September - October 2002


Europe taking stock of energy future

After several years of having public policy influenced strongly by minority political parties with anti-nuclear agendas, several countries in Europe are returning to more rational energy policies. In some cases this is not urgent, because the prevailing anti-nuclear or nuclear phase-out policies in countries such as Germany do not begin to bite for some time. But an earlier reversal of ideologically-driven policies means that planning can occur with less uncertainty.

In any case, as the UK government is discovering in relation to both new nuclear capacity and high-level radioactive wastes, when decision points are reached, even governments have to face up to reality. Meanwhile they can coast along in populist mode without offending vocal minorities who are adept at magnifying their views through the media.

None of the 2002 elections in Europe have had nuclear energy as a major issue, but they have started to affect the medium to long-term outlook for nuclear, and brought forward changes. However, several countries are still committed to unsustainable energy policies and risk having to come to terms with reality more precipitately.

In the EU, the European Commission in June adopted a report summarising the conclusions of a 19-month EU-wide debate on energy. It made it clear that nuclear energy, which provides 35% of EU electricity, is already an important means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Also, it said that while current policies in some individual EU states would not jeopardise the EU's ability to meet Kyoto targets at 2012, continuation of them would create considerable difficulties thereafter.

July's EU statement on Energy and Sustainable Development said that the EU would give technical assistance on safety to developing countries such as China and India which have nuclear power. This is despite the fact that the EU Energy Initiative for assisting developing countries excludes nuclear.

In France, the June election saw a clear end to five years of Green Party influence on national nuclear energy policy, and the centre-right won more than two thirds of the seats in parliament. The new Environment Minister made it clear that nuclear energy "pollutes the least" of electricity options. The Green Party won only three seats and the former Environment Minister lost hers. There is expected to be much greater clarity of purpose in relation to high-level waste disposal, reprocessing and use of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, and there is optimism that a lead unit of the new, advanced European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) may be ordered before long. The first step however will be a national debate on energy and the role of nuclear power, culminating in a parliamentary decision on energy policy.

In Germany, the September elections narrowly returned the "red-green" coalition to power for four years, so their nuclear phase-out policy will continue, with any significant closures many years away. The conservative parties hoping to form a new government are well-known as being strongly pro-nuclear on energy security grounds, though on the whole this did not feature in the campaign.

Germany, with half of Europe's installed wind capacity (9000 MWe) due to generous subsidies and tariff arrangements, is already encountering major problems in utilising the output in its grid system. When the wind blows, other generating capacity - including some base-load coal plant - must be shut down but held on standby for when it ceases to blow. Peaking capacity can fill in some of the slack during calm periods, but the wind capacity is now reaching the level (about 8% of total) so that base-load plant is affected and some is running at less than half its potential, which raises costs significantly. Consumers and taxpayers thus need to pay the inflated costs for highly-subsidised wind generation as well as higher costs for traditional sources due to inefficiencies caused by that intermittent wind availability. Base-load power sells for about EUR 2 c/kWh, while utilities are forced to buy all wind power produced for 8.6 c/kWh whenever it happens to be available.

In Netherlands, the three-party coalition has confirmed that the country's sole nuclear plant should remain operating for its full 40-year design life (to 2013), rather than close prematurely in 2004 as proposed by the previous government. One of the new coalition partners is canvassing the possibility of building a new reactor in Groningen. Also, the new government is considering allowing large-scale gas production from under a large nature reserve, the Wadden Sea, albeit with access from outside it. A significant proportion of the EU's gas reserves are involved.

In Belgium, the government has an anti-nuclear policy and pending laws with phase-out due to begin in 2013. However, there is considerable ambivalence due to the clear conflict with climate change goals, and in any case there is an escape clause regarding security of supply. No legislative action is expected until after the 2003 elections.

