Bill Calls For Rebate of Yucca Mountain Funds

By Jacob Mazer, Assistant Editor, Fuel Cycle Week

In another gesture of resistance to the abandonment of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) introduced a bill to the Senate calling for the return of funds set aside for the project to utilities and customers.

The Nuclear Waste Trust fund was created in 1982, raising money for a waste storage center using a 0.01 cent on the kilowatt rate paid by energy consumers. The fund reached about $30 billion, with about $22.6 billion now remaining after the cash sunk into Yucca Mountain.

Graham's Rebating America's Deposits Act mandates that the President to either confirm Yucca Mountain as "the preferred choice" for nuclear waste or begin to return to funds within 30 days of the bills passage. About 75% of the money would go back to customers, with the rest going toward the construction of more temporary storage facilities to hold the waste on-site at power stations until a permanent solution is established. The bill also calls for separate payments of $100 million a year to states with nuclear weapons waste stating in 2017, when Yucca was scheduled to begin holding waste. Eight other Republican senators including Arizona's John McCain co-sponsored Graham's bill.

"No one should be required to pay for an empty hole in the Nevada desert," Graham said.

If this proposition sounds a little bit far fetched to you, you're not the only one. With no Democrats backing the bill, it's hard to imagine Graham's bill going very far. Furthermore, with Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid as Yucca Mountain's fiercest opponent, finding a Democratic co-sponsor seems pretty unlikely.

Analysts were quick to point out the obvious motivation behind the legislation, being an attempt to force the Obama administration into a decision on the waste issue-- either continue with Yucca Mountain or find another solution fast (however unlikely this may be)-- rather than letting the issue linger infinitely in a limbo of blue ribbon commissions.

Politicians Flog ‘Arbitrary and Capricious’ NRC on Depleted Uranium

This article originally appeared in Fuel Cycle Week #324, 4/22/09

By Nancy E. Roth, Managing Editor, Fuel Cycle Week and Andrea Jennetta, Publisher, Fuel Cycle Week

In recent weeks a pair of lawmakers have lobbed allegations of malfeasance at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for deciding in March to maintain depleted uranium’s Class A low-level waste designation. In the decision-making process the commission also acknowledged that existing low-level waste regulations must be amended for DU from future U.S. enrichment plants.

“The depleted uranium waste stream, which will flow from commercial uranium enrichment facilities, is expected to be….ten times greater than what the commission believed was safe” in 1981, when the agency conducted technical analyses to support LLW regulations, Congressmen Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) asserted in a March 19 letter to NRC Chairman Dale Klein.

For that reason, the representatives said, DU should be classified as Class C waste, and require “increased waste disposal depth and radon barriers,” they said, calling the commission’s decision “an arbitrary and capricious mischaracterization.”

In their letter Markey and Matheson demanded all records related to the NRC decision, and for good measure pinned on a request for “all records involving EnergySolutions, Inc.” EnergySolutions operates the only disposal facility—in Clive, Utah—that is open to all generators of Class A low-level waste.

The two House Energy and Environment Subcommittee members also asked the agency to answer four questions on the depleted uranium classification issue—and reiterated a separate series of questions posed in a March 10 letter that Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) also signed, regarding the EnergySolutions lawsuit seeking a determination of the authority of the Northwest Interstate Compact to restrict the private company’s commercial activities.

That dispute arose when the company applied to the NRC for a license in 2007 to import low-level waste from Italy. EnergySolutions seeks to process the material in its Tennessee facility and dispose of a portion of it at its Utah site .

Lawmakers Turn LLW into Political Hay

But Chairman Klein’s responses in an April 9 communication did not satisfy the congressmen, even though the agency had committed to launch a rulemaking specific to DU in the near-term and conduct a comprehensive revision of the agency’s waste classification regulations in the future.

In an April 13 statement Markey pronounced himself “deeply concerned” and asserted that the NRC’s recent decision on depleted uranium “created far more questions than it answered. While the NRC has said it will perform a ‘comprehensive revision’ to its waste classification framework at some point in the future it has ignored that need for purposes of depleted uranium. It is like deciding to give a ‘C’ student an ‘A’ before the final exam has even been submitted—except in this case, ‘C’ means dangerously radioactive.”

