and a new development model for British nuclear power
No other country in Europe is developing nuclear power with as much zeal as the UK. The goal is to abolish coal power by the mid 2020s. The ‘dash to gas’ is in the past, and future wind power development can only offer declining returns. Having explored and reached the limitations of gas and wind power, it is clear decarbonization can only be accomplished with nuclear power. Three consortia have developed plans for nuclear power plants on six different sites. Adhesion to construction schedules is the number one cause of serious cost overruns, so these projects will be considered successes or failures depending on the efficiency of the construction process.
Given the poor record of past British nuclear power development, this drive towards nuclear power is even more remarkable. The British nuclear industry had a particularly dismal record of poor performance with Magnoxes and AGRs. Using a poor development model during the 1960s until the 1980s, the UK built one uncompetitive gas-cooled plant after another. Each plant was built by a different consortium with a different design, and each used unique parts and required unique fuel elements. Construction delays were insufficient to cancel a project. The British tradition of ‘muddling through’ led to eventual completion, even if some plants were obsolete upon commencing operation. One plant took an astonishing twenty years to complete. The policy was framed as government support for British technology. Even as Whitehall pursued a ‘national champion’ policy, not enough investment was channeled into nuclear power to give this unique path, their nuclear sonderweg, a hope of success. Gas-cooled reactors were never able to build up a similar body of experience as did the water-cooled reactors. Operating loads were lower, maintenance costs higher, and construction times were consistently longer throughout their history.
At one point, France was pursuing the same gas-cooled reactor technology as the UK, but a decision was made to abandon it. The rationale was that French industry would be better served by aligning with global trends instead of bucking them. Adopting water-cooled reactors en masse facilitated the extensive nuclear roll-out pursued by France in the 1970s and 1980s. The structure for this expansion was a publicly funded development model with a single operator running every plant in the country. Rather than increase costs from a lack of competition, it facilitated skills transfer, uniformity and keeping costs down.
Eschewing the French dirigiste state-driven model, the new development model draws on private sector elements of the old model. New nuclear power plants in the UK will continue to be built via consortia, but this time they will use existing designs. Hinkley Point C will put its first reactor into operation in 2025, which will be the first in Britain since Sizewell B in 1995. This project will be a first for many things; it is the first British plant built with minority foreign participation (China General Nuclear (CGN) and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) are both minority investors.) Hinkley Point C will be the first in the world to receive a public subsidy as renewable power at the rate of £92.50 per MWh. This anticipates construction time of up to 10 years and the guaranteed price is indexed to any future rises in electricity prices. In the case that the plant is closed early, the company will receive compensation. This mitigates the risk of any forced premature closure without compensation for any reason, political or otherwise. Supporting nuclear power with this style of feed-in tariff is a first, though it may have started a trend. Now the two American states of Arizona and Utah are offering similar public support. The effect of this contract is monumental if it heralds a new era of public support for nuclear power, similar to the support for solar and wind. This project is tremendously important for Areva and the Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR), as future sales of the EPR will be heavily influenced by the construction time at Hinkley Point C. This will be a chance for Areva to wipe the slate clean and move past the numerous construction delays at Flamanville and Olkiluoto. A success at Hinkley Point C 1 & 2 will pave the way for another pair of EPRs at Sizewell C.
The second project will develop two sites with ABWRs: Wylfa Newydd on the Isle of Anglesey and Oldbury-on-Severn. Hitachi claims these are more likely to be completed on time than EPRs, due to the ABWR construction record in Japan. The company prefers to reference the successful construction of ABWRs in Japan, rather than the Lungmen project in Taiwan. The Taiwanese plant has been delayed repeatedly due to political interference, greatly inflating costs.
Finally, the third group seeks to develop the AP1000. Manchester-based NuGeneration Limited is formed from a partnership between Toshiba (Westinghouse) and GDF Suez. Nugen plans three AP1000 at Moorside, and secured 200 hectares for the project in 2009. If construction goes ahead, it will employ 6,000 people. By that point, these will be the 17th, 18th and 19th AP1000s in operation. Westinghouse will provide the reactors but GDF Suez will run the plant. The commitment to invest will be made in 2018 and the first unit will begin operation in 2024.
All of these projects are being driven by reactor vendors keen to promote their designs. These are being pursued in the UK in the hope of winning future contracts in other countries. After seeking more uniformity and serialization, the UK is still embarking on multiple directions with numerous designs, partners, and operators. Perhaps this will not increase costs as much as in the past, as all of these designs will be supported by identical copies outside of the UK.
