Archive for the ‘Energy Security’ Category

April 1, 2014 | 4:41 pm

Five Letters to the Obama Administration (and a Russian report) Raise Concerns about Stopping MOX Project

GrahamScottLtrA combination of concerns about nuclear nonproliferation, recent actions by Russia, proposed budget reallocation by the Obama Administration, and the unsupported declaration of “cold-standby” status for the MOX Project by Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Moniz prompted a surge of questions from seven senators and more than 20 Congressional representatives, the Chair of the DOE-designated Community Reuse Organization for the Savannah River Site, the president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, suppliers and others.

In a recent letter to President Obama following the announcement of securing 700 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium from Japan, Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) stated,

“While we understand the need to secure vulnerable materials, we remain extremely concerned about the reckless decision in your Fiscal Year 2015 budget that abandons the Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) program at the Savannah River Site (SRS) that is intended to turn weapons grade plutonium in to usable fuel for commercial power reactors. Your Administration has failed to propose any alternative to the MOX program, which if shuttered will abandon 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium in South Carolina and Texas for an indefinite period of time while the Federal government pays hundreds of millions of dollars in fines to the state … The completion of MOX facility is paramount to the United States upholding the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA) with Russia to dispose of a total of 68 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium- 2 14 times the size of the agreement with Japan.”

Additional concerns were emphasized in a letter from 21 Members of Congress to Secretary Moniz about the potentially significant national security risks incurred by the Administration’s proposed actions,

“At a time when The Administration is attempting to negotiate a nuclear nonproliferation agreement with Iran, defaulting on our own agreement sends a conflicting message to the international community. Additionally, halting progress on MOX will allow Russia to discontinue efforts towards disposing of their material. This could prove dangerous for our allies around the world and jeopardize our own national security as environmental cleanup of the plutonium at SRS would be stymied.”

… and the appropriate use of Congressionally approved funding for completing the 60% constructed MOX Project facility without redirecting the money for placing the project on cold-standby,

“The funds were not authorized or appropriated for cold standby, and we request they be used only for construction as Congress intended. We are concerned that the intent of Congress is being ignored and as a result we may see a usurpation of Congress’ power of the purse.”

Prior to the recent international Nuclear Safety Summit at The Hague, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) discussed with Secretary of State John Kerry (video) the potential negative impacts to America’s global nonproliferation leadership if the Obama Administration’s FY 2015 budget proposal to Congress minimally funds the MOX Project and subjects the project to “cold-standby” stagnation while re-examining previously discarded options.

A recent report by the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies based in Russia clearly describes as unacceptable the Obama Administration’s consideration of alternative options to the agreed upon MOX process,

“It is evident that the eventual repudiation by the American side of the previously agreed upon method of plutonium disposition will have an influence on the implementation of the PMDA Agreement …  Immobilization does not guarantee full irreversibility since mixing plutonium with radioactive waste does not change its isotopic composition and does not exclude in principle the possibility of plutonium extraction from the mixture … A deviation from one of the basic provisions of the Agreement would hardly find a positive response from Russian experts who always asserted that a real weapon grade plutonium disposition is possible only through its irradiation in MOX fuel of civilian nuclear reactors thus assuring an irreversible withdrawal from weapon’s program.”

Five county officials in the MOX Project region stated strong reservations in a letter to Secretary Moniz about the Administration pursuing undefined alternative options other than honoring the mixed oxide process detailed in our agreement with Russia, and the ongoing weapons-grade plutonium security risks to their region from perpetuated storage.

“However, down-blending through H-canyon currently does not meet the definition of “disposition” in the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. Thus, to make down-blending acceptable, U.S. negotiators will have to get that concession agreed to by the Russians. Clearly, all of this will take time, which means the plutonium will remain in its current dangerous form longer and be stored in our state and region longer.”

… and questions the Department of Energy’s undefined and undisclosed calculation of overall lifecycle cost for our nation’s plutonium disposal program and its application to the single program segment represented by the MOX Project.

“DOE officials assert the current “life cycle costs” analysis indicates the project is unsustainably expensive and less expensive alternatives will be evaluated. However, to our knowledge, DOE has not provided specific documentation to identify less-expensive options nor provided timelines to demonstrate a new alternative would remove plutonium from South Carolina faster than the current MOX program. Furthermore, documentation of life-cycle costs has not been made available to stakeholders. This seemingly contradicts the Administration’s strong stance on transparency.”

