Saturday, November 24, 2012

Obama to Push for Smaller, Cheaper, and "Safer" Nuclear Power Plants

(UPDATE) Link to Babcock & Wilcox page on the modular nuclear reactors:

One to 10 units per site, less than 5% enriched uranium, 4 years between refueling.

Link to DOE press release:

The president will give $450 million to these rich multinationals like B&W, Bechtel. He will end up effectively giving away the similar amount to Solyndra alone ($385 million out of $535 million), so it's only fair, I suppose.


Fukushima? What is that? How do you pronounce the word?

President Obama, who may be keen to use corporate donations to fund his second inauguration ceremony in January, wants to spread the wonderful clean energy even to "small, remote areas that cannot support traditional reactors".

Judging from the's article below, it will be based on the technology for the nuclear reactors on board the US Navy's submarines and aircraft carriers.

The Obama administration will fund 50% of the project to design and commercialize small, modular reactors, with the other 50% by Babcock & Wilcox, TVA, Bechtel International, and Mr. Bill Gates.

I posted an article about Babcock & Wilcox in October. It's the company who "filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in part as a result of thousands of claims for personal injury due to prolonged exposure to asbestos and asbestos fibers (from Wiki).

For Mr. Gates, to have inflicted buggy Microsoft products on the entire world for the past 20-plus years is clearly not enough.

After the disastrous support for alternative energy companies and start-ups (like this one) that went belly-up after extracting large amounts of cheap loans from his administration, it seems Mr. Obama has decided it's safer to bet on the old, established multinationals.

It's not his own money anyway.

From email newsletter (11/24/2012; emphasis is mine), by the editor James Stafford:

Greetings from London.

This week in energy, let’s go nuclear for a change.

And let’s start with the Obama administration’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power. This time around things will be smaller and ostensibly safer.

This new nuclear generation was given greater impetus on Tuesday when the administration announced it would fund up to 50% of the cost of a 5-year project to design and commercialize small, modular reactors.

Who’s funding the other 50%? The project, which hopes to be operational by 2022, will be led by Babcock & Wilcox energy technology company of Charlotte, in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel International. And of course, we can’t forget Bill Gates, a key private investor.

What is unique about the project is the small modular reactor design. They are about one-third the size of existing reactors. The technology used has already been implemented by the US Navy, but not commercialized. The administration is keen to point out that this new nuclear generation represents lower upfront costs, higher safety standards and greater flexibility—they can be used in small, remote areas that cannot support traditional reactors.

They are assembled at a factory site and transported, ready to use, to their intended location.

In terms of costs, these small modular reactors have a $250 million price tag, compared with as much as $9 billion for the typical large reactors currently built in the US.

What will this new nuclear generation mean for consumers’ utility bills? Well, no one can say with any certainty just yet. Whether these new reactors would translate into cheaper electricity prices has not been definitively demonstrated, though it is of course an ultimate goal.

Low natural gas prices are also a bit of a worry for the nuclear industry as a whole.

While nuclear is experiencing a bit of a revival in the US and coal languishes in its death throes, globally, coal is enjoying gains. Some 1,200 new coal plants are in the works worldwide—the bulk of them in China and India—as countries take advantage of cheap coal prices in the US. But even Europe is importing increasing amounts of coal from the US. US coal exports have reached a decade high.

For Europe, this is troubling. As the European public puts increasing pressure on governments to abandon any dreams of fracking shale gas reserves over environmental concerns, the energy gap is being filled in by more polluting coal. This is the subject of our special investor piece today. There is good news—and bad. While the European Parliament has rejected a fracking ban proposal, this doesn’t mean we’re about to see a shale gas free-for-all. Hurdles and pitfalls abound.

Another developing trend that has caught our eye is what appears to be the declining attraction of Canada’s oil sands among US companies. A recent report put out by Peters & Co. energy investment bank of Calgary notes that there are some $17 billion in Canadian oil sands assets up for sale right now. The logic holds that US companies are trying to get out. The report points out that the $17 billion is the equivalent of assets sold throughout the past decade.

Finally, amid all the hubbub of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) dramatic report about the US overtaking Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil (oops, hydrocarbons) producer, we’ve missed something in that figure-manipulating report: A largely unnoticed blurb about California’s energy woes end with the information that the Monterrey Formation in Southern California has 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil. This puts Bakken (North Dakota) to shame. It’s four times the volume of Bakken.

Ah yes, the Monterrey Formation in So-Cal. It will be extracted when Hell freezes over, as they say, or the Democrats lose majority in the State Assembly. (Meaning it will never happen, just in case you are wondering.)

Anti-nuclear people in the US, it's your tax money that will fund these new nuclear reactors, whether you like it or not.


Anonymous said...

Is there a petition set up on the white house site yet?

Anonymous said...

So sad. It seems that yet another country will have to learn the Chernobyl and Fukushima lessons the hard way.

