The NFRC was established in 2002 to promote the construction and operation of nuclear reprocessing facilities. NFRC promotes reprocessing commercial spent nuclear fuel that is generated by commercial nuclear power plants.

Reprocessing dramatically reduces the amount of high-level radioactive waste that would have to be stored in a geologic repository. We also support reprocessing plutonium and highly enriched uranium from nuclear warheads into fuel for use in commercial nuclear power plants.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Tribe Challenges Nuclear Fuel Storage in Minnesota

Xcel Energy Inc. faces scrutiny from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), which is reviewing the utility's requested 40-year extension of its license to store high-level nuclear waste at its power plant in Red Wing, Minn. The ASLB, in a ruling released Friday, said the Prairie Island Indian  tribe living next to Xcel's Prairie Island nuclear power plant and waste-storage site has raised several contentions about the license extension that warrant a hearing before the board's three-judge panel.

Prairie Island nuclear plant
A core issue -- whether the "temporary" cask storage is becoming permanent -- was set aside by the panel while its parent agency, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, studies the problem across the nation. A federal appeals court in June struck down the commission's waste storage rules, forcing another look at the implications of keeping radioactive waste at reactor sites for up to 60 years. Nuclear companies are dealing with regulations that were established 30 years ago for what everybody thought would be 10 to 20 years of storage.

Minneapolis-based Xcel, the state's largest utility, stores spent fuel rods in 29 casks next to its power plant. Up to 64 casks ultimately may be needed. The casks likely will remain in Minnesota for decades because the federal government hasn't built a permanent storage site.

Those concerns include whether Xcel adequately studied the cumulative effects of additional casks; the low-level radiation they emit skyward; the long-term effects of a newer "high-burn" fuel on the casks; and possible disturbance of historic and archeological resources.

Mahowald said the tribe wants the waste moved, either to a permanent facility or to long-term temporary storage elsewhere. The tribe has pursued those goals not only in the Prairie Island relicensing case, but as a participant in the federal lawsuit that forced a review of U.S. storage rules.

The two reactors at Prairie Island supply about 20 percent of the electricity to Xcel's customers in the Minnesota region. The reactors are licensed to operate until 2033 and 2034. (Star Tribune, 12/26/2012)

Virginia Uranium Moratorium Issue 2013

In the coming session, the Virginia General Assembly is expected to consider lifting a 30-year moratorium on uranium mining permits that some say would clear the way for the first uranium mine on the East Coast. The lode, with an estimated value of $7 billion, is said to be the largest undeveloped deposit in the country and among the largest in the world. It is buried near Chatham, Virginia.

On January 16, 2007 Virginia Uranium was formed, with Walter Coles as chairman and his son, Walter Coles, Jr., as Executive Vice President. Norman Reynolds, who had been president of the predecessor company, Marline, brought his valuable experience to the table as a Director and as President and Chief Executive Officer.

Investor confidence in the company has not lagged, with a total of $39 million being invested in the project since 2007. Much of that has been spent in additional studies of the ore body, as well as in informing Virginians and their legislators of the enormous positive impact the enterprise can have on the state and region as well as on the nation’s energy security.

NFRC supports development of the uranium mine. (Virginia Uranium, Wash Post, 1/27/2012)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

License for Utah Nuclear Waste Site Will Be Withdrawn

Dry Cask Nuclear Waste Storage
A group of utilities has formally ended its pursuit of a spent fuel storage site on tribal land near Salt Lake City, Utah. Private Fuel Storage has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to withdraw a license for the facility on land leased from the Skull Valley Goshute tribe.

The NRC granted a license for the facility about seven years ago, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management withheld other approvals needed for the project to move forward. Although those decisions were later overturned in court, the proposal faced intense political opposition at all levels of government in Utah. Opponents often cited its close proximity to a large weapons proving ground and bombing range 45 miles from Salt Lake City.

According to the consortium's website, its members included Xcel Energy, Genoa Fuel Tech, American Electric Power, Southern California Edison, Southern Nuclear Company, First Energy, Florida Power and Light, and Entergy. They had planned to build a concrete pad large enough for interim storage of 4,000 dry casks from around the country. They would not be opened, and the waste would not be handled on site.

The Goshutes agreed to lease 820 acres for the project. According to a website maintained by the state of Utah, the tribe has about 130 members, with between 15 and 20 living on the reservation. It is located in Tooele County, which is also home to a low-level waste disposal facility owned by EnergySolutions. (Nuclear Street, 12/27/2012)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Virginia Uranium Working Group Completes Report

The Virginia Uranium Working Group tasked with proposing guidelines for how the country’s largest known uranium deposit should be safely mined has issued its report. The report notes that if lawmakers lift a permitting ban, there are still many steps before uranium mining would be a reality in the state.  The group is made up of staff from Virginia’s Department of Health, Department of Environmental Quality, and Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.  The group studied the issue for nearly a year and held several public meetings.

Its report explores what a regulatory framework could look like if the General Assembly were to lift a 30-year moratorium on uranium-mining permits. The report, to the state’s Coal and Energy Commission, offers guidance on monitoring the air and water that would surround a uranium mine as well as the health of miners and residents. Suggestions for staffing agencies that could be involved in overseeing the mine are also included. To cover the cost of regulation, the group recommends permitting and licensing fees and a possible tax on the mining companies.

The report does not advocate for or against the issue or compel lawmakers to take action — the group was not asked to take those positions — although the commission is expected to make a recommendation before the start of the legislative session in January. In 1982, state lawmakers banned permitting pending the creation of regulations.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who created the group in January, said he will meet with stakeholders and review public comment before weighing in on whether the ban should be lifted.

In the late 1970s, uranium was discovered in south central Virginia. The site at Coles Hill, in Pittsylvania County, sits on land used to produce cattle, hay and timber. The deposit is believed to be the seventh largest in the world: enough to supply all U.S. nuclear power plants for about two years or satisfy Virginia’s demands for 75 years. The uranium deposit, 119 million pounds, is worth an estimated $10 billion.

Supporters say that lifting the ban would tap a homegrown energy resource, respect private-property rights and create jobs in an economically depressed region of the commonwealth. But critics say mining has significant health and environmental risks that outweigh economic and energy interests.

