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March 29, 2006

Resource Capital Research release Uranium Juniors Report

Resource Capital Research, an equity research company which focuses on small resource companies, today launched a major quarterly research report covering 22 global uranium exploration and development companies with a focus on Australia, Canada and the USA. Over 130 junior and mid cap explorers and development companies are identified with a total market capital exceeding US$7 billion.
The report reviews companies active in established uranium districts globally, including Australia, Canada, USA, Mongolia and Namibia. The report covers North American traded companies Fronteer Development Group (AMEX: FRG) and (TSX: FRG), CanAlaska Ventures (TSX-V: CVV) and (OTC BB: CVVLF), International Ranger Corp (OTC: IRNG) and Western Prospector Group (TSX-V: WNP). A feature article reviews surficial calcrete style projects which are driving valuations for a number of companies, namely, Paladin (PDN, development project, Namibia), Nova Energy (NEL, scoping study, WA), Redport (RPT, advanced exploration, WA), Uranex (UNX, advanced exploration, WA), and Extract Resources (EXT Namibia, early exploration).

To access the free summary report, go to http://www.rcresearch.com.au/feature

March 16, 2006

Westinghouse Takes Over PBMR Shareholding

PBMR (Pty) Ltd
2 March 2006

The US nuclear company Westinghouse is now one of the investors in South Africa's PBMR (Pty) Ltd, the company responsible for the inherently safe Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) technology.

Westinghouse has decided to take over the 15% shareholding previously held by UK-government owned British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL). Westinghouse is wholly-owned by BNFL. The share transfer was part of BNFL's restructuring process and the UK government's decision to sell Westinghouse.

PBMR's other investors are the South African Government, the South African utility Eskom and the South African Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Eskom intends to phase out its shareholding in PBMR (Pty) Ltd in order to become a client of the technology, rather than a developer of it.

Westinghouse is the world's pioneering nuclear power company and is a leading supplier of nuclear plant projects and technologies to utilities throughout the world. Westinghouse designs, builds, maintains and services nuclear power reactors, plants and fuel all over the globe. Today, it is the basis for approximately one-half of the world's operating nuclear plants.

Westinghouse is also a world leader in pressurized-water reactor (PWR) technology, with its AP1000 design, an advanced/passive 1,100 MWe design that is the only generation III+ plant to receive Design Certification from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Jaco Kriek, CEO of PBMR (Pty) Ltd, says he is delighted about the development. "We were extremely fortunate to have had an investor like BNFL. They greatly contributed to the success of the project and remained committed even after the withdrawal in 2002 of our previous US investor, Exelon. As we now move into a new phase, we could not have asked for a better replacement and industry partner than Westinghouse. They are ideally equipped to support PBMR in the construction phase and the future marketing of the reactors and fuel on a global scale.

Dr Regis Matzie, senior vice-president and chief technology officer of Westinghouse, firmly believes that the South African PBMR technology will become the world's first successful commercial generation IV reactor. "The PBMR technology offers an enormous potential to expand the use of nuclear energy both in the electrical generation sector and the process heat sector. Its modular size and flexibility of applications provide a unique opportunity to address markets that nuclear energy has generally not pursued in the past."

China Daily: 'Pebble-bed' reactor to begin construction

A US$370 million nuclear plant using a new kind of technology is expected to start its construction this year.

The project is led by China Huaneng Group, the parent company of Hong Kong-listed Huaneng Power International Inc.

Industry analysts said the plant's new technology, called the"pebble-bed technology," is a high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor technology that is supposedly safer.

Nuclear plants commonly use pressurized water or boiling water reactors.

Nine out of the 11 nuclear reactors running in China are designed with pressurized water technology imported from France and Russia, and the remaining two use Canada's pressurized heavy-water technology.

Liu Wei, vice-president of Beijing Institute of Nuclear Engineering, yesterday said that now is not the right time to use the pebble-bed technology commercially in building reactors, because the cost is still much higher than other technologies and it can be only used in small reactors.

Cost for building the pebble-bed reactors will be about US$500 more per kilowatt in capacity, compared with other commercialized technologies, Liu said.

Industry analysts said the pebble-bed technology can only be used in reactors of less than 300 MW, but China is building reactors of at least 1,000 MW each.

However, as the research evolves, the new technology could be competitive in 2020 or 2030, said Liu.

Huaneng Group will take a 50 per cent stake in the planned190-megawatt (MW) reactor, located in Weihai of East China's Shandong Province, while China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Corp and Tsinghua University will own 35 per centand 5 per cent respectively, said Li.

