Ownership issues block Unistar licence

31 August 2012 Unistar Nuclear Energy is ineligible to obtain a licence to construct a new nuclear power plant at Calvert Cliffs as it remains wholly-owned by a foreign corporation, a licensing board of the US nuclear regulator has ruled. Owner EDF of France has been given 60 days to show progress in its search for a US partner for the project. Unistar, originally a 50:50 joint venture between EDF and Constellation Energy, applied in July 2007 to build a French-designed EPR reactor at the Calvert Cliffs site in Maryland where Constellation already operates two existing pressurized water reactors. However, EDF took 100% control of Unistar Nuclear Energy when it bought out its erstwhile partner in October 2010 after the financial burden of securing federal loan guarantees put the project beyond Constellation’s commercial reach. Constellation has subsequently merged with Exelon. With Unistar fully-owned by EDF, several environmental groups contended to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that Calvert Cliffs unit 3 would be “owned, dominated and controlled by foreign interests,” contrary to the 1954 Atomic Energy Act. They claim that EDF’s ownership of Unistar renders it ineligible to receive – or even to apply for – a licence. US federal regulation 10 CFR 50.38 prohibits the granting of a nuclear plant operating licence to foreign corporations. Unistar has made various revisions to the ownership and financial information in its combined construction and operation licence (COL) application for the plant, including what it called a negation plan which would see the company appoint a US citizen as CEO to assure US control over relevant matters, and various subcommittees of US citizens to ensure US control over safety, security and reliability matters. However, the NRC had previously told Unistar that its application still failed to meet the requirements of 10 CFR 50.38, but has continued its review of the remaining portions of the COL application while a US partner was sought. A three-judge NRC Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB) has now ruled in favour of the interveners, saying: “The licence cannot be granted as long as the current ownership arrangement is in effect.” It noted, “Applicants have had roughly two years to remedy the foreign ownership problem. We do not doubt that applicants have made substantial efforts to find US partners, but they have thus so far been unable to provide evidence to the board indicating that a deal with an...
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No credible assurance on Iran

31 August 2012 The latest reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on its work to monitor nuclear activities in Iran, North Korea and Syria illustrate a frustrating stop-start pattern of progress. The IAEA is no longer able to give ‘credible’ assurance that no undisclosed activities are taking place in Iran. Using marginally more stern official language than in previous reports, the IAEA began a 30 August report by explaining why the 11 resolutions that its Board of Governors has made so far on Iran are binding under the UN system. These include the suspension of uranium enrichment, which Iran continues to practice. The IAEA then explained that a series of talks took place between IAEA experts and Iranian officials in recent months. The two sides talked in May, June and August but were unable to agree a structured approach to solving the outstanding issues, and as a result the IAEA’s efforts have achieved “no concrete results.” Agency experts were, however, granted access to the IR-40 heavy water research reactor at Arak and were able to survey the site to determine how safeguards systems could be installed. One complication with this was the fact that the latest design information provided by Iran to the IAEA dates from 2007 and much engineering and design has occurred since then. The unit is at a fairly advanced stage, slated for operation in the third quarter of next year and with cooling and moderator piping currently being installed. Natural uranium fuel pellets are being made, as are dummy fuel assemblies that don’t contain uranium. Production of heavy water continues, and the IAEA was allowed to visit the plant – once – but not allowed to take samples of the water. The Tehran research reactor is operating with a core containing one 20%-enriched fuel plate manufactured entirely in Iran. Facilities to make the plates have been consolidated and 31.1 kg of 20%-enriched uranium in the form of U3O8 is ready for use. The country also has 189.4 kg of 20%-enriched uranium in the form of UF6. The IAEA noted reports that Iran plans to build four or five similar research reactors in coming years, which would all require stocks of 20% enriched fuel. In terms of low-enriched fuel, Iran’s stockpiles amount to 6.8 tonnes of uranium enriched up to 5%. In conclusion, and considering several other matters, the IAEA said that “Iran is...
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Fukushima fuel assemblies inspected

