SEE ALSO: Finland Approves Russia’s Rosatom…
Russia to build first nuclear power plant in Jordan
AMMONNEWS – Russia Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a draft agreement to construct the first nuclear power plant in Jordan.
The power plant is planned to house two nuclear reactors with a capacity of 1000MW each. The first one is expected to be operational in 2024, and the second in 2026.
RT TV network reported the agreement as reading: “The construction and operation of nuclear power plants will be financed with investments attracted in the markets of Russia, Jordan and third countries.”
Tender for the construction of the plant in Jordan was announced in 2011.
Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom was named hte preferred bidder in October 2013.
The draft is ‘in agreement with Russia’s international liabilities and in line with Russia laws’, reported Russian news agency ITAR TASS.
Further talks on the agreement will be held by Rosatom and the Russian Foreign Ministry with Jordan.
The Russian government expects the agreement to boost Russia’s nuclear industry by opening up gateways for long-term orders.
Russia has signed a contract with Ukraine to deliver fuel for Ukraine’s nuclear energy facilities, according to Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom head Sergei Kirienko.
MOSCOW, November 21 (Sputnik) – Russia has signed a contract with Ukraine to deliver nuclear fuel for the country’s nuclear energy plants in 2015, the head of Russian nuclear agency Rosatom said Friday.
“A contract for 2015 has been signed to deliver fuel for Ukraine’s nuclear energy facilities,” Sergei Kirienko said in a speech before a student assembly in Moscow.
The head of the Russian nuclear agency stressed that supplies of nuclear fuel to Ukraine had not been held up even once and shipments have been delivered to Ukraine as scheduled.
In September, Ukraine gave the green light to its nuclear power plants to receive supplies of upgraded nuclear fuel from the US company Westinghouse, a move criticized by Rosatom as a political one.
The conflict in Ukraine soured its relations with Russia, including cooperation on nuclear energy.
Following the row, Kirienko said in April that Rosatom was not against competitive rivalry with other fuel producers, but disapproved of putting the country’s nuclear security at stake.
Ukraine’s switch from Russian to American nuclear fuel for some of its power plants raised security concern after the fuel sourced from Westinghouse had dangerously malfunctioned at power plants in the Czech Republic and Ukraine.
Previously, a Czech nuclear power plant operating Soviet-designed reactors experienced depressurization with the Westinghouse fuel, leading to its suspension of cooperation with the company in 2006.
Turkey in preliminary talks with US company on third nuclear plant
ANKARA – Reuters
Turkey has entered exclusive preliminary talks with U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Company, part of Japan’s Toshiba group, on building the country’s third nuclear power plant, Westinghouse said.
The talks will continue for six months and will be conducted by Turkish state-owned electricity generation company EÜAS, Turkish energy officials said Nov. 25.
The project involves development and construction as well as all live-cycle activities including operations, nuclear fuel, maintenance, engineering, plant services and decommissioning, Westinghouse said in a statement.
Turkey currently has projects for two nuclear plants, which are expected to cost $20 billion and $22 billion respectively. In 2011, Russian company Rosatom was contracted to build and operate a 4,800 megawatt (MW) nuclear power plant in the southern province of Mersin.
In 2013, a consortium of Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Itochu Corp. and France’s GDF Suez agreed to build a nuclear plant with a capacity of about 4,500 MW in the Black Sea town of Sinop.
Finnish energy ties with Russia deepen despite Ukraine crisis
By Jussi Rosendahl and Nerijus Adomaitis
HELSINKI/OSLO, Oct 6 (Reuters) – Despite European Union calls for member states to curb ties with Russia over its aggression toward Ukraine, Finland looks set for closer links with Moscow in energy.
A fraught project with French-German consortium Areva-Siemens has helped prompt Finnish nuclear consortium Fennovoima to look to Russia’s Rosatom for a planned reactor while Finland also aims to begin power exports to Russia next year.
The projects come at a time when the European Union has called on EU member states to suspend planned energy agreements with Russia due to its aggression toward Ukraine.
Prime Minister Alexander Stubb acknowledges the country must walk a fine line with Moscow but has rejected criticism from political opponents who say his office is soft on Russia.
