Sunday, March 31, 2024

Michigan nuclear plant aims to be first ever to reopen in US

Michigan nuclear plant aims to be first ever to reopen in US

The Palisades Nuclear Plant won a $1.5B conditional federal loan to reopen. Plant owner Holtec plans to move fast — but the path ahead is murky.

By Eric Wesoff | 

A large nuclear facility at twilightThe Palisades nuclear power plant on Lake Michigan (Holtec)

Holtec, a manufacturer of nuclear reactor equipment, has an unprecedented plan to restart the shuttered Palisades Nuclear Plant in Michigan. Thanks to a conditional loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office, that plan is now $1.52 billion closer to reality.

If the loan is granted (subject to Holtec meeting closing conditions) and the 800-megawatt reactor located on Lake Michigan is repowered, it would be the first nuclear plant in the U.S. to reopen after being closed for decommissioning. Surprisingly, it would be just the second or third reactor to restart in the history of global civil nuclear power, according to Mycle Schneider, lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2023, in an interview with Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Nuclear energy supplies just under 20 percent of U.S. electricity, a share that has barely budged in recent decades as the country has struggled to build the few new reactors that have been proposed. The average age of the reactors in the country’s 93-unit fleet is 42 years old.

As the country pushes to decarbonize its power grid, nuclear advocates are urging the U.S. to reinvest in the energy source, despite its baggage around cost and timing overruns and environmental concerns. Repowering Palisades would represent serious progress for nuclear energy in the U.S., but it won’t be an easy path ahead.

Holtec purchased Palisades a month after it shut down with plans to mothball the site, but plans changed. Now the firm, which specializes in nuclear waste management and decommissioning (as opposed to rebuilding and operating nuclear plants), intends to revive the plant instead. Holtec plans to get the power plant restarted by the end of 2025, a breathtakingly aspirational target given nuclear’s history of missing construction and cost targets.

The Palisades plant was closed by utility Entergy in May 2022 due to financial issues after operating for more than a half-century. And while the plant had a strong operational performance record in recent years, it also has a sobering history of shutdowns due to failures of critical equipment, as well as broken fuel rods and fuel-spill incidents. The site was shut down for the final time a few days ahead of schedule due to concerns about the reliability of a key piece of equipment.

When it was operating at its peak, the plant provided more than 600 high-paying jobs, many unionized. If restarted, the plant could drive up to $363 million in regional economic impact, according to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. That’s why Whitmer and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers back resurrecting the retired reactor. Local business owners and residents are ​“largely supportive” of the plan as well, according to local news site MLive. The state’s 2024 budget devotes $150 million to the project.

Like the nearly-shuttered Diablo Canyon plant in central California, Palisades will require extensive testing and repairs to compensate for deferred regulatory compliance and upkeep. Additionally, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has never considered reauthorizing a license for a shuttered plant. While the regulators are familiar with the reactor design, the unfamiliar nature of a reactor restart muddies the water on timing and cost. Holtec will also have to seek out and finalize contracts for fuel and refueling services.

If Holtec successfully repowers Palisades, it will be able to garner federal incentives such as a production tax credit geared to help keep the current nuclear fleet competitive, as well as an investment tax credit intended to speed new-plant construction. Holtec has also applied to the U.S. Civil Nuclear Credit Program, which has now extended its eligibility to include recently closed plants.

These are heady days for the U.S. nuclear industry: The government and the DOE are solid supporters of commercial nuclear power, providing incentives to build advanced reactors, enrich fuel and keep existing plants open. Citizen sentiment about nuclear power is more positive than it’s been in years. And more than 20 nations, including the U.S., pledged to triple installed nuclear power by 2050 during last year’s COP28 climate conference.

Despite that, the path to adding more nuclear power to the U.S. grid is as murky as ever. The country’s most promising new nuclear project, NuScale’s planned deployment of a small modular reactor in Idaho, fell apart late last year, and there’s no obvious next-best contender in the pipeline.

