Monthly Archives: September 2016

How soon will Zika disease spread to New England?

Zika disease, at epidemic levels in Brazil for more than a year, has come to Miami, FL. Although often described as a “tropical disease,” it has escaped the tropics, and people are keeping a greater distance. This month, the Miami Herald quoted the operator of a Florida travel business, saying, “I had to cancel eight out of my 12 weekly summer season tours.” In recent days, several locally transmitted Zika cases were reported in Miami Beach, and the danger zone was expanded from 1-1/2 square miles to most of the community.

Origin of the threat: Zika is not a new threat. It was first found almost 70 years ago as a disease of rhesus monkeys in the Ziika Forest–for which the disease was named–located near Lake Victoria in Uganda. The cause is a flavivirus (“yellow virus”). That virus family and genus includes the agents of yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile fever. The diseases have mostly been transmitted by aggressive species of mosquitos common in the tropics. Some of the diseases have migrated to temperate regions, and some infect wild and domesticated animals–including goats, sheep and mice–as well as humans.

The flaviviruses are single-strand RNA viruses, like the virus that causes AIDS. Lacking stabilizing effects of DNA-based genetics, they mutate relatively often, sometimes producing new, persistent strains. Research shows that happened in recent years with Zika. The original strain found in Africa caused mostly mild, brief illness in humans. The common symptoms were low fever, sometimes with skin rash or joint pain, that lasted up to a week.

The disease spread from Africa into south and southeast Asia. A 2007 outbreak on Yap and nearby islands of Micronesia drew attention because it seemed very widespread, even though it caused no deaths or long-term health problems. A survey using immunology tests suggested that about three-quarters of the population had been infected. Those tests encounter cross-reactions among the flaviviruses. A previous infection by dengue or chikungunya may produce a positive result. Since dengue is often present where Zika strikes, estimates of infections using immunology tests can be clouded by errors.

Growth of the threat: Starting in 2013, another flavivirus epidemic occurred in Tahiti and nearby islands of French Polynesia. This time health centers had genetics tests available when live virus could be sampled. They distinguish more clearly among viruses, and Zika was soon identified as a main cause of the epidemic. However, the virus had mutated, producing new strains. Some victims had more severe symptoms than previously reported for Zika disease. A small fraction of the victims developed long-term problems including profound muscle weakness, known as Guillain-Barré syndrome.

After the epidemic in French Polynesia, unusual problems began to be found in newborns: smaller heads than normal, called microcephaly. While such symptoms occur without Zika, they occurred more often in births from pregnancies during the epidemic. Other severe problems began to be found, including defects in the brain, eyes and spinal cord. Immunology tests associated a high proportion of newborn victims with Zika exposure.

During 2014, newer strains of Zika spread eastward, appearing in other Pacific islands and then in South America. During 2015, the disease spread through most of Brazil, then appeared in neighboring countries and Central America, including the Caribbean. Windblown mosquitos helped spread the disease, but epidemiologists also attribute the spread to infected people traveling to places where aggressive species of mosquitos are common. Cabo Verde, near the west coast of Africa, recently reported cases involving newer strains of Zika.

As of 2012, only five strains of Zika had been reported. By early spring, 2016, about 60 Zika strains had been identified by gene sequencing. Comparisons found two main groups: one common in Africa, the other common in south and southeast Asia. Strains responsible for the 2013 outbreak in French Polynesia and the recent outbreaks in South and Central America had developed from previous Asian strains. As with older strains, many people apparently infected by newer strains did not seek care for relatively mild symptoms, while the virus was infecting cells and multiplying.

During the past year, publications surged. By mid-September, 2016, gene sequences for almost 100 strains had been reported. Compared with other diseases, however, research on Zika immunology and therapeutics remains poorly developed. According to a recent review of the science, researchers “currently lack major basic tools for [Zika vaccine] development, including reliable animal models, reference reagents and assays.” In Congress, for months Republicans driven by reactionary agendas failed to act on President Obama’s request of February, 2016, seeking $1.9 billion in emergency funds for applied research on Zika.