The MOX Project is designed to permanently change 34 tons of U.S. surplus weapons-grade plutonium into safe, stable, and secure nuclear reactor fuel to reliably power American industry, hospitals, and homes. By processing this 34 tons of plutonium into 1,000-plus nuclear reactor fuel assemblies, the MOX Project output would represent more than $20 billion worth of electricity (enough power for 15 million homes for a year) and create more than 4,000 American jobs.

U.S. utilities have expressed an interest in receiving MOX nuclear fuel, but inaction by the Department of Energy has stymied progress in this area, as described in this letter to Secretary Moniz by Dr. Winsor, Board Chair of the Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization (SRSCRO) – the U. S. Department of Energy’s designated Community Reuse Organization for the Savannah River Site (SRS).

“A theme constantly used by those opposed to MOX is the lack of a commercial customer for the MOX fuel. The real story is that several of America’s largest nuclear operators have expressed interest in MOX fuel. However, the MOX contractor is unable to complete any commercial contracts until DOE signs the Commercial Agreement (also known as the Master Fuel Contract) that allows the negotiation of sales prices, terms and conditions. Bona fide negotiations of this Commercial Agreement, between NNSA and the MOX contractor, were completed more than a year ago, but DOE has provided no reasons why the Agreement has not yet been signed to date.”

The U.S. nuclear industry also encourages the Administration to honor its signed commitments with Russia and the American people to complete the MOX Project and demonstrate its ability to fulfill its obligations. As stated in this letter by NEI president Marv Fertel,

“To cancel, suspend or simply reduce funding for the project will, unfortunately, validate those critics of the Department of Energy who claim it simply cannot complete complex projects, particularly those concerning nuclear materials disposition. Unfortunately, DOE’s history with this and other large complex projects does not instill confidence in the commercial industry that the MOX program will be able to deliver commercial fuel to utilities on an agreed-to schedule. However, DOE can and should begin to reverse this trend, and begin to restore confidence by following through with the construction and operation of the MOX facility on a set schedule.”

Taken together, these letters provide a comprehensive perspective on the value of MOX Project, the negative impact of a “cold-standby” status, and the many benefits achieved by its completion as originally defined, approved, contracted, and funded by Congress and the Administration.

March 4, 2013 | 1:41 pm

MOX, A National Priority

Guest post by James Yu, Director of International and Federal Affairs, AREVA Inc.

Last week, Kelly Trice, President and Chief Operating Officer of Shaw AREVA MOX Services, presented the following video during the Annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit in Arlington, VA.


The conversation underscored the importance of the national nuclear security mission of the MOX Project, through which the United States will fulfill its international commitment to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of nuclear weapons material initiated under the U.S.-Russia Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement of 2000. In turn, Russia is obligated to permanently dispose of at least 34 metric tons of its weapons plutonium.
read more…

July 7, 2011 | 3:30 pm

SPOTLIGHT: Tracking U.S. Nuclear Safety Improvements

Progress can be a matter of perspective, but in the months since an extreme earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants, the U.S. nuclear industry has clearly made many significant advancements:

  • Began examining every single one of the 104 American nuclear power plants, confirming (PDF) that the ongoing safety and operational upgrades installed during the decades since the plants were built have maintained a secure level of performance and modernization … even in the case of a flooded river plain.
  • Established a Fukushima Response Steering Committee of nuclear industry executives and leaders to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated response in the event of an emergency
  • Confirmed the vision and value of advancing America’s nuclear power fleet with new, modern reactors, such as AREVA’s EPR™ reactor, built from the ground up with active and automatic safety systems and enhanced operational design efficiencies
  • Conducted personal interviews and opened their doors to host facility tours for government, media and public scrutiny of plant security, fuel management, operational processes, and contingency plans
  • Engaged in the national nuclear fuel cycle deliberations discussing the option of recycling used fuel to recapture and reuse the 96% energy content that remains, evaluating centralized interim storage of used fuel, and the eventual development of a repository.

