January 16, 2014

Japan Approves TEPCO Business Plan To Switch On Nuclear Reactors

Published on Thursday January 16 2014 (AEST)

TOKYO: Japan's government on Wednesday approved a fresh business plan for the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant that includes restarting idled reactors elsewhere in the currently nuclear-free country.

Industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi gave the green light to Tokyo Electric Power's plan, which involves pursuing the resumption of some operations at the huge Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station in northern Niigata prefecture.

The proposal also envisages the creation of a special unit to dismantle the plant at Fukushima which went into meltdown following a massive tsunami in March 2011.

Japan has 50 reactors, all of which are currently offline following the Fukushima crisis.

TEPCO has argued that restarting selected reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, the world's largest nuclear power plant, is the key to ensuring the company's survival as it battles huge costs.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also argued that nuclear energy is necessary to power Japan's economy, a divisive position supported by big businesses but unpopular among voters.

TEPCO must still seek permission from local politicians for refiring units at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, meaning reactors will not be restarted anytime soon.

Governor Hirohiko Izumida remains critical of TEPCO, and has demanded the utility first explain to him exactly what happened at the Fukushima plant before seeking his permission to restart reactors in his region.

TEPCO, struggling with the cost of cleaning up the mess at Fukushima, decommissioning crippled reactors and paying compensation to those forced to flee their homes and businesses near the plant has largely been nationalised.

If TEPCO went under, it could deal a huge blow to the viability of some of its lenders, which would have knock-on effects in other parts of the economy.

Its failure could also affect electricity production in the economically-vital Tokyo area.

TEPCO's plan also involves restructuring that would separate the company's power generation business from its distribution operation and cut 2,000 jobs as part of cost reduction efforts, local media have said.

It would create a holding company with several sub-units dedicated to separate tasks, including one that would be solely responsible for decommissioning Fukushima's battered reactors.

The government believes it may take 40 years to completely dismantle the plant and could require the use of technology that has not yet been invented.

If the business revival plan succeeds, the government would sell some of its controlling stake in the company to give it more managerial freedom.

The company is to dispatch some 500 experienced staff to Fukushima to boost its efforts to contain the crippled nuclear plant, where engineers still do not know exactly what the inside of the reactors look like.



January 12, 2014

Germany’s Wind and Solar Power Production Fails The Test

Published on Sunday January 12 2014 (AEST)  

Renewables Fiasco: Doldrums And Clouds Bring Green Electricity Production To A Halt

Germany’s wind and solar power production came to an almost complete standstill in early December. More than 23,000 wind turbines stood still. One million photovoltaic systems stopped work nearly completely. For a whole week coal, nuclear and gas power plants had to generate an estimated 95 percent of Germany’s electricity supply.

<br /><br />
<u>Ökostrom meldet sich ab </u><br>Wind und Sonne tragen zuweilen über weite Zeiträume fast nichts zur Stromversorgung bei. Als der Orkan „Xaver“ abgezogen war, setze eine Flaute mit Hochnebel ein. In der Erzeugungskurve der zweiten Dezemberwoche wird der Windkraft-Anteil zu einer hauchdünnen Linie. Auch die <b>Solaranlagen produzieren nur für zwei oder drei Stunden am Mittag minimale Mengen</b>. Konventionelle Kraftwerke, in der Grafik die große graue Basis, mussten die ganze Woche über die <b>Last der Stromversorgung fast allein tragen</b>. In Zeiten typischer winterlicher Hochdrucklagen kann eine solche Situation auch mal zwei Wochen anhalten. Der Beitrag von Biomasse- und Geothermie-Anlagen ist so gering, dass er in diesem Grafikmaßstab nicht gezeigt werden kann. Die aktuell verfügbaren Pumpspeicher könnten Deutschland vier oder fünf Stunden lang mit Strom versorgen, nicht aber eine ganze Woche.<br /><br />
Over long periods of time wind and solar energy generate almost no power at all. After the storm “Xavier” died down, the doldrums and high fog set in. In the second week of December the generating curve for the share of wind power shows a very thin line. At the same time, solar panels produced minimal amounts of energy and that for just over two to three hours at noon. Conventional power plants (the large gray base in the graph above) had to carry the full load for power supply for almost the entire week. 