In Sweden, the September elections returned the existing coalition so that the government is likely to proceed with a nuclear phase-out law modelled on Germany's, but putting any action in that regard so far into the future that ten of its operating reactors will complete their economic lives. The eleventh, Barseback-2 , is still under threat of early closure if the government works out how to replace its output from non-carbon sources. Meanwhile, the main effect of closure of Barseback-1 at the end of 1999 is that an extra 4 million tonnes of CO2 is emitted annually from next-door Denmark. Very generous compensation paid to its owners ensures that it does not reopen.

Finland is preparing to build its fifth nuclear reactor, as previously reported, following a clear parliamentary decision.

In summary, nuclear energy continues to supply a third of Europe's electricity and it remains the only substantial means of coming anywhere near the Kyoto targets, though increased wind generation is welcomed and helps. Continuation of ambivalence or hostility to nuclear power in several countries will have serious implications in the medium to long-term, but not immediately. Meanwhile a lead is being given by France and Finland.

Foratom Bulletin May-June 2002, Nucleonics Week 18/7, 1/8, 5 & 12/9/02, ESAA Electricity Supply Sept 2002, New Scientist 7/9/02.


Yucca Mountain saga continues.
Following the Senate approval, the US President has signed into law the resolution approving Yucca Mountain as the site for a national high-level nuclear waste repository. There remain some lawsuits brought by Nevada to counter the project, though these are not likely to delay proceedings.

The House subcommittee on Energy and Water Development has approved the requested $524.7 million funding for the project in FY 2003, but the parallel Senate subcommittee, chaired by one of the project's detractors, has allocated only $336 million - $228 million from defence funds and $56 million from the Nuclear Waste Fund, which receives some $750 million per year from consumers of nuclear-generated electricity.
NucNet news # 254/02, Ux weekly 15/7/02.

US decommissioning funds grow.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has confirmed that at the end of 2000, US power reactor licensees already had on deposit $23.7 billion in external decommissioning trust fund accounts, against an estimated $35-36 billion needed for when the plants close down. Thus "it appears that all licensees have collection schedules targeted to fully fund decommissioning of the radiological portions of their plants at license termination." The Nuclear Energy Institute points out that similarly to funding of waste disposal, "the nuclear energy industry is the only industrial sector that puts aside segregated decommissioning funds for clean-up of its facilities once they close, and that has in place a pooled liability coverage framework".
NEI Infowire 7/8/02.

Security enhancements at US plants.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has completed an initial assessment of the vulnerability of nuclear plants to terrorist attacks and has listed the enhancements made to plant security over the last twelve months. Security measures include more rigorous personnel checks, creation of a Nuclear Security and Incident Response unit with wide powers, revision of the NRC's threat advisory system, and heightened security at NRC headquarters. Measures in train include better control of radiological sources in medicine and industry, and review of the design basis threat for nuclear facilities.

The NRC report to the US Department of Homeland Security follows an assessment by the Electric Power Research Institute that a nuclear power plant would withstand a September 11 type of attack without any catastrophic release of radioactivity, though it might be effectively destroyed.
NucNet news # 289/02, NEI Infowire 18/6/02, NRC web site.

US contract for uranium deconversion plant.
The US Dept of Energy has awarded a $558 million contract for converting its stockpile of 700,000 tonnes of depleted UF6 into uranium oxide (U3O8) by 2010 for long-term storage and possibly subsequent use or disposal. The successful tenderer (from among five) was Uranium Disposition Services, a consortium of Framatome ANP Inc, Duratek Federal Services and Burns & Roe Enterprises. It will build and operate two facilities, at Paducah in Kentucky and Portsmouth, Ohio, - the sites of USEC enrichment plants where most of the material is (56,000t at Oak Ridge, Tennessee will be transported to Portsmouth for treatment).
NucNet business news # 61/02.

US enrichment update.
The US Dept of Energy has announced an R&D agreement with USEC, which will provide $121 million for government laboratories to develop the centrifuge technology which USEC is committed to having operational by 2011. Meanwhile the rival Urenco-led consortium has announced that it has selected Hartsville, Tennessee as the site for its centrifuge project.
DOE 19/9/02, Ux Weekly 9/9/02.


