The nuclear industry learns its market value30 May 2000
A review of the main events in the nuclear industry worldwide since June 1999
Who would have thought it? After years of discussing how and whether the US government could bail out nuclear power plants that would be left with huge ?tranded costs?in the new deregulated US industry, the turn of the year saw a bidding war, as Entergy and Dominion tried to top each other? bids for Indian Point 3 and James A FitzPatrick. This is not a sudden renewal of interest in nuclear power ?after all, other plants in the US have changed hands for as little as
$20 million. The important difference in the northeastern US is the market: there is little spare generating capacity in the region, and low interconnection capacity makes it difficult to ?uy in?to meet demand. Prices are high, and baseload suppliers will find a ready customer base.
But what the bidding war has shown is that when it comes to profit and loss, nuclear is as valid a component of the mix as any other form of generation. The key question for utilities is: will it be profitable?
The downside of placing nuclear firmly into the market was experienced by British Nuclear Fuels late in the year, when the UK government abandoned, for at least two years, its attempt to sell off part of the company to the private sector. BNFL had been badly hit when its admission that employees had falsified quality assurance data spiralled into an examination of the company? entire management and business practices. While the falsification issue created the greatest publicity, issues over liabilities, the company? strategy on reprocessing, and its accounting practices, were equally important in delaying the sell-off.
Elsewhere, the past year has seen one of the longest-awaited startups in the industry. Some 24 years after construction began, fuel was loaded at Brazil? Angra 2 and the plant was due to achieve criticality as NEI went to press. Mochovce 2 also overcame the last of a long series of hurdles ?technical, economical and political ?to achieve startup. Two other reactors went into operation in India (at Kaiga) and in France (at Civaux), and startup permission was granted at Chasma in Pakistan.
Some reactors shut down: perhaps the most significant for the industry was the political decision to close Sweden? Barseb?ck 1. Similar political pressure in Germany did not produce a similar result. Instead, a compromise was negotiated that set a life span for all reactors. On the other side of the seesaw, several plants in the US and elsewhere announced agreement with the regulator to extend their operating licences.
Overall, the electricity generated from nuclear in 1999 exceeded that in the previous year, totalling 2394.6TWh, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. IAEA figures also show that France regained its position with the highest reliance on nuclear power of any country (75%), and Lithuania dropped back to a close second at 73.1%.
The government approved the construction of a 20MW pool-type research reactor to replace the HIFAR facility at the Lucas Heights centre near Sydney. The reactor was tipped to cost A$268 million ($180 million), and is scheduled for commissioning at the end of 2005.
Alstom and ABB merged to form a 50/50 joint venture company, ABB Alstom Power, headquartered in Brussels.
Nine months later, Alstom bought ABB's share of the 50/50 joint venture, ABB Alstom Power, for E1.25 billion, although ABB's part of the business was valued at E1.9 billion.
The sale price was adjusted to settle a dispute about high risk enterprises that ABB had brought to the joint venture. G?ran Lindahl, ABB president and chief executive, said that the company would go on to pursue industrial IT activities.
After 24 years of construction, fuel loading finally began at Angra 2. Siemens supplied both plant and fuel and will supervise the commissioning of the plant. Electrobras will take over operation of the plant at the end of a trial operation phase.
European Commission president Romano Prodi demanded that Bulgaria set a deadline for the closure of the four older units ?all Russian-designed VVER-230s ?at Kozloduy before it could join talks about accession to the EU. Parliament agreed to the talks when the EU promised to increase, to E700 million, grants available to help finance the closure.
Kozloduy 1 started up after an outage lasting six months ?two months longer than planned due to extra checks required by the regulator on the pressure vessel.
Regulators began work to separate management of Kozloduy (and Bulgaria? other stations) from the National Electric Company.
A shipment of MOX fuel from the US arrived at Atomic Energy of Canada? test reactor at Chalk River, Ontario. The fuel rods, which contained less than 120g of plutonium, were produced at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The MOX fuel assemblies at Chalk River will be used to find out whether Canada? CANDU reactors can burn MOX to help address the problem of excess weapons?rade plutonium in Russia and the US over the next three years.
Blaming the Asian economic crisis, Shen Wenquan, director of the Nuclear Power Department of the China Nuclear Industry Corporation said that China would not start any new nuclear projects for the next three years, except for those already planned.
China and Russia embarked on a joint reactor: a VVER-1000 under construction near Lianyun Harbour in the eastern province of Jiangsu. The reactor is due for completion in 2005. Minatom said that some 1300 Russian experts would be on site at the peak of work.
The Czech Republic? three radioactive waste repositories were transferred to state ownership under a new atomic law. Provision for the handover, which was scheduled for July 2000, was made in the 1997 atomic act, which also established the Radwaste Repository Authority (RAWRA).
