December 31, 2013

Cameco Attains go-ahead on Millennium Uranium Mine

Published on Tuesday December 31 2013 (AEST)  

The province is giving the go-ahead to Cameco Corporation for a new uranium mine 600 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

It's called the "Millennium Project."


The government approved the company's environmental impact assessment earlier this month.
One of the features of the project is that there will be no mill or long-term waste management facilities at the site. Rather, the uranium will be shipped by truck to the nearby Key Lake mine for processing.

The environmental review looked at potentially harmful impacts on fish, water and wildlife. It concluded that, if the company follows its plan, then the impacts should be minimal, and reversible once the site is decommissioned.



December 30, 2013

US, Russia complete 'Megatons to Megawatts' program aimed at eliminating Uranium

Published on Monday December 30 2013 (AEST)  
 Sept. 5, 2013: Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, welcomes President Obama before the first working session of the G20 Summit in Constantine Palace in Strelna near St. Petersburg, Russia. (Reuters)

 America’s energy industry is looking ahead after the mid-December conclusion of a post-Cold War deal between the U.S. and Russia that eliminated enough enriched uranium to fill 20,000 nuclear bombs -- and provided nearly 10 percent of total U.S. energy consumption over two decades. 

NPR reports on the completion of the unlikely “Megatons to Megawatts” program under which the U.S. spent $17 billion since 1993 buying 500 tons of downgraded nuclear fuel culled from old Russian bombs then sold to commercial energy interests in America for use in their own reactors. 

"The Megatons to Megawatts program made a substantial contribution both to the elimination of nuclear weapons material and to nuclear energy generation in the United States," U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz reportedly said upon the official conclusion of the historic program. "Nearly every commercial nuclear reactor in the United States received nuclear fuel under the program." And Matthew Bunn, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, calls the program one of the greatest diplomatic achievements in history. "I mean, think about it – 20,000 bombs' worth of nuclear material, destroyed forever," he told NPR. "[Bombs that] will never threaten anybody ever again." World Nuclear News reports that with the arrival of the final shipment of nuclear fuel – four cylinders worth – in Baltimore Harbor earlier this month from St. Petersburg, the program will now continue, albeit in a modified form. 

Techsnabexport, or Tenex, a subsidiary of the Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom, will now reportedly supply nuclear fuel to a private U.S. company for distribution. However, that fuel will originate from Russia's commercial enrichment of uranium, rather than the systematic transformation of former weapons materials. 

The Megatons to Megawatts program is rooted in the aftermath of the former Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. Philip Sewell tells NPR that shortly after the political situation unraveled, he visited old U.S.S.R. military facilities on behalf of the U.S. Dept. of Energy. "Windows were broken, gates were not locked, and there were very few people around," Sewell reportedly said, adding that the porous conditions provided ample opportunity for the potential theft of nuclear materials. 

The solution was the Megatons to Megawatts program, or one the Russians initially rejected, but soon thereafter accepted in order to secure badly needed funds during what was then a time of national crisis. "It was a matter of pride, principle and patriotism," Sewell told NPR. "Even though they didn't need that excess material, [and] they didn't have the money to protect it, they didn't want to let go of it."



December 28, 2013

Future of Nuclear Production without Uranium Ore what will be next?

Published on Saturday December 28 2013 (AEST)

Today, power production cannot do without nuclear power plants, which account for 10% of the electrical power generated.

According to experts, nuclear power production will remain viable for several decades to come, more specifically until we've mined all uranium ore and have none left.
All nuclear power plants operate on the same principle, specifically on the use of heat that's released during the fission of uranium in a sustained chain reaction. Heat makes water boil, with the steam causing the turbine to rotate and generate electricity. To regulate the emission of heat, special-purpose substances are introduced into the active area of the reactor to slow down the ongoing nuclear reaction.

The first experimental reactor started operation in Chicago in 1942. Its output was negligible, barely sufficient to sustain the chain reaction. It was all top secret, so no photographers were ever let in and no photos of the reactor were therefore made.

