News in Depth: Returning to Yucca Mountain

Recently, Ken Ritter of the Houston Chronicle reported on the renewed debate over the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Yucca mountain story stretches back decades, and Ritter’s report highlights many of the points of friction which continue to delay the project. In this week’s News in Depth, we’ll take a look at this report and the story of the proposed Yucca Mountain repository.

Background: The Yucca Mountain Story

Yucca Mountain was officially selected to be the national repository for spent-fuel and high-level radioactive waste in 2002. President George W. Bush approved the site choice, but the governor of Nevada, Kenny Guinn, then vetoed the decision. That veto was subsequently overturned by Congress.

In 2008, the US Department of Energy submitted a license application for the Yucca Mountain site. The initial plan called for a facility that could hold upwards of 77,000 tons of waste for up to 1 million years.

2-YuccaMountain-Fig1

However, in 2011, the Obama administration cut funding for the project and, effectively, left the U.S. without a long-term storage plan for civilian nuclear waste. In response to the Obama administrations cancellation of the project, a handful of U.S. states and organizations “filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit asking for a writ of mandamus requiring the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to restart licensing proceeding for Yucca Mountain.” The court granted their request, and as a result the NRC restarted the review process for the DOE’s original application.

In 2014, the NRC approved the final part of the DOE proposal. As Eli Kintisch reported at the time on the Science Insider blog,

The 781-page report concludes that the proposed site… includes “multiple barriers to isolate radioactivity from the environment” for hundreds of thousands of years, commission staff said in a statement. That should allow it to comply with standards to protect ground water and people in the distant future.

Today, the debate continues over the Yucca Mountain site. While the initial environmental assessment has largely been completed, questions still remain as to land ownership over the site and other environmental, social, and political issues. To add to the difficulty of the situation, a federal appeals court ruled two years ago now that the NRC has to either approve or reject the license application.  The process for the approval will likely take years.

The Debate Today

Ken Ritter’s recent report expands on many of the key issues related to the project. For the people quoted in the piece, the biggest issue is perhaps that of ground-water contamination. As one opponent to the project put it:

The only question to be answered is, ‘Can waste emplaced in Yucca Mountain be isolated and not contaminate groundwater?'” said Judy Treichel, an opponent since the 1980s of the project who heads an entity called the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force. “The answer is, ‘No.'”

However, at the article points out, “a report released in August by the NRC acknowledged a small chance of contamination, but said someone drinking two liters of groundwater a day would still not accumulate as much radiation as they do from natural and background sources.”

Overall, it seems that the fear of radiation, no matter how small of a projected risk, is fueling much of the debate. In addition, opponents highlight the logistics of transportation, construction, and maintenance, arguing that the costs are far too high.

As a 2014 New York Times piece by Matthew Wald put it, Yucca Mountain “was never described as the best place for burying nuclear waste, only an acceptable one about which a consensus could be achieved.” Is this a case of politics trumping science, as some critics argue? If we are to believe that, does it not discount the research and regulatory study that has gone in to the project? 

One potential way to reset the conversation is to think about the alternatives. If Yucca Mountain is scrapped, what’s next? This isn’t to say that alternatives should not be considered, or that the current site’s momentum is a rationale for its continued front-runner status. Rather, it’s a question of thinking about asking what is truly realistic. On balance, do the negatives outweighs the positives? And in either case, what are the next steps? Those are the questions worth answering.

 

 

News Analysis: Exploring Viewpoints on the Future of Nuclear

On September 2, the BBC World Service Inquiry programme published transcripts of four expert’s viewpoints on the future of nuclear energy technology. In this week’s News in Depth, I will discuss this article and take a critical look at the perspectives shared by the interviewees.

Four Viewpoints, One Theme

First, we hear from Tatsujiro Suzuki – Director of Research Centre for nuclear weapons abolition at Nagasaki University and former Vice-Chairman of Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission. Mr. Suzuki was Chair of the Commission at the time of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and subsequent Fukushima disaster. His recent career change – from nuclear regulatory official to nuclear critic – reflects the difficult journey Japan has faced in the last four years.