If successful, the Palisades restart could provide the American nuclear renaissance with a much-needed win — even if that means rousing an old reactor from its nap rather than starting up a shiny new one. 

"Nuclear expansion might take longer than expected," "Oil Price, UK, 3/21/24)

By Tsvetana Paraskova - Mar 21, 2024, 5:00 PM CDT

  • At the COP28 climate summit at the end of last year, the United States and 21 other countries pledged to triple nuclear energy capacities by 2050.
  • Most Western governments – with the notable exception of Germany – are now betting on nuclear power to help them with the carbon emission targets.
  • The West has seen in recent years several cautionary tales of huge delays and cost overruns in looking to boost nuclear capacity.

Western nations may be getting ahead of themselves in their ambition to swiftly roll out new nuclear power capacity in the current push to reduce dependence on Russian uranium and meet net-zero targets with more nuclear-generated electricity.   

At the COP28 climate summit at the end of last year, the United States and 21 other countries pledged to triple nuclear energy capacities by 2050, saying that incorporating more nuclear power in their energy mix is critical for achieving their net zero goals in the coming decades.   

The United States, alongside Britain, France, Canada, Sweden, South Korea, Ghana, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), among others, signed the declaration at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

“The Declaration recognizes the key role of nuclear energy in achieving global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and keeping the 1.5-degree Celsius goal within reach,” the U.S. Department of State said.

John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, says there are “trillions of dollars” available that could be used for investment in nuclear energy

“We are not making the argument to anybody that this is absolutely going to be the sweeping alternative to every other energy source — no, that’s not what brings us here. But you can’t get to net-zero 2050 without some nuclear power,” he told reporters at the time.

“Too Optimistic”

Most Western governments – with the notable exception of Germany – are now betting on nuclear power to help them with the carbon emission targets.

But many may have become too optimistic they would see a fast rollout of nuclear reactors and capacities in an industry notoriously known for years of delays and huge cost overruns.  

“Clients, governments and ourselves as the industry players . . . we all become too optimistic,” Ian Edwards, chief executive of Canada’s engineering giant AtkinsRéalis, told the Financial Times.

“We have this optimism bias towards being able to deliver faster.” Related: Big Oil Grows Bolder in Transition Pushback

The stakeholders need to plan better and get the execution phase done right, according to the executive of the company, which manufactures the CANDU reactor, the only nuclear reactor that doesn’t need enriched uranium.

The CANDU technology stands for Canada deuterium uranium because it uses deuterium oxide, or heavy water, as a moderator and coolant and uses natural – not enriched – uranium as a fuel.

The West has seen in recent years several cautionary tales of huge delays and cost overruns in looking to boost nuclear capacity. Two of the glaring examples are the UK’s Hinkley Point C project by French energy giant EDF and the Vogtle nuclear power plant in the U.S. state of Georgia.

Early this year, EDF pushed back – again – the probable operational start at Hinkley Point C to 2029-2031, depending on various scenarios, compared to the original intention to have the first unit at the plan running in 2025. The costs have gone through the roof – to an estimated $43.5 billion (£34 billion), from $23 billion (£18 billion) budgeted initially.

In Georgia, a new reactor at the Vogtle nuclear power plant began commercial operation last summer in what was the first new nuclear reactor to start up in the United States since 2016. Construction at the two new reactor sites at Vogtle began in 2009. Originally expected to cost $14 billion and begin commercial operation in 2016 (Vogtle 3) and 2017 (Vogtle 4), the project ran into significant construction delays and cost overruns. The total cost of the project is now estimated at more than $30 billion.  

New Technology Promises Revival of Nuclear Power

AtkinsRéalis, whose natural-uranium reactor design differentiates it from the competition, has a sales pitch advantage because of the Russian dominance in enriched uranium supply, Edwards told FT.

