Thursday 8 November 2012

Shutting down nuclear plant begins a long process
28 Oct 2012

CARLTON (US) --It will be decades before the Kewaunee Power Station site is returned to pastoral Lake Michigan shoreline, and even then its used nuclear fuel might remain. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has strict rules regarding the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, but within those rules is a lot of flexibility regarding when some steps are completed. Overall, a reactor owner has 60 years to complete the process.

Dominion Resources Inc, announced on Oct. 22 that it would shut down the one-reactor Kewaunee Power Station in spring 2013. It cited the low cost of producing electricity and soon-to-expire agreements for selling the plant's output as reasons for the closing. It had tried for 18 months to sell the plant, but failed to find a buyer.

Next, the operator must submit a written certification that it ceased operations to the NRC within 30 days of shutting down. Within two years it must submit a post-shutdown decommissioning activities report, which triggers the first of several public meetings.

The NRC allows reactor operators to choose one of three decommissioning processes. One is immediate dismantling and another allows for radioactive contaminants--which would include more than spent fuel--to be stored on site until radioactivity decays sufficiently to allow restricted release of the property.

Dominion chose a method called SAFSTOR in NRC parlance. The facility is maintained and monitored in a condition that allows radioactivity to decay, after which it is dismantled and the property decontaminated.

Daniel Stoddard, senior vice president of nuclear operations for Dominion, said the first step would be to transfer radioactive fuel rods from the reactor to the spent fuel pool in the plant, where they would stay for five to seven years. After that, they will be placed in dry-cask storage at an exterior location on site.

Stoddard said "eventually, the federal government will take title to the fuel as it is required to do", but there's no indication when that will be. Since the federal government abrogated its responsibility to create a national repository for spent nuclear fuel, which was supposed to have been completed in 1998, the NRC has had to devise other plans. The NRC said decommissioning costs range from $300 million to $400 million, but some have been as much as $1 billion, according to reports.

Senate inquiry powers up consumers

Clean Energy Council
1 Nov 2012

The Clean Energy Council has welcomed a call by the Senate Select Committee on Electricity Prices to introduce an increased focus on empowering consumers to take control of their power bills, as well as removing the barriers to the introduction of technologies such as solar power. Clean Energy Council Chief Executive David Green said the Senate committee inquiry report, released today, was a valuable step in encouraging politicians, industry and consumer groups to work together on reforming Australia's electricity system.

"Vulnerable consumers and businesses are struggling with their electricity bills. This inquiry process shows how technologies like solar power and solar hot water can help to protect people from rising power prices," he said. "But we now have a situation where consumers are getting paid below the fair value for their solar electricity, for example. The recommendation in the report to remove barriers to greater use of solar power, cogeneration and tri-generation is a recognition of the importance of these technologies. "Solar power contributes significant value to the electricity system, but this hasn't been properly recognised by state governments in recent times."

Mr Green said energy efficiency technology was a particularly cost effective way to help households cut the bills while doing all the things that are necessary to bring up a family or stay comfortable in cold or hot weather.

"Energy poverty continues to be a serious problem for many ordinary Australians. We need effective actions that enable communities to cut the size of power bills by not only becoming highly efficient producers and users of energy, but also having access to high quality, impartial information about the easiest ways to save money and make better use of customer-driven technologies such as smart meters," said Mr Green.

"Australia needs a cleaner, smarter and more affordable electricity system and there are no easy or silver bullet solutions. The Senate committee is to be congratulated on the work it has done to inform the political action that we need to deliver a major reform process."

King Island showcases renewable energy solutions to the world
27 Oct 2012

The first stage of a world-leading project on King Island with the potential to provide solutions to the challenge of supplying renewable energy to remote communities across the globe was officially opened today.

The $46 million King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project (KIREIP) brings together a portfolio of new and existing technologies to increase renewable energy use on King Island and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. It is also helping to constrain power prices on the island.

The first-stage system was officially opened today by the Federal Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson. He was joined by the Premier of Tasmania Lara Giddings and Deputy Premier Bryan Green. KIREIP is an initiative of Hydro Tasmania and is being developed with the assistance of the Australian Government's Renewable Energy Demonstration Program and the Tasmanian Government.

Hydro Tasmania Chairman Dr David Crean said solutions developed under KIREIP had significant potential to increase the use of renewable energy and reduce reliance on diesel fuel for power generation on Islands and in off-grid systems across the globe. The aim of KIREIP is to reduce diesel consumption for power generation by more than 65% and provide for the ability to generate all of King Island's power needs using renewable energy when conditions allow, Dr Crean said.

The unique part of this system is the integration of technologies. Although the renewable generation sources such as wind, solar and biodiesel are mature, the enabling and storage technologies are new and emerging. The way these technologies are being used and integrated is world-leading and another example of the clever solutions to real-world problems that have been developed in Tasmania and can be exported globally.