I personally felt very responsible for the event and I felt very sorry for the Fukushima people… This kind of accident has a serious social, ethical, political impact on their lives.

He is pessimistic that the people of Japan will be able to support any serious return to nuclear energy, saying that

In the public mind there was no clear connection between the peaceful use of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons… [Fukushima] is a huge, huge loss of public trust.

Next, Miranda Shreuers – a research director at the Free University in Berlin and a member of the commission to determine Germany’s nuclear policy – unequivocally states that she doesn’t believe Germany “could every again live with nuclear power.”

Gabrielle Hecht – a Professor of History at the University of Michigan – then speaks to the growth of nuclear energy in developing nations across Africa and argues that’s the path of those countries is similar to western nations in the 1950s,

The prospect of having abundant electricity in place where there are very often electricity brownouts and blackouts, and where large parts of the country are not electrified, is huge.

However, Hecht believes that new nuclear plants should not be built and that these countries should look for other solutions.

Finally, the BBC spoke with Steve Kidd – a nuclear energy consultant with East Cliff Consulting in the UK who has over over 18 years experience working for the The World Nuclear Association (WNA). While a proponent of nuclear, Mr. Kidd is pessimistic that nuclear energy can “take on that role that’s been left open for it.” His belief is that the industry’s core issue is that it has failed to communicate effectively,

The industry has tried to counter [public fear] with a factional approach, almost saying to the public, ‘you’re stupid, you’re irrational’, but in fact the development of their beliefs has been wholly rational, based on what they’ve seen and heard over the years, and something like the Fukushima accident obviously gives credence to such fears.

In summary, these four experts share a common idea: that nuclear energy as we know it faces a difficult future. For everyone but Mr. Kidd, it seems that that future is one of full decommissioning – a future in which nuclear is part of medicine and scientific study but not energy production. However, is this narrative of decline and the supremacy of fear over fact unchangeable? What, if anything can be done?

A Living Narrative

It turns out that Mr. Suzuki, quoted earlier from the BBC transcript, provides us with a useful starting point for thinking about the power of narrative and the ways in which we talk about nuclear. In March, he penned a lead essay for the East Asia Forum, in which he made the argument that the best strategy for Japan’s nuclear energy regulator and industry to regain trust is a simple one, honesty.

Transparency in policymaking is essential. The public needs to be involved in decision making… The current Japanese policy debate is completely polarized between advocates for and opponents against nuclear energy. An independent organization is required to help adjudicate between the two sides, and it needs to be one that the public can trust.

In other words, what is needed to overcome the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that surrounds nuclear energy in Japan – and arguably elsewhere – is intense, unwavering honesty and dialogue.

This leads me to forward a thesis – the nuclear energy story, or narrative, as we know it is in crisis, and the only way forward is for proponents and opponents to work together in good faith. What does this mean? It means that the narrative is not something that simply is but rather something we do. We, as individuals and as groups, shape and reshape the story of nuclear. For some, they believe that it is a story that should end. For others, myself and many of our readers included, we believe that the story is simply evolving. For some places, maybe nuclear is not the best solution. But for others, the technology may unlock vast amounts of human potential.

We must work together to find out what the story may bring next. The BBC piece that started this discussion is part of that, but of course it is but one small part of the story. The people quoted here have a viewpoint, and we can take it and build upon, but we can’t stop there. Many people, and many voices have to be involved in this messy process, but we will can continue to write this story together, one line at a time.

 

Special Report: Nuclear Law and Liability Developments in India (Part 1 of 3)

INTRODUCTION 

On May 27, 2015, Mindfirst will be hosting a Future of Nuclear Seminar on Nuclear Liability Developments in India. The speaker at the event will be Els Reynaers, a Partner at the law firm of M.V. Kini & Co. and President of the International Nuclear Law Association.

In her talk on the recent Indo-US political breakthrough on nuclear liability, Ms. Reynaers will explore the legal and insurance-related developments in India’s nuclear sector, and what those changes mean for Canadian nuclear vendors, regulators, and suppliers.