Matheson echoed the Massachusetts lawmaker’s view: “Class A waste was meant to be the lowest classification—one that poses the least threat to health and safety. Any decision regarding depleted uranium disposal that raises concerns in that regard is not acceptable to me.”

In Search of Science

Alyson Heyrend, a spokeswoman for Matheson, told FCW that the Utah lawmaker is trying to discover the “scientific basis” underlying the commission’s “decision to view [depleted uranium] as Class A waste.” She said depleted uranium had been neglected in the original formulation of the waste classification system by way of a “loophole” in the 1981 rulemaking, which placed it into the Class A category.

Asked what sources of information the congressman had reviewed before communicating his concerns to NRC she referred FCW to the 1981 rulemaking’s draft environmental impact statement. She brushed off the question of whether Matheson believed NRC had deliberately misled the public about depleted uranium, as implied in the joint communications with Markey, who said, “When the NRC’s normal process is subverted, it creates confusion and doubt, and reduces the trust that the American people have in their nuclear regulators.”

Heyrend insisted that the Matheson’s only concern was for the health and safety of his constituents. He had found it “encouraging” that the agency was reaching out to stakeholders, she added.

Markey’s staff had not responded by press time to questions about whether the lawmaker thought that in its classification and disposal announcement NRC had sought to deceive the public about depleted uranium.

When asked about the “loophole” in the waste classification scheme NRC spokesman David McIntyre replied, “That’s a mischaracterization.” In 1981 there was no depleted uranium waste stream, he noted, adding, “The law is written so that anything that is not in the [waste classification] table is regarded as Class A. The commission affirmed that in its 2006 order directing the staff to re-examine how depleted uranium should be classified.”

McIntyre confirmed by e-mail that NRC had delivered the requested documents on its depleted uranium study and decision to the congressional offices on Tuesday. Asked how the staff planned to review the technical study and the expected timeline the spokeswoman for Matheson replied by e-mail: “I do not know, but it will take some time. Both staffs are very busy right now with hearings on the climate change draft.”

Without CWIP, AmerenUE Shelves Callaway-2

By Jacob Mazer, Assistant Editor, Fuel Cycle Week

We've written before about the saga of Construction Work in Progress policies in the U.S. on this blog, watching as the pay-as-its-built model emerges as one of the feasible options for financing new build amid an economy where credit is hard to secure. Upholding CWIP bans will drive away potential projects, the pro-CWIP camp has argued as states across the country review their policies.

They ain't lying. In Missouri, AmerenUE has shelved plans for the proposed second reactor at its Callaway nuclear station after a bill repealing the state's 1976 CWIP ban floundered in the General Assembly with parties unable to reach a compromise on the bill, despite the approval of the House Committee on Utilities. With the session nearing its close and the odds of the bill passing this year looking slimmer and slimmer, AmerenUE CEO Thomas Voss said the company could not justify spending millions of dollars on a project "without an end in sight." The company also asked the legislative sponsors to withdraw the bills from both the House and the Senate.

"A large plant would be difficult to finance under the best of conditions, but in today's credit market, without supportive state energy policies, we believe getting financial backing for these projects is impossible," Voss said.

Critics attacked the project (priced at an estimated $6 billion) for its entailed energy rate increases, especially in the midst of a recession (the Fair Electricity Rate Action Fund said rates would increase by 40%, though AmerenUE said the rate increase would reach 12.5% at its height). We can't help but find this argument a little bit ironic. Indeed, money is tight for many Americans. However, the Callaway-2 project would have also been the biggest construction project in Missouri history, creating 3,000 well-paying jobs at a time when jobs are disappearing en masse—to say nothing of creating generation capacity to provide for growing electricity demand in a state that depends on coal for 85% of its energy.

For now, Missouri's CWIP ban stands. It's a short-sighted decision that will cost it energy and resources in the future.