In 2007, landowner Walter Coles established Virginia Uranium, and the company has lobbied aggressively to lift the ban. As part of its push, the company spoke to more than 100 legislators and flew more than a dozen of them to France and Canada to visit uranium mines.

Virginia Uranium’s efforts were stalled in January, when McDonnell asked the General Assembly not to lift the ban during the 2012 session and instead called for the study. In his order, McDonnell set a deadline of Dec. 1 for the group to present its findings.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

United Arab Emirates To Build 4 Nuclear Power Plants

The United Arab Emirates has awarded contracts worth $3 billion to six international companies, including Rio Tinto PLC and France's Areva SA, to supply nuclear fuel for its four planned nuclear reactors, the first civilian power plantsin the Persian Gulf region. Rio Tinto and Canada's Uranium One Inc.  will supply natural uranium, while Areva and Russia's Tenex will provide uranium concentrates, conversion services and enrichment services. The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation is the firm building the nuclear plants in the Gulf state. U.S.-based ConverDyn will provide conversion services and U.K.-based Urenco Ltd. will carry out enrichment services.

The contracts, which cover the first 15 years of the reactors' operations, will provide ENEC with long-term security of supply, high-quality fuel and favorable pricing and commercial terms. ENEC has already started the construction of its first reactor.

The U.A.E., the world's third-largest oil exporter, is facing soaring demand for electricity as its economy expands and plans that nuclear energy will eventually meet 25% of its power requirements.
The OPEC member awarded in 2009 a multibillion contract to a consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), to build the four nuclear reactors at Barakah, 300 kilometers west of the capital Abu Dhabi, that will produce 5,600 megawatts of energy.

The first nuclear reactor is due to open in 2017, while the remaining three units are scheduled to come on line in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The U.A.E. is investing billions of dollars in developing alternate sources of energy as part of plans to diversify away from hydrocarbons. Other regional nations, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have also declared in recent years their intent to pursue nuclear energy.

Unlike neighboring Iran, the U.A.E. has committed to not enriching uranium itself or to reprocess spent fuel. U.A.E hasn't yet finished a strategy for managing spent fuel from the reactors, but a national waste strategy document is in the advanced stage of discussions. (WSJ, 8/15/2012)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thorium Reactors

  • Thorium is more abundant in nature than uranium.

  • It is fertile rather than fissile, and can be used in conjunction with fissile material as nuclear fuel.

  • Thorium fuels can breed fissile uranium-233.

  • Thorium can be used as a nuclear fuel through breeding to fissile uranium-233.  Although not fissile itself, Th-232 will absorb slow neutrons to produce uranium-233 (U-233)a, which is fissile (and long-lived). The irradiated fuel can then be unloaded from the reactor, the U-233 separated from the thorium, and fed back into another reactor as part of a closed fuel cycle. Alternatively, U-233 can be bred from thorium in a blanket, the U-233 separated, and then fed into the core.

    In one significant respect U-233 is better than uranium-235 and plutonium-239, because of its higher neutron yield per neutron absorbed. Given a start with some other fissile material (U-233, U-235 or Pu-239) as a driver, a breeding cycle similar to but more efficient than that with U-238 and plutonium (in normal, slow neutron reactors) can be set up. (The driver fuels provide all the neutrons initially, but are progressively supplemented by U-233 as it forms from the thorium.)

    However, there are also features of the neutron economy which counter this advantage. In particular the intermediate product protactinium-233 (Pa-233) is a neutron absorber which diminishes U-233 yield.

    The use of thorium as a new primary energy source has been a tantalizing prospect for many years. Extracting its latent energy value in a cost-effective manner remains a challenge, and will require considerable R&D investment.

    Thorium is a naturally-occurring, slightly radioactive metal discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder. It is found in small amounts in most rocks and soils, where it is about three times more abundant than uranium. Soil commonly contains an average of around 6 parts per million (ppm) of thorium.

    Thorium exists in nature in a single isotopic form - Th-232 - which decays very slowly (its half-life is about three times the age of the Earth).

    When pure, thorium is a silvery white metal that retains its lustre for several months. However, when it is contaminated with the oxide, thorium slowly tarnishes in air, becoming grey and eventually black. Thorium oxide (ThO2), also called thoria, has one of the highest melting points of all oxides (3300°C).

    The most common source of thorium is the rare earth phosphate mineral, monazite, which contains up to about 12% thorium phosphate, but 6-7% on average. Monazite is found in igneous and other rocks but the richest concentrations are in placer deposits, concentrated by wave and current action with other heavy minerals. World monazite resources are estimated to be about 12 million tonnes, two-thirds of which are in heavy mineral sands deposits on the south and east coasts of India. Thorium recovery from monazite usually involves leaching with sodium hydroxide at 140°C followed by a complex process to precipitate pure ThO2.

    Thorite (ThSiO4) is another common mineral. A large vein deposit of thorium and rare earth metals is in Idaho. (World Nuclear Association, Forbes, 9/11/2011)

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    Vermont Loses Lawsuit Against NRC about Vermont Yankee Water Quality Permit

    The Intervenors (and Vermont) Sue the NRC and Lose

    The New England Coalition (NEC) is an intervenor that has fought Vermont Yankee since before the plant opened. About a year ago, NEC brought a lawsuit against the NRC. NEC claimed that the NRC should not have granted Vermont Yankee a license extension because the plant did not have an up-to-date water quality permit issued by the state. They claimed that Vermont Yankee's NRC license was invalid, and had to be rescinded.

    Late last month, NEC and the Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS) lost the lawsuit. The U.S Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. ruled against NEC and for the NRC. You can read the ruling here.  (Yes Vermont Yankee, 7/6/2012)

    Saturday, June 9, 2012

    Court Rules on Nuclear Waste Fund Payments

    nited States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
     meets at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse
     near Judiciary Square in downtown Washignton, D.C.
    The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on June 1, 2012, ruled that the Department of Energy (DOE) failed to justify continued payments by consumers of electricity from nuclear power plants into the Nuclear Waste Fund.

