Outstanding issues delay EPR certification

31 May 2012 Areva’s EPR reactor is unlikely to receive design certification by the US nuclear regulator before the end of 2014, the agency has told the reactor vendor. Design certification for the EPR had earlier been targeted for June 2013. Areva submitted its application for certification of the EPR design in December 2007 aiming to clear the way for reactors of that generic type to be built anywhere in America subject to site-specific licensing procedures and the issue of a combined construction and operating licence (COL). Four COL applications referencing the EPR have already been submitted to the NRC. The NRC has issued a new review schedule to allow Areva to respond to outstanding technical issues previously raised by the NRC and to provide additional information related to new post-Fukushima requirements issued by the commission in February. In a letter dated 21 May, the director of the NRC’s division of new reactor licensing David Matthews told Areva: “Completion of the rulemaking by the end of 2014 will still present a challenge. However, NRC believes the enclosed schedule, while aggressive, is achievable with substantial management oversight and commitment from Areva to meet the established milestones with quality submittals that resolve identified technical issues.” Under the revised schedule, Areva is expected to submit to the NRC, by 30 August 2013, details about how the EPR design meets the post-Fukushima requirements and all outstanding technical issues should be resolved by 1 November 2013. Matthews told Areva that there is “no margin” in the schedule to allow for the timing of “critical milestones” to be changed and still achieve certification by the end of 2014. He added, “While the staff has increased its attention to meeting the schedule, we will ensure that the design meets all applicable NRC regulatory requirements before we proceed to certification rulemaking.” In July 2010, the NRC highlighted two areas of concern related to the EPR design. These centred on design complexity and independence issues: each safety division within the system must be able to perform its function without relying on data from outside and must also be protected from adverse external influences. Areva needs to demonstrate to the regulator’s satisfaction that these issues have been addressed, and show that data exchange between systems will not adversely affect safety. Areva has already described proposed design changes intended to reduce the level of complexity as well as to address...
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Fossil fuels rule Japan

31 May 2012 Fossil fuels now provide some 90% of Japan’s electricity as nuclear plants remain shut down. Consumption of crude and heavy oil for electricity is at a four-year high. Charts produced by the US Energy Information Adminsitration (EIA) based on Bloomberg data show that as nuclear power production has dwindled, it has been LNG that has grown to fill the gap. Use of that fuel in January to April 2012 is up 34% on the same period in 2011, making Japan the world’s biggest LNG consumer. The other fuel to step in to replace nuclear power has been petroleum – crude oil and heavy oil. Use of these has doubled since February 2011 and is at its highest level since February 2008.          While use of coal did not increase in the last year, neither did production from the only low-carbon source, hydro, said the EIA. The overall picture saw fossil fuels provide 90% of Japan’s electricity from January to April 2012, compared to 64% in for the same period in 2011. Historically, nuclear power has normally provided about 30%. Data on the environmental cost of this rush to fossil fuels is not yet public, but the economic impact has seen Japan’s trade balance dip into the red and sent its companies scrambling to secure LNG supplies. The cause of these changes in Japan’s energy supplies is the shutdown of 50 reactors that await approval to restart after the unprecedented accident at Fukushima Daiichi. Four reactors there were wrecked after sea and flood defences failed in the face of the tsunami of 11 March 2011. Operators must demonstrate they are better prepared to manage severe accidents and show regulators that their stress tests have properly considered external risks. At the same time the Japanese government must put in place a more independent regulatory system, satisfy the public that the factors leading to the Fukushima accident have been properly addressed and develop a new energy policy. The first units to restart will probably be Ohi 3 and 4, owned by Kansai Electric Power Company. Regulators have approved their restart, as has the local town council. Approval at the prefectural level should follow, but prime minister Yoshihiko Noda has said that he will make the final decision on restart. Fuente:...
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University to support Prism promotion