U.K. Government Identifies Eleven Nuke New-Build Sites

This article originally appeared in Fuel Cycle Week #323, 4/15/09

By Roger Murray, Special Correspondent, Fuel Cycle Week

The U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change published its draft list of eleven potential locations for new nuclear plants on April 15. The list, which may yet change, contains the sites nominated through the government’s Strategic Siting Assessment process. The public will have a month to comment on the proposed sites, and an opportunity to participate in a consultation that will take place later this year.

DECC said that it had put out the list “after vetting all applications to ensure they were credible, that the sites could be operational by 2025, and that the nominator had raised public awareness of their intention to nominate.” The eleven sites and their nominators are shown below.

In a statement DECC Secretary of State Ed Miliband encouraged members of the public to log on to the department website and leave comments, adding, “We will consider this alongside the advice of our independent expert regulators.”

After the one-month comment window, the department will develop a list of sites it judges to be potentially suitable, and include it in its draft National Policy Statement on nuclear power, due for publication later this year for public consultation. This will set the policy framework for decisions by the new independent Infrastructure Planning Commission decisions on new nuclear power.

Publication of List “Tangible Progress”

The U.K. Nuclear Industry Association Chief Executive Keith Parker called the draft list a sign of “strong and tangible progress” for the nuclear initiative in the U.K. that demonstrated that “progress towards new build is on schedule.”

The private sector’s appetite for new-build opportunities was also visible in the continuing online auction for land adjacent to three existing nuclear sites. In an April 9 statement, the NDA said it was delighted at “the ongoing level of interest for the disposal of land.”

Sam Hounslow, the NDA’s project manager for the sale, pointed out that the competition for the three sites would generate revenue that would have “obvious benefits for both the NDA and U.K. taxpayer.” Proceeds from the auction, which reopened on April 14 after the Easter holiday recess, would help the NDA fund the cost of decommissioning, he added.

Key Inspectorate Still Short of Staff

Some, however, express lingering concerns that continuing severe staff shortages at the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate could delay the construction of new nuclear power stations. The NII, which is part of the U.K. Health and Safety Executive, is responsible for the safety of the U.K.’s new plants. It is currently evaluating new-generation reactor designs under the Generic Design Assessment process.

On April 9 The Times reported that some five months after a government pledge to strengthen the agency the NII still had only 169 trained nuclear inspectors, fewer than three quarters of the 228 it needs to do the job, according to official figures. The inspectorate seeks to recruit 61 new staff in 15 separate work areas, including chemical and electrical engineering, radiation protection and reactor faults. Potential recruits are being offered generous interview and relocation expenses.

But the NII has seen many defections to the private sector, according to the newspaper. To counter its staff shortage, it has reportedly been forced to recruit temporary staff from private companies and depend on work carried out by regulators in France and America.

A government review last December warned that the NII was “significantly under-resourced for its predicted future workload.” An unnamed industry source reportedly confirmed this, noting, “The sense in the industry is that the NII is not on track and that raises questions about the proposed timeframe.”

In November the NII is due to publish its initial findings on the two reactor designs it is certifying for U.K. use: AREVA's 1,600-MWe EPR and Toshiba-Westinghouse's AP1000. Last February NII Senior Inspector David Watson said during a presentation that the agency would complete its work by Nov. 27, but admitted that the body had only 75 per cent of the specialists it needed.

Nuclear Liabilities Board Appointed

In another development vital to the continuing rollout of new-build, the government has announced the membership of the Nuclear Liabilities Financing Assurance Board, the agency that will oversee financial arrangements for decommissioning and waste disposal from the new nuclear plants. The board will hold its first meeting in June.

Its primary function is to ensure that operators of new plants in England, Wales or Northern Ireland have appropriate financial arrangements to meet decommissioning and waste management costs. It will scrutinize the funded decommissioning programs of potential operators, and make recommendations to the government on the suitability of the financial arrangements within the program. After the programs are approved the board will advise the operators during regular reviews and continue to examine the financial arrangements.

Lady Balfour of Burleigh, a former academic and civil servant who is now a businesswoman and writer, will chair the board. Its other members include a lawyer, fund manager, environmentalist, economist, actuary and U.K. Atomic Energy Agency Chief Executive Norman Harrison. Energy and Climate Change Minister Mike O'Brien described the board as “another piece of armour” that would protect the taxpayer from shouldering the financial responsibility of the cleanup from nuclear new build.