Low level radwaste goes to the Dukovany surface repository, while low and intermediate institutional waste goes to the Bratrstvi mine complex in Jachymov and Richard, near Litomerice ?a former limestone mining complex and wartime factory. The companies which previously operated the repositories (power utility CEZ and Nycom subsidiary ARAO) will be compensated for the loss of business from the state? nuclear account, which arises from levies on radwaste producers.
The European fusion community launched a lobbying campaign to persuade politicians to back the sixth stage in fusion development, due to begin in 2003. Work has reached the point where a new reactor, capable of producing more energy than it consumes, is possible, according to fusion scientists. Scientists have been working on a reactor as a multinational endeavour since it was proposed by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. The result is the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).
After the US pulled out of ITER, the EU and Japan continued financing it, with Russia providing intellectual rather than financial support. During the fifth Framework Programme, running from 1999 to 2002, the EU? budget for fusion research is E788 million. The project employs 2000 scientists across Europe.
Alcatel reduced its 44% holding in Framatome to 14%. It transferred other assets to France? state-owned fuel cycle company Cogema, taking Cogema? stake in Framatome to 34%. Alcatel said it would sell its remaining 14% share within two years, probably to Siemens or ABB.
Framatome and Siemens merged to form a joint venture company integrating the nuclear business of both companies with locations in France, Germany and the US. Framatome took a 66% stake, with Siemens holding the other 34%, reflecting the value of the assets brought by each company to the new entity. Siemens told the 13,100 employees that any synergies would be counterbalanced by increasing market penetration, particularly in the US. Framatome? close ties with Cogema allowed the company to offer a full service portfolio (similar to that of BNFL-Westinghouse) including reprocessing of spent fuel and MOX fuel fabrication.
Two reactors, Le Blayais 1 and 2 in southwest France, flooded during terrific storms at the end of December 1999, when the Gironde river rose above the dykes protecting the plant. The flood waters disabled pumps which were part of unit 1? residual heat removal system, and inundated the spent fuel building for units 1 and 2. Unit 4 also shut down briefly. The French nuclear regulator DSIN warned that it was unlikely to allow the units to operate again unless the flood defence system was improved.
Electricit? de France (EdF) connected Civaux 2 to the national grid. The 1450MWe unit is the fourth and final unit in the N4 advanced reactor series, said to be a benchmark for the European Pressurised Water Reactor, under development by Siemens and Framatome.
In light of the BNFL debacle, Siemens KWU embarked on an audit at Cogema, which manufactures MOX fuel assemblies for Siemens under contracts with plant operators. In a case of 32 MOX assemblies for Isar 2 delivered in December 1999, Cogema found and reported that in a production batch comprising around 7000 pellets, an error during the second random pellet check was found for 40 pellets. A software error, which the company claimed had been quickly rectified, led to the acquisition of 40 data sets for 60 instead of the scheduled 100 pellets. No safety relevance was found.
The uranium mine at Mouhana closed, ending forty years of uranium production in the country.
Two utilities, Viag and Veba, agreed a
$38.7 billion merger, raising concerns over job losses and creating the third biggest utility in Europe, after Electricit? de France and ENEL of Italy.
The merger did not affect the stand-off between the government and nuclear industry over the government? plan to end the country? nuclear power programme. Energie Baden-Wurtemburg (EBW) rejected a government proposal to decommission the Obrigheim plant near Karlsruhe before 2002. The 31 year old station was targeted by the SPD/Green coalition government as its first closure.
Green party minister J?rgen Trittin then introduced more flexibility to his approach by suggesting a life span for all nuclear reactors, rather than a specific closure date for each one. The proposal also allowed nuclear waste to be stored in containers on site, reducing the pressure to transport waste to interim storage facilities. The coalition finally reached an agreement on a strategy to close the country? nuclear plants after 30 years of operation. Trittin had been arguing for a quicker phase-out, but in the end settled for a compromise which extracted a government commitment. Dietmar Kuhnt, president and CEO of utility RWE, warned that closing the country? nuclear stations would cause ?onsiderable damage to the economy and a destruction of capital for which there is no economic justification.?
Kuhnt also said that four stations would have to close anyway, sooner or later, if the government did not lift its ban on waste transports. ?here is now a risk that the first four plants will have to be shut down next year because of disposal problems,?he said at the company? AGM in Essen.
A transport blockade was put in place in May 1998 when some casks were found to have hot spots. A backlog of 150 shipments quickly built up.
A panel of international experts backed the Gorleben salt dome as a final repository for German nuclear waste.
The move was in oppostion to the position of J?rgen Trittin, who called for a moratorium on work at Gorleban while other sites were investigated.