30 May 2012 The University of Manchester is to provide expert input to GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) in its promotion of the use of Prism fast reactors to dispose of the UK’s plutonium stocks. GEH announced that it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the University of Manchester under which the university would provide “expert technical knowledge and input” into the potential deployment of the Prism reactor. The MoU follows the announcement in early April that GEH and the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory had signed a similar agreement. The UK has about 87 tonnes of plutonium extracted from nuclear fuel used in reactors that were built as part of a national program that ran from the 1950s to the 1990s. The plutonium continues to build up at the Sellafield site in the north west of England, with stocks set to hit 140 tonnes by 2018. The UK government’s favoured option is to set up another fuel production line to sell the plutonium mixed with uranium as mixed oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel. In the meantime, it said it is open to other options. GE-Hitachi has forwarded its Prism design as one such options. Various options are available for handling the plutonium, all of which are currently considered loss-making. However, GE-Hitachi claims the option of using two Prism reactors is attractive because they would generate 600 MWe of electricity while conditioning and disposing of the stocks. The two 300 MWe units would irradiate fuel made from the UK’s plutonium stocks and bring it to a form suitable for disposal after 45-90 days, working through the entire stockpile in five years. Income from this would go to the state, and effectively be returned to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to spend on cleaning up the legacy facilities. More commitment to the Prism concept could see it re-using the conditioned fuel solely for electricity generation, operating for up to 60 years in that mode of operation. GEH anticipates the cost of the two units would be comparable to that of a large conventional reactor. Commenting on the signing of the MoU with the University of Manchester, Danny Roderick, GEH’s senior vice president of new plant projects, commented: “Manchester is a growing centre of expertise for the civil nuclear energy sector, so we’re delighted to work with them on Prism, which we believe is the best way to manage the UK’s plutonium stockpile efficiently, securely and safely while generating...
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Germany moves to bolster grid

30 May 2012 Germany has announced plans to upgrade and expand its electricity grid over the next decade in order to help renewable energy sources fill the gap left by its phase-out of nuclear power. An investment of some €20 billion ($25 billion) will be needed. At the request of the German government, the country’s four grid operators – 50Hertz, Amprion, TenneT and TransnetBW – have drawn up a joint network development plan which identifies the necessary grid expansions over the coming years. The plan – co-ordinated by the federal network agency (Bundesnetzagentur) – was presented today to Chancellor Angela Merkel, economics minister Philipp Rosler and federal environment minister Peter Altmaier. It will provide a basis for a federal plan designed to deliver the country’s energy transition.  According to the grid operators, “The nuclear phase-out and the increased supply of renewable energy are major challenges for the current infrastructure and require further development of the networks.” Their plan identifies the potential grid investments that may be needed in the coming period on the basis of various scenarios. On-shore high-voltage grids in Germany will have to undergo considerable expansion in the next decade, the companies say. This expansion is necessary to facilitate German’s energy transition and the development of the European electricity market. In addition to the upgrading of 4400 km of existing transmission lines, the grid operators anticipate that the construction of some 3800 km of new high-voltage lines will be needed over the next ten years. These network upgrades and additions would require investment of some €20 billion ($25 billion) by 2022. However, the grid operators note that these investments “account for only a fraction of the cost of the energy transition, but much success depends on their implementation.” Failure to ensure a secure electricity transmission grid would cause higher costs elsewhere, they claim. For example, it could lead to regional shutdowns of renewable energy producers and power consumers, as well as costly interventions on the production side to reinforce the network. However, it notes that the actual implementation and timing of these investments depends to a large extent on the development of the demand for electricity transmission. The plan, the network companies say, is “the basis for sound planning of a transmission system on land that ensures stable network operation over the next decade, the integration of renewable energy and supports the development of a European electricity market.”...
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Level heads at Fukushima Daiichi 4

29 May 2012 Tepco has published further measurements showing that the used fuel pool at the damaged reactor building of unit 4 at Fukushima Daiichi is not tilting and would be able to withstand a large earthquake. Tepco has released details of building tilt and strength measurements, and has concluded that the building is not tilting. Moreover, the company said, it could withstand an earthquake similar to the one which triggered the events of March 2011 which led to the reactor’s destruction. Fukushima Daiichi 4 suffered extensive damage following the Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyou-Oki earthquake and ensuing tsunami of March 2011. Questions were raised over the stability of the wrecked plant, and in particular the used fuel pool located at the top of the reactor building, following the observation of a bulge in the outer wall. The entire fuel load for reactor 4 is held inside the pool because the unit had already been defuelled for maintenance work when the natural disasters struck. Steel beams and concrete have been installed to support the pool, which is seen as one of the biggest hazards on the Fukushima Daiichi site. Measurements based on water levels in the reactor well and used fuel pool show that the building is not tilting, while measurements of the perpendicularity of the outer wall are within acceptable building standards limits. A partial deformation has been observed on the western wall, but the location of the deformation means it would have little effect on the stability of the used fuel pool or the building as a whole, according to Tepco. The deformation is in an area with vaulted floors for hatches and elevator shafts which is assumed to have suffered major impacts from the hydrogen explosion that destroyed the top of the building. The water level measurements alone are not sufficient to rule out the possibility of shear deformation, where the building is deformed into a parallelogram shape with the upper and lower surfaces of the building remaining parallel but the walls tilted. The absence of tilting in the exterior walls, and the lack of noticeable shear cracks, prove that this is not happening, Tepco said. Some 97 earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 or more have already been recorded as aftershocks of the huge earthquake of 11 March 2011, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Tests of strength Tepco’s observations also involved visual inspections, looking for cracks on concrete floors and walls of the used fuel pool....
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