“We must oppose the ‘divide and rule’ games that Russia is constantly playing with the EU,” he said last week when meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
At the same time, Stubb said Finland’s long border and trade ties with Russia meant it must take a “very pragmatic and common-sense approach in all of our Russia policies”.
Angered by the government’s backing of the Rosatom nuclear project, the Green Party quit the ruling coalition last month.
Green Party leader Ville Niinisto accused the government of ‘Finlandisation’, a charged term used during the Cold War to describe the former Soviet Union’s strong influence on Finnish politics.
Parliament is set to hold a first debate on the nuclear project on Oct. 14, with the final vote expected in early December.
It would involve Fennovoima building a 1,200-megawatt nuclear reactor at Pyhajoki in northern Finland sourced from Rosatom, which will also take a stake in a project expected to cost 4-6 billion euros.
The government has tried to soothe concerns and Rosatom has said Moscow will not use nuclear power as a political weapon.
There is also a commercial back story to the Rosatom deal, following a decade-long delay and huge cost overruns on another nuclear project in Finland, the Olkiluoto 3 plant being built by Areva-Siemens.
The International Chamber of Commerce’s arbitration court is currently processing a dispute in which Areva-Siemens are seeking 2.7 billion euros in compensation from Finnish consortium TVO. The latter, which involves Finnish firms including utility Fortum, UPM-Kymmene and Stora Enso, has submitted a counter claim of 1.8 billion euros.
“It is one of the biggest conflicts in the history of the construction sector,” Areva Chief Operating Officer Philippe Knoche said in February.
Still, some analysts question the timing of the move to Rosatom given frosty relations between the European and Russia over Ukraine. Japan’s Toshiba also sought to supply Fennovoima.
“The Fennovoima decision increases long-term economic interdependence between Finland and Russia at a time when there is no sound basis to predict the EU’s relationship with Russia in the future,” said Antto Vihma, senior analyst at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
POWER DEAL, LNG U-TURN
And the nuclear project is not the only sign of Finland increasing its ties with Moscow in energy.
Finland aims to strike a deal with Russia to export electricity through a connector cable from next January, during the same winter months in which much of Europe is most worried about a possible disruption to Russian gas supplies over the crisis in Ukraine.
Top Finnish utility Fortum has also said it is sticking to plans to invest 4.2 billion euros ($5.26 billion) in Russia by the end of 2015.
“Business continues as usual… one can say that Russia is one of Fortum’s home markets,” said spokeswoman Helena Aatinen.
Russian operations accounted for 22 percent of Fortum’s sales in the year to June and 15 percent of its profits.
Finland has also cast a vote of confidence in its natural gas ties with Russia, last week indefinitely postponing a planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal that could have allowed it to diversify away from its complete dependence on piped Russian supply.
In contrast, Poland and Lithuania have invested heavily in LNG import terminals to allow them to take shipped imports from Qatar and Norway.
Yet like other EU countries, Finland has not escaped the impact of sanctions imposed on Russia. Its economy is struggling, and the government recently cut its economic forecasts for 2014 and 2015 due to the impact from the Ukraine crisis.
Moscow’s response to EU sanctions have hurt Finnish exports to Russia including food and the weakened Russian rouble has also hit Finnish revenues, including Fortum’s, in Russia.
Russia, South Africa sign $10 bn nuclear power deal
Russia’s state-owned nuclear company Rosatom has signed a historic partnership agreement with South Africa to build a large-scale nuclear power plant in the African state and develop collaboration in other areas of nuclear industry.
The deal was signed on the sidelines of the 58th session of the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference in Vienna on Monday.
“The Agreement lays the foundation for the large-scale nuclear power plant (NPP) procurement and development program of South Africa based on the construction in RSA of new nuclear power plants with Russian VVER reactors with total installed capacity of up to 9,6 GW (up to 8 NPP units),” said a joint statement published on Rosatom’s webpage.
Besides the nuclear power plant construction, the two countries agreed to develop comprehensive collaboration in other areas of nuclear power industry – including the construction of a Russian technology-based multipurpose research reactor and assistance in the development of South African nuclear infrastructure.