Dangers and precautions: Soon after an infection has taken hold, Zika has been found in many body tissues and fluids. It may persist for months after symptoms of an infection–if there were any–have gone away. Laboratory measurements found that newer Zika strains are highly infectious; just a few copies of the virus may be needed to transmit the disease. Although apparently not contagious, the disease is transmitted by intimate contact, including sex. Since current genetics tests cannot insure that levels of Zika virus are below an infectious threshold, major health organizations have been recommending long delays between potential Zika exposure and pregnancy.

It is not yet known whether antibodies produced during infection by one Zika strain can prevent infection by other strains. A pattern from the closely related dengue virus is troubling. A previous infection involving one class of dengue virus does not prevent infection by strains belonging to another class and may worsen health hazards. Early indications, still controversial, suggest Zika infections might behave similarly.

There is no approved vaccine against Zika. One candidate vaccine recently began the first of three stages in clinical trials: testing for safety. The first vaccine approved against dengue began marketing just this year, after over 80 years of experiments, and already it has been clouded with safety issues–potentially worsening health hazards, including those from Zika.

Spreading disease: Mosquitos, notably those in the Aedes genus, have been the main vectors for Zika and other flaviviruses. The Aedes aegypti species is adapted to humans and their habitats. Other Aedes species are also frequent carriers, helping to infect wild and domesticated animals as well as humans. Although often called “tropical,” Aedes mosquitos live throughout the southern half of the United States. They are also key vectors for yellow fever virus, which became a scourge of East Coast and Mississippi River cities during the late 1600s through the late 1800s. New England is already visited by dengue fever, the flavivirus most closely related to Zika.

New England dengue fever cases

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, 2009

The Aedes aegypti mosquito range extends into New England, including at least the western seacoasts of Connecticut. However, laboratory experiments show that mosquitos in the Culex genus can also carry Zika. They are common back-yard and house mosquitos throughout New England, with ranges extending well into Canada. During the last few decades, they have become vectors in the region for West Nile virus, and they may be vectors for dengue virus. Although the region is not likely to see Zika epidemics as widespread as those in the tropics, New England remains under threat.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 20, 2016

Roni Caryn Rabin, Zika test not easy to obtain, New York Times, September 20, 2016

Brendan O’Brien, Florida expands Zika zone in Miami Beach after five new cases, Reuters (UK), September 17, 2016

Lizette Alvarez, Pregnant women anxious as Florida’s Zika test results take weeks, New York Times, September 13, 2016

Chabeli Herrera, Nancy Dahlberg and Nicholas Nehamas, Zika takes bite out of Miami-Dade economy, Miami Herald, September 9, 2016

Maggie Fox, Zika funding fails again in Congress, NBC News, September 6, 2016

WHO expands Zika sexual transmission advice, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, September 6, 2016

Wanwisa Dejnirattisai, et al., Dengue virus sero-cross-reactivity drives antibody-dependent enhancement of infection with Zika virus, Nature Immunology 17(9):1102-1108, September, 2016

Raj K. Singh, et al., Zika virus: emergence, evolution, pathology, diagnosis and control, Veterinary Quarterly 36(3):150-175, September, 2016

Rafael A. Larocca, et al., Vaccine protection against Zika virus from Brazil, Nature 536(7617):474–478, August 25, 2016

Luisa Barzon, et al., Infection dynamics in a traveler with persistent shedding of Zika virus, Eurosurveillance 21(32) online, August 11, 2016

Paulo Prada, Brazilian scientists find Zika traces in Culex mosquitoes in wild, Reuters (UK), July 21, 2016

Jesse J. Waggoner, et al., Single-reaction multiplex reverse transcription PCR for detection of Zika, chikungunya and dengue viruses, Emerging Infectious Diseases 22(7):1295-1297, July, 2016

Didier Mussoa and Duane J. Gublerb, Zika virus, Clinical Microbiology Reviews 29(3):487-524, July, 2016

Contrary dengue vaccine response hints at possible problems with Zika, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, July, 2016