Trittin set new limits for radioactive exposure. Personal dose rate limits for the general public dropped from 1.5mSv to 1mSv, and for workers within the nuclear industry from 50mSv to 20mSv. This would increase the number of people in Germany officially recognised as being professionally exposed to radiation from 340,000 to 400,000, but Trittin's changes looked unlikely to become law as they would have to be passed by the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house, which has an opposition majority.
Kaiga 2, a 220MWe PHWR of Indian design and construction, reached criticality on
24 September. Narora, in the north of the country, was shut down when an airlock door leading into the reactor came off its hinges. Engineers from the Bombay-based Nuclear Power Corp (NPC) said that there was no danger of radioactive leakage, and that the closure was simply a ?easure of caution?
NPC began construction of two indigenously designed 500MWe PHWRs at Tarapur, the site of India? first power reactor, a BWR built by General Electric which started up in 1969.
The government approved a budget increase for nuclear power, allocating Rs12,720 ($292) million for the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), up from
Rs10,250 million for the year before and almost Rs1000 million more than the DAE asked for. Most of the allocation was for construction of Kaiga 3 and 4. Money was also provided for the Tarapur units.
The deputy head of Iran? atomic energy organisation, Assadollah Sabouri, announced that the country was no longer working with China on nuclear projects, after the US pressurised China to drop its working relationship with Iran over concerns about nuclear proliferation. ?he Chinese reached a conclusion to work on nuclear matters with other countries, not Iran,? said Sabouri. ?ur contract was cancelled partly for political reasons.?Japan
A difficult year for Japan? nuclear industry began when the Tsuraga plant (1160MWe PWR) was forced to shut down after a coolant leak. Engineers found the leak at the outlet of one of the regenerative heat exchangers of the chemical and volume control system. No radiation was released from containment. The Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC) said it would replace the heat exchangers at the plant (see p32).
A criticality incident occurred at the JCO uranium conversion plant at Tokai, Japan, on 30 September. Three workers were irradiated; two later died.
A government report said that the accident happened due to JCO sacrificing safety for operational efficiency. The report contains 110 proposals which the panel of authors considered necessary to rebuild public confidence in technology. The Science and Technology Agency revoked JCO? business licence, the most severe penalty possible. It was the first time in Japanese history that a company had had its licence revoked.
Tepco withdrew its application for the use of MOX fuel in its Fukushima Daiichi 3 BWR, after the company rejected MOX fuel assemblies from BNFL because they were sent with false data (see below). After the incident at Tokai-Mura, public feeling on nuclear issues was running high. Yukio Kurita, governor of the Fukui prefecture, made the final decision not to load the fuel in question, despite BNFL insisting that the erroneous data represented a quality assurance problem and not a safety problem. A local referendum was planned to decide whether to use MOX at all.
Tokai-Mura also led to the establishment of two new laws. One called for the periodic inspection of nuclear fuel processing facilities and the other focused responsibility for dealing with a nuclear disaster in the hands of central government.
Decommissioning of the BN-350 fast reactor at Aktau began. The US government offered to help dispose of the used fuel rods, and Moscow helped cover the cost of the shutdown within the framework of an accord on mutual debt settlements.
Kazatomprom president Mukhtar Dzhakishev called for the company's privatisation, saying that the company's plans to push up uranium output and upgrade its enterprises in the near future could make it the world's third biggest uranium producer by 2005.
The Ignalina plant was shut down for a month, forcing Lithuania to reduce its electricity exports to Belarus from around 300TWh to 60TWh monthly. Fears for the 2x1300MWe RBMK station? future, in the face of EC pressure for its closure (mainly from Finland) before its fuel channels need replacing, led to a sharp decline in Lithuanian support for EU membership. One survey showed that 80% of the population wanted Ignalina to continue operating. On a visit to Finland, Lithuanian prime minister Rolandas Paksas said it would be possible to close one of Ignalina? reactors by 2005. At an inspection of the plant, IAEA secretary general Mohommed ElBaradei commended Lithuania? ?ransparent?management style. He said that most of the IAEA recommendations for modernisation at the plant had taken place, but that further management restructuring and technical modifications were necessary.
In response to pressure from the EU, the Lithuanian parliament voted to set a conditional closure deadline of 2005 for unit 1, provided western countries helped with the decommissioning costs. A decision on when to close unit 2 was postponed until 2004.
The government announced that it would hold an international conference on the closure of Ignalina. Prime minister
Andrius Kubilius will head the organising committee.
After a five year delay, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) and the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (Kedo) signed a $4.6 billion contract to build two 1000MWe BWRs. In a bilateral agreement between the US and North Korea in 1994, the US promised to provide the two reactors in return for a commitment from North Korea that it would end its nuclear weapons programme.