Moreover, under the agreement Russia is to welcome South African nuclear specialists in its universities.
“I am convinced in cooperation with Russia, South Africa will gain all necessary competencies for the implementation of this large-scale national nuclear energy development program. ROSATOM sees to create in South Africa a full-scale nuclear cluster of a world leader’s level – from the front-end of nuclear fuel cycle up to engineering and power equipment manufacturing,” said ROSATOM’s director general, Sergey Kirienko.
He added that the new project will contribute to the creation of thousands of new jobs and place a considerable order to local industrial enterprises worth at least $10 billion.
“I am sure that cooperation with Russia will allow us to implement our ambitious plans for the creation by 2030 of 9,6 GW of new nuclear capacities based on modern and safe technologies,” said South Africa’s minister of energy, Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
Koeberg nuclear power station near Cape Town is currently the continent’s only commercial nuclear power station. The 1,800-megawatt nuclear facility is owned and operated by the country’s only national electricity supplier, Eskom.
Russia’s Rosatom currently has 29 projects for the construction of nuclear power plants, including 19 foreign commissions in India, China, Turkey, Vietnam, Finland, Hungary and others.
Rosatom to build 2 units at Bushehr nuclear power plant
Russian state corporation Rosatom and Iran signed a contract for the construction of two more units at the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, as well as the construction of units at other sites in Iran. Experts already call it the biggest foreign project of the Russian state corporation. Its realization will boost the economic development of both countries.
The contract includes the construction of two nuclear units of Bushehr NPP, to be possibly followed by another four. The parties also agreed to build another four units on other sites that have not yet been determined.
The price of the contract hasn’t been disclosed, but similar projects abroad were previously estimated at $10 billion.
The entire project of constructing nuclear power units in Iran, including the supplies of equipment and nuclear fuel will be under the supervision of IAEA, and will fully comply with the commitment to non-proliferation of nuclear materials, just as it was during the construction of the first power unit of the Bushehr NPP, Rosatom said in a press note.
Throughout the entire life cycle of eight new power units the nuclear fuel for the plant will be manufactured by the Russian side. The spent nuclear fuel will be returned to Russia for reprocessing and storage. As part of expanding the construction of Russian-designed nuclear power units in Iran, partners plan to look into the economic feasibility and the possibility to locally produce nuclear fuel elements that would be used in these power units.
“It is the largest nuclear contract among foreign ones. Iran’s oil and gas make the country solvent, and with the earned money it will buy our technology and equipment,” Deputy Director of the Institute of Energy Matters Bulat Nigmatullin told Vzglyad. “The agreement will enable the Russian power industry to fill up the manufacturing capacity of its nuclear power plants. Considering that Iran is afraid of the western embargo, it will buy all the major equipment in Russia,”
Iran, in turn, gets the possibility to diversify its energy policy. “Even before the Islamic Revolution, the development of nuclear power has been a priority matter. There was a proposal to build 20 nuclear units,” senior researcher at Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Vladimir Sazhin told Vzglyad.
According to Sazhin, the growth of nuclear energy facilities would enable Iran to export more oil and gas, significantly increasing the country’s incomes. Moreover, it would create the much needed jobs in Tehran.
Russia and Algeria Sign Nuclear Deal
Russia and Algeria signed on Wednesday, September 3, in Algiers, a new agreement on cooperation in the field of civil nuclear engineering. The partnership is intended to promote research and nuclear operations in Algeria, which could lead in the medium term to the construction of the first nuclear power plant in Algeria.
The Algerians have for quite some time expressed the desire to develop their nuclear capabilities and their ambitions seem to be confirmed with the signing of this new collaboration with Russia. The agreement as stated by the Algerian Energy Minister, Yousef Yousfi, should address both “the production of electricity from nuclear energy and the use of this energy for peaceful purposes, including medicine, agriculture and water resources”.
Cooperation under this Agreement will cover research and development in the field of nuclear engineering and technology, construction, operation and maintenance of nuclear reactors for electricity generation and desalination of seawater, and also the joint exploration and exploitation of uranium deposits in Algeria.