Such winter anticyclones are quite common and can last two weeks at times. The contribution of biomass and geothermal energy plants is so minimal that it can not be shown in this graphic scale. The currently available pumped storage could supply Germany four or five hours with power, but not for a whole week let alone two.

Last spring, Germans enjoyed a series of cheerful messages that warmed the hearts of fans of the green energy revolution. “Wind and solar power production now at record hight’, announced the “International Economic Forum on Renewable Energies” (IWR ) on 19 April. “Green power with 35 gigawatts is now linked to the grid, this corresponds to the output of 26 nuclear power plants.”

And so it continued: The owners of photovoltaic solar power cracked the previous record on 27 July with a feed of 204 gigawatt hours. Some time later, renewable energy was predicted to generate almost the complete power supply in Germany. On 3 October, for the duration of one hour, the operators of wind and solar systems came pretty close: On the day of German unity at 14:00 hours, renewables produced at least 67 percent of Germany’s electricity needs.

In the face of such impressive numbers who would not dream of the omnipotence of renewable energy? Then came the storm “Xaver” in early December which caused “wind power equivalent to the output of 26 medium-sized nuclear power plants,” the Münster IWR announced cheerfully.

What better proof that renewable energy has already made conventional power plants largely redundant?
Even the energy industry claimed only recently that fairly soon Germany would only need “back-up power plants” to help out during the short periods when the wind is not blowing.

The cheering claims of the eco-statisticians, however, have serious consequences. Many Germans now regard the era of green power close to completion, the green energy shift almost at its goal. Who therefore needs coal power plants?
According to a recent survey conducted by the polling institute TNS Emnid a third of Germans believe that current energy production can be generated “immediately without any coal power or it could be abandoned by 2020.” Germans estimate that electricity generated by coal and lignite power plants to be on average just 25 percent. In truth, it is almost twice as high at 44 percent.

Given this lack of knowledge it is hardly surprising if the energy debate is occasionally marked by euphoric exuberance. “Pull the plug on Vattenfall”, “Expropriate RWE”, “Drive E.on out of the country” – why not do so today if renewables generate so much electricity already?

The statistics of the apparently beautiful green electricity production, however, have one catch: They give a completely false sense of security. During the cold winter period renewable energy often fails to generate any appreciable amount of electricity for weeks and months. A foretaste of this problem was presented by the storm “Xavier” in early December: As soon as it was gone, doldrums and high fog arrived.

Wind turbines stand still for days
Last week Germany’s wind and solar power production was consistently near to non-existent. More than 23,000 German wind turbines stood still for days. One million photovoltaic systems, subsidized by consumers to the tune of with 108 billion euros, stopped work nearly complete and delivered a few kilowatt hours only very briefly during lunch. For the whole week unloved coal, nuclear and gas power plants had to generate an estimated 95 percent of Germany’s electricity supply.

For the new Economic and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel (Social Democratic Party, SPD) the unreliable contribution of renewable energy presents a dilemma: on the one hand, he may not want to be seen to slow down the green energy transition (Energiewende).

On the other hand, it will not add anything to the German power supply if the green power expansion continues and when in the future 40,000 instead of the current 23,000 wind turbines stand still in the doldrums – or when two million instead of one million solar panels do not generate any electricity during the long winter darkness.



January 7, 2014

Niger and France unable to reach an agreement on Uranium talks

Published on Tuesday January 07 2014 (AEST)


Negotiations between Niger and the French nuclear energy conglomerate Areva have hardened as the two sides seek to reach an agreement on uranium extraction in the Western African country. EurActiv.fr reports.
The talks are still ongoing despite a 31 December deadline, with fiscal matters seen as the most sensitive issue.

Discussions centre on the implementation of Niger's 2006 mining law that allows Niamey to increase taxes on uranium extraction. Areva refuses to comply with the taxation rules and wants to conserve the fiscal exonerations foreseen by the previous extraction agreement.

Although uranium represents 70% of Niger’s exports, it only contributes 5.8% to its GDP, according to Oxfam, the development NGO. Areva rejects those figures and argues that Niger has earned €871 million from uranium extraction in the past 40 years, representing 85% of the direct income generated by this mining activity. Areva has earned €129 million (13%) and €24 million went to foreign partners (2%), the French public company says.