Kepco is the main contractor on the project. Under the 1994 agreement, North Korea will receive 500,000 tons of conventional fuel from the US annually until the first reactor is complete. ABB-CE signed contracts with Korea Heavy Industries and Construction and Korea Power Engineering Corporation for components and engineering design services on the steam supply system.
The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) received a licence from the Pakistan government to start trial operation of the 300MWe Chasma plant. Chasma is based on Qinshan, China? indigenous PWR.
Russian nuclear energy minister Yevgeny Adamov said that Russia had to fight for its share of the world market for nuclear waste or be ?orced out of it by France, Britain and China.?He said that the fuel had a potential of $10-15 billion a year, and called for a change in Russian environmental law which prohibits the import of nuclear waste.
Closure of the three Siberian plutonium reactors at Tomsk, widely considered the most dangerous in Russia, was postponed on the grounds that they provide heat and power to the cities of Seversk and Zheleznogorsk. In 1994, the US agreed to help Russia replace the 1960s reactors with fossil-fuel plants by 2000, but in 1996 a new agreement was reached on their conversion to civilian use. The Russian inspectorate GAN, is opposed to the conversion programme, as it fears that continued operation at the graphic moderated, water-cooled reactors poses unacceptable risks.
Later in the year, two workers at Tomsk were exposed to high doses of radiation, when they opened the lid of a channel with fuel inside and radioactive gases were emitted. Although officials said that no radiation had been released to the environment, Gosatomnadzor said it would submit the case to the General Prosecutor Office if Minatom failed to shut down the reactors.
The home of Russian scientist Vladimir Soifer, of the Institute of Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, was raided by Russian security forces for information he had compiled about the dumping of radioactive waste in the Pacific Ocean by the Russian navy. Soifer claims that contamination in Chazma Bay, near Vladivostok, had grown 60-fold to 6R/hour since a nuclear submarine was sunk in 1985.
Atomic energy minister Yevgeny Adamov defended the Russian nuclear industry? safety record. He stressed the extent to which safety had improved since Chernobyl, and in particular since the country began to receive international support to upgrade RBMK reactors. He said Leningrad NNP alone had received over
$500 million between 1989 and 1998, and that Russian plants were now safer than plants in the west.
Sergey Kharitonov, formerly a senior operator at Leningrad told the St Petersburg Times that he was being silenced from telling the public about deteriorating conditions at the plant. Speaking at a press conference in St Petersburg organised by the Green World environment group, Kharitonov claimed that despite a court order reinstating him to his position in the plant, he has been denied access to the fuel storage facility and spent his days sitting in the locker room. The Green World group said that 22,834 spent fuel assemblies were now held in five storage ponds at the Leningrad plant, 30% more than the original design capacity. The distance between each fuel assembly was halved in 1996 to increase capacity, although no environmental impact assessment was carried out. The group added that the facility was in a bad state of repair, with large cracks in the walls and roof.
While Norway, Sweden and the Nordic Investment Bank were setting up a $50 million package for a new submarine spent fuel storage facility at Mayak, the local administration in Chelyabinsk said it would never be built. Vice-governor Gennady Podtyosov denied any knowledge of the proposal. Minatom and the international Industrial Group (IG) dropped plans for a submarine spent fuel dry storage facility at Mayak, deciding to build regional sites on the Kola peninsula in the Arctic instead. The present spent fuel store in Andreeva Bay is dilapidated and filled to capacity.
The State Duma adopted an amendment to Russian law that threatened to endanger the export of nuclear materials. Minatom waited with anguish to see if the legislation would be passed by the Federation Council, as the company earns around $2 billion a year from export contracts. Meanwhile efforts to lift the ban on Russia? import of spent fuel were boosted by support from Viktor Danilo-Danilian, chairman of the state committee for environmental protection. Danilian said that the money earned from storing and reprocessing imported spent fuel should go towards improving overall radwaste management.
The West stepped up its efforts to clean up Russia? north west when a Western consortium led by BNFL and including French and Scandinavian companies negotiated a
$50 million deal to build an interim storage facility for spent Russian nuclear submarine fuel at Mayak. Funded by Nordic sources, the facility would hold spent fuel elements for 50 years. The government itself allotted $19 million in federal funds for the disposal of 18 nuclear submarines.
Environmentalist and former Soviet navy officer Alexander Nikitin was acquitted of espionage charges at St Petersburg City Court. Nikitin had been arrested four years previously for his work with the Norwegian environmentalist group Bellona on the threat from the Russian northern fleet? nuclear submarines and associated waste. The FSB security agency (the main successor of the Soviet-era KGB) had accused Nikitin