Entergy opts to shut Vermont Yankee
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant will cease electricity production by the end of next year and will then be decommissioned, Entergy has announced. The company said that continued operation of the plant was “not financially viable.”
Vermont Yankee will shut down after 42 years of operation (Image: Entergy)
Entergy anticipates shutting down the Vermont Yankee plant – a single 600 MWe boiling water reactor (BWR) that began operating in November 1972 – in the fourth quarter of 2014, but said the exact date has still to be determined. The plant provides almost three-quarters of Vermont’s electricity.
The company attributed its decision to shut the plant on a number of factors, including the high cost of operating a single-unit plant. Entergy, which has invested over $400 million in Vermont Yankee since 2002, noted that “the financial impact of cumulative regulation is especially challenging to a small plant in these market conditions.”
In addition, sustained low natural gas prices have impacted the plant’s profitability, while “wholesale market design flaws continue to result in artificially low energy and capacity prices in the region, and do not provide adequate compensation to merchant nuclear plants for the fuel diversity benefits they provide.”
Legal battle over licence
Vermont Yankee’s original operating licence was due to expire on 21 March 2012, but in January 2006 Entergy submitted an application to the NRC to extend the licence by 20 years to March 2032. The NRC said in March 2011 that it would renew the plant’s operating licence for a further 20 years.
However, Vermont is the only US state that claims entitlement to have a say in the relicensing of its nuclear power plants. In January 2010, the state voted by 26 votes to 4 against extending the licence of Vermont Yankee.
Entergy subsequently launched a legal case against Vermont, challenging the state’s self-determined right to make rules about the perceived safety and economic performance of the plant. A district court ruled in the company’s favour in January 2012, clearing the way for its extended operation.
Entergy said that estimated operational earnings from Vermont Yankee were “expected to be around breakeven in 2013 and generally declining over the next few years.” By closing the plant, the company expects cash flow to increase by some $150 to $200 million in total up to 2017. Entergy said that it will take a charge of about $181 million in the third quarter of 2013 related to its decision to close the plant.
Announcing the plant’s closure now “allows time to duly and properly plan for a safe and orderly shutdown,” according to Entergy. Once Vermont Yankee ceases power production, the reactor will be defueled and placed in SAFSTOR, where the plant is maintained and monitored. Decontamination and dismantling work occurs later.
Assuming that Vermont Yankee shuts at the end of 2014, $566 million would be needed for its decommissioning, Entergy said. It noted that some $582 million had already been put aside for this, excluding the $40 million guarantee by Entergy to satisfy Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requirements following the 2009 review of decommissioning funding levels.
Some 630 people currently work at Vermont Yankee, which Entergy acquired from Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation in 2002. Entergy said, “Staffing levels will change and be reduced as the plant moves through the various stages of decommissioning.”
Entergy chairman and CEO Leo Denault said, “This was an agonizing and an extremely tough call for us.” He added, “Closing the plant on this schedule was certainly not the option we hoped for, but we have reluctantly concluded that it is the appropriate action for us to take under the circumstances.”
Denault noted, “Entergy remains committed to nuclear as an important long-term component of its generating portfolio. Nuclear energy is safe, reliable, carbon-free and contributes to supply diversity and energy security as part of a balanced energy portfolio.”
Besides Vermont Yankee, Entergy operates eleven other nuclear power reactors with a combined generating capacity of almost 9400 MWe. The company said it currently has no plans to close any of its other reactors.
Commenting on the closure, Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) president and CEO Marvin Fertel said, “This is more proof that competitive markets must be designed appropriately to ensure reliable long-term electric capacity and to provide fair capacity payments to companies producing electricity in those markets.”
Source: World Nuclear News
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26th Apr 2013
MHI’S Super-Giraffe robot reaches new heights
A remote-controlled robot that enables work to be conducted at heights up to eight metres has been developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). It is the latest to be built to help clean-up work at Fukushima Daiichi.
The Super-Giraffe robot can extend up to 8m (Image: MHI)
MHI developed the Super-Giraffe (for Global Innovative Robot Arm for Future Evolution) at the request of the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) with the aim of performing various tasks at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The Super-Giraffe comprises four modules: a platform, a load-lifting module, a robot arm and an attachment tool. The platform module features four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering allowing it to operate in narrow spaces. Outriggers provide extra stability when the robot is being used for work at height. The load lifting-module features a telescopic extension system that can carry loads of over 150kg up to a height of eight metres. The robot arm has seven joints – the same as in a human arm – providing a high level of articulation. A tool for opening and closing valves is attached to this.
In December 2012, MHI unveiled a prototype robot designed to undertake work at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The robot, named MEISTeR (Maintenance Equipment Integrated System of Telecontrol Robot), boasts two arms which can be fitted with different tools to enable it to carry out tasks such as carrying objects, drilling and opening and closing valves. Each arm can carry objects weighing up to 15kg. MEISTeR moves using crawlers and can climb slopes of up to 40 degrees as well as steps up to 22cm.
By changing the robot arm or tool attachment, the Super-Giraffe can perform various tasks, including nuclear decontamination work. MHI said that, in order to expand the robot’s capabilities, it intends to share its technical data with other companies so that “externally created technologies” can be incorporated. MHI is seeking to develop tools for welding, drilling, handling and leak detection.
The Super-Giraffe’s lithium-ion battery and recharging system has been customized from those used in Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV electric vehicle. The battery allows the robot to be remotely operated for up to five hours before recharging.