Tug of war
The renegotiation of the contract between one of the world’s poorest countries and the French public multinational are expected to conclude with a new agreement for the next ten years.

Previous contracts expired on 31 December 2013 but Areva minimises the effects this could have. “31 December was not a cut-off date given that the negotiations are ongoing,” a spokesperson for the group told EurActiv.fr.

The date carries some significance, however, as it coincided with a maintenance operation in the two factories in charge of extracting uranium – Cominac and Somaïr.

“The mines are under maintenance until mid-January,” Areva says, refusing to link the progress in the negotiations with the current maintenance operations.

For Oxfam, this is no less than blackmail. “This is typical for this kind of trade negotiations: laying-off employees temporarily, thereby raising the spectre of unemployment,” claims Anne-Sophie Simpere, an advisor at Oxfam.

Areva is also using another lever in the negotiation, warning about the drop in global demand for uranium since the 2011 Fukushima disaster. According to the French multinational, the Japanese nuclear disaster has put the profitability of the two mines in Niger at risk.
Niamey, for its part, is hoping to get a better deal out of Areva's dependence on Niger as its first provider of uranium.
“Areva does not have that many uranium extraction sites and I am not sure they can do without Niger in the short term,” Simpere stressed.

Contradictory information
As for the position of the Nigerian government, information varies.
Last week, Mohamed Bazoum, minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that Niamey could relax the taxation system on Areva thanks to the low uranium prices. But the information was swiftly denied by other members of the government, according to the French public radio broadcaster, RFI.

“For the last few days we’ve heard everything and its opposite but when it comes to the transparency of the process, there is no progress,” Anne-Sophie Simpere regretted.

Another bone of contention between Areva and Niamey is the opening of a mine in Imouraren which would make Niger the world’s second producer of uranium. The opening was planned in 2012 but Areva pushed it back to 2016.

This four-year delay means less taxation revenue for Niger and could weigh in the ongoing negotiations.



January 4, 2014

Areva's Niger Uranium Mines Halt Production As Licence Talks Continue

Published on Saturday January 04 2014 (AEST)

French state-controlled nuclear group Areva has closed its two uranium mines in Niger for a month of maintenance while it negotiates with the government over the renewal of its licences, a company spokesman said on Friday.

Niger, the world's fourth-largest uranium producer, is trying to extract increased royalties from the French group, with the mines operating in legal limbo after the expiry of their licences. Confirming union information, the company spokesperson said Areva's Somair and Cominak mines have been closed since mid-December and will remain closed until mid-January. The mines' ten-year licences expired on December 31, though Niger issued a decree on December 27 that potentially provides a legal framework for them to continue operating for now.

"The directors of the mines have told us they have stopped operations because they operate in a legal vacuum," Salifou Chipkaou, deputy secretary general of the Synamin miners union, told Reuters.

Inoua Neino, secretary general of Syntramin, another miners' union, told Reuters that the maintenance had merely been brought forward from April. "Contrary to what some are saying, this is not a move by Areva to put pressure on the government during the talks," he said.

An Areva spokesperson said the mines routinely close for maintenance about twice a year for periods between 15 days to a month.

Sources told Reuters last month that the licence negotiations would be extended by up to three months after the two sides failed to clinch a deal ahead of the year-end deadline. The talks have been going on for nearly two years.

Niger accounts for more than a third of Areva's uranium production and President Mahamadou Issoufou's government wants to increase the royalties the company's mines pay from 5.5% of revenues to as high as 12%, officials say.

The former French colony remains one of the world's poorest nations despite its mineral wealth.
Areva, which is nearly 90% owned by the French government, says that an increase in the royalties rate would make its Niger operations unprofitable.

It owns about two thirds of the open-air Somair mine, which produced a little more than 3 000 t of yellowcake last year, and around 34% of the smaller underground Cominak mine.

France obtains 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy but has never said to what extent it relies on Niger for uranium to fuel its 58 nuclear reactors.

Niger authorities and non-governmental organisations say that one in three light bulbs in France is powered by Niger uranium. A French parliamentary committee report in 2008 put the figure at nearly a fifth.

In 2012 Areva sourced nearly 37% of its 9 760 t of uranium production from Niger and French state-controlled utility EDF has told Reuters that Areva supplies 40% of its annual uranium needs.