French reactors given new lease of life.
All 34 of France's 900 MWe class of nuclear reactor have had their lifetimes extended by ten years, following their second 10-yearly review. Most started up from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, and they are reviewed together. Inspection and testing at each unit takes about four months. Preparations are now being made for the review of 20 units of the 1300 MWe series. After them are the four 1450 MWe types. The next reactors built in France will be the EPR advanced reactor, and a decision on building the lead unit is expected soon.
NucNet news # 264 & 265/02.

UK government to reduce marine discharges.
Further cuts are planned by 2020 in Britain's radioactive discharges from Sellafield. Total alpha and beta liquid discharges are to be reduced 70% to about 50 TBq/yr. Technetium-99 discharges will be cut 99% to less than 1 TBq/yr as Magnox reprocessing finishes. Meanwhile the government will conduct a full review of reprocessing before BNFL enters any new contracts for Thorp, reprocessing oxide fuels.
Nucleonics Week 25/7/02.

British Energy leans on government help.
The UK nuclear utility British Energy has obtained short-term government assistance of �410 million after failing to reach agreement with government-owned BNFL on renegotiating its UK waste management contracts. In the UK electricity market wholesale prices, due to over-capacity and abundant gas which is presently cheap, are currently below BE's cost of production (about 1.67 p/kWh, US 2.6 c/kWh). This cost includes the �80-100 million per year (0.12 - 0.15 p/kWh) it pays for the UK climate change levy (though it is not a CO2 emitter) and the waste management fees (about 0.45 p/kWh) - about six times higher than those for its North American operations, which are profitable.

BE earlier shut down both its 14-year-old Torness reactors, due to problems with the coolant gas circulators. One is also having routine maintenance brought forward. Allowing for prudent checks at Heysham, with identical cooling systems, the company has predicted a 6.7% reduction in output for the year. BE supplies over one fifth of UK electricity.
NucNet business news # 58 & 62/02, cf Newsletter #6/01.

Denmark dampens wind.
After reviewing costs and benefits, the Danish government has stopped subsidising renewable energy technologies and has apparently brought the country's vaunted wind energy program to a halt. Installation of new wind capacity has dropped sharply, with only 117 MWe added in 2001, bringing capacity to 2417 MWe. Further additions are in some doubt.
Solar Progress March 2002, ENDS Environment daily 29/5/02, EWEA 20/2/02.


China's sixth nuclear power reactor starts up.
Unit 2 of China's Ling Ao nuclear power plant reached criticality two months ahead of schedule and less than five years after start of construction. It has apparently since been connected to the grid. The 935 MWe French PWR unit in Guangdong province joins its twin, which entered commercial operation in May, and is close to the two Daya Bay units.

Meanwhile, the third phase of China's Qinshan project in Zhejiang Province has moved forward with loading of fuel into the first of two Canadian-designed heavy water reactors. Qinshan-4 & 5 are due to start up next year and are CANDU-6 units of 728 MWe gross, about 665 MWe net. (Qinshan-3, the second locally designed and built 610 MWe unit comprising phase two of the power station, is expected to start up this year.)
NucNet news # 271 & 277/02, TradeTech NMR 16/8/02, Ux Weekly 16/9/02.

Tepco reports on maintenance scandal.
Following a four-month investigation, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has reported to Japan's Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) on the irregularities in its inspection and maintenance records. It has also reported to its local governments and apologised to the local communities.

The plant inspections concerned were carried out in the late 1980s and early 1990s, by a subcontractor, General Electric International, at Tepco's three nuclear plants - Fukushima I & II and Kashiwazaki Kariwa, on components which are not subject to the regular formal safety inspections by NISA.

The saga began with two minor problems in 2000 which the Ministry for International Trade & Industry asked to be investigated. Then in May, General Electric drew Tepco's attention to 27 further matters "where inspection and maintenance work may have been handled inappropriately". Tepco checked the documentation of these, interviewed 70 staff and others, and in August notified NISA, which publicised the matter while confirming that "there was no problem with safety in the equipment currently in use". There were questions of data falsification, whether significant faults were reported to senior management, and whether NISA was sufficiently proactive.