1946 saw research reactors start operation in Canada and at Moscow's Kurchatov Institute research centre. Now, electricity began to be generated on industrial scale for the first time in 1954, at the Obninsk nuclear power plant near Moscow. A nuclear physicist and an expert on nuclear power production, Igor Ostretsov, says that graphite was used at Obninsk to slow down the nuclear reaction.

"Graphite-moderated reactors emerged from so-called industrial reactors that were used to obtain plutonium for nuclear bombs. This gave rise to the making of high-power channel-type reactors, of which Russia has built 14, including the four that were used at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. One of the four is known to have exploded. It was good as a plutonium-breeding reactor, but bad as a power producer. As they became bigger in size, these reactors revealed a lot of problems that eventually resulted in a disaster".

The advantage of graphite reactors is that they run on low-enriched or even natural uranium, and boast low construction costs.

Russia is the only country to operate these kinds of graphite reactors today. Moscow has made a decision not to prolong their service life. Differently built graphite reactors are also operational in the UK. The high-power channel-type reactors will be replaced by safer boiling water reactors, says a senior expert with the Institute for Energy and Finance, Sergei Kondratyev, and elaborates.

"The basic difference is that the new reactors have a stable negative feedback, in other words, if the chain reaction grows too fast, the reactor will shut itself down. That was not often the case with the high-power channel-type reactors. This is very important in terms of safety, for another Chernobyl plant-type accident is just ruled out. The new reactors have several coolant circuits, which makes radioactive contamination of the coolant or scatter radiation quite unlikely".

A number of boiling-water reactor modifications have been used extensively across the world recently. But let's not forget about yet another type of reactors, namely fast-neutron reactors. Here's more from Sergei Kondratyev.

"Russia has currently only one fast-neutron reactor operational, at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant, in the Sverdlovsk Region. Russia is the leader in building such reactors and has recently helped build one in China. But the developed countries, such as Japan and France, have frozen programmes involving the fast-neutron reactor technology, which is quite expensive. But these reactors could help settle the problem of reprocessing and regenerating nuclear fuel, since we realize that uranium is a non-renewable fuel".

Today Russia and other countries build generation III+ nuclear reactors, which by far surpass the IAEA safety requirements. The reactors have by far higher temperature of the nuclear reaction, which boosts energy efficiency. Designers have been thinking of ways to produce generation IV reactors. Surprisingly, one of the six types of future reactors will use graphite. The first generation IV nuclear power plant will hardly be built before 2030, and this is what Sergei Kondratyev says about the output of this kind of reactor.

"Two trends are likely to emerge in building generation IV reactors. The first one is that the new reactors will boast an increasingly great energy output, which is understandable. A power plant area matters, because areas are mostly densely-populated and land is expensive. On the other hand, we've seen a keen interest in building small compact nuclear power plants, because power-consuming industries have recently been located in remote areas. I believe we will live to see both mini-nuclear power plants and extra-power reactors".

World nations can go on developing ways to produce nuclear power for the next 60 years or so, when we run out of all proved uranium reserves, Igor Ostretsov says. According to the expert, scientists should learn to use accelerators to ensure direct uranium-238 and thorium combustion. And then we'll take all nuclear power production from the Earth to the Moon, sometime in the late 21st century.




December 19, 2013

Nuclear Future As China Leads The way

Published on Thursday December 19 2013 (AEST)  
This clip from the ABC science program 'Catalyst' contains an exclusive look at recent developments in nuclear reactor technology in China. 

The pebble-bed test reactor is claimed by Chinese scientists to be a safe alternative to more traditional water-cooled reactors and the clip contains a test sequence showing the pebble-bed test reactor avoiding a 'meltdown' test scenario.

Reporter Mark Horstman interviews scientist Professor Wu Zongxin, who explains how pebble-bed reactors operate. 

Advances in high temperature nuclear reactor fuel – TRISO integrity at 1800 C!

 A safer and more efficient nuclear fuel is on the horizon. A team of researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have reached a new milestone with tristructural-isotropic (TRISO) fuel, showing that this fourth-generation reactor fuel might be even more robust than previously thought.