The Algerian Minister of Energy had previously announced the government’s intention to build the first nuclear power plant in the country by 2025 to cope with high electricity demand and offset higher costs of the energy production program and the development of renewable energy.
Algeria has reserves of uranium on its territory of around 29,000 tons, an amount sufficient to supply two nuclear power plants with a capacity of 1000 MW over a period of 60 years.
Putin signs nuclear energy deal with Argentina
(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a nuclear energy cooperation deal with Argentina on Saturday on a trip to bolster trade ties and strengthen Russia’s influence in Latin America.
Putin’s energy minister, Alexander Novak, told reporters in the Argentine capital that the Russian state atomic energy corporation, Rosatom, had made an offer to tender for the construction of two new nuclear power units in Argentina.
Novak said Rosatom could offer “comfortable” financial terms to Latin America’s No. 3 economy, which has struggled to advance its nuclear energy program and lure foreign investors deterred by a raft of punishing capital and import controls.
“Rosatom is actively working here… and has already handed over its technical and commercial offer to our (Argentine) colleagues,” Novak told reporters after talks between Putin and his Argentine counterpart, President Cristina Fernandez.
“There will be a tender this fall. Rosatom… is also ready to provide comfortable financial conditions (to Argentina).”
Fernandez said a Russian delegation would visit the so-called Vaca Muerta shale fields in the south of the country, adding that she hoped relations between the two countries would deepen further.
The Vaca Muerta field is thought to be one of the biggest shale reserves in the Western Hemisphere and could double Argentina’s energy output within a decade. But it is in the early stage of development.
Putin made an unannounced stopover in Nicaragua after meeting Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana on Friday, the Kremlin said. He travels next to Brazil for bilateral talks and a summit of the emerging BRICS economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Putin’s visit comes as Argentina stares down the barrel of another debt crisis. The government has until July 30 to settle with “holdout” investors suing the government for full repayment of sovereign bonds on which Argentina defaulted in 2002.
Failure to do so risks prolonging Argentina’s banishment from global capital markets at a time it needs financing to exploit huge shale gas and oil resources, develop its power grid and build new roads and ports to bolster grains exports.
Argentine officials and the New York hedge funds it has battled for years met separately with a court-appointed mediator on Friday, but the two sides appeared no closer to a deal.
Argentina portrays the holdouts as vultures who are willing to cripple the country’s economy for the sake of profit.
Fernandez said on Saturday a lack of global regulation on capital flows had “practically turned the world into a casino”.
Putin has called Argentina one of Russia’s most strategically important allies in Latin America. The Russian leader, who is under pressure from the West to help restrain pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, told reporters in Buenos Aires that the two nations “cooperated in all areas”.
Argentina abstained in March in a U.N. vote calling on member states not to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Russia has been supportive of Argentina’s claim over the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory lying off Argentina’s coast.
“Argentina often has its own opinion … but it is always one of its own, and is a sovereign one, which is utterly important and cannot be often seen in the modern world. And we highly appreciate that,” Putin said.
Vietnam upgrades reactor choice
21 November 2014
Vietnamese officials have chosen Rosatom’s AES-2006 design for the country’s first nuclear power plant at Ninh Thuan, increasing the planned capacity of the four unit plant by about 800 MWe. A second plant should follow based on a partnership with Japan.
The choice of Russian technology for Ninh Thuan 1 at Phuoc Dinh has now been made, and Atomproekt based in Saint Petersburg will supply its version of the AES-2006 plant for at least the first two units. This design produces 1200 MWe for transmission over the grid and its replacement of the VVER-1000 units previously planned would add about 800 MWe to Ninh Thuan’s future generating capacity across four units.
The reactors are to be built over 2017-23 as a turnkey project. Russia’s Ministry of Finance is prepared to finance at least 85% of this first plant, to supply the nuclear fuel and take back the used fuel for the life of the plant. These details were explained to delegates at the Atomex Asia conference organised by Rosatom on 19-20 November in Ho Chi Minh City.
To support the operation of the future plant some 344 undergraduate and graduate students from Vietnam are currently studying in Russia, and 150 engineers are working at Russia’s Rostov nuclear power plant where two VVER-1000s are in operation and two new ones are at late stages of construction.