With AECL at Stake, the Darlington Project Looks Like a Double Bind

By Jacob Mazer, Assistant Editor, Fuel Cycle Week

Ontario faces a difficult choice as it selects the company that will handle the expansion of its Darlington plant, a decision that forces it to weigh the merits of the project against the security of its workforce. "What we're saying when it comes to our nuclear bidders is that more than just the price is important to us here. What are you going to do for us in terms of employing our people?" said Premier Dalton McGuinty last week. "If you're bidding from outside Canada, you better have a strong proposal in place that's going to guarantee employment for our people."

The contract calls for the construction of two new reactors with a capacity between 1,100 MWe and 1,600 MWe at Darlington, carrying an estimated price of $15 billion. Three companies are in the running for the deal: AREVA, Westinghouse, and Canada's state-owned corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Canadian Energy Minister Gerry Philips wants construction started by 2012 and electricity generated by mid-2018.

Considering the Darlington expansion as an isolated project, awarding the contract to AREVA or Westinghouse is clearly more advantageous. AECL's ACR-1000 reactor design is substantially farther behind than AREVA's EPR and Westinghouse's AP1000, still waiting on design certification from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Furthermore, the company has a consistent track record of project delays and budget overruns, propositions that look even less appealing in the current economic climate.

However, the Darlington contract is not an isolated project, but rather is tied directly to the future of AECL. Chronic project troubles and lack of interest in Candu technology has placed the company on thin ice, leading the National Bank of Canada to recommend privatizing 51% of the company in February. The Darlington contract could save the company, putting AECL in a good position to replace Ontario's 20 other reactors as they expire over the next two decades, and potentially making the ACR-1000 more palatable to the global market if it can be built on schedule and within budget (unlikely, in our humble opinion).

Conversely, losing the contract would be a kiss of death for Candu technology, and AECL would likely be split up and sold off. "If AECL doesn't sell this new design in Ontario, nobody else is going to buy it. That will mean essentially the end of the Candu design," Michael Ivanco of the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates, an AECL workers union, told the Canadian Press. This outcome would reduce AECL's suppliers to "providing parts for an aging reactor fleet of an abandoned technology. There's no future in that; it's like being a VCR repairman."

McGuinty says that foreign companies must match AECL's levels of domestic employment. This is certainly feasible with regards to the construction of the Darlington reactors; after all, building new reactors is very labor intensive, and any company taking on the project will need to hire. However, with the future of the whole firm hinging on the Darlington decision, that puts the jobs of 4,700 AECL workers plus another 30,000 working on its supply chain into question. From this perspective, the effects of an AREVA or Westinghouse win are much harder to call. It's beginning to look like a “damned if they do, damned if they don't” situation for Ontario.

A decision on the Darlington project is expected in June.

Bogus Lawsuit Twists Arm of Metals Australia in Namibia

This article originally appeared in Fuel Cycle Week #322, 4/8/09

By Roger Murray, Special Correspondent, Fuel Cycle Week

Another company with Namibian uranium exploration interests is facing difficulties, although in this case its troubles are legal, rather than financial. ASX-listed Metals Australia has two early stage projects to the southeast of Walvis Bay: Mile 72 and Engo Valley. Both appear to have potential for hosting near-surface, alaskite-hosted uranium mineralization.

To date the explorer has focused mostly on Mile 72, where in 2007-8 the exploration team pursued an intensive program of mapping, geophysical surveys, rock chipping and trenching. This produced several high-grade uranium assays, with geophysical surveys indicating that Mile 72 represented an extensive and as yet largely untested mineralized system.

At the Kudu prospect, sampling of an oxide zone some 4-5 kilometers in depth returned grades often exceeding 0.1% U3O8. This indicated that the zone could contain “a significant, shallow high-grade uranium oxide deposit,” the miner said.

But, pending the renewal of two exclusive exploration licenses that expired in 2008, the firm has suspended further exploration. Metals Australia is still waiting to receive formal notification of the two-year renewals from the short-staffed Mines and Energy Ministry, which has hampered processing of several license applications and renewals.