TRISO particle – 1 mm diameter

Cross section of TRISO fuel particleIn the past three years, David Petti, director of the Very High Temperature Reactor Technology Development Office, and his team have studied the safety of TRISO fuel. New insights come courtesy of post-irradiation examination of the fuel, which has been a team effort between INL and ORNL.

Their findings reveal that after subjecting the fuel to extreme temperatures — far greater temperatures than it would experience during normal operation or postulated accident conditions — TRISO fuel is even more robust than expected. Specifically, the team found that even at 1,800 degrees Celsius (more than 200 degrees Celsius greater than postulated accident conditions) most fission products remained inside the fuel particles, which each boast their own primary containment system.

 TRISO particles in matrix“The release of fission products is very low,” says Petti.
TRISO fuel particles are the size of poppy seeds. Break one open, and it looks like the inside of a tiny jaw-breaker. An outer shell of carbon coats a layer of silicon carbide, which coats another layer of carbon and the uranium center — where the energy-releasing fission happens. Byproducts of the fission process have the potential to escape the fuel, especially at very high temperatures.

To study the fuel under accident conditions, Petti and his team placed six capsules inside INL’s Advanced Test Reactor core, where they were subjected to neutron irradiation. Then, controlled, high-temperature testing of the irradiated fuel in furnaces at INL and ORNL demonstrated that fission product release remains relatively low at high temperatures postulated to occur in accidents and beyond.

“This first series of TRISO test fuel has performed above the team’s expectations, both during its three years in the ATR, and throughout the subsequent high-temperature testing,” says John Hunn, ORNL project lead for TRISO fuel development and post-irradiation examination.

 “The ability of the fuel to retain fission products at such high temperatures translates directly to enhanced safety of the reactor,” said Paul Demkowicz, the technical lead for post-irradiation examination of TRISO fuel for the Very High Temperature Reactor program. “This sort of test data is important input for reactor design and reactor licensing.”

He and his team were able to identify the few individual particles that did secrete cesium and isolate them for further analysis. They did this by dissolving the matrix that contained the particles — thousands in each chalk-sized fuel pellet.

“We’ve developed a tool that uses computer-controlled automation to sort through thousands of irradiated particles and identify the rare defects,” said Hunn. “Careful study of these few defective particles, along with the numerous particles that perform well, allows us to complete the TRISO fuel development circle by connecting the fabrication process and material properties to performance in the reactor.”

The insights gained will also “improve our ability to fabricate even better particles in the future,” said Demkowicz.
Petti wants to further explore the fuel particles’ limits. “If the fuel performs well at 1,800 [degrees Celsius], what about higher temperatures?” he said.

This revelation comes 11 years into INL and ORNL’s joint study of TRISO fuel, which began in 2002. TRISO fuel was developed and used in Germany in the 1980s. U.S. researchers have shown that their own version of the fuel can achieve more than twice the burn-up levels — that is, the amount of the fuel that is used to release energy — clocking in at nearly 20 percent burn-up.



December 11, 2013

Nuclear Power Here To Stay Says French Industry Minister

Published on Wednesday December 11 2013 (AEST)  

Nuclear power will always provide at least half of France's electricity, the country's industry minister was reported as saying in China on Sunday, defying calls by the green arm of the government to exit nuclear altogether.

The ability of the world's most nuclear-reliant country to continue to sell its atomic expertise overseas has been questioned since France vowed to cut nuclear power to 50 percent of its electricity mix by 2025, down from 75 percent currently, and boost renewables capacity.

But Arnaud Montebourg, the French industry minister, insisted that nuclear power will remain a key element of France's energy mix, newspaper Journal du Dimanche reported.

"Nuclear will always make up at least half of our energy (electricity output)," he was quoted as saying during a Franco-Chinese seminar in Beijing on Friday to commemorate a 30-year partnership in the nuclear sector.

"Nuclear energy is a sector of the future," he added.

French Energy group Areva is currently building two next-generation nuclear reactors in Taishan in the southern province of Guangdong and is in talks with China to build two other reactors.

China is either building, or planning to build, up to 30 nuclear power plants - the biggest nuclear construction project in the world.

"Talks are still ongoing for the reactors 3 and 4, but those are talks at the political level," France's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told TV journalists during the trip to drum up business for French companies.