Rosatom and Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute (Vinatom) are jointly setting up a Centre for Nuclear Energy Science & Technology (CNEST) which will become the main coordinating body for nuclear research and development in Vietnam, including the Dong Nai Research Centre in the south and the Institute of Nuclear Technology connected with Hanoi University of Science & Technology in the north. An early project is to build a new 15 MWt research reactor for operation from October 2018, though the site is not yet decided. It will be used for training staff for the nuclear power program and access will be offered to other countries in southeast Asia. CNEST will also be responsible for the existing Da Lat research reactor, which was commissioned in 1984.
Separately a Nuclear Industry Information Centre has been established for the public at the Hanoi University of Science & Technology. This is based on others set up by Rosatom in 20 Russian cities as well as cities in Bangladesh and Turkey.
The Ninh Thuan 2 plant at Vinh Hai, on Cam Ranh Bay about 20 kilometres northeast of Phouc Dinh, is to be developed under a partnership with Japan and consideration of possible technology options is ongoing.
The International Nuclear Energy Development of Japan Co. (JINED), will work with Electricity Vietnam on the project, which will also involve financing and insurance of up to 85% of the total cost. JINED is a consortium of Japan’s METI, nine utilities (led by Chubu, Kansai & Tepco) and three manufacturers (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba and Hitachi). The intergovernmental agreement took effect from January 2012 and Japan has committed to train about 1000 staff for Ninh Thuan 2.
Bulgaria signs nuclear deal with Westinghouse
(Reuters) – Bulgaria, one of five EU states that depend totally on Russia for nuclear fuel, and Westinghouse Electric Company signed a shareholder agreement on Friday paving the way for construction of a new nuclear reactor estimated to cost $5 billion.
The deal, which still requires the approval of Bulgaria’s next government, will help the Balkan country reduce its energy dependence on Russia at a time of increased tensions between Moscow and the European Union over Ukraine.
Bulgaria currently operates two Soviet-made 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactors at the Kozloduy site on the River Danube.
Westinghouse, the world’s largest nuclear fuel producer and part of Japan’s Toshiba group, will take a 30 percent stake in Kozloduy NPP – New Build, which will construct the new units at the Kozloduy site.
“The agreement is signed. However, it will only enter into force if approved by the next government,” said Ivan Genov, chief executive of Kozloduy nuclear plant.
Bulgaria’s Socialist-led government resigned last week, paving the way for an interim cabinet to take over for two months ahead of a snap election in October. The main center-right opposition GERB party is tipped to win the election.
RELIANCE ON RUSSIA
The deal, once approved, will allow Bulgaria to start talks on the financing and construction of one Westinghouse AP-1000 nuclear reactor at a total estimated cost of about $5 billion.In a separate statement, Westinghouse said it will provide all of the plant equipment, design engineering and fuel and will open a tender next year for the construction of the unit, which should come online by 2023.Bulgaria, along with the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary and Slovakia, are all home to nuclear reactors that are 100 percent dependent on Russian nuclear fuel.
Apart from nuclear, Bulgaria meets almost all of its gas needs with Russian imports and its only oil refinery is controlled by Russia’s LUKOIL.
The EU this week for the first time agreed economic sanctions against Russia, marking the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
The sanctions avoid physical energy supplies, although they target technology for future oil projects. The EU is redoubling its efforts to reduce reliance on Russian energy supplies.
Bulgaria is one of the few European nations to build new nuclear plants in the wake of Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster as it seeks to keep a lid on electricity costs while cutting carbon emissions in its energy sector.
Genov said the new reactor would be largely financed by loans from credit export agencies, but the financing is yet to be agreed. He said Kozloduy will be able to repay the loans by selling the electricity on the local and regional market.
Dismissing criticism that the deal was concluded at the last minute by a government leaving office, Westinghouse said the agreement had been signed after consultations with all Bulgarian political parties.
