Tag Archives: energy security

Nuclear Power Alive with Assured Fuel Supply

As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to strengthen global nuclear nonproliferation efforts, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced the availability of a reserve stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) for use as commercial nuclear power fuel. The stockpile was derived from down-blending surplus highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the U.S. stockpile.

This new American Assured Fuel Supply (AFS) creates a vehicle for promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy without exacerbating nuclear proliferation risks. Through this plan, the U.S. is able to encourage wider use of nuclear power production at the same time as it meets U.S. nuclear disarmament obligations.

The AFS sets aside LEU down-blended from surplus U.S. weapons HEU to serve as a backup fuel supply for foreign or domestic reactors in the event of a supply disruption. Along with the International Fuel Bank to be administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the AFS gives nation states that are looking to nuclear power as a clean energy source an assured supply of LEU, decreasing the need to develop costly enrichment technology. Establishing this reserve will put confidence in the U.S. as a reliable supplier of nuclear fuel and should encourage other governments to see American nuclear vendors as preferable partners.

“As more countries look to nuclear power as a low-carbon option for addressing growing energy demands, assuring a fuel supply without promoting proliferation sensitive technologies is a critical national security priority,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “In addition to protecting fuel supplies for commercial power producers, the Assured Fuel Supply helps demonstrate our commitment to nuclear nonproliferation by eliminating surplus weapons uranium in a way that promotes the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

In 2005, the Department of Energy announced that the U.S. would set aside 17.4 metric tons of surplus HEU to be blended-down to LEU and held in reserve to deal with disruptions in the nuclear fuel supply. The down-blending of the 17.4 metric tons of surplus HEU is scheduled for completion in 2012. When complete, it will result in approximately 290 metric tons of LEU, of which approximately 230 metric tons will form the reserve. The remainder of the LEU is being used to pay for the down-blending and processing costs. This will leave the AFS with approximately six reloads for an average 1,000 MW reactor.

The AFS reserve is modest in size and designed not to disrupt or replace market mechanisms. Rather, it is to be sold at market value in the event of demonstrated need after all other market options are exhausted.  DOE published an announcement of the availability of the AFS today in the Federal Register. The AFS will be available through U.S. persons to both domestic and foreign recipients. The Secretary of Energy will approve any AFS sale and have the authority to prioritize requests.

The NNSA’s Office of Nonproliferation and International Security will chair an AFS Committee that will be responsible for assessing eligibility of applicants and making a recommendation to the Secretary on the sale of LEU from the AFS. This Committee will include representatives from several different DOE offices, including DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, and the DOE and NNSA Offices of General Counsel.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation’s national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.

DOE, NNSA Announce Availability of Reserve Stockpile of Nuclear Power Reactor Fuel Material from Down-blending of Surplus Weapons-Usable Uranium, Press Release, Aug 18, 2011

Dams in Chile: what’s the altnernative?

The protests in Chine in June 2011 have gone beyond predictable leftist agitation. The government seems surprised by the breadth of opposition to the proposed HidroAysén electricity scheme. The plan involves building five dams on two Patagonian rivers, flooding 5,900 hectares (14,600 acres) of nature reserves. Chile, with little oil and gas, faces an energy shortage, especially if the economy continues to grow by 6% a year. Officials point out that opponents of the dams have failed to propose a feasible alternative. But many Chileans worry at the threat to part of their country’s raw beauty. Some say Mr Piñera gives more weight to the concerns of business than of the environment, and that he should have organised a national debate on energy policy before pushing ahead with HidroAysén.

Protests in Chile: Marching on, Economist, June 25, 2011, at 48

Fracking in the European Union

Poland may have western Europe’s largest reserves of shale gas. A dozen global gas-exploration companies have promised to drill as many as 120 test wells over the next few years to find out. The prize could be trillions of cubic metres of gas. It is “a huge and expensive gamble”, says Tomasz Maj, the head of Polish operations for Talisman Energy, one of the exploration firms….But the extraction of shale gas is controversial. It requires fracking: blasting fissures in subterranean rock and pumping in water and sand, and occasionally nasty chemicals, to force out the gas. France won’t do it. There is local resistance in the Netherlands. Yet other countries’ qualms may make fracking more attractive for Poland. If others won’t frack, they will probably buy Polish gas.

European energy policy is in turmoil. Germany decided last month to abandon nuclear energy. A referendum in Italy on June 12th also said “no thanks” to nuclear power. Reliable sources of energy are inadequate to meet future demand. Poland sees an opportunity.  “We’ll never be an oil state, but we could become a Norway,” says Andrzej Kozlowski of PKN Orlen, an oil company in which the government has a 28% stake. The Polish government is keen to attract firms with experience of fracking in North America, such as ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips. It has awarded nearly 90 concessions so far. These are cheap, and production royalties will be low. But firms will be penalised if they fail to drill the promised test wells…Fracking is a completely new industry for Poland, so the government is anxious to get the rules right. Taxes must be low enough to encourage investment, but high enough to raise revenues. Getting neutral advice on the environmental risks is not easy. Fracking can damage the water table, disrupt communities and even cause earthquakes. (In Britain on May 31st Cuadrilla Resources said it was halting a fracking operation near Blackpool, pending investigation of two small earth tremors which it may have triggered.)

The French government imposed a moratorium on fracking on May 11th. In Britain, by contrast, a parliamentary committee was friendly to fracking. EU law allows member states to exploit their natural resources as they see fit, but subject to minimum environmental standards. The European Commission is due to roll out its long-term energy strategy in November, which could affect fracking. But Poland, whose six-month presidency of the European Council begins in July, is in a good position to influence what it says. On June 21st Poland was the only EU member to vote against a proposed tightening of carbon-emissions targets for 2020.

Energy in Poland:Fracking heaven,Ecomomist, June 25, 2011, at 79