Nobody who suffered through the uncertainty and sheer terror of Fukushima or Chernobyl. And nobody who tries to empathize with those who have suffered these disasters could EVER make a proposal like this.

It is inhuman.

Anonymous said...

Before the election I saw a youtube video explaining why Obama IS the anti-Christ.

Well, I didn't put too much stock in it at the time. But this news....

Anonymous said...

Every major nuclear disaster so far has been a result of human error. So, more plants means more operators, more humans. More opportunity for error.

Not safer. More dangerous.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Nice and compact, with 90% enriched uranium fuel (if it's based on the US navy's tech), so that middle-of-nowhere rural America can have a nuke plant. Only $250 million a piece, maybe cheaper than your garbage plant or sewer plant that you built at the height of the bubble, funded by bonds underwritten by the Wall Street banks who took the other side of the trade by buying CDS on the bonds anticipating default.

Same story will be repeated.

Anonymous said...

"So sad. It seems that yet another country will have to learn the Chernobyl and Fukushima lessons the hard way."

Sorry but the US was the first to have a commercial nuclear accident at Three Mile island in 1979. There was plenty of fear and a forced evacuation of pregnant women and children that terrorized the nation. TMI brought the nuclear industry to a stand still in the US and the Chernobyl accident a few years later seemed to insure it demise. But memories are short 26 years after Chernobyl the NRC is back to handing out permits at the drop of a hat and the government is falling over backwards to fund new construction.

The US likes to brag about their accident free nuclear navy but it is easy to claim to be accident free when your operations are above top secret. If the recent disclosure in the UK is any indication sub reactors may not be as safe as they were made out to be.

"Flaws in nuclear submarine reactors could be fatal, secret report warns

Senior MoD safety expert's report brands navy reactors 'unsafe' and warns of potentially fatal leaks of radioactivity"

"John Large, the consulting nuclear engineer who helped oversee the salvage of the stricken Russian submarine, Kursk, after it sank in August 2000, said the document revealed "very serious shortcomings" in the present generation of submarine reactors.

These include doubts about the survivability of the submarine after a nuclear reactor malfunction, lack of a passive shut-down system, and strong hints that the reactor plant could fail when subject to what should be tolerable levels of hostile action."

Maju said...

Not sure what the US Navy does with its spent reactors but in Russia they simply store them on long lines in the open, not far from Murmansk.

Now Germany is investing €174 million (more than half of the estimated cost) but in exchange it will send its own nuclear waste there. No details are provided on the quality of the storage facility but I'd say that it's cheap, hence unreliable. The only reason I can think why it's to be stored in Kola Peninsula and not Siberia (a more stable geology, less dangers of immediate human damage if accident happens), must be for accessibility for ships (what means a somewhat hazardous journey along Denmark and Norway anyhow).

Assuming that the reactors are "safe" (what happened in the Maine nuclear submarine military base earlier this year?) and that there is no increased risk in this scatter (more workers to be trained and supervised, but specially more company and delegation managers tempted to cheat the system for a bunch of short-time bucks: proliferation of nukes means proliferation of risks), more nukes means more waste, what is more long term risk.

Of course there's only so much uranium on Earth (not too much) so that's a limiting factor but still...

The main reason behind this madness is that nuclear reactors allow for nuclear weapons (for the USA but also directly and indirectly for terrorist states like Israel) and that mean military might: raw power (to be translated in your favorite currency, be it dollars, yuans, euros or ol' shiny gold ingots - and the lifestyle they feed).

Renewables are perfectly viable, as Germany is showing, exporting more and cheaper electricity thanks to them but they lack the gun-toting factor.

It remains to be seen how important nuclear gun-toting reverts in economic terms. You can always live off draining vassals with tributes... but not if your country is a nuclear wasteland, as the Japanese are discovering these days and the USA may find out any day soon if they don't change ways.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

USS Enterprise just got retired. Its 8 reactors will be removed. Wonder where they will go.

Anonymous said...

Navy reactor fuel goes to INL.

Anonymous said...

Spent fuel is stored at the Naval Reactor Facility in the Idaho desert the spent reactors sections are buried at the 218-E-12B burial ground in the 200 East area in trench 94. on the Hanford reservation. If you look at the pictures found in the first two link you'll see trench 94 in all its glory.

The locals are happy to receive the waste

Here is a report on the USS Enterprise's decommissioning

A general over view

A description of the US Ship Submarine Recycling Program (I don't see how it is called recycling when none of the nuclear components are reused, I guess it sounds green"

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a larger variation of the Toshiba 4S generator. As arevamirpal points out the smaller the reactor is the higher the fuel enrichment level necessary to create usable amounts of power. It looks like this program has been around for awhile here's an article from 2010.

"TVA officials said Wednesday they have taken the first step toward gaining regulatory approval to build up to six new mini-nuclear reactors on the site of the abandoned Clinch River Breeder Reactor in Oak Ridge. In a four-page letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, TVA Vice President Jack Bailey said the federal utility "is evaluating the feasibility" of erecting two of the new Babcock & Wilcox-designed "mPower reactors" by 2020.

