No nuclear back-up for Germany

31 August 2011 A nuclear reactor will not be kept on standby for Germany’s winter months, the network agency has decided. Threats to grid stability are real, it said, but more fossil fuel and grid improvements should ensure power supplies. The Bundesnetzagentur is a separate authority within the Ministry of Economics and Technology with responsibility to develop electricity, gas, rail and telecoms networks and protect these services for the public. A clause in the latest version of the Nuclear Exit Law gave it the right to request a nuclear reactor to stand ready to restart should Germany’s grid be destabilised by weather and demand conditions. The agency had until 1 September to make up its mind on this and today announced it would not impose the condition on any of the country’s four nuclear utilities. The issue arose because of the immediate shutdown of eight reactors by order of Angela Merkel’s government in March and the legislation that made this permanent in July. The moves left Germany with “only just adequate” power generation capacity, very little in reserve for times of high demand and a deficit of about 1000 MWe in the south west – as well as strained north-south and east-west connections. Transmission grids were taken “to the edge of their resilience,” said the agency in May, noting “the risk of non-controllable network disturbances is increasing distinctly.” It said that some maintenance work on the grid has had to be postponed because certain systems are now indispensable, but “to a certain degree, delay of service and maintenance works can be managed.” Power imports stepped up from the moment the eight reactors closed and the Bundesnetzagentur grew concerned that conditions of high demand and low wind “as is typical on a frosty calm winter evening” would result in an overstretch of north-south connections. Conversely, times of high wind could cause low-voltage problems that would jeopardise supplies in Hamburg and the greater Frankfurt area. Even before the nuclear shutdown, the north-south Paffendorf line experienced overloads of up to 125%, said the agency. Should there be sudden failure of a power plant or grid node, “a line load in excess of 140% would occur which would be uncontrollable due to cascading automatic tripping of protective devices.” These and other scenarios for instability “while extreme, are not so unlikely” said the agency, which had identified a reserve capacity of 1400-2000 MWe as required...
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Bolstering emergency preparedness at US plants

31 August 2011 First Energy Nuclear Operating Company (Fenoc) has begun construction of a new emergency operations facility for its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio. The move comes as the US nuclear regulator makes changes to emergency preparedness regulations. Davis-Besse (Image: First Energy) Fenoc said that the new 1115 square-metre facility in the nearby town of Lindsey will “allow for improved coordination between the plant and state and local emergency management agencies during the unlikely event of an emergency at the plant.” It added, “Personnel will utilize state-of-the-art equipment to monitor environmental conditions and communicate with state and local emergency representatives. The facility will also be used during quarterly training drills and bi-annual emergency exercises evaluated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”Ground was broken for the new facility on 30 August and its construction is expected to be completed in February 2012. Until then, the current emergency operation facility at the Davis-Besse plant and a smaller, alternate back-up facility at First Energy’s service centre in Lindsey will be available for operation. Barry Allen, vice president of the Davis-Besse plant, commented: “Protecting public health and safety is our top priority at Fenoc and Davis-Besse. The new facility underscores our commitment to the community and will ensure our responsibility to the public is fully upheld.” The Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan showed the value of hardened on-site emergency response centres, according to head UK safety regulator Mike Weightman in a preliminary report into the accident from the International Atomic Energy Agency. He suggested that such centres “should be provided for all major nuclear facilities with severe accident potential.” New regulations Meanwhile, the NRC has approved changes to the emergency preparedness regulations for US nuclear power plants, research reactors and test reactors. Among the changes in the rule are limitations on the duties of a plant’s on-site emergency responders to ensure they are not “over-burdened” during an emergency event and requirements to incorporate “hostile-action-based scenarios” in the drills and exercise programs. New requirements for back-up measures for alerting and notification systems are also included in the rule. The new rule – which was first put before the NRC in 2006 – also requires nuclear power plants to update their evacuation time estimates after every US Census or when changes in population would increase the estimate by either 25% or 30 minutes, whichever is less. NRC chairman...
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GE-Hitachi wins Exelon outage contract