Hydro Tasmania's CEO Roy Adair said while it was normally costly to provide energy to remote areas such as the Bass Strait Islands, the investment in renewable energy had reduced the operational costs of the Bass Strait island system. Mr Adair said the KIREIP solution could be established in other remote and off-grid locations around the world, providing cost-effective renewable energy solutions.

Although there are remote area power systems in some parts of the world that are capable of supplying the energy needs of single homes or small villages, this is the first remote system on this scale capable of supplying the energy needs of an entire community primarily through wind and solar power.

Hydro Tasmania is proud to be able to showcase this innovation through the demonstration centre we have established at the King Island Advance Hybrid Power Station. The demonstration centre allows us to provide energy companies with a first-hand look at our innovation solutions, and we expect this to translate into the uptake of the technology globally.

TrustPower and Siemens Australia begin construction at Snowtown II wind farm
26 Oct 2012

New Zealand's TrustPower and Siemens Australia have announced the start of construction at the $439m Snowtown II wind farm with the turning of the first sod. The project is a 90 turbine expansion of the existing Snowtown wind farm located on the Barunga and Hummocks ranges west of Snowtown in the Mid North of South Australia. It is capable of generating a further 270MW of renewable power the region and is expected to be completed and fully operational by 2014. Electricity company TrustPower, which built Snowtown I in 2008, appointed Siemens as its turn-key supplier for Snowtown II in July 2012.

With the construction of theSnowtown II wind farm, Snowtown as a region would boast a combined renewable energy generation total of up to 370MW. TrustPower chief executive Vince Hawksworth said: "Snowtown is a perfect location for renewable wind generation. From the time we first considered the Snowtown site we have been delighted with the willingness of landowners, the community and local authorities to work with TrustPower to make this investment in the state of South Australia possible".

Siemens is responsible for installing gearless drive turbines on the site, including the procurement, supply and engineering of substations, switchgear and transformers. Siemens Australia CEO and managing director Jeff Connolly said the wind farm takes renewable energy generation in the country to "the next level".

"The rotor blades are superior-cast in one-piece they are structurally and aerodynamically best suited for strong wind conditions", Connolly added. "This combined with the world's most efficient gearless direct-drive wind technology, will deliver a wind farm amongst the most technically-advanced and most economically efficient in Australia".

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Climate Change Authority hits bullseye on Renewable Energy Target review

Clean Energy Council
26 Oct 2012

Australia's clean energy industry has congratulated the Climate Change Authority for recognising the importance of policy stability in recommending that the national 20% Renewable Energy Target be essentially retained in its current form. Clean Energy Council Deputy Chief Executive Kane Thornton said it was clear from the discussion paper and the modelling report released today that the Climate Change Authority had understood the key issues confronting the industry.

Retaining a fixed target as drafted in the legislation is the best outcome for companies and investors who are looking at renewable energy projects between now and the end of the decade", he said. Mr Thornton said he was pleased with the authority's recommendation to leave the small-scale scheme unchanged to provide maximum stability to small-scale renewable energy businesses, as well as supporting householders who are increasingly turning to these technologies to protect themselves from rising power bills.

"We agree with the analysis by the Climate Change Authority that all this comes at a low cost to consumers", he said. "Every review of this policy has shown that the Renewable Energy Target is the most efficient, low-cost and effective way to deliver what Australians consistently say they want-more clean energy. But every review has also stifled investment and created uncertainty due to the prospect of serious policy changes".

Mr Thornton said a report released by the Clean Energy Council this week by SKM MMA found that Australia's economy stood to gain an additional $18.7 billion in investment under the policy if it is retained in its current form. "Much of this investment would flow into regional areas of the country where many of these projects are located. The reality is that the Renewable Energy Target is a chance to lock in the substantial benefits of major clean energy projects for local economies-particularly those areas that have been missed by the mining boom.

"The Clean Energy Council supports the Climate Change Authority's consideration of a range of options to provide greater flexibility and choice in the future operation and administration of the scheme. "Each of these-particularly the recommendation for additional accreditation bodies-require further analysis and assessment to ensure they enhance the overall integrity of the scheme".

Renewable energy on target for billions in investment: independent analysis

Clean Energy Council
25 Oct 2012

An independent report from leading strategic consultancy SKM MMA shows that Australia's 20% Renewable Energy Target has delivered $18.5 billion in investment, with the potential for $18.7 billion more if the policy is retained in its current form. The Benefits of the Renewable Energy Target to Australia's Energy Markets and Economy, released by the Clean Energy Council today, shows the policy has delivered a reduction in fossil fuelled power generation since its introduction in 2001.

The Climate Change Authority is currently conducting a review of the Renewable Energy Target, which is due for completion by the end of the year. But it has come under pressure from some energy companies who have called for it to be scaled back rather than giving Australians what they consistently say they want: more clean energy.

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive David Green said that since being introduced by the Howard Government in 2001 and increased by the Rudd Government in 2009, the policy had reduced Australia's carbon emissions and helped to suppress wholesale electricity prices. "The report shows that, if left unchanged, the Renewable Energy Target will result in 12% less coal-fired generation and 13% less gas-fired generation between now and 2030, with no reliability or security of supply issues identified", Mr Green said.