As with any advancement, progress is pegged on a continuum from past accomplishments to future goals. The U.S. nuclear industry’s intense, ingrained focus on safety is obvious with the unmatched statistic of zero deaths attributed to operating a commercial nuclear reactor beginning with President Eisenhower commissioning the first commercial nuclear power plant in 1954. No other energy industry in the U.S. comes close to matching this commitment and accomplishment.

In support of the nation’s goal of reduced carbon emissions and energy security, the nuclear power industry can play a larger role if we expand its current 20% supply of America’s electricity demand with modern, safe reactors. Additional reactors could significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and replace fossil-fuel-generated carbon emissions with reliable, sustainable nuclear power. In tandem with expanding renewable energies, expanding safe nuclear energy could help us meet the expected 100% increase in electricity demand by the year 2050 with low-carbon sources.

March 24, 2011 | 4:24 pm

Article by Gwyneth Cravens

Great article by Gwyneth Cravens at Bloomberg Businessweek, starting to address the true lessons to learn from Fukushima:

The technical community will review the Japanese nuclear crisis and recommend improvements. Although the reactors properly shut down with the first jolt, the cascade of difficulties brought by the tsunami overwhelmed the site.

In any case, that 1966 plant is outmoded. Modern ones have redundant passive-safety features that would have ensured Fukushima’s stability. These innovations are partly thanks to lessons learned about oversight and human engineering from the meltdown at Three Mile Island. U.S. plants are continuously upgraded, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be instituting new improvements and encouraging other countries to follow suit.

And she mentions this ultimate key point, that even though it is less visible than the Fukushima crisis, the health and environmental hydrocarbon crisis is ever-present now and needs an ultimate solution:

We are all suffering from a health and environmental catastrophe being unleashed by hydrocarbon combustion. By 2030, power demand is expected to almost double. If we are to keep the lights on while reducing harm to humans and the planet, nuclear power must grow and fossil-fuel power must shrink.

March 16, 2011 | 10:30 am

From Foreign Policy: Nuclear Power Is Worth The Risk

Over on NPR there is some rational thinking from Foreign Policy with one clear message:

“The case for nuclear power remains strong.”

In a piece from James M. Acton, associate in Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, he discusses why nuclear energy is still a safe, rational choice. He points out that the major hurdle will not be rebuilding the why nuclear plants operate, but rebuilding public trust.


“This last point is crucial. New reactors, with enhanced safety features, would almost certainly not have befallen the same fate as those at Fukushima Daiichi, which is four decades old. Convincing the public of this argument will be extremely hard now, however.”

February 16, 2011 | 3:48 pm

Support for Nuclear Development in the Proposed Federal Budget

Although the new proposed Federal budget is clearly only at it’s earliest stages of formation, we were pleased to see that in the President’s proposal funding for nuclear development is seen as a key priority. As noted at GigaOM:

“The government wants to promote nuclear power in a big way, and the DOE wants to be able to offer $36 billion in loan guarantees which, combined with its existing ability to provide $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear, would be able to fund six to eight nuclear power projects.”

We hope that this is one area that can see bipartisan support as the different sides in the budget process work their way towards a final plan.

December 8, 2010 | 5:32 pm

Administration Warms to Clean Energy Standard including Nuclear Energy

By Jarret Adams

Among the ideas that emerged from the Nuclear Energy Summit yesterday was the idea of a Clean Energy Standard that would call for a certain percentage of renewable, nuclear energy and clean coal generation at a future date. Yesterday’s conference was hosted by the centrist group Third Way, the Idaho National Laboratory,  Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

The meeting brought together senior administration officials, members of Congress, industry and other opinion leaders to consider the future of nuclear energy in the United States.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu supported consideration of such a Clean Energy Standard, according to a Climate Wire report. “This is one proposal as a possibility that I think Congress and the administration have to consider very seriously,” Chu said.

The notion floated at the event would have 50 percent of the nation’s energy from clean sources by 2050, and 25 percent by 2025.

Carol Browner, White House energy advisor also supported the idea of reviving nuclear energy in America. “We were once at the forefront of this industry, and we need to recapture that dominant position,” Browner said.

Attending the event, AREVA COO Mike Rencheck said the company could not have moved forward with its Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility without a federal loan guarantee for the multibillion-dollar facility.