Weighing four tonnes, the robot can travel on slopes up to 15 degrees and can reach a top speed of 6 km/h on flat surfaces.
Source: World Nuclear News
TVA seeks Sequoyah licence extension
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has applied to the US regulator to extend the operating life of its twin-unit Sequoyah nuclear power plant. If granted, the reactors could operate until 2040 and 2041, respectively.
The original 40-year licences for Sequoyah units 1 and 2 are due to expire in 2020 and 2021.
TVA submitted its operating licence extension applications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on 15 January. The licence renewal process takes about 30 months andis expected to cost some $23 million, according to the utility.
TVA chief nuclear operator Preston Swafford commented, “By applying for a 20-year extension of our current operating licence now, we are affirming to the NRC that our plant is safe and in solid material condition.” He added, “Extending the operating life of this nuclear plant supports TVA’s vision to provide low-cost, cleaner electricity and a balanced energy portfolio.”
Both Sequoyah units are 1152 MWe Westinghouse pressurized water reactors. Unit 1 began commercial operation in July 1981, while unit 2 began operating in June 1982.
So far, the NRC has renewed the operating licences of 73 of the USA’s 103 nuclear power reactors. Applications for the extension of the operating lives of a further 15 reactors have been submitted.
A September 2012 court ruling requires the NRC to developed an environmental impact statement on the storing of used nuclear fuel at power plant sites for extended periods. The NRC said it might take 24 months to develop the statement. However, until this is done, the NRC cannot issue final licences to new nuclear power plants or extend existing operating licences.
Source: World Nuclear News
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Continuing cleanup of Fukushima pool
A large twisted steel truss has been removed from the fuel pool of Fukushima Daiichi 3 as part of efforts to clear debris from the pond and service floor area.
Securing long-term safety for used fuel in the four damaged reactor buildings is the main priority for Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). The storage pools on the top floors of the buildings are littered with heavy concrete and steel wreckage after the hydrogen explosions that followed the core melts of March 2011.
Formerly part of the building’s roof, the truss is lifted from the fuel pool (Image: Tepco)
This week’s work saw Tepco remove a large steel truss from unit 3’s pool. The operation, during snowy weather, took three hours and 20 minutes and was not without incident. Moving the twisted and partly submerged truss caused a bulky piece of debris, identified by Tepco as the refuelling machine mast, to slip into the water. An investigation confirmed the movement of this 1.5 tonne item had made no significant difference to the pond’s water level, chemistry or levels of radioactivity indicating it had done no damage. The truss itself also broke into two pieces in the middle of the job causing a delay.
All this steel, concrete and dusty debris must be gradually removed so that Tepco can finally remove the fuel for long-term storage in the plant’s common used fuel pool.
Source: World Nuclear News
Energy leaders’ nuclear uncertainty diminishing
Concerns over nuclear energy use have been eclipsed by energy price volatility, the global recession, political unrest and future climate frameworks as the top uncertainties for global energy leaders, according to the World Energy Council (WEC).
WEC’s 2013 World Energy Issues Monitor is its latest annual assessment of the issues impacting the global and regional energy sector based on the views of energy leaders. It identifies the key uncertainties while highlighting the areas where action is most required to enable the sustainable supply and use of energy. The report is based on a survey of some 36 issues (including macroeconomic risks, geopolitics, business environment as well as energy vision) by ministers, CEOs and energy experts from over 90 countries. The results were used to measure their feelings of uncertainty and the need for action on the various issues.
The study indicates that renewable energies and energy efficiency have remained dominant technologies requiring action. As well as being driven by climate policy, renewables are seen as contributing to diversity and security of supply. Unconventional fossil fuels – such as shale gas – are now firmly considered game changers that will impact the sector for decades to come. The WEC study found that further action is required to realise their potential.
The latest study notes that “concerns arising from the current depressed economic outlook have overtaken nuclear energy as one of the top critical issues. While nuclear energy continues to be closely observed and debated, its perceived uncertainty and impact have dropped to pre-Fukushima levels. This reflects the prudent re-evaluation of nuclear energy in many countries.”
Nuclear around the world
Following the March 2011 Fukushima accident, Japan idled all but two of its nuclear power reactors and has proposed a new energy policy that would phase out the use of nuclear within three decades. However, WEC notes that “recent signals from Japan suggest a re-evaluation of the role for nuclear in the country’s energy mix.” Germany and Switzerland have also taken actions to end their use of nuclear energy.
However WEC notes that interest in nuclear is growing in some areas. For example, it is picking up in UAE and Saudi Arabia “reflecting a growing acceptance that nuclear energy remains a valid alternative and strategically effective towards diversifying the potential future energy mix, where rapidly-growing domestic power demand has eaten into hydrocarbons available for export.”
Nuclear appears as “a more critical uncertainty” in North America as compared to the global level, WEC suggests, primarily because the region has a large fleet of ageing nuclear power plants. It notes that, even with 20-year life extensions, most existing plants will be retired by 2050.
WEC chairman Pierre Gadonneix: “With energy now topping the global agenda, our 2013 World Energy Issues Monitor clearly reveals that the critical issues identified by energy leaders are macroeconomic and geopolitical.” He added, “In particular, uncertainties surrounding climate framework reveal the strong desire of the energy sector to have clearer and more balanced governance. The survey also reveals the need to identify pragmatic, cost-effective, and technology-neutral policies.”
Source: World Nuclear News