China also prioritized uniformity and domestic development, yet they currently use the reactor designs of France, Canada, Russia, and the USA as well as their own. The development of Chinese nuclear power was delayed in the past by canceling the water-cooled reactor program twice. First, Mao canceled it to focus funding on the development of nuclear weapons, then it was canceled a second time by the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) to focus on developing a molten salt reactor. After an all-out effort to develop a molten salt reactor failed, China finally devoted time and resources to develop their first water-cooled reactor at Qinshan-1.
A clear policy choice remained on whether to prioritize indigenous development or assimilate foreign technology in order to develop indigenous technology later. Though it was decided to pursue indigenous technology and use as few reactor designs as possible, other considerations would subvert this policy. It was diplomatically advantageous to buy CANDU reactors to reduce isolation after Tiananmen Square sanctions. AP1000s were selected as China’s official Gen III reactor. Yet a decision to build two EPRs was also taken. After the deal with Areva, the president of CNNC, deputy president of CGN and the president of China Triumph Industrial Engineering Co were accused of taking bribes. These three groups selected the EPR in a closed process with no international tender competition. Russian VVER-1000s were also built, possibly due to the availability of soft loans.
Ostensibly, China has exported one plant to Pakistan, but this order did not establish them as a reactor exporter. Their lone export order to Pakistan failed to establish them as a competitor, Chashma was badly built by the time it was completed in 2000. Rather than showcase Chinese capabilies, it illustrated a lack of capacity. It was difficult for it to be a copy of Qinshan-1 as intended, when most of Qinshan-I was unable to be supported by Chinese suppliers. The pressure vessel came from Mitsubishi, coolant pumps from West Germany, turbines from Sweden and the control system from Areva. Chashma was built using Chinese parts suppliers who had never supplied a nuclear power plant before. The project was delayed, and there were errors in construction. When internal sensors were damaged, they rattled around inside the core, unknown to the plant operators. Westinghouse assessed the plant and said the designers did not understand the effect of coolant flow on the core and components.
That was twenty years ago, and since then CGN and CNNC have completed many reactors that perform very well. The Chinese adaptation of Westinghouse designs in the CPR-1000 are completed on time, and have excellent operating load. Their domestic performance is an effective advertisement for export orders. This is the strongest bull market for nuclear power in Chinese history, as the latest FiveYear Plan (2016-2020) includes many new reactors. There are 42 planned reactors and 170 proposed reactors, in addition to the 22 under construction. Current policy is to not build any new wind turbines or coal mines, yet existing coal mines have the capacity to produce an additional 2 billion tonnes over the current annual production of 4 billion tonnes. This means falling coal prices will increase competition for nuclear power even in the absence of any new coal mines. On the other hand, construction costs will be assisted by falling steel prices. Massive overcapacity in steel, aluminum, glass, paper, and other heavy industries will push down prices as companies compete to avoid being driven out of business. Chinese workers used to strike for higher wages, now they strike over unpaid wages. Current plans to curtail production will cause 500,000 job losses in the steel sector and 1.3 million job losses in coal. The eventual job losses and company closures in the steel industry will likely be followed by similar contraction among other heavy industries. The collapse of the steel industry could start an avalanche, magnified in impact as numerous loans go bad. Since private debt has soared from 120% of GDP in 2008 to 240% of GDP in 2015, any companies that collapse or default on debt payments will have a domino effect throughout the economy. CGN and CNNC will perform well in these turbulent times, and will continue to find easy access to financing. They will be a calm port in the storm as they grow in a contracting economy.
In many ways, China is simply hoping to follow the path of South Korea. China’s entry into the international export market truly begins with an order from Argentina for the Hualong One reactor. Hwever, no Hualong One is in operation and only one is currently under construction which began in 2015. China sweetened the deal by offering financing for 85% of the $15b project. It seems reasonable to anticipate CGN and CNNC to continue to easily find financing for foreign construction projects.