Each of the new reactors would produce 125 megawatts of electricity -- about 10 percent as much as conventional reactors at TVA's other plants -- and could be built in controlled factory conditions to cut production costs and ensure construction quality."

"But critics question why TVA is pursuing a new plant design that is yet to be certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"We are highly skeptical that these modular designs are going to deliver as promised," said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "There is a whole set of issues that are likely to be raised about these plants so TVA, the NRC and the contractors should expect a real fight."

If they are projecting a cost of $250,000 a unit on paper then the finished product will probably run a billion or more when it transitions from paper to reality. It is one thing to base your technology on submarine reactors but to try and claim their safety record is ridiculous. The safety record of US naval reactors is a secret if the Navy has a problem with their reactors they won't be announcing it to the world until they have a "better" design. This is a new design from Babcock & Wilcox the company that gave us Three Mile island. Will their mPower reactors make Clinch River a household word for the wrong reason?

The Silent Saga of the Nuclear Navy (Oceans Magazine, August 1983)

Let's hope the mPower reactors aren't the new Nukey Poo. Not many people are aware the US Navy put a small nuclear reactor at McMurdo base this is probably because it made a mess. You can be sure everybody involved swore nuclear power was "clean" and it would never ever pollute the pristine Antarctic. Until it did.

Nukey Poo is blamed by some for a rash of cancers

Anonymous said...


they are projecting a cost of $250,000,000

Anonymous said...

If the enrichment level is only 5% then these reactors are very, very loosely based on submarine reactors (the steam generator is based on naval designs) the connection is so tentative that it is pretty much just a marketing tool to give the supporters something to yell about. The fact is the mPower reactor is just a smaller PWR with some new bells and whistles. I'm glad that at least the fuel isn't highly enriched that would be a pretty major safety issue.

Atomfritz said...

Wow, thank you LaPrimavera and the commenters for these interesting information and links!

The Babcock website even reveals a thing that the nuclear industry would be fond to stay a secret. They say:

"Recently, many reactor closure heads in existing PWR systems have experienced corrosion damage and are being replaced.
B&W has signed a number of contracts for reactor vessel closure head replacement." [*]

Thus it's no baseless rumor that more and more PWR reactor pressure vessel heads are seriously damaged by corrosion and in urgent need to be replaced!


Anonymous said...

Comes from the same people that thought this gem up:

Washington, Nov. 26 (ANI): The U.S. had planned to blow up the moon with a nuclear bomb in the 1950s.

At the height of the space race, the U.S. considered detonating an atom bomb on the moon as a display of America's Cold War muscle.

The secret project, named 'A Study of Lunar Research Flights' and nicknamed 'Project A119,' however was never carried out.

America's planning included calculations by astronomer Carl Sagan, then a young graduate student, of the behavior of dust and gas generated by the blast, the Daily Mail reports.

According to the report, viewing the nuclear flash from Earth might have intimidated the Soviet Union and boosted U.S. confidence after the launch of Sputnik, physicist Leonard Reiffel said.

Under the scenario, a missile carrying a small nuclear device was to be launched from an undisclosed location and travel 238,000 miles to the moon, where it would be detonated upon impact.

The planners decided it would have to be an atom bomb because a hydrogen bomb would have been too heavy for the missile, the report said.

Military officials apparently abandoned the idea because of the danger to people on Earth in case the mission failed, the report added.

The scientists also registered concerns about contaminating the moon with radioactive material, Reiffel said. (ANI)

VyseLegendaire said...

A charade of a farce of a tragicomedy, another blog author I follow recently said it best:

"The clowns in business suits have taken control of the bus and are driving it straight into oblivion with all of us onboard"

Anonymous said...

Gates has a nuclear company called Terrapower. I have no idea why we should subsidize him. When I last looked, I thought he had talked China into trying one. At the time it seemed informed opinion was the technology was about 15 years out at minimum.

"Mini" makes it sound like they're cute, not radioactive. And if you bury them, well you know the saying, "Out of sight; Out of mind." I'm sure contamination of groundwater or something untoward like that could never happen.

Anonymous said...

I still have to wonder if this mini,modular design isn't the "better"(?)alternative if we have no choice about whether our government. & it's "puppet-masters"are gonna force their crap down our throats regardless of what's best for our future & health and well-being?! I'm neither pro-nuke or convinced ANY "new" reactors can ever be considered safe under ANY circumstances anyway!!

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Anon at 8:44AM, since Obama now rules by fiat (executive order), yes he can, force this thing, part concocted by, of all people, Bill Gates, who has given the world the crap called Windows.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Gates will cover his ass with a huge EULA attached to the operation of the reactors something along the lines of "operation of this reactor releases the manufacturer from any and all liability in perpetuity throughout the universe".

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