Problematic Former Partner Emerges

In the meantime the miner’s original Namibian partner wants to re-enter the projects. Last month, Chairman H. S. Majteles disclosed that the licenses were initially held by Malakia Amakutuwa, but were transferred to Metals Namibia, a wholly owned subsidiary, in a transaction that the Mines Ministry approved in March 2006.

But after Metals Australia obtained Mile 72’s positive exploration results, it learned that Amakutuwa was trying to invalidate the original agreement. Last month Amakutuwa brought a suit against Metals Australia; Minister of Mines and Energy Erkki Nghimtina; and a former Australian partner who helped Amukutuwa’s acquire its license in 2005.

Amakutuwa is seeking a High Court order declaring he explorer’s original purchase agreement of November 2005 and a subsequent deed of amendment to be null and void. The application also seeks an order directing the Mines Ministry to refile the two licenses under Amakutuwa’s name.

Metals Australia’s Namibian lawyers have advised that the law does not support the claim, which has no realistic prospect of success. Accordingly the explorer has instructed its lawyers to vigorously oppose the action and to additionally seek an urgent injunction to ensure that the licenses remain in the name of its subsidiary Metals Namibia.

Majteles said Metals Australia “is determined to have this matter resolved as quickly as possible to allow exploration work to continue on these two projects, in particular, the highly prospective Mile 72 project… .”

Still, it is possible that the company could have to pay a substantial sum to settle the matter out of court, as Bannerman did at the end of last year in respect of an attempt to void its exclusive exploration license for the Etango uranium project by the Namibian company Savanna Marble (FCW #308, Dec. 17).

States React Against Canning of Yucca Mountain

By Jacob Mazer, Assistant Editor, Fuel Cycle Week

A great pathos beset the nuclear sector when earlier this year Congress, with the blessing of the Obama administration, cut nearly all the funding for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site, effectively chopping the legs off the project. The sense was that an opportunity—not to mention an enormous amount of money, time, and energy—had been lost for reasons political rather than pragmatic.

As the administration floated propositions to convene panels to consider options and alternatives to Yucca Mountain the hope of a real solution to the nuclear waste disposal issue seemed to drift farther and farther from the foreseeable future.

For a moment there, it seemed like disappointment would be the only response to the abandonment of the project. Fortunately, this is not the case. Utility customers pay a tenth of a cent per kilowatt through utilities into a federal fund set up in 1982 dedicated to the establishment of a nuclear waste repository. As it stands, the fund holds $22 billion, commercial spent fuel is stored above ground in casks at power plant premises, the federal government has no plan for nuclear waste, and states are beginning to grumble.

It's about time.

Four states are considering or have passed legislation reacting to this bone-headed waste policy. In Maine, lawmakers passed a resolution calling for a reduction in fees into the spent fuel management fund and a fast-tracked establishment of federally licensed interim storage sites. Maine ratepayers have paid about $65.5 million into this federal waste fund.

The Minnesota House energy committee passed a bill that would hold the state’s annual $13 million payment to the fund in an escrow account until the Department of Energy "can show that a federal repository is operating and currently accepting such material." The proposal now goes on to the House floor. A similar bill is also being considered by the Michigan Senate. Minnesota has paid about $659 million into the waste fund, while Michigan has paid about $656 million.

The call to go forward with Yucca Mountain has not ended either. The Michigan Senate is also hearing a resolution asking the DOE and Nuclear Regulatory Commission to "do everything necessary to allow Yucca Mountain repository to begin accepting high-level nuclear waste." South Carolina is also looking at a resolution supporting the project.

In the meantime, dozens of utilities are suing the DOE for breach of contract for failing to start taking spent fuel in 1998. Damages are expected to exceed $11 billion.

Kazakhstan: Let Us Host The Fuel Bank!

By Jacob Mazer, Assistant Editor, Fuel Cycle Week

A month ago, Kuwait pledged $10 million toward a proposed international fuel bank, bringing the project up and over its baseline funding target of $150 million and advancing it to its next stage (the United States, the European Union, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates also pledged funds). The idea is to develop a reserve of nuclear fuel managed by the International Atomic Energy Agency for nations around the globe, thereby allowing them to use nuclear power without developing their own enrichment capacity. The motivation is ostensibly non-proliferation.