Amanda B. Keener, Zika and dengue immunity: a complex relationship, The Scientist (Canada), June 28, 2016

Ingrid B. Rabe, et al., Guidance for interpretation of Zika virus antibody test results, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 3, 2016

Charlotte J. Haug, et al., The Zika challenge, New England Journal of Medicine 374(19):1801-1803, May 12, 2016

Van-Mai Cao-Lormeau, et al., Guillain-Barré syndrome outbreak associated with Zika virus infection in French Polynesia, Lancet 387(10027):1531-1548, April 9, 2016

Estimated U.S. ranges of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 1, 2016

Lauren M. Paul, et al., Dengue virus antibodies enhance Zika virus infection, Florida Gulf Coast University (not yet published), April, 2016

New CDC laboratory test for Zika virus authorized for emergency use by FDA, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 26, 2016

Jason Beaubien, Zika in French Polynesia, (U.S.) National Public Radio, February 9, 2016

Jon Cohen, Zika’s long, strange trip into the limelight, Science (online edition), February 8, 2016

Andrew D. Haddow, et al., Genetic characterization of Zika virus strains, Neglected Tropical Diseases 6(2) online, Public Library of Science, February, 2012

Mark R. Duffy, et al., Zika virus outbreak on Yap island, New England Journal of Medicine 360(24):2536-2543, June 11, 2009

Kim Knowlton, Gina Solomon and Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Mosquito-borne dengue fever, Natural Resources Defense Council, 2009

Andrea Ryan and Melissa Lee Smith, Major American epidemics of yellow fever 1793-1905, (U.S.) Public Broadcasting Service, 2006

Laura B. Goddard, et al., Vector competence of California mosquitos for West Nile virus, Emerging Infectious Diseases 8(12):1385-1391, December, 2002

China’s influence on nuclear power

Over the next several years, China is likely to influence “third generation” nuclear power more than any other country. That is partly because China already is and will likely continue to be the largest market. It is also because China has the most active efforts at nuclear design, manufacturing and construction.

China’s nuclear fleet: Before 1994, no nuclear power operated in China. China never built “first generation” nuclear-power plants or any power plants with “boiling water” reactors. During 2016, 34 “second generation” nuclear-power units are or will be in full, normal operations at 11 power plants in China. Organizations primarily responsible for construction have been China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) of Beijing–5 plants and 15 units–and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) of Shenzhen–6 plants and 19 units.

Nuclear-power units operating in China during 2016

Click Here for a table of China’s nuclear power-plant units in full operation during 2016: plant and province, unit number, rated net MW, equipment type and source, year and month in full operation, builder organization.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2016

CNNC worked with several types and sources of equipment designs. CGN concentrated on a single type, first sourced from France. After building four units, CGN localized the type to China, with increased output, as the CPR-1000 design. That became the major nuclear-power design in China, built by CNNC as well as by CGN and representing 19 of the 34 units operating in 2016. The first CPR-1000 unit at Ling Ao in Guangdong province took 6-1/2 years to build. More recent CPR-1000 units have been completed in a little over 4 years, with about 90 percent of the value sourced from China.

Responses to disaster: After the Japanese nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in March, 2011, the government of China briefly halted nuclear plant and unit authorizations and began a review of China’s nuclear-power programs. A so-called “white paper” from October, 2012–officially a statement of “energy policy”–provided the following:

“Since the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster in 2011, China has launched comprehensive safety inspections at all nuclear-power plants. The inspection results show that nuclear security is guaranteed in China…China’s installed capacity of nuclear power is expected to reach 40 GW by 2015.” [Information Office of the State Council, China’s Energy Policy 2012, as released in English October 24, 2012, pp. 12-13 of 25]

The capacity goal was silently ignored. China’s net rated nuclear generation capacity at the start of 2015 totaled only 20 GW–half the claimed goal. No clear public statement came from China’s government reflecting the nuclear safety review. There was little chance of a candid assessment amid a command economy and regimes long arrogant toward the people of China. Because disclosing information outside official channels is harshly punished, China’s regulation of its nuclear industry is far less effective than even United States regulation in 1974, before dissolving the former Atomic Energy Commission and starting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Some changes began with retirement of Hu Jintao as general secretary in the fall of 2012 and succession of Xi Jinping. During the Hu regime, China promoted pell-mell industrial growth at the expense of infrastructure and environment. Energy production gorged on China’s coal and led to large coal imports. Motor vehicle traffic grew apace, combining exhaust fumes with coal smoke to produce intense storms of air pollution–sometimes worse than Pittsburgh in the 1940s but enormously larger.