Cost of BelNPP project within $11bn
OSTROVETS, 26 November (BelTA) – The cost of the Belarusian nuclear power plant (BelNPP) will not exceed $11 billion, Deputy Director General of the BelNPP Andrei Barkun told reporters on 26 November, BelTA has learned.
“The governments of Belarus and Russia concluded an agreement on providing a loan to build the BelNPP. The cost of the contract is preliminary. I can say that the cost of the Belarusian nuclear power plant will not exceed $11 billion,” the Deputy Director General said. Some 12.5% of the works have been performed and financed. Andrei Barkun stated that the devaluation of the Russian ruble will not affect the project. “In line with the agreement, the loan will be provided in dollars, therefore we are not particularly worried about the exchange rate of the Russian ruble,” he said.
The Belarusian nuclear power plant is being built 18km away from the town of Ostrovets, Grodno Oblast. The BelNPP will have two power-generating units with the total output capacity of up to 2,400MW (2×1,200MW). The Russian merged company OAO NIAEP – ZAO ASE is the general designer and the general contractor of the project. The AES-2006 design developed by the Saint Petersburg-based R&D company Atomenergoproject was chosen for building Belarus’ first nuclear power plant. The first power-generating unit of the nuclear power plant is scheduled for launch in 2018, the second one in 2020.
Russia and Iran Sign Nuclear Construction Deal
The head of the Russian state nuclear giant Rosatom, Sergey Kirienko, and the chief of the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, signed a series of documents, promoting the links in the field of peaceful application of atomic energy between the countries.
Among the documents was a contract to add two more units with pressurized water reactors to the Bushehr plant in Iran, constructed by Moscow in 2011.
Another agreement signed Tuesday provides for possibly building another two units at Bushehr sometime in the future, as well as four more at an undetermined location, Rosatom said.
“This is a turning point in relations between Russia and Iran,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, according to the Tass news agency. “These friendly actions, taken by Russia will be well-remembered.”
Sergei Kiriyenko said ”the building of eight reactor blocks in Iran is a big project expanding our cooperation for decades to come.”
No schedule was given for any of the planned construction.
Rosatom said that all the plants will be operated under safeguards mandated by the International Atomic Energy Agency, as the first unit of the Bushehr has been. It also will fully comply with the non-proliferation regime.
The nuclear fuel will be produced in Russia and shipped back there for reprocessing after use. The purpose of this arrangement is to eliminate suspicions that any of the nuclear material could be diverted for a weapons program.
Russia’s construction of Iran’s only operating nuclear power reactor at Bushehr went on for decades amid tensions over Iran’s suspected weapons ambitions. Rosatom turned over operational control of the plant to Iran in 2013.
Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said the deals signed Tuesday are part of Russia’s longer-term cooperation with Tehran.
“We are continuing the cooperation with Iran in the civilian nuclear sphere, in building new reactors to generate electricity,” he said.
U.S. Said to Join Russia in Blocking Nuclear Safety Moves
The U.S. and Russia are joining forces to block a European plan to raise the protection of nuclear reactors against natural disasters after the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant, diplomats say.
Envoys from both countries are trying to derail a Swiss-led initiative that would force nuclear operators to invest more on safety, undermining attempts to harmonize global safety regulation, according to eight European and U.S. diplomats who attended meetings in Vienna last week. All asked not to be named in line with rules kept by the Convention on Nuclear Safety, the legal body overseeing the talks.
Even as relations between Russia and the U.S. have sunk to a post-Cold War low over the crisis in Ukraine, the two powers have come together to press their shared interest in resisting more stringent safety guidelines, said the diplomats. The U.S. is the world’s biggest nuclear-power generator, while Russia exports more reactors than anyone else.
“Switzerland, as the initiator of the proposal, will continue to collaborate with all delegations and do everything to find a solution that is acceptable to all of us,” Georg Schwarz, deputy director general of the Swiss nuclear-safety regulator, ENSI, said in an e-mailed reply to questions.
The U.S.-Russia collaboration reflects a nuclear-safety convention whose secrecy is laid bare in documents obtained by Bloomberg News under a Freedom of Information Act request.
It also underscores the high stakes for an industry trying to bounce back after the Fukushima accident. European attempts to impose higher safety standards would make nuclear power more costly just as plant operators come under price pressure from cheaper natural gas.