Now the project has a prospective location. Kazakhstan's president Nursultan Nazarbayev volunteered his country to host the fuel bank. With the United States as the project's originator and largest donor ($50 million pledged), its influence plays a major part in the fuel bank's siting, and President Barack Obama seems to be taking Nazarbayev's offer quite seriously. "There hasn't been a final decision by President Obama," a senior White House official told The Wall Street Journal, "but he is considering Kazakhstan to be the host." Furthermore, Obama said this week that he plans to visit Kazakhstan, though no specific plans have been announced.

Since Nazarbayev's announcement, there's been a lot of buzz weighing the pros and cons of siting the fuel bank in Kazakhstan. On one hand, Kazakhstan is looked to as a good example of non-proliferation, having given up the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the former Soviet Union (not to mention the fact that it contains about 15% of the world's uranium reserves). On the other hand, there is concern that Kazakhstan's authoritarian government may interfere with the transparent operation of the facility. The nation is also still deeply influenced by Russia, ever on tense terms with Western countries, especially where it involves energy supplies. Should Obama accept Kazakhstan's offer, it may in some degree work as a gesture toward reconciliation with Russia.

For its part, Kazakhstan stands to benefit very much from hosting the fuel bank. Hosting such a facility promises an influx of business and means access to uranium enrichment technology, coming just as the nation is set to become the world's biggest uranium supplier. Here's guessing their eagerness has less to do with non-proliferation and more to do with the prospect of overflowing coffers.

ACP: Half of Nothin’ Still Equals Nothin’

This article originally appeared in Fuel Cycle Week #321, 4/1/09

By Andrea Jennetta, Publisher, Fuel Cycle Week

As a communications professional, I applaud the masterful wording of the USEC (NYSE:USU) press release last week. As a nuclear industry professional, I am scratching my head.

In its March 27 statement, USEC said it has customer commitments “to purchase more than half of the planned, initial sales of the American Centrifuge Plant.” The company added that the signed commitments and contracts are valued at $3.3 billion from 10 utility customers on three continents. Two of the four largest nuclear utilities in the world—Exelon (NYSE: EXC) and Tokyo Electric Power Co.—even allowed themselves to be quoted in the press release.

“The commitments represent both accepted offers and signed contracts for a substantial portion of the plant’s output and are of varying length extending as far as 2026,” USEC said.

According to the USEC website, the baseline deployment schedule for the ACP calls for initial commercial operations in 2010, reaching an annual production capacity of 3.8 million SWU per year at the end of 2012. The ACP’s nominal cost is estimated at $3.5 billion, but that number will certainly grow, as USEC has halted construction while awaiting a loan guarantee decision.

If you do the math, the amount of SWU involved in “half of the planned initial sales” plus “a substantial portion of the plant’s output” could mean anywhere from 2 to 3.7999 million SWU.

Playing to the Crowd

I certainly hope these figures wowed the Energy Department’s loan guarantee evaluation committee. We know that without a $2 billion loan guarantee USEC will not be able to build the ACP, regardless of the number of “accepted offers and signed contracts” it announces.

On behalf of the entire global nuclear industry, I am shrugging off the significance of these deals. Exelon and TEPCO would not have signed them without detailed conditions and caveats related to the loan guarantee and other ACP production milestones—including commercially competitive operational costs.

Let’s face it: utilities are risk-averse creatures. Given the millions of dollars at stake, they need to be certain SWU will be delivered on time and at specified prices, from a diverse supplier base. At the end of the day, this is what really matters to the industry.

So while utilities may be happy to sign off on rah-rah statements for USEC press releases, these contracts no doubt have escape clauses. I believe the technical term is “hedging one’s bets.” Even if USEC gets its loan guarantee, secures funding, and goes on to build AC100 centrifuges that work, there is no guarantee the enrichment plant will be commercially competitive.

Enrichment Battle Intensifies

Speaking of enrichment, I was surprised that AREVA, which is also in the running for a loan guarantee, did not issue its own feel-good press release when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced on March 24 its acceptance of the Eagle Rock license application, which was filed Dec. 30. NRC said it expects the licensing process to take about 30 months.