But he warned that demand for AtkinsRéalis’s technology is likely to exceed the company’s capacity to meet it.

Last year, AtkinsRéalis’s revenues from its nuclear division rose by 16.5% compared to 2022, thanks to higher sales volumes from Europe, Asia, and the United States.

Despite the West’s attempts to reduce its reliance on Russian uranium, the EU doubled its imports of Russian nuclear fuel last year, mostly due to former Soviet bloc countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia importing Russian fuel for their Soviet-era nuclear plants, NGO Bellona said in an analysis last week, citing data from Eurostat and the UN’s international trade service Comtrade.

The United States is doubling down on its own supply of nuclear fuel and technology, including innovative reactor designs.

Soaring uranium prices and a supply squeeze on the global uranium market have prompted U.S. uranium producers to revive abandoned mines that haven’t been operational in more than a decade.

Early this year, Uranium Energy Corp said it would restart uranium production at its fully permitted site in Wyoming as the resurgence in nuclear power has led to a new bull market in uranium.

“Uranium market fundamentals are the best the industry has witnessed,” Uranium Energy president and CEO Amir Adnani said in January.

The U.S. is also backing advanced nuclear technology and small-scale reactors, hyped to be the future of nuclear energy.

This week, TerraPower, a company working on small-scale nuclear reactor development backed by Bill Gates, said it would begin construction on its next-generation nuclear reactor in the United States as soon as June.

TerraPower has been developing the Natrium technology for advanced reactors, which features a sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The Natrium demonstration plant will be built near a retiring coal facility in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for

Nuclear industry critics take aim at liability cap extension


Nuclear industry critics take aim at liability cap extension

BY RACHEL FRAZIN - 03/28/24 6:00 AM ET


A smokestack with money on top of the image with a gavel on top of a stack of papers.Illustration / Samantha Wong; and Adobe Stock

Critics are warning that the recent government funding bill’s newly extended nuclear power liability cap could impact safety and prevent survivors from getting adequate compensation in the case of an accident. 

Congress’s 40-year extension of a law limiting how much money nuclear power companies are on the hook for prompted sighs of relief from the industry and supporters of the measure, who say the liability limit provides certainty for insurers and investors in the carbon-free power source.

But opponents of the extension fear it will disincentivize the industry from prioritizing the safety of nearby communities and hurt potential victims’ ability to secure adequate recompense if an accident were to occur.

Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said there are “very few actual mechanisms driving innovation to actually decrease risk to the public.”

He said removing the cap “would provide a strong incentive for reactor developers to truly put in features that would clearly reduce the risk of accidents.”

Thus far, concerns have been hypothetical, as the U.S. has not seen a nuclear accident whose damages have exceeded the law’s liability limits since it was first passed in 1957. 

“There have not been any commercial accidents or incidents with the U.S. fleet that have had public health consequences,” said Craig Piercy, executive director and chief executive officer of the American Nuclear Society. “I put its safety record up against any other technology that generates electrons.”

The Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979 in Pennsylvania is described by the Energy Department as having no direct health effects. But there are some studies that say there are increased cancer rates

But, critics say it only takes one incident. 

“I don’t think it’s likely … but it could happen,” said Victor Gilinsky, former commissioner with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a government nuclear safety board.

“We … have about 20, 25 reactors that are identical to the Fukushima reactors,” he added, referring to the site of a major 2011 nuclear accident in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami. “They’re the same design.”

The cap came about in the 1950s under the Price-Anderson Act, which sought to catalyze the nation’s nuclear power industry. 

The law requires nuclear power plants to have liability insurance to cover costs of up to $500 million. In the case of an accident, all of the country’s major nuclear plants — regardless of whether they were involved — would have to pay into an additional fund to compensate victims. 

In total, the maximum compensation from the fund and the insurance could be $16.1 billion, according to a nonpartisan Congressional Research Service report from January. 