Regime change: Near the start of the Xi regime, the Chinese government lifted the moratorium on nuclear authorizations and quickly moved to consolidate and spur activities of nuclear organizations. Owing to needs for large sources of capital, these are all effectively arms of government–regardless of charters. A modest growth in nuclear-power capacity became a surge. More than half the nuclear generation capacity at the end of 2016 will have begun normal operations within the latest three years.

Nuclear generation capacity in China by years

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2016

A practical effect in China of the nuclear catastrophe in Japan was to accelerate “third generation” nuclear-power technology, in hopes it would deliver on claims of safety yet to be proven through operating experience. Plans for “second generation” units were cut back and new plans for “third generation” units pushed forward. China had already contracted to build four AP-1000 units at Sanmen and Haiyang, mostly designed at Westinghouse in the United States, and two EPR units at Taishan, mostly designed at Areva in France. China had licensed Rev. 15 of AP-1000 designs from Toshiba of Japan–omitting aircraft impact resistance and rejected for U.S. plants, which use Rev. 19 of AP-1000 designs. Chinese organizations apparently saw EPR technology as less promising and had not licensed it from Areva of France.

In a reversal of usual behaviors, typically more proactive CGN had taken responsibility for EPR technology, while CNNC took responsibility for AP-1000 technology. Nevertheless, CGN moved rapidly toward a Chinese localization of “third generation” nuclear-power technology using AP-1000 rather than EPR as a model. The overall approach appears to wrap protective AP-1000 “third generation” elements around CPR-1000 “second generation” designs–the latter adapted and promoted by CGN but also utilized by CNNC.

For a time, CNNC and CGN elaborated separate, competitive approaches to integrating AP-1000 “third generation” nuclear technologies into Chinese “second generation” designs. Both organizations had built locally sourced “second generation” nuclear units at multiple power plants. In early 2014, China’s government directed the two organizations to produce a single design. They soon began to refer to the object of the joint effort as the 华龙 Hualong (grand China dragon) design.

Disputes over still separate elements of plans were resolved by reviewers assembled by Hualong International Nuclear Power Technology Company, a 50-50 joint venture of CNNC and CGN begun in March, 2016. Bloomberg News reported in early August, 2016, that CNNC elements were chosen over those from CGN. The organization will seek overseas business. Its 1.09 GW nuclear-power design has been designated HPR-1000. Geographic regions were separated for CNNC versus CGN activity. CGN, now focused on Guangxi, Guangdong and parts of Fujian provinces, will pursue opportunities in Europe. CNNC will seek overseas business in South America.

CNNC asserts that the HPR-1000 “design concept and technologies…have been verified” by “natural science.” That sounds like an appeal to magic. By comparison with the United States and the European Union, regulatory review in China has been, at best, extremely hasty. News sourced from China shows foundations being built for the first HPR-1000 unit in May, 2015, before organizing joint management and more than a year before resolving design issues. In telling contrast, U.S. regulatory review for the AP-1000 design took from March, 2002–when the first complete design was submitted–through December, 2011. No construction occurred during that interval.