Pending resolution of the matter, Tepco has shut down four of its 17 reactors: Fukushima I-4, Fukushima II-3 & II-4 and Kashiwazaki Kariwa-1, with Fukushima II-2 to follow at the end of October. Most of these come into service in the mid 1980s, though the first is older. Tepco's Chairman, President, Executive Vice-President and two senior advisers have announced their resignations, while 19 others have been demoted or had salaries cut.

In the light of all this Tepco confirmed that its plans to load mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel into its power plants have been delayed indefinitely. It had been planning to load MOX into Kashiwazaki Kariwa-3 at the end of September.
Tepco 29/8 & 17/9/02, NSnet 30/8/02, NucNet news # 278, 279 & 280/02, Nikkei Weekly 2/9/02.

Japan enacts energy security law.
In June, Japan's upper house approved a new Energy Policy Law by 206 to 27. The law sets out the basic principles of energy security and stable supply, and the responsibilities of the national government and local public corporations, apparently giving greater authority to the government in establishing the energy infrastructure for economic growth. The law also seeks greater efficiency in consumption, a further move away from dependence on fossil fuels, and market liberalisation. It requires the government to report annually to the Diet on energy policy and its implementation.
Atoms in Japan, July 2002.

New phase of Indian nuclear energy program.
India's regulatory authority has issued approval to start construction of a 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam. The unit is expected to be operating in 2009, fuelled with uranium-plutonium carbide (the reactor-grade Pu being from its existing PHWRs) and with a thorium blanket to breed fissile U-233. This will take India's ambitious thorium program to stage 2, and set the scene for eventual "thorium-fuelled reactors" (actually U-233 fuelled), utilising India's plentiful thorium resources. India's small fast breeder test reactor has been operating at Kalpakkam since 1985.

In contrast to the situation in the 1990s, all eight reactors under construction in India are ahead of schedule, and two are being increased in capacity. The two pairs of indigenous 202 MWe PHWR units at Kaiga (3 & 4) and Rajasthan (5 & 6) are ahead of schedule and below budget, while Tarapur-3 and -4, larger versions of these, are having their capacity increased from 450 to about 490 MWe (net). The Russian-sourced Kudankulam VVER-1000 units are progressing well. Design work has been started on increasing the capacity of future versions of the larger PHWR types by allowing partial boiling in the fuel channels, giving them 25% more power with an 8% cost increment.
NucNet background # 14/02, Nucleonics Week 25/7 & 12/9/02.

Construction start on North Korean reactor.
Though the project is now running several years behind schedule due to North Korea's continued default on its non-proliferation commitments, first concrete for the two-unit nuclear power plant has been poured at Kumho, on the northeast coast. This formal start of construction is a milestone for KEDO, the international organisation responsible for bringing together western funds and South Korean technology to build a nuclear power plant which is not amenable to misuse. KEDO plans to deliver the main components in 2005, but work will then stop unless North Korea is fully compliant with IAEA inspection and other requirements.
NucNet news # 267/02.

China to utilise spent fuel for heating and desalination.
A Chinese group has agreed to build a 200 MWt nuclear reactor run on used fuel from nuclear power stations to provide district heating and desalination. The US$ 42 million project at Yingkou in Liaoning province will heat 5 million square metres of buildings over 4-6 months each year and initially desalinate 3000 tonnes (3 megalitres) of seawater per day in warmer months, rising to 80,000 tonnes (80 megalitres) later. The deep-pool reactor will operate at atmospheric pressure, which will reduce the engineering requirements for safety.
Comtex 25/6/02 (via Wilmington).


