President Obama Promotes International Nuclear Fuel Bank
At a speech delivered in Prague, Czech Republic this week President Obama advocated establishing an international nuclear fuel bank. The idea is this: countries who pledge not to develop nuclear weapons programs and who do not enrich uranium would have the assurance of a stable fuel supply for their peaceful nuclear energy programs. Countries who posses the ability to enrich uranium under the International Non-Proliferation Treaty would provide the service for the international community. Much of the initial fuel in the bank would come from diluting weapons grade uranium, essentially continuing efforts begun by Russia and the USA to reduce weapons stockpiles.
President Obama also indicated support for the fuel bank to be located in Kazakhstan, a proposal that was endorsed by the European Union in March. The EU has already pledged $33 Million for set-up expenses, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have the lead to set up standards and policies and overseeing operations of the bank.
An international fuel bank would eliminate at least one of the obstacles that nations perceive in setting up new civilian nuclear energy programs. If they have no uranium or thorium resources of their own, or no ability to enrich the fuel, they will have to rely on other nations for their fuel supply. As with any commodity with a small number of suppliers, the potential for collusion and political leverage are high. In principle a fuel bank would provide greater assurance that if nations invest to build nuclear power plants they will be able to acquire fuel to run them.
Oyster Creek License Renewed for 20 Years
This week the Nuclear Regulatory commission granted at 20 year license extension to the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey. The license renewal followed almost four years of safety and environmental analysis and deliberation by the Atomic Safety Licensing Board. Anti-nuclear groups waged a vigorous fight against the plant’s life extension, but in the end they were, according to the board, unable to provide any scientific analysis or evidence to support their claims that the plant is unsafe.
The NRC called the Oyster Creek review the “most extensive license renewal review to date.” In addition to the analysis done by the NRC staff and the ASLB, the license extension request was reviewed by the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards. In the end the NRC commissioners approved the extension on a 3 to 1 vote, the lone dissenting commissioner was Gregory Jaczko.
The Changing Face of the NRC
Commissioner Jaczko, who holds a PhD in Physics, is considered by many to oppose the expansion of nuclear energy for peaceful uses. He formerly worked for Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass), one of the most vocal anti-nuclear politicians in Washington, and he was appointed to his position on the commission as part of a political deal between Harry Reid and former President Bush. Harry Reid wanted his man on the commission so he could exert greater influence the outcome of the Yucca Mountain license application. The commission normally has five voting members, one of whom serves as the chairman. They all have equal voting power. At present there is one vacancy, and another vacancy will be created when Commissioner Peter Lyons’ term expires in June of this year. It is widely speculated that President Obama will name Jaczko to lead the commission when the current Chairman Dale Klein’s term expires in 2011, or sooner if Chairman Klein were to retire early. Kristine Svinicki, the final commissioner, has a term that will expire in June of 2012. All this means President Obama will have at least two seats on the NRC to fill this year, a chairman to appoint in 2011, and another commissioner to appoint during his last year in office. Commissioner Jaczko’s term does not expire until 2013. It will be interesting to see how the tone and direction of the NRC will change as the new commissioners come on board, and as the chairmanship changes. I’ll be monitoring this in the coming months and will be reporting on it here at “This Week in Nuclear.”
Southern Nuclear Moves Forward with New Nuclear
There is some great news out of Georgia! Executives from Southern Nuclear reportedly gave Westinghouse and Shaw a “thumbs up” to move forward with preparations to build two new nuclear units at their Vogtle station in Georgia. Shaw and Westinghouse have already signed contract with Southern for two new AP-1000 reactors at that location. Last week Southern stated they plan to break ground this summer, but plan to delay the first safety related concrete pour until after they receive their construction and operating license from the NRC.
UAE Nuclear Program Steams Ahead
The United Arab Emirates could be the first nation in the Middle East to have a fully functioning nuclear energy industry. During his last week in office President Bush signed an agreement allowing American companies to share commercial nuclear technology, equipment, and services with the UAE. President Obama is following that lead and has even called the UAE approach “A model for the world.”
Scores of nuclear executives, engineers, and business development people from around the world have visited the Emirates in the last several weeks to seek their shares of what is expected to become a booming business. The UAE states they plan to have their first commercial reactor up and running by 2017, and they are being very open out their willingness to conduct everything with full oversight by the IAEA. They also have no plans to develop fuel enrichment capabilities and they plan to buy their nuclear fuel on the international market.
At the last ANS meeting I had an opportunity to speak with an industry executive who told me the UAE had adopted a very bottom up, systematic approach: first they are creating a regulatory framework and oversight body, then they will select principle partners and a technology or reactor type, and finally they will begin construction. In parallel they are ramping up their education and training infrastructure so they can develop internal nuclear talent and a local workforce.
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