In the run up to this event, we bring you a three-part special report on India’s nuclear law regime. In Part 1, we explore the history of India’s nuclear law and liability regime. Next week, in Part 2, we discuss the recent negotiations and tentative agreement reached between the US and India in early 2015. In Part 3, to be published the week of Ms. Reynaers’ talk, we will explore the opportunities and challenges ahead for India’s nuclear energy sector.

We hope that this report will give you a clearer understanding not only of the recent Indo-US agreement, but the unique evolution of the nuclear law regime in India. We hope you can join us on May 27 to discuss these issues in person.

Part I: The History of India’s Nuclear Law and Liability Regime

As Gruendel and Reynaers pointed out in their 2012 article, India is not well endowed with natural energy resources. In response to this lack of reliable and local reserves, India plans to have 20,000 MW of nuclear capacity by 2020, with plans to derive 25% of its electricity (approximately 3000 GW) from nulcear by 2050.

Up until the passage of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 (2010 Liability Act), to be discussed below, nuclear activity in India was governed by the Atomic Energy Act of 1948 and the Atomic Energy Act of 1962. Together, these Acts made the Central Government of India the sole legal operator of nuclear facilities in the country. The legislation did, however, leave room for private sector companies to hold a minority share in the ownership and operation of nuclear facilities under joint ventures.

Another key detail – highlighted by Yash Mannully in an important 2012 article on issues in Indian nulcear liability law – is that the Acts gave power to the Government to make rules that deliniate

the [operator’s] liability in respect of any hurt to any person or any damage to property caused by ionising radiations or any radioactive contamination either at the plant under license or in the surrounding area.

However, despite provisions that enable the Government to regulate liability, little was done in terms of legislating until the last decade. Additionally, up until the last decade, India’s 20 nulcear power plants operated at reduced capacity, given that India was excluded from international nuclear trade under the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, with a 2008 agreement by the Nuclear Supplier Group to grant a waiver to India, the country was able to import nuclear technology and sign bilateral agreements on civilian nuclear energy technology with countries such as Canada, France, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.1

As of 2008 then, India’s nuclear energy sector was primed to grow at an incredible rate. The country, then home to over 1.1 billion people, was given a new opportunity to fulfill it’s nulcear energy ambitions, in new partnerships with suppliers from around the world. As Gruendel and Reynaers note2, these partnerships were not for “turn-key”, full construction services, but rather for specific contracts for reactor technologies and related components. Given that these contracts are between the suppliers and India’s state nuclear operator (the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL)) the challenge of establishing a clear liability regime for the industry, and the scope of the liability itself, remained.

The 2010 Liability Act was the first concerted effort by the government to outline the scope of liability for the nuclear sector in India. In essence, the Act, in conjunction with subsequent ammendments, expanded the scope of liability beyond the operator – in this case, the NPCIL – to the suppliers of technology used in the civilian nuclear energy sector. By affirming strict and no-fault liability on the operator, the Liability Act was in keeping with the 1960 Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage.3

However, where the 2010 Liability Act differed significantly was in its granting of special rights of legal recourse to the operators in the event of an incident. Under s 17(b), the operator of the nuclear installation “shall have the right of recourse where:

the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services.”

As Gruendel and Reynaers note in their 2012 article, linked above, the original language of 17(b) targeted situations where “the nuclear incident has resulted from the willful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier,” but such language was dropped when experts agreed that establishing mens rea (or “guilty mind”) would be too difficult and would potentially weaken the government’s power, through their role as operator, to rely on legal recourse for damages against suppliers.

There are additional issues in the 2010 Liability Act that are important – including limitation periods and the complex interaction between international and domestic law – but they are beyond the scope of this brief review.

SUMMARY

The key point is that up until the early 2015 Indo-US agreement – which established an insurance pool and clearer liabilility limits for both operators and suppliers in India – suppliers were subject to special legal liability in the event of a nuclear incident. The establishment of this statutory tort – which coexists with common law tort liability – thus drove a wedge between suppliers and India’s nuclear industry. The 2008 agreement to allow bilateral trade was thus at a standstill – the country was open for business, but there was a massive catch. In addition, while the law was extensive, it did not necessarily clarify many of the issues it was designed to solve.

