economic Simplified Boiling-Water Reactor (ESBWR) for Use in the United States
After conducting extensive technical evaluation of the design, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the ESBWR for use in the United States. GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy first submitted its application for ESBWR certification in August 2005. Detroit Edison and Dominion Virginia Power are seeking site licenses for ESBWR reactors. The ESBWR is a 1594 MWe, natural circulation reactor. The design includes passive safety features that would cool down the reactor after an accident without the need for human intervention. These passive features include enhanced natural circulation via a taller reactor vessel; a shorter core and improved water flow through the vessel; an isolation condenser system to control water levels and remove decay heat while the reactor is pressurized; and a gravity-driven cooling system to maintain water levels when the reactor pressure has dropped.
Source: World Nuclear News

Japan to Sign Nuclear Disaster Compensation Act
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced the Abe administration’s intention to submit a bill to the Diet that would authorize Japan’s membership in the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), which would require member nations to pay in part for damages in the event of a nuclear disaster. Suga expects the bill to be submitted by the end of the year. “By ratifying the treaty, (Japan) can support the participation of overseas companies in the decommissioning of — and measures against radiation-tainted water at — the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant,” Suga said. Thus far, the treaty has been ratified by the United States, Argentina, Morocco, Romania and the United Arab Emirates.
Sources: Power Engineering International, Japan Times, IAEA

South African and Rosatom Agreement
South Africa has not yet finalized a $50 billion deal that has been in discussion with Russia’s atomic energy agency, despite Russia’s announcement that it had won a contract for eight nuclear reactors. According to Global Post, South Africa’s energy ministry denied allegations that President Jacob Zuma had sidestepped procurement rules, saying that the Russian deal “initiates” the procurement phase of the project. An emailed statement by Rosatom and the South African government said that the “agreement lays the foundation for the large-scale nuclear power plants procurement and development program.” Rosatom will use Russian VVER reactors to add about 9,600 megawatts to the South African grid, which is intended to reduce the nation’s reliance on coal. Currently, 80 percent of South Africa’s electricity is produced by coal power.
Sources: Global Post, Penn Energy, Bloomberg

Countries Report on Emissions Targets at UN Summit
At the United Nations climate summit this week, countries will report progress on meeting emissions targets. The United States, despite a growth in emissions in 2013, has reduced both gasoline consumption and CO2 emissions since 2005, due largely to economic recession and changes in energy usage. Despite advances in energy use, if the widespread consensus of climate experts is accurate, the estimated 2.5 percent CO2 emissions and record output in 2013 will likely change the climate.
Source: Power Source

September 23, 2014

In recent interview conducted by Pandora’s Promise Director Robert Stone, Columbia University professor and 46-year NASA veteran Dr. James Hansen discussed the necessity of including nuclear energy as part of a comprehensive approach to slowing Global Climate Change.

Additional Content:  Read a previous ForumOnEnergy story covering this issue, “NYT: Leading Scientists Tout Environmental Benefits of Nuclear Energy.”

September 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.

Lake Barrett on Dumping Waste Water into the Ocean
Advisor to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission official Lake Barrett wrote an opinion piece for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists regarding Fukushima’s continued problems with contaminated water. Barrett argues for an improved water management system at the Fukushima Daiichi site, which includes treating the contaminated water; minimizing expensive and leak-prone storage; and releasing the water into the ocean. “Spending billions and billions of yen on building tanks to try to capture almost every drop of water on the site is unsustainable, wasteful, and counterproductive,” Barrett wrote. “I see no realistic alternative to a program that cleans up water with improved processing systems so it meets very protective Japanese release standards and then, after public discussion, conducts an independently confirmed, controlled release to the sea.”
Sources: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Bloomberg

Westinghouse Signs Deal with China
Westinghouse announced last week that it signed two cooperation agreements with China’s State Nuclear Power Automation System Engineering Company (SNPAS). One agreement is regarding instrumentation and control (IC) systems that Westinghouse has partnered on since November 2010 for the China AP1000 plants, while the other covers IC systems for future State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) projects that are derived from the AP1000 design. Westinghouse and SNPTC signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding strategic nuclear partnership earlier this year. David Howell, senior vice president of Westinghouse Nuclear Automation and Field Services, said of the agreements, “I am pleased to see that we are taking this next step. These agreements indicate that our Chinese partners continue to recognize Westinghouse’s leadership role in providing instrumentation and control systems. Such recognition provides Westinghouse with more opportunities to strategically engage in China’s nuclear energy program development.”
Source: Westinghouse

Major Shift in Financing Discussed at WNA
The nuclear industry is undergoing a major shift from projects that are exclusively state-owned and supported, to one that seeks private financing, according to George Borovas, partner at Shearman & Sterling LLP. The challenge is that there is very little precedent for this model, and this makes identifying natural sources of private financing difficult. To date, vendors have assisted in some cases, such as Toshiba’s support for NuGen in the United Kingdom, but a lack of program development resources makes vendors uncomfortable financiers. Rather, export credit agencies and multilateral banks would be the most suitable investors. Nuclear power projects are not, at first glance, attractive investments due to financial and reputational risk. Borovas advises that these can be mitigated by engaging commercial banks for feedback early in the planning process and finding solutions to the risks at those early stages.
Source: World Nuclear News

NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel Argues that Undervaluation of Nuclear Power Benefits Leads to Plant Closures
Somewhere between five and ten nuclear power plants in the United States will close in the near future, says Marv Fertel of NEI, because of insufficient recognition of nuclear power benefits. Characteristics such as nuclear power’s capacity to function as a baseload energy, contribution to grid stability and distinction as a non-carbon dioxide emitting energy source, make nuclear energy singularly attractive in world with a voracious energy appetite and a climate change problem. “We could shut down plants before their value is actually appreciated by the markets that those plants are operating in. That would be tragic,” Fertel said.
Source: World Nuclear News

Nuclear is Key to Combating Climate Change
In a speech to the World Nuclear Association, Sir David King, the United Kingdom foreign secretary’s special representative for climate change told delegates that the world cannot go on using fossil fuels in the way it currently does, “The planet is rather exhausted by the way we used it in the 20th century … We do not have cheap commodities as a simple mechanism to regrow our economies.” Not enough has been done to address climate change while meeting growing energy demand, he said. King suggested that a combination of nuclear energy and renewables will help the UK achieve an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Nuclear energy, King said, “has a key role to play in most regions of the world.”
Source: World Nuclear News

September 15, 2014

USEC Inc. is a leading supplier of nuclear fuel to electric utilities worldwide. The company famously managed the “Megatons to Megawatts” program, a 20-year contract with Russia to downblend and sell low-enriched uranium derived from Russian nuclear warhead material. Now USEC operates the only U.S.-owned uranium enrichment facility in the United States. Paul Jacobson, VP of Communications for USEC, sat down with Forum on Energy to explain their flagship program, the American Centrifuge Project.

Forum on Energy: What is the American Centrifuge Project?

Paul Jacobson: Since 2002, USEC has been developing and demonstrating a highly efficient uranium enrichment gas centrifuge technology called the American Centrifuge. USEC is working to deploy this technology in its American Centrifuge Plant.

The American Centrifuge Plant is an advanced uranium enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio, which will produce low-enriched uranium, a key component for the fabrication of commercial nuclear fuel. The American Centrifuge Plant’s capacity will be equal to about one-fourth of the fuel requirements for the commercial power reactors in the United States, which provide approximately 19 percent of the U.S. electricity supply today. As the only domestic enrichment facility using U.S. technology, the American Centrifuge Plant will be critical to the long-term energy security and national security interests of the United States.

The American Centrifuge Plant will utilize USEC’s AC100 centrifuge machine, which has been developed, engineered and manufactured in the United States. The AC100 design is a disciplined evolution of classified U.S. centrifuge technology originally developed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and successfully demonstrated during the 1980s. DOE invested $3 billion over 10 years to develop the centrifuge technology, built approximately 1,500 machines and accumulated more than 10 million machine hours of run time.

USEC has improved the DOE technology through advanced materials, updated electronics and design enhancements based on highly advanced computer modeling capabilities. Due to these improvements, the AC100 can produce four times the output per machine of any other centrifuge in existence today. The American Centrifuge is a proven technology, having recently concluded a cooperative program with the Department of Energy that achieved both of its main objectives and successfully met all ten of its technical milestones, all five of its performance indicators and a series of additional tests.

USEC has a construction and operating license for the American Centrifuge Plant issued by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In addition to providing economic advantages through energy production and job creation, the American Centrifuge Project will also provide significant environmental, energy security, nonproliferation and national security benefits.

Forum on Energy: Why do we need it?

Jacobson: The events unfolding in Ukraine remind us of the dangers that come with a lack of diversity and competition in fuel supply. Today, there are only two global enrichment technologies: European and Russian. Without a competitive U.S. technology in the global uranium enrichment market, customers will be in more vulnerable positions on critical matters of energy security and price competition.

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September 11, 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.

Japanese Officials to Close Aging Reactors
In the wake of the approval of the two Sendai nuclear reactors, Japanese officials are focusing attention on older nuclear plants. According to E&E News, officials have requested that plant operators draft plans for either decommissioning or upgrading older reactors. Reuters reports that this proposal will affect a quarter of Japan’s reactors. With the closure of older units, the industry and the government aim to focus on restarting the newer, safer units. According to the Nikkei, Kansai Electric Power Co. may be the first to shutter two of its old reactors, but Kansai says it will first look at responding to the extension application deadline for the two units, which would allow them to operate beyond their 40-year age limit.
Sources: E&E News, Reuters, The New York Times

