mdsolar writes: A nuclear power plant “bailout” bill appears set to become law after making its way through the Illinois House and Senate on Thursday. The legislation funnels $235 million a year to power-producing giant Exelon Corp. for 13 years. The money subsidizes unprofitable nuclear plants in Clinton and the Quad Cities that Exelon said would be shuttered over the next 18 months. Opponents argued that it was wrong to subsidize a company that remains profitable, and that coal-fired power companies haven’t gotten such help. They also argued it will cost consumers.
“Here we go again, picking winners and losers,” said Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon. “The money has to come from somewhere. This is a bailout for a very profitable company.”
mdsolar writes: Vietnam's National Assembly voted on Tuesday to abandon plans to build two multi-billion-dollar nuclear power plants with Russia and Japan, after officials cited lower demand forecasts, rising costs and safety concerns.
The vote to scrap the country's first atomic energy project deals a blow to the global nuclear business and to Japan's drive to begin exporting reactors after the Fukushima disaster left its nuclear industry in a deep freeze.
The Vietnamese government said in a statement that the decision, made in a closed session of parliament after discussion of a government proposal, was taken for economic reasons and not because of any technological considerations.
mdsolar writes: Break out the waders. On Monday, a seasonal king tide powered by the largest supermoon in nearly seven decades is expected to trigger flooding up and down the South Florida coast.
The moon, which normally circles about 238,000 miles from the earth, will swing about 17,000 miles closer over the weekend, NASA scientist Noah Pedro said in a webcast. In South Florida, that trajectory coincides with seasonal high tides expected to be their highest on Monday.
Depending on location, timing of the tides varies. Miami Beach officials expect tides to peak at 8:23 a.m. and 8:34 p.m. Monday. In Miami at Dinner Key Marina, they should arrive about 8:55 a.m. and 9:07 a.m.
The high water comes less than a month after another tide swamped much of South Florida, sending water over seawalls, submerging much of Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale and triggering warnings not to wade through dirty stormwater.
mdsolar writes: France could impose power cuts this winter due to an electricity shortage, an unprecedented step in the wealthy nation which would expose the vulnerabilities of its dependence on nuclear power.
The warning was issued on Tuesday by grid operator RTE, which said power supply had been hit by the closure of around a third of the country's ageing nuclear reactors for safety checks. The country's regulator has ordered a review of the strength of crucial steel components after the discovery of manufacturing irregularities.
France relies on nuclear for three-quarters of its power, more than any other country. RTE said the amount of nuclear power available was at a record low for this time of year, around 10,000 megawatts lower than a year ago — equivalent to more than twice the consumption of Paris and Marseille combined.
"During some periods of the day in winter, and during some days, we may need to use exceptional measures to guarantee the balance of electricity demand and supply on the network," RTE President Francois Brottes told reporters at a news conference.
RTE would start by boosting power imports and could also pay some industrial customers to switch off their machinery or curb usage, but Brottes said the gird operator might also have to impose short, rolling power blackouts in parts of the country.
mdsolar writes: Federal nuclear regulators have wrapped up a seven-year environmental study partly clearing the way for two new reactors at Turkey Point, just as work gets underway on a massive cleanup of leaking cooling canals connected to the plant’s old reactors.
In a two-volume 1,200-page review, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission found the use of cooling towers to operate the new reactors perched on the shores of Biscayne Bay between two national parks would do no damage to the fragile ecosystem. The approval comes as Florida Power & Light begins tackling ongoing problems at the aging cooling canals that over the years pushed an underground plume of saltwater miles inland, threatening drinking water supplies, and leaked water tainted with a radioactive tracer into Biscayne Bay.
mdsolar writes: The discovery of widespread carbon segregation problems in critical nuclear plant components has crippled the French power industry—20 of the country’s 58 reactors are currently offline and under heavy scrutiny. France’s nuclear safety chairman said more anomalies “will likely be found,” as the extent of the contagion is still being uncovered.