Developing technology: The HPR-1000 design is not a knockoff of the AP-1000 design, although it uses similar approaches and has nearly the same external ratings. Obvious differences include these five. (1) AP-1000 has a water reservoir for passive cooling on the roof of its containment building; HPR-1000 has a water reservoir inside its building. (2) AP-1000 has two “loops”–steam generators; HPR-1000 has three. (3) AP-1000 has four coolant pumps moving reactor water through its steam generators; HPR-1000 has three. (4) AP-1000 has a core with 157 fuel assemblies, each 264 rods that are 15.0 ft long; HPR-1000 has a core with 177 fuel assemblies, each 264 rods that are 12.7 ft long. (5) AP-1000 has a vessel with 13.3 ft diameter around the core; HPR-1000 has a vessel with 14.4 ft diameter around the core.

Nuclear “third generation” designs in China

Characteristic AP-1000 HPR-1000
rated net MWe 1110 1090
heat transfer 2-loop 3-loop
coolant pumps 4 3
fuel assemblies 157 177
rods per assembly 264 264
fuel rod length 15.0 ft 12.7 ft
vessel diameter 13.3 ft 14.4 ft
water reservoir on roof inside
passive survival 72 hr 72 hr
ground acceleration 0.3 g 0.3 g
seamless vessel on core yes yes
bottom cap solid solid
double containment yes yes
load following yes yes
refueling cycle 18 mo 18 mo
design life 60 yr 60 yr

Source: China National Nuclear Corporation, 2016

The HPR-1000 design leverages China’s infrastructure built around the CPR-1000 design, by far its most widely applied nuclear-power technologies. Chinese type AFA3G fuel assemblies have become its high-volume nuclear fuel, required by the CPR-1000 units. Type CF3 fuel rods for HPR-1000 assemblies are slightly (15.9 mm) shorter than type AFA3G rods for CPR-1000 assemblies and use a double-welding process. Dimensions of reactor vessels and steam generators nearly match, assuring that current manufacturers will be able to build them.

China’s nuclear industries remain plagued by lack of consistent standards for dimensioning, measuring, testing, inspection and qualification. Instead of adopting or developing a comprehensive set of standards, China continues to apply multiple standards copied from the countries that have been sources for equipment. Those include France, Russia, Canada, the United States, Japan and Spain. A document from China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration suggests that the French RCC-M code (Règles de Conception et de Construction des Matériels Mécaniques) may be the most common standard, because it was used for the CPR-1000 design. When foreign standards are revised–a frequent occurence–it is unlikely that the forest of Chinese copies can be kept synchronized. Over time, that can become a potential source of equipment failures.

According to CNNC in 2015, longstanding Chinese official policy of a “closed nuclear fuel cycle” remains unchanged. A presentation at a meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil stated, “China has been adopting the closed nuclear fuel cycle, i.e., the spent fuel shall be reprocessed to recycled uranium, plutonium and other elements to enhance the fuel utilization.” [text in English, figure legends in Chinese] However, locations in the general area of a reprocessing facility proposed near Jiayuguan in Gansu, near a military outpost since the 1950s, currently provide only storage, despite a claim by CNNC about plans for “big commercial reprocessing.”

Energy context: During 2015, China’s nuclear-power fleet produced about three percent of China’s net electricity. So far, growth in nuclear electricity is far outpaced by growth in coal-fired electricity. Between 2014 and 2015, a rated 6 GW of nuclear capacity was added, while a rated 72 GW in coal-fired capacity was added. At recent rates of change, China might never achieve the current world average of about 11 percent nuclear electricity.

Quoting from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, Energy Post–produced in the Netherlands–finds that renewable electricity has been growing faster. Between 2014 and 2015, China reported adding about 33 GW, peak in wind capacity and adding about 18 GW, peak in solar capacity. Discounted by typical capacity factors of 90 percent for nuclear, 25 percent for wind and 12 percent for solar, China reported adding about 5.4 GW in average nuclear capacity and about 10.3 GW in average renewable capacity. There has been no information on China’s internal energy development costs that is generally regarded as reliable.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 9, 2016

Nuclear power-plants in China, International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), September, 2016

Nuclear power in China, World Nuclear Association (London), August, 2016

Tom Holland, Why Britain’s Hinkley nuclear reactor is a horror show, South China Morning Post, August 29, 2016