Cameco restarts Rabbit Lake mine.
Rabbit Lake, Cameco's Saskatchewan uranium mine which opened in 1975, has been reopened in the light of more favourable uranium market conditions. The mine (specifically: Eagle Point, underground) has been closed since 1999, though the mill continued to operate on stockpiled ore in the interim and last year produced 2070 t U3O8 - about half its average over the 1990s. The mill will restart in August and 1100 t is expected from it this year, rising to 2700 t/yr longer term. At the end of 2001 Cameco quoted proven reserves of 8575 t U3O8 at 1.21% for Rabbit Lake. In the latter half of this decade the Rabbit Lake mill will be dedicated to processing Cameco's half of the 8200 t/yr production from the new high-grade Cigar Lake mine, 70 km west.
Cameco 24/7/02.


Australian uranium production falls.
With Heathgate Resources producing 306 tonnes U3O8 for the half year, Australian total production came to only 3349 tonnes U3O8 (2840 tU) for the period, 30% down from 4752 t in first half of 2001.
DITR 7/8/02, Heathgate.

Greenpeace challenge to research reactor dismissed.
The Australian federal court has dismissed a claim by Greenpeace that the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) acted improperly in granting a licence to ANSTO for construction of the replacement research reactor near Sydney. Full costs were awarded against Greenpeace Australia, which has reported a A$ 2.275 million surplus for 2001, with almost A$ 4 million on deposit.
NucNet news # 298/02, The Age 17/9/02, ANSTO.


World Summit plan allows nuclear.
The Implementation Plan agreed at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, focused on alleviating poverty, acknowledged that some countries chose to use advanced energy technologies such as nuclear power to meet sustainable development goals, particularly those related to environmental quality and climate change. Increased deployment of renewable technologies was widely supported, but no targets were agreed. Several government statements, notably from Russia, suggested some progress towards ratifying the Kyoto climate change protocol, but it is unlikely to come into force this year.
WNA 4/9/02.

NEA highlights nuclear contribution to Kyoto Protocol.
The OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency has published a report analysing the potential contribution of nuclear power to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and stressing the need to look beyond the first compliance period of 2008-12. The Kyoto Protocol requires OECD carbon dioxide emissions to be reduced by some 700 million tonnes per year from 1990 levels, which can be compared with the present carbon dioxide emission saving in OECD countries of some 1200 Mt/yr. However, the key role of nuclear power will be beyond 2012, which is also the time frame for bringing expanded capacity on line.
NucNet news # 261/02 (report is on NEA web site).

International co-operation for new-generation reactors.
A new report from OECD and UN agencies makes the point that the era of national development of major nuclear technology is virtually over and that new-generation reactors will need to be developed on an international basis. The report, from the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and International Energy Agency, and the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, looks at specific new reactor designs and technologies and identifies potential areas of international collaboration among technology developers. The focus is on innovative fission reactor designs which go well beyond incremental, evolutionary changes already under way. The report draws attention to particular economic challenges for small reactors, and also the non-power uses for reactors in future energy markets.

In several papers and displays at the WNA Symposium and associated meetings, criteria necessary for investment in new-generation advanced nuclear plants were set out. These were notable for their consistency, though from different perspectives. They are seen to be realistic by several reactor vendors after external reviews. Criteria include: 48-month construction time, overnight capital cost US$ 1000/kW for multiple units in high-cost countries (US$ 900 in low-cost countries, and US$ 1150 maximum), US 3-3.5 cents/kWh generation cost, 90% lifetime capacity factor.
NEI Nuclear Energy overview 26/8/02, IEA web site

Pebble Bed reactor feasibility study positive.
The feasibility study for South Africa's PBMR is positive, on the basis that technical and commercial momentum can be maintained. If the demonstration plant succeeds, orders for 258 of the 140 MWe modular units are expected by 2027, and 1175 modules long-term, a share of 3.3% of the expected increase in world new generating capacity. The study says that 5-unit power stations would generate at US 2.6 to 3.4 cents/kWh if series production capital cost projections (to US$ 1000/kW) are realised. The consortium will also research smaller modules for African markets, and air cooling for arid situations.
NucNet background # 15/02.