With over half of France’s 58 reactors possibly affected by “carbon segregation,” the nation’s nuclear watchdog, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN) has ordered that preventative measures be taken immediately to ensure public safety. As this story goes into production in late October, ASN has confirmed that 20 reactors are currently offline and potentially more will shut down in coming weeks.
The massive outages are draining power from all over Europe. Worse, new questions continue to swirl about both the safety and integrity of Électricité de France SA’s (EDF’s) nuclear fleet, as well as the quality of some French- and Japanese-made components that EDF is using in various high-profile nuclear projects around the world.
EDF’s nuclear power plants (NPPs) provide up to 75% of France’s power needs. Its NPPs are spread out over 19 sites and include 34 900-MW units, 20 1,300-MW units, and four 1,450-MW units. As the fleet suffered through shutdowns, inspections, and reviews, production fell in September to its lowest level since 1998—just 26.6 TWh, according to French grid operator Reseau de transport d’electricite.
With more NPPs scheduled to go offline, that figure may continue falling. Earlier in October, EDF reduced its 2016 generation targets from 395–400 TWh to 380–390 TWh, while estimates for nuclear output in 2017 have also been lowered to between 390 TWh and 400 TWh. For perspective, annual nuclear production averaged 417 TWh in the period 2005–2015. Although in 2009 output fell to 390 TWh, for the last decade production has consistently been above 400 TWh and exceeded the target range of 410–415 TWh in both 2014 and 2015.
Following EDF’s reduced nuclear generation forecast, wholesale power prices immediately began jumping with Q4 2016, Q1 2017, and calendar 2017 baseload contracts trading up by €1.70/MWh, €1.65/MWh, and €1.20/MWh, respectively. To address the energy shortfall, France is turning to coal and other fossil fuels, as well as imported power. Despite the COP21 carbon emissions agreement, which recently went into force, France is now burning coal at its highest levels in 32 years.
mdsolar writes: Determining if an individual has handled nuclear materials, such as uranium or plutonium, is a challenge national defense agencies currently face. The standard protocol to detect uranium exposure is through a urine sample; however, urine is able to only identify those who have been exposed recently. Now, scientists at the University of Missouri have developed procedures that will better identify individuals exposed to uranium within one year. Scientists and homeland security experts believe this noninvasive procedure could identify individuals who may be smuggling nuclear materials for criminal purposes.
"We are working to develop a tool that law enforcement agencies in nuclear proliferation or smuggling investigations can use to identify individuals who have handled special nuclear material," said John Brockman, associate professor of research in the MU Research Reactor Center. "The goal of our research was to determine if hair, fingernail clippings and toenail clippings could be used to better detect uranium exposure."
Brockman collected hair, fingernail and toenail clippings from workers in nuclear research facilities from around the country. Testing procedures developed by Brockman and his team were able to identify exposure to both natural and manmade sources of uranium.
According to the World Nuclear Association, naturally occurring uranium is a mixture of three isotopes, including uranium-238 (U-238), U-235 and traces of U-234. U-238 accounts for over 99 percent of the isotopes found in nature; U-235 is the isotope necessary to create nuclear weapons or power a nuclear reactor. U-235 is considered a fissile isotope, meaning the atom has the ability to split, yielding a large amount of energy. Uranium that has been used as fuel in a nuclear power plant also contains the manmade isotope, U-236.
"Our technique was not only able to determine uranium exposure, but also the specific isotopes the individual has handled within the last year," Brockman said. "We were able to identify exposure to enriched uranium, which is used to make both nuclear fuel and weapons, and U-236 which is suggestive of nuclear fuel reprocessing."
mdsolar writes: Taxpayers will pick up the bill should the cost of storing radioactive waste produced by Britain’s newest nuclear power station soar, according to confidential documents which the government has battled to keep secret for more than a year.
