Forum on Energy
Forum on Energy
October 21, 2014
This week Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe publicly endorsed the restart of the nuclear reactors at Kyushu Electric's Sendai power plant.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
October 23, 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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October 24, 2014
Happy Nuclear Science Week! In celebration, we are inaugurating our new series Nuclear Mythbusters. Let's start with classic nuclear energy myths.
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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.
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September 23, 2014
Dr. James Hansen discusses the need to include nuclear energy as part of any plan to slow Global Climate Change.
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October 24, 2014

iStock_000003470513SmallHappy Nuclear Science Week! In celebration, we are inaugurating our new series Nuclear Mythbusters. Let’s start with classic nuclear energy myths.

Myth 1 — Nuclear energy is dangerous.

Truth: Nuclear energy is as safe or safer than any other form of energy available. No member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the entire 50-year history of commercial nuclear power in the United States. In fact, recent studies have shown that it is safer to work in a nuclear power plant than an office. It is also impossible for a nuclear reactor to explode like a nuclear weapon; these weapons contain very special materials in very particular configurations, neither of which are present in a nuclear reactor.

Source: Nuclear Energy Institute

Myth 2 — Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima Daiichi have given thousands of people cancer and will continue to do so.

Truth: The three major nuclear power plant disasters — Chernobyl, Three Miles Island and Fukushima Daiichi — resulted in more than 50 deaths to date, all from the Chernobyl accident. While the exact numbers of deaths will likely never be known, the Chernobyl Forum has estimated that an additional 4,000 will pass away from complications due to radiation exposure. Of the people known to have received a high radiation dose, the increase in cancer incidence is too small to measure due to other causes of cancer such as air pollution and tobacco use. In addition, a Chernobyl-type accident could not have happened outside of the Soviet Union because this type of reactor was never built or operated here.

Sources: IAEA, ANS, Science Magazine

Myth 3 — There is no solution to nuclear waste.

Truth: All of the used nuclear fuel generated in every nuclear plant in the past 50 years would fill a football field to a depth of less than 10 yards, and 96 percent of this “waste” can be recycled. Used fuel is currently being safely stored. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the equivalent scientific advisory panels in every major country support geological disposal of such wastes as the preferred safe method for their ultimate disposal. In addition, used nuclear fuel can be recycled to make new fuel and byproducts. Most of the waste from this process will require a storage time of less than 300 years. Finally, less than 1 percent is radioactive for 10,000 years. This portion is not much more radioactive than some things found in nature, and can be easily shielded to protect humans and wildlife.

Source: Krane, K.S., 1988. “Introductory Nuclear Physics.” John Wiley and Sons;  Nuclear Energy Agency, OECD report, 1999. “Progress Towards Geologic Disposal of Radioactive Waste: Where do We Stand?”

Myth 4 — Nuclear energy poisons the environment.

Truth: Nuclear reactors emit no greenhouse gasses during operation. Over their full lifetimes, they result in comparable emissions to renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar. Nuclear energy requires less land use than most other forms of energy.

Source: Meier, P.J., 2002. Life-Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Systems and Applications for Climate Change Policy Analysis.

Myth 5 — Fukushima radiation is killing ocean life.

Naturally occurring radiation in the ocean is much higher than the radiation that is seeping from the Fukushima plant. But the radiation is not a cause for worry since it is a fraction of the amount of radiation that Americans receive during a routine dental examination.

Source: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

October 23, 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.

METI Gets a New Minister
After allegations of financial impropriety, Yuko Obuchi announced her resignation as Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry on Monday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed Yoichi Miyazawa as the new minister. “I’d like to apologize for not being able to do anything for many challenges facing the Abe cabinet, including promoting the role of women in society and restarting nuclear power plants,” Obuchi said at a news conference. According to The Wall Street Journal, local lawmakers find it unlikely that Obuchi’s resignation will affect reactor restart in Kagoshima prefecture. Minister Miyazawa said at a news conference that local communities should “put their opinions together” on whether to restart the reactors. However, Miyazawa did not define what constitutes “local community” near a nuclear plant.
Sources: The Wall Street Journal (1,2,3)