As a result, reform was crucial to any opening of trade between foreign suppliers and India’s NPCIL. Next week, in Part 2 of this series, we explore the efforts to reform and clarify the 2010 Liability Act and the recent Indo-US agreement on nuclear liability and technological development.


 

  1. See Gruendel and Reynaers 2012, page 46.  
  2. See their 2012 article, linked above, page 48. 
  3. See Gruendel and Reynaers, page 49, footnote 26. 

News in Depth: Global Nuclear Growth in Context

This week, in an article for The Energy Collective, Jesse Jenkins, a writer and current PhD student in Engineering Systems at MIT, aimed at putting the growth of renewable energy in perspective. The article provides more than just an overview of renewable energy however, it also provides some interesting context for discussion of the future of nuclear power.

A year in review: thinking about energy capacity worldwide

Before thinking about what comes next in our energy future, it’s important to have some context. In his article, Jenkins provides a succinct summary of the progress made in the last full calendar year:

The world added 103 gigawatts (GW) of renewable power capacity in 2014… That figure excludes large hydropower projects… and is dominated by wind and solar, which saw growth of 49 GW and 46 GM respectively. More importantly, the share of renewable electricity… in the global electricity mix ticked upwards from 8.5 percent in 2013 to 9.1 percent in 2014.

As is noted, that figure is close to the 10.5 percent of global electricity supplied by nuclear power.

Global_Electricity_Market_Shares_1980-2014

(Image Source: The Energy Collective)

A link to the International Energy Agency’s (IAE) World Energy Outlook 2014 Factsheet is also provided. The factsheet highlights some additional key points:

  • 434 operating commercial reactors worldwide at the end of 2013 (capacity: 392 GW)
  • Nuclear power has avoided the release of an estimated 56 Gt of CO2 emissions since 1971
  • Almost 200 of the 434 reactors operating at the of 2013 are to be retired before 2040

Finally, Jenkins articulates two visions for future growth in renewables. In the first scenario, growth is linear at about 100GW per year. In the second, growth compounds at a 10 percent per year rate. As he notes, neither scenario is perfect, but they “bracket the realm of most likely outcomes.”

What’s next for nuclear power and renewables?

The IAE’s factsheet provides an apt summary of the challenge ahead for the nuclear energy sector, “the industry will need to manage an unprecedented rate of decommissioning, while also building substantial new capacity for those reactors that are replaced.” It is clear that the next few decades will be filled with difficult problems: how do we handle the decommissioning of so many reactors, how do we balance short and long term cost economic and political concerns, and how do we safely and steadily grow nuclear capacity, especially in the so-called BRIC countries?

From a review of conference topics and recent news articles, it’s clear that the industry is well aware of these challenges and is making positive strides. As we’ve highlighted here at Future of Nuclear, companies are continuing to develop new, smaller reactors that can be deployed in both industrialized and developing markets. In addition, governments continue to explore how to safely deal with radioactive waste. In all, the challenges are great but not insurmountable.

This, finally, brings us back to the topic of renewables. As highlighted earlier, there is no single panacea for our energy needs or a clear idea of what the future will bring. Powering a diverse world takes a diverse set of solutions. As Mr. Jenkins points out in his article, the best way to ensure that low-carbon sources continue to grow is to not put all of our eggs in one basket. What is needed is a toolkit of locally relevant and sustainable technologies that can respond to the growing need for reliable, safe, and clean energy worldwide. That is the industries’ north star. The trick, as it were, is to keeps steering towards it.

Topic announced for May 27 seminar

We are pleased to announce the topic for the next Future of Nuclear seminar: on May 27, Els Reynaers will speak on the recent breakthroughs in India regarding nuclear liability and trade:

The recent Indo-US political breakthrough: A catalyst towards effective commercial negotiations in civil nuclear trade?