The papers confirm the steps the government took to reassure French energy firm EDF and Chinese investors behind the £24bn Hinkley Point C plant that the amount they would have to pay for the storage would be capped.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – in its previous incarnation as the Department for Energy and Climate Change – resisted repeated requests under the Freedom of Information Act for the release of the documents which were submitted to the European commission.
“The government has attempted to keep the costs to the taxpayer of Hinkley under wraps from the start,” said Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace chief scientist. “It’s hardly surprising as it doesn’t look good for the government’s claim that they are trying to keep costs down for hardworking families.”
mdsolar writes: For China’s nuclear industry, 2016 has been a frustrating year. So far, construction has started on only one new plant, and its target of bringing 58 gigawatts of nuclear capacity in service by 2020 seems impossible to meet.
At present, China has 19.3 gigawatts of nuclear supply under construction and a further 31.4 gigawatts already in service. Given that new plants take five years or more to build, the country faces a shortfall of more than seven gigawatts on its target.
All the plants started between 2008 and 2010 are online except for six imported reactors. These include four AP1000 reactors designed by Westinghouse, based in the United States but owned by Toshiba of Japan, and two European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs), developed by Areva, a French multinational group specializing in nuclear power.
The plants are not expected to be completed before 2017 and all will be at least three years late, an unprecedented delay in China’s nuclear history. It would be surprising if China was not disillusioned with its suppliers and their technologies.
The EPR and AP1000 reactors have been problematic to build. The two EPRs are three to four years late although there is little available information detailing why. Meanwhile, EPR plants in Finland and France, which should have been completed in 2009 and 2012, respectively, will not be online before 2018.
There are no obvious problems that account for the majority of the delays at any of the sites, just a series of quality and planning issues that suggest the complexity of the design makes it difficult to build.
The four AP1000s are also running three to four years late. They are being built by China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Company (SNPTC), which has not built reactors before. There is some publicly available information about the problems suffered in China with the AP1000s, including continual design changes by Westinghouse. The reactor coolant pumps and the squib valves, which are essential to prevent accidents, have been particularly problematic, for example.
mdsolar writes: The years long fight over whether to build a nuclear waste storage facility in West Texas has touched off again over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to move ahead on the review process.
Earlier this month the federal government’s top-nuclear division wrote a letter to Waste Control Specialists, the Dallas-based company developing the waste facility, informing them that the agency would be beginning its environmental review of the project even though the company’s initial application remained incomplete.
“By starting the EIS process now, the NRC will be able to engage interested members of the public earlier and accord the public additional time to review the WCS license application,” the letter reads.
That prompted four environmental groups to write the NRC Wednesday, arguing it should dismiss the application because Congress never intended for a privately-owned facility to take possession of nuclear waste when it passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982.
The facility proposed by Waste Control Specialists would be located in Andrews County, northwest of Midland on the Texas-New Mexico border. It would initially store 5,000 metric tons of spent fuel though has raised the prospect of increasing that volume to 40,000 metric tons – more than half the total waste from nuclear plants in this country.
mdsolar writes: A surprisingly large number of critical infrastructure participants—including chemical manufacturers, nuclear and electric plants, defense contractors, building operators and chip makers—rely on unsecured wireless pagers to automate their industrial control systems. According to a new report, this practice opens them to malicious hacks and espionage.
Earlier this year, researchers from security firm Trend Micro collected more than 54 million pages over a four-month span using low-cost hardware. In some cases, the messages alerted recipients to unsafe conditions affecting mission-critical infrastructure as they were detected. A heating, venting, and air-conditioning system, for instance, used an e-mail-to-pager gateway to alert a hospital to a potentially dangerous level of sewage water. Meanwhile, a supervisory and control data acquisition system belonging to one of the world's biggest chemical companies sent a page containing a complete "stack dump" of one of its devices.