Japanese Plans for a National Grid Hit Roadblocks
After the events at Fukushima Daiichi, the Japanese government pledged the biggest shake up in the history of the fragmented electricity industry to boost competition and contain a surge in power prices. But the first phase — to set up a national grid company to allow new suppliers to sell electricity to the residential sector in order to guarantee equal access to all participants — has failed to be executed as originally envisioned. Plans to give the nationwide grid management body control over the system of distribution and transmission lines was scaled back amid lobbying from Japan’s power utilities. The main remit of the grid company, which is scheduled to start operations next April, has been restricted to ensuring reliability of supply in emergencies. These changes will hold up a second phase of reforms, the opening up of the 7.5 trillion yen ($68 billion) residential and small business market in March 2016, the centerpiece of the plan to boost competition, lower power prices and cut energy imports. Hiroshi Takahashi of the Fujitsu Research Institute, who sat on a government panel on the reforms, said he was “relatively pessimistic” about the grid company because he felt it would be unable to stand up to the utilities.
Source: Reuters

Macfarlane Resigns NRC Post
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane announced Tuesday that she will leave the agency in January. Although she has three remaining years in her term as chairwoman, Macfarlane will return to academia, serving as the director of Center for International Science and Technology Policy at The George Washington University. Macfarlane joined the agency in July of 2012, following a period of dissent over the management style of her predecessor, Gregory B. Jaczko, according to The Washington Post. Macfarlane said in an email to her NRC staff, “I came to the Commission with the mission of righting the ship after a tumultuous period for the Commission, and ensuring that the agency implemented lessons learned from the tragic accident at Fukushima Daiichi, so that the American people can be confident that such an accident will never take place here.”
Sources: In the Capital, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal

NRC releases Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) released a report on Thursday concluding that storage of nuclear waste at the Yucca Mountain repository site is safe. The report found “that DOE has demonstrated compliance with the NRC regulatory requirements for postclosure safety,” in multiple areas. The confirmed feasibility of storage at the site, which has been under heavy partisan debate for six years, will clear the way to restart the project. According to The New York Times, use of the site has been blocked by President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with the state of Nevada and other opponents threatening lawsuits if the project proceeds.
Sources: NRC, Daily Signal, The New York Times, The Las-Vegas Review-Journal

October 21, 2014
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

This week Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe publicly endorsed the restart of the nuclear reactors at Kyushu Electric’s Sendai power plant in southern Japan, according to Real Clear Policy. The restart of the reactors — which observers believe will pave a path for further restarts — hinges on the consent from the governor of Kagoshima Prefecture and the mayor of Satsumasendai, where the plant is located. All of Japan’s reactors were shut down in reaction to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi three years ago.

The process of restarting Japan’s nuclear reactors includes several investigations of the reactors safety. Earlier this year, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority issued a lengthy report showing that Kyushu Electric’s safety assessment met the new regulatory standards established by the agency. Kyushu Electric still faces other obstacles before the plant can go online, including the agreement of local governments.

According to author Derrick Freeman, while nuclear support tends to be highest in communities that host the reactors, “Overall, however, the public remains wary. Before the accident, nearly two-thirds of the public supported building new nuclear reactors; a national public poll taken in July and published by the Asahi newspapers found 59 percent opposition to the restart at Sendai.”

Read the full story here.

October 16, 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.

Japanese Government to Allow Hokkaido Electric to Raise Rates by 15%
The Japanese government has announced that it will allow Hokkaido Electric Power Co. to raise electricity rates by 15.33 percent on average, a decrease from the original 17.03 percent hike sought by the company. In September 2013, Hokkaido Electric raised household rates by 7.73 percent on average. Hokkaido Electric will be the first power supplier in Japan to conduct a second rate hike since the 2011 Fukushima crisis.
Source: The Japan News

France and South Africa Sign Nuclear Deal
Possibly opening the way for French nuclear company Areva to bid to build eight nuclear reactors in South Africa, the French and South African governments signed an agreement on cooperation in nuclear energy. Last month, South Africa signed a similar agreement with Russia. The South African plan to build up to eight nuclear reactors is expected to be worth up to $50 billion for whichever company wins the tenders.
Source: AFP