This project is expected to inject some $5 billion into the regional economy and create 5,000 direct and indirect jobs over the life of the project, Rencheck said.

The group attending the event is developing a paper that will offer recommendations on ways to kick start the nuclear energy industry in the United States.

Here are a few other accounts of the event from Rod Adams and Dan Yurman:

December 2, 2010 | 5:05 pm

AREVA Discusses Jobs and Industry at Idaho Supplier Day

Creating Jobs? Investing in energy infrastructure in the United States? Strengthening the nuclear supply chain?

Today in Idaho, AREVA answered yes to all of these questions while hosting a Suppliers Day Event in Idaho Falls. The event in Idaho was organized to help identify and certify new partner companies to work with AREVA on the construction of the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility. This is AREVA’s third supplier day (find more details on the others hosted in Baltimore, Maryland and Columbus, Ohio), with a turnout of over 200 companies.

Future site of the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility in Idaho

AREVA recognizes that a key component to the success of this project will be to have a strong U.S. supply chain, and this event is part of our efforts to expand relationships with American companies to create manufacturing and construction jobs that will supply this facility as well as other new nuclear projects.

The Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility will be a major project for the United States, and AREVA is investing over $4 billion in developing nuclear infrastructure including this domestic facility which will provide greater American energy security. The construction of the project will also provide a major economic boost and is expected to create over 4,000 direct and indirect jobs through 2017.

More information on the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility is available here, and be sure to check back for updates, as we expect a decision on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission license next summer.

December 1, 2010 | 12:30 pm

Quote of the Day from the Secretary of Energy

Speaking at the National Press Club on Monday, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu spoke decisively on the rapid growth of clean energy industries in China and other countries. Chu compared this growth to the outpacing of the United States by the Soviet Union with the launch of Sputnik, the first Earth-orbiting satellite, and the Untied States’ immediate response to accelerate the American space program. He noted that today’s clean energy challenge requires:

“a similar mobilization of America’s innovation machine so that we can compete in the global race for the jobs of the future,” Chu said. “When it comes to innovation, Americans don’t take a back seat to anyone – and we certainly won’t start now.”

“From wind power to nuclear reactors to high speed rail, China and other countries are moving aggressively to capture the lead,” said Chu. “Given that challenge, and given the enormous economic opportunities in clean energy, it’s time for America to do what we do best: innovate. As President Obama has said, we should not, cannot, and will not play for second place.”

November 16, 2010 | 5:14 pm

Energy Security in an Uncertain World

The International Energy Agency describes energy security as “the uninterrupted physical availability at a price which is affordable, while respecting environment concerns.”

As the world become comparatively smaller with more people and fewer natural resources, the topic of energy security is more and more prominent. Providing energy from domestic and sustainable sources, such as nuclear energy and renewables, is a solution that should get more attention.

It is commonly recognized that renewables—like wind, solar, and biomass—derive their power from natural sources that are continuously available and a relatively certain resource.

As a source of energy that produces no emissions during generation, nuclear energy also has the ability to provide a critical domestic energy for the United States. Beyond this reliability for domestic production, the nuclear fuel recycling also supports the resource availability and security.

Recycling contributes to energy security because 96% of the content of the used fuel is reusable energy. AREVA’s recycling technology enables the recovery of valuable energy resources, providing for greater domestic energy security. In fact, if recycled, the 60,000 metric tons of U.S. commercial used nuclear fuel represents the energy equivalent of eight years of nuclear fuel supply for today’s entire U.S. nuclear reactor fleet. Further, the availability of recycled fuel provides a tool for the nuclear energy sector to protect against potential rises in uranium prices by providing recycled fuel whose production cost is independent of uranium prices.

This sentiment for long term viability was echoed at the recent Asian Nuclear Prospects 2010 Conference. The majority conclusion from the global panel of experts was that recycling used nuclear fuel “is vital for the sustainable growth of nuclear power.” Atomic Energy Commission member member M.R. Srinivasan said: ‘There is some sort of convergence of ideas on the closed fuel cycle amongst Asian countries, Russia, France and others. Asia and Europe can work on a common platform as there is no time available to look for new uranium sources.’