Other unencrypted alerts sent by or to "several nuclear plants scattered among different states" included:
Reduced pumping flow rate Water leak, steam leak, radiant coolant service leak, electrohydraulic control oil leak Fire accidents in an unrestricted area and in an administration building Loss of redundancy People requiring off-site medical attention A control rod losing its position indication due to a data fault Nuclear contamination without personal damage
mdsolar writes: A collection of energy companies and trade associations have filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse a decision by the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to subsidize several struggling upstate nuclear plants, arguing that the state overstepped federal authority to regulate energy prices.
The suit, filed Wednesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan, comes a little more than two months after Mr. Cuomo announced a deal to provide hundreds of millions of dollars per year in subsidies to buttress the bottom lines of four upstate plants. The subsidies were included in an order from the Public Service Commission, whose chairwoman, Audrey Zibelman, is named as the lead defendant.
But the suit argues that such action oversteps the federal government’s policy of allowing market forces to set wholesale energy prices, and benefits a single company: Exelon, based in Chicago, which owns all four plants. The plan also effectively makes New York residents pay billions through higher electrical rates to prop up the plants, several of which would have failed without the governor’s plan, the suit claims.
“Unless enjoined or eliminated, these credits will result in New York’s captive ratepayers paying the owners an estimated $7.6 billion over 12 years,” the suit reads.
mdsolar writes: On Friday, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center announced that they had achieved a key milestone — one that brings us closer than ever before to viable fusion reactors. The MIT team at the Alcator C-Mod tokamak nuclear fusion reactor set a new world record for plasma pressure at 2.05 atmospheres — 15 percent higher than the previous C-Mod record of 1.77 atmospheres set in 2005.
“This is a remarkable achievement that highlights the highly successful Alcator C-Mod program at MIT,” Dale Meade, former deputy director at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, who was not directly involved in the experiments, said in a statement. “The record plasma pressure validates the high-magnetic-field approach as an attractive path to practical fusion energy.”
mdsolar writes: If the Hinkley plan seems outrageous, that’s because it only makes sense if one considers its connection to Britain’s military projects — especially Trident, a roving fleet of armed nuclear submarines, which is outdated and needs upgrading. Hawks and conservatives, in particular, see the Trident program as vital to preserving Britain’s international clout.
A painstaking study of obscure British military policy documents, released last month by the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, demonstrates that the government and some of its partners in the defense industry, like Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems, think a robust civilian nuclear industry is essential to revamping Britain’s nuclear submarine program.
For proponents of Trident, civilian nuclear projects are a way of “masking” the high costs of developing a new fleet of nuclear submarines, according to the report. Merging programs like research and development or skills training across civilian and military sectors helps cut back on military spending. It also helps maintain the talent pool for nuclear specialists. And given the long lead times and life spans of most nuclear projects, connections between civilian and military programs give companies more incentives to make the major investments required.
One might say that with the Hinkley Point project, the British government is using billions of Chinese money to build stealth submarines designed to deter China.
mdsolar writes: A coalition of environmental and consumer activists say New York electricity customers will be jolted by a "huge tax" stemming from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to subsidize aging nuclear power plants.
Customers of National Grid, New York State Electric & Gas and other state-regulated utilities will see bills climb by more than $2 per month beginning next year — and even more in subsequent years — if the plan stays on track, the critics said.
The proposal is part of Cuomo's plan to ensure New York gets at least 50 percent of its power from renewable sources, including solar and wind, by 2030. He contends it makes New York a national leader in the push to curb climate change linked to greenhouse gases.
But representatives of more than 70 groups — consumer, environmental and conservative — announced this week that they are working in unison to derail the "bailout" of reactors near Rochester and Syracuse.
The subsidy's cost is expected to top $7 billion, according to a projection by the Public Utility Law Project, which is fighting the plan. Household customers would shoulder about $2.3 billion of that, it said, with the rest passed to industry, institutions and school systems.
"This is one of the biggest transfers of wealth in New York state history," said Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.