    Since 1982, consumers have paid more than $30 billion into the fund. The court ordered DOE to conduct a complete reassessment of this fee within six months. While the court did not order DOE to suspend the fee payments, the court rejected DOE's bases for continuing to collect the fees.

    The court is unequivocal in finding DOE's interpretation of its legal obligation 'unacceptable' and rejecting DOE's use of Yucca Mountain costs as a 'proxy' when the agency terminated the program.  The court retained jurisdiction over this matter, and further, ruled that it has authority to direct the Secretary of Energy to suspend collection of the fee.  (Power Engineering, 6/12/2012)

    Appeals Court Tosses Rule On Storing Nuclear Waste

    A federal appeals court on Friday threw out a rule that allows nuclear power plants to store radioactive waste at reactor sites for up to 60 years after a plant shuts down.  A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not fully evaluate risks associated with long-term storage of nuclear waste. The court said on-site storage has been "optimistically labeled" as temporary but stretched on for decades.
    The appeals court, ruling in a case brought by four Northeastern states, a Minnesota Indian tribe, and other groups, said the NRC should complete a detailed environmental review of on-site storage or explain why one is not needed.

    The court stopped short of requiring separate environmental studies at each reactor site, a request the tribe made. The tribe will continue to push for a site-specific environmental review as the NRC reconsiders the storage rule. The Prairie Island plant stores highly radioactive spent fuel rods in an indoor pool and in 29 sealed, dry casks outdoors. The storage facility is on the Minnesota Indian tribe's ancestral homeland. It is literally 600 yards away from the nearest resident.

    Waste is stored on site at the nation's 104 nuclear reactors in pools or in dry casks. Minnesota's other nuclear power plant, Xcel's Monticello reactor, also has an indoor pool and outdoor casks for waste. Both plants are expected to operate until the early 2030s.

    The ruling did not appear to have any immediate implications for operations at the two nuclear plants, but it "is one more indication that the federal government needs to act quickly to meet its obligation to remove used fuel from our nuclear plant sites in Minnesota."

    The ruling means the NRC cannot license or relicense any nuclear plant, including Indian Point, until it reviews the risks of on-site storage.   (Star Tribune, 6/8/2012)

    Wednesday, May 30, 2012

    Shutdown of San Onofre Due To Steam Generators Costing SCE

    The months-long outage at California's San Onofre nuclear power plant will easily exceed $100 million.  The outlays include equipment repair or replacement costs, the expense of securing power contracts and daily electricity purchases while the plant is off line, as well as items such as increased regulatory oversight and customer-funded incentives for energy conservation.

    The electricity San Onofre produces—up to 2,200 megawatts at any given time—is so vital to powering daily life in San Diego and the Orange County-Los Angeles metropolitan area that government and industry officials are scrambling to secure back up sources in case the plant remains idle during a summer heat wave.

    In part because of its critical role in Southern California's power grid, the California Public Utilities Commission in 2005 told San Onofre's owners they could spend $680 million (2004 dollars) to replace the plant's four massive steam generators, and recoup the costs through higher customer rates. The commission also agreed to consider additional costs up to a cap of $782 million.
    The new steam generators came on line in 2010 and 2011, but the project's final bill has not yet been submitted for review. In the meantime, the steam generator investment began to sour. In late January, Unit 3 was shut down after a small amount of radiation leaked from a steam generator heat transfer tube. Further inspection revealed excessive wear on some of the 19,454 tubes in Unit 3's new steam generators. Inspection of the tubes within Unit 2, which was shut down in early January for planned maintenance, also revealed unusual tube wear. (Unit 1 was shut down in 1992 because it needed costly upgrades that were not considered cost-effective.)
    San Onofre can't be restarted until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is satisfied that the cause of the tube damage has been identified and the necessary repairs have been made to safely operate the reactors.

    The NRC and Southern California Edison (SCE), which operates the plant, have said the damage was caused by vibrating tubes knocking against each other and against the tube support structure. Investigators are still trying to determine whether the unusual wear was caused by the way the steam generators were designed, the way they were manufactured, the way they were installed, or the way they were operated.  That question, once answered, could determine who pays the bill.

    NFRC Co-Chair Norris McDonald at San Onofre in 2005
    The primary candidates are Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which built the steam generators; San Onofre's owners, SCE (78.2 percent), San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (20 percent) and the City of Riverside (1.8 percent); engineering firm Bechtel and other companies involved in the replacement project; and the customers served by SCE and San Diego Gas & Electric.  If the blame rests with the steam generator supplier, repair costs up to $137 million would fall to Mitsubishi under the equipment's 20-year warranty, according to SCE. If the cause—and therefore the financial responsibility—can be disputed, it certainly will be, perhaps through lengthy legal wrangling.

    Electricity customers will be in the mix, too, in spite of the cost cap the CPUC imposed when the steam generator replacement project was approved. That's because Mitsubishi's warranty doesn't cover the cost of replacement power, and both SCE and SDG&E said in financial filings that they intend to include those expenses in annual filings aimed at recouping those costs from customers. This year's power purchases will be filed in early 2013 and are subject to "reasonableness" review by state regulators.

    So far, the bill for San Onofre’s steam generator troubles includes:

    The cost to repair or replace the four compromised steam generators: $70 million to $800 million or more.

    SCE, for its part, recently told Wall Street analysts that it spent $30 million on inspection and repair costs related to the steam generators through mid-April, and that it expects its 78 percent share of the total operations-related expenses to be $55 million to $65 million. That translates into a total repair bill of $70 million to $83 million, split among SCE, SDG&E and the City of Riverside.

    The cost of buying replacement power: $42 million through March 31.

    When San Onofre is running, it supplies enough electricity to power 1.4 million average homes. SDG&E has said the nuclear plant provides 20 percent of its normal power supply, and SCE got 19 percent of its power from San Onofre and Arizona's Palo Verde nuclear plant. Every day San Onofre's reactors are off line, both companies have to buy replacement electricity.  Electricity prices vary based on market conditions and seasonal demand, but experts estimate the cost to replace San Onofre’s power to be $750,000 to $1 million per day.