Proponents of this approach say that it both helps the nuclear power industry stay viable and ensures the immediate availability of some compensation for survivors. They also note that it makes economical sense for insuring and investing in nuclear by providing certainty about the risk — thereby also making electricity cheaper for consumers.

“If all of a sudden Price-Anderson was taken away, it would mean much more expensive electricity [and] more carbon emissions down the line. It just would have been a bad thing for the U.S. [and] the world,” said Piercy.

He also said the law has provided a “a base level of protection” so that companies not only are willing to invest in nuclear but also to develop new nuclear technology. 

But, opponents say that in the case of a severe disaster, the maximum compensation would likely not be enough to cover the costs.

Lyman pointed to the cost of the Fukushima accident, which Japan has said could reach around $200 billion

“So if the scale of a nuclear disaster in the U.S. is anywhere near that order, there’s going to be a shortfall [of] at least tens, or even hundreds of billions of dollars,” he said.

The cap extension is not the only action Congress is eyeing to boost nuclear power. Recently, it provided up to $2.72 billion to bolster nuclear energy in another funding package. And, bipartisan and bicameral lawmakers are working on an additional nuclear package that they hope to advance in the months ahead.

“The extension of the Price-Anderson Act in the minibus sends a clear message that we are committed to the advancement of this safe and reliable power source, but this is only the first step,” Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) said in a written statement. 

“We must send bipartisan legislation to boost the development and deployment of new nuclear technologies to the president’s desk this year, and we are united in our commitment” to do so, the statement said.

Fifth Circuit will not give NRC another chance to prove commercial interim storage is legal

RadWaste Monitor Vol. 17 No. 12
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RadWaste Monitor
Article 3 Of 8
March 22, 2024

Fifth Circuit will not give NRC another chance to prove commercial interim storage is legal

By Dan Leone

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if it wants another chance to prove that it can legally license commercial interim storage of spent nuclear fuel.

According to an order dated March 14, judges of the Fifth Circuit voted 9-7, with one recused, not to rehear the NRC’s argument that the Atomic Energy Act authorizes the commission to license interim storage of spent fuel away from the reactors that generated it.
“We continue to adhere to our position that the judiciary has not only the authority but the duty to review the NRC’s actions, which may threaten significant environmental damage in the Permian Basin, one of the largest fossil fuel deposits in the world,” the court wrote in its opinion.
In August, as part of a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas, a panel of three Fifth Circuit judges ruled that the Atomic Energy Act did not give NRC this authority, effectively striking down a license the NRC granted to a joint venture of Waste Control Specialists and Orano to store spent fuel in Andrews County, Texas.
The Fifth Circuit’s ruling last year also killed a similar commercial interim storage license the NRC gave to Holtec International for a proposed facility in eastern New Mexico.
Three Fifth Circuit judges disagreed with the majority’s opinion last week, writing among other things that the court’s ruling will allow people to evade regulatory agencies using maneuvers with no basis in federal law.
“This exercise of jurisdiction has grave consequences for regulated entities’ settled expectations and careful investments in costly, time consuming agency proceedings, inviting spoilers to sidestep the avenues for participation that Congress carefully created to prevent this uncertainty,” the three dissenting judges wrote.
Among other things, NRC argued that Texas never participated in the commission’s debate about licensing the Andrews County facility and that therefore the state had no right to sue over the commission’s final licensing decision.
Meanwhile, the NRC continues to argue in a separate but related case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the Atomic Energy Act allows the agency to license commercial interim storage of spent fuel.



Documents in Web-based ADAMS: 
   - Three Mile Island Nuclear Station, Unit 1 – Exemption from Select Requirements of 10 CFR Part 73 (EPID L-2023-LLE-0061 [Security Notifications, Reports, and Recordkeeping and Suspicious Activity Reporting]) (ML24052A060)
To access document(s) please search by accession number using the following link:

5th Circuit vacates Holtec's CISF license!!