France Moves from Nuclear to Renewable
France’s lower house, the National Assembly, approved an energy transition bill on Tuesday that will cap nuclear power production at current levels. The text, which is part of a larger bill pushed by Energy Minister Segolene Royal, is intended to boost renewable production with subsidies and by simplifying the authorization process for onshore wind, biogas and hydropower production. The French government has promised to cut nuclear energy’s levels in electricity production from 75 percent to 50 percent by 2025, according to New Europe.
Sources: New Europe, Reuters

Taiwan Plans to Send Waste Abroad
A Taiwanese government task force announced Tuesday that spent nuclear fuel rods, currently stored at two plants that are approaching capacity will be shipped abroad for processing. “The storage sites of the two plants would run out of capacity next year, and the plants would have to be shut down if these plans were not carried out,” said Bob Lee, spokesman for the task force. Bidding for the processing is expected to begin next year, but a French firm has already expressed interest in the contract, according to The Japan Times. Environmental groups have spoken out since the announcement, asserting that transportation of the spent fuel rods is too dangerous. According to the Taipei Times, a new dry storage facility in Taiwan is under construction, but behind schedule.
Sources: Phys.org, Tapei Times, Japan Times

Banks Agree to Refinance TEPCO
Three Japanese banks have agreed to extend uncollateralized loans to Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO). Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, and Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corp. will refinance for a period of six months tens of billions of yen of TEPCO loans that are due at the end of the month. The company faces a repayment deadline in December for a total of 150 billion yen (approximately $14 billion) in emergency loans provided by Sumitomo Mitsui, BTMU and Mizuho Bank. Even though the April to June period is the first time TEPCO has been in the black since 2011, the company has been facing growing in payments compensation claims and costs related to the decommissioning of the nuclear plant. The decision follows the establishment of a joint venture between TEPCO and Chubo Electric power Co. designed to boost thermal power operations while reducing fuel costs.
Source: RIA Novosti

October 10, 2014

In an opinion piece for The New York Times earlier this week, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute react to the recent awarding of a Nobel Prize in physics to three scientists for their invention of the blue LED light. According to the author, energy savings technologies will not lead to savings, but rather incentivize consumption and therefore result in even more energy usage than would exist without the invention. This is not a bad thing. As people around the world strive to improve their living conditions, they will consume more and more energy. The trick, say the authors, is to identify clean sources of energy that will limit impacts on the global environment.

Read the full piece here.

October 9, 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.

Argonne National Lab and Korea Atomic Energy Research Institution Team Up to Develop Prototype Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactor
The Argonne National Laboratory and the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institution (KAERI) have announced plans to partner in the development of a 150-MW Prototype Generation IV Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactor (PGSFR). The advanced sodium-cooled reactor uses metal fuel, a fuel type first developed in tandem with the reactor technology by Argonne scientists between 1984 and 1994. Argonne has been studying the fast reactor technology since it developed two fast reactors in 1948. KAERI started developing its own fast reactor technology prototype based on Argonne’s work. KAERI will provide funding for the agreement and Argonne lab will provide the technology support. “We hope to have it licensed by the Korean nuclear authority by 2020, and hopefully have it constructed by 2028,” said Yoon Chang, Argonne Distinguished Fellow and PGSFR Project Manager.
Source: Power Engineering

U.S.-Vietnam 123 Agreement Comes into Force
This week, the U.S.-Vietnam 123 Agreement on Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation entered into force. The agreement, which was signed by Secretary of State Kerry in October 2013 and passed the Senate in July of this year, establishes the terms for commercial nuclear trade, research and technology exchange between the United States and Vietnam. Vietnam already has plans to construct two Russian reactors and two Japanese reactors for a total of 4,000 MW. Vietnam intends to develop up to 10,000 MW of nuclear energy capacity by 2030.
Source: World Nuclear News

Overabundance of Solar to Stress Japan’s Grid
Half of Japan’s electric utility companies have announced the suspension of proposal reviews for renewable energy producers due to grid concerns. Kyushu, Shikoku, Okinawa, Hokkaido and Tohoku utilities, which announced the halts within the past week, serve about half of Japan’s landmass. Utilities are trying to reform their electrical generation and delivery system and fear that the power imbalance will cause problems for the decentralized power grid. Japan’s power grid is largely divided into two regions that use different frequencies, which limits conversion and distribution between the east and west. The boom in renewables—especially solar power—come in the wake of Japan’s feed-in tariff program benefiting renewable energy programs, which was adopted after the March 2011 tsunami.
Source: E&E News