    In a financial filing, SCE said it spent $30 million through March 31 for replacement power tied to the steam generator problems. That total covered 26 days when it offset the lost power from both Unit 2 and Unit 3, and 34 days when the company only bought power to replace Unit 3’s normal production. (Since Unit 2 was originally offline for a planned outage, SCE had previously purchased power to cover its down time until March 5.)  SDG&E reported it paid $12 million for replacement power over the same period.

    The California Public Utilities Commission reviews the purchases for “reasonableness,” but the charges are rarely debated.    The bill for replacement power could be substantial, especially if San Onofre remains off line or at lower-than-usual capacity through the summer.

    The cost of securing supplemental power: At least $12.5 million.

    In addition to buying electricity each day to meet customer demand, SCE and SDG&E must secure commitments from power plants to supply additional energy if called upon. One such contract is with AES Corp., which has restarted two retired units at its Huntington Beach plant to make up for the San Onofre shortfall. The cost to secure that additional 440 megawatt output is about $2.5 million per month through October, according to the California Independent System Operator, the entity that manages California's electricity grid.

    The cost of expanding energy conservation measures: Unknown.

    State regulators recently approved a new way to reward SCE and SDG&E customers for cutting power consumption during key periods. SCE will spend $3.3 million on a new "10 for 10" program in Orange County that gives non-residential customers not already enrolled in similar programs a 10 percent bill credit in return for reducing power use by 10 percent or more between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2012. The program funding will come from customer money that was already set aside for other conservation incentives.

    SDG&E will spend $6.4 million to expand its "peak time rebate" program to small commercial customers. The funding is being shifted from customer money set aside for another purpose
    In addition to conservation incentives, state regulators approved using $9 million in customer funds for public service advertisements and announcements that encourage energy conservation during peak periods. The money can be used anywhere in California, but it will likely be heavily drawn upon for Southern California campaigns this summer.

    The cost of stepped-up inspections from federal regulators: Unknown.

    When things go wrong at a nuclear plant, the NRC sends extra inspectors to review the issue and supervise the plant operator's actions. But their work comes at a cost.

    San Onofre will be billed $273 per hour for each extra NRC inspector called upon to assist with the investigation. (Inside Climate News, 5/29/2012)

    Tuesday, May 29, 2012


    The Pantex Plant, located 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, Texas, in Carson County, is charged with maintaining the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. The facility is managed and operated by B&W Pantex for the U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration.

    In 1942, the U.S. Army constructed the original Pantex Ordnance Plant on 16,000 acres. The mission of the Plant was to load and pack conventional artillery shells and bombs in support of the World War II effort. When the war ended in 1945, the site’s operations ceased and the land was sold to Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) in Lubbock.

    In 1951, Pantex was reopened and refurbished for nuclear weapons, high explosive and non-nuclear component assembly operations. By 1960, Pantex Plant had taken on a new high explosives development mission in support of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Between 1965 and 1975, the Atomic Energy Commission moved various weapons modification, assembly and high explosives missions to the Plant from other facilities around the country.

    Pantex workers assembled thousands of weapons during the Cold War. The last new nuclear weapon was completed in 1991. Since then, Pantex has safely dismantled thousands of weapons retired from the stockpile by the military and placed the resulting plutonium pits in interim storage.

    Pantex has a long-term mission to safely and securely maintain the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and dismantle weapons retired by the military. Much of Pantex’s future workload includes life extension programs designed to increase the longevity of weapons in the stockpile. (Pantex)

    Kurion Inc Nuclear Clean Up Operator

    Kurion Inc, an Irvine, California start-up that aided in stabilizing Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power station, is acquiring Impact Services Inc.'s GeoMelt business, which converts soil, debris and other material contaminated by radioactivity or hazardous chemicals into glass, a process known as vitrification. The vitrification process is conducted inside large containers at a contaminated site.  Impact Services, which is based in Oak Ridge, Tenn., filed for bankruptcy protection last week.  The acquisition could help Kurion Inc enter the field of cleaning up radioactive material left behind by Cold War weapons programs.

    Kurion is looking for business opportunities after helping Tokyo Electric Power Company with its stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant. Set up four years ago, the start-up became an unexpectedly crucial player in cleaning up the crippled reactor after last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Kurion's technology, a substance used to filter nuclear waste, removed radioactive cesium from contaminated water at the plant.

    Last month, Kurion signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to test vitrification technology, which Kurion is hoping to commercialize for use in cleaning up radioactive waste generated by nuclear-weapons programs.

    The cleanup activity is dominated by big civil-engineering companies. Bechtel Corp.'s Bechtel National Inc. and URS Corp.  are building a $12.2 billion plant for the DOE at Washington state's Hanford site. About 56 million gallons of waste, some of it in leaking tanks, is stored at the site, where plutonium for atomic bombs was created.

    The GeoMelt technology may help Kurion enter the cleanup market, in which the DOE spends roughly $6 billion a year. The department already is considering the GeoMelt vitrification process for use at Hanford.

    Kurion also may use the GeoMelt technology at Fukushima Daiichi, where the company designed a system to clean contaminated water and recirculate it as coolant for damaged reactors. Kurion hopes it can use the technology to treat soil and debris at the site, much of which was covered with radioactive substances after a series of explosions at the facility.

    Impact Services licensed the GeoMelt technology from GeoSafe Corp., which is part of the deal, and is extending a perpetual world-wide license to Kurion.

    Kurion is backed by venture-capital firms Lux Capital and Firelake Capital Management LLC. (WSJ, 5/28/2012)

    Monday, May 28, 2012

    WIPP Can Supplement or Replace Yucca Mountain

    Carlsbad, New Mexico is a YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) city when it comes to storing nuclear waste.  This vibrant city of 25,000 would love to replace Yucca Mountain as the nation's repository for high level nuclear waste.  The Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) already accepts low level nuclear waste.  WIPP is the nation’s only permanent, deep geologic repository for nuclear waste. The Nuclear Waste Fund has already collected about $30 billion from the ratepayers of nuclear reactor owners for a national repository.  Carlsbad wants this money.

    Thanks to WIPP, unemployment sits at 3.8%, versus 6.5% statewide and 8.5% nationally. Also, New Mexico has received more than $300 million in federal highway funds in the past decade, $100 million of which has gone into the roads around Carlsbad.  The roads have to be good for the two dozen trucks a week hauling in radioactive drums brimming with the plutonium-laden detritus of America’s nuclear weapons production.