France's EDF last month signed a deal with Britain to build a 16 billion pound ($26 billion) nuclear plant in southwest England - the first new nuclear plant in Europe since Japan's Fukushima disaster.



December 8, 2013

Ur-Energy's Lost Creek Uranium Mine In Wyoming Makes First U3O8 Shipment

Published on Sunday December 08 2013 (AEST)

Ur-Energy's Lost Creek uranium facility made its first shipment this week, sending 35,000 pounds of yellowcake uranium to an Illinois conversion plant.

The shipment came seven years after the in-situ uranium recovery site north of Rawlins was first proposed.
The mine soon expects to be shipping two to four truckloads a month, said Wayne Heili, president of Casper-based Ur-Energy, the company that owns and operates the sites. Each truckload weighs 35,000 pounds.

"There was a certain amount of enthusiasm about seeing that first shipment leave the site," Heili said. "It is not every day you see a company succeed in its long-term goals."

Uranium prices have slumped in recent years. The $130 per pound prices of 2007 are gone, replaced by today's average of $36 per pound on the spot market. Long-term contracts for yellowcake are slightly better, averaging $50 per pound.

One-third to a half of Lost Creek's production will be sold through long-term deals, Heili said. The company should benefit from signing its contracts two years ago, with the average price of those deals averaging $60 per pound or higher.

Lost Creek's mines and production plant began producing uranium in August. Production rates in September put the mine on track to make 800,000 pounds of uranium for the year. The facility is designed to produce up to 1 million pounds annually.

In-situ uranium recovery sees a mixture of water, oxygen and baking soda injected into the ground, where it dissolves the uranium. The radioactive substance is then pumped to the surface for processing.
The site began drying recovered uranium in October and has been stockpiling inventory since, Heili said.

Yellowcake uranium is the fuel source for nuclear power generation. Almost 40 ounces of uranium produces the same amount of power as three tons of coal.



December 3, 2013

Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill Granted Radioactive Materials Licence

Published on Tuesday December 03 2013 (AEST)  

The first new uranium mill in 30 years is one step closer to being built since the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment granted a radioactive materials license to the Canadian-based Energy Fuels.<

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Energy Fuels Resources Corp. has said it plans to build the Pinon Ridge Mill, approximately 12 miles west of Naturita in Montrose County when the price of uranium increases.

The mill would process uranium ore from regional mines to produce uranium oxide, which will then be trucked out-of-state for further processing into nuclear-reactor fuel for customers in the U.S. and South Korea. The mill is also slated to refine vanadium, a metal used in steel alloys and high-tech batteries.

The next step for Energy Fuels is to acquire an air quality permit, company spokesman Curtis Moore said.

“Once we receive that, our plan is to build a mill when market conditions warrant,” Moore said. “I can’t say when that will be.”

Energy Fuels also owns the White Mesa uranium mill in Blanding, Utah.

That mill “is not operating at capacity,” Moore said. “As the price (for uranium) rises, at some point the Blanding mill will reach capacity, at which point Pinon Ridge will be needed.”

Various environmental groups appealed the state’s first approval of the radioactive materials license in 2011. Judge Richard Dana ruled in favor of the activists after learning the state health department had not held formal public hearings.

In November, the state held additional public meetings in Nucla to allow cross-examination of witnesses and to solicit additional public comment.

Last month the state announced that Energy Fuels had met all the regulatory requirements for the radioactive materials license for the Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill.

Marv Ballantyne of Montrose is disappointed that the state is allowing Energy Fuels to proceed.

“I personally feel if Energy Fuels is not going to build it now,” it shouldn’t have been approved, Ballantyne said. “They want to get under the regulations that exist today.

“The state is more in the business of approving applications than safeguarding human health in Colorado,” which is their job.

The mill and the estimated 85 jobs that would come with it are largely welcomed by the small community there, although those potential jobs are years away.

Jaimy Fulbright, a youth services librarian in Naturita, is one of those in favor of the mill.

“I’m excited. My husband is a displaced uranium miner, so for us this is great,” Fulbright said.

Mill opponents believe a more sustainable economy could be built on tourism.