Mr Green said that in the face of news last week that Australia's gas prices may rise sharply on the back of international exports, the SKM MMA report further demonstrates the fact that clean energy can help to protect the country against price shocks from fossil fuels.

"Retaining the current Renewable Energy Target will also mean we can meet the bulk of our target for reducing carbon emissions with renewable energy projects right here in Australia, supporting local jobs in regional areas", Mr Green said. "The policy is part of a transition towards a cleaner and smarter energy system that encourages energy efficiency and renewables. But all this is under threat if governments succumb to pressure to tinker with or drop the Renewable Energy Target. "We are confident the review will recognise the effectiveness of the current policy and the need for stability to provide investors with the confidence they need to commit funds to improving Australia's economic security", he said.

The report can be downloaded from the Clean Energy Council website at

Renewables: Australia's a land of plenty
26 Oct 2012

When feisty UN climate change chief Christiana Figueres swept into Sydney this week, she mocked suggestions Australia is alone in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. "Nothing could be further from reality", Ms Figueres told the Lowy Institute. Rather than excoriate the government for holding out on signing up for the second round of the Kyoto Protocol to set emission targets, the diminutive diplomat instead stressed how the country was "blessed" with renewable energy resources the envy of much of the world.

While many nations were keen to tap such resources in order to improve health and lower carbon emissions, the real appeal, she said, was economic: "None of them is trying to save the planet. They're doing it because it's in their national interest and that's the most important motivator". But for national interest to be rightly understood--and acted upon--it helps if the population is aware of what's possible.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the body charged with running the nation's energy supply, has modelled the feasibility of switching to 100% renewable electricity generation by 2030 and 2050. This week, AEMO buried its findings in its monthly Energy Update.

The national electricity market is now about 200 TWs (or 200 million MWs), a total the AEMO modelling found within reach, and then some: "The study shows there is potential to produce around 500 times that [total] if all possible sources of renewable energy available across eastern and south eastern Australia were tapped into".

The huge multiple was derived even with conservative assumptions, such as excluding any land with a greater than 1% slope from consideration for solar power, national parks and local planning rules which have tightened restrictions on wind farms in states such as Victoria. Much of South Australia and Queensland were also omitted from the study's range.

AEMO declined to comment on the report's findings, directing queries instead to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. The department "is really running the show on this one", was its response. A spokesman for Minister Greg Combet declined to give a direct response to the AEMO study other than to say: "The Labor Government has long recognised the significant and under-utilised renewable energy potential which Australia possesses".

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Radioactive levels staying high off Fukushima Daiichi in Japan
26 Oct 2012

(CNN)--Radiation levels in fish caught near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remain high long after the 2011 meltdowns there, suggesting contamination from the site might still be seeping into Pacific waters, a U.S, researcher reported Thursday.

The "vast majority" of fish caught off Japan show no sign of radioactive contamination at levels dangerous to humans, even at the tighter limits Japan imposed after the Fukushima Daiichi accident, Ken Buesseler, a marine radiochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, wrote in this week's edition of the journal Science. But close to the plant, an ongoing high level of the reactor byproducts cesium-134 and cesium-137 "implies that cesium is still being released to the food chain", he wrote.

Nuclear plant operator admits downplaying risk
The sources are likely to be from radioactive particles released by the plant that settled into sediment on the sea floor or from groundwater seeping into the ocean from the plant, as operators continue to pour tons of water a day into the reactors to keep them cool. Researchers can't say definitely which is the more likely source, "but we know both are happening", Buesseler told CNN.

"We can't say whether it's today's cooling water or from last April, but we continue to see cesium in the ocean, directly at the plant, is elevated", he said. But he added that those levels are "not dangerously high--I don't think we need to be alarmist about this".

The plant is no longer venting radioactive steam into the atmosphere, as it was at the height of the disaster. And the plant's operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, has set up a system to absorb cesium from reactor coolant water. But not all that water is being recovered, Buesseler said. Buesseler was one of the organizers of an international research expedition three months after the disaster. He studied Japanese government reports of cesium contamination in about 8,500 fish caught at different locations off northeastern Japan for his latest findings.

The tsunami that hit Fukushima Daiichi after Japan's historic March 2011 earthquake knocked out power and coolant systems at the plant, resulting in meltdowns in three reactors. The result was the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, as the crippled reactors spewed enormous amounts of radioactive particles into the environment.

Most of the fallout from the plant was blown out to sea, where it was diluted in the vast Pacific. But while no deaths have been directly attributed to the accident, tens of thousands of people remain displaced from contaminated towns surrounding the plant.

Radiation readings in the contaminated fish varied widely, with bottom-dwellers typically showing the highest results, Buesseler said. That suggests that contamination has settled over the seabed, where it will persist for decades--cesium-137 takes 30 years to lose half its radioactivity, while cesium-134 has a radioactive half-life of only two years.

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