31 August 2011 General Electric-Hitachi (GEH) has been awarded a $150 million integrated outage contract to help service Exelon’s fleet of 12 boiling water reactors (BWRs). Effective immediately, the agreement will run through to the completion of the outage season in 2015. The terms of the contract, announced on 29 August, will see GEH support activities on the refuelling floor and perform inspection and under-vessel services during outages. The company has also committed to deploying new technologies to help reduce worker dose, enhance safety and improve plant performance. The contract represents a continuation of the decades-long involvement between the companies – General Electric is the original designer of Exelon’s BWRs. Outage management is important to both overall safety and profitability. For a well-run plant, it is the refuelling and maintenance outage that is responsible for most of the time a reactor spends offline. This is all captured in a plant’s capacity factor. The higher the capacity factor, the more electricity a reactor of a given size is generating and the more money it is earning. Exelon speaks proudly of its capacity factors, which stand among the best in the industry. For the seven consecutive years ending in 2009 it has achieved a fleet-wide average capacity factor of greater than 93%. As well as operating 12 BWRs, Exelon also operates five pressurised water reactors for a grand total of 17, making it the largest nuclear generator in the USA. Fuente:...
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Flood alert lifted at Fort Calhoun

31 August 2011 The ‘notification of unusual event’ that had been in place for some 84 days at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska has now been lifted as water levels in the swollen Missouri River continue to drop. The single 482 MWe pressurized water reactor at the plant has been in safe shutdown since 9 April, when it entered a scheduled refuelling outage. Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) declared the notification – the least-serious of four emergency classifications that are standard in the US nuclear industry – on 6 June. The company notified the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that Fort Calhoun exited the alert on 29 August as the level of the Missouri River had dropped to below 1004 feet (306 metres) above mean sea level. OPPD vice president and chief nuclear officer Dave Bannister noted, “We have a great deal of work to do before we start generating power. First and foremost, we must check for any hidden damage that the water on site may have caused, so that we are certain we will operate safely.” The company said that no significant damage had been found so far. OPPD has submitted a plan to the NRC on the steps it will take prior to restarting the plant. Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper plant, also located on the Missouri River, exited its notification of unusual event on 12 July. Fuente:...
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Noda to take over in Japan

30 August 2011 Yoshihiko Noda has been selected as the new leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and therefore the prime minister of the country. He calls for the strong, independent regulation of nuclear power.  Formerly the minister of finance, Noda will take control on 2 September upon formal appointment by Emperor Akihito. He will replace Naoto Kan as Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years. Kan had spoken of his personal ideal of a future Japan that did not use nuclear energy but Noda never publicly concurred, instead concentrating his comments on regulatory reform and a reduction of dependence on nuclear. A political vision outlined on Noda’s website calls for the ‘independence and empowerment’ of a new nuclear safety regulator. Until now safety has been overseen by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), residing within the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which also has the role of promotion of Japan’s nuclear industry. This relationship, combined with links to industry, has become seen as too close, leading to a loss of confidence in NISA’s decision-making and public information concerning the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. Noda has advocated a new independent institution reporting directly to the cabinet office, with the authority to instigate criminal investigation of any wrongdoing it may find. This is in line with the framework announced two weeks ago that would place the new regulator as an independent body under the Ministry of the Environment. Japan as a whole is poor in energy resources – one reason to turn to nuclear in the first place – and has long aimed to ‘close’ the fuel cycle, reprocessing and recycling uranium and plutonium in mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel. This reduces the volumes of high-level radioactive waste and makes more efficient use of uranium that has to be imported. Noda wants the national debate on nuclear energy to reach a concensus before making any decisions on the fuel cycle. Kan’s plans In line with a promise made in June, Naoto Kan stepped down from office once the Fukushima Daiichi site was stable and there was a plan for the return of evacuated residents. Before leaving he had time to draft and push through the Renewable Energy Promotion Act. He said that in retirement from politics his life’s work would be the promotion of renewable energy. Fuente:...
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