Improvements Within the NRC // Kansas Sues Over Uri Gas Prices // French MPs Drop Legal Limit on Nuclear
Improvements Within the NRC
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has often been seen as an aggressive regulator. In the 1970s and 80s, its adoption of new safety standards wrought havoc throughout the industry, causing plants to be repeatedly “revised” as they were built. But two recent events suggest the NRC has turned over a new leaf.
Units 3 and 4 at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia are currently under construction. Unit 3 was supposed to switch on in the first quarter of this year, but that has been pushed to April due to an excessively vibrating pipe. Some, including Grid Brief, worried that the pipe would take months to received approval and rack up millions based on the NRC’s reputation and Southern Nuclear Operating Company’s need to seek a license amendment from the NRC in order to replace to the pipe.
“SNC requested expedited approval of the license amendment, which is allowed when certain criteria are met,” reports the Breakthrough Institute. “The NRC was responsive to SNC’s needs. On January 12, 2023, SNC submitted the license amendment and requested approval in three days. The NRC promptly scheduled the required public meetings, reviewed the license amendment request, found that issuance of the amendment imposed no significant hazards, and issued an approval the next day.”
The delay will still run up the bill for the plant owners, but that’s not the NRC’s fault. Plus, if Unit 4 runs into the same problem, the fix won’t cost as much.
On the other side of the country, the NRC allowed Pacific Gas & Electric to keep its operating license for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant beyond its expiration date so long as PG&E applies for renewal five years before Diablo’s expiration date.
“PG&E needs the exemption because it did not meet the five-year requirement, the NRC said. PG&E applied to renew the licenses in November 2009, but withdrew the application in 2018 and announced plans to cease operations and decommission the reactors when the licenses expire,” reports Utility Dive.
The NRC has granted PG&E an exemption from the five-year window as California has decided it wants to keep Diablo running to stabilize its fragile grid. Diablo produces 9% of the state’s electricity and 17% of its clean electricity.
“We are pleased the NRC approved our exemption request,” Paula Gerfen, PG&E’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, said. “Aligned with Senate Bill 846, PG&E will continue on the path to extend our operations beyond 2025 to improve statewide electric system reliability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as additional renewable energy and carbon-free resources come online.”
While lawmakers are grappling with the NRC to streamline regulations for advanced nuclear designs, the commission is at least making it easy for America to maintain the nuclear fleet it already has.
Kansas Sues Over Uri Gas Prices
Kansas has filed a lawsuit against Macquarie Energy for manipulating natural gas prices during 2021’s destructive winter storm Uri.
The lawsuit alleges that Macquarie purchased gas for next-day delivery at an artificially high price, causing gas prices to rise "hundreds of dollars" per million British thermal units. The lawsuit is the first by a state attorney general to target a specific company and trading strategy related to potential market manipulation during the storm. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is also looking into it.
Oklahoma has been reviewing Kansas’s lawsuit to see if similar trading behavior played out in Oklahoma during Uri.
“In light of the Kansas legal action, that has prompted us to review whether similar circumstances exist in Oklahoma,” Trebor Worthen, chief of staff for Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, said. “Should we find that they do, we’ll be taking appropriate action.”
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is also discussing the matter, though the OCC isn’t convinced they have the legal authority to investigate natural gas prices in a federally regulated market.
French MPs Drop Legal Limit on Nuclear
French lawmakers have voted to scrap the 50% legal limit on nuclear power in the country's total energy mix, as part of the nation's efforts to build newer, more modern nuclear plants.
“A 2015 law to promote green growth limited the proportion of energy France could get from nuclear to 50% of its energy mix by 2035,” reports Euractiv. “With 69% of the country’s energy coming from nuclear, according to official data, the measure was thought to encourage investment in renewables and paved the way at the time of the closing of France’s iconic and then oldest Fessenheim plant in June 2020.”
The decision to ditch the limit is part of a broader suite of policies that would see France build six new European Pressurized Reactors, with the first one expected switch on in 2035.
The decision still needs to clear some legislative hurdles before finalization, but it signals a reinvigorated willingness by the French government to recommit to nuclear across the country.
“Nuclear energy is one of France's three pillars to reach net-zero by 2050, alongside investments in renewables and cutting down on overall consumption,” reports Euractiv.
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The Byron and Braidwood nuclear plants in Illinois are about to get $800 million in upgrades. “Upgrades involve replacing the main turbines at the two facilities with state-of-the-art, high-efficiency units. The project is expected to create thousands of skilled union construction jobs on top of the 1,200 permanent positions between both plants,” reports 23 WIFR. “Byron and Braidwood were among the Illinois nuclear plants saved from deactivation after the passage of the state Climate and Equitable Jobs Act in 2021. Along with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in 2022, both pieces of legislation have enabled renewed investment in nuclear energy.”
Oil workers have been taken hostage in Colombia. “Workers from Sinochem Group have been taken hostage by Colombians protesting poor road conditions, local media have reported. At least one policeman and a civilian are dead,” reports Oilprice.com. “The unrest between protests and the police started after a group of Colombian protestors broke into an oilfield owned by Emerald Energy—a subsidiary of Sinochem Group, also known as the China National Chemical Corporation. The oilfield is located in southern Colombia in the province of Caqueta.”
Russia is going to mothball Nord Stream pipelines. “Russia's ruptured undersea Nord Stream gas pipelines are set to be sealed up and mothballed as there are no immediate plans to repair or reactivate them,” reports Reuters. “Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, each consisting of two pipes, were built by Russia's state-controlled Gazprom to pump 110 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas a year to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Three of the pipes were ruptured by unexplained blasts in September, and one of the Nord Stream 2 pipes remains intact.”