The three parties signed an investment agreement for the nuclear plant in Beijing at the end of 2004.

The owner of the remaining 10 per cent has not been determined, but could go to a local company, Huaneng spokesman Li Zhaokiu said.

The project is scheduled to start operation by 2010, Li said.
(China Daily 02/22/2006 page10)

March 10, 2006

Pebble Bed Reactors: Cheaper, Safer and Almost Carbon Free

Accepting both the peak oil hypothesis and that climate change is real raises questions about the future of nuclear power; its cost, safety and full cycle greenhouse impact. Additionally, as an Australian reader objected to my last item "Nuclear Energy Back in the Mainstream" because I recommended Uranium miners as an investment I feel its important to place my understanding of the facts on the record.

Nuclear reactors generate energy from fission. An atom of uranium splits into two, releasing energy plus two neutrons; and if either of those neutrons hits another uranium atom it can cause that atom to split, which releases more energy and another pair of neutrons, a chain reaction. Most nuclear power today is produced by large PWRs.

According to a 2005 IAEA report, Chernobyl caused 56 direct deaths; 47 accident workers and 9 children who died of thyroid cancer. Additionally it was estimated that as many as 4,000 people may ultimately die from long term accident-related illnesses. Greenpeace, amongst others, dispute that study's conclusions and presume the toll was higher.

Whatever the true toll of the Chernobyl accident, even conceding a worst case scenario, what most characterises the contribution of civilian nuclear power to world energy production is its relative safety compared to all other means of energy production.

In terms of direct deaths per terawatt produced since 1972, Coal killed 342, Hydro 883 and natural gas 85, but only 8 fatalities were recorded per terawatt of nuclear power.(1) In fact, this statistic vastly underestimates the relative hazards of fossil fuels as the indirect deaths from pollution caused by Coal powered stations worldwide is estimated at over 5 million per year.

A 1000 MW(e) coal plant, depending on sulphur content, sends annually millions of tons of Carbon dioxide, 44 000 tonnes of sulphur oxides and 22 000 tonnes of nitrous oxides into the atmosphere causing acid rain and poor human health. Additionally, there are 320 000 tonnes of ash containing 400 tonnes of heavy metals for which abatement procedures themselves produce as much as 500 000 additional tonnes of solid waste that must be disposed of.

If the potential future climate change impact of the billions of tons of carbon emitted yearly from conventional power plants is taken into consideration, the death toll of say, heat waves in Europe or drought in Africa may, sooner or later, need to be added to the already massive indirect costs of conventional power.

Reactor Types

In a Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR), the fuel (ceramic pellets) is packed into fuel rods. Fission heats water to a temperature of about 320 C and via a heat exchanger this heat generates steam that drives turbines in another loop.

The coolant water also serves to slow the neutrons down, allowing them to be absorbed by other uranium atoms, that is, the water acts as the moderator.

PWRs were built based on experience gained building reactors for submarines, where a high power density was required and in theory, if the coolant is lost the chain reaction stops. In practice heat from short lived decay products keep the core hot. A large PWR can produce so much power that without coolant flow the reactor can be damaged and it is this high power density that demands a massive containment structure and safety systems and personnel.

A Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) has thousands of pebbles rather than fuel rods. About the size of billiard balls, each micro sphere has a core of enriched uranium, about half a millimetre across, surrounded by three layers, pyrolytic carbon, silicon carbide and graphite. Pebbles are added to the top of the reactor and taken from the bottom. The fuel pebbles removed are inspected and replaced and otherwise returned to the reactor. You do not need to shut the reactor down to refuel, unlike a PWR.

Helium is used as the coolant, entering the core at 482 C and leaving at 900 C. The high temperature of the helium and the fact that it is directly coupled to the gas turbine make a PBMR much more efficient than a PWR. A single reactor produces only about 110 MW. But, if more power is required at a site, up to 10 PBMRs can be located together and run from a common control suite; hence the name modular.

A PBMR has a number of features that should make it much safer than a PWR. The use of pebbles means it has a considerably lower power density in the core and with a much greater surface area pebbles are better at dissipating heat. A loss of coolant therefore cannot result in a meltdown that damages the reactor. The biggest advantage of a PBMR is that as the pebbles heat, fission slows. In the event of a catastrophic cooling-system failure, the core temperature climbs to 1,600 degrees Celsius - comfortably below the balls' 2,000-plus-degree melting point - and then falls, making the reactors walk-away safe.

A few tons of high level waste a year has to be disposed of carefully underground.