Bolivia Wants to Start a Nuclear Program
Bolivian President Eva Morales announced plans to launch a robust nuclear energy program this year. Morales, who has previously alluded to nuclear plans, said that Bolivia will invest more than $2 billion in nuclear development over the next decade. Many countries have already offered nuclear technology support for the program, with Russia offering to help Bolivia achieve “their rightful role as a Promethean nation.” Bolivia plans to install a cyclotron PET/CT linear accelerator as well as a nuclear research reactor.
Sources: La Oferta, Forbes, World Nuclear News

Researchers Propose Alternatives to UNFCCC Conventions
Two research groups are questioning the feasibility of limiting global temperature rise to two degrees, and broadly, if the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty even works. William Nordhaus, climate specialist at Yale University, claims that, after all the activity, the Kyoto Protocol has died. He proposes as an alternative a climate club, which would have great benefits of association. Nations would prefer to go through the pain of curbing emissions rather than exiting, he said. University of California San Diego professor Dr. David Victor claims that the two-degree warming goal, while a useful political tool, is just not feasible. The scientific community must identify “vital signs” of the planet, to monitor the actual health and resilience of the planet, he said. The proposals come as nations recognize the need to curb carbon emissions, but the realities of energy and population boom make emissions reduction more difficult to achieve.
Source: E&E News

October 2, 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.

IAEA Meetings End in Favor of Nuclear Waste Reprocessing
At the IAEA, two weeks of multilateral meetings focused on waste management culminated in a movement to reprocess nuclear waste. France, Japan, Russia and South Korea are supportive of reprocessing nuclear waste into usable fuel, despite U.S. concerns that nuclear waste reprocessing generates weapons-grade plutonium. U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz stated that the United States was neither interested in nor supportive of reprocessing, and asked that countries who move ahead with the technology keep plutonium inventories to a minimum. Gerald Ouzounian, International Director at France’s Radioactive Waste Management Agency, said on Sept. 23 that reprocessing reduces the amount of waste for disposal and also reduces the size of the nuclear waste inventory.
Source: Bloomberg

DoE Pushes Forward Multi-billion Dollar Loans for Nuclear Innovation Systems
GreenWire reports that the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) released a draft solicitation for $12.6 billion worth of loan guarantees for advanced reactors, small modular reactors (SMRs), equipment upgrades to make existing nuclear power plants more efficient and modernizing the “front end” of the nuclear fuel cycle, such as uranium enrichment. Once finalized, this nuclear solicitation is expected to exhaust the DoE’s loan guarantee authority. Over the past year the DoE has issued numerous solicitations, including for low-emissions fossil fuels and renewable energies, which have yet to be awarded.
Sources: E&E (1,2)

In Farewell Speech, Poneman Cites Nuclear and Climate Existential Threats to the U.S.
In his final speech as Deputy Secretary of Energy, Daniel Poneman identified climate change and addressed the role of nuclear power as essential to ensuring the future of our planet. Poneman, who is stepping down for a position with Harvard University, said: “By my count, there [are] exactly two issues that I think could be fairly characterized as existential threats — in other words, threats that actually relate to the existence of our planet as we know it today. One is nuclear, and one is climate. We’ve got both of them at the U.S. Department of Energy.” Poneman touted the Obama Administration’s efforts to support nuclear power as a carbon free electricity source and called on the United States to play a larger leadership role in building new nuclear power as a way to thwart proliferation of nuclear materials and to fight climate change. Poneman also acknowledged some of the safety concerns raised in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, saying “We need to be safe, we need to address proliferation issues, but [nuclear power] has a role to play in our low-carbon future.”
Source: E&E                                                          

USEC Emerges from Bankruptcy as Centrus Energy Corp
USEC emerges from bankruptcy this week, having renamed itself as Centrus Energy Corp. The company retains its ability to provide its customers with nuclear fuel and support American energy security needs. John Welch, CEO of Centrus, explains that the company is in strong financial standing having restructured its debt and having maintained the ability to meet its customers’ needs on time throughout the bankruptcy procedures.
Source: The Washington Post

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.

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