    The Department of Energy’s $6 billion program created 1,300 permanent jobs, many of them high-paid engineering positions. Energy’s annual budget for WIPP is $215 million, much of which stays in the community as wages. The leaders of neighboring Lea and Eddy counties have established a 1,000-acre atomic industrial park.  On June 23, 2006, Louisiana Energy Services (LES) was issued a license to construct and operate a $3 billion gas centrifuge uranium enrichment/fabrication plant to be known as the URENCO USA facility, located five miles east of Eunice, New Mexico.

    The Energy Department’s budget for the project has fallen in recent years from $250 million to $215 million; last year WIPP contractors shed 130 workers; those who remain are handling fewer shipments and less waste than before.


    Since opening in 1999, WIPP has operated so smoothly and safely that Carlsbad is lobbying the feds to ­expand the project to take the nuclear mother lode: 160,000 more tons of the worst high-level nuclear waste in the country—things like the half-melted reactor core of Three Mile Island and old nuclear fuel rods—that are residing at aging nuke plants.

    Though taxpayers have already spent some $12 billion mining out and engineering Yucca Mountain, 90 miles from Las Vegas, power brokers in Nevada fought the congressionally approved project from the get-go. Bowing to Nimby—and Nevada’s powerful Senator Harry Reid—two years ago President Barack Obama’s Administration declared Yucca DOA. Contractors have since laid off some 1,000 workers there.

    On Mar. 26, 1999 the townsfolk of Carlsbad gathered to cheer the first truck to deliver waste to WIPP.   New Mexico, in agreeing to WIPP, required that Congress enshrine in law a promise that the feds would not send high-level waste into the state. WIPP won’t be the next Yucca unless that issue is wrangled, and reversed, by Albuquerque and Washington, DC.

    Carlsbad has perfect geology for the waste because it sits atop the biggest salt deposit in America, stretching from New Mexico clear to Kansas.  The 3,000-foot salt layer is the thickest in the country, is nearly impervious to seismic activity, quickly heals any cracks or faults and remains completely impermeable, with no way for any water to get in or for any radiation to escape.

    The waste drums’ final resting place is down an elevator 2,150 feet into the salt.  WIPP’s tunnels and rooms have 15-foot ceilings, enough to stack drums three high. So far it’s swallowed 10,200 shipments totaling 200,000 tons impregnated with 5 tons of plutonium. To get that stuff to WIPP drivers have logged 12 million miles with loaded trucks and 10 million miles empty.

    Low-level waste (LLW) is nuclear waste that does not fit into the categorical definitions for interemediate-level waste (ILW), high-level (HLW), spent nuclear nuclear fuel (SNF), transuranic waste (TRU), or certain byproduct materials known as 11e(2) wastes, such as uranium mill talings. In essence, it is a definition by exclusion, and LLW is that category of radioactive wastes that do not fit into the other categories. While the bulk of LLW is not highly radioactive, the definition of LLW does not include references to its activity, and some LLW may be quite radioactive, as in the case of radioactive sources used in industry and medicine.

    High level waste (HLW) is very radioactive and contains many of the fission products and transuranic elements generated in the reactor core.  HLW accounts for over 95% of the total radioactivity produced in the nuclear power process. In other words, while most nuclear waste is low-level and intermediate-level waste, such as protective clothing and equipment that have been contaminated with radiation, the majority of the radioactivity produced from the nuclear power generation process becomes high-level waste.  High level waste is very radioactive and, therefore, requires special shielding during handling and transport. It also needs cooling, because it generates a great deal of heat. Most of the heat, for the first several hundred years, is from the fission products cesium-137 and strontium-90.

    (Wiki, Urenco, Forbes, 1/25/2012)

    Tuesday, May 22, 2012

    Nuclear Waste Company Closes In Middle of Night

    IMPACT Services, a nuclear waste processing company, closed its Oak Ridge business on Friday, and state officials were at the scene Monday to make sure the radioactive waste housed there — estimated at 1 million pounds — was in a safe and secure condition. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) confirmed the situation.  IMPACT does have some staff, including a radiation safety officer, there and, according to the TDEC, the material is secure and the company is currently trying to determine what its options are moving forward.

    The company told the state that about 60-70 percent of the waste inventory at the site could be returned to the generators. "f so,it would leave about 400,000 pounds that would need to be dealt with.

    As part of acquiring its license for housing and processing nuclear materials, IMPACT Services had to provide finance assurance through a bonding process, so there will be money available to handle things if the state has to take an active role in controlling the site.  (KnoxNews, 5/21/2012)

    Saturday, May 5, 2012

    Court Should Order Decision on Yucca Mountain

    NFRC Supports Yucca Mountain As National Repository For Nuclear Waste
    South Carolina and Washington are two states with large amounts of military and civilian nuclear waste, told a federal court panel on Wednesday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was flouting the law by declining to decide whether the Nevada desert is a suitable burial spot — even if the Obama administration says the storage plan is dead.

    Congress decided 25 years ago that the Department of Energy should build a repository for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, a volcanic ridge in Nevada 100 miles from Las Vegas, if the regulatory commission determined the site to be suitable. But the commission decided last year to end its consideration, with the chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, pointing out that Congress was no longer providing money to advance the project. Jaczko obstructs the implementation of Yucca Mountain is every way he can.  Jaczko is also very controversial among his colleagues at the NRC.
    The Department of Energy had formally moved to withdraw its proposal for the storage site. In his 2008 run for the presidency, President Obama promised to shelve the project, which is bitterly opposed by the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.

    South Carolina, Washington and several other plaintiffs sued the federal government, arguing that the nuclear commission had a legal responsibility to pass judgment on Yucca. On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments from both sides.
    The government is holding about $29 billion collected from utilities for disposal of nuclear waste, but Congress has stopped appropriating the money for that purpose.

    Judges on the panel noted that when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission dropped its licensing process for Yucca Mountain, it still had $10 million for that purpose, and that a new Congress next year could appropriate more money. A lawyer for the commission, Charles E. Mullins, countered that with no prospect that the Energy Department would pursue its application for storage at Yucca Mountain, spending the $10 million would be throwing “good money after bad.”