The strongest competition for future export orders will come from Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), owned by the Seoul government via the holding company Korean Electric Power Co. Known as KEPCO, it should not be confused with Kansai Power Co. (also KEPCO), who also operate nuclear power plants. The first APR-1400 at Barakah is 90% complete and on track to be completed in May 2017. Barakah-2 is 60% complete. In addition, one APR-1400 is already operational at Shin-Kori-1, although its construction took seven years. It was delayed due to poor quality cabling associated with a falsification scandal. The on-time completion of Barakah-1 will be a persuasive advertisement for future new sales. KHNP is not only selling reactors, but also South Korean management capable of keeping projects on schedule. The value of this is appreciated by the UAE, who has contracted 50 KHNP employees to work at Barakah and asked for Korean assistance in setting up their training program at the Institute of Applied Technology in Abu Dhabi. Korean reactors continue to become cheaper. They are bucking the trend toward ever higher costs, as each reactor achieves a lower cost per MWh than its predecessor. Falling costs and a long history of completing plants on-time makes KHNP a strong competitor for future export orders, selling not only a reliable design but a reliable schedule.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. We are seeing new development models, yet they draw on many elements of the old. New British development will use international designs, but still will not establish real uniformity throughout the British nuclear industry. China and Korea are driving state-owned businesses to try to conquer new export markets. That being said, their reputation in sticking to the schedule in domestic construction by Chinese and Korean companies addresses the most important factor in cost control for nuclear power. This makes them powerful competitors, at a time when nuclear power is expanding to new markets.
Have you noticed the number of interested parties that offer no real solutions? Obama falls short. Justin Trudeau falls short. The climate marches are preaching renewables and conservation as their proposed solutions. There are no real solutions discussed. People should not imagine that by simply following politics and voting for what they think is the best party that it will make a difference. Following the science is far more important.
We need to look at what solutions are being proposed and seriously evaluate our best strategies. How many people understand that the biggest problem is coal? Yes energy from coal is cheap and abundant. The western world has depended on coal. Also keep in mind that Ontario would never have been able to replace coal without their nuclear plants replacing that reliable energy we all need to run our cities. Right now the overwhelming majority of the active groups who will show up at the COP21 and try to make their voices heard are short on solutions.
The way we view nuclear is also problematic. We need to stop letting people get away with saying “where do we store the waste?” and “nuclear is too expensive” and “what about Fukushima?” those myths have been proven wrong. We have a number of countries engaged in bringing forth nuclear reactors that will be able to re-use so-called nuclear waste. As for Fukushima, nobody died or will even get sick from the radiation released by the Fukushima accident. As for the the expense of building nuclear plants. It is related to the idea of perceived danger. As soon as the public understands through a little education what makes nuclear expensive we will see the costs come down. The nuclear industry is punished when it should be rewarded. What a backwards world. Getting the NRC and EPA to accept the Hormesis model rather than the “Linear No Threshold” model will also help lower prices since that would allow designs to be built without the above-and-beyond safety requirements being imposed.
I urge everyone to look at the energy sources and be honest in comparing their relative ability to solve how to replace coal. Obama modestly supports nuclear energy but has not added it to his COP21 strategy. Why not? Justin Trudeau will be doing the same. Can anybody explain why?
I know most people will give the usual responses about the so-called expense and danger of nuclear power. Please consider that Germany is adding coal plants because they were also under the influence of the renewable movement.
We have grown up with abundant energy and find it hard to understand that the emerging Eastern countries are not going to stop using coal because we tell them to. They are where we were at 70 years ago. Coal is still the cheapest. We need to figure out how to make nuclear power cheaper than coal. I believe that is totally possible with a focus on changing how people just need to educate themselves about radiation and the unfortunate truth that renewable energy will be impossible to meet the world’s energy demands.
So yes, we need to reduce carbon dioxide, but more than that, eliminate CO2 emissions. We need to be honest about the real outcomes of the very few nuclear accidents that have happened. Also come to terms that much of our misinformation comes from funded sources that are paid for by nuclear power’s competition. Also as James Hansen said recently. Let’s be honest about the harm being done by fossil fuel sources for energy. When it comes to climate change and ocean acidification “greed” is not good.
by Beth Kelly
Today in the United States, nuclear power plants generate close to one-fifth of the nation’s electricity and constitute a majority of our non-greenhouse gas-emitting electrical production. It is by far the largest source of low-carbon electricity in the country. Yet, despite analyses urging a more substantial role for nuclear power in light of looming climate change, the U.S. nuclear industry is not projected to grow in the decades ahead. But a nuclear renaissance is possible if we want it, and the first step is educating a new wave of nuclear workers on the vast potential of this type of energy generation.
Nuclear Science Week, which took place this year from Oct. 19 – 23, is a recurring, yearly proceeding that focuses on championing the innovations that can be found by exploring nuclear science. Events are held throughout the United States, as well as in other countries worldwide such as Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Many of these celebrations are hosted by universities and high schools, with the intent of drumming up support for nuclear science courses as well as careers in the field.