Edward Wong, Coal burning causes the most air pollution deaths in China, New York Times, August 18, 2016

Chris Buckley, Chinese city backs down on proposed nuclear fuel plant after protests, New York Times, August 11, 2016

Aibing Guo, CNNC says its plan to merge ‘Hualong One’ reactor designs favored, Bloomberg News, August 3, 2016

David Dalton, China nuclear companies form joint venture to export ‘Hualong One’ reactor, NucNet Newsletter (Brussels), March 17, 2016

‘Hualong One’ joint venture officially launched by China, World Nuclear News (UK), March 17, 2016

China’s electricity mix, Energy Post (Netherlands), March 1, 2016

China to build more ‘Hualong One’ reactors, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), February 25, 2016

Nuclear fuel industry in China, China National Nuclear Corporation (Beijing, in English), October, 2015

Chinese reprocessing plant to start up in 2030, World Nuclear News (UK), September 24, 2015

Haiyang Wang, China’s nuclear power development and ‘Hualong One’ (HPR-1000) pressurized water reactor technology, China National Nuclear Corporation (Beijing, in English), September, 2015

Emma Graham-Harrison, China warned over plans for new nuclear power plants, Manchester Guardian (UK), May 25, 2015

Fuqing-5 foundation in place, World Nuclear News (UK), May 12, 2015

Tang Bo, Use of mechanical code and standard in Chinese nuclear-power plants, National Nuclear Safety Administration (Beijing, in English), c. 2015

Ian Hore-Lacy, China’s new nuclear baby, World Nuclear News (UK), September 2, 2014

Caroline Peachey, Chinese reactor design evolution, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), May 22, 2014

Jane Nakano, The United States and China: making nuclear energy safer, Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution (Washington, DC), February 6, 2014

Matthew L. Wald, Approval of reactor design clears path for new plants, New York Times, December 23, 2011

Craig Bolon, Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress, Brookline Beacon, September 6, 2016

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress

The AP-1000 nuclear power-plant design from the U.S. Westinghouse division of Toshiba in Japan may become the major and perhaps sole survivor of competition in “third generation” nuclear. Eight units are currently under construction in the United States and China. The European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) from Areva of France has four units under construction in Finland, France and China. However, it is currently on life-support, owing to design and testing scandals and to major manufacturing defects.

“Third generation” nuclear from Rosatom in Russia, Kepco in South Korea and Hitachi in Japan gained little traction outside countries of origin. No plants are under construction, and no financing has been announced for deals reported with governments in Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Poland and India. A former barrier to manufacturing–as of 2009 only one plant, located in Japan, able to produce critical components–has been overcome by large, new steel forging facilities in several countries, including China, Korea, India and the United States.

There are other claimants to “third generation” technology–not credited by international business. In Japan, Hitachi completed four ABWR units in the 1990s. All remain idle in the aftermath of the March, 2011, nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Using French technology, China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) in Guangdong province developed the CPR-1000 design. Like the Hitachi ABWR, it produces a slightly improved “second generation” nuclear power-plant. More recently, possibly using technology from the AP-1000, CGN announced another cheapened design called ACC1000 at first and more recently 华龙一 Hualong One, couched in Chlingish, or HPR-1000. A prototype has been announced for the Fuqing plant in Fujian province, which currently has two CPR-1000 units.

Schedules and costs: There are currently four AP-1000 nuclear units under construction in the United States, using the Rev. 19 design–providing aircraft impact resistance–approved in 2011 by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There are four units under construction in China using the Rev. 15 design, documented in 2006 by the U.S. but lacking aircraft impact resistance. A nationalized company in China licensed the Rev. 15 design and announced plans to build 10 or more additional units. Rev. 19 of the AP-1000 received “interim” approval by the UK in 2011. Currently, UK officials remain conflicted about whether to build EPR units. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has registered slow movement toward final AP-1000 approval.