    The effort by the Energy Department to withdraw its license application led to a legal morass. The commission’s three-judge licensing panel said the department could not withdraw it, and the commission itself deadlocked on the issue, 2 to 2. The commission’s chairman, Dr. Jaczko, halted the licensing process nonetheless. He is a former aide to Senator Reid. (NY Times, 5/2/2012)

    Monday, April 30, 2012

    DC Court to Tackle NRC Yucca Decision

    On Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., the D.C. Court of Appeals will hear arguments regarding the NRC’s mishandling of the Yucca Mountain application. Whereas the first court hearing on last Friday dealt with the payments into the Nuclear Waste Fund, this case is straightforward. NARUC, along with Aiken County, S.C., and the State of Washington, are asking the court to force NRC to make a decision, yes or no, on the Department of Energy’s June 2008 application to build a nuclear-repository in Yucca Mountain, Nev. Of course the battle has been waging for some time. For a full brief, contact NARUC, Rob Thormeyer  (202-898-9382) (Frank Maisano)

    Saturday, March 31, 2012

    NRC Approves Two New Reactors In Georgia

    Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Station
    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 4-1 Friday to approve power company Scana Corporation's  proposal to build two nuclear reactors in South Carolina at a cost of $11 billion.  This is the second such approval in two months after a drought that lasted more than 30 years.

    Two Southern Company reactors in Georgia also received the NRC's blessing last month. The Georgia reactors will be built at the Plant Vogtle site.

    Chairman Gregory Jaczko was the lone dissenting vote.  He believes the commission should have required compliance with any changes the agency adopts in light of Japan's 2011 nuclear accident.
    The two reactors are to be built by Scana unit South Carolina Electric & Gas and state-owned utility Santee Cooper. The reactors will serve customers of both utilities. The license approved Friday clears the way for construction of the two reactors, which will sit next to an existing unit at the Virgil C. Summer nuclear station in Jenkinsville, S.C.

    Scana said it would complete one 1,117-megawatt unit in 2017 and another of the same size the following year. The reactors are designed by Toshiba Corporation unit Westinghouse Electric Company

    Both the Scana and Southern power plants will operate in regulated markets, where state boards that support the nuclear expansion will allow the companies to recover their costs on customers' electricity bills during construction of the facilities.  (WSJ, 3/30/2012)

    Saturday, March 24, 2012

    Proposed Texas Low Level Nuclear Waste Site

    Texas is close to allowing low-level radioactive waste from dozens of states to be trucked in and disposed at a site in West Texas, which would become one of only four in the nation that could take low-level radioactive waste shipped from out of state.  Three other sites currently accept low-level radioactive material: Richland, Wash., since 1965; Barnwell, S.C., since 1971; and Clive, Utah, since 1991.

    A state agency with oversight of waste imports adopted rules Friday that help clear the way for the 1,338-acre dump near the New Mexico border, despite concerns expressed by environmentalists that such a facility may be unsafe. Its operator, Waste Control Specialists LLC, still needs final approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but expects to receive it within several weeks. The company is majority-owned by Texas billionaire Harold Clark Simmons, one of the nation's wealthiest men and a major donor to Republican state and national political candidates.

    Supporters of the project, located in a remote red-clay formation just east of the New Mexico-Texas state line about 31 miles from the town of Andrews, Texas, maintain it is environmentally safe and note that it will generate needed revenue for Texas.
    Critics contend that water near the disposal site could become contaminated by the waste, which can include radioactive material from nuclear-power plants, research facilities and hospitals. They also say that truckloads of refuse will be traveling through Texas with insufficient oversight, creating a recipe for trouble if they get into accidents.

    Waste Control Specialists estimated that Texas would receive as much as 25% of the revenue from the disposal of imported waste, up to a total of $20 million annually. (WSJ, 3/23/2012, photo courtesy WSJ)

    Friday, March 23, 2012

    Obama Announces $450 Million for Small Nuclear Reactors

    Today, as President Obama went to Ohio State University to discuss the all-out, all-of-the-above strategy for American energy, the White House announced new funding to advance the development of American-made small modular reactors (SMRs), an important element of the President’s energy strategy. A total of $450 million will be made available to support first-of-its-kind engineering, design certification and licensing for up to two SMR designs over five years, subject to congressional appropriations. Manufacturing these reactors domestically will offer the United States important export opportunities and will advance our competitive edge in the global clean energy race. Small modular reactors, which are approximately one-third the size of current nuclear plants, have compact, scalable designs that are expected to offer a host of safety, construction and economic benefits.

    Through cost-share agreements with private industry, the Department will solicit proposals for promising SMR projects that have the potential to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and achieve commercial operation by 2022. These cost-share agreements will span a five-year period and, subject to congressional appropriations, will provide a total investment of approximately $900 million, with at least 50 percent provided by private industry.

    SMRs can be made in factories and transported to sites where they would be ready to “plug and play” upon arrival, reducing both capital costs and construction times. The smaller size also makes SMRs ideal for small electric grids and for locations that cannot support large reactors, offering utilities the flexibility to scale production as demand changes.

    Today’s announcement builds on the Obama Administration’s efforts to help jumpstart America’s nuclear energy industry that include:

    · In 2010, the Department signed a conditional commitment for $8 billion in loan guarantees to support the Vogtle project, where the Southern Company and Georgia Power are building two new nuclear reactors, helping to create new jobs and export opportunities for American workers and businesses.

    · The Energy Department has also supported the Vogtle project and the development of the next generation of nuclear reactors by providing more than $200 million through a cost-share agreement to support the licensing reviews for Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor design certification. The Vogtle license is the first for new nuclear power plant construction in more than three decades.· Promoting a sustainable nuclear industry in the U.S. also requires cultivating the next generation of scientists and engineers. Over the past three years, the Department has invested $170 million in research grants at more than 70 universities, supporting R&D into a full spectrum of technologies, from advanced reactor concepts to enhanced safety design. (Energy .gov)

    Saturday, March 17, 2012

    San Onofre Steam Tubes Fail Pressure Test

    Edison International's Southern California Edison announced Friday that four steam tubes, or metal pipes, that carry radioactive water failed pressure tests. Theres failed pressure tests raised new concerns about safety and possible electricity shortages this summer. Three other tubes ruptured during testing earlier in the week, prompting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to send a team to investigate. The utility said it would continue testing more than 120 similar tubes before making a decision as to how or when it might restart the plant.