“There’s the start of a tourism business going on there,” Ballantyne said. “It’s beautiful. There’s rock climbing, mountain biking, canoeing. It’s a viable attraction. But who would want to do it with a uranium mill to look at?”

The State of Colorado has established a $13 million financial surety with Energy Fuels for future clean-up of the site. Another separate agreement with Telluride and San Miguel County increased Energy Fuels’ bond to $15 million.

In an April news release the department’s executive director and chief medical officer, Chris Urbina stated: From the beginning, we have listened carefully to the public and worked with Energy Fuels to minimize risks to public health and the environment. Today’s engineering standards — and strict environmental regulations — far exceed those in place when the last such mill was constructed more than 25 years ago. We are confident these standards and regulations will ensure the safe construction and operation of the facility.




December 1, 2013

Climate Scientists say it is time to go Nuclear Stirs Debate In Utah USA

Published on Sunday December 01 2013 (AEST)  

SALT LAKE CITY — Four world-renowned climate scientists have penned a letter to the environmental community, urging its support for developing a new generation of nuclear power as a way to address climate change.

"With the planet warming and carbon dioxide emissions rising faster than ever, we cannot afford to turn away from any technology that has the potential to displace a large fraction of our carbon emissions," they wrote. "Much has changed since the 1970s. The time has come for a fresh approach to nuclear power in the 21st century."

The letter distributed over the weekend was signed by Ken Caldeira, senior scientist with the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution; Kerry Emanuel, atmospheric scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Tom Wigley, climate scientist, University of Adelaide in Australia and the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and James Hansen, climate scientist at Columbia University Earth Institute.

Hansen is a controversial figure who left NASA to embrace a full-time climate activist role. In 1988, he testified before Congress on the effects of man-caused emissions and their role in a warming climate, raising the climate alarm that has since been echoed by a growing scientific community.

"Quantitative analyses show that the risks associated with the expanded use of nuclear energy are orders of magnitude smaller than the risks associated with fossil fuels," the scientists wrote. "No energy system is without downsides. We only ask that energy system decisions be based on facts, and not on emotions and biases that do not apply to 21st century nuclear technology."

In Utah, the letter brought a shrug from the anti-nuclear activist organization, HEAL Utah, which has been fighting to derail a proposed twin-reactor nuclear power plant outside of Emery County's Green River.
"It is not an unfamilar perspective," said Matt Panceza, the group's policy director. "This general notion has been kicking around for a bit."

Panceza mentioned the film, Pandora's Promise, that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and will air on CNN Thursday at 7 p.m. Directed by Robert Stone, the production showcases environmental activists once opposed to nuclear power who now favor it. The trailer challenges the audience with this question: "Can you be an environmentalist and be pro-nuclear? In light of climate change, can you be an environmentalist and not be pro-nuclear?"

Panceza said the scientists are giving too much credit to the environmental community.
"It strikes me as a little silly," he said. "We are not the audience. They should be writing letters to the utility executives and the president of the United States. I am surprised that we are supposed to be the magic bullet that keeps nuclear power from moving forward."

Panceza said the real issue boils down to money.
"It's not doing well because it costs too much."

The scientists' letter, however, said nuclear power needs to be encouraged based on its societal benefits, and renewables such as wind and solar cannot "scale up" fast enough to deliver the power a global economy requires.

"We appreciate your organization's concern about global warming and your advocacy of renewable energy," the letter said. "But continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity's ability to avoid dangerous climate change."

Aaron Tilton, president and chief executive officer of Blue Castle Holdings — the company behind the development of the Utah's nuclear power plant — said he agrees with the letter but for different reasons.
"We are concerned about the environment and as a developer and company that is trying to put together a resource for the state to use," he said.

Tilton pointed to the difficulties already confronting coal-fired power plants operating under an increasingly stringent regulatory framework that will only become more constrained in the future.
"It is virtually impossible at this point to get a permit for coal-fired emissions, so we don't see alternatives for a base load resource for power," he said. "They (the scientists) may have different reasons, but the goal is the same and the answer is the same: that nuclear power represents one scenario."