Close to half of the nuclear workforce will be eligible for retirement within the next 10 years. And as the “boomer” generation departs, finding applicants with the right set of skills to step in and replace them is a challenge. As a part of its broader educational goals, NSW exposes students to the broad range of opportunities that exist for nuclear engineers. At a time when the industry stands at a crossroads, partnerships with educational programs are crucial to its continued success.
The Department of Energy currently projects that the U.S. electrical demand will rise by 28% by 2040. In order to maintain nuclear power’s current share of electricity generation, we will need to build one new reactor every year, starting next year – or 20-25 new units by 2040. Worsening effects of global warming may further impact this number, provided we continue to drive more focus on shifting away from coal- and oil-burning facilities. Certainly we need to support new and upcoming projects that can start us on the path towards a more sustainable energy future, and nuclear power is the only emission-free electricity source that can grow to help us meet this demand.
Most projections show that renewables – excluding input from nuclear – won’t be able to ramp up sufficiently in the coming decades to meet the planet’s energy needs. A failure to increase our reliance on low-carbon sources of power will lead to additional energy-related CO2 emissions released by burning fossil fuels. Currently there are five new nuclear power facilities being built within the United States and over 60 under construction in other parts of the world. When we combine this new generating capacity with the widely graying workforce, there are plenty of opportunities for newcomers to contribute to the industry.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for nuclear engineers is expected to increase 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, and the average annual pay in 2012 was $104,270, higher than the $86,200 median earned by all engineers. This occupation requires a bachelor’s degree, but the related profession of nuclear technician typically only requires an associate’s degree. These technicians made an average of $69,060 per year as compared to technicians in “life, physical, and social science,” who took home $41,130 on average. In 2011 it was estimated that, in order to survive the aging boomer upheaval, the nuclear industry would have to replace nearly 25,000 skilled workers.
The advantages of nuclear energy are manifold. We have enough fuel for hundreds of years even without implementing any improvements to the current nuclear infrastructure. Unlike solar panels and wind turbines, nuclear reactors aren’t dependent on weather conditions and can reliably deliver electrical output steadily throughout the day. According to experts at Direct Energy, global emissions of carbon increased from 6,750 million metric tons in 2000 to 8,749 million metric tons in 2008. It’s clear that we need all the help we can get from every green energy source, including nuclear, to mitigate this problem for future generations. It’s important, especially considering the immediacy of the Paris COP21 conference, to regard the future of nuclear energy as one that closely aligns with the future of our energy needs.
Beyond acting in their own economic self-interest, fresh talent that engages with nuclear energy will be doing their part to help the planet by enabling the growth of various burgeoning national nuclear programs. Now is the time to revitalize the future of nuclear power, but it is only possible with the help and persistence of new recruits.
(note the image is a screen capture of a Gordon McDowell video taken of students from Calvin College presenting during the Thorium Energy Alliance conference June 3 and 4th/2015)
There was a debate recently on a thorium linkedIn group that the author felt there should not be inaccurate science statements made by pronuclear supporters to win people over to the pronuclear side.
The author wanted to point out how the number of deaths caused from coal plants is often exaggerated. The author also suggested the UN’s numbers were way too inflated.
This had a ring to it that reminded me of those who feel that climate change is high among the reasons to promote the use of nuclear power. Here is where the difficulty begins. Do we advocate the use of nuclear energy by telling people it will fix global warming or should that be low on our long list of reasons?
So a couple of the touchy issues that keeps surfacing
1) Are molten salt reactors proliferation safe. Most MSR and LFTR advocates say they are. More proliferation safe than LWRs and other 4th Gen reactors. The degree of safety varies and a proper position to take on this IMHO is that like Climate Change the topic should be avoided because it is not very different that discussing which type of commercial jet is more likely to crash.
2) Challenging pronuclear advocates publicly about whether nuclear can solve global warming is also a bad idea. It should be avoided as a topic altogether in public spaces.
3) That MSRs or SMRs are the only new types of reactors worth supporting. This is also a counter-productive topic. All reactors being built now are at least Gen III and they are still very much worth supporting. The renewal of Gen II reactors is also worth supporting. The record speaks for itself.
Dear President Barack Obama
Please consider that the steps to solve climate and ocean change needs to start with a genuine inquiry into energy. America used to be the leaders in nuclear energy. There has been a serious lack of effort to enable an affordable pathway to nuclear energy. The misconceptions cause too many people to not even begin to inquire about their assumptions. The so-called dangers are blown out of proportion causing entire countries to suffer economically for poor decisions. Germany, Italy and Japan come to mind. The best models I know of are France and Ontario, Canada who do not use coal at all.