AREVA has also been quiet about the contracts/commitments/acceptance offers it has reached for Eagle Rock’s output. My understanding is that most of the plant’s planned 3 million SWU capacity has been forward sold. Of course, there is no doubt that such sales are contingent on AREVA meeting any number of conditions and caveats.

The difference here, of course, is that AREVA will meet them because it is (a) using proven technology, and (b) is putting the finishing touches on Georges Besse II, the same type of plant in France. My hunch is that our French amis will go right ahead and build Eagle Rock, regardless of whether it receives a loan guarantee.

Further ratcheting up the pressure in the U.S. enrichment competition is the announcement from Global Laser Enrichment that it submitted to regulators an environmental report on its proposed facility. GLE is a subsidiary of GE-Hitachi. The company said it would file the technical report in a few months, completing the license application.

Renewable Energy Looks to Governments for Financing Through Recession

By Jacob Mazer, Assistant Editor, Fuel Cycle Week

Volatile economic conditions are proving to be an obstacle for renewables, leaving many renewable energy companies turning to government subsidies to keep projects in development.

Since the economy took a dive last fall, several renewables groups have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, including VeraSun, Greater Ohio Ethanol, Gateway Ethanol, Renew Energy, Northeast Bio-fuels, and Aventine Renewable Energy. With slow technology sales and projects looking increasingly economically untenable, government aid looks like the only way for many companies to stay above ground.

The Barack Obama administration has $56 billion set aside in its economic stimulus package in the form of grants and tax breaks for clean energy programs, as well as an annual budget of $15 billion for renewable energy programs. However, a regulation framework for the distribution of the stimulus funds does not yet exist, and it could take several months before one is set in place. The U.S. Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program also provides for $10 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects.

The problem is not limited to the United States. The United Kingdom’s energy goals call for an increase of electricity generated by renewables from the current 4% to 35% in 2020, a feat estimated to cost about £100 billion. Both Electricité de France and E.ON called this goal unrealistic (offering 25% as a more realistic target). E.ON joined Centrica and Iberdrola in pressing the British government to help provide the money to keep energy and emissions reductions goals rolling.

However, there is also some sentiment that many renewable projects are just not economically viable. Iberdrola Renovables, the world’s largest renewables company, plans to cut investments in U.K. renewables projects by 40% for just this reason.

The need of the renewables industry for government aid provides a sketch of the mode of funding energy projects in this economic environment, but it also indicates an increasing turn toward better established sources such as nuclear. Indeed, as the call grows for reassessment of Britain’s renewable goals, the U.K. nuclear program powers forward stronger than ever.

In Economic Meltdown, India is Still a Good Investment

By Jacob Mazer, Assistant Editor, Fuel Cycle Week

With the global economy sputtering and croaking ever deeper into recession, it's a difficult time for nuclear new build hopefuls. Across the world, in countries where nuclear energy is supposed to be rising phoenix-like, utilities must scrap through rigorous competition to secure the financing for the high up-front costs of reactors. The world-wide dearth of credit is leaving many nuclear projects deferred, delayed or otherwise mothballed.

Amidst all this mess, India remains a glimmering jewel in the eyes of cautious investors. When the National Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) invited banks to bid for participation in the construction of two EPRs at the Jaitapur plant in Maharashtra, the company received response from 15 banks, including 10 from France.

“Our expression was for 3 billion euros (US$4 billion) but we have got commitments for 8 billion euros (US$10.5 billion),” said S. K. Jain, Chairman of NPCIL. The Indian company plans to use debt to finance 70% of the project, providing the rest from its own cash reserve of 110 billion rupees (US$2.1 billion).

In the eyes of bankers, India's nuclear market has quite a lot going for it: an enormous, democratic nation coming into economic maturity, in tandem with a new vitality blossoming in the global nuclear sector. Furthermore, India is not as entangled with the ailing U.S. economy as the world’s other emerging power, China.

Combined, these factors make India one of the few places on earth that investors can expect to see their investments returned in spades. We see this at Jaitapur, and we can expect the trend to continue.