A Free-Market Energy Blog

Nuclear News …. Little Good

By Kennedy Maize -- February 9, 2024

Ed. Note: The news about nuclear is not good, which has been true for the last 70 years. Kennedy Maize at the Quad Report has the latest.

Holtec Decommissioning Scandal (800 MW Palisades)

New Jersey-based Holtec International on January 30th  agreed to pay its home state a $5 million fine in order to avoid criminal prosecution for falsifying documents related to a 2018 state-awarded tax break program.

The development in New Jersey could scuttle widespread rumors, most likely spread by Holtec, that the U.S. Department of Energy is about to loan the company $1.5 billion for its project to recommission the shuttered 800-MW Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan. Bloomberg first reported the rumor, commenting that the DOE loan would be “the latest sign of strengthening federal government support for the atomic industry.”

Holtec is engaged in disputes and suits in several states including Massachusetts, New York and New Mexico, including charges of bribery and ethical lapses. Commenting on the fine, New Jersey Spotlight called the latest fine “another warning sign,” adding that Holtec opponents “said federal regulators, including the Department of Energy, must redouble scrutiny before awarding more public subsidies to the company.”

Holtec, which acquired Palisades from Entergy in 2022 for decommissioning, has never operated a nuclear plant. But as sentiment in the Biden administration, particularly at always nuclear-friendly DOE, grew behind nuclear as a no-carbon generating resource, Holtec saw an opportunity to revive the elderly Combustion Engineering pressurized water reactor, built by Consumers Power on Lake Michigan between 1967 and 1970 for $630 million (2007 dollars).

Holtec originally applied for a DOE loan under a $6 billion nuclear subsidy program part of the 2021 Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. DOE turned down the application in November 2022, and Holtec then reapplied.

Vogtle 4 Woes (Georgia Power)

Georgia Power has identified cooling system vibrations in the long-delayed Vogtle Unit 4 nuclear plant nearing operation, adding a month or more to the commercial operation of the 1,000-MW Westinghouse plant. According to the Associated Press, the Southern Co. subsidiary now says the plant will go online sometime in the second quarter of 2024, instead of the planned first quarter.

The company says the problems are the same as those that delayed the started up of twin unit 3, which went into service last summer. Those problems were a lack of bracing in the cooling pipes. According to the AP, “Georgia Power said the Unit 4 problem has already been fixed but too much testing remains to be done to make the March 30 deadline.”

The utility said the delay will likely cost it some $30 million in profits, as Georgia utility regulators have denied the ability of the company to earn a return on its investments if the unit isn’t operating by the end of March. The two-unit project, joining two elderly nuclear plants on the site, has cost the utility – and its customers — $35 billion. The units were originally projected to cost $14 billion and be in service by 2017.

UK’s Hinkley Point C: $59 Billion?

Britain’s under-construction, two-unit, 3,200 MW EPR pressurized water reactor, ironically being built by France’s EDF, could cost up to £46 billion ($59 billion) and not go into service until 2031, according to the Associated Press, citing EDF officials. Construction on the project began in March 2017 and is being financed by EDF and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGNP).

EDF and CGNP have halted payments on the project in Somerset. The Financial Times reported that France is pushing the UK government for loans to protect state-owned EDF from the financial fallout of the Hinkley Point cost escalation. The FT wrote, “Under the contract drawn up a decade ago, any construction cost overruns at Hinkley fall on EDF rather than the British taxpayer.”

A loan guarantee from the Brits could allow EDF to borrow funds to continue the project. To date, France and China have funded the project with equity (their own money), assuming risks they would like to shift onto lenders, namely the UK. The Brits are balking. The FT reported, “Hinkley Point C is not a government project and so any additional costs or schedule overruns are the responsibility of EDF and its partners and in no way will fall on taxpayers,”

Hinkley Point is a key to Britain’s goal of net zero CO2 emission by 2050, which now looks increasingly unrealistic. The Guardian commented, “Philippe Huet, a former head of EDF’s internal auditing in Paris, said the deal was based on political strategy rather than a commercial rationale. The British government offered EDF a contract that would guarantee payment of £92.50 for every megawatt hour of electricity generated by the nuclear plant. It was criticised for being both eye-wateringly expensive for UK bill payers but not nearly enough to cover the risks of constructing the project.”

French Nuclear Fleet Recovering

France’s nuclear power fleet is now fully back in service after a long period of repairs and maintenance, Bloomberg reports. The news service said France will see “the most available capacity in at least five years in 2024.” The faltering French fleet during the cutoff of Russian natural gas following the invasion of Ukraine led to massive losses for state-owned EDF and had Europe on the edge of rolling blackouts.

The problems of plant aging were summarized by Power Technology under the subtitle EDF’s annus horribilis:

Électricité de France (EDF) is the French multinational electric utility company that runs the country’s 56 reactors. Throughout 2022, many were forced offline for maintenance work, causing output to fall below 1990 levels, despite installed capacity being 5GW lower at this time.

In December 2021, the discovery of cracks in the emergency core cooling systems of four of the newest French reactors led to them being shut down. The four units, which each produce 1.5GW, did not generate a single kilowatt-hour throughout 2022. Other 1.3GW reactors also showed similar symptoms, and by mid-2022, 12 additional reactors were shut down due to the same problem. In its annual electricity review, Réseau de Transport d’Électricité  highlighted the crux of the issue, stating, “these outages, or outage extensions to carry out maintenance, tests and repairs where needed, primarily involved the newest reactors in the fleet (N4 and P4 designs), i.e. reactors that were not targeted for investment in the Grand Carénage refit programme”.

Although EDF’s nuclear output was 14.8% higher in 2023 than 2022 as reactors came back online, Macron will have to square his desire for new reactors with the ongoing threat of unplanned shutdowns at existing newer plants.

EDF is mid-2023 began a massive program of life extension of its 56 nukes, which provide 70% of the nation’s electricity. Most of the plants date to the 1970s and 1980s. EDF has also traditionally exported a lot of nuclear-generated electricity to the rest of Europe. The drydocking of the French fleet forced the country to important power. Bloomberg reported, “The revival has seen France resume power exports to its neighbors, easing fossil-fuel use and sending carbon emissions to record lows across the region.”

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