Costs

Vattenfall, the Swedish energy company produces electricity from Nuclear, Hydro, Coal, Gas, Solar Cell, Peat and Wind energy and has produced accredited Environment Product Declarations for all these processes.

Vattenfall finds that averaged over the entire lifecycle of their Nuclear Plant including Uranium mining, milling, enrichment, plant construction, operating, decommissioning and waste disposal, the total amount CO2 emitted per KW-Hr of electricity produced is 3.3 grams per KW-Hr of produced power.

Vattenfall measures its CO2 output from Natural Gas to be 400 grams per KW-Hr and from coal to be 700 grams per KW-Hr.

Thus nuclear power generated by Vattenfall emits less than one hundredth the CO2 of Fossil-Fuel based generation. In fact Vattenfall finds its Nuclear Plants to emit less CO2 over the lifecycle than even green energy production mechanisms such as Hydro, Wind, Solar and Biomass.

Of course, all these methods emit much less carbon than fossil fuel electricity and they all have a respected place in our energy future. Until cheap and ultra efficient large energy storage systems become available only nuclear power can replace large coal burning plants.

Once PBMR's are in full production they may be able to generate energy at about 1.7 US cents per kWh, well below the costs of new coal, gas or wind plants, and far below the cost of other nuclear power.

In conclusion, I'll quote from James Lovelock, who's research ultimately saved the planet when he discovered CFCs in the atmosphere in 1973.

"Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation... If we fail to concentrate our minds on the real danger, which is global warming, we may die even sooner, as did more than 20,000 unfortunates from overheating in Europe last summer."

The sooner construction starts on these reactors the better.

(1) Severe Accidents in the Energy Sector, Paul Scherrer Institut, 2001
(2) Risk analysis at http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/

January 16, 2006

Why pebble-bed reactors are the go

Zhang Zuoyi, the project's 42-year-old director, explains why. The key trick is a phenomenon known as Doppler broadening - the hotter atoms get, the more they spread apart, making it harder for an incoming neutron to strike a nucleus. In the dense core of a conventional reactor, the effect is marginal. But HTR-10's carefully designed geometry, low fuel density, and small size make for a very different story. In the event of a catastrophic cooling-system failure, instead of skyrocketing into a bad movie plot, the core temperature climbs to only about 1,600 degrees Celsius - comfortably below the balls' 2,000-plus-degree melting point - and then falls. This temperature ceiling makes HTR-10 what engineers privately call walk-away safe. As in, you can walk away from any situation and go have a pizza.

"In a conventional reactor emergency, you have only seconds to make the right decision," Zhang notes. "With HTR-10, it's days, even weeks - as much time as we could ever need to fix a problem."

This unusual margin of safety isn't merely theoretical. INET's engineers have already done what would be unthinkable in a conventional reactor: switched off HTR-10's helium coolant and let the reactor cool down all by itself. Indeed, Zhang plans a show-stopping repeat performance at an international conference of reactor physicists in Beijing in September. "We think our kind of test may be required in the market someday," he adds.

January 12, 2006

Benefits of nuclear power

The audited environmental product statement of the Vattenfall Energy utility shows that their Nuclear Power Plants emit less than one hundreth the Greenhouse Gases of Coal or Gas fired power stations. If the Nuclear Power Industry lives up to it's promises for modern, 3rd generation plants, the total levelised cost of Nuclear Power including contruction, operational, waste disposal and decommissioning costs is in the range 3 - 5 cents per KiloWatt-Hour depending on the interest rate obtained for the construction. Nuclear Power plants pay back the energy required to build them in less than 2 months of operation. Current world proven reserves of Uranium are sufficient to supply current world demand for 50 years. Speculative reserves provide an additional 150 years of supply. The cost of Uranium Ore is a very small fraction of the operating costs of Nuclear Power. Fourth Generation Nuclear Plants can fully utilize all the energy in Natural Uranium. There is sufficient Uranium and Thorium on Earth for Fourth Generation reactors to supply the total World demand for energy for hundreds of centuries.

January 10, 2006

S&P: Nuclear Power Carries High Business Risk

In the research report, "Credit Aspects of North American and European Nuclear Power," issued Monday, Standard & Poors credit analysts suggested that nuclear generation generally carries "the highest overall business risk compared with other types of [power] generation." In fact, the decommissioning risk is probably one of the most critical obstacles facing the nuclear power industry, according to S&P.

To put off dealing with the issue of decommissioning, many plant owners are seeking license extensions and are refurbishing existing units, according to S&P Credit Analysts John Kennedy in New York, Andreas Zsiga in Stockholm, Laurie Conheady in Toronto and Paul Lund in London