An AP-1000 unit in Sanmen, China looks likely to become the first “third generation” nuclear unit to operate. Chinese industry got a head start by adopting the Rev. 15 design, rejected for U.S. plants. However, all AP-1000 projects world-wide are around three years behind schedule. The worst delays were caused by test failures of coolant pumps built by Curtis-Wright of Cheswick, PA. Those were controversial elements, based on technology developed for U.S. nuclear-powered submarines. Each AP-1000 unit has four of the pumps, using an innovative, sealed design unproven in industrial applications. After delivery delays of up to about two years, revised pumps have been installed at four of the eight AP-1000 units currently under construction. The revised pump designs are apparently not part of the Rev. 15 technology licensed to Chinese industry.

Fully burdened costs of AP-1000 units in the U.S. were recently reported more than $7 a watt, nearly a factor of two cost overrun. Full cost of the EPR unit at Flamanville, France is also reported at over $7 a watt–and still growing. Both European EPR projects are around ten years behind schedule, with cost overruns at least a factor of three. Schedules for the two EPR units in Taishan, China leaped ahead of the two in Europe, under a less demanding regime of regulation. However, schedules for all EPR projects are now in question from recent threats of catastrophic failure, owing to major manufacturing defects that remain under review in Europe.

Safety concerns: Safety concerns are always relative. Fatalities in automobile crashes per miles of vehicle travel probably peaked in the United States during 1900 through 1920, years before the U.S. government compiled records. Since 24.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle-miles for 1921, official tallies fell almost continuously to a low of 1.08 for 2014. For decades, however, the lures of automobile travel distracted U.S. attention from the dangers, while enthusiasm surged.

Lures of nuclear power in China and several other countries will more likely be weighed against hazards of alternatives rather than against hazards of nuclear power-plants. Hazards in those countries are dominated by large-scale burning of coal. Chinese steel, smelting and cement plants have been expanding rapidly, most of them burning coal. Over the past ten years, China added more than 800 coal-fired power units averaging 600 MW capacity. Academic research published in the summer of 2015 attributed more than a million and a half deaths per year in China to air pollution.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 6, 2016

First two AP1000s move closer to commissioning in China, World Nuclear News (UK), May 26, 2016

Scott Judy, U.S. contractor shake-up stirs nuclear project’s acceleration, Engineering News Record (Troy, MI), March 31, 2016

‘Hualong One’ joint venture officially launched by China, World Nuclear News (UK), March 17, 2016

Heavy manufacturing of power plants, World Nuclear Association (UK), 2016

Fatality analysis reporting system, U.S. National Highway Safety Administration, 2016

Jim Green, EPR fiasco unraveling in France and the UK, Nuclear Monitor (WISE International, Amsterdam), October 15, 2015

Rod Adams, Reactor coolant pumps for AP-1000 still a problem, Atomic Insights (Crystal City, VA), August 29, 2015

Dan Levin, Study links polluted air in China to 1.6 million deaths a year, New York Times, August 14, 2015

As U.S. shutters coal plants, China and Japan are building them, Institute for Energy Research (Washington, DC), April 23, 2015

UK assessment of AP-1000 design advances, World Nuclear News (UK), March 12, 2015

Robert Ladefian, The world’s largest canned motor pump, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), January 1, 2013

AP-1000 overview (Westinghouse), International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), 2011

Sven Baumgarten, Bernhard Brecht, Uwe Bruhns and Pete Fehring, Reactor coolant pump type RUV for Westinghouse reactor AP-1000, American Nuclear Society, Paper 10339, Proceedings of the International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants, June 13-17, 2010

Stephen V. Mladineo and Charles D. Ferguson, On the Westinghouse AP-1000 sale to China and its possible military implications, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (Arlington, VA), March 29, 2008

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects

Recent reports show hidden risks of catastrophic failure at dozens of nuclear power-plants, world wide. Those include the Millstone plant in Waterford, CT. They arise from previously unreported manufacturing defects and potential defects in large mechanical components produced at Creusot Forge in France. That manufacturer–soon to be controlled by Électricité de France (EDF), the French power utility–has been in operation since the eighteenth century.