USEC Inc. Reorganization Plans Are Officially Approved
USEC Inc. cleared the last major hurdle in the bankruptcy process when the bankruptcy court for the District of Delaware approved their reorganization plans this week. USEC filed under Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 5, which allows an organization to restructure under U.S. bankruptcy laws. According to World Nuclear News, USEC had a “pre-arranged” filing that included reorganization plans and had backing from owners of outstanding notes. USEC will continue business under the name Centrus Energy Corp and will trade common stock on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “LEU.”
Source: World Nuclear News

Areva Possibly to Be Downgraded to Junk
Credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has put Areva on a “creditwatch negative” and will decide within 30 days whether to downgrade its credit ratings to junk status. A downgrade would make Areva stocks and bunds unattractive for pension funds and other investors who seek only investment-grade securities. ”In view of the deteriorated operating performance and forecast negative free cash flow over 2014-2015, we currently believe a downgrade of one notch is possible,” S&P said in a statement. On August 1, Areva shocked investors with a 694 million-euro loss caused by disappointing nuclear revenue; a writedown on its withdrawal from a solar power business; and a cut in its 2014-2016 core earnings and cash flow targets. Its stock fell 20 percent that day, the worst fall since Areva was formed in 2001. Areva Chief Financial Officer Pierre Aubouin told reporters that even in the worst-case scenario of a downgrade, Areva had no concerns regarding its liquidity position and financing structure.
Source: Reuters

Savanah River MOX Fuel Plant Applies for a 10-Year Construction Extension
The contractor building the $7.7 billion Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication facility at the Savannah River site in Aiken, South Carolina, has formally requested from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) a 10-year construction extension. Bryan Wilkes, the spokesman for the site, called the request “routine communication with the NRC,” noting that the agency grants extensions in 10-year increments and that the extension request should not be construed as the site needing an additional 10 years to complete construction. However, when asked to provide a completion target, Wilkes declined to comment. Originally estimated at $4 billion, construction began in 2007, with completion originally set for 2016. The National Nuclear Security Administration has not updated the project’s status, but public officials have estimated construction to be 60-65 percent complete.
Source: Engineering News-Record

Senators Air Concerns Over NRC
A hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee, held ostensibly to vet two nominees as commissioners to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), offers insights into U.S. government concerns over the management of the NRC. Several senators voiced criticisms over the NRC’s decision-making, ranging from concerns over mismanagement of government funds to concerns over whether the NRC enforced its decisions. Senator Inhofe complained that a 30 percent increase in the NRC’s budget to accommodate an increase in workload did not result in approvals of major projects. Senator Boxer voiced concerns that the Diablo Canyon plant continued to operate despite allegedly running afoul of the NRC’s regulations. The two nominees — Jeffrey Baran and Stephen Burns — both committed to being open-minded and committing to NRC’s priorities of safely and effectively regulating the industry.
Source: The Hill

September 10, 2014
Richard Rhodes (Photo by Nancy Warner)

Richard Rhodes (Photo by Nancy Warner)

Richard Rhodes, author and editor of twenty-four books — including Nuclear Renewal: Common Sense About Energy and the Pulitzer-prize winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb — educated a generation on early nuclear weapons history, as well as the development of modern physics in general, during the first half of the 20th century. Rhodes is among the experts featured in “Pandora’s Promise,” a documentary on the evolution of the environmental movement from anti-nuclear to one that sees nuclear energy as a key component in the fight to slow climate change.

In this interview with Forum on Energy, Rhodes explains why Japan should continue using nuclear energy.

Forum on Energy: Why were you a nuclear power skeptic and what changed your perspective?

Richard Rhodes: In the 1970s I was a journalist writing for magazines like Playboy, the Atlantic and Harper’s. It was an era when there was great interest in energy policy and the environment. I acquired the usual journalist’s knee-jerk reaction against nuclear power and wrote several pieces that scoffed at it. It was not much more than simple ignorance: I really had no particular knowledge of the field.

That knowledge came as I researched my book The Making of the Atomic Bomb. I interviewed, one by one, the original nuclear physicists and chemists who had worked on the first atomic bombs. They were of course credible people. Many of them were Nobel Laureates. Hans Bethe, a central figure at Los Alamos, was especially impressive. My attitude toward nuclear power changed as I became educated. I realized that my anti-nuclear perspective was derived from ignorance.

Rhodes-quote1As I listened, I came to understand what we all must understand eventually, which is that we can’t know everything. At some point you have to trust the authorities in their field — as long as there is no evident reason to distrust them. (Despite what some environmentalists seem to think, those of us who support the development of nuclear energy aren’t on the payroll of the nuclear industry.) So these are some of the considerations that led me to understand that nuclear power is one of the truly great discoveries and developments of the 20th century.

Forum on Energy: How has Fukushima changed your perspective of the Japanese system?

Rhodes: To this degree: The Japanese cultural bias against acknowledging public responsibility needs reexamination. It seems to me that within the Japanese nuclear power industry there has been a culture of not acknowledging responsibility. That tendency is probably, as much as anything, behind the industry’s problems.

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