Prompted by the March 2011 Fukushima incident, European regulators are seeking to rewrite international standards to ensure nuclear operators not only prevent accidents but mitigate consequences if they occur, by installing costly new structures built to survive natural disasters. The meltdown caused by a tsunami forced 160,000 people to flee radioactive contamination and led to the shutdown of all of Japan’s nuclear plants.
The European attempt became public in April during the previous Convention on Nuclear Safety meeting in Vienna. Switzerland consulted with engineers, regulators and diplomats from more than 50 countries before proposing the new rules. The stricter requirements were in line with a European Union directive issued three months later that required nuclear operators to bolster infrastructure at existing plants.
U.S. regulators aren’t requiring the same stringent modifications, according to Edwin Lyman of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. European utilities pay as much as five times more to fit out plants to withstand earthquakes and floods as a result, he said.
Electricite de France SA is spending about 10 billion euros ($13 billion) on additional safety features for its 59 reactors, according to its regulator, the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire. U.S. utilities will spend about $3 billion on portable generators and cooling reserves for about 100 reactors, FirstEnergy Corp. (FE) President Pete Sena said in July 31 testimony to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
French costs are higher because operators have to build a “hardened core” around their reactors that will be able to contain fallout if an accident occurs, its regulatory chief, Jean-Christophe Niel, said in July testimony to the NRC in Rockville, Maryland. Engineers are designing reinforced bunkers for back-up power and installing emergency cooling systems to contain a meltdown. The country is also reinforcing the concrete bases of its oldest reactors and creating elite teams of emergency responders.
At last week’s meeting, convened at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s headquarters, Russian envoy Oleg Postnikov offered praise for his American counterpart, Eliot Kang, after the U.S. argued against the European initiative, people who attended the meeting said. U.S. officials confirmed that their delegation fell into an uneasy alliance with Russia.
The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the record. Russian diplomats accredited to the IAEA didn’t respond to written requests and phone calls seeking comment.
Created in response to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in Ukraine, the convention has struggled to broaden safety standards. The group’s own secrecy has often undermined its intents. One former French envoy, Jean-Pierre Clausner, said that the opacity of the organization was “shocking,” according to the documents obtained under the Freedom of Information request.
“The whole process needs to be reviewed and significant changes should be introduced if the contracting parties are willing to maintain the usefulness of the convention,” Clausner wrote in 2005, the first year that the body allowed notes taken from its meeting to be preserved.
While nuclear meltdowns are considered cross-border incidents because of the radioactive fallout that can result, no international authority exists to compel countries to adopt safety standards. Instead, regulators from around the world routinely review each other’s practices to figure out which works best. Laggards face peer criticism that can make them look bad in forums like the convention.
At the convention’s 2008 meeting — the last before Fukushima — Japan was criticized by peers for being slow to overhaul a reporting system that had been caught using “falsified inspection data,” the documents show. Participants also urged Japan, then the world’s third-largest nuclear-power generator, to review how safe its reactors were against earthquakes.
Countries like China and India, where companies are building new reactors to cover growing electricity demand, have given some support to the European initiative, according to the diplomats. The safety-upgrade costs to new reactors aren’t as burdensome as retrofitting existing infrastructure, they said.
The U.S. said that the Europeans bushwhacked their delegation earlier this year by calling a vote to consider the safety amendment. The country’s nuclear industry would suffer if the European measure were to be adopted because it would create an international perception that the U.S. took safety less seriously.
“The nuclear industry in the U.S. is under great pressure from lower natural gas prices,” said Lyman from Vienna, where he is attending an IAEA meeting. “At the same time, the potential for capital upgrades to deal with post-Fukushima requirements was a worry that it could push them over the edge.”
Argentina’s IAEA envoy, Rafael Mariano Grossi, will convene the next safety meeting Feb. 9 to 13, when countries will decide on the Swiss measure.
The biggest challenge for the U.S. and Russia may not be convincing enough countries to vote against the measure, according to an official who organized last week’s talks. Their real test, he said, will be to come up with something better.