U.S. President Obama’s visit to India on 25 January, 2015 led to a significant political breakthrough between the two nations which should finally enable commercial negotiations in the civil nuclear sector to materialize.  The legal contours of the political understanding became clearer after the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, published an “FAQ and Answers” on India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 – a law with unique characteristics.  One of the key outcomes of this recent denouement is the creation of an Indian Nuclear Insurance Pool (INIP) that would offer a nuclear insurance liability policy not only to the nuclear operator in india but also its suppliers.  On May 27, Els Reynaers will discuss these legal and insurance-related developments in India, and what it means for Canadian nuclear vendors, regulators, and suppliers.

To learn more about this event, and to register to attend, click below:
http://futureofnuclearseminar7-nuclear-liability-india.eventbrite.com/?aff=futureofnuclear

Dr. Dale Klein to give opening Keynote at Future of Nuclear 2014 Conference

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Dale Klein will give the opening keynote address at the Future of Nuclear 2014 Conference on November 4 in Toronto, Ontario.

Dale Klein Photo V2Dr. Dale Klein has been associated with the University of Texas since 1977 in a variety of administrative and academic positions as well as a professor of mechanical engineering (nuclear program).  He served as a presidential appointee to the Nuclear, Chemical & Biological Defense Programs at the Pentagon from 2001 to 2006 and as Chairman of the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2006 to 2009.

Dr. Dale Klein returned in 2010 as a professor of mechanical engineering (nuclear program) and as the associate director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.  In 2011 he became the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Texas System.  He also serves on the Board of the Southern Company and Pinnacle West / Arizona Public Service.  Dr. Klein currently serves as the Chairman of the Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee for the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)

Early bird registration is open for Future of Nuclear 2014.  Visit the link below to read more and register and watch futureofnuclear.com for further updates on speakers and panellists.

http://futureofnuclear2014.eventbrite.com

 

Topic announced for Future of Nuclear Seminar #3 – Nuclear Energy Finance: the UK Experience

On May 8, 2014, Jonathan Dart, Consul General at the British Consulate in Toronto, will speak about the UK’s recent experience in nuclear energy finance and lessons that can be learned.  Below is the abstract for the event:

“Financing nuclear energy projects has become increasingly complex in recent years. The potential for projects going over budget and difficulty in quantifying project risk contribute to financing complexity and cost. The large capital requirements in nuclear energy projects have typically required that national governments become involved in order to guarantee payments or backstop projects. In many jurisdictions the high level of complexity have made nuclear projects prohibitively expensive. Coupled with negative public sentiment towards nuclear energy there has been a decline in nuclear power useage in several Western economies. Concurrently, there are numerous countries such as China and India, that are ramping up their nuclear energy capabilities. In the United Kingdom, after years of decline in nuclear energy the government has decided to proceed with building a new reactor. How was this financed? What changed in the eyes of policy makers that they decided to proceed with new nuclear? Is there an opportunity for Canadian funds and investment bankers to participate in the large nuclear projects that will be deployed globally?”

Click here to learn more and to register.

Panellists for Future of Nuclear Seminar #2 – Human Resource Requirements of Refurbishment

The Future of Nuclear team is pleased to announce the panellists for the upcoming seminar on March 4, 2014 regarding the human resource requirements of nuclear refurbishments.  Below are the experts who will discuss the topic.

Speakers

Mark Arnore, Vice President, Refurbishment Execution, Ontario Power Generation

George Bereznai, Professor and Director, Industry Training Programme, UOIT

Patrick Dillon, Business Manager, Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario

George Bereznai, Dean, School of Energy Systems and Nuclear Science, UOIT

Patrick Dillon, Business Manager, Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario

Abstract

In our first seminar Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) Rick Jennings described the nuclear energy components of Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP). Although the Province has said no to new nuclear at the moment, refurbishment plans for Bruce and Darlington plants are scheduled to start in 2016 and carry on until 2031. Collectively, Bruce and Darlington represent the majority of Ontario’s base load power and 50% or more of the total energy mix. Refurbishment will create tens of thousands of jobs requiring skilled workers, professionals, researchers, academics, managers and executives. This human resource base will not only serve Ontario, but will also serve as the foundation for Canada’s export efforts in supporting supply chains of growing nuclear energy jurisdictions. How many jobs will actually be created? What skills and expertise will be needed? How will organizations build and transfer the corporate and tribal knowledge to new generations of engineers, workers and professionals? What other related industries will grow as a result? Will Canada become a leader in infrastructure finance, energy systems design and deployment?