    SoCal Edison is working with the state's electric-grid operator on a contingency plan to replace the nearly 2,200 megawatts of electricity the plant produces in the event that it remains shut through the summer.

    Edison shut down one of two reactors at the San Onofre plant Jan. 31 after one tube sprang a leak and released a small amount of radioactive steam. The NRC said the amount of radiation released from the reactor posed no harm to workers or the public. The plant's other nuclear unit, Unit 2, had been shut down for routine maintenance and refueling. Edison, which owns the plant with Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas & Electric utility, plans to keep both units offline until it resolves the steam-tube problem.

    At each unit, nearly 19,500 tubes carry hot, radioactive water and steam from pools of water that hold nuclear-fuel rods to the generators, which use the steam to produce electricity.

    During the test, the tubes ruptured after being placed at three times the normal pressure level. Those tubes are among 129 the company is testing because they showed premature wear. Because the testing itself wears down the tubes, the tubes will be removed from service. The tubes are components of four steam generators that Edison and Sempra bought from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and installed in 2009 and 2010 at a cost of $800 million. Mitsubishi representatives and independent nuclear experts from around the world were on site helping with the testing and analysis. (WSJ, 3/16/2012)

    Monday, February 13, 2012

    Japan Nuclear Power Plants Off-Line & Being Replaced

    Japan's nuclear-power crisis has left the country dependent on aging conventional plants that are being pushed well beyond their normal limits to keep the lights on and businesses functioning. The Fukushima Daiichi accident in March 2011 has increased public opposition to any restarts of the nation's 54 nuclear reactors, which remain idled due to shut down for  periodic maintenance checks.
    Only three units are now operating and even those will be shut down as early as April. On Monday, Japan said the average nuclear power capacity used for power generation in January was 10.3%.

    Among thermal power plants, coal-fired plants generally are operated near full capacity, but gas-fired and oil-fired plants, which use more expensive fuels, typically are brought online only when demand rises to peak levels.

    Demonstrating the heavy load, thermal power plants at Japan's 10 regional power utilities were operating an average of 66% of the time last December, up sharply from 45% in the year ended in March 2011.

    Japanese utilities are working on small-scale portable gas turbines that can be used in a pinch.  (WSJ, 2/13/2012)

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    NRC Approves Two New Reactors at Plant Vogtle

    Today, in a 4-1 vote, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved two new nuclear reactors (3 & 4) at the Plant Vogtle facility in Burke County, Georgia.  The reactors are the first to be built in the United States in almost 30 years and are expected to be completed in 2016 and 2017. The project is estimated to cost roughly $14 billion-dollars. The nuclear regulatory commission last gave a utility permission to start building a nuclear plant in 1978.

    The NRC Combined Operating License (COL) will authorize Southern Company to build and operate two AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle site, adjacent to the company's existing reactors approximately 26 miles southeast of Augusta, Ga.

    Plant Vogle Reactors 1 & 2

    Southern Company submitted its COL application on March 28, 2008 and the NRC completed its environmental review and issued a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Vogtle COLs on March 24, 2011. The NRC completed and issued the FSEIS on Aug. 9, 2011.

    The NRC certified Westinghouse's amended AP1000 design on Dec. 30, 2011. The AP1000 is a 1,100 megawatt electric pressurized-water reactor that includes passive safety features that would cool down the reactor after an accident without the need for electricity or human intervention. (WTOC11, 2/11/2012)

    Saturday, February 4, 2012

    San Onofre Steam Generator Leak

    San Onofre nuclear generating station (SONGS), right, hasn't been generating power since 5:31 p.m. Tuesday, when Southern California Edison shut down its Unit 3 reactor ---- one of two reactors ---- announcing that operators had detected a leak in one of two giant heat exchangers installed in 2010. The leak could be a safety concern because it allows water that can can contain radioactive particles to mix with clean water used to make steam. The steam travels outside the protective concrete domes that are designed to protect the public from a radiation release. Once it leaves the radioactive side of the plant, the water can evaporate and travel through the plant's electricity-generating turbines.

    Given that the new components were supposed to last for decades, industry experts were quick to question why the expensive equipment was already leaking at a rate of between 50 and 100 gallons per day. At the time the leak was detected, San Onofre's other reactor ----- Unit 2 ----- was already shut down for refueling and maintenance.

    Steam Generator
    The vertical steam generators generally have a feedwater ring supply header on the outer edge of the steam generator. The water is directed downward and flows along a wrapper sheet then is directed upwards to flow along the steam generator tubes where the water picks up heat, increasing in temperature until boiling occurs and the water is converted to steam. In the upper part of the steam generator is a moisture separator region which forces the steam-water mixture through channels which allow steam to pass, but not water. A vane arrangement in these steam generators also force a swirling action that enhances the steam-water separation.

    The water supplied to the steam generators must be very pure, free of particles, and chemicals. In the boiling environment of the steam generator these chemicals can concentrate resulting in undesired corrosion.

    SC Edison began replacing the steam generators at San Onofre in 2009 with new units manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Edison has indicated the new generators would last until the plant's license expires in 2022. But on Tuesday a leak developed in one of the tubes in the number 2 steam steam generator at Unit 3. Radiation monitors detected an increase in radioactivity levels, plant operators diagnosed the leak, and the unit was depowered at 4:30 p.m. and shut down fully at 5:31 p.m.

    Steam Generator
    While there is still no quantitative information available on the radioactivity release, an NRC spokesman noted that: “all of our information so far indicates it was very, very small, and well within federal regulatory limits. It posed no danger to workers on site or to the public offsite.”  Meanwhile, according to the NRC, SONGS workers doing maintenance at the second reactor, unit 2, checked that new steam generator as part of routine maintenance and found that:
    “Two of the tubes have thinning so extensive that they need to be plugged and taken out of service. Sixty nine other tubes have thinning greater than 20 percent of the wall thickness, and a larger number have thinning greater than 10 percent of wall thickness.”
    It should be noted that the nuclear power industry, now with 30 years of experience with this problem, is well equipped to plug or sleeve degraded tubes and return the steam generator to service. The generator contains thousands of tubes so even if some must be blocked the generator can still be used.