International spent fuel storage at crossroads.
A technical session at the American Nuclear Society conference in June canvassed issues concerned with international storage of spent fuel and high-level wastes, notably by Russia, which has the basic legislation is place. However, administrative procedures still have to be set up, and Minatom has made it clear that it needs up to US$ 3 billion for infrastructure, and a strategic partner. For its part, the US State Department pointed out that some 80% of the world's spent fuel is subject to US consent rights, and this will not be forthcoming while there is dispute with Russia regarding its co-operation with Iran. The IAEA continues to support the concept of international repositories, subject to safety and non-proliferation concerns being addressed.
Radwaste Solutions July-Aug 2002.

World low-cost uranium resources boosted.
The new 2002 edition of the IAEA-OECD/NEA "Red Book" - Uranium 2001: Resources, Production and Demand shows little change overall for world uranium resources at 1/1/01, though there is a marked increase in resources reported for the under US$40/kgU category (US$15.42/lb U3O8) as of 1/1/01. This is largely due to Australia reporting data for this category for the first time (previously Australian data was simply under US$80/kgU).

Australia, Canada and Kazakhstan together hold 74% of global uranium resources in the lowest-cost category. Australia holds 42.6% of the under US$ 40 Reasonably Assured Resources. Exploration expenditure continues to drop, reflecting the perception of abundance, but in part due to "lack of information on the nature and extent of secondary supplies" - notably commercial inventories and material from military stockpiles.
Red Book 2002, Ux Weekly 19/8/02, FreshFuel 19/8/02.

UNEP attempts to throttle UNSCEAR.
Since the 1970s, funding for the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) has been routed through the increasingly-politicised UN Environment Program (UNEP), based in Nairobi. This year UNSCEAR has had to defer work and make emergency arrangements because UNEP has failed to provide the required funds, some US$ 750,000 per year, and did not even solicit UNSCEAR inputs to its budget process. UNSCEAR was set up by the UN General Assembly in 1955 and is the most authoritative scientific body on radiation risk to humans and the environment. Its updated assessment of Chernobyl health effects is not now expected before 2006.
Nucleonics Week 15/8/02.

First Hot Dry Rock power unit proposed.
An Australian company, Geodynamics Ltd, is preparing to raise A$ 50 million to build a 13 MWe power plant in the Cooper Basin. It will utilise hot granite (about 250°C) at a depth of up to 5000 metres, which will be fractured by high-pressure water. Generation costs of AUD 6.2c/kWh are projected, with power being sold to Santos' oil and gas operation nearby. About 1000 sq km of hot granite under a few kilometres of sediment is in the region and prospective, the heat being due to radiogenic decay.
ESAA Electricity Supply, August 2002.

CO2 sequestration study sunk.
The second attempt to run a field trial investigating ocean sequestration of carbon dioxide has been blocked by environmentalist pressure, notably from Greenpeace and WWF due to uncertainty about long-term effects. The plan was to release 5 tonnes of liquid CO2 at 800 metres depth off Norway and monitor its impact. An earlier plan for a similar trial near Hawaii was abandoned due to environmentalist objection. Deep ocean sequestration is proposed as possibly a practical alternative to atmospheric emission of CO2 from fossil-fuel power stations, if the problems of capturing it can be solved. Sequestration of 5 million tonnes of CO2 separated from the Sleipner gasfield in the North Sea into geological strata has already been undertaken since 1996 (there is 9% CO2 with the methane).
Nature 5/6/02, BBC 10/9/02.

Briefing & mines papers updated in last two months include:

Reactor table
Asia's nuclear energy growth
World energy needs and nuclear power
Global warming
French nuclear power program
Uranium markets
Supply of uranium
Research reactors
Energy analysis of power systems (appendix)
Australia's uranium & who buys it
Australia's uranium mines

Published Uranium Prices

Ux: 23 Sept: US$ 9.75/lb U3O8, (US$ 25.34/kgU)

See also Ux Consulting graphs


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