To learn more and to register, click here.

Dates Announced for Future of Nuclear Seminar Series

Mindfirst Inc. (M1) is pleased to announce that it will organize six (6) luncheon seminars on various nuclear energy related topics over the course of 2014 as part of the Future of Nuclear Seminar Series. Dates, topics and speakers are determined through the input of the Future of Nuclear Advisory Board and participant surveys.

The dates for the 2014 Future of Nuclear Seminar Series are:
January 21 – Speaker Assistant Deputy Minister, Rick Jennings, re. Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP) and Nuclear
– March 4 – Humans Resources Requirements of Nuclear Refurbishment
 May 8 – Trends in Nuclear Energy Finance, the UK Experience, Jonathan Dart and Panel
– June 24 – TBA
– September 23 – TBA
– November 4 – Full Day Conference, Innovation in Nuclear Energy, Science, Research and Applications

Please contact Future of Nuclear organizers directly if you have speaker suggestions for the following six (6) topics will be addressed on the given dates:

– Export opportunities for nuclear industries
– Jobs analysis and Growing HR Needs in Canada’s nuclear industry
– Chalk River
–  Ontario’s  refurbishment programs – an overview from OPG and Bruce Power
– Trends in Finance, UK’s experience in planning and financing new nuclear|
– Nuclear Waste Technologies

Following each seminar organizers provide a written report of the Top 10 Learnings as compiled from the survey of seminar participants.

The Future of Nuclear Series is possible through the support of Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, OPG, Power Workers’ Union and Torys. Additional sponsors are welcome so that we may continue to build on our mission to build awareness and discussion for important energy topics.

ADM Rick Jennings to speak re LTEP at Future of Nuclear Seminar on January 21

Rick Jennings, Assistant Deputy Minister, Ministry of Energy, Ontario, will speak about Ontario’s recently released Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP) and the role of nuclear energy as part of that plan at this year’s first Future of Nuclear Seminar on January 21. The LTEP report entitled Achieving Balance addresses the growing role of renewables in the energy mix, the ongoing need for safe, reliable base load energy and the export business development potential for the nuclear industry. This session is targeted at senior executives and stakeholders that would like an opportunity to engage in a private dialogue regarding important nuclear energy issues in an objective, collaborative learning environment.

The Future of Nuclear Advisory Board has organized a series of six seminars to be held through 2014 to discuss important nuclear energy issues. The dates for the 2014 seminars are January 2, March 4, May 6, June 24, September 23 and November 4. Topics and speakers for each session will be announced on this Future of Nuclear website, the Future of Nuclear Conference Facebook page, the @futureofnuclear twitter feed and via our direct newsletter which you may register for by clicking here.  Seminars are conducted during lunch in meeting rooms at Torys, 79 Wellington St. W, 30th Floor, Toronto, ON. You may register for the first event by clicking here. Subscriptions for the entire six seminars are available, please Contact Us if interested.

The Future of Nuclear Series is funded by the registration fees of participants, revenues from resultant reports and the support of sponsors. Supporters to date include Babcock and Wilcox, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), McMaster University, Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Power Workers’ Union, Torys, University of Toronto, and Westinghouse. The Seminar Series is organized by Mindfirst Inc. under the direction of Future of Nuclear Advisory Board chaired by Henry Vehovec, Adjunct Professor, University of Toronto, Innovations in Technologies and Organizations in Global Energy Systems. Seminars are conducted under Chatham House Rule format. If interested in volunteering as part of the Mindfirst team, part of the Advisory Board, or sponsoring the Future of Nuclear Seminar Series please contact us.