Our future literally depends on making nuclear energy the primary source of power globally. America use to be the example for the rest of the world. It would be arrogant to think the rest of the developing world can learn from American policies that reflect a lack of energy knowledge.
I am a musician with a passion for the environment. I have learned to appreciate the role of energy in solving the world’s problems. After years of following scientific writings and sharing information with others I came to realize that most people (that includes all kinds of people) fail to understand the significance of 200 years of industrial production of carbon dioxide. It has been steadily accumulating faster than the environment can handle. Now at approximately 400 parts per million is certainly a big factor. The oceans warming and becoming more acidic is going to trigger mass extinction in your lifetime. Some say the mid 2030s.
It is no longer acceptable to view climate change as being about simply weather extremes. We are facing an evolutionary threat that requires mitigating the 1.5 trillion tons of backlog of CO2 that has been building for 200 years making the oceans more acidic and the atmosphere hotter.
We need to view Ocean Acidification and Climate Change as twin tragedies. Conservation and renewable energy will not be nearly enough to remediate the problem. Nuclear energy is our only hope for reducing coal plant usage. One proposed method to reducing acidification is to use nuclear plants to heat limestone to produce lime and add it to the oceans which would give the plankton, the pteropods, the diatoms and all life that depend on calcium and carbon to naturally sequester carbon and after dying fall to the ocean floor where the carbon belongs.
So you see our old vision of an atomic age with energy too cheap to meter might have been the correct path. Let’s begin the process by educating your staff about energy density. The environmentalists who now embrace nuclear energy as a solution understand this.
I can recommend several scientists who would be glad to conduct seminars to get people up to date.
Thanks Rick Maltese
http://energyrealityproject.com (recommends a nuclear power dominated policy and limited use of renewable – and energy usage reduction)
Note: not the more popular climaterealityproject.com
(unfortunately they have misguided and destructive policies)
We need to share this message widely from Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute. It is vital and desperately needed. The timing is good when so many are looking to the Paris Summit this December 2015 for answers. It is not the heady intellectual ecomodernist jargon about “decoupling” that was present in the Ecomodernist Manifesto, that would risk losing people. Michael modestly and effectively delivers a great script telling us a message that sounds like we should have known this all along, yet it is original, straight forward, and the message makes it seem like fear is a real burden and that we need to grow up without saying that. Bravo Michael Shellenberger.
Book by Rick Maltese
“Energy Reality: A Necessary Renaissance”
Chapter 4: “Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk”
Canadian Energy Issues: Steve Aplin
- The current concentration of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere is around 400 parts per million. Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues suggests that that figure represents an enormous debt we humans owe to the planet, and warns that the when the planet comes to collect she will do so in foul temper.
Forbes.com by James Conca
- With the support of Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) yesterday, President Obama’s multinational nuclear deal with Iran will go forward. As the last holdout of the global coalition, the United States was on the verge of making fools of ourselves by blocking the deal we worked on for such a long time. But science and diplomacy won out, and we still have the options we have now of Iran cheats.
Atomic Insights: 2 posts from Rod Adams
Too many defenders of the unproven assertion that all radiation doses are dangerous and that damage is cumulative, even if dose rate is low reassure us all that their assumption is protective and conservative.
They ignore the negative mental health effects of their model on the people who have been inadvertently exposed. They also ignore the financial stress and associated burdens that their model places on people whose homes and communities have been lightly contaminated to the extent that they give chronic radiation doses below the level at which any harm can be detected.
From the Atomic Show: Rod Adams
- Ian Scott is a chemical engineer who once had a youthful fling with nuclear energy. After a career in a different industry, he has returned to his first love to envision a reactor that encases the fuel salts proposed for molten salt reactors in tubes that resemble the cladding tubes in a traditional solid fuel reactor. He believes that containing the fission products this way combines some of the best features of both solid fuel and molten salt fuel. Moltex Energy’s Stable Salt Reactor is the result and the topic of this episode of the Atomic Show.
Hiroshima Syndrome’s Fukushima Commentary by Leslie Corrice
- An expert panel in Canada says that there will be no statistically-evident change in cancer rates for Japan due to Fukushima Daiichi. Plus, much, if not most of the evacuated population of Fukushima Prefecture should not have been evacuated. Further, when all legally-required safety upgrades are made to Japanese nukes, expecting another Fukushima-level accident is unrealistic.
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