A foundry at Le Creusot, in the highlands of central France, opened in 1782 to make cannons for the kings of France. It has produced steel forgings since 1876. As of 2010, it had the third-largest forging equipment in Europe, featuring a 17 million pound-force press, built in 1956, and a 25 million pound-force press, built in 2008. Its heaviest press can produce thick-wall metal cylinders up to 19 ft in diameter.

Areva–the French nuclear conglomerate once known as Framatome and soon to join with EDF–bought the Creusot factory in 2006 from the Schneider enterprises, its operators since 1835. Areva and predecessors have employed the factory since the 1950s to design and produce large mechanical components of nuclear power-plants: reactor vessels, steam generator shells and pressurizer shells.

Creusot Forge has supplied hundreds of large components for many industrial plants now operating in Europe, Asia, the United States, South America and Africa. Faulty components went to three European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) nuclear units that are under construction in Flamanville, France, and in Taishan, China. Others were produced for two EPR units proposed at Hinkley Point in the UK. Faulty components have already been installed in France and China.

Nature of defects: Yves Marignac of World Information Service on Energy in Paris has supplied a detailed description of the EPR defects. They affect the heads and bottom caps of reactor vessels. Such a vessel is made from large forged parts: a “head,” a cylinder segment with ports for cooling water, two plain cylinder segments and a bottom cap. The last four are welded together, and the head is bolted on top.

Heads and bottom caps have been reported to have major defects caused by improper forging performed at the Creusot Forge factory. According to Mr. Marignac, portions of those thick metal parts have too much carbon in the steel, tending to make them less resistant to thermal shock than they need to be. In the event of a rapid cooldown to recover from an equipment problem, they would be prone to rupture, leading to catastrophic failure.

According to Mr. Marignac, the forging problem leading to “carbon segregation” is an issue known in industry that can be controlled by manufacturing techniques. When Creusot Forge made the EPR parts, starting in 2006, one of each type was supposed to be tested for the “carbon segregation” issue. That requires drilling into a part, extracting solid samples and analyzing them–destroying the part. However, the run of EPR parts, six of each type, was completed without such testing.

Eventually the French nuclear regulatory agency required testing, performed in the fall of 2014. Test failures were soon found. However, by that time three EPR reactor vessels had been completed. They had been delivered to one reactor under construction in Flamanville, France and two under construction in Taishan, China. There they had been installed and connected to other equipment. Reactor vessels and possibly other major components at those sites may have to be removed and scrapped, causing long delays and huge added costs. The Flamanville project is already many years behind schedule, and it has suffered at least a factor of three cost overrun.

Hidden defects: After learning about the defects in EPR reactor vessels, the French nuclear regulatory agency required an audit of nuclear-part manufacturing performed at the Creusot Forge factory. That uncovered potential defects in more than 400 large parts, going back to 1965. The agency has suspended the operating license for one French nuclear-power unit (Fessenheim Unit 2), found to have a defective part. At least 18 French nuclear-power units are being investigated for defects.

Based on the audit in France, at least 17 U.S. nuclear-power units are at risk from potentially defective parts made at the Creusot Forge factory. For example, Millstone Unit 2 in Waterford, CT, has a potentially defective replacement pressurizer. Some units have more than one potential defect. Kerri Kavanagh, a division head at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, released a statement last June, committing to “appropriate regulatory and enforcement action if we find issues of safety significance.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 3, 2016

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French regulator investigating components in 18 reactors, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), June 29, 2016

Kerri Kavanagh, Quality assurance issues in France: implications for U.S. plants, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, June 20, 2016

Quentin Philippe, Is the EPR nuclear reactor fit for the current market?, Energy Post (Amsterdam), June 20, 2016

Anomalies and suspected falsifications at Areva’s Creusot Forge site, Greenpeace France, June 13, 2016

Nick Butler, EDF’s real problem is Flamanville not Hinkley Point, Financial Times (UK), May 14, 2016

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Peter Thornton and Vito J. Colangelo, Variation of mechanical properties in large steel forgings, Watervliet Arsenal, U.S. Army, 1975

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