    (North County Times, 2/3/2012, The Orange Country Register, 2/2/2012,

    Saturday, January 28, 2012

    Obama Commission on America's Nuclear Future Final Report

    Norris McDonald Testifying at BRC Hearing in Washington, DC
    President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future (BRC) has issued its final report. Fully implementing the Commission’s recommendations will require several changes to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act or other legislation:

    Establishing a new facility siting process – The NWPA, as amended in 1987, now provides only for the evaluation and licensing of a single repository site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The Act should be amended to authorize a new consent-based process to be used for selecting and evaluating sites and licensing consolidated storage and disposal facilities in the future, similar to the process established in the expired Nuclear Waste Negotiator provisions of the Act (but under new organizational leadership, as described below).

    Authorizing consolidated interim storage facilities – The NWPA allows the government to construct one consolidated storage facility with limited capacity, but only after construction of a nuclear waste repository has been licensed. One or more consolidated storage facilities should be established, independent of the schedule for opening a repository.

    The Act should be modified to allow for a consent-based process to site, license, and construct multiple storage facilities with adequate capacity when needed and to clarify that nuclear waste fee payments can be used for this purpose. Broadening support to jurisdictions affected by transportation – The NWPA provides funding and technical assistance for training public safety officials to states and tribes whose jurisdictions would be traversed by shipments of spent fuel to a storage or disposal facility.

    The Act should be amended to give the waste management organization the broader authorities given to DOE in the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act that supported the successful large-scale transport of transuranic waste to WIPP (including a public information program, support for the acquisition of equipment to respond to transportation incidents, and broad assistance for other waste-related transportation safety programs).

    Establishing a new waste management organization – Responsibility for implementing the nation’s program for managing spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive wastes is currently assigned to the U.S. Department of Energy. Legislation will be needed to (1) move this responsibility to a new, independent, government-chartered corporation focused solely on carrying out that program and (2) establish the appropriate oversight mechanisms.  [This is an NFRC recommendation]

    Ensuring access to dedicated funding – Current federal budget rules and laws make it impossible for the nuclear waste program to have assured access to the fees being collected from nuclear utilities and ratepayers to finance the commercial share of the waste program’s expenses.

    They have recommended a partial remedy that should be implemented promptly by the Administration, working with the relevant congressional committees and the Congressional Budget Office. A long-term remedy requires legislation to provide access to the Nuclear Waste Fund and fees independent of the annual appropriations process but subject to rigorous independent financial and managerial oversight.

    Promoting international engagement to support safe and secure waste management – Congress may need to provide policy direction and new legislation to implement some measures aimed at helping other countries manage radioactive wastes in a safe, secure, and proliferationresistant manner, similar to the expired NWPA provisions for technical assistance to non-nuclear weapons states in the area of spent nuclear fuel storage and disposal. (BRC)

    Friday, January 20, 2012

    Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant Can Remain Open

    Vermont Yankee
    Vermont’s only nuclear plant can remain open beyond its originally scheduled shutdown date this year, despite the state’s efforts to close the 40-year-old reactor, a federal judge ruled Thursday.  The ruling by U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha is a win for the Vermont Yankee plant’s owner,NewOrleans-based Entergy, which had argued that the state’s efforts were preempted by federal law.

    The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a 20-year extension to Vermont Yankee’s license in March. But state law required Vermont lawmakers to support the extension as well. A bill to grant approval was defeated 26 to 4 in the state Senate and the House has never acted.  Entergy argued that the state wanted to close the reactor out of concerns about safety, an issue that is solely the NRC’s jurisdiction.  The state said it had other reasons, including that the plant didn’t fit into its energy plan. (AP, Wash Post, 1/20/2012)

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    Former AREVA CEO Fighting With AREVA

    Anne Lauvergeon
    Former AREVA CEO Anne Lauvergeon has filed suit against her former employer in Paris court for withholding payment on her €1.5 million ($1.9 million) severance package.  Ms. Lauvergeon stated at a two-hour news conference on Monday that, "I have been attacked, slandered and spied upon." Ms. Lauvergeon headed the French state-controlled company for 10 years.  Ms. Lauvergeon was probably sacked because of the company's 2007 acquisition of Canadian mining company UraMin, which turned out to be a failure due to the collapse of the nuclear rennaisance.

    Ms. Lauvergeon was replaced by Mr. Oursel in June after the French government failed to renew her mandate as CEO.  Last month, Mr. Oursel said Areva would freeze severance payments to Ms. Lauvergeon until it finished an internal probe of the soured $2.5 billion acquisition, which took place during her tenure. Areva took a $1.9 billion write-down on UraMin after its uranium reserves proved less bountiful than expected.

    She is alleging that AREVA used a private investigator to keep tabs on her. Ms. Lauvergeon also accused Areva of having paid an investigator to illegally access her phone records.

    The company held the rights to mine uranium in several countries, including Namibia, South Africa and the Central African Republic, but no mines had yet been sunk. Soon after the deal was completed, it became apparent that extracting the uranium would be more complicated than first thought, as most of it was in a remote part of the Central African Republic.Meanwhile, uranium prices plummeted as demand for nuclear power slowed.

    On Monday, Ms. Lauvergeon defended her decision to buy UraMin, saying the company's valuation reflected the price of uranium at the time of the deal and the belief that there was going to be booming demand for nuclear energy. She said it would be unfair to pin any blame on her alone because the French government and Areva's board both sanctioned the deal.

    During her decade at the helm of Areva, Ms. Lauvergeon sought to turn the company into a global nuclear heavyweight, offering services ranging from uranium mining to nuclear-reactor construction. She loaded the company with debt to fund preparations for a nuclear-power renaissance.However, demand never quite took off. Now, the industry is coping with fresh concerns about nuclear energy in the wake of the tsunami-related accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant in Japan last year.(WSJ, 1/17/2012)