30 August 2012 Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has examined two unused fuel assemblies from the fuel storage pool at unit 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi plant and found no significant damage. A further 200 unused assemblies remain in the pool, alongside over 1300 which have been used. Top: Workers inspect an unused fuel assembly from the pool. Left: A small amount of corrosion is found on the fuel. Right: Debris found between some of the fuel rods (Images: Tepco) Unit 4 was offline for regular maintenance when the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck, meaning that its full inventory of nuclear fuel was stored in the used fuel pool at the time. Four days after the natural disasters, the top part of the reactor building, where the fuel pool is housed, was destroyed by a hydrogen explosion followed by a fire. The pool contains 1533 fuel assemblies. However, 202 of these have never been used in the reactor and are not significantly radioactive and do not generate heat, making them easier to handle. Tepco removed two of the unused fuel assemblies from pool in mid-July. The company has now completed visual inspections of them and found no significant damage or corrosion. Grit found between the fuel rods in the assemblies is believed to be debris from the damaged concrete walls of the reactor building. The relatively large amount of nuclear fuel in the pond has made unit 4 one of the top priorities for Tepco in assuring overall safety of the site. The pond has been covered with a steel platform. Tepco plans to build an airtight secondary structure alongside and over the top of unit 4 to enable engineers to safely remove nuclear fuel from the pond. As part of its plan to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi site, the company expects to begin removing all the fuel assemblies from the storage pool in December 2013. Fuente:...
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Japan moves towards a strategy

30 August 2012 Analysis of opinion polls confirms public pressure to use as little nuclear energy as possible, while previous communication failures have all but eliminated power companies and the government from the debate. Three energy scenarios are being put before the Japanese people, based around the contribution to electricity that nuclear power would make in 2030. The consultation and eventual policy decision will be made at the end of the year by the National Policy Unit (NPU), headed by Motohisa Furukawa. The government unit has solicited comments from the public and held many local meetings. It has also monitored public opinion polling in the media and yesterday released an analysis of what it has found so far, entitled Towards a strategy – where public debate is pointing. It showed overwhelming majority support for the two options that would see nuclear power slashed. In brief, the scenarios can be called the 0%, 15% and 20-25% options, representing the portion of electricity that would come from nuclear power plants. Before the accident at Fukushima Daiichi the portion was 26% and national policy was to increase that to 45% by 2030 as the main way to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Twelve polls conducted by national media showed support for the 0% option in the range of 31-49%, while the 15% option was preferred by 29-54% of people across all the polls. In one poll, support for one or other of those most extreme phase-out options was 85%, while none showed lower than 71%. Support for the 20-25% option was in the range of 10-17%, while an option offered by the media – but not the government – of having no set target for nuclear was chosen by 5-15% of people. The options Status before March 2011 Previous policy 0% 15% 20- 25% Total electricity 1.1 TWh 1.2 TWh 1.0 TWh 1.0 TWh 1.0 TWh Fossil fuels 63% 35% 65% 55% 50% Nuclear 26% 45% 0% 15% 20-25% Renewables 10% 20% 35% 30% 25-30% Greenhouse gas (relative to 1990) -0.3% -30% -23% -23% -25% From records of public meetings, the NPU broke down the reasons given by people for their support of the 0% option. Top of the list were safety concerns and fears about impact on health. Second was a general preference for renewables, just ahead of perceived problems with the ethics of using nuclear power. Issues of waste management were the...
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Next level for Point Lepreau

30 August 2012 After four years out of service, New Brunswick Power’s Point Lepreau nuclear power plant is entering the final phases of its restart program with regulatory approval to increase power up to 35%. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) decision to allow the plant to operate above 0.1% of full power will enable further testing and inspections as the unit is recommissioned following refurbishment. The plant will not produce electricity at this stage of the process. NB Power Nuclear site vice president Paul Pasquet explained that the operator is working through a series of tests and verifications of reactor components and plant systems. At the same time, reactor power is gradually being increased to pre-determined levels as the team progresses throughout the final restart phases. This will include running up the turbines and synchronizing the generator to the electricity grid. Further regulatory approval will be needed before reactor power can be increased above 35%. Before that approval is granted, station staff will carry out a planned shutdown to remove specialized equipment used to start up reactors with new fuel as part of the testing and commissioning process. The planned shutdown will also provide an opportunity to carry out any adjustments or maintenance that may arise during turbine run up and testing. Regulatory approval to restart the reactor at low power (up to 0.1%) was granted in July. CNSC executive vice-president and chief regulatory operations officer Ramzi Jammal said that NB Power Nuclear had now completed all the required tests for the authorization to increase power above 0.1%. He noted that the CNSC would be continuing to monitor restart activities at the plant. The single-unit 680 MWe pressurized heavy-water plant, which began commercial operation in 1983, is the first Candu 6 to undergo full refurbishment. It was taken offline in March 2008 for major refurbishment including the replacement of all 380 fuel channels, calandria tubes and feeder tubes, work which was originally expected to be completed in 16 months. The program was set back when problems with seal tightness necessitated the removal and replacement of all the calandria tubes for a second time. Fuente:...
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